The cycle diaries: into ‘real’ India

Indigenous Peoples
The organization I work with , ACCORD – which aims to improve the human rights of adivasi people in India – arranged a fund raiser cycle trip from Bangalore to Gudalur last week to raise funds for an amazing school for adivasi kids. In addition to the basics, the school, Vidyodya, tries to keep the culture and values of these indigenous children alive, unlike the mainstream schools around us.

We started off at 6am from Fireflies, a Bangalore ashram, very kindly hosted and fed courtesy of the owner Siddharth. Most of the organizing was done by an intrepid young woman called Nishita Vasant with a bit of support from others. Publicity was organized by her friend Purvi Shetty, t-shirts cleverly designed by Sneha Stephen and sponsored by Catapult Connect. Five cycles were lent to us by Ravi Ranjan from 'Velo in Village'. All this voluntary help came courtesy Nishita's persuasive charm.

The food was superb, which always helps keep everyone happy. Dame Hilary Blume, founder the Green Hotel, kindly sent us chef Swamy with a helper. Swamy donned his white chef's hat in the middle of farmers’ fields and to everyone's amazement offered us five-star meals at every point, all whipped up in a jiffy. The Bangalore contingent, veterans of many cycle rides, couldn't believe they were being offered choices of pineapple, watermelon and papaya. Or cheese and masala omelettes  in the back of beyond with goats and cowpats and haystacks only a few feet away!

The trip was planned as a pilot. Most of the cyclists were amateurs, some first timers. But everyone managed to complete the course with only one or two minor hiccups. The three Bangalore veterans– Krishna, Nikhil and Naveen– fixed flat tyres in a jiffy. They were calm, collected and professional so that every flat appeared like a very minor glitch, rectified in minutes.

Though we are in dire need of fairly large funds for a new school, the trip had other objectives, apart from fundraising. The cyclists were encouraged to enjoy the trip, not merely race along like well bred blinkered horses. So we stopped to admire water birds on the lovely ponds and tanks, an integral part of ancient Karnataka's villages. We were amused to observe a sort of avian caste system. It appeared like each pond was reserved for a particular species – painted storks around one pond, pelicans on another, cranes at a third. Only a few seemed to be rebels, moving away from the flock to join the others.

We also encouraged the group to get to know rural Karnataka. So the first night halt was at a village to understand sericulture (silk production) which is a mainstay for local farmers. The group got to see the silkworms in different stages, the feeding, the mulberry, the trays, the spinning baskets and the finished cocoons. Farmers explained the entire process.

The women invited us into a traditional house. In areas where summers get really hot, the houses have an inner courtyard through which natural breezes constantly flow, cooling it. Tiled roofs help. They also showed us the jaggery making operation, starting with the crushed sugar cane, the boiling of the juice, right up to the finished product. Traditional hospitality demanded the farmer insisted on us tasting the delicious sugar cane as well as the freshly made jaggery– it would have been rude to decline!

At night we listened to the story of the farmers’ movement: the struggles for survival, against globalization and damaging agricultural policies. It could have been an all-night session, but everyone was overwhelmed by the physical fatigue of having cycled 80 kilometres in very hot sun. The second night, we visited the RLHP (Rural Literacy and Health Programme) slum dwellers’ federation project and a local school. And the third night, some people slept under a magnificent peepul tree, under an enchanting moonlit sky, in the middle of the Bandipur forest.

We stopped to taste fresh, tender coconut water, local buttermilk and lime juice. Everyone including Lucy, Robbo and Sophie – visiting British volunteers – survived in spite of all the warnings that local water would lead to Delhi belly.

We stayed in free or cheap lodgings. But for the Brits, as well as the Bangalorean city slickers, it was a taste of authentic, real India, away from the madding crowds, the pollution and traffic jams, in pristine, beautiful surroundings.

Those interested in the next cycle trip can log into Mad Cycle Tours or email Nishita Vasanth.

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