Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bangladeshi and Other Bicyclists

Last weekend's ChhuTir Diney magazine (Prothom Alo) had a cover story on one Shahidul Islam, who bicycled from Tokyo to Dhaka. He started in Tokyo, crossed by sea to Korea, and after biking across, took a ship to China. From there he biked all the way to Vietnam, then Laos and Thailand. The Burmese stopped him from entering Myanmar, so he had to go back to Bangkok and fly to Dhaka. Quite an adventure! He covered 4000km from 26 March to 7 June. That averages to ~50km/day, but I'd bet his average on "biking days" was much higher, because it appears he took quite a few off days. Kudos to Mr. Islam on his accomplishment. He is quite an inspiration for us.

On a related note, I just finished reading "A Bike Ride" by Anne Mustoe, a 54-year-old British woman who bicycled around the world in 1988. The understatement of the title is reminiscent of another British traveller Eric Newby who called his hair raising adventure in Afghanistan "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush." Ms. Mustoe's book is engaging and inspiring - the charm lies in her plain and straightforward storytelling. She started Eastward from the UK, through France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Then she took a plane to California and biked across the US.

Her bicycle enabled Ms. Mustoe to mix with the locals - and indigenous ones at that - at a level that we in today's world of Hiltons and Sheratons are completely shut out of. There are stories of kindness and generosity from every country she visited. However, whenever there was a side-by-side comparison (eg, Turkey/Greece, Pakistan/India, Thailand/Malaysia), it appeared that people from Muslim countries charmed her more.

Too bad she jumped from Kolkata to Bangkok without bothering in Bangladesh, but back in 1988 she would have found it extremely difficult to find hotel-lodging in remote places in the country.

She has a great sense of humor, describing a harmonium as a "small keyboard with bellows" and baseball as "grown men in Victorian underwear playing rounders."

Oh, here is the amazing thing: even after 20000+km of cycling she still did not know how to fix a puncture. Go figure.

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