Dervla Murphy-A pioneer on two wheels

With the bike that took her to India

A true independent traveller who once cycled from Ireland to India with little more than her bike, a change of clothes and a pistol, she is Ireland’s most prolific travel writer.

Cycling from Ireland to India on your own was an unusual thing for anyone to do in 1963, let alone a single woman, but she had been thinking about this trip since she was 10 years old.

Having received the gift of a second-hand bicycle and second-hand atlas for her tenth birthday, she took to the steep roads around Lismore, County Waterford.

On these hills as she pedalled slowly and steadily uphill that the thought came to her that if she kept the pedals turning, she could make it all the way to India.

Many people have grand thoughts of what they could do but doing them is much different, especially a self-powered self-funded trip stretching well over 7000km from west to east, finally ending up in Dehli.

Before the India trip, she had cycled independently in Europe, including two trips to Spain in 1954 and 1956.
Amazingly, she cycled through the European winter into Eastern Europe at the time of the iron curtain and on into Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and over the Himalayas and into India.

The winter of 1963 was one of the coldest in living memory and struggles in snow and ice formed the first part of the journey.

Her trip ends in almost unbearable heat as she has to travel at night because of being unable to grasp the handlebars because they were so hot!

The bicycle she used on the trip, a men’s Armstrong Cadet, still survives to this day but because of its condition wouldn’t do more than a few miles now.
This kind of sturdy and reliable bike weighed almost 14kg. Add this another 14kg in gear, and she was pedalling a lot of extra weight.

To make things more difficult she had the bike modified to remove the gears, because she said she wasn’t mechanically minded enough to fix them if they broke.

The pistol, which she had to use a few times, including once to fend off thieves in Iran, was sold by her in Afghanistan. She jokingly refers to being an arms trader at the time.

This was when the Hippie Trail was becoming increasing popular and stretched from Western Europe to Southeast Asia. While this was adventurous it was nowhere near the league of what Murphy was doing.

By the time of the decline of the trail in the late 1970s it was relatively easy to complete the route having little or no interaction with local people on the way. By local, I mean people who didn’t work in the industry who serviced the route or other travellers.

Particularly poignant today are her observations on Afghanistan where the beauty of the landscape and the kindness of the people left an impression on her than she described herself and an “Afghanatical”.

Out of her trip came the book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle. This kicked off her travel writing career, and she has written over 20 other books, including ones taken with the company of a mule in Ethiopia and over the Peruvian Andes.

Murphy is an independent traveller in the truest sense of the word, preferring to travel mostly solo and under her own steam to places where the most interesting kind of adventure can be found.

There are probably only a handful of travellers who have taken her approach to things and witnessed the world in the way she has. A real pioneer.