The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic put many labourers and businessmen out of jobs. However, Visal Vishwanath, who owns an event management business, did not lose hope when his business was hit due to lockdowns and restrictions on movement. Instead, he packed his bags and set off to tour the entire country on a budget.

A native of Kannur, Visal moved to Bengaluru many years ago and resided in BTM Layout. For nine months starting from July 26 last year, Visal was on the road, hitchhiking to a few places or using public transport like buses and trains. Visal’s India tour consisted of all states and even a few union territories, with his last stop being Bengaluru. The 32-year-old reportedly travelled in unreserved train compartments and used tents to sleep.

Three days back after completing his 278 days long journey across 28 states, Visal wrote, “LIFE.. The best gift i have ever got.” He went on to add, “Past 9 months I was living another life which I never thought or experienced. Pitching my tent or sleeping any place where ever i got. Having fruits only most of the time. Travelling through public transport or hitch hiking.. Each day and moment was new life for me.”

Vishal told a leading daily that unorthodox travel was always his cup of tea and that he has previously gone camping across South India, also by hitchhiking and taking public transport. He said that he got to thinking of the travelling plans when the pandemic hit his business and wanted to use the opportunity to explore and experience different cultures.

“The places I visited, the people I met, the mountains I climbed, the roads I walked through, the food I had, each moment took me to a different kind of emotions and feelings. Physically or Mentally when going down, maybe just a simple smile gave me the energy to the next step. Now, when am remembering all these it just makes me sad that i won’t be able to go back again with the same feeling I felt when I did the first time,” Visal stated.

Visal’s first destination was Guwahati, after which he travelled to Arunachal Pradesh. Even as authorities stopped him at state borders and prohibited him from entering when the second wave was raging in July last year, Visal was determined to keep going. When he was stopped in the northeast, he altered his plans and headed off to Kolkata to start his trip.

Visal hitchhiked and caught public buses across the northeast and reached Jharkhand’s Dhanbad and then Bodh Gaya in Bihar. During the tour, Visal interacted with people of various cultures and said that it gave him more experiences than he had had in 32 years. He walked into Uttar Pradesh in August, tasted life in Varanasi, and then hitchhiked to Lucknow and Agra, finally reaching New Delhi to get his COVID-19 jab.

Visal had left home with only Rs. 12,000 in his pocket, and therefore hitchhiked as much as possible after his stay in Delhi. He made road trips to Nainital, Rishikesh and Badrinath, then set foot in Shimla, and recounted that people in these regions were hospitable and invited him into their homes to offer refreshments.

An image from the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, clicked by Visal during his visit

Heading north from there, Visal ticked off to Ladakh and Kashmir from his travel list, enduring harsh weathers during his stay there. Visal told media that he took shelter in a bus one night with several other travellers and residents when he was in Kargil in mid-October, in minus 10 degrees Celsius. Kargil is the second coldest inhabited place in the world, standing at 3,300 metres above sea.

He then went westward towards Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, travelling southward from Chhattisgarh to get to Odisha.

Image captured by Visal during his trip to Golden Temple in Amritsar
Image captured by Visal during his trip to Golden Temple in Amritsar

He then received news that north-eastern states had eased the COVID-19 Visal covered many parts of northeast India in March and headed to the south by taking a train from Meghalaya to Andhra Pradesh. Covering parts of Telangana as well, Visal crossed over Maharashtra and Goa and then came to Karnataka, after which he headed to his native Kannur in Kerala on Monday.

Visal’s answer to all those who asked him about his expenses, “It was less than my normal living. Anyone can travel. But how that should be, that you have to decide. I got always the question that Why you are travelling like this and what you gonna get from this? Now I can say I lived a life. I don’t need anything more than that. The moments which I experienced are mine forever.”

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