Nidhin Maliyekkal travelled from Kerala to Kashmir on his bicycle, selling tea to fund his trip. The 23-year-old from Amballur in Thrissur district began his trip on January 1, 2021 with ₹170 in his pocket. He returned on April 30, after covering 5,647 kilometres.
Nidhin was bitten by the travel bug after he finished his class XII and joined an Automobile Engineering course in Ernakulam district. “I commuted by train to college every day. The trips, usually two hours long, became so enjoyable that after three months I stopped going to college and travelled to other places. Nobody knew it since I would return home by evening. But once the college authorities came to know about it, my adventure and my studies came to an end.” he says.
In 2019, he went hitch-hiking across South India and could not wait to travel more. But he had to put his dreams on hold since there was no money to fund his trip. “So I started doing odd jobs. I was working as a tea/juice maker but when India went into lockdown, I had no job. When I was about to take up another job after 10 months of unemployment, it was given to someone else. That was when I decided on this trip,” he says.
Nidhin says that he would have loved to travel on a high-end cycle if he could afford one. But his younger brother’s Hercules was all that he had. “He was not using it since he felt it had gone out of fashion! I thought I should manage with what I have. I sold my camera — my only saving — to repair the cycle and buy the things needed for the trip. I decided to sell tea during the trip to meet the expenses,” he explains.
When he started the journey all that he had was “a tent, a kerosene pump stove, flask, tea dust, sugar, saucepan, glasses, four T-shirts and two shorts. Everyone called me crazy. My parents didn’t know that I had just ₹170 with me!”
However, by that time, word had got around about his trip via Facebook. Someone in Kasaragod bought a helmet for him; another well-wisher gave him a water bottle; a photostat shop owner in Kannur made a placard free of cost to fix on his cycle…
Nidhin adds that he had no clue about the route to be taken when he started his journey. It was other cyclists, especially from Kerala, who helped him out. Language was another problem. “All I knew to say in English was, ‘I am from Kerala, going to Kashmir’.”
He covered the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh before reaching Kashmir on April 3. He cycled only during the day, selling tea at ₹10 per cup, and mostly slept at petrol pumps or at accommodation arranged by well-wishers. The placard on his cycle, which read ‘Kerala to Kashmir’ grabbed a lot of attention and he was interviewed by the media and vloggers.
He recalls several instances when people opened their hearts and homes for him. Malayali associations donated in cash and kind and some even felicitated him. “I stayed in Manali at a house run by a Malayali family while waiting for a Malayali cyclist. They provided food and accommodation and didn’t take a single penny. They also arranged for me to sell tea in the town. A well-wisher in Delhi bought me a gas stove. Some gave me clothes and eventually I could afford to buy a few for myself, especially thermal wear,” he says.
Although it was not easy to navigate the roads, Nidhin stresses that he never thought of giving up. “I believed that I would reach Kashmir some day. The goal didn’t scare me and except for a few incidents such as a punctured tyre and food poisoning, the trip has given me only good memories,” he says.
And when he was a few kilometres away from his final destination, Lal Chowk in Srinagar, he was in for a surprise. “I noticed that five vehicles with armed personnel were escorting a jeep. They stopped me and someone got out of the jeep. He hugged me and gave me a few things to eat. It was so overwhelming that I cried. I was about to fulfil my dream and couldn’t control my emotion. Later, a mediaperson told me that he was the Lieutenant Governor [Manoj Sinha]. I didn’t know his name then. I found out after coming home from Google!”
His plan to return home on his cycle had to be dropped after he reached Delhi, because of the lockdown. Someone he had met in Delhi arranged for his travel to Kerala in a lorry.
A new lease of life
For Nidhin, the journey was more about getting over a dark phase of his life. “Three years ago, I went into depression and had tried to give up on life. My childhood was spent in a shanty by the roadside. As a teenager, I had to deal with low self-esteem and social isolation. The trip isn’t a unique one because there are several people who’ve done it. But, for me, this is no mean feat and I am proud of myself. It might motivate others,” he says.
On his bucket list are a world tour, climbing Mount Everest and, of course, cinema. “I have been chasing my tinseltown dreams since my school days. I have done several auditions, written stories… ,” he says. The silver lining is that a few Malayalam directors have called him up after his story went viral. “Hopefully, I might get a chance…” he signs off.