“I’m generally a very impatient person and for reasons unknown to me…I’ve chosen the slowest sport in the world. So, this journey has really taught me to be patient.” - Aanchal Dhara
It takes incalculable amounts of bravery and determination to follow your dreams and actually see them through. The constant, plaguing doubt that gnaws away at your insides, the anxiety that arises over questions of money, the debilitating yo-yoing of your fluctuating self-confidence—it’s not for everybody. We’re always humbled by those who eschew the many trappings of daily life and venture out on their own to follow their dreams and passions—and we’ve even talked about a few who chose their dreams over stability.
Aanchal Dhara, a photographer, and her ad-film director husband Prashant fall right into that category, and it’s the very saturation with urban life that inspired them to change their own lifestyles, that inspired them to launch ‘The Audacious Project,’ a brand dedicated to promoting passions and creating what they call ‘audacious, life-changing experiences’. To kick it all off, they knew they had to undertake a life-changing experience of their own, and thus began the desire to complete a journey from Mumbai to Goa via foot. Was it just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other? We caught up with Dhara to find out more.
There’s no such thing as over-preparation
They recently finished their first project, Two Feet & A Dream, a 583-km walk from Andheri (Mumbai) to Morjim (Goa) that took them 26 days. Dhara had been planning the Goa walk for nearly two years and the seed for the idea was sown one monsoon, when Dhara told her husband that she wanted to attempt walking from Mumbai to Goa. “He started to create a route plan without asking me another question about this crazy idea,” she admits. So, as a sort of preparatory test, she walked from Mumbai to Pune last year—170 km over seven days. It showed her how prepared her body was for an ultra-walking attempt, as well as what to expect on a longer, more arduous trip. Though a long distance in itself, her walk to Pune would be a cakewalk in comparison to the Goa walk. To make sure she would be able to cope, she began training for the Goa project six months before the start date. She walked 10 km everyday and slowly increased it to 30 km over the last two months. Soon, she began to simulate the Goa walk by walking 30 km distances every day to train her body to cope with faster recovery cycles. But simply walking wasn’t enough, Dhara also had to incorporate strength training in a gym twice a week into her routine.
One step at a time
By the time they hit the road, Dhara was confident that her training had helped and that she would be able to see the journey through to the end. But it’s not just about being prepared for the actual physical aspect of the journey itself. There are plenty of other things to take into consideration as well—most importantly the weather. “Unfortunately, the time we chose to do the walk, October, is a notoriously hot month—and this October also happened to be the hottest in the past four decades,” said Dhara. “So we did the only thing we could—altered our walking plan. Instead of starting after breakfast, we decided to start at 6 am and use the relatively cooler temperature to our advantage. We then took a long break between noon and 2 pm and set off again in the evening. This allowed us to avoid some of the peak heat hours.” During the walk, Dhara’s typical day saw her (and her support team who followed behind in car) rise at 4:30 am. They’d get ready and reach their starting spot by 6 am. Dhara would warm up and start walking at first light. Every seven kilometres earned her a 15-minute break, which she used to rest in the support car and massage her feet. This would be her daily routine till 6 or 7 pm. Once she got to her hotel for the night, she wouldn’t kick back, order room service and watch a movie like most of us would. Instead, she would ice her swollen, blistered feet and be asleep by 10:30 pm to ensure she was fresh for the next leg of her gruelling walk. Meanwhile, Prashant would sort through the day’s images and figure out which ones to post to social media.
Though Dhara attempted the walk alone, her support team consisted of her husband Prashant and their cameraman Ranjeet, who carted all the equipment needed for them to document her journey in the support car—cameras, lenses, hard disks, a tripod, lights, stands, a drone, and lots and lots of chargers for their cameras, walkie talkies, laptops, mobiles and power packs. A few of her friends joined her too, often driving eight or nine hours just to walk a few kilometres with her. “Our friends came in small groups all the way from Mumbai. It can get pretty lonely walking alone on the road 12 hours a day…so it really helped that I had company from time to time,” she said.
While the idea of a woman walking by herself through the interiors of India sounds unsafe to us urban folk, Dhara’s experience was anything but scary. “I never felt unsafe, not even for a moment. There were a lot of curious people and most of them would just stare while some would come up to me and ask what I was doing. But I always felt at ease while interacting with them. In fact, people I met along the way offered me anything they could spare—sugarcane juice, water, tea…even a hot meal. We met a farmer and sugarcane vendor just before Ajara who had only been able to cultivate just one out of his four acres this year due to the bad rains. He was very worried about how he’d manage to get through the year, and yet he gave us an extra glass of sugarcane juice for free. It’s been a life-changing experience to witness the goodness of people and their support.”
And the trip in itself was pretty life changing too. At Nipani, on the Karnataka border, Dhara saw what she said was the most beautiful sunset she had ever seen: “It was one of those typical days with some clouds and a harsh sun. But something magical happened at 6 pm and there were more colours in the sky that I could count. They lasted for almost an hour after the sun had set. As a photographer, I’ve always believed that nature is the source of all art. That day, I forgot the art. I was happy to just stare. It was so beautiful, I cried.”
However, it was not without its difficulties and stumbling blocks. While the heat was definitely what got to Dhara the most, there were other setbacks as well. The toll that the sheer physicality of her exercise took began to show. Her left knee began to hurt twelve days into the walk and she had to wear a knee brace for support until the end, and the team lost two drone cameras—one crashed into a tree and met its end on the harsh, unforgiving concrete of the road while the other got lost in the dense forest of Amboli Ghat. Unfortunately, that meant that she couldn’t film the end of her journey via drone footage as she had initially hoped.
Like all long journeys, Dhara’s too, made her long for home. “I missed my parents the most on this walk. As kids, we were made to walk a lot by our parents. My parents have always been huge walkers, and as a child, I’ve always seen them walking while commuting to work or meeting relatives. I remember playing antakshari while walking, or my father showing us different kinds of leaves and flowers since he loves gardening. He would make us learn our math tables or poems while taking strolls. So, I really wanted to experience that once again by inviting them to walk with me on some portions at least. Unfortunately, work commitments did not allow them to join me on the journey.”
Over the hundreds of kilometres that Dhara travelled, she met a wide variety of people, all of whom were chasing some dream or the other, just as she was. She met a female Sarpanch of a village, who took her entire team into her home on Diwali night and made them feel like family. She also met a truck driver who was working through Diwali in order to give his children a good education—an MBA for his son and a PHD for his daughter. “We were unhesitatingly offered food and tea by so many villagers in the fields who barely had a meagre amount of food for themselves,” said Dhara.
Dhara’s ambitious Goa Walk not only shows us what we can achieve if we put our mind to it, but also echoes the cries of many young urban Indians we’ve come across in the recent past—who are increasingly jaded with modern life and its shackles—and longing for some sort of escape. Or at least a challenge that goes beyond the confines of city life. But ultimately, what sets people apart are the differences between being thinkers and doers. And while we all continue to sit at our desks and contemplate the things we’d like to do, Dhara and her husband are out there doing it. What’s more, through The Audacious Project, they hope to convince the thinkers to shed their inhibitions and boldly follow their dreams and passions.
In case you’re wondering what’s next on the cards--The Audacious Project will follow Prashant’s 45-day-long, 5,000 km ride from Kanyakumari to Kashmir slated for September 2016, tentatively called the K2K Ride.
To know more about The Audacious Project, check out their Facebook page