Mannuthi: Freddie Paul had a plan when he quit his job and left his home on August 15. That Independence Day marked the start of a 100-day discovery of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Cherrapunji to Kutch.
The 24-years-old man set out with a sleeping bag, a small tent, essential medicines and a mobile phone. He was broke. He had just quit his job because nobody would allow him leave of absence to roam around the country.
Freddie, son of Sonia and Paul Pezhumkattil at Cheenikadavu near Kannara, is back after an exhaustive cross-country trip. He has not returned empty-handed. He has packed stories of a lifetime.
Hitchhiker's guide to India
Freddie was an employee of a fire safety company contracted to Kochi Metro. When the company rejected his request for leave for two months, he just quit. Without a rupee in his pocket, he started his dream journey.
A friend dropped him at the national highway, where a goods lorry to Tamil Nadu picked him up. He hitchhiked his way to Coimbatore, Salem and Bengaluru. He stayed for two days in the Karnataka capital before moving on to Telangana.
He travelled to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat. He confined his journeys mostly to state capitals and surroundings. He slept in railway stations, petrol pumps, army barracks and pavements. He stayed in places of worship and partook whatever food was offered to him.
Rainless in Cherrapunji
Freddie was in for a surprise when he reached Cherrapunji in Meghalaya. He was expecting it to rain in the 'wettest place on earth' as he was taught in his school. Cherrapunji stayed dry for the two days Freddie stayed there. Cherrapunji is no longer the wettest place on earth. In fact, it is no longer Cherrapunji. The town's name has been officially changed to Sohra, the original pre-colonial name.
It did rain though, at the most unexpected place. Freddie was fast asleep in his tent pitched in the Thar desert when clouds opened up. He survived the terrible night without the wind sweeping away his tent.
Birthday boy in Haridwar
Freddie celebrated his birthday on October 11 at Haridwar. He cut an apple for want of a cake.
Ask his favourite place in India and pat comes the reply: Ziro village in Arunachal Pradesh. It was carnival time when Freddie reached Ziro. The carnival had drawn visitors from across the globe. Freddie even spotted some fellow Malayalis but he remained and outsider as he did not have the money to buy an entry ticket.
When it was time for him to leave Arunachal Pradesh, the All-India Malayali Association bought him a train ticket and also packed enough food for him to last two days.
Farmer in Nagaland
In Nagaland, Freddie was looking for a place to crash when he stumbled upon an organic farm near Kohima. The farm offered him accommodation and food for as long as he wanted, provided he worked on the farm.
He worked on the farm, where rice was planted on portable trays that could be relocated in case of a flood. There was a fish farm too. Freddie lent a hand to horticulture and compost. He stayed in the farm for two days and enjoyed the food.
He found a fellow traveller in Maharashtra. The 70-year-old retired teacher, originally from Kerala, had hired a taxi to go sight-seeing. Freddie tagged on with him to go around Mumbai and surrounding areas. He was even invited home. The aged traveller was a source of inspiration for the youngster to carry on with his adventures.