Vrooming up to Leh-Ladakh is every young man's dream. So was it with Manu Babu who harboured dreams of riding up to his dream destination. That was two years ago. Though folks who knew him dismissed it as just another fancy of the young travel freak, Manu was all set to tear off on his bike when tragedy struck. A road mishap on May 5, 2019, torpedoed all his plans. Not only did his plans go haywire, but it also dealt him a body blow. It took his right leg away.
A constant image
As the leg had to be amputated from up his knee, the bright young man who was always moving around on his two-wheeler, found himself bound to his bed. Though physically confined within the four blank walls of his room, his mind was up and about already making plans. He saw himself riding free along the snow-clad mountains of the mighty Himalayas. This was a picture he constantly kept seeing.
The moment his leg healed, Manu was up on his crutches, determined to make it to Leh-Ladakh and that too on his bike. So fierce was his determination that he began seeing an opportunity in every obstacle. In a couple of weeks his dreams should take wings and carry him up the mountains to Ladakh.
As planned earlier, Manu Babu is all set to ride out to Leh on his bike. He will be flagged off from Kochi in early August in the company of Dream Riders, a group of bike riders who hold travel and adventure close to their hearts.
A visibly happy Manu opens up to Onmanorama on his dream ride and the hurdles he had to cross before he could finally settle on his plans.
Travel in his blood
Travel was ingrained in his psyche. Of that he is sure, but fails to figure out when the travel bug really bit him. He recalls the childhood Kottayam-Palakkad train trips he undertook with his parents. He grew up with the knowledge that folks undertake several types of trips, particularly with a mode of transport they are most comfortable with. Soon enough, he began to go around with friends on short trips. The first major thing he did when he majored into 18 was to buy an old two-wheeler which became an inseparable part of him. He was constantly on it, going wherever he wanted to, be it far or near. Along with his academic pursuits he took up part-time jobs and soon bought a new bike.
The two-wheeler took him to several places in Kottayam, Ernakulam, Alappuzha, Idukki and Wayanad. There never was a special destination. It was just travel and more travel and whenever friends could join him, his cup of joy would run over.
A memorable Pollachi trip
Each place opens up new vistas, new experiences, he says. So deeply was he into seeing places that he could talk only about travel while hanging out with friends. Though he would lap up others’ travel vlog experiences, he knew nothing could compare with the joy of seeing them spot on. All he had to do was to tell his friends of a particular place and off they would go. Manu says he seldom went all by himself. He loved to share his travel joys with his friends. He remembers one particularly pleasant Pollachi trip in the company of his old plus-two friends. They headed straight to Athirappilly, took the hairpin bends to Valparai and rode to Pollachi.
Manu is still in awe of that super trip. There were eight of them on a two-day trip with the night spent in Valparai.
The Ladakh dream and a tragedy
The Ladakh obsession gripped him after watching popular vlogger Arun Smoki’s video. And a ride to Ladakh, as you know, is every travel freak’s dream drive.
Manu began saving up for the long haul. Along with his ITI studies, he took up a part-time job, all the while saving up however much he could.
The accident that took his leg away happened during his prep time for the Ladakh trip. He was riding back home after a visit to a relative’s place when tragedy struck at a place called Chotty in Mundakkayam. He was hit by a car which was apparently speeding head on. It hit him and sped away. As his friends rushed him to hospital, his life could be saved, but not his leg.
From then on, his days were divided between home and hospital. “I started moving around on crutches once my leg had healed”, says Manu. But his true support and true crutches were his friends who stood by him throughout his ordeal.
Friends the true crutches
The irresistible call of travel took him out again with his friends. With the help of a walker, he went on short trips. Though a Valparai trip popped up once again, Manu too went, but this time, on a traveller. It was a trip his friends had planned just to cheer him up and it was a different route this time. The boys headed to Munnar, on to Marayoor and to Valparai. That trip was a whole new experience for Manu. That old familiar pull to see places once again began gnawing at him.
In the beginning it was disconcerting to see how people viewed a man on his bike with crutches packed along. They would just stare at him. Manu says he learnt to take it all in his stride. Besides, his friends were always by his side.
Manu Babu says he owes his present state of fame to his friends who shot videos of him dancing, playing football and riding his bike, all on one leg and posting and popularizing them on social media. “When my videos went viral, Manorama Online did a feature on me which fetched me a lot of help from kind hearted souls, as a result of which I got an excellent prosthetic leg from Ottobock Artificial Limb Centre in Thiruvananthapuram”, says Manu. This really did help him in that walking and traveling eased a lot of his burden.
A call from Dream Riders
At present Manu works for a company dealing in plastic moulds and bushes. It’s quite close to his home from where he can walk to work.
Manu got a call from the Ernakulam-based Dream Riders who read about him on social media. The young man could not believe his ears when the riders asked him over to join them on their next trip to Ladakh. That was all he needed. However, the trip got postponed due to Covid and lockdown curbs. Buy now everything has been fixed for an August first week ride-off. There are 40 of them in the riders’ team.
Nothing is impossible
Manu has just one pertinent question to all folks who cry “impossible” and pull out of life after a serious mishap or a misfortune: Why not? Why is it impossible? If I can, why can’t you? His anguish and concern are genuine. What’s in it if you decide to isolate yourself? he asks.
He firmly believes his trip to Ladakh will not only be an eye-opener to others like him, but also an inspiration for them to go out and take life head on. If I succeed in this, my ride to Ladakh would be worth all of my effort, says Manu.