Animesh Rai’s Riveting Tale Of His Cycling Tours, And Looking At Incredible India From Up-Close

In October – November 2017, I cycled on my Bianchi road bike from Srinagar to Kanyakumari a distance of 3994 km in 34 days with 2 days rest. It took me through Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The towns where I stopped were Srinagar, Qazigund, Ramban, Jammu, Pathankot, Jalandhar, Khanna, Pipli, Noida, Mathura, Dholpur, Dabra, Talbehat, Sagar, Narsinghpur, Seoni, Nagpur, Hinghanghat, Nirmal, Kamareddy, Hyderabad, Jadcherla, Kurnool, Ghooty, Penukonda, Chikkaballapur, Krishnagiri, Karur, Dindigul, Kovilpatti and finally, Kanyakumari.

In December 2017 and January 2018, I cycled a distance of 4242 km over a period of 36 days with 2 days rest taking me from Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh, the easternmost point of India through Assam, West Bengal, Northern Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and upto Guhar Moti in Gujarat, the westernmost point of India. The towns where I stopped were Walong, Hayliung, Tezu, Tinsukia, Moran, Jorhat, Jakhalabandha, Jagiroad, Guwahati, Gossaigaon, Dhupguri, Darjeeling, Islampur, Araria, Jhanjarpur, Muzaffarpur, Gopalganj, Gorakhpur, Ayodhya, Lucknow, Kanpur, Orai, Jhansi, Shahabad, Kota, Bassi, Udaipur, Talahati, Shihori, Samakhiali, Rudramata, upto Guhar Moti located near Narayan Sarovar.

In October 2018, I cycled 1681 km over a period of 18 days from Gangtok in Sikkim right across Nepal via Kathmandu entering from Kakarbhitta on the eastern border and upto Gadda Chauki, the westernmost exit point in Nepal and continuing onto Delhi.

I had actually arrived in Guwahati on 28th September cycling 102 km the weekend of 29th and 30th September  upto the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar in Bhutan which is its easternmost exit point with the aim of cycling across Bhutan from the East to the West. I could only cycle 4 km into Bhutanese territory from there as per their rules. I then travelled by bus to Phuentsholing which is its westernmost exit point but I was told that I could not cycle upto Thimphu and thereafter only in restricted areas. In order to get a permit, I needed to make hotel reservations in advance and to take my biometrics wearing trousers and not shorts. This situation was too absurd for my liking and thus ended my Bhutan adventure.

Sikkim, even though it is a part of India, has a strong Nepalese influence and Gangkok is infused with Nepali culture. The route from Gangtok to Siliguri was at first largely downhill and then both downhill and uphill. The overwhelming impression which I got was that it was literally a very green state – with lots of plants, trees and forests.

From Siliguri, I headed towards the border entering Nepal at Kakarbhitta. The first three nights were spent in Damak, Kanchanpur and Dalkewar, all three towns in the Nepalese Terai or lowlands. After that, I was advised to take the shortcut to Kathmandu via Bardibas on the BP Koirala Highway crossing towns like Chiyabari, Mulkot and Bakundebesi. All of a sudden, I was in a hilly region which was very beautiful but with very steep climbs over a period of four days upto Kathmandu. Kathmandu was not all that appealing at first sight and as soon as I entered the city, I wanted to get out of it and it took me a while to get through its congested and polluted part where I was. The exit from Kathmandu brought me back into beautiful territory of the Kathmandu Valley taking me through Simle, Mugling, Kawasoti, Bhutwal, Chandrauta, Khaskusma, Budigaon and Attariya before I reached Mahendranagar and Gadda Chauki on the western border with India entering Uttarakhand via Sitarganj and onto Delhi passing through Moradabad in U.P.

Undoubtedly, this was my best ever experience of viewing India. Not only did it give me the broadest and closest view of India that I had ever had but I was able to view the country in its continuity viewing the transition from the North to the South and from the East to the West not only in its landscape but in its people, food, languages and cultures. The visit to Nepal was significant in that it represents the ideal foreign country to explore after India with its natural transition into Tibet and China.

Cycling is an endurance sport very similar to long distance running but enabling one to cover longer distances and thus the cycle becomes at the same time a means of transport. One becomes simultaneously a sportsman and an active tourist. During the frequent tea and lunch breaks on the trips, I interacted closely with a wide range of people. Among the most memorable of my encounters was one with a Sardar in Punjab who asked me what he should do to be happy, that with a young man in the Kashmir Valley who showed me a long list of photos of militants and terrorists downloaded on his mobile phone, people all over waving at me in signs of friendliness and the various displays of hospitality such as the sumptuous meal I was offered in Gopalganj, the fiefdom of the notorious Bihari politician, Lalu Prasad Yadav.

The interactions with these people above all brought me in touch with the common man with his innate common sense which one often tends to take for granted. Apprehension of common sense in its essence is as important if not more so than all the knowledge that can be acquired of art, history, science or technology and hence, these trips were also of great educative value.

In my opinion, more people should undertake this kind of trip. This is a form of tourism (combining both sports and tourism) which should be developed as a category on a par with others such as package tours and so on. The routes that I followed could also serve as a blueprint for developing this enterprise. It is also a most effective way for advertising a product or for conveying a message as the people with whom one interacts have their eyes and ears fixed on one in a very attentive manner.

(The writer can be contacted on : WhatsApp : 8940195371)

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