Eco-warrior on wheels

Mr Ashish Jerry Choudhary wants to transform his village in Rajasthan "so that it resembles Singapore".

The 25-year-old Indian, who reached Woodlands Causeway on Jan 24 after a 101-day cycling expedition over more than 7,000km, is impressed by Singapore's lush greenery and designated cycling paths.

"My village Budania in Jhunjhunu district in Rajasthan has been badly affected by global warming and negligence," he told tabla!.

"I lived in New Delhi for four years and it is heavily polluted. I see that Singapore has taken early measures on sustainable development.

"I'm impressed by the cycling paths in Singapore, which connect cyclists to offices, schools and other places. In big Indian cities like New Delhi and Jaipur, there are no such facilities and accidents involving cyclists are common on the roads.

"There are also lots of dustbins on the roadsides in Singapore and people heed traffic rules.

"Everything is perfect here. We can learn from Singapore."

The Bachelor of Education graduate from Rajasthan University goes on cycling expeditions to raise awareness on the importance of saving the environment.

He set off from the Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka, a city in Gujarat, on Oct 16 last year and cycled through Thailand and Malaysia to reach Singapore.

Due to the ongoing civil war, he had to change his original course of travelling via Myanmar. He instead flew from Imphal, the capital of Manipur in India, to Bangkok.

Mr Choudhary said he and his family had been braving the effects of climate change in Jhunjhunu for as long as they can remember.

Surrounded by sand dunes with no water source, they have to collect rainwater and withstand temperatures of up to 50 deg C in summer and nearly -5 deg C in winter.

The climate is also unsuitable for growing rice, which is a luxury eaten only during festivals. Wheat is the staple for the villagers of Jhunjhunu.

Mr Choudhary is devastated by the deterioration of his village. Even the 202ha of forested area where he, his sister and grandfather would go to exercise, has become a junkyard.

His concern for India's environment deepened four years ago when he was pursuing his bachelor's degree in literature at Delhi University.

The air quality index (AQI) score at the national capital was above 150. Good air quality has an AQI value of 50 or below.

Mr Choudhary then decided that he would go on solo cycling expeditions to encourage a car-lite society.

He has cycled from New Delhi to Jhunjhunu (235km), from New Delhi to Jaisalmer (785km) and from Kashmir to Kanyakumari (3,500km) to raise awareness about the evil of single-use plastics and the importance of saving water and conserving natural resources.

"I strongly encourage using reusables in schools," said Mr Choudhary, who usually spreads his message in educational institutions.

"I also ask the students to actively plant trees in their neighbourhoods and care for them."

Mr Choudhary himself planted a siris sapling in school on the encouragement of his 6th standard teacher.

"It will always be a reminder to continue my journey in advocating for the environment," he said of the sapling which has grown into a tree and it bears his name.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Choudhary used the downtime to train for his cross-country expeditions. Last year, he also started the Jhunjhunu Cycling Group to bring together cycling enthusiasts in his hometown.

His goal this year is to spread his message across Asia, starting with Singapore. He will then cycle to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in November.

Mr Choudhary described his journey to Singapore as arduous. He had to cycle over hills and through mountains and jungles, with a 40kg load strapped to his bicycle.

His Malaysian e-visa was rejected on his first attempt and he had to extend his stay in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand.

Since he was on a tight budget, he stayed with locals or in temples. At other times, he camped out in the wild in his tent.

Mr Choudhary visited organisations such as Rotary Club, Siddh Peeth Shree Lakshminarayan Temple, Vivekanand Seva Sangh, Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, Bijhar Singapore and Bhojpuri Society Singapore in the past week to share his experiences and promote his cause.

"I was very impressed by the sensible young man," said Rotary Club member Narasimhan Mohan.

"He had a very adventurous attitude, with a noble cause. What surprised me most was his plastic-free lifestyle."

Mr Choudhary, who is currently in Batam, will be leaving for India from Singapore on Feb 10.

"I'm impressed by the cycling paths in Singapore, which connect cyclists to offices, schools and other places... There are also lots of dustbins on the roadsides in Singapore and people heed traffic rules. Everything is perfect here. We can learn from Singapore."

- Mr Ashish Jerry Choudhary (above)


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