One of Shah Rukh Khan’s most iconic scenes from Chak De India is one where he meets the young, rebellious women’s hockey team that he is about to coach. SRK as Kabir Khan asks each of them to say their name and where they’re from. Each girl says her name and the name of the state that she belongs to. He tells each of them to stand out. Then comes a girl who says, “Vidya Sharma, India.” Kabir Khan smiles, and says “Aap team mein hai. ”Ankit or India On My Cycle, as he likes to be called, is a guy like any of us. Except that he has been traveling across India on his cycle. For how long, you ask? For more than 3 years. When asked about what part he belongs to, he says, “I belong to India, not any particular state”. Kabir Khan would be proud.
The Man & His Cycle
When he was 27, Ankit like many millennials and Gen Y individuals had worked in the fields of media, journalism, PR, and communication. He was earning well, living what many of us would call an ordinary life. But then, something changed.
He felt like he wanted to embark on a journey, leaving his current lifestyle behind. What initially was supposed to be a 150-day journey to cover all of India on cycle ended up being much longer than that. During the journey, Ankit felt that he did not want to rush anywhere for the sake of completing a particular state or region. He wanted to live in a place, know the people, help them out, contribute to their lives.
While his entire journey sounds incredibly dreamy, the most surprising part is that it cost him nothing in monetary terms!
“What does he do, what does he eat, where does he stay,” you may ask. He stays with locals in their homes. Before you confuse this with an Airbnb stay, let us clarify that it’s not one. He stays with locals in towns, villages, even forests. He cooks with them, cleans their houses with them, lives exactly the way they do.
Currently, he is residing in a village near the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border and helping the villages set up organic farming practices. “A barter lifestyle is not a new phenomenon, in the ancient times, saints and priests used to travel just the way I do now”.
If his mission was to explore India on his cycle, does that mean his journey will end when he finishes all the states? “No, even when I finish all the states, I will revisit the places where I think I can make a difference. My journey is a long-term one.”
Ankit says that this journey has taught him a lot of things, but one of the most important lessons is that people are inherently ‘good’. “When I realized that these people were accepting me into their homes without judging me, it dawned on me that it was my duty to not judge. I have met 600+ families in these 3 years and they are all my family now. From my hosts in Chennai who put me on a ship to Andaman so that I could sail there to the families in Kashmir, I believe that kindness is underrated, it is something that I associate with my country now.”
When asked what he thought were the most underrated places in India, waiting to be explored, he said that the tribal regions in Orissa and Chhatisgarh hold within them an astonishing amount of natural and cultural beauty.
As Ankit travels across India on a cycle, with a purpose to serve others and to be happy in his service, he inspires so many of us to travel inward, to appreciate our natural and cultural heritage. We don’t know when he will finish all his states, but his mission has been achieved.
He has inspired so many of us to see a different India- India through his cycle!