Chennaiite cycles across India, Bhutan to create awareness on polio

Sathish Kumar

Chennai: “Reaching Bhutan was not the actual success. Spreading awareness about polio attack to thousands of people, who belonged to different age groups, different culture, different parts of the country was my actual success,” says 28-year-old cyclist S Sathish Kumar, who travelled solo from Chennai to Bhutan in February, covering 3,232 km in 45 days.

Supported by Rotary Club of Chennai Korattur, Sathish began his journey 23 February from Anna Nagar Tower Club.

News Today spoke to Sathish to know about his experience and the challenges he faced during the journey.

Q: What was the purpose of the solo road trip?

A: I always wanted to do something out of the ordinary and that supports a good cause. Though polio has been eradicated in most parts of the world, in countries like India and Afghanistan it has not been done away completely. This made me spread awareness on this issue and I thought a solo road trip on a bicycle will help me achieve my goal.

Q: What were the cultural differences you witnessed throughout the journey?

A: There was very little cultural differences between Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh. Whereas, Odisha and West Bengal were absolutely new for me. The language, people, food, traditions were different. In Odisha people welcomed me in their traditional way, as soon I told them about the journey and the purpose behind it, and it was a very emotional moment. People in West Bengal were also sweet. Vendors and shopkeepers gave me potatoes, free of cost, after every purchase. Later I learnt that Bengal is one among the largest producers of potatoes in the country. Also, the major difference between India and Bhutan is, traffic. People in Bhutan followed traffic rules and maintained lane discipline, unlike in India.

Cyclist Sathish Kumar giving polio drops to a child on the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border during his journey to Bhutan.

Q: What were the major obstacles that you came across during the journey?

A: Cycling on the stretch of Rambha Ghat was the most difficult part. The roads were really dangerous and it was an absolute risk cycling there, though other roads that I travelled during the rest of the journey were really good. Secondly, on the roads in West Bengal, my tyres went flat thrice. Fortunately, a few locals voluntarily chose to help me find a shop to get the cycle repaired. Last but not the least, language was a barrier in communication. I’m not very fluent in Hindi and those people did not know English.

Q: How did you manage to spread awareness about polio and did you succeed in it?

A: Throughout the journey, in different States, I contacted various schools and colleges and I interacted with more than 2,000 students on the issue. I used to talk to groups of students on their way back home. A few people would voluntarily converse with me and I explained about the purpose of the trip and thereby educated them. Also, I spoke to elderly people in the northern States about the ill-effects of tobacco chewing, which is widely practised in north India.

After reaching Bhutan, local Rotary Club along with the Rotary Club of Thimphu, organised an interactive session with people there, where I spoke about polio, its effects, cure and preventive measures. Unfortunately, I was not able to interact with the local school students as it was exam time.

Q: What was the most memorable experience during the trip?

A: During the festival of Holi, I was riding on the roads of West Bengal. Many people warned me about the celebrations. I was told that the celebrations will be wild. Surprisingly, the people who were celebrating were very kind and they politely invited me to join them. They were very approachable and well-mannered, in contrast to the warnings that I received.

Q: What are your plans for the near future?

A: I have a few personal commitments to be carried out and after that I’m planning to go on a road trip from Asia to Europe. The purpose behind this trip will be to spread awareness on cancer. Only a few segments of society are well aware of cancer, its effects and cure. There are lots of people who should be educated about it. Probably, I will start this trip after three or four years.

M Anandavalli