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Discovery of ‘Sustainable’ India

Jaipur’s Ankit Arora had started his all-India journey to make it to the Guinness World Records for traversing the country in 150 days, but mesmerised by the cultural diversity, he has managed to visit half of India in 1541 days, build a self-sustaining village, learn organic farming and many more things

Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world and the plans of almost every single individual on earth, in their respective lives. But the historic pandemic could not deter Ankit Arora, a solo cyclist, from continuing his journey. The 32-year-old chartered accountant, as well as journalist, is on an all-India tour on his bicycle for 1541 days now. In 2017, Ankit was 28-year-old he decided to leave his journalistic job and embarked on an all-India tour with hopes of making it to the Guinness World Records by traversing the country in 150 days. However, till date, despite the pandemic, he has visited 15 Indian states and eight Union Territories so far.

Sacrificed many things including girlfriends

In the last 5 years not only Ankit, the youngest brother among the three has stayed away from his family, but also had to end his relationship with his girlfriend. He fell in love once again while journeying, it did not last more than four months.

Opium smuggler and hair chopper

On two occasions, Ankit faced serious problems. First, when he had started cycling from Rajasthan. On entering Barmer area, some people took him as an opium smuggler as generally such bootleggers use a cycle for trafficking of narcotics. “Villagers thought I was smuggling opium. They checked my backpack to confirm that I wasn’t one. In Kashmir’s Sophia village, I was mistaken as the one who chops women’s hair. Because of this rumour, I was held by the locals and later I had to throw away my scissors,” the traveller said, while sharing his experiences with eNewsroom.

Built a self-sustaining village during the pandemic

When India was witnessing over one lakh Covid-19 cases in a day and there was a strict lockdown, nobody was allowed to move freely, then Ankit was in Krishnagiri building a self-sustaining village, with a family that he met during his travel.

“I met an army man’s family in TN, who believed in my model of a self-sustaining village. They brought the land and here I am helping them build the community village,” said Ankit.

Elaborating on the same he said, “In the last one year, I built a self-sustaining village in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu near Bengaluru. A community where one can practice all sorts of arts, crafts, organic farming and build natural mud houses.”

Ankit further said, “I started organic farming and building mud – houses, using organic materials that were available locally like red mud and brown mud, jaggery, honey, egg yolk, an ancient tribal technique of house building. The homes enable cost-efficient thermal insulation, natural malleability while reducing their carbon footprint. All this I have learned during my journey and experiences with tribals and ancient wisdom of the country.”

solo cyclist ankit arora cycling eco-friendly self-sustaining village organic farming Coronavirus pandemic
Ankit Aroro cultivating crops in a village during his journey

“I also made a big-sized mud sofa. Plastic waste recycling techniques were used in building mud houses and sofas. Bottle bricks were designed using plastic bottles stuffed with packet wrappers, which resembled traditional bricks. Alcohol bottles collected from nearby rivers and Hogenakkal waterfalls were used for the construction. Natural termite repellents were created by combining water with holistic herbs like neem leaves, kadukai seeds, green chillies, garlic, turmeric and lime,” explained the self-sustaining village developer, in detail.

Ankit and other locals who helped him in the work named the village – Innisfree farm.

“On the farm, we now have two mud houses, two wooden and thatched houses, two dry toilets, one mud sofa, and two mega-sized ponds for rainwater harvesting. We are also using wooden, coconut and mud vessels in our kitchen which I have made from the waste wood and waste coconut shells. We are also practicing various art and craft with waste wood and coconut which includes making wooden chopping boards, coconut shell bowls, artistic face masks and earrings and that is also attracting the local villagers and ladies who are now interested to participate in these activities. We are now also growing our vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, green chilli, okra, bitter gourd and many fruit trees like mango, tamarind, jackfruit and are self-dependent on our vegetables and fruit supply,” said Ankit.

Today, Innisfree farm reuses 100% of their waste to power eco-toilets, kitchens, electricity and even fodder for the local animals. The farm is a beacon of the local community, providing employment as well as education to surrounding farmers. On the natural farm in Krishnagiri, we also train and teach people traditional art like Madhubani, Gond, Pichwai, and wall paintings. I help in making organic soaps, kitchen compost. I also learned how to make kokedama, the Japanese art of growing a plant. We are also making wooden cutlery, kitchen items and furniture from the waste coconut shells and waste wood from the villages. The villagers and youngsters are very keen to learn these practices.

On being asked if he has any stake in the village, he said, “No. I will only help families this one to build self-sustaining villages which will be interconnected. I will keep coming back as and when they need my help.”

Learning new things was more important than making records

Initially, Ankit wanted to make records, but later realized it did not permit him to stay longer and learn any new things, as he had to keep moving. So a change of plan happened and the journey which was supposed to end within a year, is still continuing.

“After having secured my position in the Limca Book of Records and India Book of records, I embarked on a bicycle journey through the length and breadth of the country. It has been over 1540 days now — I have seen half of India: covered 15 states in North, West, South and Central India, and 8 Union Territories. On the road, I discovered a new face of India — where organic farming flourished, an alternate education system enlightened young minds in creative ways and kindness was a way of life.”

solo cyclist ankit arora cycling eco-friendly self-sustaining village organic farming Coronavirus pandemic
The single mother community in a village, that Ankit reached by walking

Learned the art of life

“While pedaling across rural India, I engage in right from working with farmers to making wooden sculptures in Maharashtra and Bengaluru, weaving khadi shirts, making mud houses for villagers of a remote hamlet in Anantapur district, Nagpur and Tamil Nadu, making coconut shell cutlery and jewellery, learning natural farming and forest conversation from the tribals, learning Thanjavur art, Madhubani art, tribal gond art to learning the 400-year-old wooden toy making art in Etikoppaka, learning the rural arts — Kondapalli in Andhra Pradesh to making the musical instrument Veena in Nuzividu; my journey has connected me with people in more ways than one,” Ankit mentioned.

He continued, “My purpose now is to connect with communities and share the learnings I have received from farmers, tribals, weavers, potters, artists, sculptors, musicians, labourers, students, and urban families; with others like them.”

From exploring places to discovering communities

Ankit’s journey had begun with the target of visiting Indian states, but now he meets different communities, so when he finds a new community that is self-sustaining and has a different skill to offer to the 32-year-old traveller he stays on longer trying to learn new things These days, he spent most time at Krishnagiri, on the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. He has stayed here for over one and a half years now.

From solo cycling to walking

“Sometimes, I move on my feet too, without my bicycle. And discovered many communities while going to new places on foot. I discovered a single-mother community while walking only,” he pointed out.

Support from friends helped so far

You must require money from time to time like now you are in hospital, so how will you pay the medical bills? My friends help me with it. “They chip in to help me in these situations.”

Presently hospitalized, but will continue his journey

While talking, Ankit informed that he at present is hospitalized in Bengaluru to have his Irritable Bowel syndrome (ISB) problem resolved. He believes he developed the condition because of eating different foods at odd times during his journey. His liver is not in a good condition right now. He was even admitted in the ICU for ten days. He will be resuming his journey soon.

The cyclist needs support for his treatment. Please help him by donating on the link.

Shahnawaz Akhtar

is Founder of eNewsroom. He loves doing human interest, political and environment related stories.

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