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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

8,000 km and more: An amateur cyclist pedals his way across India and out of adversity

A cycling trip that he started as a tribute to his late father has now gifted Hyderabad-resident Dagara Ranjith Kumar a bunch of life-changing memories and experiences

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad |
September 14, 2021 1:32:42 pm
Dagara Ranjith Kumar, Hyderabad cyclistDagara Ranjith Kumar (Instagram/ranjithonwheels)

Life had hit rock-bottom for Dagara Ranjith Kumar. A TikToker with over four lakh followers from Telangana’s Warangal district, Ranjith had been staring at destitution just months ago after his job at an agriculture firm stopped paying because of the pandemic. Covid-19 had already claimed his father, a lawyer who devoted his life to providing for the family. Most people would slip into despair in the face of such adversity but the 30-year-old, instead, gave in to wanderlust and some introspection.

Today, Ranjith has found his calling in travelling and has cycled over 8,000 km covering most of the country over two trips in just about six months. On September 10, he returned to Hyderabad after a trip to Leh, Ladakh on his cycle. What started as a tribute to his father has now gifted him a bunch of life-changing memories and experiences.

“I had seen my father’s struggles. He spent his whole life for the family. He liked traveling but could never go anywhere. When he passed away in July 2020, I knew I had nothing more to lose and that I should live his dreams. It was now or never,” says Ranjith who is a pharmacist by education and an expert on organic farming by profession.

In April 2021, he shared a story on Instagram expressing a desire to pedal his way to various destinations. A motorcycle trip was not only expensive but he felt that it wouldn’t help connect with nature or the people along the journey.

With zero experience in touring or riding professionally, Ranjith bought a cycle with help from a few friends. “As children we all used to ride cycles but I did not know cycling was an expensive affair. I learned to use the gears on the 18-km ride back home after purchasing the cycle. On day five, I was off to Kanyakumari. Thirty-eight days later I returned, having clocked around 3,000 km,” he says.

His investment for the trip was about Rs 1.5 lakh and included a cycle, accessories including carriers and spares, a GoPro camera, memory cards and hard disks, a portable solar panel and batteries, camping equipment, hiking gear and a new phone to edit videos for social media.

“I started my ride with Rs 5,000 in hand. The rest is a loan, but during this ride my followers on YouTube went up to 24,000. My channel ‘RanjithonWheels’ is doing well,” he adds. The channel has so far uploaded 110 videos and has 69,200 subscribers. His Instagram handle by the same name has 82,300 followers.

Ranjith says his trip to Kanyakumari was quite inspiring, barring an incident near the Goa-Karnataka border when three youngsters fled with his cycle and belongings. “I was on a deserted forest stretch with a flat tyre. Three boys in a van offered to help and tricked me into believing them. That night was memorable because at the police station, the cops refused to believe that I was touring on a cycle in May 2021 when the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak. My YouTube videos turned out to be documentary proof and, before dawn, all three boys were brought to the police station and my belongings returned,” he recalls.

The episode did not stop him from setting out on his next trip to Ladakh, yearning as he was to experience much more. After buying a new touring cycle, which cost him a lakh, Ranjith started from Manali on July 20. What followed was a near-death experience when he got caught in a landslide near Baralacha Pass in Himachal Pradesh.

He had been riding a 13-kg cycle up a steep slope with nearly 40 kg of luggage the entire day when it happened. “By the time the debris was cleared, it was 7.30 pm and the nearest village was four kilometres uphill. Exhausted, I decided to erect my tent right there. It was pitch dark with not a single human around. The temperature had dropped to minus two degrees and the rain kept pouring, triggering another landslide at the same spot at 2 am. With no help expected till morning, I shot a video testimony of my last words at 3 am. I was sure I would not survive,” he remembers. With heat from a gas stove and warm water from a kettle, Ranjith had no option but to wait it out.

Ranjith also recalls with gratitude the bikers who helped him when his hands and face went numb in the winter cold, offered food and water at different points and provided medical aid when his nose started bleeding due to the dryness.

His most memorable experience, perhaps, is when a family in Ladakh’s Nimmu village cared for him like a son. “I went into a hotel as a customer but by the time I left the next day, I was their son. All of us were in tears. They had introduced me to all the family members and I even got to work at their farm. They did not take a rupee from me and, instead, packed dry fruits from their farm for my journey. All of this, during a pandemic when people were trying to stay away from strangers,” he sighs. He had more such warm experiences throughout the journey at Bhatinda, Jodhpur, Lonavla, and smaller villages en route.

The cherry on top of the cake was the meeting with his idol Sonu Sood at the latter’s residence in Mumbai. Throughout his journey, Ranjith had carried a placard with the actor-activist’s photo on the rear of his cycle as a tribute. “When my father was in the hospital for Covid treatment, I felt helpless. It was inspiring to see how Sood was out there to help everyone possible. One of the followers had tagged him on Twitter with the photo from my ride. It was a special moment when he met me for half an hour,” says Ranjith whose mother resides in Warangal with his sister.

The trip from Manali to Hyderabad via Ladakh and western Indian states cost him just over Rs 60,000 on food, accommodation and sundry expenses.

After 53 days, he is back home in Hyderabad with his pharmacist wife and has already set his eyes on a cycling expedition to Nepal covering eastern and northeastern states. This time, he has also arranged for a trailer to be attached to the cycle so he can carry his new pet dog along.

“I have a loan of Rs 2.3 lakh to repay though I have earned about 800 dollars from YouTube. If I stay here until I clear all commitments, I will lose the meaning of life. I just want to live the moment without worrying about tomorrow,” he says. Since he already has the touring gear, Ranjith isn’t too worried. “There is nothing that can replace the feeling of accomplishment after riding 50 km uphill to find another 100 km more to go and a gentle breeze hitting your face.”

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