Just like the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the 13,000 kilometre De Paix Yatra (the peace journey) began with a random conversation.
Based on the idea of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or the ‘world is one family’, the over 13,000 kilometer journey, the De Paix Yatra, stemmed from a random conversation in the fall of 2011. At the time, former journalist, Nitesh was on a vacation in Sandakphu, West Bengal. A group of his friends were partaking in a 110 mile Himalayan race. Over a cup of tea with friends, Priya and Ram, Nitesh recalls saying “I should also do something adventurous and go to Paris from Mumbai on a motorbike”. And from that very moment, there was just no looking back.
Upon his return to Mumbai, Nitesh gave the idea some serious thought and came about the concept of ‘De Paix Yatra’. “There was a small write up in a newspaper about the trip that followed,” says Nitesh. Reading about the project in The Ahmedabad Mirror, Parth a friend and fellow social activist, expressed to Nitesh, his desire to join the journey. “I said yes, as like me, Parth had also been working on youth initiatives for the past six years,” says Nitesh.
Biking through India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, onwards to Greece, Italy, France and finally to the UK, with the ‘De Paix Yatra’, the riders are on a mission to unite eight nations with an ideology of peace, non-violence and kindness.
“The 65-day journey is an initiative to get connected with doers, change-makers and peace-makers. The riders hope to bring impact and help youth across boundaries, to be the change they wish to see,” explains the duo, for whom this will be their first trip outside India
“Earlier, we had plotted our journey from Mumbai to Paris,” says Nitesh. Hence, embodying its very essence, the name, part French and part Hindi was coined by Parth. ‘De paix’ means peace in French and ‘yatra’ means journey in Hindi. However now, the route has been extended further to London. The journey “covers India, Pakistan and England together. All three nations have tremendous history and heritage,” explains Parth. “The choice of route was simple, we wanted to cover specific nations and to travel and meet people of diversified cultures,” he adds.
Which country on the route, are the riders most looking forward to? ”Undoubtedly, Pakistan” says Parth. The first destination on the duo’s eight-nation route, the team is excited about their maiden visit across the border. “Pakistan as a nation has a special space in our hearts,” says Parth. Following their arrival in Lahore, the De Paix Yatra riders will proceed onwards to Multan, Bahawalpur, Sukkur, Quetta and Dalbadin before heading to Iran.
“We have been raised in the decade when relations between the two nations were very tense. However, times are now changing and this yatra is our effort to bridge the gap,” says Nitesh. “We feel blessed to be getting maximum support from Pakistan,” adds Parth. During their visit, the riders look forward to spending time with the youth of Pakistan, who they feel “will be the GenX of change.”
Having connected with a diverse cross-section of Pakistanis via social media and micro-blogging websites, the riders have a busy itinerary planned for their almost 3-day stay across the border. While, ex-Junoon rocker, Ali Azmat is hosting a dinner for the team following their arrival, Khudi, a social movement that aspires to actively counter the spread of extremist ideology is also organising a youth event for the riders in Lahore. Adil Ahmed Dayo, Divisional President of the Insaf Students Federation, Sindh will also be hosting the team in Sukkur. Partnering with De Paix Yatra, Muhammad Ulusyar Khan and his colleagues have organized ‘MUNiB 0’12’ in Quetta; Balochistan’s first ever Model United Nations event.
Previously scheduled to start on March 12, the Yatra now delayed by a month commences in mid-May. Tentatively scheduled to conclude in July, De Paix Yatra will take the riders through 54 cities, including seven capitals of the eight countries they are visiting.
With political and economic crises impacting Europe, Pakistan and Iran, one of the biggest challenges encountered by the duo during the planning process, has been acquiring special road visas. “We have also attempted to ensure we do not encounter any financial problems, if anything goes wrong during our journey,” explains the duo. Routes have been mapped so we can cross countries safely,” says Nitesh.
“We are looking forward to this Yatra. As our travel’s experience centric and not time bound, we’ll be connecting to our soul by losing ourselves for a better cause,” explains Parth. “To balance out the carbon footprint of our vehicles, we will plant around 1,000 trees between on route from Mumbai to London,” adds Nitesh. Partnering with De Paix Yatra is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), to support whose cause the riders will be only eating vegetarian food during the journey.
And does the duo have any back up plans in the event of the journey not going as planned? “Traveling will be difficult but change and revolution do not have back up plans,” Parth was quick to respond. “To bring about change, one has only two options: do or die. As this is not a journey for fun, we see this Yatra, as a small endeavour for a better tomorrow,” he added.
Looking ahead, a book and a short film, documenting the journey and the experience are planned. “We are installing cameras on our motorbikes and Mumbai-based actress/model Debi Dutta, also part of the team, will conduct interviews,” says Nitesh. The De Paix Yatra travel diaries will be showcased at a later time.
Debi has also written and composed an anthem for De Paix Yatra of which there are four versions. One voiced by Debi herself while the others by Ramona Arena, Aditi Singh Sharma and Shefali Alvarez.
The fourth and the most recent addition to the team is Ahmedabad based, Lamiya Patel, a geologist by profession and an environmentalist and rights activist by passion. Lamiya, the designated manager for the journey “will act as Wikipedia for our trip,” explains Nitesh.
The initiative has garnered much support, both at home and abroad. The likes of CM Omar Abdullah, parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, director Imtiaz Ali and music director Vishal Dadlani have endorsed the project. Former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and actor/musician Ali Zafar have also extended support.
With clutch plates greased and engines roaring to go, the riders are busy gearing up for the journey, as the date to flag off the Yatra nears. Anticipation of the unexpected, coupled with the excitement of what promises to be a once in a lifetime journey, the riders are all set ‘connect one nation with another’.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine. April 29th, 2012.