“I’ll be looking for a lady at the slaughter-house next week,” Mathieu Francois says casually, while taking a swig of beer in our living room. Mathieu, a Parisian who has been living and working in Mumbai since 2013, turned vegetarian and has decided to rescue an ewe from the Deonar slaughter house and walk with it from Mumbai to Kathmandu.
Before we can ask why, Mathieu pulls a stuffed animal from his bag. “This is Beluga the sheep. She’s worn from travel but she’s happy.” Browse Mathieu’s Instagram account and you will find that Beluga has travelled with him to over 15 countries and last month, even met the Dalai Lama, who blessed Beluga and Mathieu for their long, treacherous walk. “You must keep moving forward no matter what,” said His Holiness.
Mathieu’s father’s recent death inspired him to re-create the Mumbai to Kathmandu walk that his dad embarked on in the 70s; and Beluga inspired him to get a real sheep to join the journey. “We’re walking for peace, to raise awareness against animal cruelty and to document India now and then, by comparing my father’s travel footage on a Super 8 mm camera to my own, both shot along the exact same route.”
The real life sheep might be called Shanti; before you roll your eyes and cluck your tongue, it’s not Mathieu’s tribute to an out-of-body experience he had in Goa.
In A Heart Bleat
The real life sheep might be called Shanti; before you roll your eyes and cluck your tongue, it’s not Mathieu’s tribute to an out-of-body experience he had in Goa. “The word has followed me around ever since I got to India. My first home was in a building called Shanti Bhavan; later I lived on Shanti Road in Juhu next to ISKCON,” he says.
Is Mathieu ready to deal with sibling rivalry between Beluga and Shanti? Maybe not, but he seems well-equipped for the rest of his journey. Mathieu, Beluga and Shanti will begin their walk in two weeks, following this route: Mumbai –Ajanta Ellora - Omkareshwar - Sanchi – Khajuraho - Allahabad – Mirzapur – Banares – Pratapgarh – Lumbini – Pokhara - Annapurna – Kathmandu.
Mathieu is a seasoned hitchhiker – French explorer Tesson is his inspiration – so the main prep work is for Shanti’s well-being. “I’m designing a shepherd stick with an engineer in Bandra, which will be mounted with two Go Pros, a microphone and a carved Ganesha. At night it will also serve as a stick to hold the tarp up for Shanti’s tent.” He also has an “excellent” vet on a call, an Excel sheet to track everything about the sheep “including the colour of its poop,” and its grazing, chilling and walking schedule. “If all goes well, I hope to finish this walk in 200 days; on the way we will live in tents, guest houses and people’s homes.” In Pratapgarh, Mathieu knows the queen, so a little bit of pampering will be on the agenda.
Follow The Herd: How You Can Get Involved
The trip will most likely be funded by a corporate (Mathieu heads the strategy department at a travel company and is also an early stage investor for start-ups), but you can fund different legs of the tour or offer anything else that you think might help. “A friend with an electric rickshaw factory in Banares will be lending us a rickshaw to explore the city, and it will also serve as Shanti’s home for that leg of our journey.”
Mathieu hopes to turn the footage from his journey into a film, and is looking for editors and producers to help. If you’re a social media ninja, he’s also in need of someone to manage his accounts for when he can’t find an internet connection. And if you’ll be in any of the cities around the same time, meet up with them to say hello!
At the end of this 200-day journey, Mathieu hopes to leave Shanti at a monastery, where she will be happy, cared for and might even have tea with the Dalai Lama one day. It’s not unthinkable. Beluga already did.
Getting there: Visit www.shantiwalk.com and follow the sheep on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on @shantiwalk for pre-walk and live journey updates.
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