"Where there is a will, there is a way!" This inspiring and famous proverb is aptly proved by a determined young Indian who overcame several odds with his strong willpower and measured the world on foot in just 3 years.
Vishnudas Sheshrao Chapke, who hails from Katneshwar village in Maharashtra's Parbhani district, has achieved this impossible feat even without a strong financial backup. Born to a farmer’s family in 1983, Chapke worked as a journalist for some time. However, he resigned from his job and stepped out to fulfil his dreams. He dared to measure the world on his foot without even thinking whether he will be able to achieve the inconceivable.
For making the impossible challenge of traversing 35 countries across the length and breadth of the planet on foot a reality, Chapke has now earned the moniker, 'Vishnu Da Gama'.
During an exclusive telephonic interview with Odishatv.com, Chapke narrated his experience, untold stories and several anecdotes associated with his thrilling exploration trips across the globe. Excerpts…
1. What Inspired You To Start Off The Journey?
Captain Dilip Donde, a sailor, had travelled around the world by sea. The Indian Navy had provided him a boat on which he sailed around the world. As a journalist, I got the chance to meet him. After interacting with him, I thought even I should do something like this. It was not possible for me to opt for waterways to travel the world as I had no such previous experience being a journalist.
I gave my best efforts and did whatever was at my disposal to fulfil my dreams. I tried to arrange a vehicle, looked out for sponsorships, however, I failed. After many years of sweating it hard, I finally decided to step ahead in the journey on foot.
2. When Did You Start Your Journey and What Was The First And Last Place You Visited?
I began my journey on March 19, 2016. I set out from Thane railway station in Mumbai and ended it in the same place after travelling the whole world.
3. Did You Get Support From Your Family?
Initially, my family members were reluctant and resisted me from starting my trip. Even after setting off, they insisted me to come back home. However, later on, they gave full support to me. They supported me mentally when I wanted to return. They boosted my morale to complete my journey and also warned me to break my legs if I returned from midway. They were very supportive and inspiring for me.
4. What About The Funds, How Did You Manage The Expenses For Your Tour?
Initially, I spent from my savings and travelled the first two/three countries. Later on, few of my friends started a crowdfunding webpage online. Several unknown persons contributed money to my account to help me. Afterwards, some corporates sponsored my trip under corporate social responsibility scheme. Next, it was the Tata trust which helped me to achieve this feat by sponsoring my tour.
To be exact, Rs 19, 80, 000 was the total amount I spent on the tour.
Initially, to arrange the funds, my friends uploaded my picture and certain news articles on Facebook as my cover photo. They appealed everybody to sponsor my trip saying that “our friend has set off on a world tour.” The response from unknown persons for crowdfunding was more than satisfactory. I wasn't expecting the amount gathered from crowdfunding.
5. What Was Your Experience Throughout The Expedition?
It wasn’t like everyday life as it was during my employment days. Like, waking up in the morning and, at the same time, getting hooked to office works from Monday to Friday, returning from the office and going to the bed after dinner.
In contrast, in the three years of my trip, every day had something new to experience and the days were completely different. There were a lot of challenges in those days too. Someday I won't get anything to eat, while another day I won't get a place to sleep at night.
Even I went through circumstances when some rogues robbed my bags, while on some other day, miscreants took away my money by brandishing knives. I also lost my luggage on bus during the trip. The funniest, as well as worrying incident, was, a bus driver took away my baggage and fled with the bus.
These were the bad memories associated with my trips.
However, there are some good experiences too. I didn't stay in hotels. I used to live with the locals wherever I went. I would post an update on Facebook before reaching the place requesting people to help me in arranging accommodation. It was not just in the Indian cities, I got someone or the other in foreign lands who came forward to help by inviting me to stay with them at their homes.
I also used to ask for a lift on-roads to unknown persons. Be it a two-wheeler, a four-wheeler or a heavy vehicle; my journey became easier with such cost-cutting steps.
It was impossible to travel around the world with only Rs 20 lakh by staying at hotels or spending on-road transportation.
Living at some unknown person's home at night, sometimes I felt terribly scared. While sharing the roof with an unknown person in an unknown country, weird thoughts crossed my mind on the first day. Sometimes, I thought, I would be killed in my sleep. However, such a disastrous thing never happened to me. I truly believe, 'dar ke aage jeet hai' (victory lies ahead of fear). The unknown persons of whom I was scared of actually helped me a lot.
6. Which Is The Place You Loved The Most?
Every place has its uniqueness.
7. Any Special Incident That Still Remains Fresh In Your Mind Even After Several Years?
Mostly all people I met during the journey were very supportive to me. However, I fell in love with a small puppy in Columbia. During my visit to Columbia, a teacher named 'Amalia' allowed me to live at her home for 2-3 months as I had to stay there following a visa problem. I applied on the 'Work Away' platform where people will allow one to stay at their homes and provide food. And in return, one has to help the landlord with their household works for 4 hours a day.
Amalia found a week-old puppy on road and brought him home. I was a guest and so was the puppy, so, instantly we developed a bond. However, the puppy used to pee or poop inside the house at night for which Amalia left her outside in chilly nights. The puppy used to scratch the door at night which melted my heart. I brought the puppy inside the house at night after everyone went to sleep and left him outside before anyone woke up. This was the grind for about a month.
However, one day Amalia woke up at midnight and the puppy started barking. I took the whole responsibility for the puppy when she asked me what if the puppy created a mess. I spent around 2-3 months with the puppy and had built a close bond. I used to keep him on my laps throughout the day. I had named him 'Khandoba' which is the name of an Indian god. Soon, the puppy went on to become popular in the area. I wrote his name in English as the locals were facing difficulties in pronouncing the name. The relationship with the puppy was very unique and this still remains fresh in my mind.
8. What Is The Most Fond And Memorable Experience During The Tour?
After India and China, I went to Australia. While I was in Australia, demonetisation was announced in India. Then, I faced a lot of issues as I was unable to access my funds which were donated by others. Not finding any other way, I had to seek help of a friend during this tough time. I asked the friend to book me a ticket. After reaching the airport on the day of boarding, I found that the rules of travelling had changed. The friend had booked a ticket from Australia to New Zealand and New Zealand to Santiago. According to the new rules, it was mandatory for me to hold a New Zealand visa but I didn't have a transit visa.
My flight flew off in the air in front of me and I had no other option than to cry. The ticket had cost around Rs 60-70, 000. Later, gathering courage I went to the helpdesk at the airport and narrated my ordeal. Even, I went short of money holding only $300. After learning that I had no money left with me for food, the official gave me the flight ticket free of cost and I was able to travel New Zealand after 3-4 hours. The official at the desk was the obvious reason which helped me a lot to complete the trip, uninterruptedly.
9. What Is The Most Terrible Experience You Went Through?
The most terrible experience during my tour was in Chile. I didn't know Spanish and the locals don't understand English. I was searching for a place but I couldn't interact with them. Meanwhile, a person came to me and assured to help me in reaching the location. But, he took me to some other place where 3-4 persons of his gang brandished a knife and took away my baggage and valuables along with the cash. However, it was my good luck that they left my passport and laptop.
10. How Was Your Experience In The Neighbouring Countries Of India?
I have travelled to several countries in the continents of Asia, Australia, South America, North America and Europe.
I had been to Iran. Iran's relationship with India is quite strong since decades. The citizens of Iran respect India as well as Indians as India has helped them multiple times. Following America's sanctions, ATMs don't work in Iran. I had very few cash left with me and I didn't face any problem there. Overall, Iran is a good place to visit.
Even experience in China was good. I went there two times. I made a lot of friends over there. But, the main issue for me in China was the food. Vegetarian food was rarely found as people are fond of Non-vegetarian food. The people were quite friendly with me. During my visit to The Great Wall Of China, I met a family including 2 kids. The kids befriended me while travelling in bus and their parents also helped me a lot. Their hospitality really impressed me and I built a good bond with them in a short time.
Pakistan denied me a visa. I requested the foreign minister of Pakistan through Twitter and even went to their embassy. They demanded me a copy of my passport and didn't take my visa application. I waited for around a month. If Pakistan had given me the visa, I could have returned to my country earlier. After denial of visa, I had to travel to Tajikistan from Iran and then to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China. I returned to India via Thailand and Myanmar.
11. What Is Your Message/Advice For Others Hoping To Follow Your Footprints?
First of all, I would like to say, stepping out on such a journey is very risky and I won't suggest anyone to step out like me. But, I would like to give a message to all aspiring travellers to ensure a strong financial backup along with a proper plan for travelling. They can approach big brands for sponsoring their travel.
Though it is not easy to travel around the world on land, such specific arrangements for travelling from one place to another and for halting at places would reduce the labour.
A traveller must have knowledge of at least 3-4 foreign languages which will ease their tour.
Apart from ensuring proper arrangements, one must prepare self physically. A person with good health and strong immunity will enjoy certain perks. A good physique will be helpful at times of unpredictable attacks from strangers. One will be able defend self and escape from untoward situations. A person with strong immunity will also be able to fight against viruses in different countries. A strong person can tackle the challenging situations of hunger as one may come across occasions when she/he may not get food for 2-3 days.
12. What Are Your Aims And Plans For Future?
I have no adventurous plans until the Covid situation exists. However, professionally I was working on a project called 'Hindayan' in which cyclists from across the country will participate in the race. This race will continue for 20 days and the participants will only be allowed to halt at night to take food and rest. However, Covid pandemic played a spoilsport for the project I was working on.