Mitra Satheesh, a professor at the Government Ayurveda College in Kochi, completed almost a 17000 km drive covering all the Indian States and Union Territories. Her 10-year-old son accompanied her on this expedition. She’s the first woman to attempt a solo drive with her young child all over India. She travelled with a message to encourage rural tourism, inspire women to travel alone or with kids. Incredible India and the Ministry of tourism supported her drive named ‘Oru Desi Drive’. Initially, they travelled through villages in more than 15 states but when the second wave of COVID started to worsen, she stopped exploring villages and completed her drive. She reached back to Kochi, her hometown, on May 6th after 51 days of exploration.
Mitra has been driving for the past 11 years and had made her first solo adventure trip to Bhutan in May 2019. That tour had changed her perspective about travel, where she realised it was not about the destination but more about exploration. After that, Mitra took solo trips to Nagaland, Manipur, Delhi, and Punjab, which further broadened her vision about rural tourism. Ever since she longed to see each state and experience the diverse culture and unique costumes and customs. It was during the lockdown period in 2020 when she came across an article in a travel magazine of a ten-member team that travelled across India that she immediately decided that even she had to do it.
Mitra shares, “More than that, after seeing the disastrous impact of the pandemic on the tourism industry, I felt that as a responsible traveller, I must travel to encourage confidence among fellow travellers and people at large.”
Initially planning a route map with some help, she started charting out her own course, keeping the initial plan as the base. In two months, she must have changed the routes at least 15 times. After many hurdles, at last, accompanied by her son Narayan, she set off on the adventure on March 17 in her Maruti S Cross. The duo started their pan-India trip named, ‘Oru Desi Drive’ with a plan to cover the length and breadth of the country by road, in 100 days, covering more than 20,000 kilometres of rural India.
‘Oru Desi Drive’ written in bold on her car signifies the motto of this trip. “Oru in Malayalam means one, and desi stands for the rural side of India. The idea is to promote rural tourism and motivate people to see and enjoy the beauty of the countryside,” says Mitra. With a passion for travelling, she had prepared a proper route chart to explore the rural belts of India and learn more about its culture and customs. She brought her son along on this trip as she wanted him to know what life is and how people live in rural India. “I also want to set an example for women who are reluctant to travel after having kids. It’s high time they live their dreams,” emphasises Mitra.
However, the second wave of the pandemic hampered their trip, forcing the duo to wind up their tour early. “We had to make a sudden change of plans as I had to get back to the Government Ayurveda Hospital, Tripunithura, for COVID duty. Though we couldn’t extensively cover all the rural areas as planned, we certainly managed to cover all the states,” shared Mitra. They had crossed 27 states and six union territories in 51 days.
In this trip, besides Jammu and Kashmir, a dream destination of her son, they also loved the experiences at the tribal villages of Bastar and Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, to be in the lush evergreen North East India and to meet the Rabha-Bodo tribals of Assam. Mitra’s travels are not just about sightseeing. She loves to explore rare historical monuments, cultures and crafts. Some of the unique instances that caught Mitra’s attention are the Salmora potters of Majuli village, an Aryan village in Leh, century-old terracotta temples in Bishnupur in West Bengal, researching mat weaving in Pattamadai, a village in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu; the forgotten Cheriyal scroll paintings of Hyderabad in Telangana and a sweet delicacy named Puthrekullu in Atreyapuram village in Andhra Pradesh.
The duo usually started their journeys at 5 am every day with halts at home-stays or huts in villages for the night. By the end of the trip, they had visited 3 International borders, 6 union territories, and 28 states in 51 days covering a total distance of 16,804 kilometres. Her son had turned out to be a great travel partner and a wonderful navigator.
“I thank my husband and my mother for trusting my decisions and backing me, along with my dear friends, who didn’t give me any option but to continue when things started going bad. Their daily calls kept my spirits high during testing times. I am also extremely grateful to MoT who offered me unfailing support in my unique adventure. My biggest cheerleaders were my fellow travellers with whom I was well connected on my social media platforms on a daily basis,” concludes Mitra.