“I now know, by an almost fatalistic conformity with the facts, that my destiny is to travel,” wrote Che Guevara in his memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries. This is probably the thought that sent avid traveller and septuagenarian CC Mathew globe-trotting.
Spurred by his irrepressible urge to see and know the world, Mathew or CeeCee — as he is known to his friends — has toured all seven continents.
“I am not 70 years old; I am 70 years young,” the lawyer says with good-natured mischief in his voice. Age merely a number, this grandfather of four little ones is a possessor of an indomitable spirit. CeeCee also happens to be among a select few for whom one could say youth is an ever-enduring state of mind.
Many pack their bags and go off without a moment’s notice. Is it not every youngster’s dream to be an explorer and travel far and wide? Haven’t we all looked forward to those trips made possible with months of astute planning. As school-going children, didn’t we all spend many a sleepless nights in anticipation of that field trip? And just who can forget that feeling of intense joy and contentment experienced while sitting in a train rushing past fields and over rivers?
I agree everyone at an impressionable age would have had dreams of gazing at the Eiffel Tower, swimming in Lake Tahoe, putting themselves to test in a rather chilling episode of man versus wild in the dense forests of Africa. I am by no means an exception. Unfortunately, I, like most others, plead guilty to have foregone these fantasies so as to move on with the vagaries of life.
It is probably the impulse to not let the monotony of workaday life take control that sets CeeCee apart from all of us. When the rest of us ran the rat race, he took a step back to take in the views unfolding before his eyes. He did not let the drudgery of life take the steering wheel of his life; he did not settle into the doldrums of predictability. But, it is certainly not the case that CeeCee packed his bags after having saved enough to splurge, he told me in a freewheeling chat.
His journeys began long before he could even begin to afford them — as a law student in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Today a proud owner of Royal Enfield Classic 350, CeeCcee first hit the road in a Lambretta scooter he bought in 1969 from his initial saving, put together penny by penny. And soon enough, in 1978, he graduated to owning a Yezdi motorcycle and taking roads less travelled.
To illustrate when the seed of travelling were first sown in his heart, CeeCee has an interesting anecdote to narrate. “The first journey I undertook was just half an hour after I was born,” he quipped. “I was born in Kolamchery of Ernakulam district in Kerala. Just half an hour into life on this planet, I had to be rushed to the local vaidyan [medical practitioner] due to breathlessness. 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, including Turkey, Israel, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway. In addition to this, he has explored the vast and diverse terrains of India in its entirety.
In December of 2015, the peripatetic expeditionist 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 10 other states. Always determined to go a mile ahead, quite literally, CeeCee peppered this journey with some international flavour and incorporated a short but enriching trip to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.
What makes the sojourn all the more impressive and truly special is that CeeCee was not accompanied by an entire entourage in this arduous journey. His comrade-in-arms was another travel veteran, 75-year-old K P 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 trip. “We left only the driver’s seat and the one next to it. The rest of the seats were removed to create storage space for our sleeping bags and basic supplies,” CeeCee explained.
“We fitted solar panels to the vehicle, but thought best to depend on local cuisine and accommodation. Also, we washed our clothes on the banks of the rivers we passed,” he revealed, doling out advice to prospective trippers and discoverers.
In a life spent mostly on the road, the most impressive journey 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 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 told me with a tinge of pride.
To add onto his already immense reservoir of travel experiences, CeeCee now 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.The man himself attributes his tryst with travel to the liberating feeling that it gives him. “With each journey,” he revealed to me, “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 roads that are off the beaten track.
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.
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. 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.