Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cycling in nature's backyard - 2 days of ethereal experience!

"Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued" - Viktor Frankl in Man's search for meaning. 
In our everyday lives, we are continuously chasing something. Now, whether we admit it or not, this chase, this running around, takes its own toll on our health and mental well being. Most of us chase success or happiness, which we believe is a consequence of success. If only it were true or if only success or happiness can be chased and obtained! What this running around does to us is that it makes us preoccupied and we forget to appreciate the beauty, the present can bring can bring to our lives. 

But, if we choose to remove ourselves from the context or the setting - our workplaces, the routes to our workplace, in other words, the whole routine with all its dull details around it - we are certainly able to transform ourselves into different beings altogether. What if we get onto a cycle and decide to drive for 130 odd kilometers amidst lush greenery and dense forests with intermittent showers and the perennial sound of running water? Our true, original, unblemished, childlike self breaks through, in all its curiosity to experience LIFE. 

A group of 35 youngsters, thanks to cycling and more, came together over the last weekend (10th and 11th September, 2011). The purpose was to have fun whilst cycling in nature's backyard - God's own country! Spread over two days, with food and accommodation arranged by the organizers, all that the participants had to do was to enjoy cycling. 

During the overnight journey from Bangalore (we started from the hockey grounds at Shanti Nagar), I was seated next to Alfonso, a Mexican. We talked of sundry things - his experience working for Wipro, living in Bangalore and Chennai, embedded software, Latin American literature...The convoy was made up of 3 vehicles - one ferrying the participants and 2 vans (canters) carrying the cycles.

Day 1 - Saturday

We reached Bhagamandala, 8 kms from Tala cauvery at a quarter-to-5 in the morning. We got a good 3 hours to get ready, have breakfast and assemble with our bikes. (some of the junta had got their own bikes while the majority, including yours truly opted for a rented one) The Great Lakes gang (Purnendu, Sakthi, Satya, Omkar, Vinod, Ashwin and me) together with Karthik soon came to be known to the other riders as the Chennai gang. Catching up with fellow gladiators as part of something like a cycling expedition - I had never even dreamed of, so I was thrilled no end!

 The ride started at 8.15. It was drizzling slightly. With imported cycles, track pants/shorts/cycling shorts, T-shirts and helmets, the 35 of us - we made quite a sight to the onlookers, the locals. We had maximum fun during the first few kilometers; tiredness had not crept in, the views along the route were breathtaking and the feel of one's shoes against the pedals, blissful! There were numerous mini waterfalls dotting the route - water gushing through boulders and crevices on the mountains lining the narrow road.

Till Panathur, the cycling entailed no effort at all, except braking at the right moments during the sharp turns. The road was sloping down and there was hardly any traffic. We met a few kids on their way to school. They smiled and waved to us and we enjoyed the attention. We encountered signboards informing us that we were close to wildlife. The density of the trees and the sound of water together gave us the feeling of riding through lush greenery in a wall paper.

At Panathur, we entered the panathur-kanhangad road, SH 56 and with that, we had set foot or rather cycles in God's own country. The route became a little more challenging and demanding. A lot of autos and two-wheelers, kids in groups, all smiling and giggling, locals on foot in search of firewood, people waiting patiently at bus stops, old men with walking sticks, lone womenfolk washing, occasionally, a bus brimming with people, people reclining on comfortable chairs on house verandas overlooking the highway, bored shopkeepers manning petty shops  - this is what Kerala threw at us; we lapped it up all and our hunger increased even as lunch time was drawing near. The rains that gave us company every now and then added to the fun element.

Suddenly we took a turn to behold a function right by the roadside. Men and women in traditional Kerala attire were dancing to a melodious tune that sounded otherworldly to the ears that had got used to meaningless bollywood fare. A small crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. We stopped to click pictures. I caught up with two fellow riders - Sulaiman Khwaja and Rekha Goel - whom I would religiously follow later in the day.

For lunch, we stopped at Odayanchal at 12.45 - We had covered nearly 50 kms crossing Rajapuram, another large town after Panathur. The rice bath and curd rice with pickle and dry chilli, that was our lunch, tasted delicious. At 13.15, we were back to pedaling. The first 3 kms was strenuous. It required all our effort to pedal as the altitude was on the higher side. I soon caught up with Rekha and Sulaiman and then struck to a simple goal, I set myself - trailing them. When they slowed down, I slowed down; when they stopped for short breaks, I did the same. It was sheer fun, asking for routes from locals and riding through potholes as evening approached. 

Barely a few kms before Bekal fort, my chain gave away and it took 5 minutes of intense concentration to fix it. Sporting a wide smile, I made it to Bekal fort - 83 kms in 8 hours!  

At the fort, I quenched my thirst with 2 glasses of butter milk and 2 glasses of lemon soda; God bless that lady! With the whereabouts of Satya and his friend remaining mysterious, there were a few tense moments. The fort, spread over a large tract of land was breathtaking and the view of the beach with the waves dashing with an astonishing ferocity against the rocks, disconcerting and awe-inspiring at the same time!   

The Chennai gang decided to make its own way to Kasaragod. It was a backbreaking journey - with 8 people packed inside an auto, you can imagine very well, the state we were in, when we disembarked at speedway inn. A hot water bath after such an exhausting day resulted in a sound, deep, dreamless slumber. 

Day 2 - Sunday 

We started from Kasaragod at 7.30 on Sunday towards Jalsoor, 48 kms away on the border between Karnataka and Kerala. The 7.5 km stretch towards Cherakala warmed up our muscles and later, we regrouped briefly thinking we had crossed the breakfast point. After clarifications, we continued to Bovikanam. The breakfast of hot idlis and vada provided just the right amount of energy to traverse the most difficult 5 kms of the whole expedition. Very steep, we had to walk a good distance to cover that stretch. 

The fact that I had company this time around too helped. Omkar, Sanjay, Aravind, Jagadeesh and Alfonso happened to lead and trail me in turns. The sun was out and with considerable effort we continued. Even though it was tiring, the dynamics of the group kept us going. A smile, a nod, a twinkle of the eye, a thumbs-up sign from a stranger - these kept us going. 

5 kms before Jalsoor, we came across a most beautiful hanging bridge. Alfonso and Jagadeesh rode their bikes across the length of the bridge while we rapidly clicked pictures. In a scene straight out of a movie, two kids - a boy and a girl, must have been less than 10 years old - holding each other's hand and smiling ear-to-ear, crossed the bridge. It would be one sight that I would never forget for some time. It is a pity that I don't have that picture with me!

At Jalsoor, we waited for the other riders to arrive, clicked a lot of pictures and boarded the bus to Sulya. After lunch at Sulya, it was time to hop on for the longer journey back to Bangalore. 

If it was one thing that this expedition taught me, it was not to give up. Many a time, we get so close to our goals, but give up. It is important then to forget the goal momentarily and instead enjoy the journey. The goal itself becomes a side-effect then. As Viktor Frankl said, it would ensue eventually! 

PS: If my mobile had escaped the deft hands of a pick-pocket-er, I could have shared some pics that I myself took but none of them would have matched Purnendu's magic! All pics courtesy - Purnendu! You can also read his account here

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