The story of a 25 year old who cycled 6000 kms across the Himalayas
There are very few places in the world as enchanting as the Himalayas. Their surreal landscapes have been luring adventurers from around the world to test their mettle. As unrelenting as those mountains are, one thing is certain, the experience will forge you into a different person.
Nobody can vouch for this better than Shubham Dharmsktu, a 25 year old, who rode the entire length of the Himalayas, over 6000 kms across 3 countries, on a bicycle.
Born and raised in Uttarakhand, he says “The Himalayas were my backyard, my home, my family”. His fascination for the majestic range one day turned into a strong desire to see every inch of it.
His journey started from Wakro, the easternmost village in Arunachal Pradesh and ended at Srinagar. In between, he cycled through 7 states in India, Bhutan and Nepal, taking him 105 days to complete.
His first taste of adventure
Shubham is no stranger to audacious feats. His first big expedition was cycling from Ahmedabad to Ratlam, covering 1000 kms along the way.
His next adventure was even more ambitious, where he rode from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari, a whopping 3200 kms. Throughout the trip, he didn’t book a single hotel, instead stayed with locals, in temples, masjids, police stations and sometimes, even sleeping on the side of the road.
He was after stories, not the warmth of a cozy bed.
Birth of the Himalayan crusade
Shubham’s thirst for adventure wasn’t quelled even after those two grueling journeys. He wanted an even bigger challenge, the final frontier.
He was poring over the world map one day when his eyes fell on the Himalayas, his childhood playground. In that moment, he decided he was going to traverse its entire length.
Of course, on a bicycle!
Why does he use a cycle always? For Shubham, cycling and traveling go together. It lets him move at the perfect pace to absorb everything around him and makes him more approachable to the locals.
Getting Ready for the Journey
“When you are riding on such a harsh terrain, anything can go wrong. You might even die. And when you are dying, high quality equipment’s can save you, and they cost a lot”, he says.
Getting sponsorship is a challenge in India, he says. There is still resistance when it comes to funding individual athletes. He recognised this early and made it his priority.
He wrote to around 400 companies, making presentations for each one of them. All those efforts eventually bore fruit, as he bagged sponsorships from a few companies
Armed with everything he needed, Shubham was ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
But wait. What about physical training? How he did he gear himself for the grueling journey that awaited him?
“I spent so much time running behind sponsorships that I had no time to train at all” he says. He is no gym rat and neither does he consider himself to be a super active person. All he had was fire in his belly and an iron will. And that, according to him, is more than enough.
A mountain of challenges
Lack of proper training meant that for the first 10 days, his legs were crying out in pain. He was barely able to stand. He remained undeterred though.
Right from childhood, Shubham had a sinus problem, which didn’t let him breathe as normally as we do. So it was extremely difficult for him to ride in the high passes, where the oxygen level is lower than at sea level.
On the Manali – Leh route, he fainted at a high altitude pass. A cycling team which was passing through the same route rescued him and took him to a hospital in Keylong.
He also had to battle the elements of nature. He faced scorching heat, biting cold and torrential rains. He still pedaled through.
As he was reaching Nepal, a devastating earthquake ravaged the city. His family and friends asked him to abandon the adventure and come back.
He knew he wasn’t going to a get a second chance. After pondering over it for 2 days, he decided to continue. But not before volunteering in the village of Melamchi, where he worked with NGOs and schools for 3 weeks, helping affected people.
Favourite tales from the road
“When you are traveling all alone, every moment is a story” Shubham says. He has more stories than he can count, but there are some which have lingered on for longer.
While riding around Arunachal Pradesh, Shubham stumbled on a river that had to be crossed. There was no bridge and although the water was shallow, it was fast flowing. So walking with a cycle was out of question. The alternative was taking a 200 km detour through the jungle at night. It was a no-brainer, the river had to be crossed!
He spotted a bulldozer on the other side of the river and waved at it, hoping for any help he could get. The bulldozer came to life and started moving towards the river, and as he saw in sheer disbelief, crossed the raging stream and came to the other side. The locals who were on it loaded his cycle on the bulldozer and drove it over the river.
And that’s how Shubham crossed a river in Arunachal Pradesh on a bulldozer.
Another incident he fondly recalls is when he went broke while cycling in Assam. Desperate for help, he strode into the district commissioner’s office, chugging his cycle along. The district commissioner was inspired when he heard the boy’s story. Then he did something Shubham would not have imagined even in his wildest dreams.
He wrote a letter, with the official stamp asking government institutions in Assam and nearby states to provide refuge whenever he needed. That opened the door to all guesthouses and VIP stays in the northeast.
As if that was not enough, he even gave the lad 5000 rupees and clicked a photo with him, which he intended to use to inspire others.
His brush with death
His scariest experience was hiking the tiger’s nest, a monastery in Bhutan. Perched on a cliff, it’s a long and arduous hike to the top, especially with a cycle on your shoulders. But on the way down, he decided to cycle.
“While riding downhill, I fell flat on my face more than 20 times, barely missing my vital parts. I was so sure one of those falls was going to be fatal, that I even made a video saying, even if I don’t make it out alive, it would still have been a cool death”
Current venture and future plans
Shubham currently runs a company called Travelliving, which focuses on sustainable and adventure tourism. They run cycling tours and hikes to rural villages in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra. The initiative aims to generate jobs for locals, by employing them at every step of the way.
When asked if he has his eyes set on any more adventures, he says he wants to kayak along the ocean from Gujarat to Kolkata, run from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, cycle around the world and motorcycle on each and every road in India.
He says, life on the road has changed him as a person and dealt him lessons that no book can teach. Like any addiction, his heart continues to yearn for new roads, truly embodying the spirit of adventure.