The incredible adventures of 7 Parsi men who cycled across the world a century ago – Prism

With ingenuity and strength, the men of Bombay overcame all kinds of obstacles and difficulties.

“I envy the young people who made the book. I also have some
red blood that seeks adventure; some of the passion for travel that
It even drives one forward. But fate and circumstances have prevented
to satisfy it in the ordinary way: I am looking for adventure in another

Jawaharlal Nehru's prologue to a book of three Parsi men who toured the world in the 1920s was just one of the most charming things.

Chapter after chapter in the book describes the adventures of young people, such as when one of them broke stones in his chest with a hammer while another dragged a car with a rope between his teeth.

Anoop Babani read the book, With cyclists from around the world, with fun and interest, but it was the end that intrigued the former journalist and cyclist.

There, on "perhaps the last page," was the hope that the grand reception received by the three Parsis upon their return to Mumbai in March 1928 would also remind "another fellow who is returning."

Who was this guy? When did he leave India and when did he return? Babani had to find out.

His research revealed that in the 1920s and 1930s, 10 Indians, all in their 20s, all Parsis and all of Bombay, chose to travel the world in three separate groups.

"Fired for the intense desire to bring the name of the country – Mother India – to the most remote corners of the world," they traveled through mountains, forests and plains, sometimes without food or water. Finally, only seven of them completed their odyssey.

How it began

The first group that started on their bicycles was made up of six members of the Bombay Weightlifting Club. They were Adi Hakim, Jal Bapasola, Rustom Bhumgara, Gustad Hathiram, Keki Pochkhanawala and Nariman Kapadia.

According to Rohinton Bhumgara, son of Rustom Bhumgara, the six young people had attended a public conference in 1920 for a Frenchman who had walked from Europe to India. Hearing him speak left them deeply inspired.

His journey began in October 1923 and meandered through Punjab, Balochistan, the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Japan and Southeast Asia.

Along the way, a team member returned to India from Tehran for "personal reasons," while two others were so "in love" with America that they were left behind.

Adi Hakim, Jal Bapasola and Rustom Bhumgara return to Mumbai after almost five years.

"Once he [Jal Bapasola] narrated how they approached the Raleigh Cycle Co of England in Mumbai about [the company] sponsoring the cycles, "said Babani for Bapasola's 82-year-old son, Noshir Bapasola, who lives in New Jersey.

“The company refused. But when they arrived in England, he said the company begged them to use their cycles. He asked them why they had changed their minds and were told bluntly "we didn't think you would be so successful."

By the time Hakim, Bapasola and Bhumgara arrived in India in March 1928, they had already traveled around 70,000 kilometers.

In his book With cyclists from around the world, listed their achievements with "forgivable pride": in four and a half years, they had climbed the Alps, crossed "pirate-infested territories" and forded through jungles with "semi-wild hostile tribes", sometimes "escaping death by centimeters "".

Overcome difficulties

His efforts, in turn, inspired a Bombay sports journalist named Framroze Davar to start his bike alone.

Nine months and 5,000 kilometers later, in Vienna, "he met Gustav Sztavjanik, [a cyclist] who was impressed with his trip, "Babani said." He joined Davar and they both traveled the world by bicycle for seven years. His was the longest, toughest and most adventurous trip. "

Davar after crossing the Sahara desert.
Davar and Sztavjanik on top of the Andes in South America.

Sztavjanik and Davar rode over the Alps, including Mont Blanc, parts of the Soviet Union, the Baltic states and Scandinavia, before turning to France.

From there, they sailed to Algiers in Africa, pedaled in the Sahara and the Amazonian forests, and climbed 5,200 meters through the Andes with their cycles, each weighing around 15 kilograms, on their backs.

According to Babani, his difficulties were endless. They faced eight sandstorms and ran out of water. The terrain was so thorny that they had to fill their tires with grass. They even got malaria.

However, the biggest challenge for them was the Amazon. Struggling to ride a bicycle in the thick forest, they were forced to build rafts. Fortunately for them, a tribe of headhunters gave them shelter.

"It was his first trip of this kind from the west coast to the east coast of South America and it took them about nine months," Austrian author Hermann Härtel wrote in a book about Sztavjanik. “This was an unknown and very dangerous territory. Many explorers before them never came out again. ”

Davar and Sztavjanik cross an Amazon river.

When the two arrived in Burma, they found themselves in the middle of a herd of wild elephants. Sztavjanik was injured and hospitalized for a month.

Davar, who covered a total of 10,000 kilometers, 52 countries and five continents, wrote three books about his travels: Cycling on the roof of the world, On the other side of the Sahara Y The Amazon in reality and romance.

"These books are a great study in anthropology," Babani said. In them, Davar talks about the tribes he met in the Amazon, "their customs, how they look, their clothes and what they hunt."

The stories of these adventures inspired a third group of Parsi men, Keki Kharas, Rustam Ghandhi and Rutton Shroff, to go around the world in 1933.

After covering 84,000 kilometers spanning five continents for nine years, they co-authored two books: Cycling through the Afghan wildlands Y Across the roads of the world.

In the first, they wrote: "In Afghanistan, we were abandoned in the desert for three successive days and nights without food or water …"

Sztavjanik and Davar return to Mumbai.
Sztavjanik and Davar in Mumbai.
Sztavjanik with Davar's family in Mumbai.

Brand ambassadors

For these cyclists, the expeditions were not about challenging their physical and mental capacity, but about presenting India to the world.

"They were as brand ambassadors," said Babani, who showed his research at an exhibition at Ravindra Bhavan in Margao, Goa, in December.

In the exhibition, titled Our saddles, our butts, their worldBabani showed a cycle, part of which was manufactured at the Sen-Raleigh bicycle factory near Asansol in West Bengal. Opened in 1950, it was one of the first bicycle manufacturing units in India.

Before that, bicycles had to be imported, so only the rich, including Hakim and company, could afford them.

Babani plans to write a book about the trips of the Parsi men and the history behind the cycling culture of India. Noble Traffic history: rise, fall and rise of humble bicycles, the book will come out this year.

When asked what surprised him most about the intrepid cyclists, Babani said it was his "genuine innocence": "That was what moved me and inspired me to research his travels and write."

The photographic exhibition Our saddles, our butts, your world in Goa.
This bicycle was manufactured at Sen-Raleigh Industry in Asansol, West Bengal in the mid-1950s.

Header image: Keki Kharas, Rustam Ghandhi and Rutton Shroff in New York, USA UU. The | Courtesy: Anoop Babani

This piece originally appeared on and has been reproduced with permission.



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