What can a person alone do for world peace? Pray, preach and practise at most? Now imagine a person, walking 12,626 km in 419 days across the world to preach the message of universal unity. No, I am not talking about everyone’s beloved reel character Forrest Gump. The unbelievable feat has been achieved by 61-year-old Yogesh Mathuria from Mumbai (fondly nicknamed ‘VishwaMitra’) – a former corporate professional who renounced his life of luxury at 50 and has been walking countries after countries since 2013, without any money.
Yogesh Mathuria: Making of the Peace Walker
“In 1966, when I was nine years old, two gentlemen, Satish Kumar and E P Menon came to our home to promote their book – ‘बिना पैसे दुनिया की पैदल सफर’ (Travelling The World On Foot With No Money). As a child, I was astonished to learn that the two friends have walked from Raj Ghat in New Delhi to J F Kennedy’s grave in Washington DC, USA in two years, that too with no money,” Mathuria shares with Efforts For Good.
47 years later, Mathuria, a former IT professional by then, met with the traveller duo once again, seeking advice on how to realise his dream of spreading the message of peace to the world. The erstwhile world travellers advised him to embark on a journey by foot, much like they did in their sunshine years.
On reaching 50, Mathuria felt it was time to put a full stop to the materialistic lifestyle and give something back to the society. He quit his job. His wife’s untimely death played a major part in concreting his deep wishes to inspire and spread the love. Before long, he stepped out of his air-conditioned office room onto the dusty roads.
From Siddhivinayak temple to Sri Lanka
“I already had the habit of walking from home to office and back, which was around 16 km. I decided to extend it up to Siddhivinayak Temple, which was 32 km,” shares Mathuria. He kept on challenging himself and emerged with flying colours in every test he subjected himself to. Soon, he walked from Bombay to Pune, without a penny in his pocket. Retracing Gandhiji’s footsteps, Mathuria walked from Bombay to Ahmedabad to silence his inner doubts. Will the universe be with him if he wanders penniless from town to town with a word of peace in his lips?
Today, he has walked 12,626 km through 18 states in India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. His necessities of food, shelter, clothing and other expenditure, have always been graciously provided by smiling strangers in unknown landscapes, to whom he unfolded a heart full of love and goodwill.
“Whenever I completed one of my journeys, I felt that the universe has responded, urging me to keep trusting the spiritual superpower, always,” asserts the believer in humanism.
An Indian wins African hearts, once again
Till now Yogesh Mathuria’s longest single walk has been from Pune to Sri Lanka and back in 180 days, during 2016-17. The year 2017 halted this wayfarer’s journey for a while, but even two successive heart attacks in May and November 2017 could not dampen his spirit for one second.
“I did not want to sit at home. I thought, one day everyone has to go. And thus, I was back again on the road, this time heading to Africa,” he reveals.
On September 21, 2018, on World Peace Day, Yogesh Mathuria had set out for Africa, accompanied by a team of five spirited individuals like him. In 68 days, the group walked 1,555 kms across the country. “Our Africa walk was to commemorate Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary, as well as Nelson Mandela’s 100th. We started from Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, the famous prison where both the leaders have served sentences, in different times. We ended in Mvezo, Mandela’s birthplace where his surviving descendants welcomed us with open arms,” he recalls.
Tattoos that speak his heart
“During a journey, I tend to walk eight to nine hours a day. Keeping aside eight hours for sleep, I mingle with local people the rest of the time,” Yogesh Mathuria added. Two tattoos on his two hands precisely depict the essence of his ideals (Gandhi and Nelson Mandela). The bearer of the phrase ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family) on one hand, sports a series of religious symbols on his other hand. “I believe humanity is a confluence of all religions. I have symbols of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism on my hand. I tell people how the humanity is one, divided over time by region and religion,” he tells Efforts For Good. He recounts meeting individuals from the same family following two different religions but staying in harmony.
The universe with him, always
Mathuria says that the journey to Sri Lanka has restored his belief in humanity, while the Africa tour has strengthened his inner spirituality. “There have been times we have walked 30-35 days at a stretch in Africa without coming across a single person on the road. We have spent nights in police stations, hospitals, fire brigades, five-star hotels or seven-star luxury resorts, all without any money. Everywhere, we have received amazing care and hospitality from people,” he continues, “I realised Bhagwan, Allah, God – whatever name you pray to – the universal superpower guides you always.”
Breaking the myths in a rogue land
It would be unjust to assume that the ‘Peace Walker’s’ journey has been bereft of challenges. He maintains his characteristic calm tone while he narrates the obstacles he overcame. “When we landed in Johannesburg, South Africa, the local people termed us ‘crazy’ upon hearing our plan,” he shares. Standing in a country where on an average 57 murders and 1,200 robberies are reported per day, Mathuria realised how much a word of peace is needed. His team braved all the risks and accomplished their goal without a glitch.
51,000 kms in 6+ years
So, is the modern-day ‘VishwaMitra’ ready to stop yet? Never. Rather, he is farther from retiring than ever before. This upcoming January 12, 2019, on the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, Mathuria is all set to set out for Bangladesh, estimating to cover 3,200 kms in 4 months. He wishes to end the tour at the Gandhi Ashram in Noakhali, Bangladesh in May 2019.
Next, he will fly to Japan and traverse the roads from the capital Tokyo to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “I wish to offer prayers for the departed souls on the anniversaries of the bombing days. In total, I have chalked out a plan of covering 5,000 km in the next 7 months,” he details.
You are wrong again if you assume that he is yet to plan beyond that date. He is already gearing up for scripting history by covering 51,000 kms around the world in over 2293 days, starting from 2023. “I also wanted to visit our neighbouring nation, Pakistan, to promote brotherhood and peace. Unfortunately, the requisite documents did not get approval,” he regrets.
Why he started as an individual
The airfares for some of his journeys are sponsored by corporate companies. But, the love shown by commoners is what warms his heart the most.
Yogesh Mathuria started as an individual, but now he has found a few companions in his noble mission. “I believe the change in the society cannot trickle from top to down. It has to come from the bottom level. That was why I started as an individual,” he explains.
Efforts For Good salutes this unsung hero, whose indelible endeavour should resonate in the hearts of Indians for a long, long time to come.