Cycle Diaries- A journey across the country
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Cycle Diaries- A journey across the country

I wanted to see the country,

by travelling through it on a motorcycle- Around India in 180 days was the plan.

gradually, the mode of transport changed to a bicycle,

and finally- the journey began- from New Delhi.

I did not know where I would reach, if at all.

This is the story of how it happened.

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 kilometers 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’,
Was nearby.
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 day 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 about 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 premises,
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,
and thus,
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 accommodate 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 'visit' 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-

A day during the cycle journey,
begins with-
laziness- of having to cycle another 60-70 kilometres,
of getting up early on a December morning,
of taking a bath with cold water.
uncertainty- of not knowing where I am headed to,
where lunch awaits me,
and where would I spend the night.
fear- goes away.
I don't fear getting run over by a speeding car,
being mowed down by a truck
or anything of that sort.

the day begins with-
excitement- of reaching a new place,
of a new day where HE shows that there is no limit of His benevolence,
of meeting interesting people,
and being surprised.
Bliss- of watching the rising sun,
and memories of bidding it goodbye when it sets, to rise elsewhere,
of being one with nature,
riding with the wind, or against it,
the bliss of being alive.

each day begins with a goodbye,
to the kind host,
who came in our life when we entered his home,
who fed our hungry stomach,
his shelter rested our tired body-
who powered our journey-
and with whom-
we would continue to stay-
as a memory.

This day began too-
when we-
Me and my friend Om-
left the dharamshala after the cold water bath by me.
I have no aversion to cold water- as seen here-

In Indus.

But Om had no intention of touching the cold water.
Om was new to cycling,
or to resume cycling, I must say,
as cycles have been the childhood buddies of most of us,
and Om loved cycling.
Though he became tired- butt naturally-
But we never remained less ambitious.
Thats the advantage when you are two- you dream bigger.

it was November 26th of 2012.
we moved towards the temple town of Salasar,
around 40 kilometres,
and stoped enroute on a dhaba.
I charged my battery by having hot milk with biscuits,
while Om charged his own by bathing in the warm tube well water.
The ride to salasar was easy-
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 teetotaller.

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 enroute on a farmhouse owned by the priests of the temple,
a glass of chach with 2 kilos of farm fresh amla was the reward.
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,
full of dharamshalas made by people from various places,
hailing from different communities.
India came together here-
yet, stayed apart.
Anyways, we had Darshan,
asked for His blessings.
and after spending about an hour or more there, we proceeded ahead.
'Where now' was the question, as the next destination was not known.
there are two main routes to reach Salasar-
one that we took to enter- from Lakshmangarh side,
and the other of our exit- leading to Sujangarh.
as cycling again on the same route is no fun.
so, we moved towards Sujangarh- 40 kilometres away.
we were 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.
Now, it was getting darker,
and I had told Om-
you find a place for us to stay.
Only one person should be in command.
And today, I thought it would be difficult to find a place.
So, as the sun was setting,
our 'quest for rest' began to gather pace.
we were initially guided to a 'baraat ghar'-
where we found nothing but a room occupied by two goats,
and their poop.
we came out.
we were a bit depressed,
and without much hope,
we entered the village called Lodsar.
moved around a bit,
told our story and waited for someone to offer shelter.
At last-
we asked for the sarpanch's house, and were guided to it.
And we ended up spending one of the most memorable night in the journey-
I'll tell you how.
An old lady at the sarpanch's house opened the gate,
and we told her we were looking for a place to stay.
she welcomed us and gave us the best room of her house.
Later, during conversation,
we came to know that her daughter in law was the sarpanch,
and her son was the 'sarpanch pati' or the real person who called the shots.
This panchayat was winning many state level and national awards,
and was judged the best panchayat.
and we had ended up at the house of its sarpanch.
The sarpanch pati was away with her wife to collect another award,
and we were given company by his younger brother,
and the kids of the family.
Our talk continued for long,
and the kids were happy.
We were informed about some ongoing IT projects in the village,
and treated with sumptuous meals.
Thus, passed another day,
by His grace.

Lodsar on-wards-

Early morning,
5 o clock,
we wake up-
before the cry of cock.
I mend the punctured tube till the milk is warmed,
it's a big exercise that the kids eagerly watch-
ready to help,
bringing whatever I ask for,
be it a panner or a tub of water.
The tube is repaired and the milk is hot.
time to move on baby-
this message I got,
from Om who is eager to begin,
a new day before the sun starts his own.
we move on as the day breaks in,
to reach Sujangarh- the nearest town.
for breakfast.
Sujangarh appears at 8 30,
its presence being declared by a gateway that welcomes us.
Alas! there is no 'garh' or fort in this 'Sujangarh'.
I wonder if we would find Sujan- or good people as well.
Towns are difficult stops in our journey,
and this one was still a small one,
but no less difficult.
people are busy in their chores,
as we move on anonymously-
after a quick breakfast, and visit to a 'Tirupati' styled Balaji Temple.
The next stop is Tal Chappar sanctuary-
the home of Black Buck.
I put myself on full throttle,
and pass the potholed road with great speeds.
The town of Chappar is not far,
around 14 kilometres,
and suddenly,
the cycle gives a thud and stops.
The aluminium rim could not tolerate my manoeuvres,
and its spokes came off,
distorting the rear tyre,
stopping me rudely.
It was the cycle's turn to take revenge now-
I was mishandling her for a long while.
A kind biker stopped,
and I sat behind him with my cycle held in the arms.
The distance of 8 kilometres to Chappar made my arms ache-
a punishment probably.
Geared cycles aren't repaired everywhere.
Not in Chappar.
But the guy at the shop was enterprising,
and began his study of the cycle.
It took 2 hours for him to do the needful,
The rear tyre is a difficult thing to handle in a geared cycle,
and changing its spoke needs a particular tool to open the flywheel,
without which it is indeed herculean.
The wheel was fitted the wrong way initially,
to be re-opened and re-fitted.
It was a work of lot of patience,
and this guy was a patient himself-
of a gastric disorder-
on which I advised him.
Finally after a couple of hours,
the bike was ready to be ridden,
and we moved to Tal-Chappar Blackbuck Sanctuary.
We were permitted to take our cycles inside,
and this was a very small sanctuary.
One could cycle its total perimeter in half an hour- that small.
we cycled as the blackbuck saw us with suspicion- or indifference- or amazement-
depending on the personality of the black buck-
but few of them started fleeting on our arrival,
and the rest followed.
And then , hundreds of blackbucks ran away from wherever we went,
and the wildlife officer came shouting at us- in his jeep-
telling us that we had driven the bucks away from the tiny sanctuary.
the bucks returned as we retreated.
and we took a leisurely rest at one of the small ponds in the sanctuary-
looking at the bird-life.
This is a tiny sanctuary, and blackbucks move out of it-
on the roads,
in the fields.
Unharmed, unthreatened.
The villagers here must not be happy with these deer foraging on all their crops.
But these bucks are beautiful indeed-
the male turns black from brown as it grows,
and looks beautiful with its curved antlers.
Tal Chappar is a good place to visit,
specially because there is so much to see in a small space.
The bird-life here is diverse,
and the sanctuary has guest-rooms maintained by the forest department.
There are direct trains from Delhi- to nearby Chappar station.
Delhi Sujangarh Salasar express is the one that I know of.

From Chappar, we had no idea of where we were headed to,
and we were tired by the ordeal.
Thus, we decided to take a train to Jodhpur,
and continue the journey from there.
From uncertainty- we were moving to security-
the journey to Chappar station in the night was uneventful-
and as we were moving,
the Blackbucks had left the sanctuary and were freely grazing in the fields.
Enjoying the crop of gwar, or pulses or whatever came their way.
The station was quiet, its silence broken by the arriving train-
and we boarded the general compartment-
with our cycles-
that were not allowed-
but there was no provision of booking luggage at this tiny station-
and we chugged towards Jodhpur on that chilly night.
after getting down at Banar raiway station- the station just before Jodhpur cantt,
we cycled to Om's uncle's home,
late in the chilly night,
to catch up a few hours of sleep before another day began.
This particular day was not too good-
and Om gave a reason for the same-
in the morning-
the sarpanch pati had arrived early morning-
and was the first person who we saw.
he was not very happy that two unknown people were resting in his house,
and verified our credentials,
which was understandable.
So according to Om-
the first face that you see in the morning decides how your day would pass,
and thus passed another day,
by His grace.

I would confess that riding the cycle everyday is a tough task,
and had I to do it by compulsion,
or as a part of some job-
I would not have done it.
But this was because of free will,
that I was able to continue pedalling.
This day, in Jodhpur,
we took Om's uncle's mobike,
for a tour of the city.
Jodhpur is a famous tourist place and we had many spots to cover-
Places which were visited include-
Ummed Bhawan Palace, Mehrangarh, Jaswant Thada and the local Kachori shops.
A lot has been said and shown about the city in books and images,
and I would not add to it.
The moments that I recall now include-
the folk song played on Ravanhatta- a string instrument- accompanied by vocals by a manganiyar singer,
the singer sang as his wife looked on,
and his voice reverberated through the majestic walls of Mehrangarh- captivating the listeners from across the globe.
The many eagles flying over the fort- giving it their name- Mehran (eagle) garh (fort).
The temple where a stampede killed hundreds- a few years ago,
the vintage cars lined up at Ummed palace,
the quiet evening spent at Kaylana Lake- an ideal place to see the sunset,
the view from the top of Mehrangarh-
and the filth of the main city seen just below-
the blue painted houses,
seen so many times before in images-
do not appear spectacular- but ordinary.
The evening was spent catching up with another friend,
and thus passed another day-
in leisure, and pleasure.
We were to leave towards Jaisalmer the next day.
Every day starts with a new uncertainty,
this one was no different.
We planned to take a train to Ramdevra,
and cycle thereafter.
Jaisalmer to Jodhpur is a long road-
and later I realised that we were there around the same time when this Cycle tour-

the Desert Run- a 500 km Jodhpur- Jaisalmer- Jodhpur cycle journey was happening for the first time.

loading a cycle in train officially is difficult.
specially when your destination or origin is a small town.
Thus, we took them with us in the general compartment,
making up our mind to handle the situation as at comes.
Nothing much happened,
and listening to the constant chit-chat of strangers- old men and housewives-
we reached Ramdevra.
The language of this part of Rajasthan is more sweet and less harsh-
and people can go on talking.

Ramdevra is a temple town-
with the shrine of Baba Ramdev situated here.
People from across the region,
as well as other states come here-
many of them on foot,
and some by continuously prostrating themselves on the ground.
the shrine has a lot of commercialization-
the people of this town have little regard for anything but money.
Those who visit here though come with faith,
and one sees them coming from far off places,
carrying the flag of Baba Ramdev,
singing praises for him,
and worshipping him at his shrine.

By now, due to some unforeseen reasons,
it was decided that both of us were leaving for Delhi.
The journey was to pause but not end.
This was made sure as we called a friend to arrange for a place to keep our cycles in Pokhran,
15 kilometres from Ramdevra.
The ride to Pokhran was leisurely,
my bike was tired too.
we visited the fort of Pokhran-
a place with its own charm-
definitely not as majestic as its counterparts in Jodhpur or Jaisalmer,
but having its own share in the history.
The sun went down and we left our cycles at a doctor's house.
The journey till now had been beautiful,
and there had been no particular obstacles or eventualities,
this gave us the courage to continue our journey-
and with that intention-
we waited to board the train to Delhi.
Thus, passed another day,
by His grace, and according to His wish.

omething was amiss.
The journey was to begin again soon,
and we had another friend- Mayank joining us.
After a week,
and after buying a road bike for Mayank,
we were in the general compartment of Delhi - Bikaner Express.
General compartment travelling has stayed with me-
thats all one can do if one plans at the last moment,
and yes, this plan to leave for Bikaner also came up suddenly-
we took the cycle with us,
and the Railway Protection Force guy came immediately.
We told him that the luggage could not be booked due to lack of time- which was true.
we were told that the cycle could not be accommodated in spite of reaching more than an hour before.
Cycles and cyclists aren't an encouraged lot in this country.
The RPF guy was not to listen.
Then I used my options.
My uncle is a very senior officer in the RPF,
and I dropped his name.
The constable asked me the names of his wife, and children,
which I told,
along with sharing his contact number.
The constable has worked under my uncle,
and was delighted to have his number,
and the cycle- it was not to be disturbed till we reached Bikaner early morning.

I regret dropping names, using influence, but the constable was too adamant and rude,
and would have taken the cycle out in another minute had I not done what I did.

Anyways, why were we going to Bikaner?
Because one goes via Bikaner to Ramdevra and Pokaran,
and the night train to Bikaner runs almost empty.
The full day was spent visiting places around the town-
The Deshnok temple, the city.
I met my father's teacher,
and went to her house.
Though in her seventies,
she cooked makke ki roti and sarson ka saag-
a delicacy best suited for the winters- for me and my friends.
I saw three tall standing neem trees- to be told that they were planted by my father.
The evening was spent at the Junagarh Fort,
and Basant Vihar Palace was the venue for our dinner.
Basant Vihar- a property of the Bikaji bhujia family is a nice restaurant,
with an excellent ambience and good food,
and surprisingly, very reasonably priced.
Mayan's friend Saurabh was our host in Bikaner,
and his family was happy to see us.
Freedom like the one we were having came dearly to guys of our age-
being busy in the race of life.
We were just lucky.
Next morning, we took a bus to Ramdevra,
and the cycle got loaded on the roof.
The bus journey took us throuogh the drier parts of Rajasthan,
which were turning less dry by continuous flow of the Indira Gandhi Canal.
Ramdevra was four hours away,
and the distance reduced as time passed.
After having another visit to the shrine of Baba Ramdev in his town,
we moved towards Pokaran-
Mayank on his cycle,
we by shared jeep,
and reached soon.
We expected to cycle the whole night-
as it was a full moon night and this is a beautiful highway to cycle on a full moon December night.
Cycling helps you beat the cold,
and your inner heat keeps you warm while the outside weather cools you down.
The plan was in its discussion phase,
and first we had to collect our cycles,
which were resting at the doctor's house.
On reaching the Doctor,
we were a bit intrigued by the cold reception,
and I was later told that a major theft had taken place in their house a few days after we left our cycles.
And on such instances one regrets trusting strangers.
After exchanging greetings,
we proceeded.
It was time for sunset,
and the moon to rise,
and take over the charge from the sun-
the moon was in its full glory-
but the reality of driving on the desolate highway dawned on us as we continued pedalling.
We started feeling cold,
and realised that this was not simple.
Villages were very very far apart-
and once we leave one village-
the next one would come after some kilometres of cycling.
The villages were not on the roadside,
but in the interiors.
Also, if it got late,
everyone would have slept and we would have to be on our own in the middle of nowhere.
It was not scary-
and we were three of us.
We stopped on the roadside,
to have some warm milk/ tea,
and I had eggs- Mayank and Om were vegetarians.
A guy there appeared smart, and educated,
and the conversation began.
We told about ourselves,
and he told where were we going to stay.
Om said- 'If people ask that question, we tell them we would stay with them.'
His name was Ali Mehar,
and on hearing this,
he gladly took us to his home.
We were accompanied by a group of children,
who took our cycles from us and we walked along the 'kutchha' dirt track to the village.
The main village was situated about a kilometre inside,
and named- Chacha.
This was again to be a memorable night,
with a nice family.
It was only in India that one could expect hospitality by strangers,
in the middle of nowhere-
without any expectation.
I have tried to keep this flame alive-
by doing my bit for people who I come across,
and repay this debt.

The Night at Chacha village, and beyond-
We walked into the house of Ali Mehar,
a large house in a desert village.
His father welcomed us as we settled down.
It was a large house,
with a water 'tanka' or underground tank outside,
full of rain water.
The groundwater here is too saline to be drinkable,
and people have developed traditional rainwater harvesting methods.
A courtyard separated the outer room from the inner ones,
where the womenfolk lived and worked.
Ali Mehar's father- who we called Chacha,
was a man of wisdom.
He emphasised that there was religious solidarity in their village,
and shared some instances of his life, and childhood.
We reminded him of a 'fakir' who came to their house when he was a child,
and then returned again after many years.
He had a large family-
spanning three generations,
and there were many children around.
Ali Mehar was much more aware about the outside world,
even international events,
than is expected from a guy in this remoteness.
Now, he has joined as a youth wing leader of a Political Party.

The dinner consisted of Bajre-ki roti,
with curry and buttermilk,
alongwith a request for opium- common in these areas,
but was politely declined by us.
It was a cool full moon night,
and nights in the middle of desert are different-
one can feel the emptiness and openness,
but we were a bit tired to feel anything,
and sleep came early as we hit the charpoys.
This day began in Bikaner and ended in a village few kilometres away from Pokaran-
The next day,
we had to move towards Jaisalmer-
still 110 kilometres away.
It was going to be a long ride,
and we planned to wake up early.
Thus, passed another day,
by His grace.

Early morning waking up in December,
and keeping the date with cold water-
is possible only during a journey,
as the day that begins,
brings with it excitement, and not boredom,
and the same happened as we left Chacha village to continue cycling on the National Highway 15,
towards Jaisalmer.
On our right was the huge Pokaran firing range,
spread across hundreds of square kilometres.
This is India's largest firing range,
and regular exercises are carried out in the empty desert.
Many dirt tracks led into the range,
and we had no business to follow them.
Our way was the Highway,
and we cycled ahead.
After a while,
we saw a board mentioning the way towards Bhadariya.

Here onwards, I would like to share a similar visit by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam,
who happened to discover this place before me,
and writes about it in his book.

Bhadariya Mata temple is an old devi temple near the Pokaran firing range,
and because it is an old temple,
more land was not acquired on this side of the range.
A learned man- who later became known as Bhadariya Maharaj-
came here.-
He brought reform to the villages and established a large 'goshala' for the old, deserted cows.
But what is more surprising is the large library-
among the largest in the country-
established in this remote desert village.
The place is worth a visit.

Maharaj is no more physically,
but the institution still runs.
It was lunch time,
and we had a hearty meal with lots of 'chaach' (buttermilk)
I lost my mobile,
to find it again.

Places like these have a huge resource- Land-
thousands of acres in this case.
and often, the administration becomes subdued to the local influence that such institutions have.
The good or bad derived out of the institution depends on person at the helm of the affairs,
Bhadariya Maharaj was a genuine person,
hope his followers maintain the legacy.

Jaisalmer was 77 kilometres from here,
and it was noon already.
so, with a full stomach,
made overfull by the many glasses of buttermilk,
we went towards our cycles,
and the first pedal was difficult.
As the inertia was broken,
we moved towards our destination- Jaisalmer-
racing with the sun.
NH 15 is a desolate highway-
a good tarmac where cars maintain an average speed of above 100 kmph.
We were cycling on that road,
The beauty of that was that we saw things which were too subtle to notice,
the area had lot of wildlife,
and chinkara were seen.
A local couple was stranded because of motorcycle breakdown,
and our cycle toolkit was of little use to them.
The race with the mighty sun could not be won,
and we saw it getting out of sight,
taking its light with it.
It grew darker and colder,
and at a point where we could not cycle any further,
we stopped at a dhaba.
In the desert,
spending a night was again a question.
It had been a long distance and Jaisalmer was still 17 kilometres away.
We had no lights,
not even reflectors,
and cycling was thus not safe.
Leaving those worries aside,
on the 'dhaba' we bought a litre of milk,
got it boiled,
and shared it among ourselves,
with glucose biscuits.
I had the liberty to eat eggs as well,
which I relished.

Om's friend was posted in Jaisalmer,
at a solar power plant,
and he came with his driver to meet us.
We were thinking of staying at the dhaba,
and talked about it to those sitting there,
who offered us blankets.
Our friend, meanwhile arrived.
He suggested that we leave to cycles and collect them the next day-
which we declined.
why waste fuel?
so, with our path illuminated by the headlights of the car,
and after gathering some energy by the hot milk,
we pedalled again,
to Jaisalmer- the Goden City.
It was a physically tiring,
but somehow mentally relaxing.
each turn of pedal felt more like- 'yeah'
the added advantage was that our luggage- which weighed down us a lot-
was in the car,
and thus our speed increased.

after 14 kilometres, and 30 minutes,
we entered the city-
to feel redeemed.
The last 3 kilometres in the city were cakewalk,
and soon,
we were at the hotel which our friend had booked for us.
for the first time during our journey-
we were to stay in a hotel-
that too because our host himself was put up in a hotel by his company.
After a quick warm water bath-
it was time for dinner-
and in this desert town,
we had the specialities that desert had to offer-
ker-sangri ki sabji etc.
after returning to our bed,
sleep came easily,
and thus passed another day-

by His grace.

Before exploring the town,
we decided to pay a visit to Tanot-
a temple near the Indo- Pak border,
a place which was shelled repeatedly during the 1971 war but was not damaged,
a temple dedicated to Tanot Rai Mata-
the kuldevi- or family deity of Bhati Rajputs,
now she is also the deity of BSF- the Border Security force,
which manages the temple.
We were to cover half of the distance by car,
with our bikes loaded in a camper.
A small detour was taken to visit the solar plant that our friend was posted at.
This area is hub of renewable energy-
windspeed is high, due to the uninterrupted terrain,
sun shines bright, with few cloudy days,
and land is available in plenty.
Also, natural gas has been discovered,
and the fortunes of people here,
who own hundreds of acres of land per family-
have changed in a short span.

We passed many huge windmills,
and upcoming solar plants,
and took the detour to see how a solar plant comes up-
courtesy our friend.
After spending some time there,
we had to move on-
our destination awaited us,
and we did not yet know-
that though we had to cycle just 50 kilometres-
they were going to be the toughest ones of our journey.

Ramgarh is a town that lies almost halfway betweeen Jaisalmer and Tanot,
and is the last place where one can gather provisions.
It has a huge TV tower-
very high,
probably to cover the other side of the border as well.
TV towers are high in remote districts-
to have a greater reach.
I found the same in Kutch as well.

Just beyond Ramgarh-
we crossed a large canal-
its water flow was equal to that of an average sized river-
this was the Indira Gandhi canal-
bringing water from Satluj and Beas to the Thar Desert-
converting it into a green land-
even marshy at times.
The sight of water was beautiful,
and we moved on.
we realised why windmills were successful in this area-
we faced strong winds resisting us-
pushing us back with every pedal,
negating all the effort that we were putting.
We sat down to get some energy from the fruits that we had,
and expected the winds to slow down.
Mayank- one of my friend and companion- had got severe pain in the thighs,
and was not in the condition to cycle.
Army trucks crossed us frequently,
and we waived them for a lift.
After many trucks passed by,
no one stopped,
and we cycled.
the road here is very typical.
For around a kilometre,
we climbed up a dune,
and then, the slope enabled us to ride down at a high speed,
racing on a long stretch of empty road.
from the top of a high dune-
one could see kilometres of road ahead.
The wind resisted our efforts,
and this continuous up and down on the slopes was becoming tiring.
We came across an officer who was having his evening walk-
and Om talked to him-
to realise that he had heard about the officer before-
because he was once posted near the village from where the officer belonged.
Shortly, an army truck too stopped and
mayank boarded it with his cycle.
The trucks were passing us and we saw their contents.
Some were full of fresh fruits, eggs,
and we felt hungrier.
It was during this journey that I could experience the basics of life-
Hunger, sleep, thirst, heat and cold.
Tanot was still 10 kilometres away,
and the sun had set.
at dusk, we reached endless dunes-
without any vegetation-
the golden sand dunes, and on our right- was a village in the desert-
A sight that I can still not forget-
a typical- remote- village in the desert-
where water was still a very scarce commodity-
where no canal reached,
and all the people lived in huts-
those thick walled ones,
which could withstand the extremes of heat and cold.
One moves back in time in such places-
and very few of these exist.
The menfolk was away- earning money,
and the women were too shy to talk.
So, the cherubs- children of the desert answered our questions in their language-
half of which we could understand despite hailing from Rajasthan ourselves.
Ranau was beautiful in its own way,
and after spending sometime climbing the sand dunes,
we moved on.
Seven kilometres before Tanot-
there was another temple maintained by the BSF-
where we stopped by the sound of the temple bells-
it was time for the evening aarti.
In pitch darkness,
without getting much idea of the road ahead,
we continued to move,
and each passing milestone brought some relief and a sense of accomplishment.
The winds had probably changed direction and were not confronting us anymore,
but the dunes were still to be scaled and descended.
And on the top of the last dune-
we could see the lights of tanot Temple,
and hear the sound of its bells.
The descent to the last kilometre was steep and quickly,
we zoomed into Tanot temple,
Om and ahead of me,
in tears,
on having reached this remoteness.
The long evening aarti by men in uniform was a spectacle,
but we were absorbed in our own thoughts.
After a while,
on gathering sense,
we looked around the place.
One road led to the border-
10 kilometres ahead,
but one needed prior permission to visit the border.
outside the temple,
the history of the place was written,
and many unexploded Pakistani shells were displayed-
which had fallen in the temple premises.
The temple was unharmed,
and thereafter- BSF took over its responsibility,
continuing the worship here.
I washed my face in this December night,
and tasted the super saline water.
nearby, an RO plant had potable water,
We were hungry,
and three of us had puri- sabji at the local army canteen.
The accommodation here was free of cost-
and after parking our cycles,
we befriended two guys from Gujarat who had come to tanot mata -
as she was the family deity of one of them.

This had been a memorable day,
and the physical exertion was negated by the feeling of having reached there.
In winters, there is still a long time after sun-set when one stays awake-
and our time was spent talking.
We were in no mood to cycle back to Jaisalmer,
and it was decided that we would take the early morning 6 am bus to Jaisalmer.
Sleep did not elude us,
though the ground felt hard beneath us,
and thus, passed another day.
we were in Her shrine,
by Her grace.
5 am,
a cold December morning,
the sun would not appear for the next couple of hours-
as we were near the western border of the country.
The alarm wakes us up,
to begin another day.
There is some predictability today,
because there is only one way out for here-
towards Jaisalmer.
The bus was waiting and we approached the driver with our cycles.
we were to put them on the roof,
and I climbed up.
There used to be arguments on who would be putting up the cycles on the roof,
and I was considered less efficient.
With our cycles fastenend up,
and refreshed by a cup of tea,
we moved towards Jaisalmer.
The bus was going beyond till Jodhpur-
another 250 kilometres from Jaisalmer,
and would return back the same day,
thus, it left early.
we saw the landscape pass,
at a much faster pace now, than previously.
and within two hours, we were on Jaisalmer bus stand.
It was still early for our friend in Jaisalmer,
and three of us- Me, Om and mayank went to explore the famed Jaisalmer Fort-
or Sonar Kella (the famous Satyajit Ray movie in bangla)
this is a living fort,
rising majestically in this sandy landscape,
its sandstone changing colours from golden yellow of the lion in the day,
to honey like when illuminated in the night.
it was built in 12th century,
and more than 5000 people still stay within its walls.
the fort is a heritage site in danger.
Earlier, local methods of rainwater harvesting, and nearby Gadisar lake provided water in the time of need.
They were frugal with this precious resource,
but now, people have piped water connection and have left the initial habits of using little water.
the foundations of this fort are getting effected because of overuse of water,
as it fails to find its way out and damages the foundation.

The fort is beautiful, and lively,
its narrow lanes lead to beautiful jain temples,
where people come not just to see the wonderfully carved gateways and pillars,
but to actually worship,
The Jain temple also has a library which has ancient manuscripts;
it is a place of pilgrimage for the followers-
many of them monks and nuns who walk hundreds of miles from place to place-
all their lives.
In front of them,
our journey was nothing,
and our purpose too trivial.
enroute, I had seen groups of Jaina nuns,
dressed in white,
young, and having left the material world,
moving from one place of pilgrimage to another,
in a group of four,
walking continuously-

we visited the beautiful fort proper-
converted in a museum.
The carved windows have been shown in many movies,
but seeing them in reality brought both astonishment and praise.
Golden sandstone, available locally has been used to build the fort,
and blends well with the landscape.
It is indeed hard to imagine this fort-
rising from the desert-
in any other colour but that of gold.

narrow lanes became too clumsy for us to continue cycling,
and after locking them,
we climbed the stairs to reach a fort top cafe,
and enjoyed the view of the town over coffee.
What better way to spend a December morning?

Moving out,
we skipped the patwa ki haveli,
and moved to our friend's hotel for lunch.

There were places around Jaisalmer which could be visited,
and all of us-
Me, Om, Mayank and our host, with his driver,
drove towards Sam sand dunes.

Today we were having a 'luxurious' day-
the early morning bus ride,
the touristy visit to the fort,
and now-
this car ride to Sam and beyond.
Our first stop was Lodruwa-
a village that has beautiful Jain temples.
designs like this were never seen by us.
Uniquely made arches, carved in the golden sandstone of the desert.
The different statues of Bhagwan Mahavir were divine- indeed.
Places like Lodruwa are a pleasant surprise-
you find them serendipitously, and they amaze you on being discovered.
here onwards, we bypassed the abandoned village of Kuldhara-
where the Paliwal Bhahmins had abandoned their village overnight to escape the wrath of the ruler of Jaisalmer.

The next destination was the Desert National Park-
the search for the most endangered Indian bird-
The Great Indian Bustard.

Only a few of these large birds survive today,
latest estimate puts them to around 256 individuals,
most of them in a tiny grassy landscape called the Sudashri enclave of DNP (Desert national park)
This is actually a wildlife sanctuary,
and why it came to be known as a National park is a story of wrong transpaltion.
It was originally- Rashtriya Maru Udyaaan-
to be translated as National Desert park-
The Hindi name is still Rashtriya maru Udyaan,
but in English,
it started being called a national park,
inspite of not being one.

We reached Sudashri enclave,
and started looking for the Godawan- the Great Indian Bustard (GIB),
as if this shy bird was waiting for us to show itself.
Sightings are common only in summer months,
when the male makes a nest under a shady tree.
These are the last few remaining birds,
critically endangered,
and are unlikely to survive for a long time.

This bird has even been hunted,
and its habitat has shrunken a lot.
today, the last remaining individuals survive,
in a few enclaves of grassland- like sudashri.
Unable to see anything,
we retreated,
and caught a chinkara leaping away on seeing us.
The destination now was the famed sand dunes of Sam.

We were again chasing the sun-
expecting to catch it before it left us.
The chase today was on a car,
and our competitors were local camels,
which were also being goaded by their riders to reach Sam and cater to the tourists.
We managed to win the race this time,
and caught the beautiful sunset on the dunes.
SAM- the dunes here are definitely worth the time and money that one spends to reach here.
Devoid of any foliage,
the fine sands here are a delightful sight.
We were from the desert ourselves,
but could not resist taking the camel ride.
Riding the ship of the desert in these dunes awakened the child in us,
and small things like racing with another camel,
and getting fearful of the camel when it descended down the dunes came naturally.
after the short ride,
four of us spent some quiet moments alone.
It was dark now,
and the cool sand was inviting-
I could have slept there-
on the other side of the road,
at a distance,
there were performances of local music and dance for the tourists.
since it was late in the night-
the dunes were left to us,
and no one else.
every passing minute made the driver more restless,
as he had to return to his family-
a family man has his own strings attached,
pulling him.
we got together-
arousing everyone from their respective slumber/ contemplation,
and moved towards the car,
to start the uneventful journey towards Jaisalmer.

back in town,
two of us- me and Om-
went to Shri Karan Singh,
DFO, incharge of Desert National Park- known through a mutual contact- courtesy Om,
to stay at his place for the night.
He lived a simple life,
and was happy to see us.
We introduced ourselves and talked for a while.
He was happy to see us,
and we were happy by his informality and simplicity.
he talked less.
In the cold December night,
in Jaisalmer,
we hit the bed- different everytime,
and thus passed another day,
by His grace.

Beyond Jaisalmer- towards Barmer:
We departed early,
and Karan Singhji told us to wait at Akal Wood Fossil Park,
15 kilometres on the Barmer highway,
for him to come there and show us around.

Me and Om waited for Mayank to join us,
his thighs were better now,
after the rest from cycling that we had the day before.
15 kilometres passed in less than an hour,
and we saw the gates of Akal Wood Fossil Park on our right.
we slowed down the cycles and knocked the gates,
authoritatively. ;)
'Karan Singhji has sent us, please open the gates'- one of us told the guard.
few visitors came here,
and during our stay for the next couple of hours, we say none.
Karan Singhji arrived,
and in his jeep,
we took a tour of the park.
It is surrounded by a boundary wall,
inside which-
many wood fossils are preserved in-situ.
'looks like wood, feels like stone'
in a wood fossil, the structure is remarkably preserved as silica replaces the cellulose.
slowly, over a period od time,
in very few cases,
the wood does not get decomposed, but fossilizes.
the entire logs that we could see,
some of them many metres long-
were all essentially stone-
that had taken the shape of wood-
replacing its content- but maintaining its exact structure.
there were few watering holes for the birds and wildlife,
and footprints of a chinkara were testimony that these were being used.
the guard there brought a bag filled with fossils to display.
we laid them on a white sheet of plastic,
and this was for the first time that I was touching, and feeling fossils,
trying to decipher their origin,
hypothesising if a pointed fossil was a tooth or a bone,
and a round object was an egg or a seed.
Thus, I was so novice that I did not even know if a particular object belonged to the animal or plant kingdom.
Anyways, Karan Singhji had brought lunch for us,
and three of us had a sumptuous meal.
he told us whatever he knew about the wood fossils,
and we added our tit-bits.
he had arranged our night stay at Fatehgarh,
around 40 kilometres away,
and soon, we departed after saying our goodbyes.
Akal Fossil park was another surprise discovery-
none of us knew it existed,
neither did we depart to come here-
but we were brought here.

From Akal,
we moved towards Fatehgarh.

A question came to us-
many times.
What were we doing exactly.
We were not on a mission.
We were not sent by any NGO/ Company.
We had no particular motive.
What were we doing?

We were just travelling.

I was asked many times-
'what is your mission?'

the answer varied depending on the person who was asking.
and for those who I came particularly close to-
the answer was- there is no mission.
We were not bringing any change to the society,
in an obvious way.
We did influence those who met us,
we left a memory-
a fresh breath of life-
some difference from the routine.
The 'yatra' for us was a part of life that exists always in the background-
as 'those days'.
It firmed my belief- that people are good,
helpful to those in need,
no matter what their individual circumstances are.
We went to the villages of India,
stayed there,
as finding a place to stay in the city-
without paying for it, is impossible.
Not that we could not afford an accommodation where we went,
but that was not what we were looking for.
Those people who welcomed us in their homes-
without knowing us,
without expecting anything,
and shared their lives with us,
are now etched in our memory.
had it not been this yatra, I would have not met them,
not seen this country in its raw form,
and not enjoyed 'His' grace.
we escaped from the routine of life-
to live each day,
being surprised every moment.
They ask me to concentrate,
they want me to get focussed.
I find myself scattered,
Akin to the gentle breeze,
that carries fragrance of the full bloom, directionless, and seemingly aimless,
I spread happiness everywhere.
Yet, they ask me to focus.
and focus into a gale,
still concentrate further,
turning into a hurricane.
I wish to move directionless,
like the gentle rivulet formed after a rain,
changing directions, and loosing myself in the soil,
while giving life.
they want me to focus,
into what?
a flash flood or a tsunami?
They say-
focus is not that bad.
the lens focuses sunlight to create fire,
a LASER is focused par-excellence.
I wonder-
though focused par-excellence,
it still derives fame from its ability to destroy,
like the focused sunlight which heats and burns.
No denial that one needs to focus,
for not even an eye-lid could blink without movement of all muscle fibers in a single direction.
focus on a collective goal can accomplish the super-human, the herculean.
In that focused world,
Oh benevolent,
bless me with randomness,
carry me with the flow,
pull me in all directions,
this world does not lack in those who are focused,
but in those who consciously and knowingly de-focus, and dissipate.
Even nature shows us at times how to diffuse,
to scatter, to dissolve.
Not that focusing is a bane,
and being directionless a God-sent boon to the select few,
but, even the opposite of this is not true.
So, in this focused world Oh Lord,
send me with an excess of randomness,
Ready I am,
to risk being termed directionless,
if that makes them introspect on their own directions,
but all this is not a self-less service by me,
because Oh Lord, my creator,
I know that many of the important discoveries in my times,
were done not in a focused state of mind,
but by an act of serendipity.

The 'why' of this journey drove us into contemplation,
and even arguments among ourselves.
But coming back to the National Highway to Barmer-
the destination of the day was Fatehgarh.
Enroute, we entered High wind territory again,
with giant windmills making a 'zoon zoon zoon' sound as their blades turned.
The wind was making our journey difficult as well,
confronting us not from the front,
but pushing us side ways.
After a while, we asked for the office of Suzlon energy,
hoping to find some energetic food over there,
and to know more about wind-power.

6 Replies

| Member

I am mighty impressed....

Cycling is the true test of physical and mental endurance as well as the emotional stability. I ride an Enfield and at times it does give trouble, which is easily tackled, but I always stay in good health without being exhausted. However, in your case, I would say this without any hesitation that "I am mighty impressed!"

Travel more, travel safe!

| search is on

Re: Cycle Diaries- A journey across the country

| Member
Superb tale! Totally inspired by you, my friend!
| a LEARNER careful or ignore his posts
this thread may count as epic in future :) ........ excellent writing .........will glued till end

'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.'

nicely said :)

:saywha:Totaly confused how to explore the beautiful earth when one life is too short to complete my great India :bawling:

Photo-Story:[COLOR=Plum] HARI-SILA or HARSIL [maryjane][COLOR=PaleGreen][COLOR=Plum] Deoriatal-Chopta [/COLOR],
| Maha Guru Member
Just well written.....most enjoyed!!
| Loud Noisy Bird
It's an epic poem. A real epic poem.

I can't manage it one sitting. I hope I find my back for another taste...
Life gets aadhar every day.

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