A teenager decides to travel across India on his bicycle. His next adventure – all of South East Asia!
My name is Mohit Kapoor and I am a cycling enthusiast and traveller by heart. When my father offered to buy me a scooter at the age of 16, I decided to pass on his offer and asked for a bicycle instead. I wanted a petrol-free vehicle.
My father let me have my way and soon, I started a journey to explore Rajasthan.
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Not satisfied with this small sojourn, I decided I wanted to travel from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
I had no money but I was not to be deterred. I set off on my bicycle for a journey that took me from Rohtang Pass near Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Vivekanand Rock Memorial at the southernmost point of India.
Alone, without money or a sponsor, I sold my cell phone to arrange equipment for this tour. Finding food and shelter in gurudwaras and temples during the trip, I conquered the goal I had set for myself and lived a dream that I chased all alone.
Pedalling from Manali to Kanyakumari in less than a month and then sitting on the last rock in India, touching the seagreen waters of the India Ocean, I encountered the good, the bad, and the beautiful of India.
In the second and concluding part of this odyssey, I felt like I had left my teens behind to become a man, and had come to know myself through my bicycle, a strong pair of legs, and a will of steel.
Self-inspired as I was, I again decided to venture on my next cycling expedition. Travelling through Ladakh on a saddle and two pedals, I lived this dream too with the same fervour.
By the time the trip was over I knew I wanted to explore the world. I had learnt a lot about India from the roads I had travelled but was thirsty for more adventures.
I had always dreamt of being a chef. I had grown up devouring food shows on TV and always wanted to visit the Middle East. But, sadly, that was out of the question as it meant having to cycle through Pakistan and Afghanistan. Not only was this dangerous, my parents would have scuttled my plans even before I took off. I then decided to plan my ride to South East Asia instead, via the great Himalayas. That would kill two birds with one stone – not only would the ride take me through some of the most amazing places on Earth but I would also able to immerse myself in culinary adventures far removed from the Rajasthani food I was accustomed to.
My endeavour has already begun. I will be pedalling through nine countries of South East Asia – India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. My plan is to not just witness some breathtaking landscapes and scenery but to indulge in and learn about the famous foods and traditional tastes of every region on my route. I can’t think of any better way to make my dream come true – I will be gratifying my soul by traversing through spectacular landscapes and also my taste buds by indulging in delicious foods.
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It was hard to explain my decision to my parents to take a break before I joined college and ride on a bicycle for a year. It took me five months to satisfy their queries and convince them that my journey would be a learning process, so essential for a young man on the cusp of adulthood.
But now, after having planned my dream ride to the last detail, I hit another pothole: where would the money come from? I started to look for sponsors. I met many people from different companies for help. I used to hitchhike as I did not have enough money to buy tickets. And most of the time I thought people would loosen their purse strings to support a noble venture but, alas, I was politely declined. I would make my way back home with disappointment written all over my face.
Somehow, goodwill worked and I got some sponsors for my trip – but no cash. I decided to set out anyway and see how I could manage and make my way on the road. Next morning, I had a lovely breakfast prepared by mom with lots of love and blessings for my continental adventure. After all, how many kids are crazy enough to venture on a bicycle to unknown lands? Here I was, taking off into the wild blue yonder with an undefined destination or time. There was only a vague plan to see the world and learn to cook Nom hua chuoi or the banana-flower salad in Vietnam.
It helped me when some friends decided to ride along for the whole day; their camaraderie and good wishes gave me the strength to reach Delhi where I was surprised to see a big welcome planned for me. There were around 100 pedal pushers from the cycling community, who had assembled to cheer me on. There, my jersey pocket became unexpectedly heavy – someone had slipped in an envelope containing Rs 3,000 with a note that simply read: ‘Happy Journey!’ My eyes were filled with tears; I couldn’t even thank the well-wisher who dropped it in my pocket as I did not know who he/she was.
Next day, with my heart full of emotions, I left Delhi and reached Karnal toll by night. People would stop me and ask where I was heading. After a long conversation and delicious dinner with one of these strangers, I camped there and slept.
The next day I crossed Ambala, deciding to leave the highway and taking the back roads. The ride was more interesting than I expected. A lady stopped me and asked me to spend some time with her family – she was the wife of a mukhiya of a village. I was lucky to witness a gram panchayat meeting and taste some local delicacies she had prepared for me. On my way to Kullu, I met with an accident and lost the only jacket I was carrying with me. I reached Manali and called a friend to ask him to loan me his winter wear as I did not have enough money to buy a new jacket. I stayed at a backpackers’ hostel in a small village called Jagatshukh, where I met people from different countries. We all stayed up late to watch the starry night and have some fun. My breakfast was not what I was used to having back at home. But I relished some fresh apples from the trees nearby. I trekked to a waterfall and visited a village to learn how to cook some local dishes. Soon after, I left for the Spiti valley – an amazing part of the world!
I went on to Nepal and finished exploring that country too. Next, I left for Kolkata to arrange for a visa and permits for Myanmar. This will take time since I am short of funds. In the meantime, I have left my bike behind in Kolkata and am currently walking and hitchhiking in South India to learn more about the cuisine here.
If you would like to help Mohit achieve his dream, you can contribute to his trip here: http://www.ketto.org/munchingonsaddle
You can follow his journey here: https://www.facebook.com/muchingonsaddle
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