‘London to Delhi’ cycle raises cash for India’s COVID crisis

For British IT consultant Yogen Shah, India’s COVID-19 crisis is deeply personal.

The pictures of people hooked up to oxygen bottles on the streets of New Delhi and patients sharing beds in overcrowded hospitals remind him of his uncle in India, who recently contracted the disease.

So Shah joined volunteers from one of Britain’s largest Hindu temples who set out to raise 500,000 pounds ($690,000) by racking up 7,600 kilometers (4,722 miles) on stationary bikes — roughly the distance from London to Delhi — in 48 hours.

"I think every single person of Indian origin will have someone affected over there," Shah, 40, said Saturday outside the temple in northwest London. "And anywhere around the world that you have COVID, you feel for that human being, you feel for that person, whether they’re Indian origin or not."

The ride at Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London’s Neasden neighborhood is one of many fundraising drives taking place across the U.K. as members of the Indian diaspora seek to help India battle the raging pandemic. The British Asian Trust, a charity founded by Prince Charles, has launched an emergency appeal to buy oxygen concentrators, which can extract oxygen from the air when hospital supplies run short.

India recorded more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the first time daily infections topped that milestone. The country reported 3,523 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, raising overall virus fatalities to 211,853. Experts believe both figures are undercounts.

In normal times, British Indian families might respond to a crisis in the homeland by buying a plane ticket and going back to help their relatives. But these aren’t normal times for the 1.4 million people in the U.K. who have Indian roots.

Looking for a way to help, members of the Hindu temple in Neasden decided to organize a fundraiser that would be socially distanced and attract young people. They decided on the bikeathon because they also wanted to bring London and New Delhi closer together — connecting the two capitals in spirit even though most travel is barred by COVID-19 restrictions.

The need is dire, but so is the message of solidarity, said Tarun Patel, one of the organizers.

"India is starving for oxygen,” he said. "We need to help.”

Organizers arranged a bank of 12 bikes in front of the temple, its domes and turrets just peaking out from scaffolding. Joining with temples in Leicester and Chigwell, they attracted 750 riders.

Each volunteer gets an hour on the bike — 50 minutes to clock up the kilometers and 10 minutes to sanitize the bike before handing it over. Each volunteer has set up a fundraising page that goes toward an overall fundraising goal.

The efforts won’t solve India’s pandemic catastrophe, but the bikers of Britain want everyone in India to know that they did their best to ride to the rescue.

"You are not alone in this fight,” Patel said. "We are with you. We may geographically be thousands of miles away, but we are with you.”