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Uncharted by Ganesh Nayak—A Review

What started off with a single puff of smoke to improve his social standing among his engineering peers became an addiction that went on for nearly a decade. After a series of alarming health problems, he decided to call it quits and get in shape through cycling.

‘Uncharted’ is an account of the trials and tribulations faced by the author—Ganesh Nayak—as he battled his addiction, and the challenges that came with his cycling travels in India. An assistant professor at MIT’s Department of Instrumentation and Control Engineering, Nayak turned his life around through several pushes of a bicycle pedal, and he takes readers on a vivid account of his journey.

Nayak’s travel comrade and tour guide—Soan Singh.

In the opening chapters, he describes his first experience with smoking. As a young man, he was surrounded by peers who smoked, and one day he decided to give it a shot himself. One day he fell terribly ill, with what he suspected was a cold. However, as he would go on to discover, this was his first experience with withdrawal symptoms. A few years later, he began to notice his health declining at an alarming rate. In his own words, “My body had become a shrivelled stick, dry, ready to crumble any minute.”  This pushed him to try to quit smoking for the first time. He describes the pains of withdrawal and the severe impact of the cigarettes on his body in excruciating detail. Followed by an unfortunate relapse, he finally pushed himself to quit for good and used guidance that he found from an online support group to help with the process. While going through the process of recovery, Nayak developed a fascination for cycling. He began to channel all his energy into this new passion.

Before long, he had set his sights on the highest of goals—the Himalayas. Nayak prepared himself for this arduous journey by training at home and educating himself through extensive research. The array of landscapes in and around his hometown allowed him to get a good sense of the terrain he would be dealing with on the expedition. Another key factor to prepare for would be the deterioration of his cycle or any failure in the accompanying equipment. He dealt with this by working as an intern at a local bicycle repair shop. “I was committed to working at the bike shop. I deemed it an essential skill to provide me with confidence and to give me the independence to ride a bike far and wide.” A purchase of a Surly Long Haul Trucker (LHT) bookended his preparation and marked the end of the beginning, as he was now prepared to face the intimidating ranges of India.

An illustration of Nayak’s encounter with the Bhutia dogs.

Nayak makes three trips over the course of his book. His first cycling expedition along the Himalayas, nicknamed ‘The Real Rock N Rolla’, proved to be his toughest challenge. Accompanied by Soan Singh, a local travel guide, Nayak cycled his way through several different terrains along the versatile range, often enduring life-threatening situations—from an encounter with the ravenous Bhutia dogs to being stranded in a desert at Tso Moriri. After completing his thrilling expedition and giving his guide, Singh, a heart-warming goodbye, Nayak continues his travels to the northern parts of India. Everywhere he went, the stunning views and friendly locals made his journey exhilarating. This journey was nothing like the ones he had taken beforefuelled by sheer grit and driven by human effort. Nayak ends his book with a brief description of his second book, titled ‘The Real Rock N Rolla’, along with a short explanation of the purchase of his much loved Surly LHT.

Apart from being an inspiring biographical story, the book also wonderfully doubles as an immersive travelogue. Nayak uses vivid descriptions and detailed imagery to help readers experience his travels through his eyes. He shows great vulnerability in the earlier chapters, as he goes into the struggles in his personal life that were brought by the addiction. The wide variety of locations, languages and technical issues he encounters along the way could have easily overwhelmed the average reader. Yet, he finds a way to keep the content engaging and coherent. His unpretentious use of language makes it an easy read, allowing for his overall message of determination and perseverance to shine through more clearly. At times, the story does suffer from slow pacing and repetition, with the events beginning to feel familiar to each other. However, these issues hardly hinder your reading experience, as the awe-striking nature of the events keep you captivated. Overall, the account is a fascinating read filled with rare experiences and an inspiring message.

Image Credits: Ganesh Nayak 

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