Youth cycles 14,000 km in 9 months to reach parents' homeland

Nabil Islam at the entrance of Bangladesh in Sylhet.

He never lived in this country. Nor did he have any deep connection with the country in that sense. Yet, he felt excited for the last few hours before crossing the border.

He even had a photo taken of him with his bicycle standing in front of the signboard that reads Welcome to Bangladesh. Even through the exhaustion of cycling such a long way, he has a broad smile on his face in that photo.

The young man had that same smile while talking about his venture. He said, “While I was approaching the border I had this feeling that this country is something special for me. I have family living here.”

This is Nabil Islam (30). He lived in France all his life. He decided to make his dream reality. With the dream of travelling the world on a bicycle, he saved up money for five years. And then quit his engineering job and headed out with his bicycle.

He has already travelled to more than a dozen countries in Europe and Asia. After nine and a half months of starting his journey, he’s now in Bangladesh, the homeland of his parents. He had to take flights twice on his way to travel so many countries.

Nabil, while travelling in Italy.

In fact, he also had to travel on waterways a several times. However, he has already travelled 14,000 kilometres on his bicycle. He entered Bangladesh through Sylhet from India’s Dauki border on last 29 November.

And, he reached his paternal aunt’s house in Dhaka on 2 December. Surrounded by his relatives Nabil Islam spoke to this correspondent at that house the next day on Sunday.

After he reached Bangladesh, Nabil checked in a hotel in Sylhet first. Since he’s a vegetarian, he ate rice, vegetables and lentils there. During his two-day stay in Sylhet, he went to buy food and asked for ‘no fish, no meat’ meal in broken Bangla.

He decided to make his dream reality. With the dream of travelling the world on a bicycle, he saved up money for five years. And then quit his engineering job and headed out with his bicycle.

Bengali food items such as dalpuri, alupuri, pitha, porota, omlete and fried okra are on the list of his favorite food. He learnt to speak Bangla from his parents but it’s broken.

His father Shariful Islam is a physician (nephrologist). He fought in the liberation war when he was a student at the Notre Dame College. Then he went onto study in Dhaka Medical College after the liberation.

He moved to France with a scholarship of the French government in 1980 and settled there afterwards. The couple Shariful Islam and Fouzia Islam has two sons and a daughter. Nabil Islam is the youngest among them.

Nabil on his 29th birthday with his parents and siblings.

As an electronic diploma engineer, Nabil has worked with French Railways for five years. This is the third time he came to visit Bangladesh, but it’s his first time visiting on a cycle.

Coincidentally, he’s visiting Bangladesh in December this time. From his freedom fighter father he has listened to the stories innumerous times of how this country became independent from Pakistan through the war.

A little to prevent pollution

Nabil Islam lives in French city of Grenoble and he moves around the city on his bicycle. In his words, this is a little contribution on his part to prevent environment pollution.

The photo he took in front of his home on 13 February this year before starting his journey, showed him in a yellow jacket and cap while the cycle and the bags of different shape hanging from the cycle still had their bright colours on.

The cycle and the bags are in terrible condition now after the long journey of nine and a half months. Sometimes, he claimed thousands of feet from the sea-level while sometimes he spent his days and nights drenched in rain, sometimes under the blazing sun or sometimes in freezing cold weather.

He slept mostly in tents or in sleeping bags. He fell sick several times in these few months and suffered from stomach ailments. While there were sufferings, he gathered memorable experiences also.

Nabil (in yellow jacket) with several other travelers in India's Ladakh.

Nabil said sometimes he would find cycling groups along the way and get tagged with them. Some of them invited him to their homes for dinner while sometimes they stayed, cooked and ate together setting up a camp somewhere.

While in Nepal, he met a German cyclist who’s still accompanying him in Bangladesh.

Decided on visiting Bangladesh three months ago

When asked if he had planned on visiting Bangladesh right in the beginning, Nabil said he was looking at the map to decide upon his next destination sitting in Kazakhstan back in August.

He suddenly had the idea of visiting Bangladesh at that time. After he came to Bangladesh, he found this country safe for cycling.

Nabil said he has travelled to different European countries on cycle before. But this is the longest tour he has been on. First he went to Italy, and took a boat Ancona city there to Split city in Croatia.

Then he travelled to Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia on cycle. Since the land border between Armenia and Azerbaijan was closed, he took a flight from Armenia to reach his next destination.

His cycle traveled in the baggage compartment of the airplane. It was June back then and after getting off the airplane in Kazakhstan, he started his journey on the cycle again.

Nabil traveled all over Tajikistan in his bicycle.

Cycling through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan he had reached the border of Kyrgyztan but the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyztan was closed due to conflict at that time.

Nabil returned back from Tajikistan to Kazakhstan in August. And it was then he decided to visit Bangladesh. When he told his parents, they became excited with happiness.

It was them who informed their relatives living in Bangladesh that Nabil would be arriving any day in the country. After that he connected with his relatives living in the country on the messaging app WhatsApp.

Nabil said that he reached Indian capital Delhi in a flight from Kazakhstan. Then he took a bus with his cycle from there to Jammu and Kashmir. From there he cycled to Ladakh and then Uttarakhand, from Uttarakhand he went to the foothill of the Himalayans Mountains in Nepal.

He slept mostly in tents or in sleeping bags. He fell sick several times in these few months and suffered from digestive problems. While there were sufferings, he gathered memorable experiences also.

He experienced hill climbing there and did trekking on the Annapurna trail. Then he again climbed onto his cycle and travelled from Kathmandu to Bihar in India via Birgunj.

From Bihar he took a bus to Siliguri and then cycled through Darjeeling to reach Dhubri in the state of Assam where he crossed the Brahmaputra River on a boat. Later, he traveled to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state and then he started moving towards Bangladesh.

Nabil along with his German friend is enjoying his time with his family members in Bangladesh.

Backpack filled with memories

Nabil visited Bangladesh for the last time as a teenager back in 2006. He spotted a lot of changes here that took place in the last 17 years.

He said, "Majority of the roads are wide and smooth. The number of skyscrapers has gone up. Everyone has a cellphone in their hands and the network’s also strong."

"Now, there are engines in rickshaws also (easybike). Many of his cousins are married and have kids while those he had seen as children last time are all grown up now," he added.

Nabil cousin Deepu Mahmud said his uncle (Nabil’s father) also loved travelling different countries. Since he arrived in the country, Nabil has liked everything starting from the company of his family members and food to the surroundings. Seeing different pictures of Dhaka, Nabil has wished to visit Ahsan Manzil also, Deepu added.

Nabil said that his journey isn’t over yet. He likes it here so much with his family members that he doesn’t wish to travel outside of Dhaka. He just wants to visit different relatives here.

Next, Nabil will be flying from Bangladesh to Bangkok in Thailand on 12 December. Then he will travel several countries including Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia on his cycle.

When asked what stories he would tell his parents about Bangladesh, he said he still doesn’t know when he will be back in France again. He’s not sure when he will be seeing his parents face to face next.

But he has collected many sweet memories from this country and that has created a desire in him about of visiting this country again, he said.

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