Flash drive: Meet the mother and son touring India anew every summer
Last year, Mitra Satheesh and her 10-year-old son Narayan drove for 51 days, across 28 states, living only in villages. Now, they’re on the road again.
For Mitra Satheesh and her 10-year-old son Narayan Satheesh, the pandemic will always be linked to a summer road trip that was just the two of them, and their car.
They spent 51 days on the road, from March to May 2021, heading from Kochi to Kanyakumari, along the eastern coast, nipping inland from time to time, then northeast to each of the Seven Sister states and onward to Kashmir. By the time they unloaded their luggage back at home, they had journeyed 17,000 km, across 28 states, keeping to rural areas, living in village homes, experiencing a vast range of cultures and ways of living.
Satheesh, 41, an assistant professor of ayurveda at a Kochi college, had always dreamed of being a traveller. In 2019, she took a first step, with a solo trip to Bhutan. She made the arrangements herself and toured alone while there.
The Bhutan trip gave her confidence in her abilities as a traveller, and confirmed for her that time on the road was what she wanted. She hit upon the idea of a summer-vacation road trip with Narayan. Her husband, she says fondly, is not too fond of travel. But he likes to check in and hear about all they have seen and done.
Before she got started, Satheesh had to become better acquainted with her car. She had owned it for two years, “and yet I barely knew how to get the bonnet open”, she says. A two-day mechanics workshop taught her some basics: how to examine fluid levels, check fuses, change a tyre.
Some pilot trips followed, as she and Narayan drove to neighbouring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
She wrote to the Union tourism ministry about her plans, and after numerous calls and emails, they gave her an introductory letter and a couple of Incredible India banners for her car.
The one thing she didn’t do was make any hotel reservations. “I was determined to stay in or around villages,” Satheesh says. This made for memorable stops. Near Manas National Park in Assam, the duo stayed in mud huts plastered with cow dung, in a Bodo village.
Everywhere they stopped, Satheesh says, people were warm and welcoming. Friends had warned her to stay away from Bastar, Chhattisgarh, a Naxalite-affected area. But here too, villagers invited the mother and son in, and this stop turned out to be particularly eye-opening.
“When we talk about eco-tourism, we think of an imposed idea where people are asked to behave in ways they naturally wouldn’t. But in these villages, it is ingrained in their system. They live ecologically from birth. Things like plastic would be an intrusion in their system,” Satheesh says. “From plates to pots to homes, it was all sal leaves, glazed earth and mud.”
Every day brought new discoveries. In Andhra Pradesh, the mother and son were smitten by pootharekulu, a sweetmeat wrapped in edible paper made from rice starch. In Manipur, they drove through Yangkhullen, known as a “hanging village” because the houses have been cut into an unusually steep mountainside.
For Narayan, Kashmir was the highlight of the trip. “I saw snow for the first time. I played in the snow. It was really beautiful,” he says.
By the time they arrived in Kashmir in April, however, Covid numbers were beginning to rise sharply and Satheesh’s primary focus became getting back home safely. “The journey left us both stronger and more prepared for the road. But the fatigue of the long trip also made us appreciate the comfort of home more,” she says.
The mother-son duo are now on another summer road trip. They set out on March 17, determined to trace untold stories of freedom fighters in every state. Narayan has a list ready. “I have already seen the Mangal Pandey memorial in Barrackpore near Kolkata. I now want to see the Bhagat Singh memorial in Punjab,” he says.