The journey to six countries has been a life changing experience for me: Chirag Singal
Exclusive interview with cyclist Chirag Singal.
Chirag Singal is an avid cyclict and a coach by profession. In 2013, Chirag had travelled 2300 kms from Bangalore to Jaipur on his SCOTT Sportster 50, his passion for cycling motivated him to take the challenge.
Chirag decided to travel 7 countries in 7 months on his cycle in order to understand the education system of these countries. He began his journey on cycle on 6th October 2014 from Central India - Bhutan – Myanmar – Thailand –Cambodia – LAOS - Vietnam.
The long journey of experiences ended on 7th May 2015. This mission of his wouldn't have been completed without Scott sports India as they provided him with all the amenities related to cycling.
We caught up with Chirag for an exclusive interview on his experiences of riding through seven countries.
Excerpts of the interview:
How did you start off with cycling? Were you interested in the sport from childhood or it something that you picked up much later?
I picked up cycling much later in my life. I actually never had a bicycle when I was a kid. When I was in my second year of my college in Bangalore, I was working part time at a football academy.
One day, I needed to go to the academy directly from college in half an hour. Most of my friends commute in bicycle on the city roads and it is a great means of transport to navigate through traffic as well. That is when I decided to buy one for myself.
Travelling a few km in city is one thing and travelling 2300 km is quite another. What made you take up this journey?
I was reading poetry in one of the classes in college. My teacher asked us "What will you do if you have a 1,000 km of land"?
I told her I do not know what 1,000 km is. She said: "Go, figure it out." It is then I decided to start off with a km. I cycled from college to hostel. You need strength and conviction to go the distance.
I began the 2300 km journey from my hostel to home in Rajasthan and literally figured out what 1,000 km is!! Once I reached Mumbai, I told my teacher : "I know what 1,000 km is".
What were the kind of difficulties you encountered during your journey?
I did not face much of a difficulty on this tour since it was very short. I found places to stay at night and getting food wasn't tough either.
Tell us about your trip to six countries - Bhutan – Myanmar – Thailand –Cambodia – LAOS - Vietnam.
This trip was for seven months and everything had to be planned. Otherwise, it is impossible to pull it off.
I was carrying my own tent. It is really difficult to put a tent in India because the places are so crowded. I would often go to a temple to sleep during night.
In Burma, camping is illegal. The cops can catch you if they see your tent. I was waiting for it to get dark so that I could hide in the night.
I had to go deep into the forests at times, sleep in abandoned road rollers or buses.
Did you have support of the locals to help you out?
No. I was all alone. I was carrying my own stove, ration. You have to prepare your own meal. You put everything on the bicycle. Summer clothes, winter clothes, gear, water bottles, etc.,
One of the primary reasons for your visit to these countries was to study their education system. What did you learn there that could be implemented in India? Are there any differences when it comes to academics between these nations?
There is a huge difference. In Bhutan, you get marks for being happy. That is a huge incentive to have if you ask me. In Vietnam, emphasis is on knowing your place better before knowing about the world.
For ex: What is the use if you don't know about the forests in your state and you study about forests in the Amazon? People can get a better insight about their history, traditions and culture if they learn about it first.
What was the reach of education like in those countries? Were children in remote areas getting access to basic form of education?
The governments are doing their bit to ensure each and every child gets educated. The infrastructure in Vietnam city schools is amazing.
Tourism is one of the major industries in Laos and Cambodia. Hence, in terms of access to schools, it is not a difficulty for children staying in these countries.
What did you learn from the whole journey? It has taken seven months out of your life. What is it that you take out of this trip?
I was travelling through Myanmar for a few days. It could have taken me far less time if I had taken the short route. I did not. I took the long route just to enjoy the whole thing. I learnt that there are no shortcuts in life if you want to succeed in something. You will have to put in the hard yards.
In countries where English is not the primary language, sign language is the key. I was amazed at how people can communicate without speaking, just through their body language.
Once I came back, I learnt the importance of respecting everyone. It has definitely been a life changing experience for me.
This trip wouldn't have been possible without the help of Scott Sports India. What kind of support did they give you during the trip?
Believe it or not, I made more calls to Scott Sports than to my family during the trip. They also asked me to continue the trip even though I was running out of money by promising all the help from their side.
Were there any apprehensions from your family about your journey? Did they ever ask you to take up a job instead?
When I told them for the first time about this journey, there was no conversation between me and my parents for 2-3 days. Till the day I left, they did not say a Yes, they did not say a No.
Once I came back from the journey, they were very proud of my efforts.
Are there any thoughts on taking up cycling on a professional level?
Haven't thought about it really. I would like to explore the country through cycling. That is what excites me the most. There is so much to learn if you travel to the length and breadth of the country.
I know more about the world now than I ever did. I understood how every little thing matters and one should not take anything for granted.
What are your goals for the next few months? Are you thinking of adding other people/friends/going solo on your next trips within India or abroad?
I have a few countries in mind at the moment. I will have to raise more money for that.