Leaving green footprints around the globe

Poorna Kulkarni
Thursday, 9 May 2019

Meet Vishnudas Chapke, who not only circumnavigated the globe but planted saplings wherever he went too!

Five continents, 35 countries and 1097 days is all it took for Green Icon Vishnudas Chapke to circumnavigate the globe by road with a noble message of contributing to nature. 

It might sound like an impossible task, but Chapke took up this solo trip across the globe with a cause of planting a tree at each of his destination. “It started a long time back. I come from Parbhani with a background in farming. Whenever I used to visit someone’s place, I used to wonder what gift I should give the host that they would remember at least for a decade. Then I thought of gifting a sapling of Tulsi to them so that they could keep it with them for a long time,” says Chapke who was recently felicitated in the city for his feat.

The idea 
‘Vishnu Da Gama’, as his friends fondly call him, worked as a journalist in Mumbai with print media. “Around nine years ago, I had interviewed Captain Dileep Dhonde from Indian Navy who had circumnavigated the earth by the sea. He had told me many stories of his adventures. I thought I too should do something similar and decided to travel the globe, by road and create green footprints wherever I went,” says Chapke. 

The Planning 
After discussing the financial planning for the trip with Captain Dhonde, Chapke thought it was impossible for him to carry out his plan. “I asked Captain Dhonde about the budget of his travel. He refused to divulge any details as he was in the forces but he said that the ship he used for his trip was worth Rs 4 crore. After learning that, I felt, it would be impossible for me to go on the trip,” recalls the Green Icon.

But the idea wouldn’t let him sit still. “I was working as a journalist. After much contemplation, I resigned from the job to take up this solo trip. The finance was arranged in three stages. Firstly, my savings which I used till I reached South East Asia. Secondly, my friends helped me through crowdfunding. And thirdly, Tata Trust gave me a sponsorship of Rs 15 lakh. With these resources, I completed my trip within 1097 days,” he informs.

The route 
There is a rule when one wants to circumnavigate the globe — one has to do it around the equatorial regions. “I took up this journey from West to East — from India to Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Australia. And from there, I went to the south of South America, then to the North of Mexico all by land. Wherever there was sea or canal, I would take a flight,” says Chapke.

At these destinations, he would share vehicle rides and take lifts. He would sleep at railway stations and at times also rendered voluntary services at community centres so that he could complete his journey. 

The cause
There are many who have achieved the feat of circumnavigating the globe. Chapke’s was with a mission – to plant saplings in each visit. 

So how did he decide which sapling to plant in which country? “Every country has a different weather pattern and different soils, and also has a special bond with certain trees. I would ask some senior citizens from those places as to which was their favourite tree. That’s how I would know which sapling to be planted there. I believe anything we do today will save us tomorrow,” Chapke says. 

The challenges
His task was difficult and filled with challenges like time zones, diet and monetary restrictions and many more. The biggest challenge he faced was the Visa procedure. “I got visa from many countries but it took a lot of time. There were times during the visa interviews when I used to face a series of questions because they did not trust that easily. Then I had to explain to them the entire story, show them photos of the planting of trees in other places and also papers of sponsorships from Tata Trust. That is how I would get my visa.” 

Food was another challenge Chapke faced as he is mostly a vegetarian and occasionally eats fish. “There were several days when I could not get lunch and dinner, but I would make it a point to have breakfast and prepare it a day before,” Chapke recalls.

He would plan for his day well in advance so that he could buy fruits or vegetables that would not get damaged during the journey. And that’s how he survived. 

The message
Speaking about the people he met and how they received him and his message in other countries, Chapke says, “Thankfully, people received me with trust, love, and respect. I would go and tell them my name and why I was there. They would trust me and invite me to their homes. At several places, like Mexico, I stayed with a local family for three months until my visa procedure was completed. I would get in touch with the ministries by writing emails to them but often, there would be no reply. So I would go and meet them personally. If I failed to convince them, then I would go to an environment activist and like-minded people and take their help to reach the ministry. Once I put my idea in front of the ministry, it was easy for me to proceed.” 

Recollecting one of the anecdotes in Berlin, he says, “I got a chance to plant a sapling in front of the Chancellor’s office but outside the premises, along with the environment minister, Svenja Schulze, Indian Ambassador in Germany and my friends staying there.” 

Chapke feels the young India should get involved in environment conservation. “Families should visit farms and natural surrounding, and conserve nature. This will help the new generation to know more about nature.”

A simple step like high school students donating their books after exams to the needy students in villages will also go a long way, he believes.

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