Sunday 21 September 2014

Ride of a Lifetime

(The last part of Anirban's bicycle journey for raising anti-tobacco awareness. He embarks on a tour around the world this winter.)

After leaving Delhi my next stop was Panipat.

It’s the city of weavers and is known for the historic battles but at present most of the people are engaged in the colour dying sector. The rate of tobacco addiction was rather high in comparison to other cities hence I visited different mills, local washermen’s groups, craftsmen with my message. The night was spent at the local gurdwara. That night when I was lying on my makeshift bed and trying to recollect the day’s experience, suddenly I noticed a group of young Sikh boys were gradually walking towards me. I was alarmed but to my surprise they quietly came to encourage me and hand over some money for rest of my trip!

Karnal is a town of Haryana state. The original of Karnal city is Karnalaya — “House of Karna” — a bold character of the Mahabharata. Despite its mighty past, the city was quiet and rather peaceful. Here I had the opportunity to address some 500 students in the local girls’ school. They felicitated me and a local resident was kind enough to offer me hospitality for that night.
By this time I was accustomed to how to inform people about the horrified effects of tobacco addiction, how to cycling thousands of kilometres, how to adjust in a five-star accommodation to a village dweller’s house, how to deliver speech in front of hundreds of listeners and last but not the least how to enjoy the nature and capture them on my small digital camera.

Getting past Ambala, I reached Pinjore on the Christmas day to enter Himachal Pradesh and gradually move up towards Solan.

Himachal was not part of my initial route map. However, this state has the best tobacco control and I felt a need to experience it on my own. Though I was not equipped with the right bike to go uphill but I did not want to miss the opportunity. As I moved uphill, it was daunting and I could cover only half the distance that I was covering in the plains but the excitement kept me moving up to the colder areas. In Shimla, I contacted an NGO and was spellbound by their warm welcome. I also met the mayor and superintendent of police of Shimla to inform them about my anti-cancer ride. I met lots of tourists from different part of India in Shimla and explained to them about of my bicycle trip.

Leaving Shimla, I reached Chandigarh, the capital of Haryana. In Chandigarh, I found a planned city with a faster lifestyle. Here addiction to liquor is common instead of tobacco though gutka consumption is high. Garshankar in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district was my next destination where I met roadside dwellers, trolley vendors among others to spread my message. In Garshankar, I delivered a speech about the tobacco menace at a govt girls’ high school with quite confidence.

 Touching the finishing line

Now, I am almost on the last session of my bicycle tour. Crossing Gadriwala, a village in Zira tehsil in Firozapur district of Punjab, and reached Kathua, one among the 22 administrative districts that comprise Jammu and Kashmir. Addiction to smoking is very less in this state, known as the “Paradise on Earth”, but gutka consumption is very high. I was greeted by the local police officers and asked to be a guest of honour. I spent the night at the superintendent of police’s bungalow. 

Leaving Kathua, I moved towards the city of Jammu, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. There also, I was felicitated by the police superintendent and I addressed a police training camp and commando training camp.

In this 50-day trip, I travelled about 2,500 km, crossed 35 districts and touched 10 states of India with a strong will and dream that one day the country will be free of smokers.

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