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  • Akash

Solo Bikepacking Ride for 725 Kilometers into the Dry Grasslands of India

Updated: Jan 2, 2022


Akash is a Young Musician from Jaipur and this is his story of his first ever foray into the world of self supported bicycle touring & Bikepacking.



Namaste! Finally, here writing about my journey - thanks to the Bikepacking India Team.

To keep things easy & sorted - I am dividing this narration into various segments.

 The first part will be super quick to not let the story goes too long.


My Bicycle Tour

It was the middle of February when sheer restlessness was taking over my mind. My

explorer self or precise soul was screaming inside, and I just wanted to get away for a

while, for a change. After spending a deserved number of sleepless nights &

thoughtful days thinking, I had finally decided I would go somewhere.


Apprehensions

It was then when the second wave of the pandemic was progressing and taking the outrageous form of what we have critically hit with today.

And I should not forget mentioning & admitting, like most of us - I have not been financially fit ever since coronavirus came into existence.

Last but not least, I wanted to keep this journey as raw as possible as I needed to test myself - my strength, endurance, mindset, and above all, my beliefs.


For the love of the Environment & Bicycles

A few days later, I planned to fulfill my long-awaited wish of meeting & taking blessings from Acharya Shri Vidyasagar Ji Maharaj.

Best known for his epic poem Mook Mati - Acharya Shri was (still is) in Nemawar, Madhya Pradesh.

While planning how to go, a thought struck me, and that was the moment I made up my mind to go by bicycle & not by any other means of transport.

There were multiple reasons behind this decision:


As I said earlier, I wanted to check my belief system.

I was (am) inspired by Acharya Shri's journey. I wanted to convey a message - Save Earth.

Coronavirus. I didn't want to carry a virus with me. When you go publicly - there are simply higher chances. And,

Every day, hundreds of people arrive to visit Acharya Shri, but they are not allowed to go close to him. I wanted to talk to him. One coming by motor vehicle & one by cycle - whom would you give preference to?



First Challenge


The problem was I had to go on a bicycle, but I didn't have one. So, the first challenge was to get one.

And after a few days of struggle, when all my efforts went in vain & I couldn't get a cycle offline - I arranged the money and placed an order online on March 5. The bicycle arrived on the 10th. However, I had to return it when a bicycle shop owner insisted. And then I bought another one from him.


The temperature, coronavirus cases, & heatwaves were increasing rapidly - I had to be quick.

All the while, I was training myself - working on building stamina by running, strengthening the body by eating healthy, gathering mandatory resources by shopping, and routing the route by mapping.


On March 26, I went on an almost 100 km ride from Jaipur to Padampura & back via Sanganer. That was a mock drill - to make sure things were good to go - cycle & I - and it was successful.


Support from friends & family


My family was against the idea and tried their bests to convince me - gave me all the possible reasons to think of quitting or at least postponing the plan.

And the bicycle shop owner too suddenly flipped at the end and calls the idea stupid & said it is suicide. He did his best to change my mind.

But I didn't move a bit. In fact, I was ready to leave.

And on April 2 at 5 a.m. - I did leave!!


Second Segment

During


Day 1

Road, Ride, Run


Alert! My intuition meter was briskly blinking as if it wanted to convey something. My heartbeats were hitting the upper gears as the shiver swirling across my body.

"You need to get away from here now," my brain kept shouting. It was around 7 p.m. - total darkness - I had been riding for 14 hours now or approx 155 kilometers - tired, hungry, thirsty, & unsafe. I was lost in the outskirts dry grasslands of Rajasthan. There were no lights, no humans, nor animals, but only emptiness spreading through a long stretched sheet of an endless narrow road.

Soon I realized I did something wrong - my calculations, route, or the night destination. Something!


The dusk grew older, turned into the night - I had to hurry, or my first day of the journey would become the last day of my life - such thoughts surrounded me. Despite all odds, they were helping me pedal faster - hence I didn't mind and welcomed them.


I was prepared for the bad I had planned for the worst - I knew destiny was waiting to test me at every step. And there it was - right there - a jungle.

I stopped! Standing amidst the empty dark road with a forest right ahead, thinking should I turn back to the countryside?


The clock hit 8 - I knew I was late, very-very late - didn't even have time to check how much distance my next stop is left. I had to hurry.

My hands flapped hurriedly towards the bag to take out the little torch I had - "where the hell it is?" I shouted.

Found! I didn't want to be there anymore. I had to run no matter how I was feeling. I just turned on the torch, grabbed it in my left hand & I entered the jungle.

I was pedaling and pedaling - the visibility was absolute zero. I could see nothing except a dot of light my torch was throwing on the roadway, and I could only feel the chilly essence of trees & the silence. Nothing else!


In life, sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we are begging to get free & get away from it - from the unwanted. It even soaks every last drop of your sweat & blood, and you're left with nothing to do. You then just surrender yourself to let it come to an end - whatever it is.


It was me when the jungle wasn't ready to come to an end. I had no energy left to paddle. I wanted to stop right there and let it be.

That's when I always call God, "okay, so you want to see who will give up first?" Just to tell him, that will be you.

And so he did. As I speeded up, I could see the other side, the open side. Jungle ended!


It was around 8.45 at night when I reached my first day's destination, where I was supposed to spend the night. It was Nainwa - a little town around 170 kilometers south from Jaipur.

Wait! It didn't end here. There I had to find a Jain Temple where I could spend the night as I planned.


Call it God, Music, nature, destiny, or hope - they all are the same. Have you ever noticed that after every tough test, they reward you? They do.


And so I was rewarded.

In the little town, the first person I bumped into to inquire - was Babulal Jain Ji. He was (is) a senior citizen who plays an essential role in the community - someone who knows all, all knows whom. You got it - I had nothing to worry at least that night.

After visiting three temples as he suggested - I was settled.

At one temple, after being misunderstood as a trespasser - otherwise, Nainwa had welcomed me. The news had spread like wildfire - I could hear people whispering about me as I walked past them. Ha-ha!

I loved the experience. Lovely people, unity, & community!!


The entire day played before my eyes as I went to sleep, wondering how things went.

That moment the world was sleeping & I stepped out to do something I didn't know how & where it would end. But as it was a religious journey, I knew somewhere it'd be fine. I was visiting Jain temples that were coming my way. All my breaks, halts, & stays - I planned that way they happen in a temple.




Challenges

During the day, the temperature was reaching up to 40 degrees. Heatwaves were at their highs. Winds were against me all the time - they slow the speed and increase the effort.

One thing that was a sure surprise to me was the escalation. Rajasthan is at a lower sea level than Madhya Pradesh - as you move towards MP - you can feel the rise. Had I knew this earlier, I had to reconsider my plan.

You don't and never want to ride a bicycle on hilly roads all day long, definitely not for six days in a row in such conditions. If you do, don't be surprised if you die out of exhaustion.


Danger Evaluation


Hilly roads, hot days, high-speed winds, the risk of being robbed, dehydration, sunstroke, accident, & fatigue due to not having proper meals: on day 1, I analyzed I have to deal with all of these for the next 5-6 days.

Water & banana - were two best friends. I was on them & I was because of them, affirmative. Yeah! Sometimes I used to consume glucose and sugarcane juice as well.

And lastly, my luggage - oh, I can't tell you but just know that it slowed and drained my energy by up to 30%. It was not actually the luggage - it was my inability to recognize how to tie it properly. And that I only learned on the 3rd or 4th day by experience.


I set the alarm for 3.30 a.m. & slept at around 12. I had two Daal Baatis that night after the attendee insisted.

When I was sleeping, I didn't know that something terrible awaited me the next day.

Day 2

The Day Full of Surprises


As planned, I woke up at around 3.45 a.m., got ready, and left at 5.45 from Nainwa after meeting Babulal Uncle Ji at his home as I was invited.


I cycled for a few kilometers only to realize that something was wrong with my right knee. A very uncomfortable pain!

Good news! I lost the ability to stand & ride and was left with pain to paddle statically in the same posture - no matter a hill or had to run. Knew it was due to the last day's overexertion!


From Nainwa, I reached Jajawar - a village around 20 kilometers from there as Babulal Uncle updated my route, as per his knowledge.

He also had already called in Jajawar - so I received a warm welcome from the Jain community when I reached. I was attended by Naresh Bhaiya & Family - they took me to their home for lunch.

Wonderful family - no words to describe that feeling when you are so much loved despite meeting for the first time. Totally surprised!!


People like them don't let you feel you're far away from home.

From there, I went to Gothra - the same happened there. Attended by Manish Bhaiya & Family!

From there, I reached Hindoli.


It was around 1 p.m. - I was in a temple on a hill in Hindoli. The temple was locked as it was noon. My knee pain became severe, was not even able to properly walk. I had to spend the noon hours lying there on the temple's premises.


Life is light & dark. It sometimes doesn't even take a second to turn things upside down.

Yes! I was in pain badly. Though I was pretending on phone calls that I was okay!


From Hindoli, my set target was Kota, but I couldn't make it due to the knee. I only somehow managed to reach Bundi by around 8 p.m.

Luckily, I got a place to sleep in a temple from the community without delay. It was a nice hotel-like room!


I aided my right leg with a pain relief spray & crepe bandage that I bought in Hindoli, ate three parathas packed by the aunty in Jajawar - and just slept.





Day 3

A Memorable Night & A Remarkable Day


Wherever you are, wherever you go - you will find both good & bad people. It's a fact!


On the third day, my night destination was Jhalawar. It was after Bundi & Kota. And unsurprisingly, the people in Jhalawar were not as welcoming. And it was because I didn't get to visit any temple in this district - nobody opened.

That night, destiny had something interesting for me. I needed to spend the night alongside the road on a raised platform of a locked temple. I took the corner most side. There were no lights except inside the temple. And it was also under construction - so the overall view & feel was similar to what we see in horror movies.

I didn't unpack the bags as I had bad vibes about Jhalawar. And it was a good decision. It was around 1 a.m. when I was lying on the floor to have rest - I saw two big dogs were right ahead, doing their routine work on the same platform as I.

One noticed me & then started staring at me stably. I guess the dog didn't recognize me as a human, or even if it did - it must have recognized me as a thief. We both froze, not even blinking. I was on the floor - it was in an attacking position only a few feet away. I realized that if I did nothing, it would be a tragedy. Then the dog started growling aggressively - I knew that was the moment of action, and I stood up with both my hands raised. The growling became louder, and then I started making our traditional puch-puch sound to address dogs. It worked!

Dogs went away. They also took away my urge to have rest.


I spent that entire night sitting with my safety chain in hand.


While waiting for the clock to hit 4 a.m. - I remembered that day's most beautiful part - that was when I was crossing Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve. Oh! I love wildlife, I love nature!!


I'll never forget crossing that real jungle on a bicycle, hoping to see the Tiger the entire time.





Day 4, 5, 6

Life


The human brain & body is capable of what we can't even think of. And that you only get to see, realize, or pose when it's a genuine need - when you need it the most.


By the fourth day, my body & mind adapted for what was required. In simple words, I got used to things. My body was optimizing itself - even if I took only a sip of water or a bite of food - it was giving me the power to go tens of miles.

Long roads, cycling, pain, thirst, hunger, heat, escalation, silence, & everything else - then not only became a part but my entire life.


80% of my route had steppes, or say dry grasslands.

The sunrises were beautiful. Every day I got to see the sun peeking out of mountains from a different angle, only to realize I was actually looking at life from a different perspective.


On a voyage like this, sometimes you get emotional, sometimes you even cry. At times, I also used to think about the decisions I made. Choosing Music over everything was the best- whatever I do today, or I am capable of - is just because of it. Everything!


When you are alone and have miles to go - you become your own friend. Your brain befriends your heart - and they talk about life. They debate. They do all the possible arguments to bring the actuality out - shattering your logic, perceptions, & what you've known up till now.


I knew life has always been like this. I was correct. We were told the lies and presented a broken, weak, untruthful, & customized reality in front of our eyes that only leads to destruction & falsehood.


You cut a tree for comfort, make furniture out of it, then you start finding ways to protect yourself from the sun. Ultimately, you now think you need to plant a tree again. Too late!


I fetched the water from a well, and it was the tastiest water I ever had. I used the hand pumps - it was great too.

There was only one proper city, Kota - else most of the route passed through rural areas.

Many rivers came, but none had water - all dried up.

If it was 20 years ago, one got to see a heap of wildlife. I was immensely disappointed I got to see just two foxes & a turtle in the entire 725 kilometers. I feel bad - we killed them all.



Day 7

Looking Back!


At around 11 a.m., with lots of experiences, lessons, & confidence - I reached Nemawar - my destination. Naturally, tears reached my eyes before I reached the gate.


Life is weird.

No. Wait! Life is just unpredictable, and we are weird.

We strive to reach the destination all the time. But once we are there, we look back as a child looks at her candy.


I am out of words now, and I think that's what it needs. It doesn't need words anymore.


Did I tell you?

I wore slippers. I didn't carry a helmet. I covered the cycle with a piece of cloth & later with black tape. And also, I deliberately try to match my appearance as the locals to avoid any unwanted attention. Hope you get the point & learn something!


Some more key takeaways.


Bungee Ropes, Rubber Bands, Papers, & a Cutter - must-must have.

Your mental energy is higher than the physical.

Last but not least, just believe in your intuitions and believe in nature & God. They will help you. They do!!


Thank you for taking out time to read this. And I apologize if you find it exaggerated, philosophical, or too long. I just intended to share what I experienced & felt.


And I would like to thank my family members and those families I met during the journey.


Big thanks to Nikhil Bhaiya from Bikepacking India for giving me this opportunity to share my story here. And for giving me the guidance about what things to carry & all when I called you before the journey. You were the only person who said ki ho jayega, and that really gave me some confidence. Thanks a lot!


If you have any questions, doubts, or anything - you can mail me at ashakashj@gmail.com.


I'll be happy to assist. Good life!!




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2 Comments


Sahil Chaudhary
Sahil Chaudhary
May 13, 2022

I totally enjoyed reading this article. Truly inspiring!

Like

Saie Shetye
Saie Shetye
Jul 23, 2021

lovely narration of this life changing experience.

Like

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