Prithvi, an engineering student from Nayarambalam in Kochi, has achieved the seemingly impossible feat of travelling from Paravur in Kerala to Manali in Himachal Pradesh without spending even a single rupee on travel and accommodation. The 20-year-old hitchhiked through several states for 23 days to realize a dream.
"I had a deep desire to set out on such a journey for many years but decided to wait for the approval of my parents. Finally, when they gave permission, even though half-heartedly, I wasted no time in starting preparations," says the youth.
Prithvi started from Paravur Junction and thumbed down vehicles as diverse as bikes and trucks with national permit to cover the route to Manali that passed through Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
Packing for the journey was not done in a hectic manner. Even when Prithvi carried only a shoulder bag during the long trip, he had started preparations two years ago.
"I programmed my mind and body to tackle adverse situations. Among the methods employed were reduced food intake, training to sleep in open spaces during hot as well as cold seasons and even starving myself," he reveals. For many days, the youth's meals comprised chappatis, dal and onions.
He later bought a sleeping bag and packed his kit with a small tent, hammock, pepper spray, three mobile phones, charger, some essential medicines and three pairs of clothes.
Mother sees him off
It was Prithvi's mother who dropped him at Paravur Junction, thus launching the solo adventure to Manali. The first vehicle that stopped for Prithvi was a bike that took him to Aluva. From there, the youth got into truck and travelled up to Malappuram. A fish lorry then helped the youth to reach Kannur, from where a car offered a free ride up to Kasaragod.
From the northernmost district in Kerala, Prithvi travelled in several trucks. "It may seem a thrilling journey but was in reality very tough. Few truck drivers stop for hitchhikers as they are concerned about their own safety," says the engineering student. To acquire a harmless look, Prithvi wore saffron clothes and a necklace made of 'rudraksha' beads. He also grew a beard. "That made me look like a pilgrim," he says.
"It you thumb at least 20 trucks, one may stop. But even then the driver could refuse to take you. Many times, I had to walk long distances. At a place called Telgaon, 15 km had to be covered on foot before I boarded a truck," he adds.
Night halts were one of the biggest challenges Prithvi faced. "As I had resolved not to spend even a single rupee, staying in rooms was ruled out. The alternative was spending the night in petrol pumps. However, at many pumps, there was no space and I had to sleep at truck parking terminals. Safety was an issue at these places but I dozed off owing to weariness," he informs.
Along the way, Prithvi met a group of hippies and spent a night with them. Starving himself while preparing for the journey helped a lot in many situations, says the young man as the menu at truck terminals comprised chappatis, dal, onion and green chillies. He had taken some peanut butter from home, which proved useful, says Prithvi.
Danger and an angel
During the long trip, Prithvi had a close encounter with death. He also met a man who proved to be an angel. In Haryana, Prithvi boarded a truck and realized that everyone inside, including the driver, was high on drugs. "They had stopped immediately after I thumbed but once inside the vehicle knew that I was in danger. Apart from being intoxicated, the drivers and crew carried weapons like steel pipes and swords. They also spoke about some contract killing," he says.
A frightened Prithvi managed to get out of the truck but the crew chased him. "I saved my life by running into a petrol pump," recalls Prithvi with horror.
The incident shook him thoroughly and the youth even thought of abandoning his trip and returning home. However, an angel appeared before him in the form of Avtar Singh, a Sikh truck driver from Punjab who was carrying a load to Himachal Pradesh. "Singh not only offered me space in his truck but also travelled through interior areas so that I could really enjoy the natural beauty of the places we were passing through. He also took me to Shimla before unloading the goods," remembers Prithvi.
There was more. "When there was extreme cold, Singh offered me some liquor as well as lent me a woollen blanket. He also took me to his house in Patiala, where I spent a couple of days," says the youth with gratitude.
A third year Mechanical student at SNM Engineering College, Maliankara, Prithvi says that his journey has a message. "Many people avoid going on long travels believing that much planning and money are involved. I have proved that it is not so," he says.
Thanking his father Pradeep, mother Sharita and sister Pavithra for allowing him to fulfil his wish, Prithvi says work on a video shot during the trip is underway. “Editing work is going on and the film will be released soon," he says.