Putin hails ‘consolidation’ of Russia behind assault on Ukraine

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - NEW DELHI: Raj Phanden reached Saudi Arabia on his around-the-world bicycle trip 10 days ago and planned just a brief stay, but the hospitality he was met with made him extend his visit to explore the Kingdom.

An Ayurvedic doctor by profession, Phanden, 45, started his journey around the world in September 2016.

He wanted to find a new purpose in his life after losing both his parents that year and still mourning his wife who passed away a few years earlier.

He connected the bicycle journey with efforts to raise environmental awareness. He has already covered over 100,000 km and, according to his calculations, visited 102 countries in the past seven years.

“From my childhood, I have been conscious of the environment because I come from a family of farmers. When I became a doctor, I used to meet young patients suffering from asthma and other lung-related diseases caused by bad air and pollution,” Phanden told Arab News over the phone from Riyadh.

“The world tour has been liberating for me and helped me come out with my emotional trauma and identify myself with a larger goal to serve humanity.”

He financed the first months of his trip by selling off a piece of his ancestral land in Haryana state. Now, he runs the Cycle Baba channel on YouTube, which has over 670,000 subscribers and generates enough income for him to sustain the journey.

In this photo shared on social media on Dec. 14, 2023, Raj Phanden shows his bicycle next to a road sign on a highway in Saudi Arabia. (Raj Phanden)

Phanden reached Saudi Arabia from Qatar on Saturday, as part of the Gulf leg of his voyage.

“Before I entered Saudi Arabia, I was not sure what kind of reception I would receive, but in three days of my stay so far, I have been overwhelmed by the kind gestures coming from the locals,” he said, referring to the many occasions when people who saw him opening his tent or stopping to rest would offer him their homes to stay or would make sure he had enough food and water to continue his journey.

“The Kingdom is an eye opener for me, and the hospitality here has made me revise my plan and I want to stay here longer before I move to another destination … Saudi Arabia is one of the best places I have traveled so far. It’s a new experience and far exceeds my expectations. People are so nice.”

In the last seven years, Phanden has returned to India only twice.

The first time was in 2020, when COVID-19 lockdowns brought all travel to a halt, and the second time was last year, when he needed to undergo surgery and wanted it to be in his home country.

His next destinations after the Gulf region will be the North Pole and the South Pole, after which he plans to rest and write down his experiences so far.

“I will take a break for a few months in Europe and finish my book before moving to the next destination,” he said.

With 102 countries covered, more than half of Phanden’s journey is already behind him.

“I don’t know when I am going to return home, perhaps in 2030,” he said.

“I want to cover all the countries before returning to India.”

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