By Shahnawaz Akhtar
Experience the real India on bicycle, with every spin of the wheel revealing a whole new world of adventure and mysticism. Pushing this philosophy and the accompanying thrill is a group of young men who have launched a novel bicycle-tour movement in India.
Pradeep Sharma and his two friends are engineers working for multi-national companies (MNCs) in Bangalore. But their quest for adventure and green concerns has driven them to launch cycle tours and encourage people to take to pedalling for fun.
Pradeep hails from Morena district of Madhya Pradesh, while his friends Pankaj Mangal and Gaurav Mehendiratta respectively are from Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Delhi. The three are aged 28 and studied together in an engineering college in Ahmedabad.
They use films, music, songs, poetry, painting, photography, creative writing, books and rides to popularise bicycle tours and have also started a store in Bangalore - Art of Bicycle Trips.
The novel idea came to them during a cycle trip in July 2010. The trio went on a 120-km bicycle trip from Bangalore to a Cauvery fishing camp.
"After riding for around 60 km we sat under a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and started discussing our trip. We thought that for some bicycle is a utility and for others a revelation of human potential, but for us it was more of a new experience," Sharma recalled.
"Through that experience, the idea of a bicycle movement and Art of Bicycle Trips emerged," Sharma said.
"India's beauty actually lies in its rural areas. And bicycle is the best medium to get connected with its nature and people, directly. So we offer a simple and unique way to experience the real India. Bicycling opens up a whole new world of adventure, freedom and mysticism on every spin," Sharma said.
The firm designs unique bicycle trips from day-long tours of within a city to safaris to other states including Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh.
One day-long safari has been named after the 1970s Bollywood hit "Sholay" and is called Sholay Adventure. Under it, riders can tour the region where the blockbuster was shot.
"We have 15 bicycles specially designed for different tours. So far 70 to 80 groups (comprising 5-6 people) have taken our service, mostly foreigners. Among them only 10-15 groups were Indian but we hope the number will increase in future," Mehendiratta said.
The ambitious trio plans to open branches in Bhopal and Indore in Madhya Pradesh. While Mangal looks after the strategy and planning, Sharma manages the finance and operations and Mehendiratta looks after overseas marketing. Sharma and Mehendiratta hold B.Tech degrees, while Mangal has also done his MBA.
"In foreign countries there are many organisations promoting bicycle tours. And some foreign tour operators offer such tours in India too, but no Indian organisation is involved in such activities," said Sharma.
"We would like to spread out across the country and make it a true movement," he said.
The packages range from three-hour tours to day-long tours and three-day corporate safaris. The rate is 20 dollars for a three-hour tour, and can go up to $2,000 - depending on the tour. Food and lodging are in the package.
Art of Bicycle Trips run a website www.artofbicycletrip.com. They also have a page on a social networking site.