God’s Own Malayalis: Jestin Shaji – Discovering India, One Bicycle Ride At A Time

For most of us, travelling means saving up for a couple of months, pre-planning the trip to the ‘destination’, and finally making it happen. The urge to travel without any inhibitions is never part of the plan because, well, it’s too risky. Jestin Shaji, the young ‘cycho adventurer‘ who hails from the happening town of Thrissur, is going against all odds only to live and experience his travel dreams come alive. This guy, right here, picked up his bag and set out to ride his bike all over India with only the desire to learn from nature and people.

A wise man once said that a lot can happen over a trip. Jestin Shaji has always shared his love for travel. During his backpacking adventures in New Zealand, North India, and Nepal, he came to the realisation that there was more to life than having a 9-5 job, earning a monthly salary, and getting stuck in the vicious cycle of a corporate life. According to him, “[His first trip] gave him a sense of contentment and good cheer.”  He understood that travelling did not always have to involve ‘keeping a budget’, because, at the end of the day, the interactions you have with people and the experiences you share with them hold more value than money.

On his trip back home, he made a decision to go on a 14-day bicycle ride to 14 districts (Kanyakumari to Kasaragod) in Kerala “with no money, fuelled by experiences, emotions, love, and determination” in his brother’s old hybrid. Jestin’s only means of survival was asking for food, water, and sometimes a place to stay. He did it and many people gladly helped him out. Through which, he learnt of their stories, he learnt about himself, and most importantly, he learnt about life. The 14-day trip turned out to be life-changing and by the end of it, he was sure he wanted to explore India by his bike.

By Mid-March, with the sole aim to cycle across India and spread awareness about the harmful use of plastics and wastage of resources, he set out to experience “the terrains, the valleys, the hills, the lush greens, the busy streets, the diverse culture, the bustling cities, the beach haven, the realms of wildlife”. Jestin started out in Calicut and went on to travel in Waynad, Gudalur, Ooty, Mettupalayam, Tirupur, Salem, Tiruvannamalai, Auroville, and Chennai. Now, he’s currently on his way to Bangalore. He has completed 2500 plus kilometres since the start of this year.

We spoke to Jestin Shaji about his story and how he managed to pull-off his unplanned trips without carrying a single penny. And this is what he said.

Why cycling and not backpacking?

Most of the travels I went on in the year 2018 was backpacking. It was a beautiful experience. I love cycling as well. I made couple of friend who were bicycle touring in New Zealand. Wanted to see how that goes. Heaps of people support me and are motivated to see my bicycle travelogues which keeps me going. I am just open to new experiences.

If I were to cycle, which place in Kerala would you suggest I go first and why?

I believe Idukki is the best place to start cycling around in Kerala. There are many viewpoints that could take more than a weeks time to cover it all, for an average cyclist. The climate is cool throughout the year. The hill stations, the greens, the tea estates, the forest, the people, the off tracks – There are lot of reasons to start your ride from Idukki, and if you are new to bicycle touring, you have the best reason to keep touring.

What’s your survival strategy?

I have been sleeping at my friends’ place along the way, have couch surfed to make new friends, and have pitched my tent in a farm, outside a house. I prefer home cooked meals. They are cheap, healthy and you can get to dine like a local. I try not to ride in the afternoons. If it’s too hot, I ride early mornings and evenings when it’s less sunny. I normally hand wash my clothes but if I stay at my friends place, I prefer to wash my clothes using the machine. Currently I charge my gadgets at all the places I stay. I hope to get a dynamo hub on my cycle so that I can start generating electricity on my own.  

What is your aim?

I aim to inspire people to travel responsibly. I want to explore my skills and make a living. I also want to share the message of Veganism.

I am not a vegan right now but I am trying to be one. I will hopefully be one by the end of this ride. I am not making any judgements here. Meat is being consumed in a lot of diets, by a lot of people, in almost every meal. Supermarkets, nearly all the restaurants, and lot of middle class people can easily afford it. But look at the strain it’s putting on the planet. It is unhealthy for humans. How the animals are treated right from when they are born till they are slaughtered is downright cruel. It’s a ride everyone (including me) should take part in especially since we are heading towards a climate change catastrophe.

Would your write a book on your travel expeditions?

I have written a book about my New Zealand adventures as I studied and worked there for 2 years, but that was for me. I hope to write about the recent rides but am not sure if I will want to publish it. For now my stories are my vlogs. You can find it on YouTube (bicycle diaries).

What do you do when you feel homesick?

I have been studying, living and travelling away from home for the last 15 years. I am used to it by now. But I make sure I contact them very often and catch up for the main occasions.

What is it about places and people that attract you?

I am stupid and I started loving that about myself when I started to travel. I am always hungry for answers. We always learn bits from people and places where we go to. Going to places all by yourself and connecting with people is the key to my happiness.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt from your travels?

Gratitude and Selflessness.

How long do you plan on cycling?

This project I am on for now will go on till the end of this year. I started the trip in the month of March. If you ask me about cycling in general, I don’t plan on stopping cycling as long as I am physically capable.

If someone were to follow your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

We as travellers have certain responsibilities. The places we travel to, the people we meet, the message you share from the travels, and so on. We need to fulfil these responsibilities and that’s the least you can do to give back to the places you have been to.

Don’t forget to catch up with Jestin Shaji’s adventures on YouTube and Instagram. Well, you too can help him achieve his travel dreams by being a sponsor.

Aishwarya Gopinathhttps://pinklungicom.wordpress.com/
A foodie at heart, an aspiring novelist, and an enthusiastic writer by nature, I love to dig deep into culture and lifestyle of the place and people around me. I hope to make people cry, laugh, smile, angry, and satisfied with my writing.


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