Despite the lack of resources or any sort of funding, Maharashtra-based 23-year-old Botany student, Siddharth Ganai, embarked on a mission: to walk to Everest base camp. Along the way, he made pitstops to give his school exams virtually, learn about different cultures, and to plant trees! He talks to us about the unique experience. By Debomita De
T + L India: How did you come up with this idea? Why Everest?
Siddharth Ganai: Everest was my dream. Every adventurous person dreams of climbing Everest. So even I had decided that I would go to Everest.
T + L India: You went to the Annapurna Base Camp? Do you also want to climb Mt Everest someday?
Siddharth Ganai: Yes, who would not want to climb that? Mt Everest is the tallest mountain in the world but the cost of climbing it is double its height. I want to achieve my dreams but my pockets are empty. One of the reasons I took this journey on foot.
T + L India: How did you physically prepare yourself for the journey?
Siddharth Ganai: My daily life includes a lot of walking. We cover long distances. So physically I did not have to prepare much. But yes walking with a heavy bag is difficult so I practiced for it. Every day 6 km then 10 km and increased the range to 30-35 km.
T + L India: How would you describe the 75 days to reach the Everest base camp?
Siddharth Ganai: If I have to put it in a few sentences, then I would say I lived myself. We say there is no humanity left. This journey was an attempt to rediscover humanity.
T + L India: Tell us a bit about your background.
Siddharth Ganai: My childhood was unlike other children of my age. I lived under a dark street corner and didn’t have much to eat as well. My father was a drunkard and my parents were divorced. We [Ganai and his brother] had our grandmother with us. My brother and I used to starve mostly. We were kids; we’d naturally be hungry. We would cut some onions and tomatoes in one pav (buns) but we knew a single piece of bread could not fill our stomach. We sprinkled a lot of chilli powder on it so that we didn’t have a desire to eat another after one piece. We would also drink lots of water while eating, which would subdue our hunger.
[I spent] two to three years of my life on the street. This phase was like a step towards conquering Mt Everest. Everyone enjoys their childhood, but I spent it washing vehicles with my brother so we could eat. These experiences were preparing me for greater challenges in life.
T + L India: What route did you take?
Siddharth Ganai: Initially, I took the path that most travellers take, which is through the highways. It took me around three weeks to define a route. Later I understood that there are two more routes: one is the state route, and the other is the village route. So, I improvised the route on the way. I would be alone on the highways with no one to talk to. Hence I changed the route [and opted for] the state and village routes.
I left Raigad through Panchwar, Mandgaon, Panvel, Kalyan, to Nashik. Then entered Madhya Pradesh through the village route. The villagers helped in spreading awareness about my mission. Then I took the Chhatarpur route to enter Uttar Pradesh. In Nepal, I had planned to enter through Siddharthnagar but due to issues near the border, I took the path through Sonauli border in Maharajganj. Although I had planned a route before setting out, I improvised on the way by asking people or following Google maps.
T + L India: On this trip, you spread the message of ‘One plant for Humanity’. Where did the idea come from?
Siddharth Ganai: There is an organisation called Vidyarthi Bharti that organises hunger strikes every month to put its message [of safeguarding the environment] forward to society. I have been associated with this group for some time now. This group has come up with the mission of ‘One Plant for Humanity’. When society divides based on caste, creed, religion, gender, classes, it is the environment alone that treats us equally. It gives shelter and food, but humans are constantly degrading the it.
So wherever we went, we took the message with us and planted trees on the way. This mission deserves a greater impact. Students like me are trying to take this movement forward. We need a healthy environment for the next generation to survive. As youth, it is my responsibility to take this initiative forward. We do not have to do much—just plant one tree and save one tree in order to avert the danger looming at your doorsteps. Else the next generation will be a severe victim of global warming and hunger. It was a good thought and I went ahead making this my mission as well.
T + L India: What kind of challenges did you face on this journey?
Siddharth Ganai: Maitrakul Jivan Vikas Kendra is a study centre [in Bapgoan, Maharashtra], where around 70 students like me teach young kids. We teach them to accept whatever you get.
[While travelling] I went about asking people for shelter and food on the way. The more I kept talking to people, the more connectivity I built. I carried a tent as well because the pandemic refrained people from offering shelter sometimes. People found it hard to accept what I was doing because travelling like this was very new to them. They never found people with backpacks on the road; they were mostly familiar with sages on pilgrims. I could not spend money since it was a zero-budget journey. I ate what the locals were offering. This helped me to maintain my health as well since local foods were compatible with the climate of the area.
I was asked my caste at various places because I was dressed a certain way. However, there were instances when I was welcomed wholeheartedly and fed inside homes. One time, a kind person welcomed me but when his wife and children returned home, he could not accommodate me any longer. It was late in the night so he asked me to sleep in the stable where the cows were resting. Other than that, there were dhabas and petrol pumps that allowed me to sleep if I requested. I experienced communities and cultures from a new perspective. When I set out on my journey, these were the hardships that I wanted to experience.
T + L India: Being a student, how did you keep up with your academics during the journey?
Siddharth Ganai: This journey was planned about five years ago. Due to COVID-19, we were introduced to the online system of education which didn’t require me to be present physically in a classroom. Every day, my lectures started at 7 in the morning till 12 noon. I travelled while listening to my lectures. I paused my journey for some time to give my written exams as well so that my education would not suffer. My friends were very supportive as well; they helped me complete my journals and assignments on time.
T + L India: Are you planning on taking a similar journey in the future? If yes, where would you like to venture out next?
Siddharth Ganai: Yes, first I want to travel around Maharashtra, which is my hometown. I also want to try to do a world tour on foot. However, that would require sponsors (This journey was without any sponsors). My friends and family helped me with resources to facilitate this journey.
T + L India: Would you recommend others to take similar trips on foot? And why?
Siddharth Ganai: Many young people call me who want to take similar trips. There is a Rajasthan Boy who is working on similar plantation issues and there are others who are taking similar trips and are connecting with me. All I want to tell them is that your motto should be clear. Travellers on foot are a very small community and this community should survive.