I got this book in a rather unorthodox way through the Indian Postal service via a mail order from the author. Its delivery got stuck somewhere after the second covid wave and the author was so kind as to send me another copy assuming that the first one would never reach me.
Many days later I received both the original and the extra copy. Though I am an amateur cyclist at best I regularly cycled around the town where I live. I never attempted exceedingly long distances even though cycling as an activity has picked up greatly in India in the last few years. Avid riders are spoilt for choice when it comes to the selection of bikes available for purchase.
Unfortunately, as far as road safety is concerned cyclists are never a priority and riding around the city is a risky endeavour. I often thought about the time that my grandfather spoke about using his cycle to drop off my uncles to various places. For the common man it was the most reliable and economical way to get to places. It was also environmentally friendly, a notion that has risen to prominence over the last decades. In some sense the humble bicycle was ahead of its time.
This book is intriguing not just in its subject matter but in the story of the authors themselves. They are an older couple that moved to Goa a few years ago and took up cycling in their sixties. Their passion for cycling really shows on every page of the book.
It was a revelation to know that twelve cyclists from pre-independence India took multi-year rides across the globe. They were driven by pure passion and the goodwill of those they met along the way. Every one of them sought out to do this purely as a personal challenge and an intense desire to explore the world in a way that would be rare for anyone let alone Indians living in a tumultuous time.
The accounts of their travels are painstakingly reconstructed and wonderfully narrated with the help of photographs, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia that came about as a result of their journeys. The sheer determination and will power of these young men to attempt such an endeavor can really be felt with every word that I read about it.
We are in the age of electric cycles, yet I cannot imagine pulling of a journey of such breath-taking scope. Given the resources and conveniences we have today in terms of mobility and connectivity this would still seem like a foolhardy endeavor. To think they did this on ordinary gearless bicycles traversing terrains as diverse as deserts, mountains, and rainforests, living through blizzards, sandstorm, and wildlife scares, makes it feel like a miracle that they managed to complete the journeys that they set out for. It wasn’t just nature but even political situations that tested their mental states.
This was a delightful read from start to finish. Since the events that took place are from several decades ago there is only so much depth that the authors could delve into. At the end of it, all I was left wishing for was to go back in time and converse with these daredevils who set out on journeys unlike anything I have known, sitting on one of the most remarkable inventions of our time. The humble and everlasting bicycle.