His smile welcomes you at a distance. He almost immediately stretches his arm to offer a handshake. Neither so tall nor short, his stature portrays an energetic man with long dark hair that gives away his Asian origin.
His attire – a track suit and white branded shirt, at first sight, suggest a sportsman. He is very quick to introduce himself and he requests to know who he is talking to. “Hey bro (brother), I am Somen and you? I am here to share with your my world journey.”
Since May 27, 2004, Somen Debnath, a 30-year-old Indian from Basanti in West Bengal, has embarked on a tour around the world on a bicycle. He has so far traversed India, Asia, Europe and some larger part of Africa. He reached Uganda in March, making it his 85th country and Africa the fourth continent.
The tour is dubbed, “Around the world tour on a bicycle for HIV/Aids awareness programme and presentation on the Indian culture”. Debnath says he has dedicated his life to educating the people he encounters on his world trip about how to prevent Aids.
He says he embarked on his life journey after staying with people living with the HIV/Aids virus and also witnessing the segregation accorded to them in the community. The journey started few days after he had acquired a bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Calcutta, India.
In every country he rides through, Debnath talks to people in the health sector, politicians, and institutions of learning. He carries souvenirs of his travels in form of pictures of him at different landmarks in the places he has stopped by.
While in Kampala, he spent the night at Sematan Dharma Mandel Temple (S.D.M) near Nakasero Market, where he had been offered accommodation by Chetan Upanhya, a priest at the temple.
The charity traveller began his bicycle voyage with only US$17 (about Shs50,000), but along the way, he gets support from well-wishers like the Asian Community in Uganda and World vision.
A hands-on person, Debnath carries all he needs to prepare his meals on his bicycle.
“Life is so beautiful, that is why the world is my family. Only one message can change this world, prevention is better than cure. If we individually change and protect ourselves, then we can save this world,” he states.
He entered Uganda through Malaba, a border point connecting Uganda to Kenya. He stayed one night in Kampala and continued his journey through the source of River Nile. “People accorded me a warm welcome and also showed me other kind gestures.
I cycled with some of them as we talked and that really surprised me. I will continue to Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, then to all African countries and Senegal will be my last country in Africa, from where I will head to South America. I have one message to the people of Uganda; your kindness is the best key to improving the country.” Debnath says.
Debnath’s dream is to build an ecological village on four hectares of land by 2025 in India. The village will have a food farm with the capacity to feed 20 million people.
A visit to Kololo high school
While in Uganda, Debnath visited Kololo High School. On his way to the school, he stopped at a shop where he bought a Uganda flag. He says he identifies himself with the people in every country by decorating his bicycle with the country’s flag.
At school, Debnath first introduced himself to the headteacher, Hajjati Aminah Mukasa Buyinza. He explained to her what his cause was and about his world tour before allowing him to proceed to Form Four G.
Debnath shared with the 600 students his Hiv/Aids message, talking about how the HIV virus spreads from one person to another and how to prevent its spread. The students were very inquisitive about his trip.
He showed them two photo albums, which contain all photos he has taken in every city he has passed through with the people he has interacted with.
Advise to students
He advised the students not to keep silent instances of rape and defilement.
“When you are raped or defiled, you should report to your parents, guardians and caretakers because something can be done like finding out whether the defiler was an HIV positive patient. This can help a doctor advise on the next step to save you from the deadly disease.” At the end of his presentation, students shared what they had learnt.
“I have learnt that if you are raped, you can be cured when you report in time,” said Agnes Atuhaire .
The most outstanding observation was from Angela Nassali, who said she had realised that travelling around the world is not as expensive and she could often travel to her dream destinations.
His adventure is not devoid of challenges. “I was captured by the Taliban for 24 days in Afghanistan. They stubbed, beat, and later released me after I had cooked food for them. I was robbed six times in central Asia and my bikes stolen in Belgium and Poland.
While in North East of India, Debnath slept for days in a jungle. “People told me that I should not stay on the ground. I climbed trees where I slept to avoid animals feasting on me. They were full moon nights and I could hear some animal sounds. One time, when I looked down, I saw four leopards playing with my bicycle and I was very scared. I just prayed to God and when morning fell, all the leopards had gone. I climbed down and continued with my journey.
The Tour time line
2004-2006: Toured all 24 Indian States.
2006-2009: Toured 24 countries in Asia.
2009-2012: Toured 42 countries in Europe.
2012-2015: Touring Africa and Middle-East.
2015-2017: Tour South Pole, Atlantic, South and North America.
2018: Tour Canada, Alaska, Russia, Mongolia and China.
2019: Tour Japan, Korea, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Sumatra, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
2020: Tour Completion.