That’s exactly what Balwant (Bobby) Singh Grewal did and absolutely loved it. The 68 year-old accomplished an amazing feat this year when he walked from the Indo-Pakistan border in Amritsar, Punjab (north-west India) to Kanyakumari in TamilNaduState – the southernmost tip of India. He did all of this for charity, and will be giving the £100,000 plus he raised through sponsorships and donations to various cancer and Aids charities in the UK and India.
Bobby began his walk on 14th November 2004 and completed it on 13th April 2005. During the course of five months, he walked all the way through northern India, taking in Punjab, Chandigah, Haryana, Delhi, Rajisthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and then back to Tamil Nadu. This spanned some ten states and covered about 4,096 km (over 2,500 miles).
With much enthusiasm and vigor and still exuding the fitness and vitality he showed as a young sportsman, Bobby is full of tales of his great expedition, when we meet for a chat.
I ask him what the inspiration was to undertake such an exciting but also extremely physically demanding feat. In a modest and polished tone, he says,
“I have basically been a sportsman from a very young age and in 2001 I completed the 26 mile London Marathon. Another reason was that I always wanted to do something like this, but was waiting for the right time in my life, when I was more relaxed and also semi retired. I got the opportunity to pursue my dream through India Association, a charity organization in West London, and in the process was able to raise money for worthwhile causes like cancer and Aids research.”
Bobby tells me that his inspiration also came from a book he had once read, which depicted the experiences of a lady young lady, Fiona Campbell, who had walked across Africa, from south to north. This fascinated him and he yearned to do something similar.
Considering Bobby had never undertaken anything so rigorous in the past, he coped amazingly well and successfully completed his task. When not walking, he rested in a caravan, which had a driver, vegetarian cook and PR person on board. “They were my three young trustworthy companions during the trip. They took very good care of me specially Yuri, the PR who walked with me most of the time and was a important part of my walk. The caravan followed me as I walked and this was for my safety and for me to sleep during the nights”, explains Bobby. He recalls how in the Punjab and Delhi, he slept the night at various friends and relatives homes and of how he and his three companions would often park their caravan by permission in the grounds of a gurudwara, temples, mosque or church, and spend the night that way. The entertainment came from a good selection of Hindi movies from the CD’s.
Bobby’s strict regime saw him getting into a well versed routine. He walked for about 40 km each day, beginning from 4 am until 6/7 pm and sometime 7pm, when he would retire for the day. “I would wake up at 3 am and get myself ready. I would then have a cup of tea and be ready to start walking at 4 am”, he tells me.
“I would walk from 4 am to 8 am, before stopping for some tea and a snack. Then I would resume again until 1pm, before stopping for lunch and to rest for a while until 3pm. I would then carry on walking until 7 or 8pm, before retiring for the evening.”
Walking at his own pace and decked out in casual comfortable clothing, Bobby says that he encountered few problems along the way. As well as contending with the changing weather – which saw mild and moderate conditions in the north and hot and humid temperatures in the south – he had to also endure difficult walking conditions at times, with the local police jostling his caravan driver to move the vehicle faster. At one stage, Bobby had a near miss as a large lorry competing with another driver came up too close to him and tried to pass him by, as a result the vehicle hit his shoulder. He recalls how if Yuri had not moved me out of the way quickly, he would have been run over by the lorry. It happened few times during the walk and every time Yuri the young man came to my rescue.
One thing that seems to have not bothered Bobby were the crowds along the roads. He tells me how many people walked with him on different legs of his journey, some with curious wonder and others with knowledge of his purpose and who would give a rupee donation or whatever they had.
Bobby’s walk enabled him to meet with some high profile people. In Delhi, he met with and was cheered on by the President of India at the time, APJ Abdul Kalam Azad, whilst in Gujarat, he met with the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and is now India’s Prime Minister during the State’s annual kite flying festival. According to Bobby one of the highlights of his trip were the many different types of people he met during the walk.
With so much natural beauty on offer in India, he was spoilt for choice, with changing scenery, cultures, food and people. Having never been away from Delhi Bobby was particularly enthralled by the south’s people and its beautiful, lush greenery. “It was very lovely to see Kerala”, he tells me. He adds, “in Kochi (Cochin) I slept on the beach under a full moon with a cool breeze – it was wonderful.” Bobby was treated like royalty when he finally arrived at Kanyakumari at the end of his mammoth walk. “I stayed there for two days” he recalls. “We were welcomed by the police with a band playing and lots of cheers from a very big crowed of local people. I managed also to enjoy a tour of the area.”
With a far away look of nostalgia in his eyes, Bobby tells me that his great walk was something that he will never forget in his whole life. “I had a fantastic time. It gave me the opportunity to fulfill a long held dream of mine and in the process I met so many lovely people and saw the true beauty of India.”
Interview by Pyal Nair – Asian Voice