No-one became poor by giving

 

It’s time to give. I have walked the walk and talked the talk. Now I needed to give. I had decided that I would buy all the resources for the slum school myself and give them in person. That way, I could decide what to buy, and being a teacher, I knew which resources would best benefit the children I had been teaching. The other reason being I knew that all the money that I had raised would be used directly for the children’s education, and not be lost or used within the charity system. The remaining money collected for the Brian Tumour Charity I would give personally to my friend Mat Bayfield, when I returned to the UK.

 

 

But, by buying all the books, I had not once given a thought to the way I was going to be able to deliver them. I needed help, and I had to withdraw my two sons from school to help me.

 

 

After looking at all the resources that I had bought for the school, even with help, and riding by taxi, instead of taking the train it was going to take two visits. So the first day I used Andrew my eldest son, and we ordered a taxi to the slum to meet Marie the teacher I had been teaching with the most. Andrew was excited about going to slum, to see what it was like and to meet all the children and the teachers. He has had to put up with all my stories over the whole time we have lived in India. Now he was going to see for himself and make his own opinions.

Sadly, when we arrived at the school, the children had not come back from their summer break, so we only met Marie. She was amazed by how many books there were and was more amazed at how Andrew and I had managed to carry them.

I had to tell her that I would not be coming back to work on the slum. After the end of June, and we both shed a tear. She then quickly said that it was not goodbye, and that our paths would cross again. I have found lot of Indian say this, and I like it, and with the time and experiences I have had, I am sure that I will come back. Who knows, it might be to promote my book about the walk.

 

 

We didn’t stay for long, and knowing I would be coming back for another drop off, made the fact that I was leaving Indian easier for us all to handle. I asked Marie when would the children be coming back into school, and she told me, tomorrow. So we left and I said I will see you tomorrow.

So, on the second visit the next day to the slum school, I also employed my youngest son, Theo, to help me as well. This time we had a few more books to deliver, but mostly we had to deliver all our no longer wanted clothes, that Marie would pass onto to children on the slum. Included were boxes of Lego and Konnex that the boys had out grown, duvet quilts and anything that would be useful that we were not shipping on.

Again we had to catch a taxi, and afterwards, get a rickshaw and train home, which the boys loved. The driver of the taxi was amazed by the amount of stuff we had squeezed into his car. He was also really curious why we were going to slum, and I had to explain that I was a voluntary teacher there.

This time when we arrived at the slum with bags and bags of stuff, the children were in class and learning. After removing our shoes, we entered Marie classroom, and all the children stood up and welcomed us. My two boys just couldn’t believe the amount of respect shown to us. Soon Andrew and Theo were sitting on the floor with the children and helping them with their work. Some of the new resources were already being used, and again, this brought a tear to my eye.

 

 

 

We then walked over to the other side of the slum to deliver all the resources that I had bought for the other class I had taught in. Again, I would not have been able to have transport all the stuff without the help of my two sons. When we walked through the slums, people were staring at us, carrying all these books, but the boys just smiled and followed me to the other classroom.

Here, just like Marie’s classroom, the children all stood up and welcomed us into their classroom. The teacher Misty was speechless when she saw all the resources that we had given to their classroom. The children had also made me a picture with some kind words on the back.

 

Soon, the boys were helping the children learn and then they joined in a game called ‘fire in the mountain’ where the children run around in a circle and the teacher sings ‘fire in the mountain, run, run, run.’ Then a number is called and the children have to get themselves into a group with that number in it. Lots of pushing and laughter, Andrew and Theo were enjoying themselves, one 6 year old girl would not let Andrew go and just kept looking up at him, he was double her size; it made me feel like laughing and crying at the same time.

 

 

The morning session was finished by everyone standing and singing the Indian National Anthem.  Again we all joined in, I almost know it now!

 

 

We walked back across the slum back to Marie’s class, and the boys meet some more of the teachers. I promised that I would come back next week for the final time, even though I have still not packed all our stuff to be shipped. The boys loved it so much they also asked if they could come back next week too, and hopefully I will also bring my wife Michelle as this has been such a big part of my life whilst living here in India, I want my whole family to see and meet all the children and teachers of such a wonderful place. A Mumbai Slum.

As the title of this blog says, it never makes you poor when you give. I would say it does more than that, by giving my time and experience to these people, I have been the one that has received. I will never, ever, forget my experience here and I feel lucky that I was given the chance to teach in a Mumbai slum.  I really do hope I can come back soon.

 

My task is complete.

 

Thank You.

 

I would like to thank all the people that have followed me on my journey. All your kind donations and comments on my blog have really kept me motivated and determined to fulfil my goal.

I would like to thank the two charities that I have tried to raise money for… and will be contacting once all the donations have stopped coming in. Those being…

Door Step School Mumbai: the slum school that I teach in here in Mumbai;

Brian Tumour Charity:  A great charity back in the UK. My friend Mat Bayfield will be taking charge of any money that I have raised from my walk.

A special thanks to Johnny Ball, my partner in crime for a week. I really enjoyed your company and enthusiasm. Just hope I am not too old to join you when you plan your next adventure!

I would like to make a special thank you to my brother Steven Massey, who phoned me nearly every day on my walk just to check I was still alive.

A special thank you to my good friend Richard Smith.  Again he phoned me most days. But he also gave me sound advice and technical support in running the donation campaign and, of course, the blog.

The walk was made special thanks to all the wonderful people I was lucky enough to meet on my travels. People looked after me, fed me, gave me their houses to sleep in, translated for me, gave me lifts, gave me sound advice, without which I don’t want to think could have happened. But the most important thing they gave me was a piece of themselves and they made me happy. There are far too many to name here, but when I write my book, they will all be listed. Once again, thank you all my new friends.

The last thank you must go to my family. Andrew Massey and Theo Massey for supporting their dad’s mad idea, not crying too much when I left, and for cheering me up every morning and every evening on the phone.

Lastly, the wife. Michelle Massey. Firstly for understanding that not only women have mid-life crises, and that this was mine, well one of them anyway. For helping me organise all the campaigning and gathering of all my provisions. For her financial support, which made this trip possible. For her editing skills and uploading 100s of photos every day onto the blog that I hope you all enjoyed reading.  But lastly, for just being there to talk to on the phone, and sort of understanding why I would want to do something as mad as this.

Please note the blog will remain open for anyone that hasn’t donated yet, and thinks they might. After the 6th June, any monies donated will go to the Brain Tumour Charity as I will be buying all the resources for Door Step School, my slum school, in the first week of June.

Now I am back from walking, you will pleased to know I am back writing my other blog, the life of a teacher in a Mumbai slum. If you haven’t yet subscribed please do so:

 

www.onlyinkhushindia.com

 

Once again, thank you.

 

John Massey: www.playgroundplaytimes.co.uk

 

Questions And Answers.

Q.Did you follow the Godavari River all the way?

 A.No, I followed its route but not by its banks as it was too remote.

Q. Did you walk all the way?

 A.No. I walked all that I could and every day that I could. But after hearing about the dangers of wild leopards, I had to get rid of the tent. This changed the whole trip from as early on as day three. With no tent, I then had to make sure I could walk to a town that had accommodation. This then meant that sometimes the towns were too far apart for me to walk without anywhere to sleep. So, after walking up to 25 km, I would have to get to the next town anyway that I could. Another problem was a large part of the route was dense forest with no accommodation and no place to get water. I was advised to miss this part out. There was also a risk in this area of terrorist attacks. So this made the walking part of this trip shorter than I had planned.

Q. Why did you not walk any more distance in a day?

 A. The reason for this was the temperature, which could reach 45 degrees by 11.00am. So I had a time frame of when it was safe to walk, starting at 5.00am finishing before 11.00am.

Q. What else stopped your walking progress?

 A. Blisters. I had two days where I could hardly walk at all.

Q. What was your worst moment?

 A. Sitting around in a hotel, waiting for my blisters to improve so I could walk again.

Q. Was the trip still unguided and unplanned?

 A. Absolutely, every day I would revise the route, meet people and change the plan again. 

Q. Did you break any records? Were you the first person to walk the whole length of the Godavari River?

 A. Hand on heart, no, I didn’t break any records. It was impossible for me alone, unguided, with no tent, to follow the river the whole way. Most of my walking was done following its path, but walking on the roads.

Q. So did you walk across India?

 A. Yes I did, to the best of my ability and I covered 584kms in 31 days.

Q. Would you do it again?

 A. No way.

Q. What did you enjoy and learn from the trip?

 A. Most people in the world are good, and that is something we all easily forget. I was lucky to meet total strangers that have become my friends. They fed me, gave me shelter, given me sound advice and made me happy.

 

This quest started out as a physical challenge and a way to promote walking, something we can all do.  It was certainly the hardest physical thing I have ever done. I hope people will read my blog and will feel motivated to enjoy the natural freedom of walking and being outside. But meeting all the different people that helped me during my journey is what made it for me.

Q. Will you write a book?

 A. I really hope so. I just hope someone will want to publish the journey of a lost teacher walking across India wearing a pink hat.

Q. What is next?

 A. To spend some time with my family. To carrying on walking as much as I can, but without a massive heavy rucksack on my back!

 

Thanks to all my friends and supporters

 

The Sandgrounder’s Last Day.

 

So this was the plan: meet the family and we all walk the last 5km together. Sounds easy, but it is all in the timing. Michelle and the boys had flown out to meet me and were staying the night in Rajahmundry, because it would have been too late to meet up that evening.  I was spending my last night in a place called Ramachandrapuram and we had planned to meet in Yanam, my final destination.

It was a bad last night.  The hotel was awful and the noise of people talking and enjoying themselves had kept me awake for most of the night. When I got up at 4.00am, I certainly wasn’t feeling my best. But now I was working on nervous energy and was so much looking forward to seeing my family again, that one night’s missed sleep was not going to keep me down.

 

 

 

After a 1km walk to the bus station, I managed to catch the 5.30am bus into Yanam. I had figured out that I had almost three hours walking before I met the family. My last walk alone, and I didn’t really know what I was expecting. But, like most things that have happened to me on this journey, it was amazing. I had decided to take a path and walk the closest I could get following the Godavari on its last journey into the Bay of Bengal. Here the river and I had something in common: we were both coming to the end of our long journey.

 

After leaving the bus behind and really not wanting to see another Indian bus ever again, I was walking again. I thought I would feel emotional, as I have been for a lot of the days when I was walking alone for hours. But I really didn’t feel that way at all.  I was just determined to concentrate on the moment and enjoy the present. This was the end and I was going to enjoy every last moment.

 

 

I walked through Yanam and I was really impressed by how clean it was compared to most of the towns I had walked through. People were just going about their morning routines of brushing their teeth and emptying their bowels on the streets, something that after nearly 5 weeks out in early morning India I have got so used to seeing.

It wasn’t long before I found myself walking next to the river. It was just a track and my friend, Google Maps, was guiding me all the way.

 

People were working on the river, and working hard. They were dredging sand from the bottom of the river and filling their boats to such a point it was unbelievable that they were not sinking. Shiva, a friend I had met a few days ago, told me that the collecting of this sand was totally illegal. I am not sure if this was true or not, but these people certainly didn’t seem at least bit shy, or embarrassed   by what they were doing.

 

The Sandgrounders

 

I had a thought, and wondered what damage collecting this amount of sand could be causing to the river. But this was big business and with the amount of cement this country uses, sand is a necessity. I met more locals and a guy on a motor bike followed me along the path, and got me to take photos of every sandgrounder that I passed, the workers enjoy posing for the camera. All smiles and cheers, as I clicked away. These guys were wearing nothing expect their under pants and a towel wrapped around their heads. This was heavy work, not just dredging the sand, but also carrying it to the shore. One guy poses showing his muscles and sweat, as the heat bears down at 7.30am.

 

 

Soon I left the river and followed a path inland, heading towards a small village I could see in the distance. I needed to find the main road where I had planned to meet the family. I came to a mass of open land, and here I saw children playing cricket.  They called me over. I was going to decline my last game of cricket purely because of the time and the meeting that I had planned. But I couldn’t resist a quick bat and bowl. Right arm over, spin, with the rucksack still on my back. Some young kid played and missed; the ball just misses his off stump, the crowd groans. Then it was my turn to bat, and I stroked the ball through the covers but I didn’t run – the rucksack was too heavy.

 

Through The Covers.

 

I soon found the road and had to walk quickly to time the meeting of the family who are travelling by car to meet me. I spoke to Michelle on the phone and we arranged to meet each other at a petrol garage near a jetty that goes into the Godavari. The timing was slightly out and the car with all of them in pulled up alongside me. I told them to continue on and I would meet them at the garage.  The driver of the car really couldn’t understand what was going on. But it just wouldn’t work, stopping the car on a single track road and all start hugging and kissing each other. I arrived at the garage and we all embraced.

But the walk had to continue and we all still had over an hour of walking to complete. But not without a dip in the water first. I have had many opportunities to swim in the great river and each time I have turned it down, wanting to save this for the end of the walk. The jetty I had in mind was not ideal, but this would be my only chance. The two boys and myself stripped down and got ready to enter the water. We were in a small fishing community and with 5 minutes, word had got around and soon we had about 30 boys and men watching us in amazement. The water was not too clean and the mud on the bottom felt like sinking sand but we still took the dip.

 

 

After a change of clothes, we were soon back walking. Andrew, my oldest son, was not feeling too well and walking in this heat was really not doing him much good at all. The driver that Michelle had paid to be with us all day just followed us as we walked along. I felt that at last I had a guide and the driver just thought we were all start raving mad!

 

The walk would finish at a tower called The Obelisk Tower in Yanam.  This was the place I had tried to picture in my mind for weeks. From here you could climb up a 100 meters and see the Godavari entering the sea. It was also a replica of the Eiffel Tower and was in the middle of nowhere.

 

 

90 minutes later, walking with my family, I reached the end of this massive journey. Again I thought this would be an emotional moment, but it wasn’t. It simply just felt good.

 

We took the lift to the top of the tower and the last photos were taken.

We got down from the tower and the driver was waiting, my walking had finished. But all the memories will forever be remembered.

 

 

Guest Blog: Mad Dogs and Englishmen…

“That Harry Kane is utter rubbish! If I were in charge, I’d leave him behind. And that Alli ‘nd all!”

By the time I arrived in Jagtial, John had been walking alone for almost 4 weeks and hadn’t told anyone how much he hated Harry Kane in that time. Poor fella must’ve been about to blow. It was plain to see his opinions on the striker hadn’t changed since the last time I saw him. I had flown to Amsterdam on my own last summer to meet up with some friends but this was my first proper solo travelling experience.  Jagtial is 4,858 miles away from Southport and it felt it after my first encounter with a couple of Indian blokes in broken English outside the room.

“You know Liverpool? Yeah near there.”

I gave up and just said I was from London.

Rather awkwardly, I let them take a few pictures with me before they saw a picture on my lockscreen of me and my girlfriend and wanted to take a picture of her much to my amusement. I told them they were cheeky, so they resorted to tempting me with mangoes. Tempted as I was I still said no.

The next day we did it all. I’m still struggling to come to terms with some of the stuff that happened as I write this. Fame for one. We lost count of the number of people we took pictures with on this day but we guestimated it was north of 50. Surreal enough for a white boy from the North West. With one of us being tiny and the other huge, we must’ve looked like the travelling circus to some of these people we met. Especially with these big girly hats on. Later that day we met a brilliant man named Shiva and stayed at ‘The Ritz’, saw the dried up Godavari and watched on as a body was burned in a pyre. We had cheap haircuts and head massages, rode on the back of tractors and saw rice fields a horizon long. We embraced religion and became stars of the local press.

I think Lou Reed said it best in his song Perfect Day.

“Milner’s gotta be on the plane, he’s the best player we’ve got!”

“Milner retired after the last euros, John”

“Oh”

In all fairness I really hope Milner comes out of retirement for the World Cup but I just can’t see it happening.

We were supposed to be stopping off at a place called Thimmapur and then walking some 15km to a larger town called Mancherial in order to get a bus 300km to avoid a terrorist hotspot.  John couldn’t pronounce Thimmapur to the bus driver and resorted to calling it a Tombliboo, which made me laugh. His pronunciation of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is even better. We walked for a while and came to a bridge over the river. Shiva had said the day before that the water was plentiful further downstream and that you could go boating there. I’d read a bit about the Godavari before I flew out, but nothing prepares you for it. Standing on that bridge was like looking out over an empire. I’ve been in pure awe a few times in my life and this was one of them. Pictures could never do it justice. For once, it was easy to zone out and ignore the perpetual horns of the road behind me and in that moment, I’ve solemnly seen such an area of natural beauty, so untouched by humanity. Perhaps only the Commando’s Memorial in the Scottish Cairngorms could top it.

All the buses and lorries in India, or middle India at least, are all remnants of colonialism and when Britain ruled the world. It’s easy to forget how recently British rule ended, but when everything is more than 50 years old and with ‘Leyland’ written on the front, it puts things into perspective. After India gained independence, British Leyland Motors joined forces with a recently developed Indian company called Ashok Motors to create the aptly named Ashok Leyland. Because the trucks and buses they made were so reliable, and because they don’t seem to care much for pollution in this country, they’re still in operation today. I went to college in Leyland and they make my old college buses look like private limousines in comparison (context: Runshaw buses are famously terrible).

Regardless, we had to take one of these rickety sweatboxes 300km to meet up with the river further downstream after a terrorist attack the week before claimed 36 people in the area we were about to wander into. A comparatively late start at 5am to get the bus at 6 was welcomed and in all my naivety, I was actually looking forward to the journey. I thought I’d get a window seat (the seats were more like Church pews than seats in hindsight) so I could see as much of the country as I could for the advertised 8 hour journey. It took 10.5 hours and the windows were so dirty you couldn’t see out. Oh and it was 44oC. And it was a full bus.  Hey ho, but I’ll remember it forever.

“Start: Nashik. Walking. Finish: Yanam.”

I became an expert on making the walking gesture with my fingers by the end of my time in India. The people we met were very simple types and for the most part could only ever manage to ask the same 3 questions:

‘Where are you from?’

‘What are you doing?’

‘Why are you doing it?’

After you tell them what you’re doing, most of them sort of just nod at you as if to say “Oh, I see” or “Walking across the country? Oh, alright yeah, fair enough then.”  After that they mostly just shake your hand and walk off to go about their day. Simple types for you. John claims to have been to as many as 80 or so countries in his time and said he’d never been anywhere as rural as some of the villages we went through on yet another lengthy bus journey. Think mud huts, shacks and desperately thin women somehow carrying a baby in each hand and a water barrel on their head.

 

After one of these villages, we were given a lift to a slightly more civilised village for a water stop by a guy named Raj on a tiny Enfield bike. To our amusement, Raj kept shouting out phrases in what must’ve been the same American accent from whatever Bruce Willis film he was quoting. Once in this village we were totally swarmed and I was left on my own to satisfy some 15 or so villagers whilst John and Raj sped off to get water. We were the first white people to ever pass through their village, nevermind stop for a drink, so I had to make the most of it. I felt like a politician shaking hands, meeting families and taking pictures. I ended up exchanging numbers with a guy called Murali and it was only once he texted me the next day that I realised the impact I’d had on these people’s lives. His whatsapp picture was and still is a picture of me and him. A couple of days afterwards, he added me on Facebook and surprise, surprise, it’s the same picture. I scrolled through the comments and to my intrigue, all his friends were commenting about how jealous they were of him and how ‘great’ a picture it was.  All because he got a picture with an English kid. Mental.

I’d ticked just about everything I wanted to tick off and then some during the week I spent walking around. The one thing that eluded me was some proper Indian monsoon rain. We had the beginnings of it at one point but it quickly trailed off into English rain. On my final day we crossed over the Godavari again into a larger town called Rajahmundry.

 Rajahmundry was nearing the Godavari’s mouth into the sea at Yanam, so John’s finishing line was within touching distance. The bridge over the Godavari looked like the same one as over the River Kwai and at the point where the bridge was built, it was 5km from bank to bank. Slightly further downstream, it must’ve been some 8km wide. The river was so wide at this point that there were 3 islands separating the river into 3 separate flows. When the rains come, the Godavari will become one single 8km wide empire of water. We’d reached John’s hotel for the night, parted ways and I was headed for the local airport. Airport is a tad rich though because I’ve seen houses bigger. There were 3 gates, 3 flights and about 3 other people in the entire airport. I was due to board in 30 minutes and then the rains came.  Obviously I’m used to rain and wind but not like this. I’ve seen videos of hurricanes in America like Sandy and Katrina and those images were all I can compare it too. The wind horrific and the rain redundant. I couldn’t take off in this, surely. Time ticked away and the airport roof felt like it could’ve blown off. My flight had been delayed about 30 minutes now but the flight before mine had boarded and must have been waiting for a gap in the weather so it could take off. The rains hadn’t eased off and were still roaring away and at this point I couldn’t contact anyone as O2 had suspended my account (I’ll just end up ranting if I touch on this topic so I’ll give it a wide bearth as John would say).

So it’s goodbye from me and it’s goodbye from him!

I was alone in the middle of monsoon rains in the middle of nowhere. And my propeller powered plane didn’t look like it could handle being blown on let alone monsoon winds.  Then, someone turned the rains off. Just like that, the sun came out and the winds totally stopped. The first plane took off and 5 minutes later we were hauled onto our plane. I’d never seen anything like it. Hurricane chasers talk about the eye of the storm being a moment of peace and ultimate tranquillity before shortly being bombarded with the rest of the hurricane again but this was no hurricane. The rains hadn’t moved further inland or gradually calmed down; they had just stopped. Stranded in the middle of a monsoon? Completed it mate.

I will remember my first time in India for the rest of my life. The people, the experiences, the fear, the animals, the space, the bus journeys, the awe, but mostly the absurd, innate desire for drivers to use their horns.

Shiva Me Timbers

It was Johnny’s first day and what a day it was. He is the son of my wife’s friend and joined me for the walk for a week; he is 19. It was so good to have company, and someone that understood what I was saying. It had been nearly 4 weeks for me without this simple privilege.

I was worried that Johnny might struggle to get up at 4.00am, what with being jet lagged and working on a different time zone. But the boy did good and soon we were walking together, watching the sun come up in the best scenery I had seen so far.

 

 

As we walked, we talked and it was obvious that we were going to get on just fine. I was wondering if we would get as much attention from the locals being two of us, rather than me on my own. In fact we got more during the course of the walk.  50 or more people stopped. I explained to Johnny that people stop because they might want to help, they are curious or mostly they just want a selfie of a white man that is lost.

 

 

I told him that some people stop and offer to give you a lift, but that most of the time, I refuse.  On some occasions, however, for the experience, I accept. Then I told Johnny that I had got lifts on all sorts of transport during the walk, but only after I had walked a certain distance first. After all I am supposed to be walking across India, not hitching.

I didn’t why but that day, I thought a tractor would stop, and I told Johnny that.  He just looked at me as if to say why? That’s a bold comment. We walked on through several villages and we were swamped by friendly locals all wanting to know why we were walking and wearing ladies hats. I saw a fire station and took a photo.

 

 

 

We continued and the heat was picking up.  We had been walking for nearly 15 km, and I was conscious of Johnny not being used to this walking lark, even though he was more than capable and obviously a lot, lot younger than me. Then, just as I predicted, a tractor pulled over and before we knew it, we were sitting on the back of a tractor full of corn. Johnny just couldn’t believe it and even though I had predicted it, we were both in shock. We boarded and lay amongst the grain, thinking how and why did this happen?

 

 

 

 

We didn’t stay long on the tractor and were soon walking again, and being stopped by every other motor bike or person we passed in the villages. After about 4 hours of walking and socializing, we reached the out skirts of the town we were going to stay in. Another vehicle stopped this time, a large 4 by 4 jeep.  The guy driving poked his head out of the window and said he would like to help us and show us around. We refused the lift but I took his number, his name was Shiva. He invited us to his brother’s wedding, even though he’d just met us.

We asked further about his brother’s wedding, thinking we could stay and attend, but Shiva told us it was in two days’ time, so we had to decline and get back walking.

We found a great hotel with AC and Johnny named it The Ritz.  Compared to where we had stayed last night, when Johnny had arrived late from the airport, this was a palace.

I asked him how he was feeling after the long walk, he replied that the walking itself was ok, but everything else that had happening was overwhelming. We had just settled into the room when I heard some drumming and loud music playing outside. I thought it was a wedding but I was wrong – it was a funeral. I just managed to get a photo of the massive parade of people that were following the dead body being carried through the streets.

 

Funeral parade

 

As we walked into the town earlier I had noticed a barbers, a real Sweeney Todd’s. I mentioned to Johnnie that maybe later, we should get our haircut as it would be a laugh, and he agreed. So there we were, a haircut and a shave for both of us costing less than £1.50.

 

 

After the barbers, we returned to the hotel with almost no time to eat. But this day just kept on going, and just as we were relaxing, Shiva phoned and told us he was coming to get us. He was here from Mumbai for his brother’s wedding and wanted to show us around. He first bought us ice creams and water and then drove us to his family’s home where food was made especially for us. He explained that his family own a timber yard and sawmill which we were able to look around. Hence the name of this blog.

He then drove us down to see the Godavari River; it was so dry. It was also so hot my phone and camera wouldn’t operate temperatures was over 45 degrees.

The Dry River
Johnny, Shiva and his sister.
Body burning

We were just walking back to the car to get out of the heat when I noticed a fire burning on the banks of the river. Shiva explained this was a funeral and the body was being burnt. It was the same body we had witnessed earlier from the balcony of the hotel.

 

We then went for a second ride and discovered Shiva had planned a boat trip. We stopped by the side of the road; again we were soon joined by the whole village as Shiva bought us sugar cane juice. What a guy! We had only just met him and he was treating us like royalty.  He then said stop thanking me, this is what travelling is all about people helping other people.  So true I thought, I hope I could return the compliment one day.

 

 

Just as we got back into the car with all his family and were about to set off to the boat ride, Shiva was told it was closed. That didn’t deter Shiva; the boats maybe closed, he said, we’ll go to the temple instead, so we did.

 

 

 

We approached the temple and soon Shiva and his family were showing us around.After being approached by more people in the temple, it was time to get away from the crowds and to the safety of the hotel. This is what it must feel like to be famous. We said goodbye to Shiva who was planning to meet us again tomorrow. But before he left us he went out to buy us bananas and water.

 

Johnny laid on the bed speechless. I just smiled and we were just about to call it a day, when Shiva phoned to say he’d got our bananas and water, but also that the local press were with him.  They wanted to interview me there and then.   I put the phone down, opened the door of the hotel room, where Johnny was laying on the bed, nearly asleep.

‘J’, I said ‘the press are here and are coming up to our room right now’. Johnny quickly got off the bed and sorted his hair.

They interviewed us for 10 minutes with Shiva translating and also gave us the bananas and water.

 

The next morning we had to catch a bus to the next village so we could safely walk the distance in the time allowed. An old guy got on the bus, he looked at me and then looked again, so many people stare at me I didn’t give it a second thought. Then he looked again and closely looked at the newspaper he was reading. Then he showed me the newspaper and there we were in the press of a local Indian paper. Unbelievable!

Soon the whole bus knew we were famous and were aware of the good reasons we were walking. We got off the bus to start the next day’s walk and everyone on the bus shook our hands and clapped us. We waved as the bus left and we put our rucksack on and started to walk.

 

Fame at last

Donkey Days

I am walking again and today I hope to walk 15km just to get me back into things. I know I will need to increase this distance, but after 3 days of blister problems, I want to ease my way back into things slowly.

I followed the road and passed through a small town. It is 6.00am and everyone is awake and walking. People are smiling and waving at me as I pass by. I find myself following a lady herding donkeys, and because of my sore feet, I struggle to keep up with her pace. After leaving the town, I see donkeys being milked and the milk is for sale. I give it a miss.

Herding donkeys through town

I reached the Godavari River and it looked a lot larger in width since I had last seen it a few days ago. I stared at it. I felt a bit sad as I had planned to follow this river along its banks all the way. However, due to safety reasons (mainly leopards living near the water!), I realised that being so remote, this was not possible. So I follow it whenever it is safe enough to do so.

Godavri River is widening

I looked further down the river and I saw someone kayaking, which really surprised me. People are poor here, no one has time for leisure. Any spare moment is taken up by trying to provide food and shelter.

Pigs feeding

I moved onto a small bridge that crosses the river, hoping this would give me a better view down river. On closer inspection, I saw a man walking a donkey onto the river bank. There seemed to be a large pit dug into the mud (or sand) of the riverbank. He pulled the donkey by a rope and tried to get it to go down the pit, the donkey was having none of it. Stubborn burro, I was thinking, with a touch of Spanish.

Donkeys on the river bank

I then started to think about what Satis, the millionaire, had told me; that people eat donkey here. I thought the worst. Was this guy pulling this donkey into the pit to kill it and sell the meat? Surely not. I stood watching from the bridge, hoping I was wrong. And soon another donkey was pulled into the pit. I guess it was just a place to get them out of the sun.

I was just thinking about taking some more photos when two trucks, coming from opposite directions, looked like they would pass each other right where I was standing. I breathed in and leant over the bridge to avoid being hit; one truck just clipped my rucksack. That was close, I thought, then the whole bridge started to wobble. When the trucks had passed, I ran off the bridge to the safety of the road. Indian engineering has never been the same since us Britishers left!

Finally, I reached the hotel I was going to stay in. I had walked 15 km and it had taken me all morning. I knew I would have to increase the distance if I wanted to get across this massive country. Before I tried to check in, I sat at a little shack-come restaurant at the side of the road, (there are lots of them everywhere). I ordered my usual 1 litre of water cold water or thanda paanee (ठंडा पानी) as they say around here.

A guy entered the restaurant, saw me and came over to speak English. We talked in broken English and then it was time for me to get out my golden ticket. This is an English sentence, translated into Hindi, on a laminated piece of paper that was written by one of the teachers in the slum school. This sentence explains my mission. She said it would help and it certainly has.

People really can’t understand why I am walking. People stop on the road and offer me lift.  I refuse. One guy said ‘why are you walking, sir? India has a perfectly good transport system’.

Another guy asked ‘where is your vehicle? If you come from England, surely you can afford a bike?’

Anyway, the golden ticket was passed around the restaurant. This guy then bought me lunch. His name was Rushikesh. Later, the owner of the restaurant gave me tea and a cream horn. It is their way of giving to the charities I am supporting. It is amazing how wonderful these people are. It makes me cry and also makes me realise that most people in this world are good.

Checked into the hotel and went to sleep early – walking again in the morning.

Local huts

 

Who Wants to be A Millionaire?

 So after yet another massive 26 km walk, the blisters on my feet had won the day. I reached a hotel and never in my life had I needed a hotel as much. I had to stop, my feet were no longer allowing me to continue. Reaching the hotel, I would have taken any room, whatever it was like, whatever the price. I checked in and followed the attendant to my chosen room. Unluckily for me, it was nearly a 5 minute walk to the room and on the top floor. Oh no, I thought, couldn’t I just have this room near the reception?

I needed to get my boots off and investigate the damage. Four massive blisters. I was expecting this to happen, but not so soon into the trip. My biggest worry was that one looked infected. After advice from back home, I decided they needed treating, and the sterilised needle I was carrying needed to be used. So Doctor John went to work, and as you can just imagine, it was just a little bit painful. I wasn’t stupid and I knew this would mean walking any large distance in the next few days would be impossible.

I never been a person that can just sit and wait for things to get better, so I decided I would do some sight-seeing.  I couldn’t stay cooped up in my room, waiting for my blisters to heal. But even strolling around looking at temples was painful, and really I wasn’t that interested. I was here to walk and walk seriously.

Blister hell

I hobbled out of the small town I was staying in, called Shriampur, and walked through a small community, with water buffaloes living around, and sometimes in, the people’s houses. The people were friendly and soon I had a crowd following me. [Shrimapur is city and a municipal council in Ahmednagar district situated in western Maharashtra].

Water Buffalo

It was selfie time and I am not joking when I say that I must have had 40 selfies in a half an hour. It seems only the young guys have mobiles that are capable of taking selfies and phones were passed around through the crowd.

Causing a bit of interest

With all this attention, I took the opportunity to ask where the local school was.

I walked down several alleys and found my first school. I was invited in and was shocked how small the classroom was. The children were still using slate boards; no pens, no paper, no desks, and no chairs. I sat with the children for a bit and tried to help them with their work. Only maths seemed the way forward. No one spoke any English.

My first visit inside a rural school
The teacher with her class
Look how small this school is

 

I left the school and made my way back to the hotel for something to eat. This is when I met Satis.

I walked into a restaurant and looked around. Everyone stopped and looked up. A white person here was rarer than pure gold. That line from Sting’s English Man in New York song came to mind: ‘I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien’. But this certainly wasn’t New York! Then a guy said in English ‘please sit here’. Wow, someone that can speak English. I joined him and he told me his name is Satis.

I looked at the menu.

What would you order?

I think I’ll have …..

Within seconds, the guy started talking in broken English and there was no stopping him. First, he named all the counties in England: Derbyshire, Lancashire, Somerset etc… Then he started naming all the English cricket players from years past: Vaughan, Gough, Botham etc. I just looked at him and asked what he was eating and ordered the same. He then said ‘could you offer me a soft drink?’

I said ‘it doesn’t work like that’, but I bought him a Sprite anyway.

He then asked me so many question about England – I can’t remember them all – but the strangest was what brands of ice cream do you get in England?

We exchanged numbers, and I thought ‘what an unusual guy’. I said goodbye and hit the hotel for sleep. Later, Satis phoned me. I explained I needed to sleep as I was walking tomorrow.

The next morning, on further examination, I decided the blisters were so bad that I needed to rest up for another day. I also realised that the blister I was worrying about wasn’t infected, but I still wasn’t up to walking. So I paid for another night’s accommodation.

I was bored and a bit down. Were these blisters going to get any better and allow me to carry on my mission?

In the evening, Satis phoned again and was over-joyed that I was still in his town. I met him in the evening and the same list of names and question were fired at me. After another meal and me buying him more Spite, he asked if I would like to jump on his bike and see his church and some other churches in the area. Not really, I thought, but how could I say no, I wanted an early night, but yet again found myself on the back of a motor bike. First the Catholic Church.

Here I met the priest who blessed me and my journey. We then went on to Satis’ church and were surrounded, yet again, by people who wanted to see a white man.

He was persistent and kept riding around town, pointing out all the churches. He thought that me being an English man, we had something in common and that was churches. He is a good guy.

We returned to the hotel and I bought him a snack and a cup of chai this time. He started the questions and lists again. I thought this was really strange.

He then told his me his secret: he had been on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and he’d won a crore! [A crore is ten million rupees (or one hundred lacs)]. That’s around £107,700.00 to us.

The money was in the bank and he was going to use it to travel to England. The penny suddenly dropped for me; that’s why he knew so many lists of names, and never stopped asking general knowledge questions.

Satis and his bike

We parted, back to walking tomorrow. As I walked back to my hotel, I asked myself why, if he has just won that amount of money on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, was I the one buying the Sprites?

 

Prakash and a Farm

So back on the road again.  I decided to wear my trainers today, as a few blisters had started to surface. More dog problems and the walking sticks to the rescue again. After walking for about 4 hours, it was time to stop and check on the feet. Over the next however many days, I have a feeling that me and my feet will be seeing a lot of each other. Plasters, Vaseline and talcum powder are my new best friends.

A restaurant came into view; well a hut with some seats and this is where I stopped. I managed to be understood in Hindi and bought 2 litres of water. Tending to my feet, being watch by 30 men, wondering why a white man with a pink hat and blue hiking sticks is passing their neighbourhood. This is where I met Prakash.

He asked me where I was going and why and I told him. He was the first person who really understood my quest and the reasons for it. He looked at Google maps and when I said where I was going, he told me it was the wrong route. I explained but said I can’t go direct and I can’t follow the river all the way because of the lack of accommodation. He took my number and said he would find somewhere for me to stay. I thanked him and was on my way. I couldn’t hang around. Walking past midday is dangerous, with temperatures reaching +43o C. I have to walk fast and start in the dark to complete 25kms to 30kms in a day.

First school I passed – but I didn’t go in

 

Children came out to see me

After a 3 hours plus walk, I reached a junction; not too far to the hotel now. Feet were killing me; blisters had certainly started. Then Prakash phoned.

‘John stay where you; are you can stay on my sister in law’s farm’.

Really I am thinking. But just as I start drinking my 6 litres of water, a guy arrived on a motorbike and told me to jump on. Another motor bike. That’s 3 different bikes I have been on in two days. He told me his name was Tushar. He drove me miles off the road and we finally arrived at a farm.

The farm

It was massive with all sorts of crops – grain, sugar cane, you name it. I got off the bike and met all his family: wife, two children and both parents. They were a bit shocked, but after a while they realised I was just an ordinary, mad English guy, lost and on a mission. First, a shower then I was shown my room. My luck had changed, but my feet were absolutely killing me.

The mother cut me some fresh aloe vera from the farm and got me water.

Nature – Aloe Vera or Savlon – which one will work better?

I was treated like a real guest. Then I played with the children.

Tushar’s children

Deepali made me lunch and served it while I just sat there, resting my feet. Tushar returned and we spoke broken English and Hindi to try and understand, but I was so grateful for these complete strangers helping me. And it doesn’t matter how you communicate, if both parties want to, you can get by. What wonderful people. I was then sitting, writing this blog (which is all I do any spare moment that I have got), when all of a sudden everyone, including the two young children, started to panic and run around. Rain was coming.

I went outside and saw the whole family trying to get the grain that was drying outside under cover. I was here to help, but Tushar told me to sit down. No way and for the next 15 minutes, we all worked like slaves to get the grain into big sacks and into the dry. They couldn’t believe I was helping, but I didn’t see it as strange and even though I was hobbling due to my blisters, I enjoyed it.

Keeping the grain dry

We had just finished getting all of it in the dry and the heavens opened up. These farmers know how to read the clouds.

Then we picked some sugar cane for a drink;  green sugar drink is what they called it. After that, tour of the farm while dinner was being prepared. It was the most relaxed and quietest place I have been to whilst I have been living in India.

 

The ladies of the house
Cutting the sugar cane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the evening, Prakash and his daughter came over for tea and again the ladies did all the work, while us men just sat down and were waited on hand and foot.  No further comment on this situation, otherwise my wife (the ‘editor’) would not let it go to press!

Tea in a saucer
The family that welcomed me into their home

So under the mozzie net that Tushar had put up for me I lay on the bed in a stranger’s house on a farm, with a guy lying on the floor next to me. Wow! I was thinking. Lights went out, and just before I was about to drift off to sleep, Prakash said:

‘John. just a warning.  If you need the toilet in the night, don’t go outside’.

‘Why?’

‘Because there are leopards’.

Really? Robert my driver on Day 1 had warned me about them, but I hadn’t really thought much more about it.

Then Prakash said ‘if I was in your country you would expect me to listen to you, wouldn’t you’?

‘Yes.’

‘Well, my friend, you are in my country, so please take my advice’.

‘Of course’.

‘Oh, and that tent. Don’t use it’.

I replied ‘it’s already gone’, and that was the moment my load got lighter and worries of being alive vanished. I will leave it here so the young children can play with it.

Neil Diamond once sung in a song with the line: ‘A friend is someone you need’.

Me and Prakash

Al Pacino

So Day 2 starts and what a day it was.

It was my first day of proper walking and I knew it was going to be hard; that would be putting it mildly.  I had a 29 Km walk ahead of me.

My first big mistake – I over slept. I had planned to get up at 4:30 every day; one hour to get ready, on the road by 5:30. The heat was a big problem and I had planned to do all my walking in the morning, before the sun gets too hot. The temperature can reach 43 degrees and I didn’t want to be walking in that.  As I started, after being attacked yesterday by a monkey, I was very cautious of any animal that came near me. And at this early hour of the morning, dogs are a real problem.  Again, the walking sticks came in useful for fending them off.

So, on the road I was.  I knew that I couldn’t follow the river all the way; it was just too remote. It’s amazing, though, what you can see just walking along a road in the middle of India.

Little lizard
Water buffalo carcass

I stopped for breakfast. God only knows what I ate, but it was enough to keep me going.

Breakfast

After a full days walking, I managed to get to Nashik.  It was bigger and dirtier than I expected. I arrived at some hotel called Ahmed Lodge, cheap, but all I needed to do was sleep. I had a rucksack problem that had to be sorted.  Firstly, I had to lighten my carrying load; secondly the rucksack had split. I also lost my sunglasses and my sleep sheet during the walk – it was a good day.

Ahmed Lodge

The guest house I was staying at was also a dairy.

 

Milk outside the hotel/dairy

So it was a full-on place. The owner, a great guy called Asif, helped me and as soon as I checked in, he got me on the back of his bike to get the rucksack repaired.

 

Sewing up the tear in my rucksack

 

I bought some bananas for my dinner and had every intention of having an early night. I had a 26 Km hike ahead of me tomorrow.

Then there was the inevitable Indian power cut, so I went down stairs to investigate. I saw Asif busy serving milk into plastic bags (so much for the ban on plastic in India, I thought!).  Then a guy started talking to me about how good India was during Victoria’s reign. Before I knew it, I was on the back of his bike, off exploring.  Turns out he owns vineyards and hotels in the area. I tried to resist, but he wanted to get me dinner at one of the hotels he owns. So within one hour I had been on two motor bikes. I am walking India in the morning and seeing how many vehicles I can get on at night. So, we just walked into his restaurant, the food was ordered and his friend joined us. What a lovely guy. Kausar was his name, but to me he was like Al Pacino.  True to his word, after the dinner, we just walked out of the restaurant.  It seemed funny having no bill to worry about.  Then, back on the bike and back to my hotel.

Al  said we’d only be a hour and we were. I thanked him, went into the hotel and straight to bed.

 

Kausar, aka Al Pacino