Animesh Rai simply loves adventure and with his daring , gutsy cycling journey covering the length and breadth of the country one gets the view of the nation that so rich in culture, language, food and climate.
He gives us his riveting tale in his own words in a series of diaries . This is the first one . Enjoy !
Jammu & Kashmir : in Srinagar
I left Delhi with a dismantled bicycle by plane at 6:05 am and arrived at Srinagar International Airport at 7:20 am. Just outside the airport, in the “Welcome Room,” I tried to reassemble the bicycle but had difficulties with the handle bar. Consequently, I had to take a taxi to Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar (also India’s terrorism centre) to get it fixed.
Jammu & Kashmir : between Srinagar and Qazigund
When I enquired about where I could drink tea, there was a person from a nearby restaurant who took me to his restaurant where he heated up tea from the freezer and asked me to enter the restaurant with the shutters half closed and requested me to drink the tea clandestinely inside as there was a curfew that day so the shops had to remain closed.
Jammu & Kashmir : in Qazigund
While looking for Yakhni, a famous Kashmiri preparation of meat, I was told in one restaurant that they had only beef Yakhni and not mutton (goat or sheep ) Yakhni. In two other restaurants, they said that they had mutton Yakhni. When I was heading for dinner, one of the managers of the hotel in which I was staying, a bearded gentleman in the mold of a prophet, requested me to tell the restaurant people that if they served beef instead of mutton to tell them, “hum ek Hindu Pandit hein lekin agar aap chhota ke jagah per bara denge to paap aap per lagega!” which translates into English as “ I am a Hindu Pandit but if you serve beef instead of mutton then it is you who will have sinned. ” He then added that these days, the restaurant owners went to any lengths to substitute beef for mutton.
When I returned to the hotel after dinner, there was a power cut so the second manager, a younger man than the first one, started telling me that militant and terrorist activities had been on the rise lately in particular since 2012. He then expounded at length about this militant and the other by showing me photos of them downloaded from the internet on his mobile phone. In particular, he showed me a photo of one terrorist with a stone in one hand facing a group of armed soldiers with their guns all pointed at him. He then said, “imagine how destructive this terrorist would be if you handed him a gun since he already has so much guts with just a stone.” He remarked further that the terrorists were killing soldiers and taking away guns from them. I then asked him whose side he was on. His reply was that he was on the side of “all the Muslims who want independence from India.”
Jammu & Kashmir : between Qazigund and Ramban
I left Qazigund at 6:30 am. It was a very steep climb to Jawahar tunnel for approximately 15 km. At the check post, I was told that the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) officer wanted to speak with me. When I entered into his booth he bombarded me with personal questions and said that he wanted to acquire knowledge from me and advice regarding the future prospects of his son who was doing a Bachelor’s degree in Science at Amity University in Noida.
Punjab : between Jalandhar and Khanna
At a Dhaba where I stopped to have tea, a Sardar who I gathered was a 54-year-old farmer asked me what he should do to control his blood pressure to whom I said that he should walk for twenty minutes everyday and reduce his intake of salt for ten days or so – this being what a doctor had recommended that I should do when my blood pressure had once gone up and which advice had worked for me. The Sardar also asked me whether he should take up cycling and/ or running to which I said that it was up to him. He then asked me what he should do to be happy. I told him to every day do something that he enjoys doing and then to find other enjoyable activities to pursue. When I was about to leave, he came up to me and asked me how he should maintain a healthy body to which I said that he should exercise, eat his meals at regular times and eat a balanced, mixed diet.
Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan : between Mathura and Dholpur
At one stop where I had tea for 7 rupees (everywhere else it was 10 rupees per cup) and which was in front of a Petha (a pumpkin sweet) shop, I was given a Petha to sample which was delicious. In that small town or village, there were many Petha shops lined on the street. It was located in the Agra district and Agra is famous for its Pethas (and not just for the Taj Mahal) .
Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh : between Talbehat and Sagar
The landscape later became very interesting as I entered the hills of the Vindhya Range which are very beautiful.
Many times, people slowed down on their motorbikes or cars to ask me questions but today a person in a truck stopped his truck and got out from it to ask me questions.
Madhya Pradesh : between Sagar and Narsinghpur
In one of the Dhabas, one person suggested that I was performing “Tapasya” or penance by cycling this distance.
In another Dhaba, a person with a Bidi in one hand, started taking photos from his mobile phone of the gear system of my bike.
Madhya Pradesh : between Narsinghpur and Seoni
The landscape was again beautiful with a lot of places of steep climb and in some places, the road was broken. There were lots of trees. It seems that the famous British writer Rudyard Kipling used the forests in the vicinity of Seoni for the setting of his “Jungle Book.”