Himanshu & Aniket: Friends who hitchhiked penniless from Bengaluru to Kolkata.
Two travellers, Aniket Chakraborty and Himanshu Aggarwal, decided to hitchhike all the way from Bengaluru to Kolkata just to prove this very point. They say, “Hitchhiking is predominant in the West but in India, there is an undeniable safety issue”. But when they went on the road trip with no money in their pockets, what followed was a series of surprises & fortunate events.
The Beginning of this impeccable journey
“It was the hottest of all summer afternoons and I found myself hopelessly lost in a residential maze. I spent 20 excruciating minutes trying to locate a friend’s home before a gentleman passing by on his motorcycle offered me a ride to the location, clearly a detour from his route. Needless to say, this short hitchhiking encounter left me with a sense of immense relief and a newfound faith in the goodness of people. This man stopped, called his friend to confirm the location, and gave me a ride when he had absolutely nothing to gain from it. At the very least, it showed me that not everybody in this country is deserving of suspicion.” Aniket was working with American express as a credit card sales executive but his desire to travel made him quit his job.
“I understood that tourism was killing the beauty of nature. I always wanted to do something different but wasn’t getting a clear idea of what to do. One fine day, I was browsing the Internet & came across this guy who has hitchhiked the whole world; he managed to even earn during his journey. Reading his interviews motivated me. Then, me & Himanshu, (Aniket’s friend & a software engineer from Bengaluru) spoke to roundabout 100 people about doing something like this, but except 3-4, all of them were like it’s a bad idea, you might get looted, kidnapped or murdered. People saying such negative things about it inspired me even more” says Aniket.
They were well aware of the risks involved and knew that a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs would be a luxury as they were going cashless.
The Surprises on their way
They chose the route, which passed through Andhra Pradesh and Odisha before culminating in Bengal, which is a total of 2,100 km. The duo hitched a ride with some motorcyclists and then a truck driver on the way to Vellore, who, the first of many to come was awestruck at their story, as he had never heard of such an endeavour before. Once in Vellore, they were unprepared for the generosity that was to come their way.
“It was eight in the night and we were resting at an auto stand when one of the drivers walked up to us. We told him our story and, surprisingly, he took us to the nearest hotel to buy us food. Soon at the hotel, the crowd had gathered around us, listening to our story when our server, a man named Gopi, came to us and handed us Rs 200.”Says Aniket.
They soon found out that Gopi had borrowed the money from the restaurant owner and had pawned his phone for it. Aniket recalls being overwhelmed by this gesture. For Gopi, who’s an alcoholic, giving away money that could have otherwise fed his addiction was a selfless act. Appreciating his efforts, they accepted only Rs 100 & that note is still safe with Aniket as a memory. Among the same crowd, there was another gentleman, Mr Thangarajan, who owned a hostel close by and offered them a room for a night, free of cost. The following day, they set out towards Vijayawada.
Many truck drivers gave them lifts, some for five km and some for 10. While one offered them a bowl of fruits, the other cooked for them and insisted them to eat and drink, concerned that they might not be able to go on empty stomachs for long. Once, they spent 40 hours on the road with this driver and other truck comrades. Between Altaf Raja’s unending recordings of tum to thehre pardesi, stories of bank robberies, and the drivers’ undying love for their wives, the duo realized that these were very lonely people who were more than happy to have someone to talk to.
Some Unexpected Twists
When they finally reached Vijayawada, it was in the dead of the night and they found themselves at an isolated junction. Soon, a “shady” truck approached them and they got on because of the lack of other options. They began sharing their story to the driver but found that he was barely interested. The driver dropped them off after 20 kms and drove away. Well, here’s the catch. “After half an hour, he came back and began apologizing,” Aniket recalls. The driver revealed that he felt too guilty at leaving two hungry men to fend for themselves when he could have helped easily. And so, he took them for a scrumptious meal at a dhaba nearby. “It’s an amazing feeling when a person who doesn’t even know you can be so empathetic,” says Aniket. It was about 2 am when they got on another truck towards Kaza. Aniket says, “The driver had agreed to drive us after we told him we had no money to pay him but after a kilometre or so he began demanding money. We were ready to get off but he didn’t let us and so we drove on. But when he saw two cops approaching the vehicle, he panicked and asked them to get off, in the middle of nowhere. This, as they recollect, was the only ripple in the entire journey”.
An experience of life
“India is our country, our home. It doesn’t feel right to feel insecure in our home. I wanted to make it more accessible and approachable,” says Aniket. Adding to that, Himanshu says, “Whether or not people help us depends entirely on how we approach them. We’ve become too accustomed to discriminating against everyone.”
According to Aniket, asking for help with a smile on your face is the best way to approach while hitchhiking. There were times when they slept in abandoned houses and spent mornings without food. But what they found was that people, in general, were willing to help as soon as they heard their story. Communication was the key.
Both agree that to travel, money is not a necessity. “When you cross the line of risk, there is something beautiful and unknown waiting for you. But you have to cross that line”. After five days of being on the road, and at the mercy of circumstances, Aniket and Himanshu came home humbled and inclusive. Travel surely transforms everyone in the same way. But this duo had learnt something else—“We realized that India is a far better place than the West for hitchhiking because everyone is ready to help you.”