Written by by Aishwarya Phadke
Travel has over the years evolved into a spiritual exercise for me. I’ve experienced moments of such awareness and clarity during travel that I could compare them to meditation. Maybe it’s the stillness, maybe it’s the earnest intent of seeking answers, maybe it’s some invisible energies I can’t comprehend that enable such deep experiences. Of course not every trip is as enlightening and one can’t even go looking for these rare moments. Sometimes, though you can!
In January 2020, a group called Traveller’s University announced an event called ‘Swapathgami Cycle Yatra’. It was going to be a week of cycling through the interior parts of Kerala. The USP of the yatra though, was that it was to be a money-less, gadget-less sojourn intended to help us trust the universe and its ways. I’d never done anything like this before and I was intrigued. I was sure a big perspective shift was bound to happen through a yatra like this and I enrolled myself.
I was told to carry only 2 sets of clothes and non-chemical body-care products. No electronics, no food, no watches even. We would only ride basic non-geared/pre-used cycles. The idea was to rely on the world for all our needs- food, water, shelter, cycle repair, and anything else we might require. I enjoy experiments in minimalism and sustainability and I was kicked to do this. I was okay sleeping on the floor and the cycling part didn’t scare me. I was only worried about what we’d eat. Would anyone offer us any real food?
Before the yatra, the group met in Shoranur and went through an intense day of orientation. Everyone had a lot of questions. We didn’t just get to know each other better but we also set ground rules and established a system of democracy for the upcoming yatra. That day we were hosted by a lovely family running a farmstay and health food store called Farmers Share. Unsure of how little we might get to eat over the next week, we ate till our hearts were full that day.
On the first day of the yatra, we were all asked to write one word/quote that resonated with us and we wanted to carry as a mood through the yatra on a paper. Instinctively, I wrote ‘and I think to myself, what a wonderful world!’ I didn't know where our next meal or 20 meals after that were coming from, but I somehow had a gut feeling that we were going to be okay, that we were all going to be protected.
And so it began. We started cycling, wide eyed and hopeful. Over the week that we cycled, hour after hour I just witnessed magic unfold. On the first day for example, an hour after we started riding, we met a lady. She stopped and asked us what we were doing cycling through this non-touristy part of Kerala. We tried to explain. When she heard that we had no money or food, she gave us directions to a village where there was a temple feast arranged. We rode for a couple of hours, unsure and unexpecting. To our surprise, we were welcomed warmly and fed a lovely festive meal. All 16 of us!
You’d think we lucked out once, but as ‘luck’ would have it, we kept meeting kind strangers one after the other. We started being offered thalis and fruits, juice and biscuits, stay at schools and midday meals that would be cooked with love for kindergarten students. We got invited to a pre-wedding dinner and were hosted like beloved family members.
I have honestly never tasted food as clearly as I did in that week. Sometimes we had to put a piece of banana in two biscuits and call that modest dry sandwich a meal. But most times, we were offered warm cooked meals.
My personal favourite time was in a village just before Vellinezi, where a local youth club hosted us. We got to bathe at the nearby river in pleasant cold water, we crossed a pet elephant and got to interact with a lot of the kind villagers.
They had broadcasted news of us arriving to their whole community and 16 families volunteered to bring meals for the 16 of us that night. It was generous and grand. There were idlis, dosas, rice, chutneys, papadams, fried fish, dals, curries, omelettes and what not. I couldn’t believe all that was happening.
Not having my phone forced me to take mental pictures of all the exquisite moments we were encountering. Picturesque landscapes of rural Kerala made the daily 20-30 kms of cycling feel like a breeze. We let birds sing to us and the stars shine their bright light.
On our arrival back at Farmers Share, we were greeted with garlands and an elaborate organic meal. It was served on banana leaf, we all sat in a long row and relished the rainbow coloured meal. The chiratta puttu (rice cakes steamed in coconut shell) were especially exquisite.
That week transformed me in little and big ways. I truly understood the value of food, warm baths, comfortable beds, and all my other privileges. I learnt community living and the magic of the universe. It had put those generous, hospitable strangers on our path and we had returned safe and unscathed, with gratitude flowing through our veins.
Would something like this work in Maharashtra? I’d love to find out some day!
P.S: all the pictures are either from the Farmstay before the yatra began or from the yatra but taken by strangers and shared with us later (since we didn't have our phones with us. )