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German cyclists find people genial

March 07, 2012

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LAHORE, March 7: Two German nationals who have travelled through 23 countries mostly by bicycles braving harsh weather in different climates are quietly witnessing life in a Lahore village for the past over one month, finding people here warm and friendly.

Veronika Janke, 29, a carpenter and shepherd, and her spouse Matthias Riedel, 33, an organic farmer and teacher, had started their journey in October 2008 from Heidelberg, a small city in the southwest of Germany where they lived for the last five years. They started by bicycles but changed after one week to a canoe in which they spent the next six months on the Danube river, the second longest river in Europe that flows from Germany to the east, passing 10 countries.

After reaching the Black Sea, they continued on bicycles leaving Europe and entering Asia in Turkey. They moved east to the Caucasus where they explored Georgia and Armenia before entering Iran with its beautiful architecture and hospitable people.

“People in Central Asia are friendly and its incredible landscape is still in our memory. We spent three months, during winter, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In Kazakhstan and Mongolia the wide horizon of the steppe and the nomadic culture fascinated us. Siberia takes a special place in our hearts with its endless forests, lake Baikal and with very welcoming people in the solitude villages that made us return another summer,” says Ms Janke.

China again was different from everything but beside modern towns, they found a rich diversity in landscape and people, making cycling there a joy as well. In South East Asia they spent one winter in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand enjoying a huge variety of fruits and the company of many fellow cyclists.

Finally on their way home they decided to explore with South Asia another new region. Crossing the Karakoram in the middle of December was a cold but unique experience and the atmosphere with the high mountains all around left deep impressions.

In the beginning of last month they arrived in Lahore after following the KKH to Islamabad, doing a side trip to Peshawar by bus and exploring small roads on the way from Rawalpindi to here. Besides visiting the city, they followed an invitation they had got in Germany.

They have spent more than four weeks in Roshni Association near Bedian Road. “This unique place offers day care and vocational training in different workshops for special persons, as well as residential facilities. For normal children a school is situated at nearby Haire village. The project is also a meeting point where east meets west as volunteers from Europe regularly come here for longer periods, and employees get the chance for volunteering and trainings in Europe”, Ms Janke says.

She says people often ask them why they chose bicycles for this journey. “This never was a question for us and still not is after 37,000 km. From our point of view it is the perfect transport to travel close to people and nature. We move environmentally friendly and without causing noise or emissions.

“Furthermore it is affordable and allows us to travel such an extensive time. But most important to us is the fact, that it enables us to be independent. In panniers, fixed on the racks of our bicycles, we can carry everything we need for sleeping, cooking, eating and repairing our vehicles. We can travel in the heat of deserts as well as in cold winter, we can stop wherever we like, set our tent in the most beautiful places and prepare tea whenever we meet a place we´d like to rest,” she says.

“Travelling this way we did not only meet countless hospitable people who gave us insides in their lives, culture and religion, but also landscapes and nature that showed us the beauty of this world, a diversity we never thought it would exist in such a peaceful and extensive way. These impressions will remain on the last three months of this journey and in our further lives.”

The couple is starting their return journey from Monday, intending to reach Ukraine via Dubai by air, as the way overland is impossible due to a visa rejection from Iran. “Before leaving this great city, I must say that people here are friendly, hospitable and open,” says Ms Janke. - Intikhab Hanif.