“I found many homes away from my home.” – Ankit Arora’s journey across India

No matter how much one plans and prepares, one can’t foresee what the future holds and in

times like that the only hope of a solo traveler’s life is willing and helpful locals, tell us about any

experience where you were saved/ helped out by locals of the place you were in.

 

Yes it’s an absolute matter that we need some preparations for the journey and need to be confident beforehand about all the essential things. Before starting my solo cycle journey across all the states of India, Nepal and Bhutan, I also did some preparations but I didn’t depend wholly on the preparations. One cannot actually plan everything in advance for a long journey like this. I was going to leave for next 7-8 months and wander alone on the roads of India, so it’s actually impractical to plan everything in advance about the stay and food.

But a solo road trip across the country is not about readiness or certainty rather an adventure trip like mine is more about ‘Uncertainty’ and ‘Spontaneity’. These two factors make my solo journey livelier because due to uncertainty, I get to see the new stories of survival every day and due to spontaneity, I witness the stories of love and care that people share with a stranger, like me, unhesitatingly.

I found many homes away from my home. Some Kashmiri kids in the villages forcefully took me to their homes where they gave me food and fruits from their farmlands.

When I was riding through the coldest and highest of the mountains in Ladakh, local people gave me their empty lands or rooves to pitch my tent. In a small village of Sissu, in Ladakh, I met a family who owns a guest house there. The uncle and aunty who owned it allowed me to use my tent into their premises and gave warm food as well without any charges. And in return all I could give them was one of my t-shirt that was gifted to me by a government school in New Delhi.

These stories are equally applicable on every state be it Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kashmir, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Maharashtra, Karnataka or Kerala. I’ve covered 16 Indian states till date in last 138 days and 9300 km on my cycle but these stories of meeting new families remain equally amazing everywhere.

 

Because of your trips you get to meet so many people from all walks of life what is one thing

that you’ve gathered about people of our country from these interactions?

 

People of India are very simple and very common. They try to find something new in every moment that can give them happiness even for an hour or a day. I have so many small interactions every day with local people that last only for 2-3 minutes but when they get to know that I’m on a pan India journey for a world record they make those 2-3 minutes an everlasting memory.

Sometimes people are not that friendly. At some places mostly in North India people don’t like this kind of adventure. According to them one should follow the regular life of office job and get settled early in life. According to them one should do it only when one is financially successful otherwise not. Some people think that I’m also doing it for money. It’s tough to explain to them that it’s my dream and I’m not earning anything monetarily rather I’m spending my own money for this.

Most importantly people are easy going. If they see something which complies with their conscience, they accept it quickly without giving much thought about its consequences. They look for short term benefits instead of long terms. While on this journey I have realised that I’m also like that.

 

Do you have any horror stories from your experiences with locals of a place?

 

 I’ve some interesting but not exactly horror stories. They arose out of the misconceptions in the mind of people.

First instance that I remember is related to Jaisalmer and Pokhran in Rajasthan. The time was 9 PM and it was like any other day when I reached a small dhaba in Pokhran to have dinner and to stay there overnight. I got a small room there for only 300 bucks and good dinner for another 150 bucks. My plan for the next morning was to start again towards Jaisalmer which is 108 km from Pokhran district. Before that I was supposed to be meeting up with army major Vithun sharma in the morning. So before sleeping I asked the dhaba owner about the directions to the army base.

Hearing my question about the army base he waited for a while and asked (directed) me to leave the dhaba and go away. I was surprised and asked what happened. But he was reluctant to answer me and again told me to leave the place. It was very confusing for me so I called that major and explained the situation to him. Within the next 5 minutes an army keep arrived with a soldier and a local person. They talked to the dhaba owner and resolved everything. I got to know that the reason behind the owner’s reluctance to answering my queries was because he mistook me for a terrorist who was trying to recce about the army base. Such incidents have happened in Punjab and Kashmir and have led to serious situations for security. That’s why the owner was denying me to stay there. But after the interaction with the army personnel he was okay.

Another incident that happened was in Kashmir. During my visit to Kashmir, a serious crime of ‘Hair Chopping’ was prevalent there. People had no clue about the mysterious figure that was intruding into houses at night and chopping the hair of residents while they were sleeping. It was national news in August and September 2017. This was the same time I reached there on my cycle with 3 big bags. Again people misunderstood me for that criminal. It was very new for them to see someone riding a bicycle all alone with 3 big bags. They had never seen something like it in their villages. So due to misplaced suspicions they stopped me many times to ask questions about my identity. It was a little scary in the areas of unrest. But after knowing about me and my journey they would become amiable and treated me very well.

 

In our country we pride ourselves on the phrase, “Atithi devo bhava”, how true does it stand in

your experience?

 

I’ve covered 17 states till date and uncountable districts and villages. It happens every day that many people including truck drivers, visitors, bikers, waiters, restaurant owners, office commuters and workers see me and come to talk to me at roadside dhabas or any other shop and ask me about my journey. Within 5 minutes of the conversation they become good friends of mine. Many truck drivers and dhaba owners didn’t charge me for my food or they paid on my behalf. Many medical shops didn’t charge me for my medicines when I had a fever. Many passers-by took me to their homes for breakfast and lunch and took selfies with me.

Daily I carry one small parcel in my backpack which contains some eatables given by the locals out of sheer love. I have taken so many such parcels form every state Kashmir, Punjab Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. The list is endless and the love is limitless.

 

What is your way of dealing with locals and what would you suggest to other travellers?

 

How one deals with strangers is different from situation to situation. I’ve always remained myself and never tried to act like anyone else. If you are on a journey with a good purpose then you should be yourself. This is the best strategy if you want to interact with strangers.

You should be precautious by being aware and alert about the area that you are visiting. You can get the knowledge about the area with the help of locals. Another suggestion I could give is to avoid traveling alone in the night unless you know the destination or a nearby place.

If someone has helped you in a place then you can gather some contacts from them for your stay in nearby destinations in the same state. In India, Gurudwaras are the safest places to stay and get food. Sometimes army camps and police stations can also be helpful in staying overnight.

 

Tell us, in your opinion, one thing each that unites and differentiates the people of our

country.

 

It’s a little difficult to find one thing that unites or differentiates the people of India. What I’ve observed in my journey and from the interacting with people is that it’s only media and some entertainment providers that have been painting a wrong picture of society just to cater to their audience. So many people during my journey have said it that its only media and politics which differentiates the people otherwise India is not what is shown in media.

One thing that unites people is the humanity or love that comes as a natural instinct. They share it without any hesitation or expectations. Indians also build relationships very easily. Elder people treat everyone like their own child. Middle aged people treat a person like their own brother or sister. Adolescents welcome a person like a friend. It is often considered as a weakness amongst mankind but I think this is one of the best gift of mankind and it should be considered as a strength and as a uniting factor.

 

Read more about Ankit’s experiences in his travelogue

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