Dubai: A cyclist from India, who is on a globetrotting green mission, has pedalled his way to the UAE, the 23rd country he has visited in 25 months.
Haryana-based Ayurvedic Dr Raj Phanden, aka “Cycle Baba”, started his journey in 2016, a few years after he lost his wife in a road accident.
Speaking to Gulf News from Dubai, he said he has so far covered more than 35,000km of carbon-free travel and took part in the plantation of over 50,000 trees along with school students and local residents of countries he visited.
Dr Phanden said he got involved in various social works post his wife’s death two years after their wedding.
“But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to do something for the environment. So, I decided to start cycling across the world to spread awareness. I chose cycling as I won’t harm anyone in a road accident and I will not cause any carbon emissions.”
The 39-year-old said he set off on an all-India trip before venturing out to foreign countries. “It took me about six months to cover all the states.”
He then pedalled his way to the neighbouring countries of India and the Southeast Asian countries.
“After Hong Kong, my plan was to go to China and Mongolia. But due to weather conditions, I decided to start the Middle East trip. So I flew into Oman from Hong Kong.”
Since there is an advisory against travelling to Yemen from the Indian government, he said he started his cycling journey in Oman from the Yemen border in Salalah.
Riding along the desert
“It took me eight days to reach Muscat from Salalah. From Muscat, it took another week to reach Dubai via Hatta.”
Heat was the biggest challenge, he said. “And you don’t find a single person walking on the road along the desert for 100-150km.”
So far, he said, he has crossed 16 or 17 countries by road.
“When that facility is not there, I will take a flight.”
His next destination is Iran. He is planning to take a ferry from Sharjah to Bandar Abbas once his visa comes through.
His lone companion — the cycle bearing the flag of India and that of his host country -— also carries a few waterproof bags weighing about 40 kgs with essential supplies, clothes and his camping tent.
“I sleep in temples, gurdwaras, other public places where I am given accommodation by local residents. When I don’t get any facility to stay overnight, I just set up my tent near some petrol station or supermarket on the highways and sleep.”
While in Malaysia, he said, he was injured and his cycle was broken after a car hit him from behind.
“Other than that I didn’t have any issues apart from budgetary constraints so far. I have already sold a property for funding this mission. It is with the support of the local residents of each country I visit that I go ahead.”
During his journey he visits schools, colleges, and local community groups to spread messages about saving environment by taking small steps in daily lives.
“If at least one per cent of the people I meet get inspired, I will be happy.”
He said he gets messages from students, parents teachers about small steps they took to reduce pollution and protect the environment.
Dr Phanden started vlogging about his trips last year. His social media handles are titled Cycle Baba, a name suggested by the Indian envoy in the Philippines, he said.
His wish is to ride across the world by 2030 and return to his two younger siblings back home.