By Hitesh Bhatt:
In last five odd months, I have hitch-hiked in almost all the places I have gone to, including Nepal. I have hitched on the back of a bullock-cart; travelled with truckers; spent kilometers talking to tractor-drivers while hitching with them; hitched a sedan and bicycles. Of all the places I have hitched to, there is one place worth talking about: Punjab.
I started from Delhi to Punjab on the third week of October last year. I stood on the NH1 where I was dropped by a trucker. There were a number of trucks pulled over in a row. Papers were being checked by police. I passed the checkpoint and found that a couple of trucks were parked near a tea stall. It almost had to beg to get a ride from one trucker. Later, while riding with him, he said that people in Delhi were not good and he wasn’t sure if I wasn’t a thug. He said had he been in Punjab he would have stopped his truck without asking. He was so true about that! He drove the truck to a vegetable market in Ambala. We chatted the whole night. He told me about his village, about his wife, about how studious his kids were. He even invited me to his house.
I slept in his truck until dawn. When I woke up, he got me tea and bread. Upon seeing sunlight, I decided to move as I had to reach Barnala which was still 170km away. I walked up to the highway and within five minutes, a tractor stopped. He offered me a ride up to Rajpura Road. He told me that he and his brothers are farmers and they all live together, happily. Wishing me luck, he dropped me and headed home.
It was merely 6 in the morning. I was standing right where a flyover ends. Within 10 minutes, a truck crossed me in a good speed and pulled over more than a 100mtr ahead. Much to my surprise, by the time I reached the truck, he had already taken out a bottle and glasses and was pouring a drink for himself and his cleaning man. I wondered if I should hop on to a drunkard’s truck but decided to anyway. I realised he was pretty drunk but he was funny as well. He drove me up to Ludhiana and the whole journey was hilarious. He was around 37 and the cleaning man was a 76-year-old veteran ex-trucker. The driver would tell me that the old man was a godfather to him as he taught him everything about trucks and driving. But when high on alcohol, he would swear at him saying, “This motherfucker is a useless old chap, he just feeds on my earnings; he is a parasite.”
The driver drove the truck the way many ride their motorcycles. At the speed of 80, he was able to make pegs for himself. I got off at Ludhiana and hitched another truck to Barnala.
I met a friend of mine in Barnala and we decided to go all the way back to Chandigarh to spend some time with his friends. But to reach Chandigarh, it involved a hitch with a truck, on a tractor, on a bullock-cart, and on an all-new sedan!
While coming back to Delhi, Punjab was going through a huge social unrest due to the desecration of the holy book by some hatemongering group. All the roads were blocked and a lot of people and police were injured, few of them even killed. In such atmosphere, I was rescued by a Mother-Dairy tanker. We drove through the villages, broken roads and he dropped me at Karnal. I took a bus from there to Delhi.
Punjab overwhelmed me with its hospitality. I can’t thank all the people enough who made me feel like the part of a world where goodness still overshadows evil. I have made friends with a few truckers who still call me to know how my journey is going on and when I would visit Punjab again. I learnt a good deal about lives of truckers.
A piece of advice: Hitch-hiking is one of the most common ways in which budget travellers commute throughout the world. In case of India, it is not so popular yet and it makes me sad to say that one needs to keep in mind many factors before opting for a hitch-hike here. It is all the more challenging for a solo woman to try hitch-hiking. Though I know a few brave Indian female travellers who do that, I wouldn’t personally recommend this to any woman. All I can say is follow your gut instincts before doing so, assess the situation you are in, and keep your safety the priority.