Village womenfolk consider him a saint as he trudges along the national highway leading towards India’s technology hub, Bangalore, in the southern state of Karnataka.
Some of them prostrate themselves before the saffron-clad 32-year-old, Kailashgiri Brahmachari.
Swami, as he is described, is on an epic mission – he is carrying his aged, blind mother, Kethakdevi, on his shoulders on an all-India pilgrimage.
He has already covered more than 6,000km (3,750 miles), beginning the journey in his native village of Piparia, near Jabalpur in the northern state of Madhya Pradesh eight years ago.
If all goes well, Kailashgiri’s grand plan is to end his spiritual quest at the next Kumbh Mela Hindu festival in the holy city of Varanasi in 2013.
“It is the will of God,” says Kailashgiri on his decision to carry his mother on the holy expedition.
Ash stuck on his forehead, the bearded pilgrim dresses like a swami, or a Hindu holy man.
The loving son carries two baskets on his shoulders, balanced by a wooden bar.
In one, his mother, in the other his meagre belongings.
“It does ache, but I am determined to complete the yatra [pilgrimage] even it takes another 12 years,” says Kailashgiri.
Villagers liken him to the Hindu mythological figure, Shravana Kumar, who is said to have carried his aged, blind parents on pilgrimages.
“In this modern age, this is very rare. It shows how much he cares for his mother,” says Gowaramma, a grandmother from Buvanahalli, a village 25km from Bangalore.
“He is truly a swami,” says another woman, seeking Kailashgiri’s blessing.
“My message is simple,” Kailashgiri says. “Take care of your parents. If you don’t, your children will also neglect you.”
People offer money and food along the route but Kailashgiri says his mother prefers food cooked by him.
Her favourite food is roti with cereal.
“He is a nice son but I am getting tired. I sometimes feel like ending the journey and getting back home,” says his mother, wrapped in a white sari.
In her 60s, Kethakdevi, who was born blind, is dependent on her only surviving son. She lost her elder son and daughter over a decade ago.
Kailashgiri undertook the trip to fulfil his mother’s lifelong wish to offer prayers at important holy places in the country.
The holy trek has covered the northern city of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama and Kashi, one of the holiest Hindu sites.
It has taken son and mother to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
“I am very happy. I have visited so many temples,” says Kethakdevi.
Her remaining wish?
“I want to touch the abode of God,” she says.
Kailashgiri is philosophical about the health risks of such an epic journey.
“It does not bother me. Even if I die it does not matter. What is important is the spirit of our yatra.”
He walks three or four kilometres every day but on occasions logs more than 20.
“It all depends on how my mother and I feel. Sometimes, we are so exhausted, we take a rest for a couple of days before resuming our journey,” says Kailashgiri.
The pair rest at temples and schools on the way.
Dagaji Shivaji Shellar, a truck driver who met Kailashgiri on the highway has become a devotee.
“I will be spending some time to serve the guru,” says Shellar, who helps with daily chores.
Kailashgiri says he and his mother have been treated well. “Only near Ananthpur [in Andhra Pradesh], my money and a bag were stolen.”
His Spartan possessions include a stove and pots, a couple of rugs, some clothes, a gold-plate wristwatch and a mobile phone.
Is this to keep in touch with relatives?
“The entire Sansar [world] is my family,” he says.
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