On a recent family road trip between Delhi and Maharashtra, National Geographic photographer Mathieu Paley noticed a man walking on the highway. He couldn’t stop at the time, but the next time he spotted a pedestrian, he drove into the exit lane, asked his family to wait, and stepped out to investigate. The walker, Binod Yasin, had no bag and no water that hot day, and was wearing loads of blankets and two completely different shoes, but he almost seemed liberated by being on the road. When Paley asked him how he had both a Hindu name and a Muslim name, he answered, “Does it matter? We are all under one” before moving on. Paley was hooked.
For the next three months that Paley spent on the road with his wife and two sons, he often pulled over their converted camping car to lend an ear, take a picture, or pass on a bottle of water. Some “were like walking ghosts,” he wrote on Nat Geo’s online photo journal Proof, “No one seemed to notice them.” The encounters may have been brief but, as Paley’s Instagram photos show below, they were lasting nonetheless.
Highway walker # 6: Lakan doesn’t walk alone. Like many Rajasthani shepherds, he crosses large stretches of India, feeding his herd along the way – over 400 sheep. He and his friends have been on the road for 2 months, walking about 600 Km from their home in Kota Bundi, Rajasthan. I met them near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh – they were heading East along the Narmada river, “at least for another month”. By the time I had gathered this info, I was a good kilometre away from my car – the herd never stops… #indianhighwaywalker #shepherdlife #sheepherd #rajasthan #turban
Highway walker #2: I saw him last second and had to reverse the car to get back to him. He was covered in blankets. The heat on the highway was intense. Two different shoes. No bag, no water. “My name is Binod Yasin, i am walking ahead.” “But Binod is a Hindu name and Yasin is a Muslim name?”, i ask, slightly confused. “Yes. Does it matter? We are all under one”. He walked on. I suspect he was inspired by Shirdi Sai Baba, on his own spiritual quest. He wasn’t lost. I am so happy to have met him. @natgeocreative #spiritualquest #highwaywalker #everydayindia #Indianhighwaywalker #wanderer A photo posted by Matthieu Paley (@paleyphoto) on
Highway walker # 4 : “My name is Om, only Om.” He was young and smiling, in his early twenties. “Why are you walking?” I ask. “I left before sunrise. I am walking from my home in Hoshangabad to the temple of Salkanpur, up on that hill. You see, I just got a job, I need to thank the gods! İ will return home tonight.” 35 km in a day (22 miles), that’s a long walk. I took some portraits of him but the last one, when he left, stuck: all this time I had not realized he was barefoot – a freshly ironed shirt but no shoes… @natgeocreative #indianhighwaywalker #highwaywalker #walkingbarefoot #walkingforgoodkarma #thankingthegods #hinduism
Highway Walker # 8 : Everyday, Ajit walks from his village to this specific part of the highway; the top of a slope where trucks are forced to drive at snail’s pace. There is mostly trucks on Indian highways. He waves and the driver might just throw a coin to him, out of the window. Ajit picks it up, “that’s how I make my living, simple… and nothing else.” We talk, I take 2 frames and then run out of battery. You can see the whole series so far if you click here #indianhighwaywalker @natgeocreative @thephotosociety #littleperson A photo posted by Matthieu Paley (@paleyphoto) on
Highway Walker # 10 : “I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.” – I love that quote from Bruce Chatwin. Very happy my series on highway walkers did it on National Geographic Blog, with my text and images! See link in my profile. Here is an unpublished picture: his name was Sumatra. Together with his wife, they had traveled already about 1700Km, over 4 months, on a pilgrimage following the holy Narmada river. He was very happy – delighted that I was visiting India all the way from France. I tried to carry his bag on my head… impossible. That’s all he was traveling with, sleeping in Ashrams along the way. @natgeocreative #indianhighwaywalker #pilgrim #narmada #pilgrimage #chatwin
Highway Walker # 5: I met him between two downpours. It was our first rain. After the dryness of the cotton fields around Nagpur, it felt so good to see green wheat, entering Madhya Pradesh. I look back at the picture and he reminds me so much of some of the Hobos I met across the US – wooden sticks to hold his bag, ripped jeans and a sparkle in his eyes… on with the shiny asphalt. @natgeocreative #indianhighwaywalker #highwaywalker #madhyapradesh #hobos A photo posted by Matthieu Paley (@paleyphoto) on
Highway Walker # 7 : He was throwing garbage from the bushy roadside back onto the road, plastic bags, bottles… He didn’t seem to care at the speeding cars. Wild eyed, he was chewing and spitting green leaves, constantly swaying… Datura? Cheap alcohol that destroys so many lives in India? He was mixing Gondi language and Hindi, his jaw clenched hard. He wanted many pictures – I saw buttons shirts in his ears on one of the close-up portrait. “My name is Tentotumatunot, 32 years old, I am just wandering”. @natgeocreative #indianhighwaywalker #lostsoul #highwaywalker #hobo #ontheroad #madhyapradesh #India #everydayindia