On 1 January, 23-year-old Wani woke up early, packed his bags, and embarked on a journey from Kashmir to Kanyakumari – a mighty task of 3842 kms.
After two years of planning, he flagged off his solo cycling trip from the Tehsil road in north Kashmir’s Sopore, two days before heavy snowfall hit Kashmir.
Wani was already cycling through the Jammu division when Kashmir became snowbound. “It was muddy and cold as it was raining. The traffic was a mess. I was irritated during those [nearly] 300 km,” he said.
The journey became smooth once he reached the Udhampur district. He completed his 3842-km long expedition on the longest national highway in the world, in twenty-seven days — traversing about 220 kilometers daily on average. “Every rider’s dream is to cover the longest route of the country,” he said. “I wanted to cover this route and I did.”
To Kanyakumari and back
Wani cycled through eleven states: Punjab, Haryana, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.
In a few states, communication became hard for him. “I don’t know what language they were talking in. I couldn’t understand,” said Wani.
At the culmination of his journey, he prostrated in gratitude “to God to thank Him”.
Wani said that he encountered people full of warmth all along his journey which kept him motivated. Along the way, he also made new friends. “I told them Kashmir is beautiful. I would love to host them someday,” he said.
In Telangana, Wani’s heart sank when he had to cross a forest that was home to leopards. Looking at the caution board at the opening of the forest — he paused, afraid. In the meanwhile, a tractor moved along and Wani remembered that wild animals tend to stay away from loud noises. He kept pace with the tractor through the forest.
“It was adventurous,” he said. “If I had to give up on the way because of the hardships, I wouldn’t have even started… I was ready.”
What ached Wani’s heart? Staying alone in a hotel room after a day-long journey and finding food — particularly non-vegetarian, as permitted by his faith — to eat alone in an alien land.
Wani craved food cooked by his mother.
He had left home with a few packets of biscuits, chocolates, and a water bottle tied to his bag to keep himself less burdened. He carried only one pair of clothes that he disposed off when they got dirty, buying a change of clothes each time.
A bittersweet journey
Before setting out, Wani had approached the authorities of his college at Government Degree College, Baramulla, and the Youth Services and Sports Council to provide him a professional cycle and to bear the expenses of his expedition — none showed any interest. “My mother sold her gold [jewelry] to buy me a second-hand professional bicycle and bear the trip’s expenses,” he said.
However, his mother’s jewelry didn’t bring enough capital, he invested his own savings too. “My relatives and friends too gave me some money as a token of love,” said Wani, adding that the journey cost him more than ₹1,20,000. “If you have any passion, go for it, regardless of barriers and struggles.”
It took Wani and Sameer Ahmad Dar – who had completed the expedition on his bike in 2018 – two months to draw a route map and make a plan. “I told him about my plan and he shared the challenges of his journey and helped me prepare a project,” said Wani. “I would sometimes hit the target [of 180 kilometers daily] half an hour earlier because of good roads and less traffic,” said Wani.
Wani reached Kanyakumari at 8:30 pm. He shot a video in front of the Swami Vivekananda statue to announce the completion of his journey. “I was completely exhausted but it was important to tell people who supported me and gave me so much love that I finally did it…” said Wani, “I was happy and so were these people.”
Wani’s coach Feroz Ahmad Parray is proud of his student. “He [Wani] started practicing with a normal cycle while everybody else had a racing cycle,” said Parray. “I salute his hard work.”
Parry met Wani when he was in his eighth standard. Wani had participated in his school race at Muslim Education Trust (MET) Sopore where he won the second position paddling a regular bicycle.
Parray sees Wani as a “special boy” who is passionate about cycling. “I haven’t seen that kind of passion in anybody.”
In addition to achieving the feat of cycling the 480 km Srinagar-Leh highway in 22 hours in 2018, Wani has bagged 35 gold, silver and bronze medals at various national, state, and district-level cycling and running competitions. Wani is planning to go for similar expeditions in the future.
Wani returned home on a flight. At the Srinagar airport, he was welcomed with flower garlands by his cousin and friends. Back at home, his mother had prepared a feast for his son while his neighbors and relatives were waiting for him to arrive. “I felt like I was a prince,” he said.
After getting the first glimpse of his son, Wani’s mother’s eyes moistened. She kissed his forehead and hugged him tightly. “You have grown so weak. Come, I will give you food,” she told Wani.