UTPAL TAMULY: THE ‘TOOFANI’
Why do some people do what they do that is off the beaten track? Somewhat unthinkable. What many call crazy! Everyone has their own reasons. 31 year old Utpal Tamuly had his own reasons for his audacious adventure of riding a bicycle more than 3000Kms from Guwahati, Assam to State of Unity, Gujarat. First to utilise the lock down days with something daring, second to bring people’s attention towards his home region North-East India and finally and most important to spread awareness on causes like stopping rape and gender discrimination, saving the one horn rhino in Kaziranga national park in Assam and education for all.
A native of Guwahati, Utpal is a sports enthusiast and was also a junior level national volleyball player. Growing up he aspired to serve his country by joining the army but his dreams dashed due to a minor technicality. He ended up graduating in civil engineering followed with a job in a construction company.
Someone who thrives on blood rush, he soon surpassed his limit and realised this wasn’t his cup of tea, what Utpal really wanted to brew in his life was something ’toofani’!
“I have always wanted to do something in adventure, something ‘toofani’.”
THE DEFAULT IN THE SYSTEM OF NORTH-EAST INDIA
Utpal started his company Traventure Buddy in 2016 with the aim of promoting adventure tourism. He also wants to enable travellers to explore the hidden gems of the enchanting North-East India while also busting the myths surrounding the region.
“There is a wrong perception of the North-East regarding naxalism, crime and dark jungles. I want to bring forth the positive side of the region and tourism is the only way to show its real value and know our traditions deeper.”
“There is a default in the system itself in the North-East. It has been neglected since Jawaharlal Nehru in terms of development. India is a fast growing developing nation, so how come even railways are not fully connected in the region except Assam? There is extreme poverty in the villages which are completely disconnected even by road. We are poked fun at for the way we look. We are called Chinese.”
“Just like Kashmir, Rajasthan or Kerala are known for their distinct natural beauty, food, music and art, similarly the states in North-East India should also be promoted and recognised for their beautiful landscapes, folk music, handicrafts, culture and traditions.”
“The North-East region can also be developed as the country’s adventure hub. Here one will find everything one seeks for an extreme adrenaline rush or just to surrender to its beauty.”
“One doesn’t have to go to New Zealand or Norway for adventure sports. Here we have glaciers, jungle trails, wild life, national parks, forest reserves, bird watching, rafting, kayaking, rock climbing to cliff jumping in one region.”
“When I give you a diamond, you can only use it in the form of jewellery but when I give you coal you can give it whatever shape you want. The same can be done with the North-East.”
“Thanks to the growing music scene with festivals like Ziro Music Festival in Arunachal Pradesh, more people are coming and exploring the region.”
After months of sitting idle during the lockdown, Utpal decided to undertake a journey that would give him an experience of a lifetime. And so the idea of bicycling through the East-West corridor started taking shape.
THE GREAT EAST-WEST CORRIDOR JOURNEY!
“I decided not to ride a bike as it will just zip past in high speed besides taking a lot of money in fuel. On a cycle though, I can minutely soak in India’s natural beauty from sunrise to sunset at my own leisurely pace. I would be able to experience every kilometre up close and personal.”
Utpal’s month long preparation included studying maps, gathering information on temples and community halls to spend his nights, dhabas to eat and rest, areas that pass through dense forests and cycling uphill 20Kms daily.
On November 16th, 2020 Utpal took off on a long, slow, exhausting but invigorating ride for the next 34 days putting faith in his year old bicycle.
“There were a few options to reach Statue of Unity from Guwahati which were about 500Kms less but I decided to take the longest route which is the E-W corridor or NH 27 as it was the dream project of our Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It connects Silchar, Assam to Porbandar, Gujarat.”
Utpal covered a total of 7 states in his journey that included Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
“When I went to seek support from a local Guwahati NGO Xohay, they laughed at my ‘pagapanti’ but when they sensed my seriousness, they contacted their partners in other states to help me with transit accommodation.”
“The cycling communities in Kanpur, Lucknow, Shivpuri, Darbhanga and Muzzaffarpur not only rode along with me for a distance when I crossed through their respective cities but some even offered me stay and food.”
Along the way Utpal distributed pamphlets and interacted with people to spread awareness on the causes his ride was associated with. Social media hashtags helped as well.
“Awareness on all these causes is important. I studied the statistics of rape cases in India and ways in which the victims and their families can be supported. One horned rhino which is the pride of India must be saved and finally education must be accessible to all which the foundation of any developed nation.”
Social media also extended a helping hand in letting close ones know of Utpal’s safety and location through regular updates along with motivation and encouragement that poured in from everywhere, even strangers wishing him luck.
Covering 100-125Kms starting early at 6am daily, Utpal saw the colours, languages, attire, food and people change almost every day of his sojourn. Some incidents even uncovered the truth from what stories since ages have conjured up.
“I remember I had put up my tent on Kosi river bank in Bihar. A highway contractor was having food with his engineers at a nearby dhaba when he saw my cycle. They came and sat with me and listened to what I am up to. They paid for all my food and offered help in case I need any. They were complete strangers. So you see, people in UP and Bihar are perceived as notorious for committing crimes but there is nothing like that. ‘Sab bolne ki baatein hain’.”
“There are good and bad people everywhere. If you are good, you will find good people.”
Utpal’s adventure was replete with a myriad moments, some spooky and others serene.
“I was on a highway bypass around 1am, 16Kms to Gorakhpur. I decided to spend the night at an Air Force medical camp 4Kms away. Just 100 meters later, I was passing through a patch of very narrow dense jungle path. It sounded like trees were getting axed somewhere in the distance. God knows what would have happened if someone looted or captured me.“
“It felt eerie and I was scared like never before. It was pitch dark except the moonlight piercing through the tree leaves which rustled and made crackling noise. I played Hunuman Chalisa on my phone and continued riding. It then seemed like hundreds of monkeys were jumping towards me and started following me as if protecting me. Those 4Kms were the most surreal experience ever.”
“In Ram janmbhoomi Ayodhya, I could feel purity in the air. I stayed at the Sarayu river ashram on Jhunki ghat which is believed to be the place where the four sons of Raja Dashrath spent their childhood. The bhajan keertan at the ashram was so divine and peaceful.”
It was finally time to set foot on the destination. For Utpal it was a feeling that cannot be described in words – both at his accomplishment after more than a month of endurance and thrilling experiences and the sight of the world’s highest statue of one of India’s greatest leaders, the Iron Man Sardar Vallabhai Patel.
“When I finally witnessed the statue, I had goosebumps! Wo dekhte hi khatarnaal wala feeling tha.”
“I wanted to end my journey here because Sardar Vallabhai Patel is the perfect symbol of unity who brought together different communities – be it the pandits, the nizams or the dalits. According to him we are all Indians first and then the caste/ religion we belong to. The statue project itself is made using iron donated by farmers from across villages in India. It was a privilege to be there.”
Thanks to support from various places, Utpal’s trip did not cost him a fortune.
“I did not have any funding. I camped at places where I didn’t find accommodation. In the entire trip I spent just about Rs 7,000 from my own pocket and some contribution from a friend and a didi because they understood my motive. My parents sponsored my return flight ticket from Ahmedabad and dismantling of my cycle.”
In all of this, one companion proved to be the most loyal to Utpal. His bicycle.
“I am suddenly in love with my cycle. Till now it was just a regular cycle for me for some neighbourhood riding but now it is something special. It has really been there for me throughout the unforgettable journey.”
“This trip has been a turning point in my life. I have learnt to adjust myself in every situation. I had very less patience. ‘Mujh mein dhairya aa gaya’.”
“There is only one country like India. No matter what perceptions and assumptions we have of other states, I have realised people across India are warm and welcoming. Our country’s culture, tradition, hospitality is like no other.
Utpal runs a travel and adventure company called Traventure Buddy based in Guwahati. He envisions the North-East India as a tourism and adventure hub by enabling travellers to see the region from a different perspective, one which is mesmerising in its natural beauty and which offers everything from adventure sports, music festivals, wild life to even some relaxation time from the city’s hustle bustle. To get a taste of the bewitching North-East India up close and personal, you can follow and get in touch with Traventure Buddy on Facebook and Instagram.