Having started from France in May last year and pedalling across 12 European countries over seven months, Jean and Gema Francois didn't want their bicycle journey to end in Istanbul. They made an impromptu decision to tour India and came to Mumbai on January 5, 2012. What followed was a 4,000 km journey across five south Indian states in as many months.
"Whatever little we knew about India was what we had watched in films and documentaries. We wanted to explore this country, and that's why chose it over Thailand," said Gema (47), a retired marine biologist. The couple began taking long cycling trips ever since Jean retired as a bank employee in 2006.
On a sultry January day, the couple took a boat from the Gateway of India to Alibaug, from where they decided to pedal southwards, with Jean lugging 50kg on his bicycle and Gema 30kg. The couple cycled from Maharashtra to Kerala, towards Puducherry. They then travelled across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, reaching Pune in April. They were back in Colaba on June 6.
The couple said it was dangerous to have vehicles almost driving them off the road. "We were surprised to see motorists, cyclists and pedestrians share the road," said Gema.
The couple also shared that they had to cycle for 160 km over 12 hours between Ramanathapuram and Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu to find a hotel on the way.
Gema plans to write a book after going back to France. "India will be an important chapter," she said.
By Nathaniel Valthati, TNN, June 10, 2012