An account of 21 ordinary human beings achieving the extraordinary by cyclists – Ravindra Khare, Ulhas Joshi and Narendra Chirmule, the former Research Head at Biocon.
Author: Narendra Chirmule Co-Authors: Ravindra Khare, Ulhas Joshi
“Impossible. Not-humanly possible.” These words come to mind at the prospect of cycling 600km through the Himalayan mountains at 10000-18000 feet. A daunting goal for any ordinary human being! But it was accomplished by 21 people who became thick friends at the end of the 2-week expedition – The Leh Lakes and Peaks Ride. It was not just a journey on the road, but an inner journey as well.
The cyclists’ ages ranged from 27 to 71, and all of us came from different walks of life and various cities; Entrepreneurs, bank managers, scientists, engineers, musicians, artists, and life-coaches from Pune, Mumbai, Austin, Philadelphia, Ahmedabad, Banaras, Leh, Bangalore, Virar, Nashik, Lucknow.
The trip was organised by Ulhas and Gayatri Joshi, an inspirational couple who have been organizing it for the last 15 years, and also run a cycle store in Pune. They believe “The bicycle is the centrepiece of life, which enables everything”. To mark this sentiment, they’ve been building the “cycle temple” on the top of a mountain in near Moriri Lake in Ladakh. Built stone-by-stone over a period of three years, it is a true labour of love.
Our 2-week journey started at Leh, winded through spectacular mountain views, along rapidly flowing rivulets, across the new Union Territory of Ladakh, and circled back to Leh. The route taken was as follows: Leh – Lickche – Chumathong – Upper Sumdo – Tso Moriri, Karzo via NamshangLa Pass – Tso Kar via PolikonkaLa Pass – Lato via TanglanLa Pass – Karu – Leh – Khardungla Pass. It was about 400 km of a fantastic experience. In each place, the people of Ladakh welcome our group warmly.
Once the journey began, it was one day after another until we stood victorious, pleasantly surprised by our own limits and capabilities! At the end of the journey, the emotional experience of each of the 21 members was unique. There is so much that has affected each one of us, that it is difficult to capture everything in a summary. However here are the 7 points that resonated with each of us.
- Learning the art of persistence and grit. Each day, the ride was about 50-80 km with an elevation of about 3000-5000 feet. The knowledge of the plan for each day gave everyone a clear path to the immediate goal, without focusing on the ultimate goal. This focus on the daily short-term goal is one of the methods for accomplishing such seemingly impossible tasks. A life lesson.
- The time and space to introspect. One rides each day for at least 5-8 hours through spectacular mountain ranges, streams and rivers. It is natural for the mind to turn inwards. Thoughts unfold, and there is a lot of time to think. After almost 10 days of the same routine, one gets habituated with this process of introspection and it is no wonder that one feels so refreshed, even after an extremely physically challenging day.
- The deep friendship you make when you are disconnected from the rest of the world. In this day and age of the Internet and social media, physical connections with people over a long time is rare. The two weeks of being disconnected and connected only with the physical omnipresence of the 21 people around us enabled a wonderful space for beautiful conversations and friendships.
- Learning to observe your surroundings. Surrounded by magnificent mountains, running streams, the mighty Sindhu river, one is forced to imagine how small one is before Nature. Times slows down. One can just stand (or cycle) and stare. There is calm, peace, nature, beauty.
- The mind-body experiences. At the end of a day’s ride, what you think the body cannot do – has just been done! It is a mind game. Riding 50-80 km every day in this terrain requires deep concentration, but also the casualness of consistent pedalling. When a big ride is completed, the sense of accomplishment is beyond words. The daily yoga sessions led by Gayatri were necessary and brought the mind and body experiences together.
- The pleasure of food. The team of Sherpas that accompanied the group were not just outstanding cooks, they took care of setting up the tents, the temporary bathrooms, the supply of hot water. The menu was no less than any major restaurant in a big city with Italian (Pizza, Pasta), Chinese (Noodles,), Indian (Karela, Rajma Chawal, Biryani, Aaloo Paratha), Cake on two birthdays, Custard, Kheer, and a constant supply of chai, and high-protein snacks.
- Understanding yourself. Finally, it was a journey to understand yourself. A physical and emotional experience that gives a huge sense of accomplishment; a highly recommended journey for anyone. Seriously, anyone. It can be don.
As Reshma Wable, a fellow cyclist wrote, it was:
“A bright idea
To visit a grand canyon of dragons, peacocks, and blooming lotuses,
Where rolling hills
Take us to the cabin in the woods;
Towards the dead end with hot cocoa.
Walks in cold evening
Where we took
The road less travelled
And happiness followed.”