“If you are passionate about something, money will never be an obstacle,” says 74-year-old Rajaram Patil proudly.
Patil swears to travel as much as he can, and if money is an issue, his solution is to work more.
A farmer from Sajani in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, Rajaram has always been passionate about exploring new places. Even in the days of abject poverty, he found ways to travel. Even if that meant travelling hundreds of kilometres on his bicycle or bullock cart to a destination.
“Our school teacher used to punish us a lot because we would never study. One day we were so tired of what seemed like a never-ending punishment, so we decided to quit our education,” said Rajaram and Shankar Lohar, Rajaram’s travel buddy.
Immediately after quitting school, Rajaram started farming when he was 16 years old. He farmed for nearly a decade and then joined a factory in the nearby town of Ichalkaranji.
Rajaram recalls, “I used to get Rs 7 per day for 12 hours work. Some of my friends back then were from Wategaon village which is 68 km from my home. The moment my night shift ended, I used to cycle to meet them, and this was just one of the several excuses of travelling.”
Talking about the beginning of his travels, Rajaram recalls, “When I was in grade nine, we went to Pune and Mahabaleshwar hill station on a school trip. That was the farthest I had ever been back then. A truly inspiring point in my life!”
The lack of money never a hurdle when it came to travelling. In his early 20s, Rajaram with his group of friends cycled 400 km to and back from Sajani village to Saundatti-Yellamma in Karnataka. “We used to carry basic grains to cook with, and when you are passionate about travelling, you don’t need to worry about the journey,” says Rajaram.
Rajaram started to find excuses to travel, never letting the lack of funds come in the way. “I remember always being a part of the farmers’ protests held in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. This always left me with a lot of memories, because I saw a lot of places in Mumbai while protesting,” explains Rajaram.
As a traveller, Rajaram has been to Goa nine times. He went for the first time to Goa when he was around 35-40 years old. As a frequent traveller, Rajaram has sometimes landed in some of the most difficult situations, but surprisingly they weren’t daunting enough.
“When I went to Goa for the third time, I remember how we landed up in jail. We are poor farmers and have never seen even the steps leading to jail, but this was an unusual event which always brings a smile on my face,” says Rajaram.
Narrating his experience he says,
“We had booked train tickets from Goa. However, we were fuelled by high spirits and failed to realise that the train had left already,” laughs Patil
“Now, there was a case of robbery in the nearby area and police thought we were the culprits. Immediately, they beat us and threw us in a police jeep. We stayed in jail for the entire night with 150 other people in the same lockup. Upon interrogating in the morning, we explained to them that we were innocent and are normal tourists, only after which we were released from the prison. As a traveller, you have to be ready to face all the situations, and this never stopped me from going to Goa again.” After this incident, Rajaram went to Goa six times to explore the beauty of nature! Goa has been a hub of life lessons for Rajaram and his friends.
Shankar Sutar, Rajaram’s travel buddy shares another memorable experience from their second trip to Goa. He narrates, “We went to Goa, but while returning we realised that we had run out of money. With a can of water and two alcohol bottles, we decided to walk all the way from Goa to Sajani which is 230 km. However, luck favoured us, and a tempo came closer as we were walking. It was late in the night, and he wanted to go to Kolhapur. Our faces saw the widest grin as we were from Kolhapur district and knew the route as well. The moment we neared Kolhapur, we asked him to drop us near the village. However, he demanded money, and even went on to check our pockets. We gave him a bottle of alcohol as a token of help and reached home.”
Recently, Rajaram with his two friends trekked the Raigad fort in ‘3 hours 5 minutes.’ They love trekking and are fascinated by the design of forts. Once he saw a poster of Rajasthan tourism in the late 90s and was impressed by the design of forts there. Immediately, 57 years old, Kumar Patil, another travel buddy talks about the difference in the design of forts in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. “Next year, let’s plan to see the forts of Rajasthan,” replies Rajaram.
Among the many places he has visited are Delhi, Kashi, Mathura, Agra, Almatti dam, Bijapur and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Currently, he is saving up for his dream travel route – all of South India belt.
He plans to begin his journey in the last week of October with his group of six friends.
There were several instances when people judged their group because of the farmer’s attire they wore. “Many people look down upon us, especially when we go to places like Goa. However, we know that our destiny is to travel and the public’s gaze doesn’t matter to us now. We are poor farmers who save money and travel,” says Shankar.
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Talking about the means of transport Rajaram says, “From a bullock cart to a jeep, I use whatever modes of transport I can afford to see new places and in turn get closer to nature. I remember, using my bullock cart several times to go to Khochi village which is 26 km from my home.”
One of the most exciting parts about travelling is sharing the bank of memories with equally passionate people.
“Don’t sit idle, keep travelling. There will come a day in your life when you will look back and ask yourself about the memories you made. If you haven’t seen this world, how will you face yourself?” says Rajaram as he plans to see Shivaji’s cradle kept in the Shivneri fort.
About the author: Sanket Jain is a rural reporter, PARI volunteer and Founder of Bastiyon Ka Paigam. He is passionate about listening and understanding the everyday lives of everyday people. He is often found in rural areas covering stories of abject poverty.