Fourteen women cycling from Kutch to Kerala spread the green message and a spirit of adventure

Mountaineer. Kathak dancer. Army officer. Kick boxer. Farmer. Bungee jumping instructor. Marathon runner. Educationist. All bound by a zest for adventure. When 19 women peddled out of Kutch in the first week of January, the mission was to conquer what was their final frontier. The cyclists, all linked to Women’s Adventure Network of India, have earlier been on trips that covered India’s other three borders. Led by Bachendri Pal, they had trekked India’s north — Ladakh, Siachen, the Silk Route and the Karakoram Pass. Some have even been on trans-Himalayan expeditions trekking through India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The last frontier

They chose a camel safari for adventure across the India-Pakistan border through the Rann of Kutch. In 2011, 15 of them cycled about 3,000 kms from Kolkata to Kanyakumari. A cycle expedition from Kutch to Kerala seemed a fitting finale to adventure across India’s four borders. “We were 19 when we started out. But some of us left to attend personal assignments. It was known from the beginning they would leave,” says Vasumathi Srinivasan, team leader. Mamta Sodha, Deputy Superintendant of Police, had to leave to receive her Padmashri from the President, while 78-year-old Bhagwati Oza had to take part in an athletic event. At 13, Nikoi Nabisee is the youngest cyclist in the team.

The 14 cyclists reached Kozhikode, two days before their mission ended in Kochi on February 7 after 35 days on the road. “We began in Gujarat where the roads were wide. So too in Maharashtra. The Sahyadri Ghats were picturesque. By the time we reached Karnataka and Kerala, we were drawn to the garbage piles,” says Smitha Srinivasan. The cyclists call themselves ‘Go Green Girls’ and seek to promote a “greener, cleaner and healthier India.” “We have seen the effect of global warming. I trekked to the Siachen in 1997 and by the time I trekked again in 2009, the glacier had receded. The Gangotri too has in the last 100 years,” says Vasumathi, a mountaineer for 43 years.

The women cycle in a single file, led by two leaders and tailed by two sweepers. “No one overtakes the leaders and no one falls behind the sweepers. It is to ensure that no one is alone,” says Smitha.

Spreading a message

The team has visited schools and colleges during their trip aiming to spread awareness on environment protection and encouraging women to take on adventure. “When we go to schools and colleges they are very inquisitive and want to know more about our expedition,” says Ashwini A.S. Pawar, Major, Indian Army and an Everest summiteer. Ashwini who is travelling with her one-year-old son says the trip has brought the women face-to-face with realities of rural life. “While halting in the Konkan region, I and my son took a bus to meet relatives. It was the last bus, hence crowded. While I sat, I saw young boys sitting in all the seats marked for women. I did get into an argument and even told the conductor. I told the women, ‘Wherever I go I will fight for my seat. I will not be here tomorrow and who will fight for you?’ But the women had reconciled to the situation. How will they fight for their children tomorrow?” asks Ashwini.

Those like Ashwini have been gearing up for the expedition for long. “On the last expedition from Kolkata to Kanyakumari, I had to discontinue after seven days since I did not have leave,” she says. But now, even her son has not come in the way of her trip. “He travels in the truck and is comfortable with his nanny.”

It is the confidence such trips gives which is the takeaway for Ashwini. “I am not a cyclist. But when I cycle 100 kms, the confidence it gives is immense,” she says. Probably, that is what spurred those such as Krishna Thakur from Manali and Shanti Rai from Sikkim, girls who have not been on a cycle prior to the expedition, to take on the trip.

The expedition has not been without its share of adventures. Most of them have been on single-lane Kerala roads where traffic is unmanageable and buses harbingers of death . “As we entered Kannur, Shanti was grazed by a bus. She had to jump off the cycle and fell onto the road,” says Vasumathi. When traffic woes become unbearable, the women hop into their truck for short distances.

On a normal day, the women are on the road by 6.30 a.m. and usually at their day’s destination by 3 p.m. While Scott sponsored their bikes, individuals and institutions have taken care of their accommodation at different points. “Sleeping bags, mats, tents, we have them all. Initially, there were many punctures. Now not many,” says Vasumathi.