What cycling alone from Mumbai to Goa taught me.

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A thread of sweat finally made its way from my brow towards my cheek.If I had clicked a selfie then, you’d assume I was crying.And crying I was, in my mind at least.For a December afternoon, the heat had been unbearable. In two hours I had pedaled only about 20 kilometers. No trees, no shade and no people. First my spirit & then my legs gave up on me. It was fast turning into the worst day of my life. For the first time I wasn’t sure if I could go on.
It was my ninth day of cycling from Mumbai towards Goa.I had more than one reason to take this Odd trip. To learn more about the western coast of India through slow travel, prepare myself for a humongous journey called The 12 Project and to test my own limits.These days filled with pedaling had already put me through both fascinating and frustrating moments. But that particularly harsh & sunny afternoon was my darkest hour.But this mad expedition taught me lessons no classroom or office cubicle could. Let me share some of them with you.

  • I came across fascinating stories:

Portuguese speaking Maharashtrians of Korlai:

These young girls asked me ‘Tujh Nom Kiev?’. They were preparing for Christmas celebrations. Seen here with their parish priest.

A small community of 205 families, 30 kms south of Alibag (a beach town on the western coast of India) speaks Creole or a mixture of Portuguese and Marathi. This fascinating language cannot be heard anywhere else in the world. ‘Special’ is the only way to describe the feeling when you hear Indian kids speak in what sounds part- Portuguese and part – Marathi.

My work station in Velas, right next to the hatchery.

Villagers turn conservationists:

Velas is another small village by the Maharashtrian coast. And it is witness to a unique transformation.

Villagers here would steal eggs of Olive Ridley Turtles from the beach. That is if foxes or birds hadn’t found them already. But now the same villagers are vigilantes guarding turtle eggs in the hatchery.

How did that happen?

Thanks to visiting nature enthusiasts who have boosted the economy of Velas. Now the village has woken up to turtle power!

Vetoba – His Chappals & Drums:

Vetoba – said to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva is revered in Sindhurdurg district of Maharashtra and in Goa. I spent a night at a temple in a village called Aravali. No, that’s not the interesting story. Here’s what’s interesting.Devotees offer this god chappals or sandals made of leather. The temple has the collection showcasing chappals offered to Vetoba in the last… three hundred and fifty years.The drums outside the temple are played religiously at seven every evening. By whom?  Take a wild guess…The nagada or the drums are played by muslims of the village as a mark of respect to the local god. What better way to witness India and its complexities?

  • I made friends I would never have:

On this trip, some of my notions about people were shattered; In a positive way though and I made friends I would never have otherwise.

Cooking fish is quite easy. Catch fish, gather wood, light fire; etc; etc – my night in a tent at a beach.

I lived with a stranger on a beach in a tent that barely had space for two people. May sound cheesy, but in the morning we woke up as friends.I spent a day chatting & learning with Mohan Upadhyay, the project leader of the Olive Ridley turtle project in Velas. These are friendships that will remain with me for life. But strangely enough, without the solo cycling trip, I would have never even met these wonderful people.

  • The BIG one – I learnt to fail:

Cycling for 650 kilometers in an unforgiving terrain can be challenging.  Even more so if you have a rusting, rickety cycle which is… ok, pink in colour.

That’s Pinky, right before the trip.

Add to that the zilchness of my cycling experience. The farthest I had cycled earlier was to the grocery store in the neighbourhood.It was the last day of 2014. But I will remember it as the hot afternoon when fear & fatigue dripped from my brow as sweat. I had to make a decision. About whether to keep going on or to turn back & call off the trip.After some rest & gallons of water, I decided to move.To move forward. Because I managed to tell my broken self that ‘Even if we fail, lets fail moving forward’.That small statement first got me moving 15 kms forward.And slowly & steadily over the next three days, after many such ‘Let’s-fail-moving-forwards’ I was smiling. Because I was staring at a dream called Panjim church, my final destination.

I am smiling here. But I cried many times before I got to Panjim church.

Every Odd Trip has its own rewards. My solo cycling trip of 12 days, 650 kilometers and countless milestones had a BIG one too. A chilled King’s beer in Goa(ok, I had quite a few).

Take an Odd Trip of your choice. To learn a lesson or to earn a beer.

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