Coronavirus lockdown | Odisha youth pedals 1,700 km from Maharashtra to reach home

Left without a job after the lockdown, Mahesh Jena cycled across four States over seven days.

Updated - April 11, 2020 10:00 pm IST

Published - April 11, 2020 09:55 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Mahesh Jena covered close to 200 km daily. Photo: Special Arrangement

Mahesh Jena covered close to 200 km daily. Photo: Special Arrangement

Sitting idle doesn’t come easy to 20-year-old Mahesh Jena, stuck at a COVID-19 isolation centre in Bichitrapur in Odisha’s Jajpur, more so because the youth has cycled 1,700 km across the country from Maharashtra to reach home.

“The seven-day journey was more comfortable than the killing the boredom here,” said Mr. Jena, who pedalled home after the nationwide lockdown on March 25 pulled down the shutters at his workplace and snapped all public transport systems.

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Mr. Jena was working in an iron casting facility in the Sangli Miraj MIDC Industrial Area in Maharashtra, earning ₹15,000 per month. Soon after the national lockdown was announced late on March 24, there was talk that the foundry unit would remain closed for another three months. Mr. Jena needed at least ₹6,000 to pay for accommodation and food, but had just ₹3,000 with him.

After remaining idle for a week, he realised that the lockdown was not likely to end soon. “All of sudden, I decided to go back home to Badasuari village in Jajpur by bicycle. It was a matter of survival,” Mr. Jena recalled.

“On April 1, I set out. Though I did not have a map, I remembered names of major railway stations during my train journey here,” said the youth.

Full coverage | Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

Photo: Google Maps

Photo: Google Maps

 

Some fellow villagers, who were also stranded in Sangli, warned him about the long distance, though he was used to cycling around 12 km a day to his workplace and then to a nearby hotel for food. But the situation at Sangli left him with no choice.

On the week-long, cross-country ride, Mr. Jena made most of the cool, pre-dawn hours, cycling till lunch before he took a break. The few roadside dhabas that were open for truck drivers carrying essential products provided much needed shelter. He would stop at the few, still open dhabas for a bath, lunch and a nap before getting back on his cycle. “I was averaging close to 200 km per day,” he said.

Mahesh Jena had his share of run-ins with the police. At the Maharashtra border, he was asked about the motive for his journey. But he managed to convince them by describing his amazing bicycle-ride. Photo: Special Arrangement

Mahesh Jena had his share of run-ins with the police. At the Maharashtra border, he was asked about the motive for his journey. But he managed to convince them by describing his amazing bicycle-ride. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

At the dhabas, as he narrated his journey, some truck drivers did offer him a ride for part of the way. However, they later backed down at the thought of police action and cancellation of their permits if caught carrying someone during the lockdown.

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And so Mr. Jena continued pedalling — from Solapur to Hyderabad, then Vijayawada through Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam before entering Odisha via Ganjam, cycling almost 16 hours a day. Four days into his ride, he called up his family in Jajpur on a kind stranger’s mobile. They were extremely concerned and advised him to take precautions.“Heat exhaustion was taking a toll, but it did not distract. I was determined to reach homeFor night halts, I chose safer places like temples, schools and roadside dhabas,” Mr. Jena said.

He had his share of run-ins with the police. At the Maharashtra border, he was asked about the motive for his journey. But he managed to convince them by describing his amazing bicycle-ride.

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He reached Jajpur late on April 7 only to be stopped by villagers who were reluctant to allow him in without a check-up. They informed the district administration and he was sent to a quarantine centre at a school in Bichitrapur.

Mahesh Jena at a COVID-19 isolation room in Odisha’s Bichitrapur. Photo: Special Arrangement

Mahesh Jena at a COVID-19 isolation room in Odisha’s Bichitrapur. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

Thanks to the COVID-19 panic, Mr. Jena’s long journey home has not yet ended, and he has another 10 days to go before he can actually go home to his family.

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