UAE: Photographer who’s been cycling around the world for last 5 years reaches Dubai

'These stories become a part of you', says Kamran Ali as he talks to Khaleej Times about the unique people and powerful experiences he encounters while on the road



by

Lamya Tawfik

Published: Sun 15 Jan 2023, 4:17 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Jan 2023, 4:18 PM

When he was 12 years old, a Pakistani boy from the city of Layyah took his friend on a bike to a neighbouring city, nearly 26 kilometres away, to witness a religious celebration. This was the first taste of adventure that never left Kamran Ali, an inspirational cycling photographer.

Nearly five months after completing a 10,158km trip from Germany to Pakistan – in two phases from June 2, 2011 to July 22, 2011 and from 15 March, 2015 to 8 August, 2015 – he embarked on a second trip from Argentina to Alaska. The trip took him 3 years to complete from January 16, 2016 to August 23, 2019. And now, he is off on his third international adventure from Oman to South Africa – a trip that started in late December.

Khaleej Times caught up with Kamran during his stop in Dubai to talk to him about why an accomplished computer software engineer, with two masters degrees and a PhD, would leave behind his comfortable corporate role to cycle around the world with nearly 70kgs of additional weight (between gear, food and bike weight).

“That trip that I did when I was 12 got me hooked on bicycle touring. I started with 26 km, but then gradually increased to 52km, 100km, 160km and 400km. When I was on the plane going to Germany, I decided I would one day ride from Germany to Pakistan,” said Kamran adding that it led him to quit his job and take up bicycle touring as way of life.

With no monthly salary coming in – something that he says he misses – Kamran decided to get creative when it comes to making the money he needs for his trips. He says he tries to save money from his photography work, writing, making short films for companies, designing websites, logos and serving tables while travelling. “It’s never enough but it keeps me going,” he said.

Before starting this current tour, Kamran said that he saved money from different writing jobs and collaborations, but he knows it will soon be gone. “I know I will soon be looking right and left to find money to continue but I learnt that the universe will make it happen,” he said.

He recalls a story of him being low on funds in Mexico and yet helping a Polish cyclist by giving her a big chunk of his money. “I then met someone on the road who asked me to connect with another person in a different city, who let me stay in his hotel for free for two nights, and who also collected money for me. This is only one story that shows that everything comes back many fold,” he said.

In fact, Kamran believes in the universe’s unique way of working. “It takes away something, but if you keep pursuing your dream and have good intentions towards others and then the magic happens. I’ve experienced it on the road,” he said.

While on the road, Kamran does more than cycle from city to city and meet new people. He takes pictures, updates his social media pages, and has a blog where he writes extensively about his travel adventures. He does all of this by himself – a feat by no means simple, given the inconsistent access to Wi-Fi and internet connection.

“I do everything myself because it’s my own story and only I can tell it. If I have to explain the story with all details to someone, why can’t I write it myself? I do have enough time on the road to do that, and every time I do, it takes me out of the moment a little,” he said.

On his social media pages and blog, Kamran goes beyond the mere selfie and short caption, and his followers can see a lot of heart and soul being poured into his posts. “I used to post detailed photo essays on Facebook and detailed written essays. There’s a lot of written material that is published,” he said.

On publishing a book in the future, he said that he doesn’t have the strength to go back to the same stories and work on them again. “It’s a huge task that would take months and years. I don’t the energy to go back,” he said. He added that he is always experimenting with different ways to document his trips, and that for instance on this particular trip, he is focusing on doing more videos.

Writing, however, is something that is very close to his heart and is something he does when he wants to talk about a powerful experience, and story that made him think and that affected him deeply. “[A] video is more emotional but writing can help you create a little world and evoke imagination. It’s more powerful and it’s easier to be vulnerable through the written word as there is more introspection,” he said.

When travelling, Kamran carries 35 kgs of camping gear, a first aid kit, different clothes for different weather conditions, spare batteries, spare parts, cooking gear and utensils, a stove, fuel, tripods and camera gear. In addition, he carries 15 kgs of water and food – mostly dried or canned. “I have to be self-sufficient especially if I’m taking roads where there’s no water available,” he said.

What does a touring cyclist eat? Breakfast is instant oats cooked with water and dried fruits, and dinner is canned food like chickpeas and beans. During the day, he eats energy bars and biscuits.

Kamran said that there are many people whom he meets on the road, and that these are memories that stay with him forever. He tells of a story of a young lady named Clementine who was going down on the Grand Canyon in memory of her sister. “I never met her sister but every time anyone speaks about the Grand Canyon or Colorado river I think of this story, and of Clementine. I’m connected with the landscape on an emotional level. This is what makes travel so special. You’re not only connected with your own country where you grew up. These stories become part of you,” he said.

Kamran says that travelling will not lead people to a place with a treasure of wisdom but that people and experiences are the treasures that will teach a lot adding that society, unfortunately conditions from an early age. “If you block all the noise and try to reflect you will notice that it doesn’t take much courage. It makes sense to make your own way. Nothing lives forever and nothing stays forever,” he said.

He says that he loves travelling alone because it makes people on the road connect with him, and be more open towards him. “I can have more interactions with others. It makes me more vulnerable. People are more helpful towards one person than more than one,” he said. Another advantage of travelling alone is that instead of having conversations, one is left with time to reflect and to process all the information gathered on trips.

Kamran said that a person he met in Peru gave him the three golden rules which he uses when travelling the world. “Have wishes but no expectations; if your heart is full of love, all doors will open for you; instead of thinking only of ourself, always think about how you can give others.”

His advice to people is to be fearless in finding their own path, or their own ‘thing’, and it doesn’t have to be cycling. “There is a world out there with mighty mountains, pristine glaciers, vast deserts; go explore them they are waiting for you. Follow your heart and be fearless in your approach to find your own path,” he said.

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