Wanderlust resides within every one of us though its intensity varies and we desire that still around the corner, there may wait, a new road or a secret gate. Traveling is synonymous to exploring and adventures for its this that fills our soul. How often haven’t we all thought to just pack a bag and go out and rediscover the world but fall short on daring to live a life we always wanted but not this former journalist. Here we present to you the story of Vishnudas Chapke that encapsulate the spirit of traveling.
Vishnu Da Gama – The Indian pedestrian circumnavigator
Our story starts on 19th March 2016 from the railway station of Thane, Mumbai. Vishnudas Chapke hailing from Prabhani worked in Mumbai as a college lecturer and later as a Print journalist. This farmer’s son, one fine day decided to take a break for three months and have a normal vacation to cover northeastern states of India like Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya then head to Myanmar and Thailand by land and return home via Bangkok by flight. And what initially started as a planned holiday trip turned into an uncharted adventure of a life time!
Vishnudas recalls a fascinating conversation he had with a French teenager who was studying under him. This teenage girl had traveled most places in India and the experience she gained within her journey she shared it with Vishnudas in form of compelling stories, this sparked within him to be a globetrotter. Along with his innate zeal for travelling the biggest inspiration to him was his interview with Captain Dilip Donde, first Indian to circumnavigate the world by sea in 2010. This meeting stayed with Vishnudas even after years and in 2016 he made it into a reality when he decided to embark upon his own circumnavigation of the earth by foot!
Places visited – Around the world in 1097 days
What started out as a small vacation, ended being a 3 years voyage covering 35 countries spanning across 5 continents – Asia, Australia, South and North America and Europe. Vishnudas had previously partaken in hiking trips to Jammu and Kashmir, Natu la and was aware that his physic could uphold this journey on foot. So, without a detailed plan or a map and only with the idea of traveling West to East he headed out into the world.
Vishnudas completed his planned stretch of India-Myanmar-Thailand and explored further international borders such as Laos, Vietnam, China, Iran and so on. He navigated further crossing international waters to Australia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, France, Germany and so on. In his adventure of traveling around the globe he not only visited Beijing twice but ended up back at the same platform No. 8 of Thane where this spectacular journey began.
Finances – A shoe string budget
In an interview with Donde, Vishnudas learned that he would require 1.5crore to live out the dream of circumnavigating the globe. Though this dream came to reality in a very unusual way, Vishnudas was tightly stretched in terms of budget. He had quit his job and used most of his savings and provident fund to finance his journey. His monitory relief ran dry twice during his journey and help came in most unexpected way.
During his first trouble with money the journey was crowd funded by the aid of Mumbai Jevan Dabe Vahtuk Mandal. Appealing on Vishnu’s behalf, the dabbawalas handed out information of monitory reliefs with the tiffins to their customers in South Mumbai. And second time around Vishnudas was awarded a sponsorship by the Tata Trust worth Rupees 15 lakh.
In the wake of his stringent budget Vishnudas had a different outlook on traveling where he focused more on the cultural aspects of the place’s he visited that resided more on the country side and did not part take on touristy stuff that had entry fee more than 2 dollars. He particularly recalls the fact that he could not visit Opera House in Sydney and Eiffel Tower in Pairs due to their entry fee being out of his budget.
Transportation and Accomodation
The major reason behind Vishnu’s decision on circumnavigating the globe by foot was the budget. To spend as little as possible on traveling he mostly hitchhiked and this opened doors towards conversations with locals that gave him more knowledge on the political, social and cultural aspects of the place he was visiting.
While crossing international borders he either took buses or trains and the option of flying was only used to cross the international waters. He cut corners to save money by staying with friends and acquaintances. He asked locals for accommodations by requesting shelter on Facebook and slept in railway stations, immigration offices when the comfort of a bed wasn’t available. He always was on a lookout for volunteering opportunities where in exchange for his services he got free food and shelter. One such instance occurred in Vietnam where Vishnu taught kids English and gained the comforts of hot meal and warm bed. Vishnu says his journey was made possible due to the kindness shown by strangers.
Trouble in paradise
Vishnudas heartily retells his experience mostly comprising of positivity, warmth and kindness. He says he did not experience any racial discrimination nor hostility and was welcomed with open arms in every religious place around the world. But with every journey there is always ups and downs, and Visnhu experienced it in terms of visa applications and food.
The constant hurdle Vishnudas faced while circumnavigating across international borders was the visa application. He was refused visa by Cambodia and Japan. The USA rejected his application multiple times and though this put him nine months behind his journey and made it necessary to apply to 11 countries individually, he wasn’t deterred from his path. Owing to his vegetarian life style food was the next major obstacle as he had episodes of severe health issues and one such time, he even considered quitting the whole voyage due to a terrible tooth ache. But slowly and steadily he learnt to cook his own food and buy fresh fruits from the vendors when cooking wasn’t an option.
During his journey there was a particular terrifying moment when he was robbed and stabbed as he hitchhiked the border of Chile- Argentina. But was fortunate enough to have found help immediately due to which the robber left behind Vishnu’s valuables.
Achievements – memories for a life time
This unusual journey bought Vishnudas a life time worth of experience and knowledge. He not only got to visit new places but also people of different culture. He fondly remembers every one of them that made space for him in their homes but one particular person made space for him in their heart.
Staying in Colombia he specially recalls a time of much gratitude and love as he states,
“While I was waiting for my new passport to arrive, I was working as a volunteer for Amalia Mon, a teacher. I lived with her family for two months and managed to learn Spanish in the meantime. Because I was there around Christmas, I was part of all their celebrations, and they would make me sing—and that too in Spanish! ‘Con mi burrito sabanero voy camino de Belén’ became my best piece, and by the time I was ready to leave, Amalia had come to see me as her son.”
Planted saplings in every place he visited
This journey around the world has sustained him in many ways than one and Vishnudas tried his best to give back to all the welcoming societies that he traveled by volunteering. He took part in the Chile relief operation for a disastrous wildfire. But he says his greatest happiness was when he was able to plant saplings in every place he visited. And extends gratitude when he was able to do this particular practice with ministers and diplomats of 15 of the courtiers he lived in such as Germany, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and so on.
So, the story of Vishnu Da Gama came to an end in 2019 March when he was back to the same Thane station. But Vishnudas left his footstep throughout the world and is an inspiration to all the people who are brimming with wanderlust.