Solo Trip To India: Nao Sakamoto’s Journey To Self Discovery and more..

On her recent visit to India for 60 days, Nao Sakamoto discovered more about herself than she did while pursuing her education in Japan and working in the US for 2 years. She is Half­-Japanese and Half­-Taiwanese and hails from Japan.

While speaking to Campture, she pours her heart out on the magical affect India had on her. She is an avid traveler, keeps her arms wide­ open for new experiences, new ideas and be on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to face new challenges. When she is not travelling, she is pursuing Interior Architecture and Retail Design in Rotterdam. She also has a film production degree and a flair of associating with dynamic startups and non-profit organisations.

Team Campture (TC): Now that you’ve been here, when you think of India, what’s the first image that comes into your mind?

Nao Sakamoto: It is very “complex”. When you go from city to city, each city gives you a very different experience. I think it has the most multi-culture, multi-religion and multi-language in the world. There are so many different traditions, beliefs, people and food within just one country.

“I felt like I found myself again in India”

That is why it would be best to spend a long time to explore this country. I spent two months this summer, but it was not enough at all! I stayed in the Northern part of India and I was only able to see a few cities. It’s not like you can spend a few days in a city to check-off the lists that you have planned, but you actually need to stay longer to really experience it.

TC: Which places did you visit? What was your favourite city?

Nao Sakamoto: I arrived in Delhi with a flight from Japan. I spent a few days there, then moved to Rajasthan. In Rajasthan, I visited the pink city Jaipur, blue city Jodhpur, and the white city Udaipur. Jaisalmer, which is the gold city, was also on my list, but I had to skip it this time since I was having so much fun at the other cities. It’s always good to have a concrete plan and itinerary for your trip, but I like to change my plans accordingly to what I experience and feel at each city and to extend the days to discover more in depth. Many local people and the backpackers I met strongly recommended me to go to Pushkar, which I think I really want to go next time. After Rajasthan I went up north to Dharamshala, Haridwar, Rishikesh and then all the way to Darjeeling. These places were very peaceful, spiritual and very deep. You can get much more closer to the nature and experience more of the spiritual side.

It is not about luxury. If you have the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, your own god inside you, and great company with good energy connection, every small little thing will become happiness.

It’s so hard to choose my favourite city, but I would say Jaipur is my most favourite since I went back 3 times during this trip! I love all the colourful textiles and handicrafts here, using organic colors and materials. Visiting the factories of block printing, blue pottery and cotton paper in Sanganer (20 minutes away from Jaipur) was very nice to see the process of making of these traditional products and to get to talk to the artists. Amer fort was my favourite fort so far, with all the pastel color schemes with the painting decoration which is all painted by plant or vegetable colors. There is a nice lake behind the fort in Amer, where you will be able to spend some time just watching the beautiful scenery for sunset or sunrise, called the Sagar. This place happens to be my most favourite place in this whole trip. I went there multiple times with friends and also alone. There is a Tiger fort which is also a nice place to see the sunset and all the city of Jaipur from the mountains. I felt like all the stars fell down to the ground. Above all, I made life-time friends there, and I think people is one of the biggest reasons that you have great memories of the place.

View of Dharamshala, just before my 10 day Vipassana course

TC: What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?

Nao Sakamoto: This is a very very very tough question. Every day something surprising and amazing thing happens in India. If I have to choose, I would say the 10 days Vipassana meditation retreat in Dharamshala was one of the most surprising thing I did. I already had a decent experience in meditation, but doing Vipassana was first time in my life and it was a very special, intense and beautiful experience. In this course, 10 days you will have to keep noble silence, no eye contacts, and meditate from 4:30am to 9:00pm for 10 days. Breaks and meal times are in between, but you will have to keep on focusing the mind during those times too. The Vipassana technique is very intense and difficult for many people, and as far as I know, four people could not take it and they left in the middle of the course. Many times I went through very beautiful experiences as well as the toughest times. I can keep on talking about the experiences of these 10 days for hours, but to keep it simple, this experience has made me more spiritual than before, to be able to connect the relationship of my mind, body and soul much deeper than before, and has broadened my view of life even more. If you are interested, you should try at least once in your life time, although I will say it’s not meant for everyone.

TC: How long did it take you to pick up some of the language?

Nao Sakamoto: I will talk about Hindi, which is the language that most of the people I met were using. The first few days were so difficult for me to remember any words!! But after you start to make local friends, then you will get used to it really quick. The word i used most was probably “water/pani”. I can now say a few phrases introducing myself, asking someone’s name, and even including “Are you crazy?”, “I like you” and “Life is beautiful.” I know that Hindi is a difficult language to master, but the sounds are very easy to pick up for me. I actually want to learn Hindi to prepare for my next trip and to talk in Hindi with my Indian friends!

TC: What were the locals you met like?

Nao Sakamoto: The local people that I spent time with were very warm, fun and welcoming. I learnt hospitality is a very big culture in India, and growing up in Japan, which has a very similar culture, I felt at home. The biggest thing I found was that people here know how to have fun. It is not about luxury. If you have the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, your own god inside you, and great company with good energy connection, every small little thing will become happiness. It is so simple, so natural, and so beautiful. I felt like I found myself again in India, spending the time together with them. I also met a few people that I would never forget for my entire life.

Preparing for the wedding ceremony. The best henna design I’ve seen so far. An honourable gift from the bride.

TC: Did you find any sights or activities a bit off the beaten track? Beyond the tourist traps? like trekking, camping, religious experiences etc.

Nao Sakamoto: Yes, actually if you meet the locals and spending time with them, most of the time you will experience things that you won’t be able to find in the guidebooks. One time I was together with my Indian friend by a lake, and I saw a monk shouting something towards my friend from an open window from a house nearby. My friend walked inside, so I followed. Inside the room, there were two monks sitting on the floor in a very simple room. The monks and my friend started a conversation but I did not understand most of it since they were talking in Hindi. One monk started to talk to me in Hindi, but somehow I understood him just with his body language and his eyes. I was talking back to him in English, but he also seemed to understand exactly what I was saying. It was really peculiar how we were communicating with different language. It was something with our eyes and feelings that were communicating well. He was explaining what he was doing before he became a monk, and I was explaining about myself and about my trip. Then he started talking about the relationship with the body, soul and the universe and his teachings of his way of meditation. I was very interested because I went through different meditation styles before and I was preparing for the 10 days Vipassana course too. He taught me his own mantra and his own way to meditate, and as we meditated together and recited the mantra, I couldn’t believe how in a few seconds I was able to be in another state of mind. My whole body and mind felt like it was completely in a different world. It was a beautiful, amazing experience. I still remember his name and his mantra. These things happened in India, and I think being together with a local friend will really help connect to the other people here.

Also, the locals will show you amazingly delicious street foods that are not on the guidebooks, and surprisingly cheap. They will know which place will serve fresh street food so you will not have to go through Delhi belly.

Happened to be a big festival day for Lord Vishnu in Udaipur. This little girl spotted me in the crowd, and helped me through the rituals and see the best views of the festival! (and King of Udaipur!) We hang out together for most of the day, her name is Rina.

TC: What was your favourite meal/ food?

Nao Sakamoto: I generally love bread. So all those freshly made naan, chapati, roti were my favourites! I even learned how to cook chapati with an Indian family, although it was very hard to make a perfect circle, and all the chapatis they make were perfectly round. Also I could not stop eating this Indian sweet I bumped into, called Akhrot made with a lot of walnuts. It was one of the tastiest sweet I had in my life!

TC: Where would you revisit? Would you ever move to any of those cities?

Nao Sakamoto: I would love to revisit Dharamshala. Also I can imagine myself living in Jaipur too.

Nao on the right with the kids at the wedding

TC: What was the best moment of the entire trip?

Nao Sakamoto: There were many beautiful moments in this trip. But the best experience that I still remember vividly would be at the Suriya (Sun God) Temple in Jaipur. This is a very personal and spiritual story, and it goes back to my childhood. My relationship to the Sun was somewhat really close from when I was a child. I really liked the Sun, and whenever I was sad or depressed I was able to get great energy from the Sun. I thought it was a natural and normal thing to feel because after all, everybody likes the Sun right? Many animals, plants, living beings are living because of the Sun.

I love travelling alone. I’m open minded, freer, light and i can connect with people and find connection easily.

So I was one of the many that loved the Sun strongly. During this India trip, my relationship with the Sun has got even stronger and concrete. In Jaipur, I went to an astrologer for palm reading where I discovered that the planet associated to me in Indian astrology was the Sun. My heart leaped with the confirmation of this relationship with the Sun. The second time I came back to Jaipur, I was not planning to go but my friend brought me to the Surya Temple. There, I experienced a very spiritual, emotional moment that I would never forget. Even the priest’s eyes were twinkling with tears, and we had a very strong handshake and a hug…If I tell the whole story it will be very long so I will keep it for some other time.

And of course attending both Hindu and Muslim wedding with my friends was a very amazing and beautiful experience too!

TC: What did you learn about yourself?

Nao Sakamoto: I learnt that I LOVE traveling alone, and it is the best way for me to discover the country and to meet new people. Also when I am travelling alone, I am being myself more than usual, because I don’t have to worry about how others will think of what I think and what I do. I am more open minded, freer, and more light. When I am myself, it is easy to connect with new people and finding good connection with them. I discovered the God I follow, my soul in depth, how I relate to people and my approach to life. I found out that I really love myself when I am travelling, so I wish to stay as how I was while travelling even after my trip. After all, my whole life is a journey, so why not feel like I’m always travelling.

TC: Tips for other travellers, if any?

Nao Sakamoto: Follow your intuitions. Follow your guts. Don’t try to follow all your checklists. You will be amazed how much more you can discover when you don’t do those checklists. You can make plans, but be open to change it day-by-day, moment-to-moment. Be open minded, always. You can shut a lot of doors when you have a bias in your mind facing a situation or talking to a stranger. Be curious about everything, and nothing will stop you!!