The Long Way Home: Portraits of the Highway Walkers of India

Nat Geo photographer Mathieu Paley’s haunting photos of life along the fast lane.  
Photo: Zoonar/Dmitry Rukhle/ZOONAR GMBH LBRF/Dinodia
Photo: Zoonar/Dmitry Rukhle/ZOONAR GMBH LBRF/Dinodia

On a recent family road trip between Delhi and Maharashtra, National Geographic photographer Mathieu Paley noticed a man walking on the highway. He couldn’t stop at the time, but the next time he spotted a pedestrian, he drove into the exit lane, asked his family to wait, and stepped out to investigate. The walker, Binod Yasin, had no bag and no water that hot day, and was wearing loads of blankets and two completely different shoes, but he almost seemed liberated by being on the road. When Paley asked him how he had both a Hindu name and a Muslim name, he answered, “Does it matter? We are all under one” before moving on. Paley was hooked.

For the next three months that Paley spent on the road with his wife and two sons, he often pulled over their converted camping car to lend an ear, take a picture, or pass on a bottle of water. Some “were like walking ghosts,” he wrote on Nat Geo’s online photo journal Proof, “No one seemed to notice them.” The encounters may have been brief but, as Paley’s Instagram photos show below, they were lasting nonetheless.





Highway Walker # 10 : “I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.” – I love that quote from Bruce Chatwin. Very happy my series on highway walkers did it on National Geographic Blog, with my text and images! See link in my profile. Here is an unpublished picture: his name was Sumatra. Together with his wife, they had traveled already about 1700Km, over 4 months, on a pilgrimage following the holy Narmada river. He was very happy – delighted that I was visiting India all the way from France. I tried to carry his bag on my head… impossible. That’s all he was traveling with, sleeping in Ashrams along the way. @natgeocreative #indianhighwaywalker #pilgrim #narmada #pilgrimage #chatwin

A photo posted by Matthieu Paley (@paleyphoto) on




    Saumya Ancheri is Assistant Web Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.

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