Published: 01st January 2020
Meet this Coimbatore engineer turned farmer who travels the country when he's not farming
A 28-year-old farmer, Balaji Suresh spends a dedicated four months working hard on his farm at Coimbatore and then, kicks back the rest of the year, exploring new places on his trusty Himalayan
It was a beautiful winter morning in Assam. Balaji Suresh was sipping on a warm cup of coffee when he received an email. It was a message from his office in Bengaluru, where he was employed as a Technical Engineer. The e-mail read 'You are terminated from service'. Despite all the emotions that flooded his brain, all he could reply was 'Thank you'.
Instead of losing heart, this avid biker and traveller, who was already on a 6-month travel spree at the time with his Royal Enfield Himalayan, used the opportunity to explore Northeast India and Kashmir for the next 550 days! "I had applied for 40 days leave but once I reached the Northeast, I was mesmerised by its beauty and the warmth of its people. I wanted to experience it all and hence, I decided to stay longer. Losing my job came as a blessing," he laughs. As he talks about his iconic journey, we sit still in awe when he says that he didn't have to spend a penny on lodging during any of the 550 days.
"The locals hosted me as their guest. They offered me food, lodging and almost everything else I required. They treated me like own of their own," smiles the 28-year-old as he adds, "Kashmiris and the people of the Northeast are such gems. All I told them was that I was there to see the beauty of their region, which was the truth, and they welcomed me warmly with open arms and open doors. In fact, I spent 25 days with just `20 in my pocket. They didn't care about my caste, religion or language. Even before one approaches them for help, they are ready to sort it out."
Though during his travels, lodging and food hardly cost him much, it doesn't mean that Balaji doesn't need money to survive, He quickly found an interesting vocation to pursue to fund his trips after he decided to never work full-time again. "After losing my job, I decided that I would never take up a full-time job again because travelling and exploring had become my primary goal. My family has a four-acre space of land at the foothills of Velliangiri Hills in Coimbatore, and I decided to take up farming and plant crops there; I started with onions and turmeric.
In a year, I work on my farm for four months and once it is ready for harvest, I pack my bags and my exploration begins. My dad takes care of the sale of the harvest. Drip irrigation is practised and hence, watering the crops is hassle-free. In short, I am a farmer who loves to travel," happily confesses the Mechanical Engineering graduate from Karpagam College of Engineering (Autonomous), Coimbatore.
Balaji, who has been farming and travelling since 2016, says that he enjoys both of his passions, "There have been incidents when villagers used to laugh at me for being a farmer despite having a degree in Engineering. It still baffles me why people do not understand the value of being a farmer. I am my own boss - I am completely independent and also have the privilege of witnessing the fruits of my labour. I am happy that I'm able to fund my own journeys using the earnings from the farm. I set a budget of '10,000 per month for each trip. At times, I have spent even less."
His farm at the foothills of Velliangiri Hills in Coimbatore
As he, more or less, lives a nomadic life, Balaji has picked up some Hindi during his escapades and can even understand a bit of Assamese and Punjabi too. There were days when he communicated only through gestures. "Smiling is the best way to start a conversation. When you are good to people, they will definitely be good to you," he says enthusiastically. When we ask him to share an interesting experience with us, he says that every day is eventful to him. However, there is one incident that stands head and shoulders above the rest, he narrates, "It was when I was travelling through the Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve in AP. As it was getting dark, I decided to stay in a village nearby that was almost like a typical tribal village. Using basic gestures, I asked them if I could pitch my tent there. As a gift, I offered them atta (flour). They obliged and asked me if I would like to join them in hunting, but I refrained as I was new to it. As I was about to take a nap in my tent, I noticed torch lights outside. Forest guards circled my tent and they spoke to me in Telugu. Things got worse as we couldn't communicate with each other. I assumed that they had mistaken me for a smuggler. I quickly remembered my uncle, who was an IFS officer, and gave them his name and designation. To my bad luck, there was no network and I could not contact him. Fortunately, one of the forest guards was trained by my uncle. They took me about ten kilometres away to a place where there was network. I spoke to my uncle and he sorted out the issue for me. I came to know later that I was in the core region of the reserve. It all seems very funny now, in retrospect," he laughs.
Balaji cooked his food during his travel
Assumptions played a vital part in his sojourn. "In Arunachal Pradesh, some thought that I was a RAW agent. In Rajasthan, they took me for a 'puncturewala' as I had an extra tyre attached to my bike. The craziest part was that many even assumed I was a terrorist, seeing the tools and other things attached to my bike," he laughs and adds, "I carry an axe to collect firewood as I need it for cooking at times." Calling himself a 'bikepack traveller', he explains that biking is surreal, "To a biker, it is the bike ride that matters, whereas to a traveller, it is the experiences during the journey that matter. To a traveller, his bike is just a mode of transport. I know my destination but the route I take is undefined. It is never time-bound. It just happens." Balaji, who is on his way back home after a journey to North India, informs us that he might take his travels across the oceans to Australia after the 2020 harvest.
And his advice for future travellers? "Finish your journey as a student first. Once you feel that you are responsible enough to handle situations, go for it. Even during your school days, you can travel but remember, there are miles to go before you sleep, in terms of education and responsibilities," he concludes.