I’m in no hurry, says the 24-yr-old who is walking thousands of kilometres across India | Condé Nast Traveller IndiaJune 7, 2021
That about travel being more about the journey than the destination seems to hold true for 24-year-old Yati Gaur. He wants to “absorb and not just observe”—be it a rare flower along the way or food prepared by a local. So he takes it slow. He walks everywhere he goes, never hopping onto a car, flight, bus or train unless he has to reach another state, only to explore it by foot again.
‘I am not concerned about where I sleep’
Last September, Gaur walked about 520km from Rishikesh to Kedarnath, Tungnath and Badrinath for over 40 days. In January, he covered 800km across Rajasthan, starting from Jaipur and walking to Ajmer, Pushkar, Chittor, Bhilwara, Mount Abu, Barmer, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. Currently, he is exploring Himachal Pradesh through hail storms and rains. He has clocked 2,300km on foot, and he is not done yet. “I am in no hurry to reach anywhere. I am not concerned about where I will sleep tonight. I am concerned about the path I take. It has to be memorable,” says Gaur who hails from Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
A graduate in cinematography, Gaur caught the travel bug while working as a community manager with The Hosteller, a backpacker hostel. He has been exploring different parts of the country ever since. But it wasn’t until the lockdown that he decided to quit all modes of transport. “When I walk, I feel a sense of peace. I am able to throw thoughts out of my head. I can’t do that while sitting in one place. It makes my restlessness go away, something we’ve all been feeling during the lockdown.”
His day typically starts at sunrise. After a heavy breakfast, he sets out, walking an average of 20km a day. At sunset, he pitches a tent, or finds an ashram, hostel or homestay to stay the night. He lugs around a 15kg haversack with just a few bare essentials: a few clothes, socks, a camera, a sleeping bag and tent, a Ukelele, and some water and jaggery to keep him going.
Walking paths unknown
Exploring on foot has taken Gaur to places he’d never discover if he was travelling by a vehicle, he says. Recommendations from locals have taken him to some beautiful spots, ones you may not find on the Internet, he adds.
One of his most memorable experiences in Uttarakhand was a visit to Atri Muni waterfalls, about 3km from Mandal village. “To get there, you have to climb through a slender path with the help of a chain. And then crawl beneath a small cave. The path may be scary, but the views and energy are just spectacular,” he says. Another one is his visit to Vasuki Tal, a glacial lake at 14,200ft which is an 8km walk from Kedarnath. “The lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and gigantic clouds. You almost feel like it’s a doorway to heaven.”
While it is the beauty of Uttarakhand that caught Gaur’s fancy, in Rajasthan it was the warmth of its people. “It’s a place full of love and affection. The culture, and just the way people treat you, it’s hard to match that elsewhere in my experience. I am never worried about my meals there. Someone or the other will feed you. And it’s so interesting to see the food, language and culture change every few kilometres. I am still in touch with the villagers I met there. They often call me to check up on me. The way Rajasthanis treat you, no one does. ” he says.
Snakes, snow and other hindrances
Gaur has walked through Rajasthan’s scorching heat and Uttarakhand and Himachal’s biting cold. It’s not been easy. His knees have given trouble, and there are times when his body just refuses to cooperate. And then there are other problems. “I have to find a place to camp close to civilisation because there are chances of encounters with wild animals. I have seen bears in very close proximity at Joshimath. Snakes often cross my path too, but I am not scared of them anymore.”
In the mountains, there’s always the chance of no food for kilometres at a stretch, he adds. “In Uttarakhand, I have walked 25km with no teashop or store in sight. Close to Tungnath, I lost consciousness. I was just lying down for almost 20 mins before a local offered me some food and water.”
Covid brings its own set of challenges. “Locals are often concerned that I could be Covid-positive.” Gaur got tested before he hopped onto a flight from Noida to Uttarakhand. He walked from Rishikesh to Chakrata and is now currently in Sojha (Himachal Pradesh). “Since Chakrata is largely a Covid-free zone, I haven’t been stopped for an RT-PCR test since then.”
Making new friends, being outdoors for days and exploring unknown locales are among the many pay-offs of walking for him. Walking also increases Gaur’s curiosity. “A sadhu once gave me advice to walk like a child. I didn’t understand what he meant then, but I do now. Children are always mesmerised by everything around them. They stop everywhere to observe and they are curious,” he says. “In a country where language, food, rituals change every hundred kilometres or even less, it feels unfair to explore it on a bike or another mode of transport. You have to take your time to soak it all in. Walking allows you to do that. It makes me feel very close to nature and the people.”
On exhausting days, does he ever feel like quitting it all and just taking a cab or bus? “I have had that thought many times. But then, I think I have walked 2,300km. Should I really give up after going so far? And I keep going. Now, I don’t think I can ever go back to travelling in a vehicle. The feeling of exploring on foot is something else.”