Arjun Bhogal is on a mission. In 2012, he and a university friend challenged themselves to travel from their hometown in Cardiff, South Wales, United Kingdom, to New South Wales in Australia. Conventional travellers they were not. Instead of getting on the plane, the duo chose to travel by foot, turning their planned trip into a project called ‘Borderwalk’.
Now, after four years and almost five months, Arjun arrived in Indonesia, roughly 5,000 kilometres away from his final destination. No longer with his walking partner, who quit after spending one year and a half on the road, Arjun is still as determined as he ever was. Walking, though, isn’t the only thing he’s doing. During his adventure, Arjun is also producing a documentary that highlights the global need for clean water.
“Coming from a European country, I often take clean water for granted as I can get it easily. Clean water is accessible everywhere. However, many countries in the world need to struggle to find water to accommodate their daily needs. So we want to see the real situation out there and share it with the rest of the world. It has been an eye-opening experience that I hope can inspire others,” said Arjun.
Highly enthusiastic about his mission, there’s never a dull moment in Arjun’s life, which by now has crossed through more than ten countries and two continents. Having spent two months walking throughout Sumatra, he’s finally reached the Indonesian capital. NOW! Jakarta recently chatted with Arjun Bhogal at his hotel in North Jakarta.
The idea of walking across half of the planet is just mind-blowing! Where did the idea come from?
It was actually just a small, stupid idea that I and a friend of mine, Kieran Rae, had at college. We were thinking about unique and original ways to travel across countries. We did some research and found out that many people travel across the world by bikes or cars but nobody has ever walked before. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only people who have taken this route and I don’t think there is anybody else walking across Southeast Asia. We found that idea exhilarating at first, but then we were wondering, what if we actually did it? So yeah, we decided to pack our bag and go for it (laughing).
How do you fund this expedition?
We have saved up for a year before leaving England but we also have some sponsors to help Borderwalk Project. For example, SONY provided me with the equipment to film and edit the documentary. I don’t spend that much actually; on an average day of walking I only spend around five to six dollars for food and water. I have my own tent and hammock so I can stay the night wherever I want. Staying in a place like this costs money, but I often get help by locals or friends I meet along the way.
You’ve been on the road for over four years. Tell us about your most unforgettable moments.
There are two most remarkable events actually. The first one was when Kieran and I got arrested in Kazakhstan. We were staying at an apartment where there was an illegal couple on the floor above us. One day, immigration officers came and checked in every room. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our passports with us because they were being kept by the Pakistani Embassy for some visa matter but the officers didn’t want to hear our explanation.
They took us to the police station and interviewed us the entire day before deciding to hold us in a jail in the middle of nowhere. The police officers wouldn’t allow us to make any phone call, so it took a few days for the UK Embassy to find us. I think it was one of the situations that could’ve been avoided if we gave them money. We were imprisoned with 18 other men in a small room without any window. There were no lights and there was only a hole in the ground for toilet purposes. At one point, we just sat down in complete darkness and laughed our hearts out because that situation felt very surreal and yet very real. We got released by the Embassy after three days and two nights. It was the moment when Kieran decided that he had had enough and went back home, so I had to continue my journey solo.
The other one is when I was in Afghanistan. I was already more than halfway through Afghanistan when in the middle of the night seven army officers broke into my tent. Each one pointed an AK-47 directly at my face. At that moment, I thought ‘This is it, this is how I’m going to die’ (laughing). They dragged me to the main road, pulled me into their vehicle, and then drove for about 40 minutes before stopping at a military camp where I had a meeting with four generals who asked about my activities. I was told I wasn’t allowed to walk the country because of my ysafety and after I was taken to Kabul where I got to stay for a week in a complex with Australian journalists and photographers, then taken to the Pakistan border.
Were there any moments when you felt like giving up?
Every day at 3PM! It’s the time of day when I normally would have walked for 20 kilometers and feel tired and sweaty. However, the lowest point was when I got to a mountain in Kyrgyzstan. My friend had just gone home. I had never been to a mountain before and it happened to be wintertime. The snow would fall into my tent and the days were quite gloomy. But I never allow myself to have these moments for more than a day. Normally the next day would be better, the weather would be nicer, I would meet kind people and things would feel good again.
Tell us about your journey in Indonesia. How has this country treated you so far?
It took me about two months to walk to Jakarta from Tembilahan, Riau. Indonesia has been incredibly good to me. There’s no other country where nearly everybody smiles and waves their hands at me, wanting to know what I’m doing. Some of them even offered me food, money and a lift to the next city. Most people were surprised when I told them about my story, but they still help me out anyway. Progressively, people are being kinder and kinder, so let’s see what Java has to hold (smiling).
Since you walk by yourself, no one would know if you cheat and, say, ride a bus. What made you very persistent to go on this journey?
I think I’m kind of idealistic about this project. I like the idea that you don’t have to be someone special to accomplish something special. I will probably have kids in the future and if they come to me one day and say that they’re not clever enough or fast enough to do something great, I would be able to tell them a story about two idiots who left England to walk across to the other side of the planet. These guys were just ordinary people without any specific skill. Of course many things went wrong along the way, but they still managed to do it. I hope I can inspire my children and other people to achieve something big. If I could finish this journey, then there’s nothing that they cannot do.
What lessons have you learned during the journey?
People are kind. I’ve had people come and walk with me and I have made many friends thanks to this journey. Also, accepting and adapting yourself into new situation is essential to survive out there.
What is next for you after the project is finished?
Since the whole idea is to make a documentary, I will have to start going through all the footages of my journey for the past four years. I also met publishers who shown a keen interet in me writing a book. Many interesting stuff happened off camera so I think a book would be a great platform to share my stories. In the meantime, people can follow my journey via social media and my personal blog, www.theborderwalk.wordpress.com.