Tracing the journey of seven men who travelled the globe on a bicycle

Updated: May 05, 2019, 08:06 IST | Abhishek Mande Bhot

A cyclist couple has curated the stories of seven Mumbai-born Parsi men, who travelled the world on bicycles over a 100 years ago

Tracing the journey of seven men who travelled the globe on a bicycle
Keki Kharas, Rustam Ghandhi and Rutton Shroff in New York, USA. Pics Courtesy/Anoop Babani

There's something incredible about the age in which we live. We cross continents in hours, store roomfuls of information on a tiny chip, send messages to the other end of the globe in under a millisecond. We've cured diseases; conquered the poles; surmounted the peaks; we're merely a decade away from putting a human being on Mars and we've explored every inch of our planet.

It's safe to say the Age of Exploration is behind us; you can no longer just wake up one morning, pull out your bicycle and return home discovering something that doesn't already exist somewhere on the Internet. Which is probably what makes the story of seven men who cycled around the world some hundred years ago in equal parts romantic and unbelievable. And their journeys, largely forgotten, are the answer to the modern-day dilemma - if it isn't on Instagram, did it even happen?

Framroze Davar and Gustav Sztavjanik photographed in Peru
Framroze Davar and Gustav Sztavjanik photographed in Peru

Thankfully, Anoop Babani and Savia Viegas, a former college professor, have curated an exhibition that chronicles the three separate journeys of the seven men. Babani, a retired journalist and now an avid cyclist was grounded following an accident when he came across a stray article on the Internet about a group of six Parsi men who set out to cycle around the world in 1923.

Adi Hakim, Jal Bapasola, Rustom Bhumgara, Gustad Hathiram, Keki Pochkhanawala and Nariman Kapadia, all in their 20s and all members of the Bombay Weightlifting Club, were said to have been inspired by the public lecture of a Frenchman who'd walked from Europe to India. Kapadia returned home from Iran while Pochkhanwala and Hathiram wound up their journey in the US where they settled.

Anoop Babani
Pic/Savia Viegar

The remaining three-Hakim, Bhumgara and Bapasola-completed the 70,000 km-long journey, returning home in 1928. They compiled notes from their journals into a book, With Cyclists around the World, that was published with a preface by Jawaharlal Nehru.

It was in this book that Babani found a reference to another cyclist, Framroze Davar, a sports journalist and also a Parsi from Mumbai who'd embarked on a similar expedition in 1924, albeit by himself. "His was the more adventurous one," Babani says. "For the first 5,000 km Davar rode alone arriving in Vienna where an Austrian cyclist Gustav Sztavjanik joined him. By the time the two came to Mumbai in 1931, they'd covered 1,10,000 km. Davar's notes were exhaustive, almost anthropological in nature and formed the basis for three books-Cycling over Roof of the World, Across the Sahara and The Amazon in Reality and Romance."

Inspired by their seniors, three more Parsi men-Keki Kharas, Rustam Ghandhi and Rutton Shroff-mounted their cycles and headed out to see the world. Pedaling through the Afghan Wilds and Across the Highways of the World document the journey they undertook between 1931 and 1942. While the first two journeys were undertaken well after World War I, this batch literally rode into World War II. "All the three books are a fascinating insight into the world as it existed then and Davar's accounts of the tribal culture in the Amazon, Andes and Sahara are mindboggling. But all of them also narrate the horrors of the wars."

It took Babani over 18 months of research and interviews to put together this exhibition and is working on a book profiling the seven men. He's managed to track down descendants of five of the riders who've provided insights and material, but families of two - Rutton Shroff and Keki Kharas - remain untraceable.

Their histories outside of their expeditions are almost impossible to trace because after their epic ride, they all lived fairly unremarkable lives. Someone ended up with the BEST, another one with a motor company and so on, their greatest adventure behind them.

And so, Babani's only hope is that their achievements be recognised-a national honour perhaps or a museum. For now, he'd settle for an exhibition dedicated to the men who set out to do the unthinkable with little but 'hope in their hearts and wings on their heels'.

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