For some, life begins after retirement. There is even a desire to live life dangerously by throwing oneself out of one’s comfort zone. It is rightly said that to have an adventure, one must break through an invisible membrane of the familiar into strange and unknown places. In 2018, sixty-year-old Delhi-based travel enthusiast and a former editor, Sharat Sharma, decided to reinvent himself. A travel enthusiast and a fitness freak to boot, he made up his mind to undertake a country-wide solo bike trip, including Bhutan, and educating people about the importance of fitness and safe biking. Adventure has been the breath of life to Sharat since a young age. The traveller loves teasing his fate by remaining always prepared for the jagged rocks and treacherous shoals. Sharat believes that until we offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull.
“A traveller, no matter how difficult and perilous the journey, is never down for the count,’’ says Sharat, who grew up admiring Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller and writer, who fueled his wanderlust. In March, 2018, he undertook an arduous expedition through various Indian cities and Union Territories (U&T), and Bhutan, spanning 234 days on his sturdy Royal Enfield Himalaya. He covered a total distance of 30,850 km on his bike. And, as expected, the bike trip had all the Homeric resonances of perilous journeys and encounters with animals and extortionists. Sharat is no stranger to the fact that on one’s journey, curious and surprising and depressing things happen. But it was ever so. No wonder, for this adventure-loving man, there’s no age and no impediment so overwhelming that he can be deviated from his objective.
According to Sharat, travelling is in the DNA of the entire family. “My grandfather, uncle and my father, all had that rare passion to take the road less travelled,’’ says he with a smile. His wife, a professor in Delhi University, and two sons, the eldest an engineer, were more than supportive. “One needs many lifetimes to truly explore a diverse country like India. Timeline, funds and logistics were fixed and more or less I had to stick to my original plan,’’ says he, while admitting that these 234 days were mentally and physically daunting, but enriching and inspiring nonetheless.
Sharat covered the following states and 4 Union Territories in the following sequence: Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Diu, UP, Bihar, Sikkim, Bhutan, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur, Tamu (Myanmar), West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Daman, Dadra, Nagar & Haveli, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand and Delhi.
Sharat believes that an avid traveller needs to be a man for all seasons and, along the way be prepared to confront a plethora of perils. “Once on the move the rule of a bike ride is to keep a close eye on weather conditions. Monsoon could mean thunderstorms and lightning and hailstorms, or even landslides. In hilly regions, one can expect cloud bursts and flash floods; in winters it could be snow storms, snow blocked roads and fear of hypothermia or frost bite. Summer could mean dehydration and heat stroke,’’ says the travel freak. According to Sharat, he too had to change his itinerary due to unseasonal rains in Uttarakhand which led to landslides blocking numerous states and national highways rendering the state inaccessible. While he may have felt let down by his inability to visit Ladakh due to heavy snowfall, he found Wordsworthian solace in an early morning walk on the river bed of the Chenab Valley in Ramban.
A traveller always lives to fight another day. In other words, one, often, has to look into the glacial eyes of the menacingly approaching threats and challenges. In one of his journeys, Sharat got stuck on Agartala, Shillong-Jowai-Silchar highway, with no soul in sight, at 4pm, due to zero visibility. In Gujarat’s Devalia Safari Park, he had a close encounter with a lioness while on his bike. For a few seconds, he had his heart in his mouth. Thankfully, the animal resumed her leisurely stroll after glaring at Sharat for a few seconds. If that was not enough, Sharat survived an extortion bid at Khanvel on his way to Nashik.
During his entire journey across the length and breadth of India, Sharat not only explored the diversity of cultures and history of various states, but local cuisines as well. He feels that if one wants to be a traveller, one should not be finicky about food. According to him, food is an ice-breaker. “Since I love experimenting with foods of different places, it helps me connect with people as well.’’
Talking about food, Sharat had a wonderful experience sampling culinary delights such as rosogollahs and Sandesh in Kolkata considered to be a food lovers’ paradise. He refers to the City of Joy as also the land of Rosogollahs and Sandesh. He stepped into a renowned sweet shop in the famous Park Street by the name ‘Mishty Magic Since 1885’. Being blessed with a sweet tooth, Sharat gorged on a variety of sweets to his heart’s content. These were Baked Rosogulla, Baked Sandesh, Mango Gelato (only during mango season), Khir Kadam, Mango Lava, Malai Roll Baked… the list was endless.
His visit to the North-East was a real eye-opener. He found people of this region extremely warm and friendly. According to him, it is the safest place for women. Sharat also chanced upon Asia’s largest all-women market, called Ima Market in Imphal. It was a true example of women’s economic empowerment.
Another exciting facet of Sharat’s journey has been his interactive sessions with youngsters in various states on the need to drive bike with responsibility. The traveller says, “Many young bikers indulge in rash driving and associate biking more with speed rather than caution. It is a sign of immaturity.” Throughout the ride, Sharat exhorted the youngsters not to turn the roads into racing tracks. His message was: “Roads are meant for life’s journey. By driving rashly, they were not only endangering others’ lives, but also their own.”
An incurable bibliophile, Sharat feels that reading and travelling make one a complete human being. He also is of the opinion that one should always be in a state of flux than to be in a perpetual state of vegetation. For the ebullient Sharat, the rewards of living according to one’s instinct and inclination are simply unsurpassable. American saint Ralph Waldo Emerson’s comment couldn’t be more apt, “Your every stride’s your guide in life.”
One is also reminded of Greek poet Constantine Cavafy’s famous poem Ithaka which says that journey is more important than the destination.