An Indian activist on a mission to bike around the world on a cycle has reached Aotearoa New Zealand on his path to covering 191 countries in the world in a span of sixteen years (2004-2020)
Somen Debnath, a volunteer and activist for HIV/AIDS prevention, belongs to a small remote village of West Bengal, India, and has already pedalled 169,200 km covering 157 countries before reaching NZ last week.
A graduate in Zoology from the Calcutta University and Visharad (Masters) in Fine Arts from the Sarbabharatiya University in India, Somen’s journey started into activism while he was studying in a school where he campaigned in different parts of the state creating awareness about sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS.
Somen with Hon Consul of India in Auckland Bhav Dhillon
“When I was 14, I read a story on newspaper about a man who died of HIV/AIDS, and it intrigued me what could be deadlier than cancer, and then I started learning more about it,” cyclist Somen Debnath told The Indian Weekender.
While studying more about it, I got specialised training under West Bengal State AIDS Prevention & Control Society and shortly started volunteering work in schools and villages.
Somen’s volunteering at remote parts of India helped him to create a vision of reaching out to bigger audience not just in India but internationally and what better than to choose to cycle across the globe.
By the age of 19, Somen had become an activist who was moved by the plight of people suffering from the dreaded disease that could largely be warded off by the power of knowledge.
It was this desire to spread awareness and knowledge and thereby eradicate the ignorance that breeds HIV & AIDS disease that propelled him to become a globetrotter cyclist activist.
Somen considers two individuals as inspirations behind his mission to explore the world and spread the word about Indian culture and the awareness about HIV.
“Bimal Mukherjee, the first Indian globetrotter who travelled the world on his bicycle between 1926 and 1937 and his book, was published in 1998. I was impressed to inspire by his struggles and bravery of conquering the globe on two wheels that pushed me towards my mission.
“And Swami Vivekananda, who is my second inspiration. I read his book ‘Aamar Bharat Amar Bharat’ (My India, Eternal India) that inspired me to start my journey in India and it also taught me that I would find India in every country of the world- the diaspora living there is an embodiment of real India away from India,” Somen added.
Starting from a remote village in Sundarban mangrove forest in the province of West Bengal, Somen toured the whole of India in two and a half years. Somen then set his footprint outside India covering South East and Central Asia between 2006 and 2009 covering 24 countries.
Between 2009 and 2012, he explored Europe, covering 45 countries travelling far north to Greenland. He covered 52 African countries and ten in the Middle East between 2012-2015 and then to 13 countries in South America touching the South Pole to Antarctica between 2016 and 2017. From there, Somen covered eight countries in Central America and eight Caribbean nations, 35 States in the USA all the way to Canada and Alaska. From Far north city in Alaska, Barro, Somen moved to Russia, Siberia, Japan, Mongolia, South Korea and then dropping to New Zealand.
Somen had mixed experiences on the far away roads away in distant lands, mostly positive though according to his admissions, but includes days of uncertainties at times which he considers as a way of learning and moving forward.
“I lost three bicycles in this tour, one each in Bulgaria, Poland and Germany- but I have been fortunate to somehow manage to meet friendly people all along and get their support to endure through all kinds of challenges.
“So far I have used a total of eight cycles where I carry all my gear, of which three were stolen, and the rest four donated to different museums,” Somen added.
Each of Somen’s bike had roughly covered an average of 25,000 to 30,000 km and his last bike was recently donated and displayed at a museum in Texas, USA.
“I donated my last bike to the museum in the USA and the Indian diaspora there was kind enough to arrange a new one for my onward journey,” he said.
Somen with Hon Consul of India in Auckland Bhav Dhillon
Somen through his cycling to different countries and regions has given several inspiring speeches and lectures on both HIV/AIDS prevention and the richness of the Indian culture at various organisations and institutes across the globe.
“I have had tough days, but I never gave up, which is what I learned at the very beginning of my journey. I want to spread positivity to the world, share the love and culture that I come from and meet every possible person in my journey- and if I can bring positive change in even one individual, I will consider my journey successful,” Somen added.
Somen will be travelling 1700 km covering North and South Island aiming to complete in the next two months where he seeks to meet the local people and the Indian community on his way, learn about New Zealand and share the values he brings from his Indian heritage.
“If you see me on the street, in your city, or your suburb, feel free to come and say hi- I would be more than happy to meet you and have a chat with a friendly face,” Somen appeals to the readers of The Indian Weekender.
Somen Debnath with SSSNZ officials and community members at Takanini Gurudwara
The Supreme Sikh Society of NZ in South Auckland supported Somen with $1000 towards his journey and cause in New Zealand. Somen was received with a warm welcome at the Takanini Gurudwara where he met the SSSNZ officials and attended a kirtan session at the Gurudwara earlier this week.
"We are more than glad to help the young man towards his endeavours in New Zealand and his mission to spread the values of Indian culture and awareness in the community," Daljit Singh from SSSNZ said.
Somen Debnath with Daljit Singh at Takanini Gurudwara
Somen aims to cover 34 more countries after New Zealand by December 2020 (Australia, South East Asia) completing his globetrotting on two wheels to return to India and start a ‘Global Village’ in a particular region in North India, thereby, increasing tourist footfall of that place.