Montreal Gazette: May 16, 1999: Traveler has global view:
Jan 31, 2006 08:40 PST
Traveler has global view: Indian cyclist is spokesman for a greener
world; [Final Edition]
ERIC SIBLIN. The Gazette. Montreal, Que.: May 16, 1999. pg. A.3
His presence was not appreciated by a band of armed Afghans near the
forbidding Khyber Pass, but he was more warmly received by the Prince
of Wales, made an honourary citizen of Atlanta and got to see some
World Cup soccer matches for free in Paris.
Avijit Chakraborty set out from his native Calcutta nearly two years
ago on bicycle, determined to pedal through as much of the world as he
could manage while spreading a message as down-to-earth as his mode of
transport: "A pollution-free world."
With that slogan, $300 in his pocket and a 10-speed bike donated by
the Indian Hero Cycle Co. of Delhi, Chakraborty has so far bicycled
his way through 34,800 kilometres, "excluding oceans," and has poked
his spokes into 31 countries.
"As much as possible we should use public transportation and bicycles
to minimize pollution in the city," Chakraborty, 29, said yesterday at
the Sikh temple in Point St. Charles, where he's parked his bike for a
A self-taught environmentalist with a master's degree in organic
chemistry, the eco-cyclist from one of the world's more polluted
cities has made his case in speeches to schools and colleges
throughout his journey.
"I'm not saying that all people should ride bicycles," he said, "but
if governments will provide bicycle paths in cities then people will
ride more to prevent pollution."
Chakraborty has covered plenty of territory since cycling out of India
into Pakistan and from there into Afghanistan, where he had his most
unnerving experience. Near the Khyber Pass, the bearded cyclist was
detained by gunmen, either a Taliban Islamic force or one of its rival
guerrilla groups (he's not quite sure) and searched. It was not the
first time, but on this occasion the gunmen discovered some glucose
powder that the cyclist consumes for energy and detained him on
suspicion of being a drug-smuggler. Five or six harrowing hours later
he was free and off to Iran, which he found to be a very nice country.
It wasn't possible to enter Iraq because of the bombing campaign at
the time, so he pressed through Turkey and thence into Europe, even
visiting a country he'd never heard of, Liechtenstein. He crossed four
oceans and eventually flew across the Atlantic.
His average speed is 25 km/h. On a typical day he logs 120 kilometres.
He's lost 15 pounds.
Among the high points was getting to meet Prince Charles in London
(someone he'd befriended from Wales arranged it), seeing some World
Cup matches in Paris and receiving a freebie plane ticket to Florida
from Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines.
There was tough slogging when he crossed the Alps and a low point in a
British town called Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where his tent and stove were
stolen from his bike while he was addressing some schoolkids on how to
make the world a better place.
But over-all, the Hindu traveler, showing up at police stations,
hostels, temples or just pitching a tent, has met with the kind of
hospitality that the Sikh priests have affectionately provided on
Tomorrow, he'll head for Toronto and from there westward across North
America, down to South America, by air to South Africa, on to
Australia, Southeast Asia and, if all proceeds according to plan,
he'll be back in Calcutta by June 2000.
"After completion of my world tour," he said, "I will complete a book
on the environment."
Photo: GORDON BECK, GAZETTE / Avijit Chakraborty is staying at a Sikh
temple in Point St. Charles during his stopover. ;