Briton walks over 13,700km to Singapore to raise water awareness issues

After traversing 17 countries, Mr Bhogal crossed the Causeway from Johor Baru into Singapore on March 25, and is here for a fortnight. He plans to travel another 6,500km before reaching Cardiff in New South Wales, Australia, in November.
After traversing 17 countries, Mr Bhogal crossed the Causeway from Johor Baru into Singapore on March 25, and is here for a fortnight. He plans to travel another 6,500km before reaching Cardiff in New South Wales, Australia, in November.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

27-year-old walks over 13,700km to S'pore on journey to raise awareness of water issues

As he sips on bottled water in an air-conditioned cafe just around the corner from the Merlion, it is hard to imagine that Briton Arjun Bhogal has spent the past four years walking over 13,700km to Singapore.

Four years ago yesterday, he and his friend Kieran Rae, both graduates from the University of Wales, Newport, embarked on the longest journey of their lives - crossing the globe on foot.

Their goal was to walk from the Welsh capital Cardiff to Australia, taking ships across bodies of water. They wanted to raise awareness of issues like water shortage and overfishing, and raise funds for water and marine conservation charities.

"It started as a joke between us," said Mr Bhogal, 27, a writer, photographer and film-maker.

"Kieran and I are two very lazy people, but then we started saving money and looking for sponsors. And this happened."

Armed with backpacks and carts full of clothes, tents, electronic gadgets, food and water, the pair traversed over 10 countries, including Belgium, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Coining themselves the Borderwalk team, they spent their nights camping in fields and abandoned houses. They have documented their journey by blogging and tweeting, and plan to make a documentary of their trip after it is over.

"My main day-to-day struggle was where to get clean water. That wasn't a problem back in Cardiff, where we could just drink from the tap," said Mr Bhogal, who has raised nearly £3,000 (S$5,800) for charities WaterAid and the Marine Conservation Society.

But foraging for water was far from the only challenge that the pair encountered. Their belongings were stolen in Poland and they suffered from dysentery after drinking from a well during five months on the vast Kazakh steppe.

"Mentally, it was draining seeing nothing except sand and desert for days," Mr Bhogal recalled, adding that temperatures in Kazakhstan hit 52 deg C. "There was just no shade. We had headaches, nosebleeds and panic attacks. We stopped everyone for water and did not shower for three months."

Trekking between villages, their food supply also dwindled, and they survived on sandwiches made from mouldy bread and rotting meat.

Things worsened on their third day in Kyrgyzstan, when they were jailed for three days for not having their passports, which were at the Pakistani Embassy for visa approvals. That was the last straw for Mr Rae, who dropped out of the trip after they were released.

Mr Bhogal continued on his own. In Pakistan, he was "kidnapped" by seven men armed with AK-47 rifles. They turned out to be the military, who questioned him and later escorted him to the Indian border, where he resumed his journey.

After 17 countries, Mr Bhogal crossed the Causeway from Johor Baru into Singapore on March 25. He is here for a fortnight, and is inviting anyone in Singapore to join him on a walk from Woodlands to Sentosa tomorrow.

He plans to travel another 6,500km before reaching Cardiff in New South Wales, Australia, in November. Mr Bhogal said: "Water shortage is an important issue that affects the world. Even now, places like India struggle with getting clean water. We should all be concerned, instead of having an out of sight, out of mind mentality."

•Those interested in joining Mr Bhogal on his Sunday walk across Singapore may contact him at borderwalk@hotmail.co.uk

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'Briton spends 4 years crossing the globe - on foot'. Print Edition | Subscribe