Monday, January 27, 2014

Meet the team: Part 2

Smitha Srinivasan (Deputy Leader) – Bangalore
35 yrs

Being brought up by parents who are mountaineers, Smitha was literally brought up in the outdoors. She has been going on treks from long before she could walk on her own. Having a father who was in the Army gave enough opportunities for the whole family to travel to exotic locations and also go trekking. The love for the outdoors and physical sports was further enhanced when she became an athlete, representing her school and college in national level meets.

Smitha qualified herself as a mountaineer in 1999 and has three successful expeditions to her credit. Apart from climbing peaks, she has also trekked extensively in the Himalaya and has many high altitude treks to her credit

Apart from being an adventurer, Smitha is also a professional Kathak dancer and free lances as a corporate training facilitator.

Anita Vaidya – Surat
50 yrs

Anita is a senior mountaineer of India who has many expeditions to her credit. Very friendly and resourceful, she ensures that the work given to her is completed. So here is all that she has done: Para gliding, sailing, wind sailing, wind surfing, water skiing and scuba diving and sky diving.

Anita regularly conducts adventure programs for children, including special children and differently abled children. She could not cycle with us throughout, but was there with us till Mumbai.

Gauri Dhond – Nagpur
51 yrs

A Mathematics professor by profession, Gauri has been President of the Inner Wheel Club during2009. Gauri has also done a lot of trekking in the Himalaya and loves travelling, cycling, singing and making friends.

She is in charge of our accounts along with Krishna.

Maj Ashwini Maheshwari, VSM - Indian Army
35 yrs
Ashwini climbed Mt Everest in 2005 as a part of an expedition organised by the Indian Army. She is presently posted in Kolkata. She is a mother of 2 and has brought her younger kid (11 months old) on the cycling expedition with us.  

Roopa Sahi – Dehradun
26 yrs

One of the strongest members of our team, Roopa is a mountaineer with many expeditions to her credit. She has worked in Rishikesh as a Bungee jumping instructor for a few years as well. She freelances with companies conducting adventure camps especially for children. She also works as instructor on mountaineering courses conducted by leading mountaineering institutes in India. She is a graduate in commerce who loves the mountains.  

Shanti Rai – Sikkim
28 yrs

An MPhil in Botany, Shanti is definitely the quietest member of the team. Behind the quiet exterior is a person who cracks the best jokes, but covers her face after because she is so shy. The strongest member on the team who has never cycled before, but is still able to do so because of her determination and strong will.

Extremely helpful, it is a pleasure to have Shanti along on any expedition.  
 Bhagwati Joshi
40 yrs

A social worker and an adventurer. She is fitter than most people her age and a hardworker. A good asset to have on the team. She joined us in the last minute (the last member to join us) and it has been good to have her.

DSP Mamta Sodha
34 yrs

A Deputy Superintendent of Police, Mamta has summitted Mt Everest. Also, it was announced yesterday that she will be receiving the Padmashree. Great news for Indian mountaineering and a good recognition of the hard work that she has put in to get to where she is. Congrats Mamta!

Mamta could not be with us for the entire duration due to leave constraints. She cycled with us from Ahmedabad till Goa.

Chaula Jagirdar
56 yrs

Chaula is a senior mountaineer of India and at present, is the Principal of Swami Vivekananda School of Mountaineering at Mt Abu. The school was started by the Gujarat Government. If I start to list out her achievements, I will need all day and night and a lot more space. She is a high achiever and we all look up to her. A great person to have around, she is funny and lively and always has great insight into situations. We love having her with us.

 Nicoi Nabisee
13 yrs

At 13, Nicoi is the youngest member of the expedition. She is 9th Standard and is the daughter to Chaula Jagirdar and Kiran Chawda. She's taller and stronger than most members on the expedition. I guess it is in her genes from both parents.

Day 21, 22 : 26, 27 Jan 2014 : Kudal to Goa : 70 kms

Cycling on the shortcut... Beautiful views..

Hi everyone...

Happy Republic Day India!!! Sang the National Anthem first thing in the morning before starting our cycling :)

We decided to take a shortcut today. We heard that there was a shorter route that did not require us to go all the way to Savantwadi. Infact, the route was so new that it was not yet inaugurated and it would reduce the distance by almost 15 kms. For us that is a lot and we decided to take it. It is a lovely road, a wide, 4-land double road. The ups and downs however did not stop. They continued all the way to Panaji.

Again, we left when it for a little bright (around 7am). But today we had too many stops. The girls found a cashew selling store on the way where the cashews were very cheap. So everyone bought a whole lot of it. Had good breakfast along the way and got into Goa arond 1.30 pm. The early comers waited for the rest of the team to catch up so that we could all go to the YMCA together, where we were staying for the next 2 days.

As we were deciding where to go for lunch, we got a call from Govind, husband of leader Vasumathi, who decided to visit Goa to meet the team. He was staying with his school friend Fransisco and his wife Vrida and they invited the entire team to lunch at their house. They came over in two cars and brought the whole dirty lot to their lovely house for lunch, where Vrida had cooked a typical Goan meal for everyone. Most of them got to eat non-veg after a long time, and they were thrilled (the meals we eat otherwise if pure veg because of the cost factor as well as to ensure that noone falls sick on the way).

We got to back to the rooms after that and had a good bath and washed our clothes. They definitely needed a lot of cleaning...

Since we had a rest day, it was time to get some cycles worked on. Some of the gears were creating bit of a problem. Especially after the cycles had a truck ride on the day after Mumbai (where the cycles were serviced). A few girls hired a car to go around Goa and a few others took a bus ride. All in all, everyone’s enjoyed the stay here, thanks the Fransisco and Vrida.

The icing on the cake was the Fransisco and Vrida’s younger son, Sahil, is a football player who plays for the Indian team and they were playing the semi-finals against Macau at the Lucifonia Games, held once in 4 years. We got to watch the match live on TV and India won!!! Sahil scored the second goal and it was very exciting to watch. We wish him all the best in the years to come.

We will be having a small interaction with the team at YMCA as well as a cycling club here later this evening. Looking forward to that. Long day tomorrow.. 100 kms to Karvar. Cant wait... Just 2 more segments left to complete. 3 states done. We will enter our fourth tomorrow. Excitement!!

Day 20 : 25 Jan 2014 : Rajapur to Kudal : 90 kms

Deepak, our driver
Our breakfast place today. Had the best Poha here...

Cycling after breakfast...

Once again, we waited for daylight before we started cycling. The glare from oncoming traffic was making it impossible to see the road. So we had tea till it got a bit brighter.

The groups split up again. We’ve been doing this in the ghats so that the stronger cyclists can cycle at their own pace and not get too tired waiting for the slightly weaker ones. The truck is anyways there at the back supporting the entire team, so we were not worried. Each person was allotted a buddy (or they chose one) who cycled at more or less their speed. This was done to ensure that no one is left alone while cycling. There is safety in numbers after all.

The first group reached Kudal around 2 pm. It took a while for the rear party to catch up. We had lunch at a lovely little mess on the highway and then went to stay in the house of a person known to Deepa. It was a typical Konkan farm house and had a lovely feel to it. We loved staying there. They had dogs and cats walking around. Lots of harvested cauliflower, coconut and tomatoes piled up in the veranda. A lovely homely place.

We ate some typical Maharashtrian food that they cooked specially for us and it was very tasty. We slept on the floor all over the house.. even in the veranda :) All of us had a good sleep that night..

Day 19 : 24 Jan 2014 : Ratnagiri to Rajapur : 60 kms

(Dont have any interesting pics for today)

We’re getting tired of these uphills.. lol... But we have to get used to it. We will be encountering a lot of it this time. During our 2011 expedition on the west coast (Kolkata to Kanyakumari), we probably encountered mild uphills on 1-2 days... that is it!!! This is seeming never ending after just 3 days :)... Hopefully we will get over it soon :)

There is supposed to be a coastal (and shorter) route from Ratnagiri to Rajapur. But we chose to take the longer route on the highway because we were told the roads are much better. We got to the highway early, but decided to wait for it to get a bit brighter before we start. The previous day we had a bit of a scare when a truck overtaking another, came at us from the opposite side and almost ran over our leading group. In the darkness, we cant really blame anyone either. So we decided to start cycling when it gets a little brighter for the sake of safety, at least in the ghats, though it would mean that we have to cycle more in the heat, later in the day. Safety first!!

Rajapur was short enough so we reached there by about lunch time. Accommodation was not sponsored here so we were staying at a lodge. And as we headed towards the lodge, most of us were cursing lol... The road that led from the highway to the lodge was a steep downhill. This meant that first thing tomorrow morning, we have to cycle uphill!!! Or walk ;)

Had lunch and dinner at a small mess opposite the lodge. Rooms were dirty and the sheets were dirtier, but we’re mountaineers, right? We adjust anywhere :).. So we did. At Rs 100 a night, i don’t think we could have expected more anyways...

Day 18 : 23 Jan 2014 : Chiplun to Ratnagiri : 80 kms

Uphill or downhill?? We were ready to negotiate with anyone to get the uphills removed lol...

Shanti from Sikkim... Sweating for the first time in her life and not liking it... :)

And the ghats continue and continue... We’re getting better at cycling uphill. But the uphills are not getting any lesser. It is a gruelling task cycling uphill, but then the downhills make up for it and we speed through them...

We reached the turnoff to Ratnagiri at about 2 pm and we were exhausted by the time we got there. Ate at the first available restaurant and then loaded our cycles onto the truck. Ratnagiri was another 13 kms inside (away from the NH), so we decided to do that in the truck. We will come back again to the same place and begin cycling tomorrow.

Stayed at the house of a Naval officer in Ratnagiri who had kindly arranged it for us. Relaxed afternoon, no presentations or press conferences. Washed clothes and just relaxed.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 17 : 22 Jan 2014 : Mahad to Chiplun : 86 kms

Break time!!!

One of the never ending uphills...

Some of the beautiful scenery along the route

One of the milestones.. Close to our destination for the day...

The scenery just gets better and better and I think it will remain like this at least till we get to Goa. Today was the first day we encounted the ghats through the hills and while we are enjoying the scenery when we could, most times we are unable to lift our head up and look around thanks to the steep climbs :)...

The roads are amazing. It is still a single road, but the quality of the road is amazing. We’re surrounded by mango and cashew trees and the fragrance of fresh mango blossoms in the air. The weather when we start is very cool, but by about 11 am it starts to get unbearably hot. We have been continuing to cycle through the heat and stopping frequently for water and juice breaks along the way.

Today was a very long day with 2 steep ghat sections along the way. We were cycling for almost 11.5 hours today. Since it was the first time that we encountered such long uphills, it was pretty tough for most members. Some walked the uphills while a 1 or 2 sat in the truck till the ghats were over. Of course, the 11.5 hours included a breakfast and lunch break of almost an hour each, plus the juice breaks along the way (anything to redeem ourselves.. lol). But all in all, the girls are cycling very well, considering that most of the team are not cyclists and have definitely never cycled in the hills.

We’re staying at a girls hostel that is on the highway.. easier for tomorrow :)

Day 16 : 21 Jan 2014 : Alibagh to Mahad : 50 kms

The team being received at Mahad


Waiting to be received at Mahad.

Working on a pot...

The place where we were staying is far from the main highway and the road was very bad. So we took the decision that we will go in the truck till the main highway and then start cycling. We must have cycled about 50 kms today and it was not too bad. Gentle rolling hills continued.

Just as we were starting to think that the scenery will not change much, we got to the Konkan. The beauty of the hills are amazing. One feels like stopping cycling and just sitting in one place to be one with nature. And as luck would have it, the sun was behind clouds most of the day and the weather was also wonderful. All in all it was a great day and we had a great time cycling.

The Rotary President, Mr Parag, Vice-President and Secretary, who is also the local Corporator, came to receive us at the entrance to Mahad. We were staying at Mr Parag’s house. They then fed us some good lunch at a 100-year -old restaurant called Gokul. While we were there, a gentleman walked in with 2 big bags of fruits and handed them over to us. Apparently he has a fruit shop and got them for us.. How sweet!

We rested after that, ate khichdi and kadi for dinner and then went for the Rotary meeting. Luckily for us we landed in Mahad on the day that they have their weekly meeting, so we were able to meet most of the Rotarians in Mahad. We introduced all the members to them and our expedition as well. We also gave them a presentation of Everest and they were very very thrilled.

It was 11pm by the time we got back to the house to sleep. We were just so tired!!!!

Day 15 : 20 Jan 2014 : Mumbai to Alibagh

Some of the team  members at Gateway of India - L-R - Vasumathi, Chaula, Mamta, Krishna, Bhagwati, Ashwini, Shanti, Anita, Gauri, Nicoi...

WANI in the sand L-R - Shanti, Rupa, Nicoi, Smitha, Soni, Anita...

 YAY!!! Beach!!!

 Hindi movie style running on the beach...

Gateway of India and the Taj

Just fun...

Premila helping Anita stretch

We couldn’t cycle today due to an agitation planned at Alibagh because of the proposed opening of a slaughter house. Couldn’t even take the SCOTT cycles to Gateway of India for a pic. But we did go and take a pic wearing our t-shirts. We then took the first ferry out to Mandva.

We loaded our cycles and luggage on the truck at 5.30 and took a drop to the Gateway of India. While we went to get tickets for the 7am ferry, the truck left in the long route to reach Mandva. The truck would have to travel 100 odd kilometres while we had an hour long ferry ride. Of course, we reached much before the truck could reach. We had breakfast at Mandva and wandered along the beach while waiting. We were greeted by our host Mr Gandhi with roses and he also waited with us for the truck.

Mr Gandhi had organised 2 programmes for us at Alibagh that day. But nothing was possible. Everything was closed and all the roads were supposed to be blocked. As soon as the truck came, we sat in it and went to the resort where they had organised our stay. I believe we just missed the crowd. We did see a lot of people shouting slogans and screaming on the roads.

The resort is beautiful. It is called Blue Whale resort and the reason it is called that is because there is an actual skeleton of a baby blue whale in the resort. I believe it washed up ashore a while back. They buried it in the sand for 6 months for it to decompose. Then they pulled out the bones and have arranged it as a show piece. It is huge. The owner of the resort has a business in solid waste management. The resort is beautiful and the food was very tasty. We had a great time there. It would have been greater though if we were able to cycle.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Day 13, 14 : 18, 19 Jan 2014 : Charoti to Mumbai : 120 kms (but we needed to cycle only 85 or so)

Here's the moon for a change :)

The ride...

Riders from Mumbai caught up with us.. waiting to cross the bridge into Mumbai...

Soni along with Fatima from SCOTT...

The entire team...

SCOTT G3 team with 3 people from the SCOTT team :)

With the SCOTT team as well as some of the riders who came out to meet us..

These guys are making a documentary on cycling called Nikal Pado... Smitha speaking with them..

Anita Rao in the foreground, SCOTT G3 team meeting with the riders who rode with us from Hotel Fountain till Borivali National Park...

Hospitality and love continues in Mumbai.

We left at our usual time, 6 am. 4 punctures today.. one happened before we started, 2 more on the way and one on Mumbai. And one cycle was already punctured from the previous day that we were not able to get fixed. So we had 5 punctures that needed fixed.

We cycled relentlessly today. We took hardly any breaks. Even breakfast was at a tiny shop along the way. As usual it was cold in the morning and got hot as the sun came up. But the scenery was beautiful. We were surrounded by hills on all sides and the route was also hilly. And the roads were beautiful. Really enjoyed the ride today.

About 30 kms ahead of Hotel fountain, our first destination for the day, we were joined by a rider who read about us on facebook and decided to ride with us. As we approached Mumbai, we were joined by 4 more riders. It was great to see them ride out to meet us. We had lunch at Hotel fountain and before we could pay, these boys had already paid for our lunch. It was embarrassing to see people do so much for us and is a very humbling experience.

After lunch as we were sitting outside waiting for the SCOTT team to catch up with us (Rakesh, Fatima), another gentleman read on our t-shirts that we are cycling from Kutch to Kerala and bought us 2 crates of mineral water saying, “Please drink clean water. You have a long way to go and should not fall sick.” This was our second experience of Mumbai hospitality.

The third one happened as we finished our ride with the SCOTT team at Borivali National Park, also called Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A whole lot of riders joined us at Fountain to ride with us till the national park. Unfortunately for us, this was through the horrible traffic of Mumbai, and since a lot of our riders are not too comfortable on the cycle, it was a test of nerves to reach the national park. As we arrived there, we had a boy serenade us with a guitar and a beautiful song. One of the riders came up to me and asked how we were managing for funds and I told him that we have put our own money. He put his hands in his pocket and gave me whatever money he had. He also asked for our bank account details so that he could transfer more money to us. How amazing!!!

The journey till here was the easy part. The difficult part was getting from there to Colaba, Navy nagar, where we were staying. Loaded cycles onto the truck and unloaded luggage. Then went to the station to catch a train for an hour long ride to Churchgate. We were all so exhausted by now that we slept right through the train journey. But the day was long from over. We then took taxis to get to the house of Col Devang Naik, a friend of Chaula where were staying for the night. While we were taking tuens having a bath in the 2 bathrooms, we were also waiting for the truck to come so that we could unload the cycles again and the rest of the luggage that we could not carry in the train. It was 11 by the time the truck arrived and 11.30 by the time we could send it back again. By the time we hit the sack, we were totally exhausted.

Next day was clothes washing day. Each of us must have taken more than an hour washing ourselves and our clothes. Chirag, a SCOTT dealer, arrived around 10.30 with his mechanic to tune up our bikes. We’ve not done too much else apart from relaxing. A few girls went shopping and a few went sailing in the evening. But most of us just lazed around and caught up with some much needed sleep.

There is news of agitation in Alibagh tomorrow because they are planning to open a slaughter house there. We may not be able to ride. We so badly wanted to take a pic with our SCOTT bikes at Gateway of India, but we may not be able to do so. Might have to be happy with just the t-shirts. Lets see how it goes.

Day 12 : 17 Jan 2014 : Valsad to Charoti : 95 kms


First checkpoint in Maharashtra.... YAY!!!

Melted chocolate on the way.. Smitha and Krishna..

You know you've left Gujarat as soon as you see an alcohol shop!! :P


The hills have begun!! The Sahayadri, and they are beautiful. We were just thinking yesterday that riding along the highway is getting pretty boring because the scenery is not changing. I think we got some good views only when we were in Kutch. After that it has been pretty much the same... the usual towns and cities and ‘civilization’. But today was different. While it is difficult to pedal uphill, the downhills are great and we really enjoy them. Hopefully we’ll get more of the latter lol...

We planned to leave at 6 as usual, but ended up leaving at 6.15 or so. We had 2 punctures today... not too bad.. Crossed into Maharashtra today. It was a great experience to leave one state behind and enter a new one. A feeling of excitement and anticipation for what is to come. Each day is unknown for the team. We don’t know what kind of accommodation we will get, what kind of food to expect and what kind of route to look forward to. We’re taking each day as it comes and not keeping our expectations too high. Considering that we are on such a shoe string budget, we cant afford much ourselves, and we don’t know how people have planned for us. So each day feels brand new and different from all the ones past.

Entering Maharashtra was no less amazing. Deepa’s masi and a whole team of women met with us 20 kms before our destination. They caught up with us again as we neared our destination (10 kms ahead of Charoti) and took us all to a hotel for lunch. We were expecting to pay for our own lunch as we had told them we will come after, but they insisted and did not allow us to pay. They took us to a resort where we were staying for the night. It was the first time that the entire team was staying together in a dormitory and that was nice as well.

Vasumathi’s friend, Firoza, a senior mountaineer, came from Dahanu to meet us. She also brought a lot of stuff to eat for the team, especially cheeku’s that we all devoured. Good dinner and good sleep with Vinayak keeping us company all the time :)... Tomorrow is Mumbai!!!

Day 11 : 16 Jan 2014 : Kamrej to Valsad : 95 kms

Another beautiful morning...

Rupa on the slide during breakfast!!

Chaula (blue scarf) and Nicoi with Surendra, our breakfast host...

Our accountants counting the money that we have in the kitty - Gauri and Krishna

4 punctures again today. I think we should keep a scorecard for the most number of punctures and give the winner a gift at the end of the expedition. Vasumathi is leading as of now with 4 punctures :)

Today was a super long day and while it was very cold in the morning, it got super super hot by afternoon and we were baking in the heat. Can only imagine how it will get as the days go by. Started cycling at 6 and covered a good 40 kms before breakfast. Had a late breakfast (9am) at Navsari, hosted by Surendra Gohil, a professor at Navsari University. It took us 6 hours to cover the balance 55 kms. This included 2 juice breaks (one hosted by the team of Sri Vallabh Ashram) and the delays because of the punctures.

It was 5pm by the time we finished lunch and we had to leave by 5.45 for a press conference. The function organised by the team at Valsad was super huge. Many different organisations got together to felicitate us and watch our presentation. Maj Ashwini showed the presentation of her climb to Everest and the people loved it. She also got a lot of questions after. We finished that and went to the Sri Vallabh Girls School to interact with the children there. What a beautiful school this is. The boys school as well as the girl’s school are both huge and have all infrastructure required for the kids to get a truly international education. We all loved the campus.

Got late again by the time we got to bed. Looooooong ride tomorrow....

Friday, January 17, 2014

Day 10 : 15 Jan 2014 : Baruchch to Kamrej: 65 kms

 Early morning tea!!!

 Early morning...

 We get to see some beautiful sunrises every morning.. this is just one of them...

 Maj Ashwini with her 11-month old Vinayak... He follows us in the truck :)
Finished our ride!!!

 Saree Shopping...

 Kites stuck on the trees in Surat...

 Lovely coffee at Mysore Care. Premila's cousin's place :)

Our senior most member - Bhagwati Oza, 78 yrs old - Beling felicitated by Mr Yezdi...

Our destination was supposed to be Surat. But since our accommodation was organised on the highway (Surat is 20 kms off the highway), we decided this was a better option. We leave from here only tomorrow for Valsad, our last stop in Gujarat. Day after tomorrow we will enter Maharashtra – State no 2...

We finally managed to measure our speed. We’ve been calculating it as 10 kms per hour on average, but have been surprised when we reached earlier. We are actually cycling at 20 kmph. We can add an hour for our breakfast break and another hour maybe for all the other breaks, including water halts, fruit breaks as well as our loo breaks, which seem to be quite a bit :)...

Today’s ride was good again. Lovely road, but much more heavy traffic so we had to be more conscious of where we ride. Everyone has strict instructions to only cycle in the cycle lane. But many times the cycle land becomes unusable because of sand, stones or glass pieces that are there. Then we have to come onto the main road to cycle. Also, many a times there is traffic coming from the opposite side, so we have to make way for them also.

We were ready to leave at 6am as usual, but we discovered a puncture on Vasumathi’s cycle. Then we all had to have tea as we did not get any tea at the place where we were staying. Eventually we started only at 7am. We were at Kamrej at 11 am i.e. only 4 hours, despite a 1-hour long breakfast break. I think the reason that everyone cycled fast and reached early is so that we all have enough time to go saree shopping hehehehe.. We found out that Surat has the largest saree market in the world. Almost all sarees go from here. How can we not go there.

We were then supposed to visit an animal rescue shelter where they treat the animals injured due to kite flying. They have a network of 250 people spread across the city that pick up animals injured during these few days of the kite flying festival and bring them in for treatment. We also visited Anita didi’s house and had tea. This was followed by a press conference organised by the South Gujarat Chambers of Commerce. That was then followed by a gala felicitation and function. That was then followed by dinner.. that was a long long day and we were able to get to bed only by 11.30 (two hours later than we are used to).. We were just too tired by the end of it. Hoping it does not reflect badly on tomorrow’s riding.