What do you say about a 15,000 km long journey not by airplane, not by bus/train or ship, but solely by riding on an eco-friendly bicycle? Sounds challenging and somewhat tough, right? Well, it didn’t seem tough for two agile youths from the UK who have decided to embark on a 15,000 km journey from Brick Lane in East London, UK, popularly known as Bangla Town for its famous Bangladeshi curry restaurants, to Bangladesh, the country from which the UK curry trend originated.  The entire journey will be completed by cycling without any kind of external support and will pass through 20 countries in two continents. This journey from the UK to Bangladesh, which is literally on the other side of the world, has been named as “Brick Lane to Bangladesh”. Details can be found at www.bricklanetobangladesh.com.

Brick Lane to Bangladesh is basically an initiative of two British friends, Luke Barton and Tom Smith. The idea was the brainchild of Luke who thought of having this journey while he was sipping a drink in his leisure. Later, Luke, who has had previous travelling experiences in South America, New Zealand, Australia, South Asia, Nepal and India, decided to materialized this journey and he was lucky to rope in his good friend, Tom Smith as his companion for this exciting cycling tour. Like Luke, Tom also shares the same spirit of adventure and when he came to know about Luke’s idea through facebook interaction, he agreed to it without much ado.  Tom and Luke met with each other by a musical band which they were both part of and quickly became friends. After university studies, Tom went on an expedition to Mongolia with his brother where he was the victim of pick pocketing and had to lose his passport!  Gradually he became infected with the travelling bug and has always wanted out for more adventures in his life especially exploring parts of the world which are unknown to him. The use of bicycles in the journey can be credited to Tom himself because after he got his motorbike stolen, he decided to go with a cheaper alternative and bought a bicycle which he grew fond of in the days that followed.

The duo happens to be a great fan of Bangladeshi curry that is now a vibrant part of UK’s culture. So food is also going to be a major theme of their journey and they are eagerly looking forward to have a chance at tasting exotic original curry dishes in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka once they reach their final destination. By cycling between these two curry capitals Luke and Tom hope to highlight the stark differences between the lifestyles of the two Bangladeshi communities, promote multiculturalism in London and help increase the profile of both Bangladesh and East London as tourist destinations.

So what motivated this duo for a challenging 15,000km long journey? Luke says, “I have a desire to achieve something truly physically and mentally challenging, to get out there and see fascinating parts of the world at a bikes pace and also contribute to some great social causes through this journey. Plus some vague hope that life will become a bit clearer after spending countless nights sleeping outside, eating tinned beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “

Tom provides his reasoning as well, “Joking aside, I love the feeling of adventure; not knowing what is round the next corner, or having no idea about the character of the next town. I loving laughing and smiling with the people who you meet, having no idea what the joke is. I also want to do something difficult and unknown, something that is mentally and physically exhausting and I’m looking forward to seeing who I am after we come out the other end.”

The journey will begin from Brick Lane in London’s East End on 10th of June, 2013. The whole journey will take place on the ground. The only time Luke and Tom will leave solid ground is when crossing the English Channel. The rest of the journey will be completed by cycling and will take Luke and Tom across Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and finally across India to Bangladesh. This route is open to change depending on climate, politics, natural disaster and our own personal whims and sense of adventure. The first they will do after entering Bangladesh is enjoy a curry feast to their heart’s content in the capital, Dhaka.  At this rate, Luke and Tom are expected to arrive in Bangladesh sometime in December.

During the trip, the cyclists will be subjected to 50 degrees heat in the Karakum Desert, to bitter wind and unforgiving cold on the high plateaus of Central Asia. They must also cross several mountain ranges including The Pamir and The Himalayas, cycling over 5500 metre passes, in order to make it to Bangladesh. The expedition will be entirely unsupported. Luke and Tom will carry everything they need on their bikes and will camp wild as much as possible.

About the journey and different aspects of it, Tom adds, “I’ve been training at 35km rides on a mountain bike, so I feel reasonably prepared. I think everything before Iran will be okay, but then we will have five days in the desert with the temperature up to 50C. There will be a 670km leg when we will have to do 10-hour rides through the night, and face tight visa restrictions in some places. Part of the ride through Northern Pakistan will be very high and cold. We have been warned about radical groups, but I am sure most people are fine and we will make friends along the way. Despite all the risks that await us, I feel full of enthusiasm and optimism about this.”

The cycling journey of Luke and Tom aims to raise funds for charity to support a social cause. The funds will be channelled to support 20 underprivileged boys at a Bangladeshi orphanage based in Comilla named Noor E FaridNasrine Academy. The academy started its journey about 3 years ago and was the lifetime-dream of late Nasrin Rashid Karim Choudhury, daughter of former speaker HumayunRasheed Choudhury. But it was unfortunate that she couldn’t materialize her dream, so her son, Mishal Karim and her husband, Iftekhar Karim took up the responsibility of making her noble wish come true, thus the Noor E FaridNasrine Academy was born. The project has been named as the 40 and is administered by Earth Identity Project, NGO that runs the facilities at the orphanage. Details can be found at www.the-40.com.

The project is distinctive in the sense that the academy aims to support 20 underprivileged Bangladeshi boys at a time. The boys who are orphans or come from extreme poverty backgrounds and/or share a history of abuse are taken into the academy when they are around 2 to 4 years old. Then the academy’s mission is to nurture them with a safe living environment with proper food, care and discipline that will help them to become developed and emotionally stable human beings who can contribute to the country’s overall development tide. Once admitted, the academy plans to support these boys up till their university graduation and then will take in another batch of 20 boys under its care.  To ensure smooth operation of the academy, this project is currently privately funded from Mishal Karim and Iftekhar Karim.  Various sponsors like Unilever, Renata, Apex and some garments companies have also helped the academy cover expenses associated with the upbringing of the 20 boys.

Mishal Karim, a member of the project’s board of directors, shares his experience about the academy, “Setting up the orphanage has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and for the last two years we have worked to get the academy running smoothly. All the boys are enrolled in school and are doing well. In the last two years, we have been able to instil confidence in the boys. Furthermore, they have bonded between themselves and they now all feel like brothers. The unity gives them the confidence and support they need to do well in life.” Speaking about future plans related to the academy, Mishal says, “We are working on getting DULWICH COLLEGE, a reputed private school in the United Kingdom to take on our project as a permanent CSR initiative of the school.”

To choose Bangladesh as the destination of this tour, Tom says, “We both wanted to taste the original Bangladeshi curry and we felt good about contributing to a noble social cause in Bangladesh.  I think some people have in the past had the wrong view of Bangladesh and we’d like to play a small part in changing that. Hopefully, as people go online and read our blog and see the video clips, they will become aware of the reality.”

The Luke and Tom duo is excited to support the Noor E FaridNasrine Academy as they believe it is a good cause and they can actually kick start a change in the lives of underprivileged children through their cycling endeavour.  They are also looking forward to the great Bangladeshi hospitality that awaits them once they reach their destination. Tom says, “People over here are extremely excited that we are doing this and we can’t wait to meet all of them. We hope to have a wonderful time with the boys at the Noor E FaridNasrine academy. We would like to thank everyone who has shown their support to our initiative especially Mishal Karim from Noor E FaridNasrine Academy for being involved with us and the media for spreading the word.”

The management of the academy feels that raising funds and getting sponsorships is crucial to maintain standards at the academy.  This will also increase the exposure of the project; more people will be aware about this noble cause and maybe would want to get involved. Also the credibility of the project will be strengthened through such opportunities.

Speaking about the connection of Brick Lane to Bangladesh programme with the academy, Mishal says, “We felt that cycling from Brick Lane to Bangladesh and our initiative of setting up the academy for supporting orphaned boys are both a unique and bold vision, so there is an immediate fit in ideology.  For a relatively new project like ours, we can benefit greatly from the exposure that this programme can generate for us. We want to use the platform successfully to raise both money and awareness for the orphanage. This awareness will then be translated into increased financial and product donations which is much needed both to sustain the academy.”

From Luke and Tom’s cycling initiative, the academy hopes to raise Taka 800,000 through four sponsors only. From the total, Taka 400,000 will be provided to Luke and Tom to cover necessary expenses of their 15,000 km expedition. And the remaining half of the total will be utilised to support the boys’ education expenses. The academy has already successfully managed to get the four required sponsors: they are BGlobal, Brand Fusion, BeximcoRenata and Summit who are all donating Taka 200,000 each for the academy. Besides the academy, Luke and Tom have also received support from sponsors in both the UK and Bangladesh to help with necessary equipment for the tour.

Apart from fund raising for the academy, Luke and Tom will also spend one month at the academy where they will teach the boys English and engage in sports and team building activities. Mishal adds, “To make Luke and Tom feel welcome in Bangladesh, members of BD Cyclists will meet Luke and Tom at the border and cycle with them back to Dhaka. We will also organise an event with the help of our sponsors where they will be given trophies for accomplishing this great challenge.”

This whole adventurous cycling journey and charity fundraising initiative have so far been sponsored by the following organizations: BGlobal, Brand Fusion, BeximcoRenata, Summit, Water to Go, Cotswold Outdoor, Brooks England, Robens, Your Bangla Tour, Secret Compass, Treat Digital, Drunknmunky, Schwalbe and WYG. In Bangladesh, the reception of Luke and Tom will be held at International Club, Dhaka. Gulshan Club and Dhaka club have agreed to place Brick Lane to Bangladesh flyer stands over a 6-month period.  The Daily Ittefaq and The Daily Star are acting as media sponsors who will run special publications over the course of this 6-month cycling tour.

Luke and Tom will be posting regular updates (photos, videos and links) on the programme’s facebook page, twitter account and vimeo channel throughout their tour. To get their updates and to sponsor them, go to www.bricklanetobangladesh.com.  To get involved with the Noor E FaridNasrine Academy by sponsoring a child or providing generous donations, visit www.the-40.com.