As told to Tirthankar Das:
I started my first journey in the year 1993. The incident that made me so strong happened at a picnic tour to Puri, Orissa, organised by our locality. They had charged Rs. 400 per person. Due to lack of money, I told the organiser that I would give half before leaving, and half after we return but they didn’t trust me and I was not able to go to Puri. Then I motivated myself to make my journey to Puri via my cousin’s bicycle. It took two days for me to reach.
When I returned home, local people started taunting me by saying things like “Go to Benaras”, “Go to Allahabad”, “Go and visit Taj Mahal“.
Sujit Banerjee, who stays next to my house told me to go to Darjeeling. And so I went to Darjeeling with only Rs. 650 in hand. It took me six days to reach. Sujit Da had told me that you have to speak in Hindi or English in North India or else no one will understand you, so I learnt Hindi.
I sold my old rickshaw for Rs. 3000 in the year 1994, on December 25, and I returned to my own city after three years, that is, on February 2, 1996. Officially, it took one year and eight months but as I started my journey that December, three years got counted on the tour. That time those areas were so peaceful; there were only 27 states; no Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, or Jharkhand.
Again, after returning to the city, I used to pull my rickshaw in the Netaji Nagar area. There I met Manik Sarkar who bought me a new rickshaw and helped my family by both mentally and economically.
In the year 2007, I went to Puri again, this time with my wife and my 2-year-old daughter, by rickshaw. In the year 2008, I visited Vaishno Devi, via Kolkata. I went to Benaras, Allahabad, Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, the Wagah border, Himachal Pradesh, Kulu-Manali, and the Rohtang Pass.
I started my own Swacch Bharat Abhiyan even before PM Modi, when I returned from these travels. I told every villager in my area not to contaminate the road by making them into latrines!
In the city when I changed my rickshaw route to Naktala, I met Debasish Das, who had recently visited Ladakh, and told me to visit too. His words inspired me, and I started my journey again. That time, local club presidents and local peoples helped me a lot. They even decorated my rickshaw by spending Rs. 12,000. One of them even registered a postpaid SIM card for me, by showing his ID card at the dealer’s. It took two months for me to reach Ladakh in the year 2017. On this journey, my motto was to stop global warming. So I carried 5,000 date palm seeds along with me and kept on planting the seeds all my way to Ladakh. One day I will die, but those plants will remain immortal. They will give birth to other plants, and will keep on providing oxygen to Mother Nature.
During my return from Ladakh, I gave my rickshaw to Sonam Wangchuk’s school. Yes, the character that Amir Khan played in the movie “3 Idiots”. At least the visitors and students will see that if, with willpower, a rickshaw puller can visit Ladakh, then anyone can do anything.
“We are proud that we have Satyen as our friend. We always support him, and will keep supporting him in the future also. He is a gem,” says Abdul Salam, a fellow rickshaw puller. “I am thinking of going to Lahore in the future, and I will name my tour the ‘Maitraye Jatra’. I already applied for documents, I have to wait for the confirmation from the Governments of both India and Pakistan.”