When Ram Chandra Biswas left his home in Calcutta, India, in 1982, he had $1 and a bicycle. He told his loved ones that he was going to travel around the world and spread a message of love and peace.
His family and friends wished him well, but thought he’d get scared and turn back within a few hundred kilometers. When they heard he had reached Bombay—his port of departure for Ethiopia—they started believing.
In the next 17 years, he returned home only twice, each time because he needed to get a visa at an embassy in India. He has bicycled through 145 countries, the South Pole, the North Pole—and now Cambodia.
Biswas arrived in Phnom Penh on Aug 23. He had bicycled across the border at Poipet and had visited Sisophon, Battambang and Siem Reap before arriving in the city. He remains here, but plans to leave for Vietnam, Laos, China, North Korea, South Korea and onward.
He says his mission is to meet people from all over the world to promote world peace and cross-cultural understanding. People are naturally loving and kind, he says, and they repay kindness with kindness.
“When you are good, everybody loves you. When you are bad, you punish yourself,” he said.
Biswas travels with little cash—he says he always finds people willing to open their homes and kitchens for him. A stomach problem he had some years ago in Paris has forced him to stop eating indiscriminately from street vendors, so now he cooks for himself and anyone else who wishes to join him. He claims to have cooked for as many as 300 when in Fiji.
“Every house is my family,” he said. “Every family is my mama and my papa.”
He left India speaking only Bengali. In the next 17 years, he learned English, Swahili, Houza, Spanish, French, Russian and Urdu. “I spoke Yoruba,” he said, “but I have forgotten it.”
After Ethiopia, he bicycled though every other country in Africa. Then the Americas—all of them. After seeing Europe and Scandinavia, he went through Russia and the former Soviet republics.
He says he has found everyone throughout the world to be basically the same—kind, generous and helpful. “The bushmen [in Africa] are as real human beings, just like our people,” he said. “They give you hospitality and peace.”
In Africa, he nearly died of thirst in the Sahara. In the US state of Alaska, locals narrowly saved him from freezing to death.
The journey began after Biswas, then a photojournalist and gymnastics teacher, met with a spiritualist in the Himalayas. In a 10-minute conversation, the spiritualist convinced him that he should bring a message of goodwill around the world.
“When I was born, I was naked, and when I go to heaven, I will be naked,” Biswas said. “I have one [life], and I have to give something.”
Biswas plans to travel through another 60 or so countries over the next four years, then settle in Calcutta to write a book. He says he will use the royalties to open a sports academy for young people in Calcutta.