|Cycle Yatra ... |
Before climbing a mighty mountain,
When one looks it from the foot,
The 'lesser mortal' wonders,
Can I? Should I? Would I?
And then, the first steps are taken,
Full of insecurity, self- doubt and may I confess- Fear?
'HE' smiles assuringly, and he smiles back,
This is how the journey begins ...
'When you start travelling across India, you realise how Big your country is,' said a learned man,
I added, 'on a cycle, this realisation comes sooner, even before you start.'
It was 18th November, 2012, no special day according to the calendar.
The alarm rang, as it was supposed to, at 5 am.
I woke up, as I was supposed to,
But this was when I could decide whether to stay or leave.
Hesitantly, I left.
No flag offs, no Historical monument to begin from,
This journey started from a friend’s home,
And I pedalled on day 1, matching my pace with the music from the headphones,
Towards my destination for the day- Pilani- 160 kilometres away.
Delhi is a big city,
and it was noon by the time I left this city,
and entered Haryana- through the town of Bahadurgarh.
this was going slow,
I was already tired,
and the journey had just begun.
I got lost on a highway that led to a signboard saying-
‘Sorry for the inconvenience, work stopped due to litigation.’
I was not taking any pictures,
I was not stopping to meet anyone,
I did not visit any of the schools or colleges that came my way,
The priority today was to reach Pilani.
By the time I reached Jhajjar, it was 3 pm.
I had come 70 kilometres. I was to cover 80 more kilometres which was not possible today.
‘Isn’t it too ambitious to reach Pilani on the first day?’ A friend had told me.
‘I’ve cycled 80 kilometres in hilly terrain, so it won’t be difficult,’ I had replied.
But cycling alone, is a different story altogether.
And once you have fixed your destination,
You count every kilometre, and kilometres pass slowly while you are cycling.
I went to the bus stand,
And looked for a bus for Pilani.
On my very first day, I was taking a short cut.
The bus went till Charkhi Dadri- about 40 kilometres enroute.
And on the roof of the bus, both of us- me and my ride were resting after a day’s work.
The roof was soon full, and I was upfront with Haryanvi hospitality- hostility.
As the 40 kilometres passed,
I was with a regained vigour that it was not impossible to cover the remaining journey today,
And I pedalled towards Pilani.
Where did I have food- I can’t recall.
Did I have food?
As it was 5 pm, a car stopped ahead of me,
And I was asked ‘hello ji. kya Plan hai?’
This was the first person to ask me what I was upto.
And I conveyed this to him- Mr Ashok, a College Lecturer.
A short way ahead, was his village,
And warm milk awaited me as I reached there.
He was ‘on the same wavelength’,
And provided the much needed ‘boost’ to me.
As I moved ahead, I saw road-sign,
Showing that a temple that I had ‘much heard of’,
When would I come to this place again? I thought,
And turned the cycle in the direction shown,
Reaching there, I was told that the annual ‘fair’ of the temple was on the next day,
And I met the trustees, who I happened to know from my stay in Maharashtra,
And thus on the first day, I was treated well.
My stay was taken care of, my hunger was taken care of, and I slept a sound sleep.
He smiled assuringly, and I smiled back.
Day 2 Getting up early is a routine now, and though there is a festival today at the temple, I would be leaving soon. The destination today is Pilani, and I aim to reach there by lunch time. It is around 60 kilometres, and I start at 8 am, pedalling faster than the previous day. Yes, today another 'uncle' stops me to ask what I am doing, and I am offered a glass of 'lassi'. The pedalling continues, and without much 'happenings', I reach Pilani, where my friend awaits me. I would not be cycling the whole dya today, like the first day, and thus, get some rest. The evening is spent exploring Pilani- the educational town. I am staying in the BITS Campus, and an evening stroll around the campus is rewarding, specially the visit to a Saraswati Temple in the campus. The values which were in the mind of the founding fathers of this institution are still existing, and thus, this is among the few campuses in India where the students become not just engineers but all rounders.
Day 3- A reporter is informed avout my presence in town, and comes early morning for an interview. When he realises that there is no defined 'purpose' of this journey, he gets clueless, thinking, what he would be writing. I tell him, 'I do not wish to appear in the paper. This is a personal journey.' And after a brief meeting, I leave for my destination- Jhunjhunu- my home town. The road today is a village road, and I pass through the daily morning routine of villages- children going to schools, looking at me, farmers moving towards fields, the school bell ringing. Cycling on village roads is a nice experience, its just that there aren't many village roads that can substitute the Highway routes, for a particular destination, and later in my journey, I took many detours looking for village roads, but ended up no-where, or on the sandy tracks created by passing camel carts, where I dragged my cycle, wishing that the road was nearby.
Reaching Jhunjhunu- my hometown on a cycle, was different, yet the same. I stopped at an Ex- IAS officer's home, to give him the good news of my beginning the journey, and he was visibly happy.
Known people stopped me, and guessed that I had cycled all the way, and were thinking- this guy is ruining himself. At home, food awaited me, and at last, I was happy to be here. Normally, this kind of journey starts from home, and proceeds to a destination. I was lucky to have home on my way, so that I could rest for a few days, and that too at the start of my journey. This did give a moral support.
Days Passed, and a friend joined me now. SO, after a few days, both of us now started from Jhunjhunu, heading towards Salasar- a famous temple dedicated to the Hindu God Hanuman.
Why we chose Salasar is an interesting story. WHen I left from Delhi, people on the way asked if I was going to Salasar, as many people undertake such cycle journeys, to religious places. When I did not want to explain, I said 'yes' and thus, I has said 'yes' to many such people on the way. Now, if I did not go to salasar, that would have been not keeping my word, and thus, the destination was chosen as Salasar. What after that- none of us knew.
Yatra Day 4: the journey has to begin again,
and one has to leave home for the same.
Thus, on another winter morning,
the journey began again.
The difference now was that we were two of us,
and that gave a morale boost, for sure.
This was my home district,
and I had acquaintances in many villages on the way,
so even before we reached the tenth milestone,
I took a right turn into a village,
and told Om, my mate, companion, friend- to come along.
We went to a relative's house,
an elder in the family, who was happy to see us.
it was still early morning,
and after a glass full of milk, and some conversation,
we went ahead.
Then, there came a diversion for a famous temple 7 kilometres inroad.
A beautiful village road it was, I still recall.
And thus, 15 kms were added to our journey.
The 'tilak' that I applied to my cycle here, is still present after about a month of travelling,
and I know we have been blessed.
Cycling on country roads is a pleasure,
and on highways, a hazard.
I have always been looking for country roads throughout the 'yatra',
and have been fairly lucky.
Our lunch was fixed beforehand,
at my mother's friend living enroute.
And what a lunch it was!
A beautiful home in the countryside,
and two of us were fed with love that is reserved for one's own children,
so this is how our experience was going on,
in the home- district.
'What would happen elsewhere?' Did this thought cross my mind?
I don't think so; was probably living in the moment.
Soon after, we reached Mandawa,
the town, once obscure, is now a well known destination in the foreign tourist's itinerary.
We were not tourists of course,
we were travellers,
but more about this later.
so, after entering Mandawa,
we looked out for the 'famous' havelis or palatial buildings,
and were guided to 'mandawa Haveli'
We entered the premesis,
a beautiful, well maintained 'heritage' haveli, now a 'hotel'.
We were expected to pay cover charges, but that was not something we could accept,
and our cycles were the 'ticket' to enter any such premises.
The manager welcomed us in,
and a guide accompanied us around.
Beautifully maintained, neat, affordable and elegant- this is how I would define Mandawa Haveli to anyone who would be interested to stay there.
The next stop was a 'manihari' or bangle maker's shop,
she was making Lac bangles,
and two of us sat there,
lazily, looking at her, ordering a fresh pair of small bangles to be made.
I tried to learn the craft, but one has to try it by oneself,
and the old lady might have felt 'competitive' had I asked her to let me try my hand,
so I just quietly watched.
A pair was made, and bought.
The next stop was Mandawa Castle.
The previous 'monument' was a haveli,
but this one was a 'Castle'.
Thus the cover charges here were Rs 250, as compared to Rs 70 before,
but what remained static was our 'cycle yatra' status,
another guide here showed us around the beautiful palace.
Again, well maintained, palatial, with all modern amenities, but heavier on pocket-
this was Mandawa Castle.
One may splurge here if one Can.
The guide who showed us around was an elderly local,
and the castle gave employment to many,
now, Mandawa, and other towns of Shekhawati- the region where this town is located in, are well known tourist destinations,
and I had never been to these places which were in my backyard all these years,
this happens, I guess.
We bid a goodbye to Mandawa soon,
and were looking for a shorter route towards Salasar,
the route existed, but nobody knew of it,
and thus, we used the highway,
a local guy told us after we had covered a fair distance,
that the route existed,
and we had missed it,
and showed us another way to join it;
another village road,
which ended into a dirt track,
and dirt track in Rajasthan turn into sandy tracks,
where we were dragging our cycles,
hoping that the road be visible soon;
what a contradiction-
when on the highway, one resents it,
when away from it, one misses it,
but through my journey I've realised,
one should stick to metalled roads,
not the highways,
but at least those that have 'tar' on them.
We finally reach a proper road,
and ride over it, along the setting sun.
It was Moharram that day,
and we cross a few processions with rhythmic drum beaters and chest thumpers,
acrobats and fire handlers,
and one funny incidence that happens involves us crossing a circle with a live fire performer, to the amusement of kids who make way for us,
finally out of the crowd, we reach a village,
and look for a Primary Health Centre,
basically, to find a doctor who can accomodate us.
Doctors are a rare species in village Health Centres,
and we were told that we would not see one here as well,
but the purpose of the 'vivit' to PHC was solved,
as there was a place where travellers like us could spend a night,
as far as food was concerned,
a person managing a sweet shop got food prepared for two of us on our request,
and declined to accept the payment for the same.
This is India.
Thus, passed another day.
Thus, passed another night.
Day- count forgotten- Om was new to cycling,
or to resume cycling, I must say,
as cycles have been the childhood buddies of most of us, Om very much included,
so, he was tired but naturally,
But we never remained less ambitious.
Thats the advantage when you are two- you dream bigger,
Lakshmangarh- the next major town enroute was about 13 kms,
and with some effort, from our tired muscles,
we reached there before noon.
Since the town's name has a 'garh' at the end of it,
it was expected to have a fort,
and it did have one.
This one is a private fort,
sold to a merchant by the original owners;
it has thick walls,
and provides a bird's eye view of the whole town.
One may visit the fort, no harm.
The inside courtyard gives some beautiful photographs.
There is a temple inside, of Lord Hanuman,
the priest is not a teetotaler.
We bought some fruits (which have incidentally become expensive these days),
and moved to meet the Lord,
one crosses the national highway, and moves on the district road leading to Salasar,
this road is well maintained, and I was impressed,
but the Toll Plaza at some distance took away all the good impression that I gathered.
This too, was a toll road,
and thankfully, cycles aren't expected to pay,
we stopped at a farm enroute, as Om saw trees laden with Amla- the Indian gooseberry,
this was a farm of the priests of the temple,
and it was a large one,
with horticulture, agriculture, and dairy - all going on there.
The Amla looked beautiful,
and a kilo of them were packed for us.
soon, we entered Salasar, a bit tired.
This is the most revered hanuman temple in the country, as per my knowledge,
and the town is like any other temple town,
after spending about an hour or more there, we proceeded ahead.
Where next was one question, as the next destination was not known.
there are two main routes to reach Salasar-
one that we took to enter, and the other of our exit,
as cycling again on the same route is no fun.
so, we moved towards Sujangarh,
very sure of not reaching Sujangarh the same day.
The question of where we would be spending the night became eminent with every passing minute,
and we could not find a functioning Primary Health Centre in the area.
I asked Om to look for a place,
and he took me the the house of Sarpanch of Lodsar- a village.
This way to the sarpanch's place was not a direct one,
by which I mean that we first tried to talk to the villagers about any prospective place to stay,
and all that they could suggest of was goat sheds and places like that.
So, we were a bit depressed,
and without much hope,
we went to the sarpanch's house.
He was away, but his mother welcomed us,
and offered us the best room in the house,
later were we told that her daughter in law is the sarpanch,
and the elder son is the real sarpanch,
the Panchayat has been performing well as the best Panchayat not only in the state but on National Level as well,
and all this was true.
The children of the family gelled up well with us,
and had to be taken away by their parents at bed time,
so, thus passed another day,
and this night was more comfortable than the previous one.
Day- who knows?
Now, this travelling had also become a routine,
though a recent one.
getting up early, having a breakfast, whenever available,
cycling all day, visiting places, and then finding a shelter- this was the routine,
but today was going to be different day.
As Om later commented- we must have seen the wrong face as we got up this day.
The sarpanch's husband, who was the de-facto sarpanch,
met us early morning,
and did not seem particularly happy on our arrival,
he checked our credentials, and satisfied himself.
we left after breakfast, of milk- fresh cow milk specifically, and biscuits,
and then set out for Tal- Chhapar, a Black buck sanctuary.
The town of Sujamgarh has nothing much to see,
and we confirmed this by searching the town for something worth taking some photos of.
There was just one Tirupati temple, made in the south Indian style,
which can be visited,
but it does lack the real feel of a temple, but thats a personal viewpoint.
As we were moving towards Tal Chhapar,
I was accelerating my cycle to beyond its capacity,
the cycle stopped with a snapping sound.
It did not move a single metre,
and the tyre was badly deformed, with a few spokes broken.
Om stopped behind me, and we tried to find someone who could take both of us- me and the cycle to Chhapar- the nearest town.
A bike rider stopped and gave me a lift,
and we were in Chhapar shortly.