It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.
― Ernest Hemingway
Around mid-December, we came across this young gentleman - a final-year engineering student in Karnataka. This guy was leaving for Delhi. Cycling to Delhi. Over 2000kms, across states, with limited resources. No, he is not a professional cyclist. No, there were no charity or NGO strings attached. Doing it, just because he felt like doing it. Madness right?
29 days, 2304.31 km and a hell lot of grit later, he did it.
One man. One cycle. Numerous possibilities.
With some effort and luck, we got in touch with him and got to interview him. So here is Kartik Varma, a trouble-maker, a cyclist giving you a mad cue.
First of all, a lot of people want to know about Kartik Varma’s next challenge, his next extended trip. Do you have anything on mind?
This trip has given me a radical, new perspective. I do not have anything concrete yet, but I see a ray of sunshine in the next 8 months.
This one is a two-question combo.
You have mentioned on your website that this decision, to cycle to Delhi was a spontaneous one, but now you have had time to think while covering 2000+ km. Now when you look back, do you think that there were certain things or people that subconsciously pushed you into this “madness”?
The subconscious processes about 40 million bits of data per second. There was definitely a host of cues that directed my mind to come to this conclusion, and they lie beyond the scope of conscious scrutiny.
It was also an answer to my ambition; I wanted to do something that was significant, that I could look back on and be proud of.
Talking about people and things, how in the world did you prepare yourself, your family, your cycle and mug for this journey?
My family has been aware of my streak of madness. The fact that I came up with the idea did not surprise them, but they were not too supportive about me going ahead with it, initially. It took copious amounts of convincing and varying degrees of stubbornness to get them from being completely opposed to being hesitant. They used numerous illegal negotiation techniques (like emotional blackmails), but I stood my ground.
Mug?! There was no preparing him, he was always ready, the stainless steel strong guy that he is.
As I have mentioned above, for preparing yourself, such trips usually require some physical and mental practice. Was there any in your case, because you have mentioned that you had never done anything like this before.
My levels of practice (physical) were 6 feet under the ‘optimum’ mark. I had never cycled more than 45 km before the trip! This was the primary concern of most people, and also their reason to shoot down the idea. However, my instincts were resolute and refused to budge even in the face of these claims. Mentally, I was born ready. I knew I had to do this; there were no moments when I felt like giving up, no times when I’d had enough.
There was a Kartik who had started off from his college hostel on December 16th, and now 2000 km and 100 different types of teas later, there is a Kartik in New Delhi. What are the changes in the thoughts, the feelings and the perceptions of both of them?
Kartik V2.0 (pros):
Aware of the middle class.
Aware of how a large part of India lives.
Aware of what it takes to be successful.
Aware of possibilities.
Relies more on instincts and subconscious pulls.
Has had individuality solidified.
Kartik V2.0 (Cons)
Currently has PTSD – Post Travelling Super-ness disorder.
Difficult to adjust in normal society.
Against mindless consumerism and the singular pursuit of money without passion – Parents don’t understand why I don’t want a job until I know what to do.
On a more casual note, tea reminds me of an incident you had mentioned on the second day of your journey, where you had met this trucker who had offered you some of his herbal powder to increase your efficiency. Now the funny part is that the very next day you spent about 10.5 hours on the saddle, which definitely is some efficiency. I am curious, was the powder involved?
Talking about incidents and memories, what was the most interesting moment on this journey, your favourite? Could you capture it through the lens?
I was pedalling through this highway, with mustard fields on either side. On the side I was cycling on, there was a bunch of women working in the fields which gestured me to stop. Seasoned by the futile exercises of various curious people, I didn’t stop, but instead shouted out ‘Mein Shaadi Shuda hun, mein nahi ruk sakta’. I intended it to signify that whereas I was excited at the prospect of stopping in a mustard field full of women, I had prior commitments. But, they thought I meant that I thought that they were calling me for a ‘business appointment’.
This aunty chased me with one barefoot and the corresponding slipper in her right hand, while her other slipper and the other hand was preventing her pyjama from befriending the ground. Her mouth was a blur of endless profanities. I couldn’t stop laughing or glancing back with fear for the next 6 km.
Just out of curiosity was there a worst moment too? Maybe an uphill climb or a puncture?
Nope, they were essential and enjoyable.
Speaking of worst moment. Every cyclist has his break-point or his lactate threshold, where he just feels like giving in to the temptations. And this is the most challenging part. Did you have any such temptations, maybe in Indore where you were at your aunt’s? How did you motivate yourself to keep going?
It was my purpose. There was never a question of ‘let’s abandon this’. It was always about doing the whole thing till physical circumstances prevent me.
It’s pretty easy to cheat yourself when you ride solo, like hitchhiking or getting towed. I remember you mentioning how you had a ‘haath pakdoge?’ offer from a motorcyclist. What morally stopped you from doing that?
The feeling of pride and accomplishment; I can’t lie to myself. I wanted to do this by myself, alone, just me, no help.
For the ultra-inquisitive readers, what are some the major costs involved in such trips? Where exactly did you eat, sleep and freshen up? How and where did you cut the costs to save up?
Total cost: 82,000
Sponsors paid: 70,000 – All the professional equipment.
I paid: 12,000
Costs cut: Cheap lodges. DON’T order that Shahi paneer or Dal Makhani – eat that dal fry.
ALWAYS ask for price of anything before – tea/ dishes/ chapatis.
Use a cheap method of transport – like a cycle.
And the ultimate question, again a combo. Just tell us about your journey, about the changes in the gradient, the temperature, the people and cultures that you experienced with every pedal. There are lot of people out there who wish to do extended trips, maybe by a cycle, a motorcycle or maybe even an across India rail journey, but they are nervous about starting off and finishing it. So what would you say to such people, any tips?
Just do it; people will drag you down, will offer you the most improbable scenarios to dampen your spirit and will sprinkle a host of things that can go wrong lest you do something that defies the norms. Like you guys say, #tothemadness. However, be completely sure that this is indeed what you want to do. Ensure that there is a clarity of purpose, else you’ll be wallowing in regret because all that they said would come true.
Kartik’s Journey Summed Up in 4 minutes