The Bicycle Tour across Europe, which I undertook with my friend Aisola Ravi Shankar in 1980-81, could well have been The Bicycle Tour across the World, if we had been luckier. Our original plan, or desire to be precise, was to bike across at least three continents – Europe, America and Africa - and our adventure was at the start variously described as a world trip, a world tour, and a bike tour round the world. Eventually, we could cover just Europe and hence the tour came to be called The Bicycle Tour across Europe.
Although Ravi and I had planned to write about the tour immediately after our return, we never came around to doing it. We could not find the time and the opportunity to sit down, reminisce and work on a plan to put down our experiences on paper. However, when I shared little bits of my experience through blogs and direct interaction with friends and strangers, everyone listened and reacted to my stories with great interest. This appreciation acted as a trigger, and I thought maybe I should at last tell these stories from our tour.
It is about 30 years since Ravi and I touched homeland after being away for 10 months, nearly a month on a cargo vessel and 9 months across 13 European countries, the greater part of the latter period on bicycles. During the travel and even for a long time afterwards, I used to remember the progress of our journey in the exact chronological order, including the little towns we cycled through. We would regularly share our experiences with people at informal gatherings, and at Lions Club meetings where we shared a meal and many reflections. With the passage of time, my memories are no longer in such perfect order, although a huge number of them, unforgettable as they are mainly for the people-element, still endure and form the basis of my desire to write, even at this point in time. My earlier blogs relating to some of my experiences can be read here.
Needless to say, this tour was the result of an intense and intimate collaboration between Ravi and me. Yet, assuming responsibility for the emotional content and opinions expressed here and there, I choose to write in First Person Singular. What follows, in a compartmentalized form, is a collection of snippets that deal with our experiences in regard to people and places. By no means can this sharing be described as a travelogue or a guidebook or a documentary. Readers may find bits of this and that, which might inform and entertain and, I hope, inspire them to undertake a similar adventure. If that does happen, I will feel very happy about my effort.
Bored with life? Frustrated with your job?
Think of a bike tour across the world!
Where did the idea spring from? Out of the blue, in a sense and, in another, out of aimlessness and frustration. And, to be technically precise, the idea came from Ravi.
We lived in Chennai, capital of Tamilnadu, the southern state of India. I was 23 years old and in an awfully uninspiring job, which fetched me neither satisfaction nor decent remuneration, and Ravi was 20 and ready to chuck his Master’s course in Commerce midway for the least justifiable reason.
The golden moment, the historic moment came when one day, on a walk, Ravi suggested rather casually that we do a bicycle trip somewhere. In no time, that somewhere became Europe, for we shared a fascination for the continent, plus two other continents, because it had to be a World Tour on Bicycles. And we were both absolutely set and determined as if the whole idea were predestined. That was how we felt right from the beginning and even the decision as to the mode of transport seemed a minor matter of detail, as in fact did many other factors that were to assume great significance. But all that mattered then was that we were going to do this bicycle trip round the world in about 3 years, and the rest was simply routine stuff to be dealt with in a matter-of-fact manner.
Yes, the original plan was to cycle round the world, at least through 3 continents and, given our optimism in picking up odd jobs all along our travel, it did look realistic and achievable. Although we went about planning our trip in a fairly organized way, what worked like magic was our high-spirited enthusiasm that not only helped us overcome obstacles but probably brought us immense and recurring luck. To all intents and purposes, we were already in the journey.
A World Tour has to have a World Dimension
From early on, both of us felt deeply convinced that the tour would revolve around a theme. It did not surprise us when we found ourselves in complete sympathy and agreement with one all-encompassing theme: World Peace and Understanding. The bicycle, the automatic choice given the breadth of our vision and the hollowness of our wallet, also symbolised the earnestness of our mission. It was our wish to meet students of our age-group, interact with them and share thoughts and values concerning politics, culture and art. We wanted this process to happen spontaneously, in an atmosphere of cordiality and friendliness and therefore did not feel the need to design a program towards this end. A great admirer of Bertrand Russell for his pacifism and philosophy, I looked forward to visiting Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in London. As part of my research and paperwork for the tour, I acquainted myself with literature and activities relating to World Peace.
The Absolutely Vital Element - Blessings of our parents
Pivotal to our preparation for the tour was the wholehearted approval and support from our parents and, equally important, our ceaseless engagement with the idea and its fruition, with its myriad manifestations vying with the preparatory processes for our attention.
After a brief reluctance owing to the unusual nature of the undertaking that their offspring had conjured up, both sets of parents offered their unequivocal approval and blessings. Added to this tremendous psychological advantage was their all-out support, which was to have a major and direct impact on our eventual embarkation.
The fact that Ravi and I lived in the same street, clearly the idea-trigger, made daily, intense discussions possible and easy. We literally breathed the idea and lived the idea. We told ourselves that the project was both our occupation and recreation and, truly enough, we imagined to ourselves the endless possibilities the project would throw open in terms of the present and the future. We vowed to save every penny towards the tour fund, and we did.