‘Hi’, I’m Mark (Ellison) a 42 year old English guy, since 2004 I have been living and working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Until recently I was the MD of a tour company, but now I am focussing on the 3 restaurants that I am involved in.
For the 7 years before coming to Cambodia I was involved in the tourism industry in England, primarily in the Lake District. Prior to that I spent some time travelling / working in various countries, and prior to that, after graduating from university I was a civil engineer for a number of years.
I have enjoyed cycling from an early age with my first bike being around the age of 6 or 7, a ‘hand-me-down’ Raleigh Golden Arrow. However, my first real pride and joy came on my 10th birthday when I became the very proud owner of a super cool Raleigh Grifter, the only bike a young lad wanted in the early 1980s… The years passed and through my teens bikes came and went, used mainly for utility purposes like cycling to school and doing the paper-round. However, with other bike riding mates we did have some cycling ‘adventures’ at weekends and during school summer holidays. For much of my 20s cycling was kind of forgotten, but the flame was rekindled in the late 1990s with the growth in popularity of mountain biking. My passion for mountain biking really took off in 1999 when I moved to work in the English Lake District, the only really mountainous region in the country. I was out in the hills at least twice a week and began entering amateur racing events. I gradually upgraded my mountain bike until finally buying a Rocky Mountain ETS-X70, at a price which just a few years earlier I thought only crazy people would pay for a bike without an engine ;-)
After a holiday in Cambodia during 2003 I returned in 2004 to, naively perhaps, set up a cycle tour company. Coming from England to live and work in Cambodia was certainly an eye-opener being the first time I had experienced a developing country, compounded by the fact that Cambodia is one of the world’s least developed / poorest countries. In rural areas the average annual income is around USD 300! Of course back in England you read about poverty and see documentaries featuring developing countries, and yes it does tug at the heartstrings, but nothing can really prepare you for experiencing it in reality. However, despite the hardships many Khmers (Cambodians) face what has always amazed and inspired me is their resoluteness, their good nature and their willingness to grab an opportunity if it is offered to them.
After a few years working with a local tour operator, in 2007 I established the Cambodian tour company Asia Adventures. The ethos behind the company was that it would use tourism as a tool for poverty alleviation where possible. As such we advise and assist a number of small rural communities around Cambodia who are setting up low scale community based tourism projects providing an additional income source. We also operate charity cycle tours where participants raise funds for Cambodian good cause projects and get to meet the recipients of the funding to learn more about how the money they raised is changing peoples’ lives.
So Why India??...
Having just explained what I have been involved with in Cambodia you may be wondering why do I want to cycle around and fundraise for India.
From a very early age I have been intrigued by India. I was brought up on an estate that had a large percentage of Asians living on it (mainly Indians and Pakistanis). Our neighbours were Indian and a lot of my school friends were Indian. As a kid who did not understand the religious differences the cultural differences were striking and fascinating: the colourful flowing clothing; the strange yet lively music; the cooking smells; the taste of the exotic food; the languages; being a little envious of my school mates who would take 3 months off school to holiday in India; the ‘velvet’ wallpaper and colourful animal-like pictures on the walls of my Indian friends homes; and the most spectacular – the Indian weddings!!! As such visiting India has long been a dream, not yet fulfilled.
As mentioned I have been a cyclist for much of my life and for many years it has been a dream to do a long distance challenging cycle tour, if possible one which few people have previously done. From my research I cannot find any information regarding anyone who has cycled fully around India following the coastline and land borders as closely as possible. Add to this India’s great cultural and geographic diversity: the mix of Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians; the south’s endless miles of coastline, the foothills (and challenges) of the Himalayas in the north, the ‘forgotten’ states of the north east and the deserts of the west and it makes for a thoroughly unique and demanding adventure of a lifetime! My planed cycle ride around India perfectly marries together two long-held dreams...
Whilst the India cycle ride will be a huge personal achievement I feel that it would be a waste not to use this opportunity to raise awareness of India’s poverty issues, and raise much needed funds for those in Indian society who are living in real hardship through no fault of their own. As I will be cycling through many poor communities it seems only fair that my cycle around India challenge should give something back to them. Thus I have decided to use the India cycle ride as a ‘hook’ where those more fortunate can ‘hang’ their generous and much appreciated donations. I will be focussing mainly on supporting good cause organisations that are assisting India’s disadvantaged youth and vulnerable women to assist themselves.
To find out more about the good causes that I will be supporting click here - coming soon.
To find out how to make a donation click here - coming soon.