As the pedals spin, so does the story of encountering humanity in all its shades – the warm embraces, the cautionary tales, and the encounters that make for an unforgettable ride.
Cycling goes beyond mere distances; it’s a transformative journey that unveils the kaleidoscope of human experiences. From heartwarming encounters with strangers to interactions with characters as diverse as the landscapes I’ve traversed, my cycling expeditions have brought me intimately close to the rich tapestry of human connections. These stories, etched into my memory across four remarkable journeys, encapsulate the beauty of the open road and the remarkable people who make it unforgettable.
Pedaling through Siliguri and Sikkim: A Tapestry of Kindred Spirits
Venturing beyond the borders of Goa, my first cycling expedition took me through the enchanting tea gardens of Siliguri and up to the heights of Gangtok in Sikkim. Amidst breathtaking landscapes, I had the privilege of meeting Krishna Ghosal, a spirited young cyclist. His invitation to join his cycling group for a ride to Rongtong railway station opened the door to connecting with more cyclists from Siliguri, who generously shared insights about the route and notable attractions I would encounter on my journey.
While en route to captivating Darjeeling, I crossed paths with Nilesh Dwivedi, an adventurer on an all-India cycling odyssey, whose journey he chronicled on his YouTube channel. In Kalimpong, the Tamang family, proprietors of the homestay, extended their gracious hospitality. Guided by Mr. Tamang, a trek revealed hidden attractions of Kalimpong. The warmth of Gangtok was amplified by the hospitality of cherished friends, Sherap and Choden, whose boundless warmth and generosity consistently brought joy and solace.
Nepal: Crossing Borders, Forging Bonds
May 2022 marked my maiden international ride as Nepal beckoned. Faram Khambatta and Gaurab Ghosh, cyclists from Siliguri, cycled with me upto Panitanki, the gateway between India and Nepal. Crossing the bridge into Nepal, the genuine “Namaste” from the first Nepali I encountered set the tone for the warm hospitality that awaited. Aasish, the manager of Gautaum Hotel in Bardibas, ensured a delightful stay and even surprised me with an interview request capturing the essence of my journey. You can watch the interview here: https://fb.watch/interview-video/
Throughout my journey, the radiant smiles and friendly “Namaste” of schoolchildren consistently brightened my days. On one particular day, three young boys, returning home after answering their exams, joyfully assisted me in pushing my bicycle up a challenging hill, reminding me of our shared human spirit.
In bustling Kathmandu, Sree Pandey guided me through the city revealing its wonderful heritage. While Julen helped in fine tuning my bicycle for the journey ahead. In Pokhara, Suraj Gautam, managing the hotel I stayed in, went the extra mile to ensure my comfort and seamlessly arranged all adventure activities. Alongside his friend Gowin Kc, we embarked on two treks, exploring the Japanese Pagoda and visiting an ancient power station, creating cherished memories along the way.
Vivid Vietnam: A Tapestry of Kindness and Humanity
In Vietnam, my cycling journey began with a heartening gesture – a young boy offering me a glass of ice peach tea. Acts of goodwill from strangers became a rhythm of my journey – a bottled water handed over from a car, a passing motorbike pausing to ensure my well-being. Humanity’s kindness flowed like a stream, breaking down barriers with every mile.
A particularly poignant memory stands out when a kind gentleman guided me to a hotel in Nui Thanh. Lost and seeking directions, he not only offered guidance but also gifted me N91 masks, emblematic of care in uncertain times. He then led me on his motorcycle to the hotel, bidding me farewell with a warm “Welcome to Vietnam. Enjoy your stay.”
Amidst the mosaic of cherished memories, my interactions with people of all ages remain etched as the most heartwarming. Their consistent greetings of “Hello” and spirited cheers as I pedaled along encapsulated the spirit of Vietnam, making my experience even more remarkable.
Sri Lanka’s Resilience and Warmth: Forging Connections Amid Challenges
In May, my cycling expedition led me to the enchanting island of Sri Lanka. Despite the shadows cast by government crises, the country’s resilient spirit shone through as its people extended hospitality and warmth that deeply touched my heart. Amidst this dynamic tapestry, I had the privilege of connecting with remarkable individuals who transformed my journey into a tale of shared experiences and global connections.
I had the privilege of connecting with Numan Kumara through Facebook, having been captivated by his cycle travel videos. He enthusiastically joined me on my first ride in Sri Lanka, acting as a vibrant guide who showcased Colombo’s attractions with infectious enthusiasm, making my journey all the more remarkable.
During my stay in Manar, a delightful and surprising coincidence unfolded as I crossed paths with Crystal Fernando and her husband, Thinuwan Gayantha, at a hotel. Stepping out of my room, I noticed two bicycles in the hotel lobby, which immediately piqued my curiosity. The hotel manager then informed me that these fellow cyclists had just arrived and were already familiar with my journey. To my astonishment, they had chosen the same hotel I had stayed in Anawilundawa just days before, and the owner had shared details of my visit with them. As my 2200-kilometer cycling journey drew to a close in Colombo, Crystal and Thinuwan extended a warm dinner invitation, beautifully exemplifying the bonds of warmth and camaraderie that can flourish among kindred souls.
In Akkaraipattu, an interesting encounter unfolded when a local journalist approached to inquire about my journey and request permission to take a photo for his local news Facebook page. This post led to people recognizing me and approaching for selfies. The link to the Facebook news story that features this encounter can be accessed here: https://www.facebook.com/post/
Among these interactions, I crossed paths with Martin Mondo, a seasoned cyclist, who provided invaluable route suggestions. As my journey drew to a close, fate had it that he was present in Colombo, and over a delightful dinner, we chatted about our shared passion for cycling.
One of the highlights of my Sri Lanka trip was the serendipitous meeting during my ride from Arugam Bay with Shenelle Rodrigo and her husband, Shehaan Thahir. As I cycled, a car pulled up, and to my surprise, it was them, extending a friendly greeting. Just months earlier, they had embarked on their own remarkable cycling adventure around the island, documenting their journey through captivating videos shared on their YouTube channel. Discovering these videos during my research for my own Sri Lankan expedition proved instrumental in simplifying my route planning.
Notably, Shenelle, a model who graced the cover of Vogue India’s ninth-anniversary issue, now serves as Sri Lanka’s tourism YouTube ambassador. Collaborating with her husband, they passionately produce captivating travel and tourism content showcasing the nation’s allure. If you’re considering a visit to this captivating country or simply wish to immerse yourself in its splendor, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out their YouTube channel: https://youtube.com/@Sheneller
And if you’re curious to watch the brief chat I had with them, you can find it on my Insta story.
One particularly captivating video of their cycling series documented their interaction with the Burgher community, a Portuguese-speaking group predominantly centered in Batticaloa. Given my personal heritage stemming from Goa, where the Portuguese legacy endured for 450 years, and my knowledge of the Portuguese language, a strong desire to connect with this community arose. Serendipitously, a thoughtful individual at the Riviera Resort hotel where I was staying took it upon themselves to convey my interest to them. This paved the way for a remarkable evening, as I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Melvin and his nephew, Angelo Pietersz, leading to a delightful conversation about shared Portuguese roots, culture, heritage, and the intertwined Portuguese-speaking communities of Sri Lanka and Goa.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Evgeniy Sigaev, an adventurous Russian cyclist on an incredible global journey. Starting in his native Russia, he’s explored captivating landscapes across various former countries of the USSR. Currently in Sri Lanka, he’s been pedaling through picturesque scenes for months. Evgeniy’s approach to travel is refreshingly traditional, reminiscent of the classic backpacking cyclist. He sets up camp for the night in intriguing spots like bus stops, petrol pumps, or quaint churches, unlike me, who prefers hotels. During our brief meeting, he recounted heart-pounding experiences of being pursued by wild elephants just days earlier in the forests of Kataragama, as well as tales of extreme weather conditions, from navigating subzero temperatures in Uzbekistan to conquering scorching summer heat in India and Sri Lanka. He also spoke of the generosity of people offering him food and shelter.
Throughout my expedition in Sri Lanka, I encountered individuals from diverse walks of life who, upon learning I hailed from Goa, welcomed me with a unique warmth. These connections were rooted in shared experiences, often involving interactions with Goans in the Gulf region. Such encounters served as a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of our world, where shared stories and backgrounds form bridges that effortlessly span continents.
Challenges: Trials and Triumphs
Amid these tales of connection, challenges emerged, and I encountered adversities that shed light on the diverse range of experiences one might face during such expeditions.
Two constants that seem to part ways with me on these trips are my weight and my phone. The first instance of phone misfortune occurred in Nagaland during my visit to the Hornbill Festival when my phone was stolen. Then, the jinx continued in Vietnam. Unfortunately, Colombo became the place for the third phone pickpocket incident, leading to the loss of all the photos I had taken along the journey. While shedding weight might be welcomed, losing my phone has proven to be heartbreaking. A regrettable incident unfolded in Nepal as well when the headlight of my bicycle was stolen while I was staying at a hotel in Gumbbuu, serving as a stark reminder of the unpredictability of the road. Yet, amidst these trials, stories of kindness emerged, such as the generosity of the juice center manager in Vietnam.
During my last day in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, after mailing postcards to friends, I took a moment to enjoy a juice. It was then that I realized my purse was missing. The manager of the juice center noticed my distress and upon learning that my purse had been stolen, he offered the juice for free, displaying a heartwarming act of kindness amidst the challenge.
In the end, my cycling journeys weren’t just about distances covered or landscapes explored. They were about the people I met, the bonds I forged, and the human connections that transcended boundaries and languages. From the mist-laden hills of Sikkim to the folded Namastes of the Nepalese, from the generosity of the Vietnamese to the warmth of the Sri Lankans, these interactions highlighted the profound impact of shared passions and the inherent benevolence that unites us all. As I continue to pedal forward, I’m constantly reminded that the open road isn’t merely a path; it’s a masterpiece woven with the threads of humanity.