Three women are hitchhiking their way from Mumbai to Goa. Post Bengaluru, it is a brave, even if inadvertent, statement
It’s 6pm when we call the trio of film-maker Heena Vasnani (29), architect Ishika Ray (35), and freelance content writer and scuba diving instructor Sukanya Sharma (23). They are on day three of the Hello Project, a 10-day journey from Mumbai to Goa (they have crossed Alibaug and Murud by now). They have finished a quick dinner of lemon rice and pickle (cooked on a hexamine stove) and are getting ready to call it a night. The next day’s journey starts early at 6am.
What makes it significant is that they are hitchhiking and camping in open spaces along the way. Their route passes through scenic spots along the Konkan coast such as Harihareshwar, Dapoli, Guhagar and Ratnagiri.
The idea was sparked by a random conversation. Vasnani recalls, “Sukanya told me that she had never been to Goa. So we decided to travel, and roped in Ishita as well.” When Vasnani suggested that they walk to Goa, the plan was rejected for the sheer number of days it would require. Eventually, they settled on hitchhiking, an activity that is more common in the West than in India. “We believe that travel shouldn’t be influenced by gender. We started the trip as a social experiment and, so far, we have met interesting people who treated us like family,” says Vasnani, who is documenting the trip to make a film.
The only belongings they are carrying are their backpacks, sleeping bag and tents. Their budget is Rs 100 a day each; the spending cap, they say, is to ensure they push themselves to meet locals and seek help.
While the route of the journey is fixed, they are relying on locals for food and places to camp. So far, they haven’t been disappointed. At Murud, their host was the owner of a fish thali restaurant. “Patil uncle treated us to fish thalis and his family insisted we try a local speciality called Popti (chicken cooked in a handi). In Alibaug, we enjoyed vada with mutton; the auntie was kind and allowed us to pitch our tent next to their house,” says Sharma.
As far as safety is concerned — the Bengaluru mass molestation is still fresh in people’s minds — they carry pepper sprays and have mapped out the railway and police stations along the way. They don’t travel at night either. “Our parents were apprehensive, but travelling in a group of girls has benefited us. A lot of truckers and people we met were protective and helped us out of concern,” says Vasnani.
The means of travel have ranged from a comfortable ride on a truck fitted with a charging point, to a bumpy ride on a truck carrying slabs of ice. “There was no place to sit, so we sat on a plastic sheet,” recalls Sharma. They even helped tow the truck when it stalled on the way.
“Travelling on a shoestring budget has helped us gain newfound respect for simple comforts and random acts of kindness, be it a mattress for the night, a cup of tea, or a shower,” adds Vasnani.
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