Peddling peace and love, cyclist travels the world 65 more countries await Calcutta native

January 09, 1992|By John Rivera

Ram Chandra Biswas is no accidental tourist.

Ten years ago, he saw a world threatened with nuclear annihilation and decided to act.

"I promised God I would sacrifice my life to world peace," Mr. Biswas said. To fulfill that vow, he climbed on his bicycle April 21, 1982, and vowed not to stop until he traveled the world, spreading a message of God's love.

The 35-year-old native of Calcutta, India, who has been employed as a textile worker, journalist and painter, arrived in Baltimore on Sunday. He has spent the past decade bicycling across five continents, speaking out against nuclear war, drugs and violence.

In the course of his journey, he has covered 150,000 miles and visited 79 countries, mostly by bike but also by bus and hitchhiking -- "Sometimes the road is too slippery," he said.

Mr. Biswas has completed his travel in Africa and South America. He will visit several more cities in North America, finishing in Boston, before continuing his travels in Europe and Asia. He has six years and 65 more countries to go. "I originally thought it would take 14 years, but it will take 16 years," he said.

He began the U.S. portion of his trip when he crossed the border from Mexico into El Paso, Texas, in early 1990. He was in Washington, D.C., during the Christmas holidays and pedaled five hours up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway before arriving here. He leaves Friday morning for Philadelphia.

Mr. Biswas, a Hindu who says he practices all religions, has a simple message: Peace can come to this world only if people love.

"Violence cannot be conquered by violence. It can only be conquered by love," he said.

"This world, it goes for money, money, money," he said, as he sat in the front room of the youth hostel on Mulberry Street in Mount Vernon, gesturing enthusiastically as he talked. "They forget their love. They forget their peace. They forget their happiness."

He has encountered war and violence, he said, but he has never met a bad person. He has never been robbed or beaten, despite sleeping outdoors wherever he could find a place to pitch his tent. Instead, his experience has been of the intrinsic goodness of people.

"So many times I've slept on the road. People come and take me to their homes," he said. "Every country is full of respect and hospitality. . . . Even no immigration problems, no visa problems. Everybody tries to help me."

Mr. Biswas said he usually carries only $1 in his pocket and refuses donations, preferring to rely on people's hospitality. When he does need money, he raises it by performing juggling and magic shows.

"Why do I need money? When I'm going to buy something, people give it to me," he said, tugging on the multicolored warm-up jacket he was wearing, a gift.

When he goes to a city or town, he tries to meet with the mayor and the chief of police. In the United States, he has met with several governors as well.

Along the way, he has met with Pope John Paul II twice (once in Chile, the second time in Peru), Mother Teresa and Nobel Peace Prize winners Oscar Arias and the Dalai Lama.

"They listen to me, and they bless me," he said.

He has been made an honorary citizen of almost every place he visits, Baltimore being no exception. Although he was not able to meet with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, he proudly displayed a certificate he received from Mr. Schmoke's office making him an honorary Baltimorean.

Mr. Biswas said a firm sense of personal discipline has helped him to persevere on a journey that is extraordinary by any measure. He swears off alcohol, smoking and sex, saying such abstinence gives him the energy to keep going. He also meditates for two hours each day, which he said gives him mental and spiritual strength.

And in a feat that is both a means and measure of that discipline, he can recite the name of every town or village he has visited during his journey, which comes to a running total of 731.

He recites the list with a rapid-fire rhythm that takes several minutes to complete.

"Discipline brings respect," he explained. "Respect brings peace. Peace brings love. Love brings happiness."

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