URUS-MARTAN, Chechnya — Cycling across continents in search of inner fulfillment has become commonplace for young adventure seekers from developed countries.
But Dzhanar-Aliyev Magomed-Ali is not young, his bike is old and rickety, and he lives in Chechnya, where separatists and federal troops have fought two wars since 1994.
Last week, however, the 63-year-old finished a 10-week trip of nearly 12,000 kilometers on a rusting bike from his village in Chechnya via Iraq and Iran to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
â€œIt was a very tough route, I wouldnâ€™t allow anybody else to do it,â€ Magomed-Ali said at his home in Urus-Martan, 30 kilometers outside the Chechen capital of Grozny.
One of the hardest legs was in Iraq where, he said, U.S. 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 hajj 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 hajj.
â€œI replied that I couldnâ€™t do this as I didnâ€™t have any way of getting there,â€ he said. â€œShe replied that I had a bike and I should use it.â€
Magomed-Ali wore a traditional sheepskin hat and a woolen sweater 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.
â€œUrus-Martan — Grozny — Khasavyurt — Makhachkala — Baku — Tehran — Baghdad — Damascus — Mecca — Medina — Jerusalem — Urus-Martan,â€ it read in printed white Cyrillic letters.
As the crow flies, Grozny and Mecca are a 5,000-kilometer round trip apart, but Magomed-Ali said he clocked up nearly 12,000 kilometers because of his circuitous route.