And he walked, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Seventy-five days, 3,700 kilometers. And carrying the national flag as a “constant reminder that he was free to choose, to live, to be”.
Mutchintala Sairaj Vamsheekar lost his job during the pandemic and decided to walk from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to prove to himself that he could overcome any challenge
“I wanted to prove to myself that there is no challenge that is too difficult to overcome,” explains the young teacher, sportsman and now 24-year-old mountaineering mentor from Hyderabad.
And boy, were there any challenges! On the first day, Vamsheekar discovered he needed police protection when a group of men surrounded him in Kashmir and started spitting and hurling abuse at him for carrying the national flag. On the twelfth day, during langar in a gurudwara in Punjab, he learned of people’s generosity. On the 20th day, after his cell phone was stolen and he was left penniless, he learned how cruel people can be.
After three months without being paid, B Ashok quit his job, traveled across India with his family
And on the 36th day, when a stranger ran up to him in the middle of a street in Madhya Pradesh, holding a new pair of shoes, saying he had been asked to hand them over to “the man who walks with the flag Indian” who posted on Instagram that his shoes were out of breath, he learned how nice people can be.
But above all, he says, he learned to follow the chops. “Today, when I stand in front of my students, I can tell them how to stay focused on a goal and never stray from it, no matter what challenges are thrown at them. And that every day is a new beginning. Every morning it was like starting from zero. I had no choice. I knew I had to walk at least 50km that day if I wanted to achieve my goal of covering India in 75 days,” says Vamsheekar.
There is evidence from a few exploratory studies carried out in different parts of the world that travel is not only beneficial for mental well-being, but also for emotional agility or the ability to handle adversity. Experiential travel especially helps to reassess and reinvent your life. And that’s what a handful of travelers like Vamsheekar discovered.
For B Ashok, it taught him to be “comfortable in discomfort”, to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings and to be emotionally strong. Ashok, who worked in a dyeing unit in Tirupur, was thrown into the deep end in 2021, during the second wave of the pandemic. Difficulties came rushing upon him, he said. “I caught the virus in April 2021, then I worked without pay for three months, I was told I had a job ‘at the moment’.
I sold my bike, the jewelry we had. There was nothing left,” Ashok said. So, in December 2021, he quit his job and decided to travel across India with his wife Prabha and son, chronicling his journey on YouTube (Prabhas View). The family completes 100 days on the road when they stop in Rameswaram this Sunday, having, like Vamsheekar, done the K2K. “We don’t have any savings, but that doesn’t stop us,” says Ashok. “We cook our food under the trees on the highway, we bathe in the gas stations along the way… it’s been an enriching experience. ”
And the one who taught him that he can survive anything. “There’s just no challenge you can’t overcome,” says Ashok. He was told it would cost ₹2 lakh to convert his van into a mini-RV, he did this with a hired laborer for ₹20,000; he was told that solar powering a fan in his van would cost ₹1 lakh, he did this with an extra car battery and rewiring for ₹10,000. “We still don’t have the money and are relying on channel views, but as I think now, nothing is insurmountable,” he says.
“Every time there is a setback in life it causes a crack in our self-esteem, but it also reminds us that you need a crack to let the light through. Every loss is a gain in terms of self-realization. Traveling solo gives you time to think,” says Gurugram-based life coach Samira Gupta. Hemant Soreng and Rajesh Nair, co-founders of sustainable travel company Rustik Travel, have just completed a six-month road trip covering over 26,000 km.
“We had no money, no sponsors and were in shock over two years of loss from the pandemic,” says Nair. “But we still wanted to help less fortunate colleagues in the industry like drivers, guides, porters and artisans, who are the backbone of the tourism sector. Everywhere we went we tried to help in some way. ”
And as they say, adds Nair, if you intend, the universe conspires to make it happen. “Support started pouring in from the Karnataka Ministry of Tourism, friends, family and even people we met along the way,” says Soreng.
Along the way, they met many people who inspired them, such as an elderly couple, who traveled thousands of miles to show their disabled child a narrow-gauge train, and a man walking alone from Kashmir to Kanyakumari wearing the Indian flag. “What we saw was a resilient and ambitious India that never ceases to amaze,” says Nair.