54-year-old Benny Kottharathil and his wife Molly Benny, 46, recently completed a walking sojourn from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, and back. The Kerala-based couple walked 8,263 kilometres in 216 days, covering the length and breadth of India on foot while sharing snippets of the same on their YouTube channel, Vicky’s Wonder World. We speak to Benny about their journey, the challenges they faced, and more. By Anushka Goel
The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for all of us, in some way or the other. While most of us were in our homes or rooms, with limited contact with the outside world, some others were forced on the streets due to lack of work, workplaces being shut down, and more.
One such couple who had to face the adversities was Benny Kottarathil and Molly Benny. Benny, 54, and Molly, 46, worked as teachers in Andhra and Telangana when they lost their jobs amid the pandemic. Moving back to Kerala, Benny looked for jobs, before securing a position as a security guard at a hospital. Working there, he saw a number of people lose their lives – young, healthy-looking people who walked into the hospital, and being taken to the mortuary mere hours later.
“I got a chance to talk to the cardiologist at the hospital, about why this was happening. He told me that the people look younger and stronger than I am, but in reality, they are weaker because their heart has no exercise. Upon enquiring, I came to know that the best exercise for heart health is cycling,” he tells us.
It was then that Benny decided to do something to spread the message of cycling for heart health, to take care of the heart. “I took leaves and in 2019 November, I started my first cycling tour from Kerala to Kashmir.” He completed this sojourn in 58 days, and inspired some of his students to take up this exercise every morning and evening.
That’s not all. In July 2021, he embarked on another cycling trip, travelling the K2K (Kashmir to Kanyakumari) distance in 68 days this time. However, upon returning, a shock awaited him. “By that time, I had lost my job,” he says.
The walking Kerala couple who went from Kanyakumari to Kashmir
After two cycling journeys travelling the length of the country, what inspired this walking Kerala couple to take a trip across the country once again, this time on foot? “One day, I was cleaning my cycle and my wife was observing me. Thinking that I was preparing for another cycling trip, she said, ‘If you are going for another trip, I will accompany you.’ I told her I will walk the distance, and Molly agreed on the spot,” Benny says.
Soon, the couple began planning their upcoming journey. They decided to walk to Kashmir through Western India, reach there, and come back via the Eastern coast – a walking expedition from Kanyakumari to Kanyakumari. On December 1, 2021, they started their journey, and 216 days later, on July 3, 2022, their journey ended. They covered a total of 8,263 kilometres! This trip also had a motto – one was to promote walking, and the other, was to show the world how a childless couple can travel together, meet new people, explore the world and come closer to each other.
The challenges this walking Kerala couple faced
A major challenge that Benny and Molly faced was the lack of finances. “We sold some gold from what was left after my cycling trips. We also borrowed money and mortgaged some of our gold,” he says. The couple had also been documenting their journey on their YouTube channel, Walking Indian Couple. The account was about to get monetised, and would help ease some of their financial troubles. However, this is when they entered Kashmir and lost network on their phones. When they left, they learned that their account had been hacked into, and due to the hackers uploading unwanted videos there, they lost the channel forever.
Another challenge for the couple was accommodation and food. In Kerala, the couple was somewhat comfortable, as they received food, water and accommodation thanks to the people. But once they reached Karnataka, the Kerala couple was at the mercy of the streets. “We were sleeping in tents because it was winter. While returning, we couldn’t use tents as the weather was hot. We’d sleep on shop/hospital/police station verandahs. We have even slept in a cemetery ground!” Benny recalls.
When sleeping outside the tent, the couple were often attacked by mosquitoes. When resting during the day, they used to take shelter under trees, and would be attacked by flies as they were sweaty and grimy. They would console each other by saying, “tomorrow will be a better day.” And it had to be.
Of people, memories and more
Benny and Molly’s journey was a challenging one, no doubt, but it’s the people they met and the memories they created that made it worth the while. Recalling one such experience, Benny tells us, “We were in a village in Punjab and looking for a place to sleep. We were sleeping at Gurudwaras, and learnt that this village had two. However, we learned that one was under construction, and the other was locked for the night. So, we decided to pitch our tent at a ground. While we were preparing for the night, a Sikh man approached us and upon enquiring, he said, ‘This is Punjab. It will be shameful for us if you sleep in the open like this!’ He carried our bags, took us to his home, fed us a hot meal and his wife prepared hot water for us to take a bath and a room for us to sleep in.” However, what touched Benny the most was how the couple and their two sons bid them goodbye. “The next morning, they gave us breakfast and even packed lunch for us. That’s not all – the family walked with us till the highway, about two kilometres, to see us off – just like one would do for close friends and relatives,” he reminisces.
The entire trip, says Benny, was a memorable one, as they visited all the holy spots they could on their journey. Be it temples, dargahs, churches or Gurudwaras, they made sure to visit these places of worship. Their favourite, again, was in Punjab. “It was very nice to visit the Golden Temple because we had seen the commercialisation at all houses of worship around India. In Golden Temple, everything was free. They were doing selfless service for pilgrims and everything was free. It was like finding a new India. It changed our concept of the people of Punjab,” Benny says.
However, one of the fondest memories they made was when they rescued a puppy in Gujarat. “It was half-dead and eaten by insects, so we gave it a warm water bath and some food. We named him Wicky – short for ‘Walking Indian Couple Kerala Yatra’. But we couldn’t keep him with us for long, and a gentleman we met on our journey took the puppy under his wing,” he says. What’s more, when they reached Tamil Nadu, an old student of his, a veterinary doctor, gifted them a new puppy, a German Shepherd, upon hearing their story!
Moreover, when the couple started a new YouTube channel to record their journey back from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, they named it Vicky’s Wonder World – after the puppy that they had so lovingly rescued.
Traversing through danger and overcoming fears
Sleeping in a cemetery and being almost attacked by a mob of men weren’t the only dangers Molly and Benny faced. Once, when they were near Kashmir, a lorry coming from the wrong side of a narrow road almost hurt them. “We jumped to the side and escaped,” Benny says. Also, while walking through forests, the couple came across many signboards warning passersby of animals. “In Uttarakhand, we were at a forest called Chidiyapur, where we read a similar sign. We walked carefree, but suddenly, we heard some disturbance in a bush and saw monkeys jumping onto a tree. All of a sudden, an elephant came to the highway! But it was also in a hurry, and walked away without noticing us.”
Tips for those who want to take up a similar journey
Their first trip is to be financially sound, and to have a sponsor if possible. The third tip he says is that if you are travelling with a woman, it’s better to be in a group of more than three – not only will it be safer, but the trip will also be more enjoyable for all.
Hero and Featured Image: Courtesy of Benny Kottarathil