Freewheeling with Mohit Raj Kapoor as he talks to us about cycle touring in India and his ride from Jaipur to Malaysia and more…
Mohit, all of 23, is an avid tourer who has ridden the length of the country and most of South East Asia.
His first ride was at the tender age of 16, when he rode solo from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He didn’t stop at that and continued with his craziness . Including some near death experiences.
We chatted with Mohit about his many cycle touring experiences in India and abroad. He then answered a number of questions posed by the CyclingMonks community about cycling touring in India.
Cycle Touring in India with Mohit
The first part of the conversation was about Mohit’s touring experiences. Which he shared with the help of pictures.
Part 1: The Stories
Why did you start cycling?
I was in my teens and I used to play football. And I had a knee injury then. It all started with recovering from that injury. And I started loving cycling more than football. That is how it began, slowly.
Where was your first ride?
I did Kashmir to Kanyakumari. That was my first ride.
It took me 6 months to plan. But it randomly happened. I was planning on doing Manali to Khardung La. Then suddenly I changed my mind. It took me 24 days. All that time was just riding. It made me realise that I came all the way from top to bottom, but I haven’t seen anything.
That tour made me realise that the world is so beautiful and there is so much to learn from the road.
What route did you take for your K2K?
I did the central route through Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra etc. NH 7 it was back then, now it is called NH 42.
It was 4000 km solo.
I had no clue how to do it. I was 16.5 years old.
This was my setup, a Firefox and a backpack. Back then this was a professional setup! My shoulders still curse me for this setup.
How different was your Manali to Khardung La ride compared to K2K?
It was better planned. Kashmir to Kanyakumari was more impromptu.
I was more educated about the gears required. For K2K, I didn’t have a tent, sleeping bag or anything. Just a fleece blanket.
It was really nice because I like to ride in the Himalayas. This ride was also partly solo.
It started with a friend from Nagpur who I had met during K2K. Till Darcha we rode together then he was on a different pace, so we split.
In Ladakh I got AMS since I wasn’t familiar with this altitude. That was a stop in Leh, where I was in the hospital with oxygen and recovering. All that happened when I was 17ish.
After school you graduated on your saddle. Tell us about that.
While I was in school I wanted to do something by myself and not join college. I sat for the entrance exams but wanted a break to explore myself and the world and set from Jaipur towards Malaysia. I was about 18 then.
The major issue was funds. Finding sponsors and supporters for your ride was a big deal then.
I would love to not have sponsors, because they have their own requirements.
But it is always good to have sponsors support you with gears and all. Sometimes when you want to do an expedition and some gear is beyond your budget, then it is good to have sponsors.
I am with Marin Bikes from last 4 years. They always love what I do. Even when I did my crazy ride in Annapurna, they supported me.
Photo Story: Kayak Life
Back then I got some funds from crowd funding. But I had to support myself with more money while I was on the road. So I used to work at different places. This was working with a Kayak Tour Guide.
I randomly met him. He was interested in what I was doing. He invited me home and asked if I would be interested in joining his Kayak tour the next day.
The deal was he will pay me a little to help him out and he will also teach me how to Kayak. For 5 days I worked with him. In the morning we would go with his clients, in the evening he would take me with his friends and teach me.
I am scared of water, so I really enjoyed my time on a Kayak.
Photo Story: Master Chef
My South East Asian tour was to learn the food culture. I was working at different restaurants. Whatever work I got.
Here I was cooking Naadi Ayam. It is like fried chicken with some rice and soup.
When I started I was a vegetarian. During the tour there are so many countries that are hardcore non-veg. So to survive I had to go with that food.
While you tour, you don’t have to go with the food or nutrition. You just have to eat whatever you get. You can’t be carrying energy bars etc.
Photo Story: Gate Keeper
This was Thailand-Cambodia border. I ask random people to click my photos since I am touring solo. Or I just put a tripod.
This was a tripod in the middle of the road. I needed a picture of the gate!
Photo Story: Jail Bird
I was in north-south express highway in Malaysia. They caught me first and I apologised. They took me to another road. The next day again I myself went back to the same expressway.
And these two same policemen found me again. So they took me to the police station for two hours!
I got coffee for free so yay!
How do you communicate? Is language an issue?
In Cambodia I really struggled with language.
There was a time when I had a conversation with an entire family. We communicated through Google Translate. They would write something and like that we spoke for 2 hours.
There are moments on the road when you cannot communicate with someone because of a language barrier. So we just sit and share the food. That is also a way of communicating and having a good time together.
Photo Story: Kids Play
I was working in an orphanage in Cambodia. They rescue kids all around South East Asia and give them family, food and this entire project is running in a big butterfly garden. They organically have butterflies for tourists to come and visit and support the orphanage.
It was really nice to interact and play with the kids in the mornings and go farming there.
My duration in such stops varied from as little as 2 days and as much as 1 month! The ride took me 12 months.
I didn’t want to just ride every day. The journey was to explore and learn different cultures. That was my motive.
Photo Story: Couple of Madhatters!
They are Katya and Mirko. I was sleeping under a tree and thought that nobody does touring in India. I am the only fool on the road, dragging my bike in the hot sun.
These people came and we sat and had lunch together. Since then they are family. Whenever they come home, we have a good time.
These people have been on the road for the last 15-20 years. I met them on the highway somewhere near Himachal.
Photo Story: Angel in Uniform
In Cambodia I was in some remote areas where it was really difficult to find water. On this stretch it was 50-70 km where my bottles were empty. And I was looking for help and this random guy came and as a miracle gave me two cold bottles of water.
You think you’re alone. But you’re not. They are people around you.
There was one time I was camping in Vietnam and there was a guy who wrote a chit and left me 5 days of breakfast. A big bag of food. He said, he wanted to talk to me, but he was late. I still don’t know who he is. He just left me the stuff and left.
Photo Story: Camping in Police Stations!
It was a highway and in front of a police station in Cambodia, where camping is not allowed. There were police who caught me camping.
I was too tired and told the cop, that if you want to drag the bike, then you do so. I will sit here. Often ended up staying in police stations. Every day around 5, people would start drinking there. It was my silver lining.
I would go the police station myself and say I am too tired to go to the next town, can I stay here. There I would get free food and stay in jail!
Photo Story: There’s Always Light At The End Of The Tunnel!
This was in Rajasthan where I was roaming around with two of my friends in between Bikaner and Jaisalmer. It was super hot and we wanted to have a quick break. To hide from the hot sun, we went inside the pipe and sat for an hour.
We would rest in whatever space we would get. There are times when wildlife comes and says hello, but fortunately this wasn’t one of those.
What was your takeaway from your Malaysia ride?
It was a U-Turn for my life. It made me realise there’s so much to learn from the road itself. The roads are the biggest universities of the world. Every time you are on the road, there are so many people who can teach you good life lessons. You might end up at a strange place which will give you a good experience or a bad experience which becomes a good lesson.
If I had been in college I would have been that wanted guy, who is always skipping class.
Photo Story: The Wanted Guy!
Every other day I was caught by the police for doing something stupid as per them. This was also like that.
I used to enjoy being caught by the police.
After Malaysia, what was your next big ride?
After working with a few adventure travel companies, I went to Spiti in winter. This was back in October 2018.
It was cold, it was bone freezing cold. It was nice, during that season there are not too many tourists. As I love to talk with the locals there.
To ride in the winter there, you need a good sleeping bag and tent and good boots as well. You can suffer from frostbite. Good gear is necessary when you’re going riding in winters. Before the ride I had been working just so that I could buy that stuff.
The only reason I wanted to work was to get back on the road.
The plan was to do EBC (Everest Base Camp) on a bicycle. There was a person I met in Nepal, Mike, he rode from South Korea to South India.
He was in Pokhra and he told me about this route, Annapurna Circuit. I went through his photos and decided to go there.
Its a very popular circuit where people go on foot or on horseback. And I though why can’t I do it on a bike.
In Annapurna, the cycle was on me more than I was on the cycle!
I remember last of the 3 days it was all snow. 3 days of pushing the bike in the snow and carrying it on my shoulder. It was just pushing and pushing.
There was more of pushing and less of riding when crossing the pass. I was there in the wrong season. People have done the route completely on a bicycle. But not when there is so much snow.
I enjoy pushing my bike. The slower I am the more I enjoy it. Take photographs, chill and make my own coffee. I also carry a mocha pot and stove to make coffee.
Tell us about your crazy ride with Sudhanshu?
There’s a trail from Baralacha La to Chandra Tal. Nobody has ever done it on a bicycle. Sudhanshu was in Zanskar and we ended up meeting in Darcha and we spoke for 2 days. Then he decided to join me.
First and second day it was amazing. Third day, it started messing up our entire body. It is big boulders, you have to carry your bike on your shoulders. Drag your bicycle the entire way. Crossing bone freezing rivers.
It was complete wilderness. The only species I saw was one eagle in 5 days. And then some people rescuing me. We were standing in front of this river which was driving us crazy, wondering whether we will be able to cross it or not. We both were scared of water. I said whatever happens, happens and left. Till a third, everything was calm. I took one step wrong and half my body was submerged. I threw my bike on the other side and then came back.
For Sudhanshu, we threw a rope, so something similar doesn’t happen. He tied it on his waist and I had to pull him across.
This tour was more about realising risking of life.
Photo Story: Café Outdoors!
This place was my favourite coffee stop in my entire life. It was so good, we stopped there just to have coffee.
When you are on the road for so long, you can’t stay inside your house. And lockdown made me do that. I was super frustrated, what to do next. When things slowly calmed down, I just looked at the map where I used to go hiking, when I used to live in Jaipur.
That’s camping in front of Amer Fort in Jaipur.
You have to climb that entire wall. Pushing your bike or carrying it on your shoulder. Along that narrow ledge. But it is worth going there. You can see the entire city from up there.
Part 2: The ‘How To’ of Cycle Touring in India
In this section, Mohit gives us advice on how you can start cycle touring in India. What to do and what to avoid!
Do you need to go far to tour?
It doesn’t matter how far. You just have to start. Build experience and start building your confidence day by day. Go for weekend rides with your friends and camp.
One of my friends came to India for a month and he wanted to do this Aravalli ride. So we both rode 60 km out of Jaipur. And we did whatever I would do on my tour. You don’t have to always plan a long trip.
You can always do a 2 days trip, just get used to being on the bike.
Do you need a special bike for touring?
It all depends what kind of person you are. If you are looking for a luxury ride, you need to go with a good bike.
If you just want to experience what the road can give to you, then you just need a bicycle and a backpack.
For a longer tour, just put some panniers. You needn’t go buy expensive panniers, go to the neighbourhood bag maker’s shop. Give him the dimension and he will make it. It won’t cost more than 1000 rupees.
Is a steel bike required for touring?
This is my Jaipur-Malaysia bike. I call it patience.
I use a steel hardtail bike as well. Because I love steel bikes. I wouldn’t go touring on a carbon bike. If something happens to the frame, you will have to change the entire frame. With a steel bike you can get it repaired at the local welder without a problem.
What are the type of luggage systems that you can use for touring?
For beginners I would suggest put a rear rack and tie a backpack to that and leave.
If you want everything to be distributed evenly, then find good panniers or ask someone to make it for you. Panniers are really good.
I really like bikepacking setup, because it makes your bike lighter and compact. But it really is a struggle to get anything out of your bags. Like if you want something, but it is inside, then you have to take out everything just to get that small thing.
In panniers that is the biggest advantage. Ease of use.
What are the things you keep in mind while setting up camp?
I would suggest a place where there are not a lot of people and where you can sleep nicely.
If you are camping near cities, make sure you are not camping on somebody’s private property. I used to camp in petrol pumps, firestations and police stations.
You will get used to it, once you start being in the camp. You will not find a wonderful place in one day but will have to struggle and find something beautiful for your own.
In Nepal when I was camping, I took one wheel and kept it with me in the tent. You can do that to keep your bike safe. Or just leave your bike as is. Nobody cares. I just tell people that my bike costs 6000 rupees.
While riding do you take specific care of nutrition?
I eat anything because I love food. I just love to have different kind of foods. But there are places where you get random food, like one day somewhere in south east Asia there served me earthworm soup. I didn’t even know whether the earthworm was alive or dead!
Food is like whatever you get to fill your belly and give you energy to ride the next day.
How much would a 10 day tour in India cost?
Depends on what kind of person you are. When I was riding K2K I only spent 5k for the entire tour of 24 days. I used to sleep in Gurudwaras, camp or sleep anywhere.
When it comes to long distance I make sure I don’t spend more than 500 to 1000 rupees a day. Just because I have to go very long.
If you have to go for 10 days. Set a budget and divide it into the days you plan to ride. Carry your own food in your bags. Indian foods have a lot power foods like Gond ka laddoo, or peanut chikki, sattu. It all works.
I always carry food in my bag. Ready to eat and raw materials both. Sometimes I was carrying rajma, chole and all. Because I love to have my comfort food. It took me a long time to get used to this camping lifestyle.
Why should someone start cycle touring in India?
This is the best thing you can do for yourself. I know people who regretted not being on the road. But never a person who has been on the road and regretted that. It is a complete different experience you get on the road.
Part 3: Community Questions
In this section, we asked Mohit questions posed by members of the CyclingMonks community.
Poorvi: What all do you carry on your tour?
It all depends on the terrain. If I am on a flat road and not in the mountains. Then I prefer to use panniers, which are two bags in front and two at the back and one handlebar bag.
Three seasons of clothing and spares and tools for the bike on my Jaipur-Malaysia ride. Food, stove, sleeping bag, tent, mostly a small house on the bike.
My luggage weighed around 45 kg. You have to be prepared with a few days of ration.
Dhruvan Raja PK: What is the bigger objective, speed or distance?
Distance. Speed doesn’t matter. I know people who ride just 35 km a day. And they are still happy and have covered the entire world. Speed is not a thing here in long distance riding.
When it comes to endurance, a friend Vedangi Kulkarni, did the entire world in 160 days. Alone. So it depends what kind of expedition you are looking at.
Danny Nazsu: How do you deal with fears while camping, be it wildlife or natural disasters?
I am more afraid of human beings to be really honest. I don’t mind if a bear crosses my campsite or dog or wild boar. But humans can be more dangerous than animals.
Its my feeling that humans can harm more than animals.
Shivam Sanathra: What kind of sleeping bags do you use?
I have a normal sleeping bag which ends till 0 degrees. I have 0-10 and 0-15. That is minus 15.
Oursluglife: Don’t miss the brake story before starting!
We both (Mohit and Sudhanshu) had hydraulic brakes back then. His once brake was not good, the rear brake. We didn’t find the oil for that. So I just put engine oil in that brake. Bled it, made it happen and then started the Baralacha trip.
Danny: Solo or with another rider? How do you manage fights on a trip?
Sudhanshu and I didn’t fight. But we had arguments. But I am happy. Because it is hard to find that companion who can be there for you. I knew that Sudhanshu was also not feeling well when rescue day happened. But he had to walk 16 km to get the rescue team.
We were not even sure what was coming next. So he went for help. We were looking for porters. There were 9-10 people from the Chandra Tal camp who came to rescue me. We just had to hike from there to Chandra Tal. Then I was sent to the hospital.
I got hypoxic lung injury, where I was puking froth. 1/4 of my lung was damaged because of that. I am still recovering.
Patlanchasumit: Tell a story about the random kindness experiences you had along the way.
There are so many. You just have to trust yourself and the people that are there for you.
Once when I was in Thailand and there was this man cooking something and he shouted. Where are you going? in Hindi. I was so happy that there was a familiar tongue after a long time. He told me he was from Pakistan.
First we would see Pakistanis as not our brothers. But that man treated me so well. When I was about to pay him, he said, “I don’t take money from brothers”.
That kind of gesture you get from the road.
Sindhumalar: How safe is it go solo cycle touring in India?
I suggest you go and check out Vedangi Kulkarni‘s profile. She has been around the world solo, she is an amazing rider and adventurer. She is from Pune but she lives in UK now. If you want to know more, she can help you better than me.
Gryson: How do you manage your daily toilet habits when touring and camping?
You just have to get used to it. To be really honest.
First, I also wanted clean toilets and good facilities. After some time you get used to it. In the mornings you don’t even care where you are shitting!
Danny: Is bikepacking setup better than the panniers one?
Depends on what kind of person you are. If you are a patient guy and don’t need many things, then you can use bikepacking setup.
But I prefer pannier setup. Just because it makes things easier for you.
Sindhumalar: Is hybrid bike good for touring?
Definitely. My K2K tour was on a hybrid Merida Crossway. I really liked the bike. If you have good 40 mm tyres you can go anywhere.
There’s a friend of mine who has ridden Spiti valley on 35 mm tyres and Thailand to Malaysia. It all depends on the tyres you can fit on your bike.
Gryson: Do you ride at night?
I used to. In mountains I stop around sunset and find a place to camp.
Danny: What is the most you will be willing to spend on a sleeping bag for Indian conditions?
It depends on your pocket. There are companies in India which are making good camping equipment at a budget. Kafee Outdoors from Delhi makes good tents and sleeping bags. Not for extreme conditions, but good for most conditions.
Yasii: Carrying laptop in your backpack?
Depends if you want to use it. If your cellphone or a tablet does the job, why carry a laptop. But even if you do, don’t carry it on your shoulders. Put it in a sleeve and keep in your panniers. You can’t fit it in your bikepacking bag.
Why would you want a laptop though? There are some people who carry camera gear, laptops etc. But not on bikepacking setup. On a pannier setup.
Sahil.raul: How do your parents allow you?
It took a very long time to understand whatever I am doing. In the beginning it was a struggle and then it slowly developed. I made peace with them and they with me. They actually support me after I did a few tours.
I was young when I did my K2K ride, they should have been scared then! But I used to call them and give them updates. Just don’t cut off.
DoonRider16: How can we make touring safer?
Think positive. Think that nothing will happen to you.
Have a positive mindset and go for it.
Danny: How do you find sponsors?
My first sponsor was when I was sitting in a shop wondering about a career. There was one sales guy from Merida. He said, you give us your Firefox and we will give you this bike and you ride it. That’s how it started.
But when it comes to finding a sponsor, it can be really difficult. There’s a lot of long processes which you have to go through. I was happy to have support from Marin Bikes and the global team was involved in my tours.
You have to build relationships with companies or you need to have somebody to manage you if you want to do this professionally.
Photos: Mohit Raj Kapoor
If you enjoyed this conversation with Mohit, check out our conversation with MTB National Champion Shiven!