Sustainable travel and bicycling have been the balancing factor in the juggle between work and life for Kanishka Poddar. Hobbyist World had a chance to talk to him about his adventures.
How and when did you get started?
My story as a bike-packer started in 2015 when I bought my first single-geared bicycle with the idea of getting fit and made it part of my daily routine by doing errands, riding to work and more. Over the months, my daily commute turned into long weekend rides, which then turned into a passion to cycle every day and to advise others around me to take up cycling as a part of their lifestyle. Cycling became my yoga and meditation.
What started as cycling in and around my city inspired me to tour on bicycles - essentially meaning travelling across the world on a bicycle. I have done trips from Bombay to Lonavala (220 km), Guwahati to Shillong (110 km), cycling across the southern coast of Thailand from Krabi to Bangkok (800 km), the banana circuit in Vietnam from Saigon to Hanoi (1700 km), Bangkok to Phnom Penh (1100 km) and conquering the mighty Himalayas when I rode from Manali to Leh (500 km, 16000 m elevation gain). It is just a beginning, the whole world awaits to be explored.
I still remember every word from my conversation with my friend Sonia on this, way back in February 2015. She had just reached India a few days back and wanted to buy a used bicycle to ride across India for 6 months. I thought it was a joke. After all, who does such a thing?
A few months later, Sonia and I travelled to Orchha, in central India, where we rented bicycles. I rode one after almost 20 years. It was a pain but the adrenaline rush of riding in the forests of Orchha made up for everything. The joy of cycling in the forest, in the fresh air and exploring the place at my own pace made me instantly fall in love with cycling. I got back home a few weeks later and bought my first bicycle. It was the best Rs.4000 I ever spent. And a new love affair had begun.
What is your favourite thing about touring place on a bicycle?
Every time I am out cycling in my city or touring places, it’s a euphoric feeling and gives me peace. Cycling and travelling bring out the happiest side of me and that is why I love cycling. It is my way to rejuvenate the soul and meditate.
Touring places on Bicycle for me is like travelling in slow motion, on the road less travelled, one pedal at a time, experiencing magic like never before, connecting with locals, their life and culture, learning to make conversations in languages you don’t know and finding joy in small things of life. Even though the sore bums never cease to kill by the end of the ride, I smile on my own self, feeling the pride of being able to live one more day doing things I love the most, thinking of people I love and getting a step closer to finding solitude.
Moments that make Bicycle Touring special for me: Every time I look at the pictures of my first solo bicycle tour from Krabi to Bangkok, I am reminded of the moments which makes travelling on bicycle special for me. Before this trip, I had never camped outside in the wild. In Thailand, I was cycling with my tent and I would camp almost every night in the wilderness. It was scary initially but then I started to enjoy it. From camping in secluded beaches to find a camping spot in the middle of a Thai forest, it was incredible. However, the most beautiful part of my first tour was the people I met. From welcoming me to their homes to sleep to offering me food for free, giving me a ride on a mini truck to the next village without even asking for it. People there are amazing, you just need to smile for a lot of love in return.
What is your favourite destination you've ridden to?
It is indeed difficult to choose between all the places I have been to as each one has been special in its own way. I loved cycling in Thailand for food, people, cycling-friendly roads and people respecting cyclists. It has everything from mountains to forests to beaches in one place. I loved Vietnam for my experiences there - getting to attend a Vietnamese wedding while I was cycling from Saigon to Mui Ne, drinking snake wine and making conversation with an old Vietnamese man despite him not speaking English and of course for the beautiful friends I made on my way. I didn’t like Cambodia as a destination to travel by cycle but fell in love with the place for its vibes, people, history and architecture. One of the happiest places on Planet to travel and explore.
However, if I had to choose one destination, it has to be cycling in the Himalayas, from Manali to Leh, in August of 2018. My friend and I were doing it self-supported, which means we were carrying everything from tents, to belongings, to camping gears and cooking equipment with us on our bikes. The ride was challenging not only physically but more so mentally. We experienced an entirely different terrain, weather and difficulties every day. It was breathtaking, filled with million emotions, sense of achievement, some setbacks and more. It took us 10 days to ride from Manali to Leh, crossing5 treacherous mountain passes on the way, out of which 2 are above 5000 m out of which one is the second highest motor-able road in the world. We rode in rains, snowfall, next to glacier, crossed frozen rivers on bicycle, through dry deserts and plains at 4500 m, through clouds, climbing insane passes, exploring magical valley, taking a dip in lakes of Himalayas, getting mesmerized by the 50 shades of coffee and cream of Sarchu Valley, and a lot more which just can’t be expressed in words. The experience of cycling there was mind-blowing in every aspect.
Where would you want to ride?
It is like asking a kid in a candy store which candy he wants to have. Given a choice and free time, I would love to go round the world on my bicycle. It is a dream I would love to live someday.
However, before 2020 ends, I really want to ride all through Pamir Highway starting in Kyrgyzstan and ending in Tajikistan and also, ride from Berlin in Germany to Brasov in Romania, on Eurovelo 6 route. It is difficult to reason out why these two routes, but Pamir is an epic route just like cycling in Indian Himalayas. While the route from Berlin to Brasov crosses through all my favourite cities in Europe i.e. Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava.
Beside specific places, I love climbs and mountains. There is something special about cycling in the mountains. That sense of achievement and joy, that crying calves muscles, breathlessness, endless sweating, that perfect nip in the air and the views still untouched by civilization. Priceless.
Does one require any special training for bicycling and also for touring on a bicycle?
Cycling really doesn’t need any special training until you are not targeting competitive events. You just need a good bike and the intent to ride. Look for places in and around your city which have less traffic and more greenery. Start with weekend rides, move to commute between work and home, and gradually keep cycling more and more. Things would come naturally.
However, for touring places on a bicycle, one needs to be strong both physically & mentally. Anyone who has been cycling long distances regularly and is comfortable on a saddle for long duration is fit for bicycle touring.
Like I always say, it all comes down to your mental strength in the end. It is very rare for your body to give up; it is generally your mind which gives up while on a tour. The heat, hardship, inability to find food or places to sleep, unfriendly roads and many more things take a toll on your mind and you start doubting your own capabilities. You need to be headstrong to be able to complete the ride and need to have control over your emotions.
Here are some basic ways you can keep yourself mentally strong and control your emotions during the ride.
Understanding your route and terrain makes you a lot more confident for the ride.
Small things like being able to repair the bike, having camping gears to camp, enough food and water to survive also makes you mentally strong.
Be euphoric and proud for even thinking of going on a multi-day bicycle tour. Not many people in the world would do that. It is the biggest first step towards an adventure. Not many get to take that first step.
Always remember that it isn't a race, it's your ride, it is normal to slow down and stop. There is no need to rush through and you are doing it for yourself.
Can you tell us something that people may not know about bicycling?
There are 3 things that always confused people about cycling and here is what I would like them to know:
Safety: Most people consider cycling on roads to be highly unsafe. However, it is exactly the opposite, since while cycling you are always on the sides of the road, the speed is in under your control, there are no computers in it, everything is just about pedalling. Unlike other modes, where you are in high speed, are in the centre of the road, and the most machine now a day’s runs with help of processors, nothing seems to be in your control.
You just need to keep your basic right:
1. Always wear a helmet,
2. Have Head & Tail Lights,
3. Use reflective vest when riding at night,
4. Wear bright clothes for better visibility to others,
5. Enjoy the ride and life around you. Don’t rush.
People: I have come to believe that people at large are good-hearted and happy souls. So it’s safe to tour on the road less travelled and alien to us. While cycling, I have noticed that locals feel happy to meet a cyclist as they consider them one amongst them. There is no fear of superiority, caste, riches, poverty and of being less educated between locals and a cyclist.
Travel: It is perhaps the best way to explore a new place you are travelling to. It helps you explore the hinterlands of the country, meet locals and eat authentic food because, in cities and touristic places, everything changes with the taste of tourists and nothing remains original.
What's one piece of advice you'd give someone who wants to start bicycling and touring?
The most important thing in life is to take the first step and then the second and third. Everything else will start falling in the right place on its own. So my advice to everyone would be to get yourself a bicycle and start riding first. Make it a part of your lifestyle.
Like I said earlier, I first started riding in late 2015. Before that, I had never been into cycling, exercise or anything outdoors. My life was limited to my couch and car. It was as laid back as one can imagine. But in the last 4 years, I have seen an incredible transformation in me, from being fitter to being happy, from being more of an outdoor person to be a storyteller. I have just started enjoying my life more, one day at a time.