First Published: 2007-01-24

Chechen pensioner rides bike to Mecca via Baghdad

63-year-old man finishes 10-week trip of nearly 12,000 kilometres on rusting bike from village in Chechnya to Mecca.


Middle East Online

Magomed-Ali: It was a very tough route

URUS-MARTAN, Russia - Cycling across continents in search of inner fulfilment has become commonplace for young adventure-seekers from developed countries.

But Dzhanar-Aliev Magomed-Ali is not young, his bike is old and rickety and he lives in Chechnya, a republic in southern Russia where separatists and Russians have fought two wars since 1994.

Last week, however, the 63-year-old finished a 10-week trip of nearly 12,000 kilometres (7,456 miles) on a rusting bike from his village in Chechnya via Iraq and Iran to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

"It was a very tough route, I wouldn't allow anybody else to do it," Magomed-Ali said at his home in Urus-Martan, 30 kilometres outside the destroyed Chechen capital of Grozny.

One of the hardest legs was in Iraq where, he said, US soldiers stopped him because he did not have an Iraqi entry visa. He said they threw his bicycle to the ground in an argument.

Magomed-Ali, like the vast majority of ethnic Chechens, is Muslim. The haj is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and every able-bodied Muslim is supposed to make the journey once in their lifetime.

Inspiration came to Magomed-Ali from his mother who, he said, told him in a dream to make the haj.

"I replied that I couldn't do this as I didn't have any way of getting there," he said. "She replied that I had a bike and I should use it."

Mogomed-Ali wore a traditional sheepskin hat and a woollen jumper as he posed next to his purple, mud splattered bike.

He had made two modifications: A thick cloth had been wrapped around the saddle for comfort and a green metal sign hung under the main frame, mapping out his route.

"Urus-Matan - Grozny - Khasavyurt - Makhachkala - Baku - Tehran - Baghdad - Damascus - Mecca - Medina - Jerusalem - Urus-Matan," it read in printed white Russian Cyrillic letters.

As the crow flies Grozny and Mecca are a 5,000-kilometre round trip apart, but Magomed-Ali said he clocked up nearly 12,000 kilometres because of his circuitous route.


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