Father Prasanth Palakkappilly was crystal clear about what he should do immediately after retiring from his academic career by taking time off from his routine work as a priest. After retiring as principal of the Sacred Heart College, Thevara, Fr. Prasanth was gearing up to realize his dream journey. And at the age of 57, the priest with great grit and determination traversed close to 21,000km across India in 121 days. During the arduous solo trip on his favourite motorbike, Fr. Prasanth tried to learn more about hundreds of villages and cities. The priest wanted to make the bike odyssey much more than an ordinary tour as he had spread the noble message of waste management and constantly interacted with students and youths while touching the four corners of the country.
The message of the expedition, ‘Discovering Trust-Green-Peace’, was simple but striking and the motorbike that took the priest across the length and breadth of India was his 13-year-old ‘Honda Unicorn’. A group of teachers and students welcomed Fr. Prasanth when he completed his pan-India tour, which he kick-started at the Sacred Heart College on August 10, at the same campus on December 11. During the four-month expedition, the priest touched all states except Mizoram and Jharkhand. He missed the two states as a technical glitch in Google map gave wrong directions.
As the message of garbage disposal was also part of the trip, plastic covers and bottles were shunned. The priest had to shell out Rs 89,000, including Rs 10,000 for food and accommodation, to cover nearly 21,000km in 121 days. Close to Rs 79,000 was expended to buy petrol and various entry passes.
Farming lands leave a mark
Interestingly, three agricultural lands caught the attention of Fr. Prasanth instead of some picturesque places. First one was 100 acres of farm land of a person in Andhra Pradesh. With meticulous planning and great foresight, cereals and vegetables are being cultivated by following the best scientific organic practices. Moreover, there are centres that produce value-added products from agriculture produce and this was a source of inspiration for Fr. Prasanth.
The second awe moment for Fr. Prasanth was 2.5 acres of agricultural land owned by his classmates, a husband-wife duo, hailing from Maharashtra. It is quite commendable that the couple, who studied with him in Maharashtra, scientifically harvests the scarce rain of the region for agricultural purposes.
Fr. Prasanth was also bowled over by the farming done by a German couple on 10 acres of land in Maharashtra. A certain portion of their land had been converted into forest, and fruits and vegetables are being cultivated in the remaining part. Keralites can take a leaf or two out of this German duo’s book in rain harvesting as they preserve the scant rain water with great finesse, says Fr. Prasanth.
Pristine natural beauty
Fr. Prasanth started his expedition after offering prayers at the resting place of Saint Chavara. From Kanyakumari, the priest travelled to Dhanushkodi and other places in Tamil Nadu, Bengaluru, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Many people enquired about the purpose of his expedition when he reached various places in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bengal and north-eastern states. Fr. Prasanth also made it a point to interact with school and college students during his odyssey. It is noteworthy that the regions near the China border had a frosty weather.
Fr. Prasanth took breaks according to the climate conditions. The ride to the Bum La Pass, which is 15,000ft above sea level, is out of the world as the road to the border in Arunachal Pradesh is covered by snow on both sides, notes Fr. Prasanth. When the priest embarked on the solo journey, one of the places he wanted to visit was Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu and the ride to that exotic destination was exhilarating as the road is in the middle of water, he adds.
The natural beauty of Uttarakhand can’t be put into words. The heaps of apples and apples hanging from trees in Himachal Pradesh are a treat for the eyes. Kashmir is undoubtedly heaven on earth. Fr. Prasanth is a tad downcast over the fact that he couldn’t ride up to Ladakh as he had to return from Srinagar due to inclement weather. The priest interacted with villagers, people living along the border and protesting farmers during the trip. He also spent two days with the farmers on a sit-in protest on the Delhi-Haryana border. “When I informed that I was a teacher from Kerala, they gave me an opportunity to address the farmers. I am happy that the protest was a success,” says Fr. Prasanth.
It may be noted that the farmers were protesting for nearly one year against three farm laws of the Center and called off the agitation only after the central government gave the assurance that the contentious laws would be repealed. Later, the three farm laws were scrapped.
Kerala is indeed ‘God’s Own Country’
Fr. Prasanth had numerous moments of realization during the 121-day bike odyssey across India. “Cleanliness is taking a back seat and the governments should do much more than building toilets as solid waste is mounting. Except Indore, most of the cities in the country are unclean. Indore can be model for Kerala when it comes to cleanliness,” he notes.
Another thing that caught the attention of the priest is that the farmers across the country lag behind in all aspects. Though the governments had been putting in place agriculture-friendly policies, they were unsuccessful in providing a robust life to farmers. “I visited many schools during the trip. But none of students said that their ambition was to become a farmer and this reflects the ground reality,” the priest adds.
After travelling to almost all states in India, Fr. Prasanth realized that the best place in the country is Kerala. Kerala is in the forefront when it comes to education, development and peace. Moreover, the state has the potential to grow exponentially and be on a par with the developed nations.
A travel junkie
Solo travel is not new to Fr. Prasanth and his first such journey was a bike ride from Bengaluru (then Bangalore) to Kochi (then Cochin) in 1992. When the priest went Chennai to attend a course, he travelled nearly 680km in a day on bike. But Fr. Prasanth loves bicycle rides more than motorbike tours. He goes to college and other places in the vicinity on a bicycle and rides a motorcycle only for long journeys. The Earth Summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil provided food for thought for the priest and he used to read all newspaper reports relating to the conference with great interest. Moreover, as Fr. Prasanth’s subject of study was social work, environmental studies were part of his curriculum. He also took part in the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ and Plachimada agitations.
Green message to youth
Throughout his 24-year career as a teacher, Fr. Prasanth had worked hard to create eco-friendly campuses. When the priest worked at Rajagiri College and Thevara College, he was instrumental in initiating environment-related programmes on the campuses. During his tenure as the principal of Thevara College, Fr. Prasanth bought land for the college and started cultivation there to promote farming activities. In a bid to spread the message of sustainable waste management, he churned out artefacts from scrap.
It is easier to inculcate a sense of concern for environment in students and youngsters than in elderly people, says Fr. Prasanth.
“Generation of garbage should be kept to the minimum to have an environment-friendly atmosphere and the religious institutions can intervene in this matter. The religious centers can play a pivotal role in chalking out eco-friendly policies and implementing them. But many are not showing any interest in these issues,” he notes.
The teachers can immensely influence the students to follow an eco-friendly etiquette right from their childhood. But sadly most of the teachers are not treading that path, says the priest.
The elected representatives of the local self-government institutions can also pitch in to reduce waste generation in their respective wards and areas. But they are only interested in the politics of retaining their positions and seats, he adds.
“It is pretty easy to channel some money and materials through a project. It is easy to garner votes too. But it may not easy to stand by environment and that might the reason why elected representatives and the administration are indifferent to environment-related issues,” Fr. Prasanth says.
The priest’s tryst with travelling is not ending here as he is already gearing up for an expedition to spread the message of world peace. Fr. Prasanth also has plans to pen his travel experiences.