Growing up in rural Ireland, cycling was a necessity. Simply to get from point A to B. The nearest town was 20 km away. And though I have used all types of transport, cycling has kept me closest to the ground.
Let me explain. If I am surrounded by 20 people in a foreign land while riding a motorbike, I could simply ride away with a quick turn of the wrist if I did not enjoy the situation. Not so on a bicycle. Here, I am forced to converse and interact with the people. In many ways, cycling has provided me with an opportunity to learn.
Take the simple case of climbing a mountain slope. On a bicycle, you have to fight every inch of the way. You can observe every stone and rock on the way. It kind of slows the world down. Last year, I walked from the southern tip of Ireland to the northern tip, but the pace was too slow. Cycling provides the happy middle path.
However, I undertook this cycle trip primarily inspired by Dervla Murphy, the Irish cyclist adventurer who cycled from Dublin to Delhi in 1963. It was an incredible journey, especially for a lone woman travelling through so many Islamic nations at that time. She is such a humble writer.
Dervla’s route was slightly different from the one that I took. In Europe, she chose to ride south of the Alps, while I went north. She travelled straight through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, while I chose to keep to the south of Iran and Afghanistan and climbed to the north of Pakistan.
The other reason for undertaking this journey was that the two important people in my life, my mom and dad, live in India and Ireland respectively. This journey sort of connected me with the two of them.
I also undertook the journey to understand the world better. There is so much narrow-mindedness that engulfs us. Through this cycling tour, I wanted to tell people how the basic common person is simple, hospitable, kind and generous across all nations. I was keen to spread this understanding. It is important to have more tolerance. People may have different opinions, beliefs and faiths, but we are all the same. Just because a certain country has an unpleasant political agenda does not mean we should condemn all people from that country.
This tour taught me to deal with people. Normally, I am not comfortable with people. On this cycling trip, I frequently had 20 people gathered around me asking me to come here, go there, when all I needed to do, after 10 hours of cycling, was lie down and sleep. However, the more one experiences these situations, the more one grows as a person. Indeed, this trip has been one big life lesson for me.
The determination and motivation to keep going every day, bit by bit, was another great lesson. When I got back, I realised how much stronger I was in the mind. For many of us, our everyday conversations centre around petty complaints like the traffic, weather and this and that. However, when you work on an expedition like mine, you focus on the larger goals. Life seems to become clearer and more focused. And you learn that you have to live with these things.
It is very easy to get stuck in a routine. It is important to challenge yourself every day to do things that are different. You need to push yourself a lot more. I learnt this on the journey. It has made me more patient.
My most memorable experience was the time I spent with a young shepherd in Iran. I knew only 30 words of Farsi and he didn’t have any clue about English. Not even a ‘hello’. It was amazing to see a person who had absolutely no contact with the Western world. He had never even seen a camera. When I showed him the video of my cycling through London, he was astounded by the large buildings and all the people in the film. I slept with him in his little hut. In the morning, we milked his goats and shared a simple breakfast. It was both of us, sharing a little bit of our lives.
How happy that shepherd boy was, cradling a baby goat in his arms. They were the world to him. How happy and content he seemed. It really made me wonder about the Western world. People think Europe is this wonderful continent where people roam around in soft-top cars with beautiful women by their sides. In reality, most Europeans work in dour factories and get drunk on weekends, as they are unhappy with their lives.
As for me, our family never had much money. I started working when I was very young. I started gardening at the age of 13 for the money. Later, I worked in a fish factory, five nights of the week cutting fish from age 15. At age 16, I had my own apartment and by 17, I was working at nightclubs. I managed the largest Irish bar in Madrid when I was just 18.
I have been regularly working at Irish bars across the world, as it helps me make money to fund cycling and adventure trips such as these.
I have lined up more ambitious projects for the future. Cycling across Latin America is one of them. Friends have asked me to scale up my operations and seek sponsorship. Having released my first book, Curious Companions, and hosted my first solo painting exhibition in Pune, I would like to write more books and conduct more art exhibitions in the future.
As told to Rahul Chandawarkar