A Dutch journalist finds out a fascinating world in Delhi’s bylanes from a bicycle and helps others discover it too
More and more domestic and international tourists arriving in India’s capital city of Delhi are realizing that the best way to feel its more than two millennia of history and heritage is through a trip on a bicycle. This is exactly what Jack Leenaars, a journalist from the Netherlands, felt when he pedaled through the city’s bylanes one morning. For someone hailing from the Netharlands, called the ‘bicycle capital of the world’, it was not surprising that the vehicle of thought for Leenaars would turn out to be the poor person’s transport in India. But the Dutch journalist didn’t let his thoughts rest: he went on to create a project, which he christened DelhiByCycle, to make the feeling universal. The result: Five fascinating cycle tours to discover Delhi.
“For every city, cycling is important,” says Leenaars, who quit his job to focus on his personal project. “If you have less cars and more facilities for cycling, walking and also public transport, the quality of life in the city will be better,” he adds. Founded in 2009, DelhiByCycle describes its tours as an “experience with all your senses” by becoming “a part of the unique mix of colours, smells, sounds, tastes and unforgettable images” of Delhi. The five tours are called Shah Jahan Tour (a trip through the city of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan), Yamuna Tour (cycling along the Yamuna river), Haveli Tour (a glimpse of the Mughal-era mansions), Raj Tour (pedaling to understand the recent British colonial history) and Nizamuddin Tour (about knowing the Sufi traditions of the city). The tours start at 6:30 in the morning and ends three-and-a-half hour later. Not more than nine members are allowed in each tour to give individual attention to the participants.
Aware of the almost non-existent bicycle infrastructure in the city, DelhiByCycle uses the back lanes of Delhi to push their tours. “The back lanes of Delhi are perfect for cycling, especially in old Delhi, central Delhi and South Delhi. A lot of people don’t realize that,” explains Leenaars. The early tours, which start at 6:30 in the morning, also help. “The timing is important,” says Leenaars. “There is less traffic early in the morning,” he adds. “It is ideal for cycling.” Bicycles are given free to the participants, who pay a fixed fee to do the rides of DelhiByCycle. Experienced tour guides accompany the participants, explaining the various facts and historical anecdotes in both English as well as Hindi.
Cycling to see a city is not a new concept, admits the former journalist, who used to live in Amsterdam before. “It is a concept introduced in many cities in the world. But I was the pioneer in India. It is a great way to explore a city. People who visit Delhi and people who live in Delhi want to do it. There are a lot of people from abroad who are used to cycling in their cities. We help them in a way,” he says. “Delhiites have also discovered their city by cycling.” Leenaars also insists that he wants to see policy-makers give more facilities to cyclists in Delhi and expects the mindsets of the people to change from preference for cars to cycling and walking.
About 60 per cent of participants of DelhiByCycle tours are foreign nationals with the rest being Indians, mostly city residents and those visiting from other cities. The tours are linked to the city weather. In the summer heat of June, for example, less than 200 people use DelhiByCycle whereas the number goes up to 700 in March, which Leenars describes as “a beautiful month in Delhi”. Leenars too joins the tour sometimes. “I went last Thursday,” he says. “I still like it.”