Ever since the event called the pandemic happened, a lot of things have made comebacks in our lives. After the imposition of the lockdown, people took to gardening, cooking, baking, sketching and what not. And then as things normalised a bit, a cycling revolution of sorts took place, thanks to the never-dying urge for getting into the great outdoors. City cycling groups revived themselves and newer pastures were unveiled in a bid to keep fit and explore the hitherto-undiscovered trails of the vicinity.
It was during this time that PR professional Indranil Roy, too, started cycling on a regular basis and decided to do a 500-km cycling trip in the Himalayas. Cycling through leopard-infested territory and up steep slopes despite warnings from locals, Indranil successfully completed his epic journey with the occasional hiccup but a lot of heartwarming memories. In December, he set his sights upon the Mumbai-to-Malshej Ghat route. Things, however, changed, and by the time he finished, Roy had covered 700km along the Konkan and Malabar coasts. We talked to him to find out the whole story.
How did you muster up the courage to do a long-distance ride? Or did you just do it on an impulse?
In October 2020 I was living in Almora for nearly two months and had done a few under 100km rides which essentially gave me the confidence to take up such a long distance cycling journey. However as a person I am extremely spontaneous and the entire trip was kind of unplanned and i kept surprising myself.
Read: Bicycling in Khardung La
How did you manage the COVID-19 protocols while travelling in the middle of a pandemic? Cycling can be challenging at such a scale (you had to cross the Kalamuni top to reach Munsiyari)—did you not face breathing problems with a mask on?
I was extremely paranoid of the pandemic and did my best to stay out of public places, restaurants, cafes and even local markets per se. I used to sprantically sanitize every inch of my bags and other belongings which eventually subsided a lot. Honesty, I never wore a mask during cycling, firstly because it's impossible to ride uphill with a mask on and secondly these are such faraway places there's hardly anyone around.
As opposed to the biker bro-types, you come across as a traveller next door capable all the same of extraordinary feats, someone who can inspire regular people to just get on their bike and undertake an epic journey. Any learnings from your tips you would want to pass on to your readers?
I am quite an eccentric being, and an adventure traveller since my first solo trip back in 2012. I went for a trek to Indrahar pass in Himachal all by myself and without any guide. In 2018, I walked a great length in the Spiti Valley and Sangla district so being on the road by every possible means, I have mostly seen it all.
My personal learnings In these many years which i'd like to share with the readers are:
1. Eat light while on the move and stick to fresh yields rather than packaged food
2. Keep a watch of your surroundings, although hills are extremely safe anytime during the day
3. Be very cautious and considerate of wildlife if venturing into remote territories
4. Make friends with as many local as you could, it by a local tea shack...strike a conversation and you'll get the best do's and dont's from them
5. Use google maps for navigation but do verify with 2-3 locals to avoid calamities, or any setbacks
6. Getting into shape is a gradual process, i am a very outdoor person but if you are not just start taking the stairs always, go for some good walking round the block.
When it comes to regular travel—solo trips, backpacking and the like—which cities or places do you like?
No matter where I am or visit, my heart always lies in the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. I like to explore faraway hidden hamlets and villages which have such rich heritage, culture and of course food.
Tell us about one heartwarming memory from your trips that you not have shared earlier...
In 2012 during my trek to Indrahar Pass I was stranded in between a steep cliff and glacial lake due to complete white out by heavy clouds. The visibility was mere one feet and being a novice I had no idea what to do and I was almost freezing in heavy rains too in sub zero temperatures. Suddenly a dog appeared out of nowhere came close to me and started re-tracing it's footsteps in the same direction where the last shack was. I got my cue and started following him while the dog kept looking back after every few steps and took me all the way to the shack. That's a moment I will never forget in my entire life.
How conducive to cycling do you feel infrastructure and roadways are in India? With the pandemic hemming us all in and forcing us to travel domestically, do you feel investing in alternative modes of travel and newer territories—in this context, cycling—is important?
We are aware that there are no dedicated cycling tracks around our country. But, for seasoned cyclists, I believe it is not a setback. Having said that, I would like to mention that the hills are far safer than cycling in plains....drawing a comparison from my recent trips to Uttarakhand and then to Kanyakumari. Even if the pandemic is not there, cycling as an alternate mode of travelling is a great option. It lets you be yourself and truly live the essence of slow travel.
Your favourite part of riding along the Konkan and Malabar coast would be?
I best enjoyed the stretches where the rivers meet the sea, and there are numerous such stretches along the entire coast line. I can also specifically point out the coastal road which I took from somewhere near Kollam to Varkala and further on with a clear view of the sea all along.
You plan on cycling long-distance in Bangladesh and by the Ganges—why so? Also, what's next on the list other than cycling?
I have always felt a very deep spiritual connection with the Ganges, so much so that I have visited almost every prayag (river confluence) of Ganga. I will be riding cross country in Bangladesh because Ganga's largest tributary enters the country and takes the name of Padma, further joins Brahmaputra and finally meets the Bay of Bengal. During this journey I want to explore what it really means to the people living in it's shores, depending on the river and it's natural resources. My journey is to find out what the Ganga is to me.