Determined to raise HIV awareness, Indian rides bike across 86 countries

Indian national Somen Debnath, 30, started his mission to tour the Globe in May 27, 2004 from a remote village in India called Basanti. At that time,  he was 20 years old. He has so far traversed 85 countries and Rwanda is his 86th stop. All together, he has ridden his bicycle for a total of 102,050 kilometres.
Somen Debnath has embarked on a 200,000km bicycle ride aimed at rising awareness against HIV/Aids. Inset, the HIV/Aids activist crosses the Gatuna border.  Clement  Uwiringiyimana.
Somen Debnath has embarked on a 200,000km bicycle ride aimed at rising awareness against HIV/Aids. Inset, the HIV/Aids activist crosses the Gatuna border. Clement Uwiringiyimana.

Indian national Somen Debnath, 30, started his mission to tour the Globe in May 27, 2004 from a remote village in India called Basanti. At that time,  he was 20 years old.

He has so far traversed 85 countries and Rwanda is his 86th stop. All together, he has ridden his bicycle for a total of 102,050 kilometres.

Debnath is on a world tour aimed at increasing awareness about  HIV/Aids. He is emphasising the notion; ‘Prevention is better than cure.’

He reached Rwanda through Gatuna from Uganda on April 14 and will leave the country  on May 2.The New Times Clement Uwiringiyimana caught up with Debnath and below are excerpts

When did you start your journey?

I started my journey on May 27, 2004 and traversed 28 states of India in two years. Between 2006 and 2009, I traversed 24 countries of Asia before heading to Europe in 2009 where I travelled 42 countries in three years, that is between 2009 to 2012.

 Between 2012 and 2015, I set out to cover Africa and the Middle East. I began with the latter and I have now embarked on the African journey, and Rwanda is the ninth country I am covering in Africa.

What motivated you to start this tour?

When I was 14 years old, I read in a newspaper about a man who had died of HIV/Aids. I knew this man personally and felt hurt. I, therefore, decided to  learn more about the disease.

I later got to know that HIV/Aids is ‘deadlier’ than cancer. I decided to convey this message to the whole world. That was my first motivation. I spent two years learning about HIV/Aids.  

What are the challenges you have experienced in your journey?

I have met various people and been to many countries. It is really a wonderful experience.

But there are cases when I have been stopped by people who misunderstood me. I was, for example, held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan for 24 days.

 I was robbed a couple of times  and beaten eight times by people who couldn’t understand my cause. I rode through dense forests and braved wild animals including lions, elephants and pythons.

Are there any lessons you have so far drawn from your journey?

I am beginning to understand that countries have different cultures, traditions and lifestyles. I also thinking about  building a ‘Global Village’ for the world where all the 191 countries’ people will be represented. I will surely build this village and I plan to do this between 2020 and 2025.                                                   

I am choosing two people from each country who will be members of this village.

This village will represent the  over 20 million people I will have met in my 16 years of travel. I want these people to have a village in India where they will not look at themselves basing on race, caste, tribe, religion or any other sectarian considerations. 

How did you start this tour? Isn’t it a grandoise undertaking?

Yes, it is and it could actually be dangerous but that is the path I chose and it is my life. But there are a number of people out there who are supportive and have kept me going. In every country I go to, I find a new home, a new people. I think the whole world   is a university, and the people, my teacher.

You told me how you were robbed and caged by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This means you have scores of horrible moments.  Do you have one specific incident that is always at the back of your mind?

When I was in the North East of India, I stayed in a forest for four days. I was travelling and people warned me against sleeping on the ground at night. They said I would be devoured by wolves and advised me to climb trees at night to avoid the marauding animals. I heed to the advise and when night set in, I climbed a tree. On the first day,  no incident happened but on the second day, hell broke loose. As I was up the tree, I saw a leopard and cheetahs playing with my bicycle that I had left on the ground together with my luggage. It was horrible, but only made me stronger. In the morning when I climbed down, the animals had gone so I took my bicycle and left.

You have been in Rwanda since April 14. How do you find the country?

Rwanda is a very beautiful country. It can only be compared to countries in Europe. This country is clean, the people are hospitable and the environment is friendly. It is a fully domesticated country. Everywhere I have passed, people have welcomed me with smiles beaming on their faces and asked me to share food with them. I think Rwandans are a unique people.

What activities have you carried out in Rwanda?

When I was crossing the Gatuna border, I visited a small village there and interacted with people. On reaching Kigali, I visited  Green Hills Academy and I am now hoping to visit the University of Rwanda and other four or five leading schools in the country. I want to visit these schools and share my message. After I am done with Rwanda, I will head to Burundi.

How do you find the journey ahead?

I am heading to Burundi, Tanzania, then to Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, South Africa and finalise my journey in Africa with Senegal. I will then board a plane to Brazil because I cannot paddle there. 

Don’t you ever get sick or tired?

When I am tired, I take a rest and continue the journey later. When I am sick, I rest for three or four days and then continue the journey.

Do you ever go to hospital?

No, I have never contracted  serious illments.

Who sponsors you?

I thank the Indian community in Rwanda that is catering for my accommodation here. But normally, companies and organisations that read stories about me in newspapers and other publications help out. 

 In the last 85 countries I have been to, I have met 20 presidents, 49 prime ministers and 172 ministers and on several occasions met with High Commissioners of India in these countries. Hopefully, I will meet the Prime Minister of Rwanda and the President.

My message is that ‘prevention is better than cure’.  I also promote the Indian culture in public speaking when I get the opportunity.

Who is Somen Debnath? 

Somen Debnath got his bachelors’ degree in zoology and later he got an equivalent of a masters degree in Fine Arts in painting. His aim is to break the world record of the longest global tour. 

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