They had no passports and very little money. Yet, desperate to meet their K-pop idols, BTS, three schoolgirls from a village in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, decided they would start the year by embarking on a secret journey to the South Korean capital of Seoul.
According to multiple Indian news outlets, on January 4, the 13-year-old students from Karur district, convinced their families that they were going to school. They left their homes with clothes in their bags and combined savings of Rs14,000 (Dh619) to meet their beloved stars.
The journey was carefully planned. It would be suspicious to travel to South Korea in school uniforms, so, the trio changed their clothes enroute. They were soon on a train to Chennai Central station.
However, when the girls did not return home in the afternoon, their parents lodged a complaint at the district police station. The police alerted the state authorities, and a state-wide search began for the three missing girls.
Meanwhile, the three BTS fans were still determined to reach Seoul.
"They took a firm decision to somehow meet the BTS stars and shortlisted the seaports of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh to take a ship to South Korea and they eventually chose Visakhapatnam," a Child Welfare Committee official said, according to the Press Trust of India.
The girls were under the impression that they could take a ship to Seoul without passports, they began looking for a room to stay the night. After checking at many hotels and lodges, they finally managed to get a room in a Chennai hotel on Thursday night.
However, on Friday, all their attempts to board a ship to Seoul failed. Left with no choice, they decided to head back home and boarded a train from Chennai to Erode station, close to Karur.
"At Katpadi railway station, they got down at midnight to buy food and missed the train. Police personnel spoke to the children and Child Line authorities, and we were alerted," P Vedanayagam, head of Vellore District Child Welfare Committee said, according to a report on the news website newindianexpress.com.
The girls were finally rescued from the Katpadi railway station in Vellore on Friday, January 5.
According to the child welfare authorities, the BTS stars were their inspiration. "We learnt that the girls knew the minutest details about the BTS band and the stars, the way they dressed… they had bought shoes similar to the ones used by the pop band stars."
The three were accommodated in a state-run facility in Vellore district and reunited with their parents on Saturday, January 6.
Counselling sessions were held for the children and their parents.
"We told the children about the importance of education and its value and advised the parents to keep an eye on what their children do," the official said, according to the Press Trust of India report.