In 2019, Afzal, a native of Thevaikkal, Kochi, had travelled the length and breadth of India on a bike. And that’s when it hit him- is it enough that only he got to see the world? Shouldn’t his near and dear ones too share the excitement of wanderlust? That’s when he thought of taking his parents and wife to see India.
But Afzal kept his wishes to himself. To begin with, it would be risky to travel with his parents who are in their 60s, and his three-year-old child. And then he was sure his relatives would create a fuss. So he didn’t breathe a word to anyone. However, Afzal religiously narrated his travel experiences to his parents, with the hope that by the time he reveals this plan, they would be intrigued enough to agree.
His plan seemed to have worked. Afzal realized that these stories were really awakening their desire to travel. And then he decided to put the plan into action and told them- travel the whole of India in a car. He was sure they would decline. But to his utter delight, both wholeheartedly agreed. Even his three-year-old Aman Faizi and his wife KH Rahana were good to go.
The biggest investment was the risk
They had scheduled the trip for October 6. Since his mother had just recovered from Covid-19, the first thing they did was to consult a doctor and take the necessary precautions. The doctor prescribed the necessary medicines and gave the go-ahead sign. Health insurance was also provided to all. Afzal’s wife, Rehana, who was a dentist, also took a long leave. Afzal, who owned a workshop, also made temporary arrangements for its operation. They decided to keep the news away from their relatives for the time being.
Afzal informed his brothers Altaf and Ansar about the journey. Since Afzal didn’t have a car, Ansar generously offered his car to Afzal. Exactly one week after the decision, on October 14, Afzal and his family embarked on that long dream journey in a red Swift car, to the other end of India. Currently, we are told that they have entered Srinagar.
On their feet
For Khader and Naseema, their biggest travel has been to Thiruvananthapuram. And suddenly they find themselves sitting inside a car headed to Leh. At times life throws such surprises that it can be difficult to comprehend. For this couple in their 60s, this new journey filled with beautiful landscapes, places, people, and experiences are helping them to reconnect with their younger self. And their son cannot be more happier watching his parents embrace life with such happiness. They try to cover as much as 500 km daily, stopping sporadically for sightseeing, food, and to take some rest. They usually stay at hotels previously booked online. So most often the journey will eventually come to a halt in front of the next hotel booked online. They make sure to leave before 7 am daily and try to reach the hotel before 5 pm. Evenings will be set aside to soak in the beauty of the place, sample local cuisine, and visit other places of interest. Since the car is equipped with a gas cylinder and a stove, they often stop to make porridge on the way. when that taste starts to bore them, they hop in to taste the local food.
It was through Afzal's WhatsApp status that many of his friends came to know of his travels. Soon Afzal’s WhatsApp was inundated with greetings, surprised and worried emojis. Their relatives and neighbours were flummoxed to see Naseema and Khader trying out parasailing (parasailing is a recreational activity where a person is towed behind a vehicle (usually a boat) while attached to a specially designed parachute, known as a parasail) and camel safari (a camel safari is a perfect way to discover desert regions – especially areas as historically and culturally rich as Rajasthan, or as vast and awe-inspiring as the Nubra Valley in Ladakh), in their status video. There are several places in Rajasthan where you can go for Camel Safari, and the best ones include Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Pushkar, and Jodhpur. Each of these places offers a unique and memorable experience. Jaisalmer, the Golden City as it is often dubbed, is located in the heart of the Thar desert.
Interestingly, most of the routes were decided only after the journey began. Initially, they weren’t really sure about the number of days required to cover India and were unsure as to when they will eventually reach home. Afzal admits that they got a rough idea about their travel itinerary only after they reached midway into the journey. It was during the middle of the journey that they bought warm clothes, in case the journey stretched to winter.
But when they reached Rajasthan, they realised that it was necessary to change their itinerary. Internet service was completely banned in five districts of the state due to the Teacher's Eligibility Test. They returned to Haryana from Jaipur on the same day as it was impossible to put a Google map for the trip and book a hotel. However, they managed to find time to visit four important places in Rajasthan.
Afzal says the happiest moment in the trip was watching his parents parasailing in Jaisalmer. Though his mother cried at first and maintained that she would not club, eventually she gave into Afzal’s persistence. He gave her the confidence and by the time she finished the ride, she looked like she was game for another round.
They stayed at a tent in Jaisalmer. According to Khader exploring the Ajanta Ellora Caves in Aurangabad was another unforgettable experience. They also met Anosh on the way from Udaipur to Jodhpur. He had traveled around India on a bicycle. It had been 64 days since he had left the country. Naseema was personally excited as his house was near her family house in Thammanam.
Afzal is all praise for the Swift car. All four of them could travel so comfortably and even on the highway, the average speed was 80-90 km. Afzal says the rooftop carrier which his friend removed from his car was a great help during the trip. Since it was a Swift hatchback, the carrier made it very easy to store luggage. Although the journey was entirely by car, they also relied on public transport to see the sights in some places like Udaipur.
This was the route
They travelled through Mysore, Hubli, Aurangabad, Mumbai, Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, and Hisar in Haryana and reached Amritsar on Monday. On Tuesday they entered Srinagar. Now they are planning to head towards Kargil and Leh. They have planned their return journey to Kochi via Manali, New Delhi, Nagpur, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. In the current situation, the journey will be completed in 30 days. They had intended to visit the northeastern states via Uttarakhand but later cancelled it in the wake of the floods in Uttarakhand.
Since the journey is being undertaken during Covid times, entry into each state is precautionary. It was only when they reached Mysore that they asked for the RTPCR certificate. There was no difficulty in crossing other state borders. Halfway through, the trip went smoothly.