I still remember my debut hitch-hike in Delhi, first-year college, with a few friends who hitched rides daily. It was normal to do it, the college students with cars were useful and the daily passers-by knew about it. I was awkward in putting out a hand in initial days, to patiently wait long enough and facing the blank faces passing by. The cars used to be my go to, knowing that bike accidents can be more fatal.
Delhi faces distinct kinds of weather and over the year I had hitchhiked through all. Early cold winter mornings happen to be foggy, sometimes heavy in green areas. The hitching spot was at the foot of the highway leading to the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary; with a vision up to ten feet ahead in presence of heavy fog. Some cars used to swoosh away missing the thumb and others would make instant stops which would be dangerous for the car behind, making it highly difficult to grab a ride.
During summers, the sun drains out energy and no one wants a sweaty stranger in their car; the aim was to get a ride before you drown in a pool of sweat.
It’s a real pain to stay dry on the road during monsoons, collected water on roads can be a serious enemy. Wearing a poncho and asking for a ride gets tough; the first impression is your appearance which is hidden. The thrill of creating a new scenario and making the beginning of the day an adventure rather than just everyday commute kept me going; it offered to learn in its own way. For a change, during the final year, I often drove a car to college. To take the ritual forward I dropped other hitch-hikers, it’s like serving the community.
After graduation, I didn’t get enough time to explore the hitch-hiking sphere; to ask for a ride in an area where the concept isn’t familiar or a city where it’s expected the least. I haven’t asked for a lift in other parts of Delhi or metropolitan areas of India. I wanted to use the skill at a tier2/tier3 part of the country while traveling. With fear in mind because of incidents following brutal crimes in the capital, whenever on the go, I’ve always been very cautious with the ride selections making sure of striking a short conversation before hopping into it.
Traveling solo has its own perks, hitching is much easier. Backpacking increases the convenience to experiment with alternate travel methods. I picked up the hang of it with a few alone travel tests.
The trip to Gokarna was excellent, I didn’t pay a penny on travel in the town; only trekking and free rides. I speak Hindi and English, most of them couldn’t speak either and still were kind enough to drop me. With a boost in confidence, the journey through Karnataka till Hampi was smooth. The travel in Uttrakhand proved to be a good cultural and landscape shift. The locals were helpful enough; I and a friend were hitching together which was a little tough than being solo. The dynamics changed with space occupancy being the major factor. We still managed to find rides most of the way.
I never deeply thought of how hitch-hiking had been teaching me until I stayed in a remote area during the fellowship stint. A two-wheeler comes handy especially when you work on the field. The farmers are attached with us, Under The Mango Tree, in multiple villages around Umergaon (Gujarat)-Talasari (Maharashtra) spread in a radius of ten kilometers. I don’t have a vehicle here, the road connectivity and shuttle service in auto rickshaws are quite helpful leading to most of the hamlets in every village. I try to use trains and hitch-hiking as major modes and autos only when it’s necessary. Asking for lifts is a routine to commute.
I keep walking as soon as I hit the road and simultaneously stop rides to be dropped off, this way there is no waiting ever. The locals have been extremely responsive. They tend to acknowledge most of the times with a no or signals of where they’ll be headed. It’s interesting to understand how easy or difficult it is for them to trust a stranger. Being an alien in appearance, if compared to the locals, it has worked well to build an initial curiosity to engage.
Rural hitch-hiking experience has broken stereotypes consistently. I get to interact with random people every day, understand the social aspects and alongside build a network to help me with projects in the area.
It goes without saying how prepared and attentive I’ve been before getting on a ride, you never know what’s coming next. It’s been a year and the journey hasn’t been linear. There were times of trouble and discomfort that required shrewdness to act upon. While I ponder on the future, despite hitch-hiking being a venture, travel seems dull without it and the thrill it offers has no comparison.