Walking is Meditation: Foot Pilgrimage of 5000 km from Istanbul to Haridwar

चरन् वै मधु विन्दति चरन् स्वादुमुदुम्बरम् ।
सूर्यस्य पश्य श्रेमाणं यो न तन्द्रयते चरंश्चरैवेति ॥

“A man on the move gets to enjoy honey and Udambar like delicious fruits. Sun is seen with respect because it isn’t lazy despite moving all the time. (Like that, one should also) keep walking, keep walking.”

This Charaiveti Mantra (33.3) is from ‘Aitreya Brahman’ which was written in about 750 B.C. Details of the mantra are here.

Meditation involves focusing to do nothing, or at least doing one thing only at a time. In most Yoga and Tantric practices, that ‘one thing’ is focus on one of the over 2 dozen breathing techniques. But that ‘one thing’ could indeed be anything – even wallking. Especially when it is sustained for weeks and months over hundreds / thousands of kilometres.

A 5000 km long pilgrimage on foot from Istanbul in Turkey to Haridwar in India came to a successful near-conclusion at 3.00 pm on 10th November 2018. Tarun Kumar stepped forward under the tall Shiva Statue in the Vivekananda Park located at the entrance of Haridwar in the foothills of Himalayas in northern India and welcomed Matthieu de Lamarzelle and Françoise Lion Simonot, garlanding them with marigold-malas. Both of them are senior citizens with age of 70+. The duo crossed the canal of the hydro-electricity generation dam few kilometres away, yet still within Haridwar, from the mountain-side and entered the park.

All of them sat in the lawns soaking in the sight and listening to the reassuring lullaby of the mighty Ganges flowing from 2 sides.

The walkers walked the last kilometre of this long journey together and entered Haridwar and ended the voyage.

Matthieu and Francoise had first met each other while visiting India.


The walking distance from Istanbul to Haridwar is about 5000 km. They walked for over 5000 km crossing 10 countries Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Ouzbékistan, Kirghistan, China, Pakistan, and, India. Climatic conditions (desert in one place and 3000 metre high snowy mountains in another place, for example), local security conditions (Asia Bibi’s case in Multan, Pakistan, for example), government regulations (for example in China) were some reasons for covering some distance by road in buses or shared taxis, instead of walking on foot.

The journey was completed in 3 stages in 3 years. In the first stage they started in July istanbul to haridwar - 2 - oct20182016 from Istanbul in Turkey and walked through Georgia, Armenia, and Iran. In the 2nd stage in 2017, they started in end of August from Iran, and walked through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrghistan. In the third stage, they started in end of August 2018 in Osh, and walked in to China. Crossing 5000 high mountains they entered Pakistan. Travelling through Gilgit and Islamabad, they finally entered India at Wagah border near Amritsar. From there they walked to Chandigarh and then to Yamunanagar where they were joined by 2 other Frenchmen. They walked to Dehradun and then to Rishikesh. Starting from Rishikesh they finally reached their goal in Haridwar.

The next day, Matthieu and Francoise had wide ranging and detailed discussions with Tarun Kumar at AZIMVTH Ashram. Some excerpts are given below –

Matthieu de Lamarzelle

Matthieu said about the experience, “I define myself as a walker in the long term, forged on the road to Saint Jacques de Compostela, roads that I still live by serving at a hospital in Navarra.”

The experience of meditation I practice for over 25 years as a Buddhist Zen Soto school and that of walking the long course with very similar feelings are recorded in my DNA. It is face to himself, the look as much as possible turned inward, in harmony with careful listening of the body. The subtle balance between controlling the erratic expression of thought and attention to continuous physical and quiet approach, remains the key for me during this unique experience. Have both feet on the ground, the body and mind in unity and make every place a place of practice is to take the time to go to the source to find the essential.

This allows long journey to awaken all the senses, marvel at the play of colors, of all forms of natural beauty, remain sensitive to the arts both popular and scholarly, and poetry, literature. It also hear the sounds offered by nature, languages spoken at meetings, and the music … This pilgrimage was the rhythm of movements that build wire to wire like a symphony that can be equally fantastic, bubbly, mystical etc., assuming according to the vagaries of life as its mystery, unexpected, or unfinished …

And from what I was taught during my first lessons of history I went beyond the edge of the Mediterranean and highlighted the existence of thousands of years of cultural links between our brewing west and the far East. This allowed me to complete this vision of the world and expand this paradigm shift by its magnitude and mystery.”

Françoise Simonot Lion

Francoise commented, “The East is a dream for me. In a nutshell, we could say that the Orient is part of myself. This Orient begins for me, curiously, in Greece with its musics that are like complaints, these perfumes that are no longer from our world (even Italy and Spain with their tasty cuisines and wines remain very Western), with these ruins that I stalked around the Mediterranean sea and that slowly lead in Turkey and other countries in this end of the Great blue. At this point, nothing would prevent me from going to this languor and that force, these colors, thèse sounds, … to the East. And one day, I plunged into India!

All along the road, feeling my feet firmly planted on other lands, enjoying the colors and the smells. Catching some parts of the history of the humanity. To see Palmyra and dream about Zenobia, to cross Jaisalmer and tremble listening to the looting that hit it, …, Trebizond, Alamut, Istanbul, Samarkand, Haridwar … just their names are music.”

Before retiring, Matthieu was a business adviser. Francoise was heading a large computer science facility in France.

When asked to recount one good and not-so-good memory of the 5000 km walk, the duos said that the good ones were associated with walking alone in the fabulous landscape of Pamir and Karakorum mountains and the fabulous arrival in Haridwar.

Being detained twice by police in Turkey was not such a good memory!

Their thoughts on completion of the walk at Haridwar were that they were finally able to complete it.

When they were going to bed the first night in Haridwar, the lights and the songs of arati along the Mother Ganga were resonating in their hearts. The duo said that they will be coming back to Haridwar, in a plane!

Matthieu and Francoise made an important learning – “The most important in this journey is not the goal but the way day to day to achieve it …”

Over the millenia, hundreds of millions of souls have made pilgrimages to Haridwar. Every year, around the time of the month of August, about 10 million people stream into Haridwar walking over hundreds of kilometres from thousands of villages in northern India. More information on this can be seen here.

Read more