“This is not an adventurous trip. The only element of adventure is the bicycle,” said Major General (retd) Somnath Jha, who is on a mission on wheels to pay tribute to every Indian soldier who has laid life for the country. Jha, a recipient of the Vishisht Seva Medal, was in Kerala’s Kasaragod district on Thursday, after having covered 6178 km across 20 states. The 59-year-old started the journey on his BTWIN cycle from Ambala Cantonment in Haryana on October 19. He has so far pedalled for 570 hours and 36 minutes and has to cover another 6,000 km before he ends the journey at Amar Jawan Jyoti in Delhi in April.
“This is to pay tribute to every Indian soldier who laid life for the country after Independence. I plan to cycle for 42,000 minutes, dedicating two minutes for the 21,000-odd soldiers, so that the nation does not forget them. My journey would culminate in the third week of April in Delhi,’’ said Jha, adding, “Since the soldiers hailed from every nook and corner of the country, I wanted to visit all 29 states.’’
Jha, a third-generation Army officer from his family in West Bengal, had joined the force as a second lieutenant in 1979. He hung his boots on September 30 last year. Speaking of his memories with many a friend who fell during battle, he said: “After 37 years of service, I was lucky to retire alive. Many others were not. Hence, before I put my military career behind me, I decided to embark on one last mission,’’ said Jha.
Jha’s wife, Chitra, is accompanying him on the journey in an SUV with two drivers and a spare cycle. A writer and holistic health coach, she has been looking after the logistics of the journey. “When he was in Army, I was at home. Now, when he is on a journey across India, another battle ground, I have to accompany him,’’ she said. The route of a day’s pedaling would be finalised only the day before. Jha begins cycling early in the morning and the support team starts only one or two hours after Jha hits the road. On a day, he cycles 60 to 250 km, depending on the terrain. A day’s cycling is over by 3 pm.
Asked about his experience so far, he said: “This journey has redeemed my faith in Indian citizens. Civilians are as patriotic as the men in uniform.” He said the idea of the cycle mission had struck him before he retired. “But many colleagues dissuaded me, citing my age. But, I have realised that this journey is more about will power.”