Bhaktimarga Swami's two feet have taken him across Canada on three separate occasions.
He's now in the midst of his fourth cross-Canada walk, and it was his desire to see different parts of Canada, during his walks, that recently brought him to Estevan.
Bhaktimarga, a 60-year-old Hare Krishna monk who lives in the Toronto area, spent several days walking through southeast Saskatchewan earlier this month. He said that he decided he would walk through Manitoba, along Highway 3, and Saskatchewan, on Highways 18 and 13, because he expected that they would be quiet.
“Manitoba was fine in that way, going through Mennonite country. Once we crossed the border here (into Saskatchewan), it was “Wow! This is like the 401,” Bhaktimarga said with a laugh, as he referred to the perpetually frantic highway in southern Ontario. “Especially where 39 merges with 18. I'm sure you're going to four-lane that one before long.”
But he is impressed with the region, despite the heavy traffic and the abundance of mosquitoes. The cloud formations are something to marvel at, he said, the air is dry and clean, and the people are friendly.
“The people make the difference,” said Bhaktimarga. “The receptivity has been really great.”
Bhaktimarga started his fourth walk across the world's second-largest country at Canada's most eastern point, Cape Spear in Newfoundland-Labrador, in the spring of 2012. He walked to the geographic centre of Canada, about 20 kilometres east of Winnipeg, to end the 2012 part of his journey.
He resumed the walk in Manitoba in June, although there was a break in the summer so he could travel to California to pursue his other passion – playwrighting.
Bhaktimarga hopes to reach Victoria, B.C. before the snow falls this year, but if he doesn't, he'll finish the walk in 2014. Along the way, he'll stop in schools to make presentations to students on why he is walking across Canada.
His first two cross-country walks, in 1996 and 2002, were completed within the calendar year. The National Film Board released a documentary on the Trans-Canada Highway, “The Longest Road,” in 2003, and it featured Bhaktimarga's 2002 walk.
For the third journey in 2007, he took a different route through Western Canada, as he followed the Yellowhead Highway.
If he walks 35 kilometres per day, he said he can complete the cross-country trek in about seven months. At one time, he could average 42 kilometres per day.
“My biggest day was 99 kilometres,” said Bhaktimarga.
But he's had to curtail his daily average now that he's into his 60s.
“I'm a patriotic monk,” said Bhaktimarga. “I get to see Canada close-up; it's like when I used to hitchhike.”
He's easy to spot along a highway, as he sports a salmon-coloured robe. The colours represent peace, and it is reserved for those who are in the renounced order of monks. Inside his robe are meditation beads that he uses during his walk, particularly in the early hours of the morning, when it's quiet outside, and traffic is minimal.
Bhaktimarga will go through three or four pairs of shoes during each national walk. It's aggravating to break in a new pair of shoes, but he doesn't like to use shoes until they are falling apart.
“I'd love to go barefoot, but the big challenge is the sloping of the roads, with the way they're constructed,” said Bhaktimarga.
He has also walked across Ireland, Israel, Trinidad, the Fiji Islands and other countries.
Cross-country walks are common among the sages and the yogis of India, he said. They provide an opportunity to reach out to people, to seek inner peace, and encourage introspective walking.
“I believe that we have our obsessions,” said Bhaktimarga. “Machines and gadgets are among them, and I know we have to use them, and they are a great utility, but let's not get consumed by them. So by me walking to an extreme, at least I'd like to encourage people to moderate their use.”
The walks are not a fundraiser, he said, but occasionally someone will give him a few dollars to help meet expenses, which he said are minimal.
Joining Bhaktimarga on his latest journey is his friend Daruka, who lives in Winnipeg. Daruka accompanied Bhaktimarga for about half of the 2007 walk, and has been with him for most of the 2012-13journey.
In keeping with the theme of modesty, they don't have an RV or a van with "The Walking Monk" painted on the sides. Rather, Daruka drives a non-descript 1993 Mercury Grand Marquis. Their food, tent, cooking and camping supplies and Bhaktimarga's robes are stored in the vehicle.
And Daruka is accompanied by Billie, a 24-year-old blue-feathered Amazon parrot who will likely live until the age of about 90. Billie is a big hit with the children Bhaktimarga meets, and she provides good companionship for Bhaktimarga and Daruka during the journey.
Bhaktimarga has been a monk for about 40 years. He had a Christian upbringing, and valued the teachings associated with the faith, but he was also curious about the faiths in other areas of the world.
He was introduced to some Krishna monks, and they taught him the Bhagavad-gita, which is the fundamental book of their faith. He enjoyed the message, and embraced the faith.
He concedes that leading a monastic life is not for everybody, but it's good for people to try it at some point in their lives.
“It might not be a life-long commitment, but it's just great for training, for focus, self-disclipline and those sorts of things,” said Bhaktimarga.
Bhaktimarga is a man of many interests. He's a playwright who will attend spiritual festivals and try to infuse a passion for drama in young people. He reads and teaches a form of yoga that he said is becoming an increasingly popular activity, as it involves chanting, drumming, hand symbols, harmoniums and other instruments.
“It's a very different thing than being on the road, walking along,” said Bhaktimarga.