In conversation with Himanshu Goel as he tells us about his journey of cycling from India to Singapore solo and self-supported over 60 days…
Cycling from India to Singapore
Improvements are made in small steps. A child doesn’t go straight from kindergarten to university. But then some do…
…meet Himanshu Goel, who went from being a guy who had never ridden a cycle for more than 10 km at a stretch to someone who found himself cycling from India to Singapore!
Hailing from Haryana, Himanshu has been living and was pursuing his Chartered Accountancy in Delhi. Till he decided to fling his books figuratively out of the window, followed by his body and mind.
At the age of 22, he decided becoming a CA wasn’t his goal. Mr. Goel’s target was hidden at the top of mountains and along tiny brooks in the valleys. He quit his studies to become a qualified mountaineer, having done his advanced mountaineering course from NIMAS in Arunachal Pradesh.
Rather than working in a firm cooking corporate books, he chose to cook Maggi in the hills, as he worked with a couple of outdoor adventure companies. A short stint with India Hikes, followed by Bikat Adventures.
With the ‘Bikat’ folk he went for a cycle ride from Manali to Khardung La. It was a ‘short test’ for what lay ahead. In this short test he led a batch of seasoned cyclists from the navy.
After passing the Ladakhi test, he set out on a daring adventure of cycling from India to Singapore, solo and self-supported. Well almost solo, he did have company on the first day of his ride!
Himanshu tells CyclingMonks about his experience and learning on the road to Singapore…
CyclingMonks: What’s your past cycling experience?
Himanshu Goel: This ride was the first time I cycled that much. I had never even ridden more than 10 km before in my life.
This year in July I rode from Manali to Khardung La. I led a batch of cyclists for Wicked Adventures. At that point of time I didn’t know the difference between an MTB, hybrid or road. I knew nothing.
I had never been in hilly terrain on a bicycle, that being the first time. The shocking bit was, that I was leading a batch who were from the navy.
CM: Your reason for doing this trip? And why did you start the ride from Ranchi?
HG: When doing my advanced course in mountaineering I was thinking of doing something big, climb mountains or do something crazy. I don’t know to swim, so water based activities were out.
I got to know about a friend who did Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 18 days. After reading stuff like this, I stumbled upon the west-east corridor which was opened recently.
So I decided to do this route, which not a lot of others have done.
I planned this entire trip with two other guys, we are really good friends, but they backed out for various reasons. So I was left alone to do it.
I got in touch with another guy who was interested in this route. He was a founder of an NGO based in Ranchi. That is why the two of us started from Ranchi.
We had an argument and he left on the second day itself from where we parted ways. Along the way we met a few times and the last time we met on the road was in Silchar, Assam, where I helped him out and asked him if he would like to continue together.
But he left early the next morning, without even telling me!
CM: What all went into the planning of this trip?
HG: I started the trip this August, but I started planning for the trip in November 2018!
Initially I had to find the route, challenges along the way and which countries to cover or leave out. Nepal and Bhutan were then dropped from the plan. That sounded a bit too much after I checked my bank account!
Via Terra, helped me out with bags for the trip. I spoke to Alex there, and he sent me the bags without asking me any more questions!
Kefi Outdoors, a Delhi based company gave me camping gear. Mohit Raj Kapoor, from Jaipur, helped me with getting the contacts of these two companies.
I carried too much stuff which I shouldn’t have ever carried.
And some stuff I carried too little, things which I should have carried.
I should have carried a better mat. The one I had was too big and bulky. I carried too many warm clothes. I didn’t require any of it. In the monsoons, it is either warm or rainy, never cold.
I didn’t have a puncture repair kit even initially and bought one in Imphal! I didn’t know any repairs and learnt while on the trip. At least 10 times I carried out repairs on the bike.
I should have put a stand on my bike.
I even managed to break the rear derailleur thrice. At one point of time it broke 200 km from nowhere. And I did a temporary fix to get to the next place.
Zip ties are life savers, I fixed my chain with it and the derailleur as well. I removed the derailleur and broke the chain and made it a single speed.
I wasn’t technically prepared, but one should be for a trip of this length.
CM: What about the physical preparation for a trip of this length?
HG: Being a person from the outdoors, physical preparation wasn’t a problem. I was the second best student in NIMAS from my batch.
I did Manali to Khardung La just to test my endurance.
Physically it wasn’t much, but emotionally it was a challenge. Sleeping in the tent at times can be terrifying, you are always looking over your shoulder.
There was one time I got mugged in Malaysia, the guy stole my GPS watch. It had the recordings of my whole route.
The biggest mistake was my bicycle. It was a Ridley Cordis, a hybrid bike. Its a good bicycle for riding in town. It isn’t meant for bikepacking. The problem was that it doesn’t support any panniers. So it was challenging to manage with just the saddlebag.
I bought the bike just 10 days before the trip.
I would recommend taking a more appropriate bike for touring. The next time I go, I am going all planned. Now I know a lot of things, while I was earlier a noob.
CM: How different does it feel to ride in India compared to other countries?
HG: People are really helpful everywhere. I didn’t find any bad people, except the guy who mugged me!
Bangladesh had the most helpful people I have ever met. Out of all the people I met throughout my journey.
I didn’t speak the language in any of the countries. I realised it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language, you can still communicate.
In terms of road conditions, India was the worst. I met with an accident in Assam and the derailleur broke for the first time. The roads are really bad and people drive really crazily. No one cares.
Being on highways with fast moving trucks and buses was extremely scary.
Bangladesh was similar to India.
Myanmar was left hand drive. The problem was that most cars were right hand drive on left hand drive roads! It is dangerous and crazy. But road conditions in Myanmar were better than India in general.
After Myanmar the roads were clean. I couldn’t even see a pothole. Smooth roads and good traffic and people were obeying the rules.
In Malaysia I had a problem.
You are not allowed to ride bicycles on highways. There is an expressway which goes from Thailand to Singapore which is 900 km. In a car or motorcycle you can cover it in a single day. On a bicycle you can’t take that highway and need to take a different route which increases the mileage to 1400 km.
On the first day I rode for 70 km in Malaysia, since there was no other road. The second day I got caught by the police. The cops were polite and told me to take another route.
CM: Did you need any special permit for Myanmar or was only a visa required like every other country?
HG: Just a regular tourist visa is required for the entire route. Nothing else is required. If you have your visas with you in advance, it is a 5 minute job to cross the border.
Except the Thai people at the border of Malaysia. They try to make money out of you. All my papers were in order so they couldn’t stop me, even though they delayed me.
CM: What was the highlight of your trip?
HG: There were lots of highlights.
The best thing for me was meeting different people.
In Myanmar there was a day when I had fever and had lost hope. I was thinking of going back. My ticket from Singapore was exactly 60 days from departure. And with my speed during those days, I thought I wouldn’t make it.
In Mandalay I was there for three days, where I met Chris in my hostel. He motivated me. Because he had travelled from Italy to Myanmar just by road. Never took a flight, he hitchhiked took public transport and he was just 23 years old. He had been on the road for 2 years.
Meeting these kind of people was the highlight.
I didn’t know that I had family in Myanmar, and then I met my relative. He was a CA for a 5-star hotel chain. So thanks to him I got to live in a few 5-stars there!
And obviously the mugging part. It was the day I cried my eyes out. It was the day I wished I wasn’t riding solo. I went to the police station, filed a report and then went back to my hostel and cried.
From that moment I was scared.
CM: Compared to Manali-Leh, how was this in terms of difficulty and complexity?
HG: Leh was an all managed trip. I just had to ride my bicycle. My luggage was in the support vehicle, along with a cook and other staff. It was a simple ride in the mountains.
While bikepacking you need to find your own food, sometimes you have to cook. Wash your own clothes, look after yourself when sick. You are basically on your own.
In terms of terrain, obviously Manali-Leh is quite difficult. But there are a few patches on this route in Myanmar, Tripura and Manipur which are difficult.
CM: Approx. cost of this trip?
HG: I approximately spent a lakh.
If I wasn’t solo, or if this wasn’t my first trip. If I had to do it again, it can be done in as little as 50000 rupees.
Now I know a lot of things. Also if there is someone with you, then you are more confident about camping out in the open, instead of staying in hostels.
Out of 60 nights at least 35 nights I must have stayed in paid accommodation. With another rider, this would have been less.
CM: How did your family take the news about this ride? And how did you keep in touch on the road?
HG: My family isn’t quite supportive of what I do or what I plan to do in the future.
From a bookworm to a complete other person is a big shock to them.
Being from a family from Haryana it is not that easy for them. They cannot see a career in this.
Along the way I used to text them and if possible call them as well, once a week. I bought SIM cards in Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. The rest of the time I used available WiFi.
CM: After accomplishing something so big, what’s your next plan?
HG: I want to cycle from India to Finland and Norway next year.
Cycling from India to Singapore Brief Route
If you liked this story of cycling from India to Singapore, then also read about the adventures of Vignesh as he cycled from Jammu to Kanyakumari, Chidambram’s journey along the West Coast and Sorav’s journey from Rajasthan!