“I now know, by an almost fatalistic conformity with the facts, that my destiny is to travel,” wrote Che Guevara in his memoir entitled The Motorcycle Diaries. This is probably the thought that has sent advocate and avid traveller CC Mathew globe-trotting.
Spurred by his irrepressible urge to see and know the world, Mathew or Ceecee – as he is known on to his friends – has toured all seven continents. He now has his eyes on Sri Lanka where he will be visiting between September and October.
Ceecee, who had Sri Lanka in his tour list last year, was unable to visit the island nation due to certain financial issues. After paying visits to all major temples in India, this year, he has set his mind to visit Sri Lankan Hindu and Buddhist temples. His tour line will include locations such as Munneswaram Kovil in Chilaw, the legendary garden of Ashok Vatika and the Sita Amman temple – the garden where Ravana imprisoned a kidnapped Sita according to the Ramayana of Valmiki, Hanuman temple in Anuradhapura and various other tourist attractions such as Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Little England in Nuwara Eliya.
A lot of people pack their bags and go off without a moment’s notice, the reader might argue. Is it not every youngster’s dream to be a traveller and an explorer, the reader may further ask. I agree that everyone, at an impressionable age, would have seen dreams of gazing at the Eiffel Tower, swimming in Lake Tahoe and experiencing an episode of man versus wild in the dense forests of Africa. I am by no means an exception and I, like everyone else, plead guilty to have foregone these fantasies to move on with the vagaries of life.
It is probably this impulse to not let monotony of everyday life take control that sets apart Ceecee from all of us. He has not let the drudgeries of life take the steering wheel. He has also not settled himself into the doldrums of predictability. “I am not 68 years old. I am 68 years young,” he says with good-natured mischief in his voice. Age is merely a number for this father of two daughters and grandfather of four little children. A possessor of an indomitable spirit, he is among a select few for whom one could say youth is an ever-enduring state of mind.
It is certainly not the case that Ceecee packed his bags after having saved enough to splurge. An astute advocate, he recently climbed the ladder of his professional career and has been appointed to practise at the Supreme Court, the highest judicial forum in India.
His journeys began long before he could even begin to afford them. A proud owner of Royal Enfield Classic 350, Ceecee’s first mode of transport was a Lambretta scooter he bought in 1969 from his savings. He had, however, quickly graduated to owning a Yezdi motorcycle in 1978.
The fact, however, is he had begun reaching out beyond his immediate surroundings as a law student in Jabalpur District in Central India. Ceecee also has an interesting anecdote to narrate in order to illustrate when the seeds of travelling were first sown in him.
“The first journey I undertook was just half an hour after I was born,” he quips. “I was born in Kolenchery of Ernakulam District in Kerala, a year after the independence of India in 1947. I had to be rushed to the local medical practitioner called Vaidyan in Malayalam. I strongly feel it is that fateful trip made in haste that endeared me to travelling.”
Today, at a ripe ‘young’ age, Ceecee has visited 40 countries, which includes Turkey, Israel, New Zealand, the Netherland, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway among others. In addition to this, he has explored the vast and diverse terrains of India in its entirety.
Last December, Ceecee dared himself to take on the onerous task of touring the Seven Sisters – a consortium of seven states that forms Northeastern India. Needless to say, not only did he complete the tour, but he also, in the process, visited 17 states, which includes the Seven Sisters. This trip was also peppered with some international flavour, as Ceecee incorporated a short but enriching trip to the neighbouring countries Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.
What makes the sojourn all the more impressive is that Ceecee was not accompanied by an entire entourage in this arduous journey. His only companion was another travel veteran, 75-year-old Abraham. Taking a break from riding their motorbike, the duo converted their Mahindra Bolero into a mode of travel and makeshift home for the 65 day-long trip. “We left only the driver’s seat and the seat next to it. The rest of the seats were removed to create storage space for our sleeping bags and basic supplies,” Ceecee explains.
“We even fitted solar panels to the vehicle. It is best to depend on local cuisines and accommodation. Also, we washed our clothes on the banks of the rivers we passed,” he reveals, doling out advice to prospective trippers and discoverers.
The most impressive trip ever for Ceecee remains a month-long trip to Kailash Mansarovar, a pilgrim centre situated on the other side of Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand. “I’ll remember this trip for it tested my fortitude and the willpower like no other journey. The fact that I managed to complete the whole trek even after being stuck in an avalanche for four days makes it even more memorable,” he says with a tinge of pride.
To add onto his already immense reservoir of travel experiences, Ceecee plans to ride his Bullet across the length of India’s border. He will start from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad District of Kerala. “We plan to cover nearly 27,000 km in this expedition. We will start out after ensuring favourable climatic conditions throughout the journey,” divulged the seasoned traveller.
What could possibly be the driving force behind Ceecee’s relentless pursuit of the yonder, one might ask. Ceecee attributes his tryst with travel to the liberating feeling that it gives him. “With each journey,” he says, “I feel as though I am strengthened both physically and mentally. My energy is boosted and I feel one with nature.”
The secret to his never-say-die attitude, according to him, is the years he spent toiling in the fields and walking nearly five kilometers every day to go to school as a young boy in Kerala. “I see many youngsters today are not as robust as they should be. They get tired easily. There are many youngsters who come up to me enquiring about what keeps me going. My advice to them is to get out of their cosy, comfortable life and make a move towards strenuous activity.”
Ceecee, whose friends’ circle comprises a majority of youngsters in the age bracket 18 to 30, is an ardent follower of John Lennon’s words: “Count your age by friends, not years.” As a mentor of “Club RE Wayanad”, a travel group for Enfield enthusiasts in Kerala, Ceecee has influenced countless young men and women to eschew comforts and take the road less travelled.
In order to give back to nature, whatever little amount of pleasure he has gained from it in all these years through his trips, Ceecee has become actively involved in conservation of environment and expansion of tourism opportunities in Wayanad. In fact, the first Kashmir expedition undertaken by his travel group was to spread the message of protecting the Western Ghats in Kerala.
A traveller’s heart is that of a wanderer. But, all those who wander are not lost. The spirit of a journey does not lie in the departure but in the successful completion of the voyage and subsequent return. And, the return is sweeter if one comes back to the land one loves beyond compare. Such is Wayanad for Ceecee. In spite of seeing the world, his home is where his heart is. “Wayanad is the most wonderful patch of land on earth for me,” he says resolutely.
It’s really useful to travel, if a man wants to see something new, wrote Jules Verne in his much-celebrated, classic, adventure novel Around the World in 80 Days. His travels have taught Ceecee to be a global citizen. “What’s wrong with our culture is we are too shackled and rigid. We need to let ourselves loose and live in the moment,” he exhorts.
While his long-cherished dream of climbing the Everest has not been fulfilled due to financial constraints, he has not let the letdown quell the raging fire in his heart to travel. Come this September, Ceecee will be all set to explore Siberia and Moscow. Additionally, he also has a round trip from Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad to Leh planned.
As he signs off with a Robert Frost-like air indicating he has things to do and miles to go as he traverses on the road less travelled, we are affirmed that his destiny is to indeed travel.
Joyce Sebastian is an Indian writer and travel enthusiast, living in New Delhi.
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