On October 2, 29-year-old freelance photographer Aanchal Dhara Madan began her seven-day walkathon from Mumbai to Pune. She tells the guide how she was inspired to collect discarded plastic bottles along the way, and why it was the highlight of her walk
In the past, people often set out on padayatras (pilgrimages on foot to sacred shrines) or marched as a sign of protest. The external journey was accompanied by an equally significant inner journey. It was a similar quest that drove Mumbai-based freelance photographer Aanchal Dhara Madan (29). Over seven days (October 2 to 8), Madan, who specialises in candid wedding photography, walked 169 km from Mumbai to Pune along the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway.
At the start of her ‘Personal Challenge’, she uploaded a few images on her Facebook account. Spurred by the positive response, she uploaded photos of the entire journey. “It was almost like having people walking alongside me. At no point did I feel alone,” she says.
This walk taught me to be patient. The choice of a sport that was slow and steady made me introspect. It’s been like a meditative experience in many ways.
Madan elaborates that the journey was planned as a test walk for the long-held goal of walking from Mumbai to Goa. She explains, “I needed to test if I could average 25-30 km a day. I wanted to figure how I would cope with the conditions.”
Along the way, she chatted with people, soaked in views of the Lonavala Ghat and Kamshet’s flower fields. She also spotted a jumbo jet in a field next to the road at Khalapur: “It was a full-fledged plane under the foothills of the Lonavala Ghat. It was a secluded spot and I couldn’t find anyone to give details.”
On day three, she started collecting discarded bottles. She recollects, ”A car passed me by, and I saw a bottle being thrown out. I realised how much we take nature for granted and are guilty of the same act at some point. I collected the bottle and decided to do this for the rest of the walk.” She found 128 bottles in all, and is more proud of this than the distance covered: “I didn’t start out for a cause but along the way, the walk became bigger than myself. Those bottles were the real gems of this walk.”
Hurdles along the way
Madan battled scorching heat and blisters during the journey. To avoid walking when it was hottest she would, at times, walk two sessions a day — early morning and in the evening. Before her journey, she sought advice from physiotherapist Nikhil Latey, who apart from walking techniques, emphasised on the adage: Take care of your feet, and your feet will take care of you. “Every 6-7 km, I would stop to massage my feet and apply petroleum jelly to reduce abrasions,” she shares.
At times, when the journey didn’t turn out as expected, she went with the flow, be it taking a longer route to enjoy the road or stopping to talk to people.
I met a 72-year-old man named Panduranga who works as a labourer in the fields. He took me around the flower fields near Kamshet and told me the history of the land and how the new owner never did any cultivation there. As a result, the field just grew these beautiful flowers, which he called “Congress ka Phool”.
I enjoyed the feeling of a sheep herd brushing against my skin and the liberating feeling of singing loudly on the Highway, because no one could hear me.
While her husband Prashant was driving a support car behind her and providing her with food and water, Madan was initially worried about her safety. Reassuringly, during the journey she never felt in danger. “In fact, people stopped to chat out of curiosity or to congratulate me,” she adds. Madan is also all praise for her husband: “He took care of everything along the way. Our parents are very proud of us, and want to walk with us for our next trip from Mumbai to Goa.” The self-funded journey cost Madan '75,000; the main costs were incurred on shoes and apparel. There were hotel costs, too, since after each day’s walk, they would stay at the nearest hotel for the night. The next day, Prashant would drop her to the point she had stopped at and she would continue.
I covered a distance of 169 km with my husband driving behind me.
The 128 plastic bottles collected along the way.
Madan has her eyes set on the 600 km walk from Mumbai to Goa, early next year. “It will be an open-walk where I will publish my itinerary and invite people to walk along. It will have a social cause integral to it,” she elaborates. Madan and her husband also plan to start a venture to create events that will inspire people to do more than they think they’re capable of.
The real uphill test: climbing the Lonavala hills.
I never felt unsafe at any point, even at night.
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DAY 1, 32 km :- Started the walk at 6 am from Yari Road and walked till 10 am, played with some pigeons along the way, returned home, had lunch, rested and started around 4 pm, walked till 8.30 pm. Finished at Mankhurd and returned home.
DAY 2, 32 km :- Started around 10.30 am at Mankhurd. Met a friend at Panvel McDonald’s around 7 pm for tea and finished at Panvel at around 8.30 pm.
DAY 3, 26 km : - Walked from Panvel to Khalapur, started around 11 am. Discovered a plane in the middle of nowhere; we parked nearby under the mountain and watched a beautiful sunset. I had to stop early because of rain and lightning. Also, started collecting bottles thrown on the roads. Checked into a hotel.
DAY 4, 11 km : - Rested during the day and walked at a slow pace in the evening to get back on schedule. Saw some beautiful fields. Picked up bottles as well.
DAY 5, 26 km :- Khandala to Kamshet; I started by 8 am. It was a tough day as it was mostly uphill climbing but I did reach the top. I met a few Bohri Muslim women who were offering prayers and waiting for His Holiness for six hours. I requested them to pose for a picture, and continued my walk amid a herd of sheep and goats. New, painful blisters emerged; collecting plastic bottles continued.
DAY 6, 30 km :- Kamshet to Pimpri; I started by 8 am. It was a cloudy day. Met a 72 year-old-man named Panduranga, who walked me around the yellow flower fields. I also met Madhusudan Bose in a shady restaurant. He insisted we sit in the family section as he said, ‘Bahar ladies ke liye achcha nahin hai’ (it’s not safe outside for ladies). Met a pony who was least interested in me but was cute.
DAY 7, 12 km:- Started around 9.30 am from Pimpri to Shivajinagar Bus Depot on the crowded Pune roads. Returned to Mumbai by car.