ALL INDIA CYCLING EXPEDITION
India did not have the right kind of cycles in those days. The best probably was the BSA Mach5 which had five Shimano gears.
This was a race bicycle which was not a comfortable bet for a long distance ride. We went to Tube Investments India that’s TI cycles in Chennai. They offered a Rs.300 discount on each of those cycles, which was Rs.1800. I teamed up with a like minded guy Gururaj from MES college and both of us travelled from Bangalore to Bombay to Jaipur to Delhi, where we met General Maya Das ,then Director General of NCC and who gave an opportunity to meet the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi on 2nd Aug 1988.
So just close to four months May to September of traveling across 12,500 kilometers in 18 states. Have some really vivid memories of cycling across India reaching all the way to Dal Lake in Srinagar, meeting and staying with the NCC folks. The whole ride was supported by NCC. All through the ride, we reached out to NCC officers for our stay or any help needed. It could be a naval unit or infantry unit or an Air Force battalion, the receptions and the way they hosted us really blew our minds away. One very important thing that happened was when the majors here in Bangalore flagged us off and when we eventually reached Varanasi the same major who had flagged us off had moved there with his family and he invited us for dinner. Being a civilian with a middle class upbringing, we were used to and felt comfortable eating with our hands. I was not able to use the fork and knife but I saw his six year old daughter using the cutlery so well and the major saw my embarrassment and said he was cool with me eating with my fingers. As much as I enjoyed the food, I was nagged with the thought that I wasn’t comfortable using cutlery while eating. The moment I got back, I told my mother that I would be eating with proper cutlery hereon.
The open roads are places which give you an opportunity to meet wonderful people. We met a lot of foreigners in Srinagar who were cycling around. Went to some mesmerizing locations and as word spread that, students are traveling around India on a cycle, we got invited to various schools which gave us an opportunity to connect with the youngsters and tell them about the adventures that Gururaj and me were into. We also received encouragement from strangers when they got to know what we were doing.
While I wasn’t the most well known student in college before the expedition, over 3000 plus students almost from every class had gathered in the quadrilateral of MES College to felicitate me. The memories are etched in my heart forever.
Since we were not as connected as we are now, the press picked up on our expedition and gave us wonderful coverage. Odyssey which was a monthly magazine of TI cycles and makers of BSA featured us in the October 1988 edition. The obvious question was, after India, are you planning a world cycling expedition?