‘My phone was running low on battery. So I settled down in a tea shop which allowed me to charge it. It was cold outside anyways. As I sat there, doing absolutely nothing, just watching at the guys preparing for the day. The paint store next to it was going thru the same process. The shopkeeper just arrived and was raising the shutter. The chaiwala shot an enthusiastic, “Salaam, salim bhai”. Reply came, ” Jai mata ki bhai”. The day started well….’
One fine morning, the above text found its way into my ever informative Facebook timeline. I was intrigued. Decided to check who’s behind it. This led me to the Cycling Across India, and its creator, Mohammed Izhaar.
It was sometime in December that I chanced upon the update, and subsequently followed the account. Here was a man, who has been cycling across the country since 13th March 2016. Mohammed Izhaar was 30 years old then. In March, he came to Pune. I had been in touch with him for some time, and had invited him over to stay with us whenever he visits Pune. He agreed. During his brief stay at our home, he shared a lot about himself, his journey, and much more. Below is his story about cycling across India in brief.
How did the journey start?
Born in Mysore, Izhaar acquired a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Similar to thousands of engineers every year, he too got a job in a city and started his 9 to 5 life. At first, it was exciting. Money was good, and being independent, was freedom experienced like never before.
Waking up early, battling through Bangalore traffic to reach office before 9 AM, working till 6 PM, and then again continuing the battle with Bangalore traffic to reach home by 8 PM. This was a daily routine. In the initial few months or maybe years, this was not a problem. As it was a means to making ends meet. Buying fancy phones, hanging out with friends at pubs, and so on. It was exciting. In fact, he would look forward to the next day, never call in sick, or take leave. Weekends were with office colleagues, who were now friends. A few years went by in this manner, until he bagan viewing things differently.
Izhaar realized that the activities he was engaged in were not adding anything of value to his life, nor helping him learn anything new. He started questioning his purpose – Why was he doing this job? To earn money was not good enough an answer for him. There was no happiness either. He was no longer looking forward to the next day, or weekends. Going to office started to get boring, and so did hanging out with friends on weekends. He needed to start a new hobby to keep a check on his life.
It was towards the end of 2015 that Izhar was introduced to cycling. The connection was instant. Izhaar started to get some zest back in his life. Weekends started getting interesting as he would explore a new place every weekend.
But cycling only on weekends was no longer sufficient. He wanted to explore more on a cycle. A bonus at work instantly helped him decide on a cycling trip to the North of India, as he had never seen snow. (Yes, it all started because he wanted to see snow).
He took a 4 month leave and started preparing for his journey. The day was 13th March 2016, it was also his birthday. He says, it was the best birthday gift he could ever have had. In all he had about Rs 60,000 when he started the journey.
The First Year
At the end of his 4 month leave, Izhaar was somewhere in the Himalayas. With no motivation in getting back to his old life, he decided to continue cycling further. This is what his first year journey looked like –
Karnataka – Kerala – Tamil Nadu – Andhra – Odisha – West Bengal – Sikkim – Bhutan – Assam – Arunachal – Meghalaya – Tripura – Gauhati – in train with cycle – Delhi – in bus to Manali – Cycling restarts – Leh – Turtuk – Pangong – Chang La – Leh – Srinagar – Jammu – Punjab – Haryana – Rajasthan – Gujarat – Maharashtra – Goa – Karnataka (2,100 kms done, cycle dead, bought new cycle) – Hampi – Telangana – Hyderabad – Chattisgarh (only one day, too much checking, police told him why are you coming to this state, go away) – Maharashtra.
PS – This is a brief outline of his first year of full time cycling. He has chronicled detailed locations, names, places he spent time or money at, and what he did – In his diary there is information (brief notes), which even google maps may fail to provide). He knows names of places, which are difficult to find even on the internet. Scores of places that are worth visiting but we aren’t aware of them.
When I asked, “Would you want to share detailed locations about such places’, he promptly said no. The reason, he wants to keep those places untouched. The minute its out there on the internet, everyone goes there and destroys the place. He says, it would be great if people would go out and explore, discover new places on their own, instead of walking on a path laid out by others.
What did you do when money got over?
After I had gotten through the bonus I had received from my employer, I decided to use my savings. I sold my stocks, mutual funds, and decided to continue. Including my bonus, and savings, I had finished all my savings / money I had. From March 2016 to Nov 2017, I had cycled across India with Rs 2 lakh. I had no more money.
I could have stopped, and rejoined the workforce (surprisingly, my old employer still says that my job is available, and I can join whenever I want). But, I was still not content. I wanted to continue cycling. My aim now was to cycle for 1,000 days, and cover 42,000 kms – which is also the circumference of the earth.
So, I decided to start a fund me campaign. The aim was to gather Rs 1.2 lakh. Initially, it sounded very artificial. Why would strangers pay me. But surprisingly, the money started coming in.
I had to end the campaign before its end, as I had completely ran out of money. The website I used to collect funding, takes about 7-15 days to transfer money into my account. They take 10% commission. Of the Rs 70,000 I had collected, I got about Rs 63,000 into my account.
The Second Year
(March 2017) – MP – left cycle at Omkareshwar, at a fellow cyclists home – train to Delhi – two friends join – bus to Pahalgam – Mountaineering course 1 month – wanted to start trekking from POK border town of Tithwal, but army did not allow and pushed him back all the way to Srinagar – Wular lake – started trek from Wular (Mid May 2017) – Sonamarg – Lamayuru Monsatary – Chilling (world’s highest rafting, but also boring) – Leh – Lamayuru – Padum (Zanskar Valley) – Darcha – Rohtang – Kaza (Enter Spiti Valley) – Hikkim (world’s highest village) – Komic (highest village connected by road) – Tabo – Pin Valley – Pin Parvati (toughest trek in himalayas) – Kulu / Parvati valley – in bus to Haryana (rested for 10-12 days as was not feeling well – got lost in Pin Valley. Had carried food for 3 days, but he was there for 7-8 days, lost hope, and could have died) – survived, and managed to get out – back to Pin valley by bus – trek restarts – Pin Bhabha trek – recongpeo – kinnaur kailash trek – sangla valley – Rupin Pass – Enter Uttarakhand – Badi Pass base – roam around Uttarakhand in bus with friend from haryana – hemkund sahib – chopta – chandrasheela – bus to keylong – trek to leh – tried stok kangri, but did not complete – bus / train – Bangalore – Rs 2 lakh saving over (nov 2017) – crowd funding ketto – target was to raise rs 1.2 lakh, managed to raise 70k and had to stop crowd funding as i needed to withdraw the 70k – most money was given by my friends – ketto charges 10% – Rs 63k he got in my account – head to MP – get my cycle – Enter Gujarat – Saurastra – Kutch – Ahmedabad – Surat – Bardoli – Saputara – Nashik – Mumbai – Pune.
What all do you carry along?
Along with my cycle, I have my tent, cycle repair kit (I now know how to fix anything on my cycle, on my own), water bottles, helmet, my smartphone, battery bank, my backpack, which is also a solar charger for my phone, and battery pack and my digital camera.
How much do you spend a day?
On average, I need about Rs 200-300 in a day. This is when I am staying on my own in a tent. I rarely stay in a hotel. Usually, I prefer staying in my tent. The day ends wherever I want it to. Any quiet place, away from civilisation, in the middle of nowhere is where I like to pitch my tent, and spend the night.
Nowadays, I get invited to stay over at homes of Facebook friends who have started following me, and my journey. When staying at the home of well-wishers, there is no expenditure.
Sometimes, the extent of their kindness overwhelms me. They feed me till I am full, take me to places in their cities, make me meet their friends, treat me as a member of their family, and I’ve even been welcomed with garlands. The experiences are many, and all happy ones.
Any bad experiences?
There was one in particular. I was heading to the Uperkot Fort in Junagady when bike borne miscreants started pulling my bag from behind. I freaked for a second, thought my bag got tangled but it was a guy. Three actually, on a bike. I almost toppled to a side and they stopped. It was a small alley way, a crowded street. I was struggling to my feat and just asked “kya kar rahe ho?”
And that’s was it. They three got down, with a mocking “kya?” Were raining blows on me. I was still tangled in my cycle. But luckily, my helmet took most of the kicks to head and only one punch landed straight on nose. It bled like hell. My both hands were red. All I remember was screaming loudly and somehow I had rolled away from them. Blood just poured from my nose and it did scared me.
They were clearly drunk. One of them lifted his shirt, I assumed much worse, gun or a knife but strangely he had a bottle there. Others were asking them to leave me. One of them threw a brick at me but I was calm enough to dodge it. I had seen a constable at last turn and I wanted to make a run for it. A thought of clicking them did come to my mind but I was too close and decided to run as no one in the street seemed like was going to help me.
They stomped on my cycle and it was painful to watch it helplessly from there. But I ran to the constable.
The square was full of people. Some function was going on. It was only 25 meters from where I was. But the constable was reluctant to come with me. He said wait for the jeep. It took a while till they all gathered and came back. By then I had gone there and took my cycle. All the while my nose bleeding like a tap.
They took me back there in jeep but everyone there claimed ignorance. The cops now asked me would you like to go to hospital and I agreed, there was nothing much I could do.
They led me to hospital and I followed in my cycle. There it was paper work first and no body bothered to check the nose. They gave me a wad of cotton to hold it. And that’s all. Later they out me on a drip and everyone went back to their work.
Another guy came after 2hrs to take statement. I asked what’s next. He said they’ll catch him. I seriously doubt it. Nobody even asked me how they looked. Plus I’m not even sure they’ve filed an FIR.
Another time, I was cycling up to Kalo Dungar in Kutch. By the time I reached at the top, it was dark. The priest of the temple told me that it was not safe to travel down in the dark and it would be better if I would stay the night in the temple.
Soon it was night. A police jeep came. They took me and put me in jail. Apparently, it is not allowed to stay overnight at the temple. Someone contacted the police, and they came and picked me up. I spent the night in jail. Next day, they would not let me go. They wanted guarantee from my parents. I argued, what guarantee? I am an adult and am responsible for my activities. They did not budge. They put me back in jail.
They asked me why I was cycling? I explained. They did not understand the reason. They told me that I will have to go and meet the District IPS officer. Next day, a constable took me with him to meet the officer. I met the IPS officer and explained him, showed him my facebook page, travel diary. He understood. And after taking my signature, they let me go.
His family is based in Mysore. He is not in constant contact with his parents owing to a difference in understanding him, and his journey. They want him to return home. Once they did succeed in calling him home under false pretense. Following the incident, he has stopped communicating regularly with his parents.
Instead he stays connected with the family through an uncle. He regularly speaks with him. Last he spoke with him, his uncle requested him to visit his home as Izhar’s sister was getting married. He suggested Izhaar continue his journey after marriage. When I asked Izhaar, will he be going home for his sister’s marriage, he said no. He had plans to go North as summer was setting in.
Where to Next?
After seeing Izhaar off, he headed to – Lonar – Parbani – Nanded – Seemadoh – Adani – Itarsi – Bhopal – Chanderi – Orrcha – Dlehi, Uttarakhand – Kishtawar – Leh – Nepal – and will end his journey in the North East. Earlier today he had posted an update from Uttarakhand, very happy to be in the mountains – away from the city, chaos, traffic.
Journey in Numbers
Total days – 795
Kms done on cycle – 30,843
Kms done on foot – 2,657
Total kms done – 33,500
– As of 20th May 2018.
Lowest time spent in a State
UP – 2 days
Chattisgarh – 1
Bihar – 1
1000 days, 42,000 kms (circumference of earth)
Indian States not visited yet
Jharkhand, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram
We wish Izhaar all the best in his journey ahead.