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Pedal to the mettle
Naveed Mulki and Rishabh Malhotra, a pair of 20-somethings, are enjoying a cup of coffee at a downtown cafê in Bangalore, unmindful of the late-afternoon weather. It's pouring buckets. Mulki, with legs outstretched and arms folded across his chest, has his eyes fixed on the billowing curtain of rain. "I love the rain, " he smiles. "I can't wait to ride in it, " Malhotra adds. A phone beeps. Mulki picks it up and says, "It's my mother, she's saying we need to ride safely, it's raining heavily. " The two friends laugh, before returning their attention to the great outdoors which will be their home for the next six months.
Mulki, 26, and Malhotra, 25, were advertising professionals. They quit their jobs four months ago and now intend to spend six months cycling across India, riding 9, 000 km from Leh in Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and across the West before finishing in Bangalore. They begin their journey on August 24.
The duo will first tackle the arduous Himalayan leg, and will go from Leh, at an altitude of 3, 524 metres (11, 562 ft), up to Khardung La, the last motorable point in the Himalayas, at 18, 380 ft, before beginning their descent.
Given the physical magnitude of the effort required, a question that baffles many is, 'Why?'
Mulki, who views the journey through a different set of lenses, says, "The idea is to find a happy India, an India that works, an India with a sense of humour - that is accommodating and accepting of cultures and societies. We love the idea of this country. We want to let people know that the idea of why and how India was formed is still alive. We want to rediscover and stir those core values that will help people believe in India all over again, an India where Independence Day is not just another holiday. "
Malhotra adds: "It's not uncommon to find people in the cities, who have everything, but are still cribbing. It's easy to take things for granted. When we were in Goa last December, we wandered off on our bikes and we were surprised to find a life far away from the party face of Goa, a way and manner that was rich in local flavour. That set us thinking about connecting with unexplored parts of our country. "
Once Malhotra and Mulki complete their journey they're planning a series of short films. They'll also blog, tweet and update their Facebook page - I am coming home - at regular intervals, taking friends, family and followers along on their grand adventure.
Mulki says he took to the idea of cycling two years ago. He bought his first bicycle soon after, paying Rs 18, 000 for a Trek 3700, and then started cycling to work, covering a total of 42 km each day. A few months later his friend and colleague Malhotra followed. "I haven't ridden my motorbike or driven a car since I got my cycle. It's totally addictive, " chirps a bright-eyed Malhotra of his passion.
Mulki and Malhotra aim to take the unbeaten path across villages and towns across the nation, where "there's no trace of public transport and people use their feet to get through a few kilometers. " Their plan is to cycle for no more than four-five hours a day. That would change in the mountains, because of the difficulty in covering distances at altitude, where some days after riding for 18 hours they may find that they've only covered 20 km.
Naveed, who comes from a solid middle-class background, and Malhotra, whose father is in the army, say the entire trip, including their onward tickets to Leh, cost them Rs 3 lakh. Mulki said that's the money it would take for two people to live in a city for six months.
Rest matters hugely in such a venture. The duo will take 30 'off-days' during their journey. They'll use these rest days to repair cycles and replenish supplies, of which there's quite a bit. Mulki and Malhotra are carrying 20 kg each, in bags which hold camping tents, camping stoves, cameras, computers, clothes and other essentials.
But that's small bother for the duo. As Malhotra puts it, "We plan to take it village by village, town by town, camping out wherever we think fit, maybe by a flowing stream where we can have a bath and wash clothes. We also plan to settle down in a place even if it is only for a few hours, speak to people, learn about their lives and ways. It'll be a huge experience. There'll be a lot of learning and unlearning. We've planned this journey at the most basic level. It's not possible, however, to plan travel of this nature in great detail because it is largely about the unknown. "
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