Journalist Vishnu Chapke decided to go around the world using surface transport. He started his sojourn in Mumbai, then travelled to four countries and is currently in Beijing. Travelling on a a shoestring budget, he was soon faced with the crippling reality of how expensive travel can be. However, he found his saviours in the most unlikely of places — among the dabbawallahs of Mumbai.
Journalists have their own reasons to be inspired every day. They consider themselves to be agents of social change; they often meet exciting people and are enthused by how they live their lives. For Vishnu, meeting Commander Dilip Donde, who circumnavigated around the world by sea was life changing. After interviewing Dilip, he left his job and decide to do the same. “Donde said I would need around Rs 1.5 crore, which I could not dream of raising. I dropped the idea till I read Donde’s book on his journey and wondered if I could work out something,” Vishnu told The Times of India.
No amount of hitchhiking or travelling back and forth on congested Mumbai locals, could have prepared Vishnu for this arduous journey to nowhere.
“Every year, I used to go hitch-hiking. I did it in Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Sikkim and Nepal. This year, my plan was to travel within the North-East, without money or minimum money. On March 19, I started my journey from Thane station. I had travelled from Mumbai – Kolkata – Assam – Manipur. Rule was very simple: ask for lifts from vehicles and ask locals for accommodation. I sent requests for shelter on Facebook and friends helped me. It went smooth, without any money,” Chapke said to DNA. The rest of his journey was crowd-funded after he spent all his savings, including some of his provident fund.
After befriending a Tamilian settled in Manipur whose grandfather had migrated to Myanmar, Vishnu managed to cross over there. He travelled further by train to Bangkok, a few Thai cities later to Vientiane in Laos, then by train to Hanoi and eventually reached Beijing.
This was no easy task but the various acquaintances he made on his job ensured that he had a long list of contacts that he could reach out to.
“There was a time when my Vietnam visa was set to expire and I could have been in serious trouble with the authorities. Cambodia and Japan refused visas. A Chinese journalist helped me get a visa for China,” he told Times of India.
— Vishnudas Chapke (@vishnuchapke) August 6, 2016
Upon reaching China, he decided to contact his old acquaintance, Subhash, a dabbawallah. Vishnu had interviewed Subhash Talekar of the Mumbai Jevan Dabe Vahtuk Mandal long ago for a newspaper article. Subhash is one among the many dabbawallahs who ferry nearly 1 lakh tiffins within the city of Mumbai on a daily basis. According to Subhash, “Earlier this month, he (Vishnu) touched base with me from China on WhatsApp as he had no money for international calls. His trip sounds crazy and gutsy. We wanted to help in whatever way we could.”
The dabbawallahs decided to deliver handouts with Vishnu’s plea for donations to 2,000 customers in South Mumbai along with their tiffins.
But these experiences have only strengthened Vishnu’s resolve to complete the trip even further. He admits that comfort figures last on his list of priorities but maintaining a meagre budget comes first. He does odd jobs in exchange for food and accommodation. Vishnu even resorts to sleeping in railway stations and temples to save money. Next, Vishnu is trying to figure out how to board a cargo vessel that takes him to Australia where he plans on cycling from one coast to the other.