The unicyclists on a Darjeeling road on Thursday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, April 16: Balancing atop a single wheel, a group of seven unicyclists from across the world have arrived in Darjeeling, traversing the varied hill landscape and soaking in the mottled culture the region has to offer.
Every minute of their adventure has thrown up surprises — be it laughing children chasing them or spraining their limbs despite years of experience on a unicycle.
“We got ourselves organised largely through blogs and social networking sites and ever since we started our tour from Siliguri on April 5, the journey has been interesting,” said Ken Looi, a 30-year-old doctor-cum-tour organiser from New Zealand who is currently practising in Australia.
The youngest team member is 25-year-old Daniel Mcintyre, who is by profession an “exploration geologist”, but has recently discovered that touring on a unicycle is even more interesting than “chasing volcanoes”.
It is simply passion and love for adventure that drove these adventure freaks, cutting across various age groups, to take the tour. While Christian Mettetal (52) from France is the oldest, the other members include Geoff Huntley (26) from Australia, Didier Record (43) from France and two US nationals Nathan Hoover (49) and Kevin Gilbertson (29). This unicyclist team is also being helped by 36-year-old Jason Williams, a bicyclist who is looking after the support system for the adventurers.
Asked why they chose this mode of transport to explore the region, Looi said: “When you travel on a unicycle, you get to see things which you otherwise cannot. One also gets an opportunity to talk to the people and learn and see new things.”
The team has learned about the hospitality of the region. “We were in Vietnam last year and the people were simply crazy. They simply used to make noises, scream and run with us during our treks. Things were a bit quieter here,” said Williams.
In fact, things turned out even quieter in the hills. “Compared to the plains, the people of the hills are shy and seemed peaceful. In the plains, we often had children chasing us around,” said Looi.
The team had started from Siliguri and have circled around the region, going to Cooch Behar, Chasla, Lava, Kalimpong, Jorethang, Pelling, Teesta Bazar and then to Darjeeling. The team has logged in almost 360km of real time unicycling before reaching Darjeeling — their last destination.
Looi, who learnt the technique about eight years ago, has already toured Cambodia, New Zealand, Loas on his unicycle.
In fact, the doctor has also taken part in three world championships, which were held in Tokyo (2004), Switzerland (2006) and Denmark (2008), winning a few events in all these competitions as well.
Balancing and moving on a unicycle is definitely not easy and the team has had “a few bruises and sprain ankles” but none of the members think it is dangerous.
“It is just like riding a bike. You simply don’t think of balancing,” said Looi. The team has averaged speed of 35km/hour.