To fulfill a dream you have to dream first,’ goes the adage. And my dream has always been to be on the road. The thrill of witnessing something new and unknown is the key that keeps me going further and the joy of spending precious moments with the local people learning about their culture motivates me to pedal greater distances on the road ahead. I have managed to fulfill and cherish every moment of my journey while pedaling on the roads of Rajasthan.
I crossed the Thar Desert on a solo sprint to complete my much awaited and much-desired cycle expedition in the back roads of Rajasthan, pedaling for 678kms in just three-and-a-half days, a net riding time of 31 hrs 16 minutes.
This dream began some seven months ago. A solo expedition of this nature is all about testing your ability to survive in some of the toughest conditions and overcome these challenges all on your own. Armed with just a sling bag containing one set of clothes, a towel and the essential cycle accessories and tools, the food was the last thing I thought of carrying. In a hospitable state like ours, a meal can be arranged anytime, anywhere, with little money and with the help of the locals. Indeed, I was too overwhelmed by this expedition to think about how I’d feed myself. I set off at the crack of dawn from the gates of the Pink City on February 12 and cycled for 187km through Kalwad-Jobner-Kuchaman City-Choti Khatu. Within the first few hours of my ride, I had a flat tire twice within a span of 30 minutes. However, I changed the tube and took off again without any difficulty as I had all the necessary tools.
That night I rested in a small Choti Khatu restaurant. The next day I cycled for 195km to Jodhpur via Nagaur. That night I rested in Jodhpur in a guest house after a well-deserved hot water bath. Rejuvenated, the next 192 km leg to Pokhran via Osian, Phalodi, and Ramdevra was a breeze. However, the last 104km from Pokhran to Jaisalmer was a little different with plummeting temperatures and an overcast sky. By afternoon, as it became hotter, I had to battle strong headwinds through the desert. The difficult terrain, accompanied by the lack of easy availability of water and food, was tough to navigate, as a rider needs plenty of water to avoid dehydration. However, I had to ward off hunger and thirst for what seemed to be an eternal wait. Battling these demons I finally I reached Jaisalmer at around 2.30 pm.
The familiar sight of people, tourists and eateries were enough to invigorate even the most famished soul. As you approach Jaisalmer, there is a War Museum where the army displays its lethal arsenal for public viewing. The proud Indian flag greets all visitors to the museum. The sight of the flag made my chest swell up with pride and made me determined more than ever to finish what had started as a lark. I kept watching that flag with my eyes stuck to it for a few moments.
The Indian Army’s generosity and hospitality are legendary and were no different in my case. In Jaisalmer, I met Major Beniwal, who offered me my first decent meal and a place to rest for a few hours as I was to head back to Pokhran the same evening. Back at Pokhran that evening, Major Vithun offered me food and shelter. It was an overwhelming feeling when I got a whole day to spend with our brave soldiers. They were very kind and during dinner that night and breakfast next morning, we exchanged stories of our life experiences. I spent some unforgettable moments with those soldiers, and I will be forever grateful to them for their generosity.
For those three-and-a-half days, I lived the life of a gypsy, constantly pedaling and moving forward, except to rest at night for a few hours and of course, to eat. I would get up early in the morning, take a bath and do warm up exercises to keep myself flexible, and then set off to a new destination, to new sceneries, and to meet new people. The experience of this solo ride is indelibly etched in my memory, something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
This expedition taught me a great deal about myself as well – my strength, stamina, and the limits to which I can push myself. Riding across the Thar Desert, where the treacherous temperature ranges from 7-8 degrees in the early mornings to 40 degrees in the afternoon can teach you a lot about the human body’s endurance. I had the opportunity to meet some amiable locals who greeted me congenially and shared their limited food and water earnestly. Unmindful of the scorching heat, forever smiling impish kids waved out to me on the road. Some of them also cycled with me for a few miles, presumably on their way home from school.
To tell the truth, a cyclist is never alone on the roads; he has the company of either people or his own thoughts. I witnessed the harsh yet delightful countryside, contrary to the opinion of most people that Rajasthan doesn’t have good roads or much scenic beauty to offer travelers. Rather it has some spectacular and marvelous landscapes – acres and acres of mustard fields that stretch till the horizon, and the rich, striking, golden sand dunes that can mesmerize anyone. At the end of this ride, all my muscle pains and fatigue was replaced by the sheer joy of achievement.
My body was exhausted but my mind was motivated, and my soul was completely enriched with all the experiences, new destinations, unexplored routes and different cultures. For I had also made my biggest discovery -the roads of Rajasthan are very much like its people – simple, serene and welcoming.