No hotels, no cars, no plans—how this Mumbai lawyer has covered 4,600km across India
Phiroze Palkhivala is cycling around the country, sleeping under the stars, bathing in rivers and savouring food at local’s homes
“I just love cycling. Second, I love travelling. And when you put the two together, it’s magic,” says Phiroze Palkhivala, the Mumbai-based lawyer who has been travelling solo across India on a bicycle since the beginning of this year. The 55-year-old’s main aim was to explore Indian culture in a sustainable way. His only rules are—no hotels, no vehicles and no itineraries.
Phiroze in Kutch, Gujarat
How he does it
Palkhivala tries to keep a general plan in mind after doing some basic research online. Then, he invariably meets a local who recommends another site, and the plan changes. So, he usually goes with the flow.
The distance he covers per day depends largely on his sleep and on the weather. “The maximum I’ve covered in a day is around 116km on this trip..”.
The sky morphs into his ceiling at night, as he sleeps out under the stars, since he is not big on hotels. “Everything becomes very expensive,” he explains. “Besides that, I just naturally love to be outside. I love to camp. Even if I am in an ashram, I request them to let me sleep outside. I don’t even use the tent now. I’m lugging it around just in case I’m in a place where it’s raining. Ultimately, the simpler you make everything, the more beautiful everything becomes.”
Collecting experiences across incredible India
Since the start of his trip in January 2021, Palkhivala has bicycled extensively across Maharashtra and Gujarat. From visiting Asia’s largest ship-breaking yard in Alang, Gujarat, to praying at the Nishkalank Mahadev Temple in Bhavnagar (which remains submerged during high tides and emerges during low tides), Palkhivala’s atypical experiences refuse to remain confined to the pages of an itinerary.
Whilst on the road, no two days are alike for him. From cycling through a casuarina forest in Nargol to wheeling past coconut palms down the streets of Chorwad in Gujarat, Palkhivala was often caught off-guard. His experiences excelled beyond just sight-seeing.
A steep trek to the Bahrot Caves in Dahanu, Maharashtra, made by the Parsis of yore took Palkhivala back to his cultural roots. Visiting the Sri Ram Temple in Bagdana, Gujarat (which, according to the locals, can withstand an earthquake of up to 10 on the Richter Scale), and watching a man spin cotton into rope within minutes using a charkha, left him marvelling at Indian skill and craftsmanship.
A ‘Mini Kumbh Mela’ in Junagadh gave him a chance to interact with sadhus. A month later, he found himself cutting vegetables with strangers to prepare for a feast at Navnath Dhuno in Girnar. Unfortunately, a few of his valuable items were stolen here.
So, what’s in his bag?
Palkhivala’s baggage looks slightly different from your usual suitcase or haversack. His essentials include a few clothes, a stove, daily provisions to cook, a GoPro camera, an emergency kit and a water bottle. “I carry them in panniers, which are specially made to attach to a bicycle. I have a rack behind the seat and one in the front which fits on the front fork. So, there are three bags on the rear rack, and two bags which are attached to the sides of the front rack. There’s also one small bag which attaches to the handlebar. Here, I keep things that I may suddenly need on the road. I just have to open it and it’s right there.”
His main bags are also sealed and waterproof, in case of an occasional downpour. “Each time I have to open the bag, I need to release three clips and then the bags have to be rolled open, which takes a little time,” he explains.
Where does he bathe?
From bathing in a 100-year old hot spring in Bhavnagar to a cold dip in the Narmada River en route to Vadodara, Palkhivala’s anecdotes on bathing are equally interesting. However, the general lack of hygiene on the road rankles. “I learned to bathe out of buckets that aren’t clean by cleaning them. Sometimes even water from a tank wasn’t hygienic. Buffaloes would drink water from the same tanks. But you just learn to adjust; there’s no other alternative.”
Palkhivala strongly advocates responsible and sustainable travel, which is one of the main reasons he opts to pedal his way through countries. For him, the humble two-wheeler not only fulfils the job, but excels in doing so. “I would never have experienced the things I have if I travelled conventionally.” Palkhivala, who has previously pedalled through Taiwan, Iran, Turkey and Georgia, strongly believes that the bicycle is a vantage point from which any place can be discovered. The views remain unfiltered and the traveller’s pace subjective. “When you are on a bicycle, you get to experience every bit of the road, the people, the culture and the environment. You’re travelling slowly and noiselessly. You’re not polluting the planet and you become much more observant of your surroundings. In fact, people also become much more observant of you.”
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