Daisuke Nakanishi is man on an extraordinary mission: to make a million friends around the world. But the more extraordinary aspect of his mission is the fact that this native of Osaka, Japan, has been travelling from country to country on a bicycle for 10 years now.
He left home in Osaka on his bicycle on July 23, 1998 with US$ 60,000 saved from his job as an economist. He was 28 then.
He has lost weight, his face has developed wrinkles, his bicycle has suffered severe dents, but there is no dent in his determination. So far he has done 1,38, 450 kilometres, covering 120 countries in Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Nakanishi is presently in Delhi; he arrived in India on November 21 from Pakistan through the Wagah border. So, what prompted him to embark on this marathon round- the- world- tour on a bicycle? "In college I had undertaken a few short- term bicycle tours in some countries and made many valuable friends.
That is when I decided to use a bicycle to tour the world. Believe me, bicycle is an amazing vehicle; it is slow, so you can stop anywhere, meet people, see every sight, hear every sound," says soft-spoken Nakanishi.
He has many interesting tales to tell about his discovery of the world: tales of how he passed through geographical and climatic extremes, from the frozen wastelands of South America to the swelter of Arabian peninsula, of how he was attacked by robbers and wild animals in several countries.
"Once a hyena entered my camp and almost killed me.
At another time I had malaria and took a lot of time to recover," says Nakanishi. Generally, he stayed in the tents he carries with him on his bicycle; in some countries, especially Brazil and Argentina, locals often invited him into their homes.
Nakanishi's favourite country: Argentina and Brazil, because people there are very friendly and caring; in America, he tells you, people are very lazy and lack patience. He finds Switzerland the most expensive country.
What about India? "People here are quite friendly, but there are those who try to fleece you. There is also a lot of pollution and traffic.
As a cyclist I have never felt as unsafe in any country as in India," Nakanishi says, the horror of negotiating his bicycle on the country's chaotic road writ large across his face. His bicycle, which he bought in Osaka, has been his constant companion in an otherwise lonely journey.
Apart from its owner, it has always carried half-a-dozen bags filled with equipment, tent, foodstuff, clothes, spare parts, camera, etc. No wonder then it has gone through 75 tyre changes.
"There are 15 more countries to go and it will take me another two years to complete my tour. But my parents are getting restless; they feel I may not find a good job and a wife because I am getting old, " he says.
What about his original mission. Is he anywhere close to making a million friends? " Not really.
So far I have made about 700 good friends, but I have been able to spread the message of friendship, " says Nakanishi with candour. That's no mean achievement indeed.