Everyone has dreams; few have the courage to follow them. But when you do, you achieve the impossible. A 44-year-old rickshaw-puller from from South Garia in Kolkata is a living proof of that. He pedalled for two months and covered 3,000 kilometres on an arduous journey to reach the distant Ladakh valley, and thus become the first person to achieve the feat.
After riding his rickshaw for 68 days through Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir (including Srinagar and Kargil), 44-year-old Satyen Das crossed the famous Khardung La pass in Ladakh on August 17. He is eyeing an entry into the Guinness World Records for plying a rickshaw at an altitude of above 5,000 metres (Khardung La pass is located at an altitude of 5,602 metres or 18,380 feet). Since the entire feat was recorded by a documentary film-maker from Kolkata who had accompanied him, Das is confident of seeing his name in the Guinness Book soon. The film-maker was also armed with maps to help the rickshaw-borne adventurer pick his way through.
His trip was financed by the Naktala Agrani Club in south Kolkata. According to the club secretary, Patho Dey, they were very impressed by Satyen Das’ passion and determination to undertake such a difficult and unusual expedition, and hence decided to pitch in with the financial assistance. They had estimated that the trip would cost around Rs 80,000, which they raised from amongst club members.
Das enthusiastically said that after he crossed Pathankot in Jammu and Kashmir, locals told him that they had never seen a rickshaw in their village. Proud moments during his journey were when locals and travellers stopped to click selfies with him and his rickshaw.
Das’ journey was meant to promote the rickshaw as a means of eco-friendly transport as well as to spread the message of world peace.
The best and the most challenging part of his journey was passing through an elevation of 17,582 feet at Khardung La pass, which offers stunning views of the magnificent Himalayas.
As the road sloped upward, Das had to get down from the rickshaw and pull it with his hands through the rough mountainous terrain. Das said that it was very tiring and it took lot of time, but the view of the natural beauty that he got made him forget all that, and enjoy every moment.
This is not the first time Das undertook such a journey. Back in 2008, he had gone all the way to Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh on a rickshaw, that too with his wife and daughter.
Das had many adventurous tales to recount on encountering wildlife during his trip, including how he escaped a herd of wild elephants in Jhilmil forest near Haridwar and how he was petrified after seeing an Asian black bear standing near him while he was resting at night in his sleeping bag near Sonmarg. Another scary moment was when he came face to face with the elusive snow leopard in Leh. Fortunately none of the animals attacked him.
Das refurbished his rickshaw with an enhanced braking system (additional brakes), new tyres and a new body made of light steel. Marshalling his personal savings and the generous donations from the local Naktala Agrani Club, he packed his luggage under the passenger's seat and set off from his house. Throughout his journey, he pedalled to cover around 40-50 kilometres every day and the night halts were at religious places like a temple or a gurudwara where he was able to stay safe. There were also times when he could not find any shelter and had to sleep under the open sky.
Das said the unique road trip was also a great learning experience as he got to understand the culture and diversity of India by criss-crossing different states, cities, towns and villages.
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