Many ‘Stories to Tell’ As Salopek Reaches East Corner of India
Salopek has now been making his way across the northeastern section of India. This has taken him on a unique path where he nearly touched the border of southeastern Nepal. Then he straddled the thin stretch of the West Bengal province with Sikkim and Bhutan to his north, and Bangladesh to his south. He has made it to the Brahmaputra River and Assam, the province in the furthest-removed portion of India northeast of Bangladesh.
Recently he documented 'Milestone 67' at his 6600th mile of walking. He was still in the large province of Bihar (where he had also documented Milestone 66) but he was right up against Nepal and West Bengal. They were surrounded by farmlands with hazy, murky skies blotting out a setting orange sun.
At the milestone he had been walking with walking partners Sid Agarwal and Priyanka Borpujari. All of them were hot, dusty, exhausted and hungry from a long day of walking. They were surprised that, with their close proximity to Nepal, pineapples were growing in the fields - maybe not what one would expect next to the mountain kingdom.
There had been a recent suicide bombing in Kashmir and Salopek said many of the passersby gave them 'the hairy eyeball', a euphemism for an untrusting eye or eye of suspicion. "Some switch had been flipped inside people’s heads. Violence does that," he said.
Upon reaching the milestone, the first person he met was Rakesh Kumar Rai, the mukhiya (chief) of the Bhatgaon panchayat (village council) which covers several villages with a combined population of 22,000. "The list of people's issues is an endless one," he said. "But low levels of education are possibly the biggest problems."
Since our last update Salopek has not only been walking, but writing prolifically and giving workshops.
One article was about the Ganges River, people's perception of it, and how it affects the lives of the people in its path. He had walked near the river for a large portion of his India journey, but parted ways recently as he changed course more northeasterly.
He wrote an article about this century's mass migrations around the world and held a live questions and answers session about how 'migration' is one of the defining experiences about being human in the 21st century.
His workshops around India concerned 'storytelling' and he showed how these workshops have had an influence on Indian journalists.
He also wrote an article for the New Yorker on why Buddhism does not exist in India even though it originated there.
And as he walked from Bihar to Assam province he encountered tea pickers, sand mining families, a field biologist removing animal snares and stevedores loading cargo ships on the Brahmaputra.