From Bulgaria to India in 511 days: The journey of two hitch-hikers

  • Poorva Joshi, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 25, 2015 20:26 IST

In 1873, author Jules Verne sent Phileas Fogg and his French valet Passepartout on a journey around the world in 80 days. Travelling on trains and in ships, riding on elephants and palanquins, the duo raced against time and made it back to London in precisely 80 days. They had no GPS, no phones; only a map, an acute sense of direction and a will to accomplish the task.

A hundred-and-forty years later, Boris Kanev, Marta Samalea and their cat, Burma Bilal, set out to accomplish something similar — a journey from their home country Bulgaria to India. Inspired by an old map of Asia, the duo chalked out a route on a modern (yet borderless) map, armed with research on global politics, social turmoil and visa regulations within the countries they intended to pass through. They hit the road in October, 2013, crossed 14 borders and travelled for 16 months to finally reach India in February, 2015, on foot.

“We just never considered GPS while buying equipment such as winter shoes and backpacks. It never seemed relevant. We ended up taking a lot of wrong turns, and lost our way many times. But that is where the best travel stories come from,” says Kanev. This unconventional journey was full of visual treats. For instance, the view of the Iraqi mountains lit up during spring, the sound of coconuts falling from a tree in Thailand and the endless mountains in Manipur. “It was like living in a movie,” he adds.

Illustrations from their book - To Magic Places (Photo: Roving Snails)

Currently stationed in Goa, Kanev and Samalea decided to document their journey in an e-book — To Magic Places. It contains 42 hand-drawn illustrations and maps, and travel stories written on the road and can be downloaded from their website (

Readers can also make a nominal donation to help the duo complete their journey back home. “We initially planned the book just to collate some of our stories and sketches together. We would be happy if, in addition, the book helps us get back home,” sums up Samalea.

Mekong River at Luang Prabang, Laos (Photo: Roving Snails)

Want to follow Kanev and Samalea’s footsteps? These 10 hitch-hiking tips will help

1. Take your time: There is no reason for hurrying and nowhere to run (except for visa deadlines, perhaps).

2. Safety first: Look for a good spot with plenty of room for cars to pull over.

3. Know your roads: Getting lost is fun, but you may want to get lost in the right direction.

At Unakoti, Tripura (Photo: Roving Snails)

4. Work on your patience: Don’t get worked up. Remember that if there is a road, it can always be walked, and if there are cars, it can always be hitched.

5. Organise your official documents: When crossing borders, make sure you’ve got what you need.

6. Be social: Talk to the drivers that pick you up. Hitch-hiking is much more than free transport.

7. Be kind: Share what you’ve got. Travel is a gift, and seize every opportunity to share it with whoever crosses your.

Boris asks for directions at Xinjiang, China (Photo: Roving Snails)

8. Trust your instinct: In case of misunderstandings or in uncomfortable situations, ask to be dropped off.

9. You are your own boss: Trust stranger. But always, and above anyone, trust yourself.

10. Use It is your best friend on the road. But also help updating it. You are not walking alone.

Ban Nalan in Laos - Illustrations from their book To Magic Places (Photo: Roving Snails)

What the journey taught them:

* When we look back, walking through the picturesque views was a surreal experience.

* The kindness of strangers — every cup of tea and evening on a carpet, every garden and yard, every ride. It was priceless.

* Roadside friends of all species. And Burma (our cat), the nicest gift from the road and our best companion.

* The joyous feeling of discovery and exploring what lies behind each border.

A cat called Gerard in Kyrgyzstan - Illustrations from their book To Magic Places (Photo: Roving Snails)

* Understanding that travelling, in its essence, requires very little from us in terms of finances and pre-planning.

Get the book: To download the book, visit:

Price: Rs 250 (includes shipping)

Follow the snails: Visit to see more photos from their journey

(The writer tweets as @poorvajoshi93)

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