Thursday, April 16, 2009

My 130 km bicycle trip to Vadodara

The night before and the morning:

1st April 2009: I thought of sleeping early in order to start my trip to Vadodara at 5:00 am on 2nd April. But due to some work I could go to bed only at 1:00 am. As usual I got up late. I had a dream that I missed my flight J then when I woke up I realized that I am still on the bed and I don’t have to catch any flight. I revised my plan to start my journey at 5:30 am but due to morning activities and logistical issues I could leave only at 6:00 am. By that time the sun rays had started rising on the horizon.

2nd April 2009:

The Journey:

I had little bit idea about which way to go. On the Google map I had thought to follow a straighter path, which I later came to know was the expressway, but I followed another path and didn’t regret even though it was bit longer.

So I left on Ahmedabad-Vadodara highway and on the way stopped at Vishala. It was looking quite appealing during the dawn. I took some snaps and moved ahead. The odometer wasn’t working properly, but at least was showing the speed, even though I had twice visited the shop and got it checked. After a km or so I started having trouble with my seat. I started inclining backward and I had hard time maintaining a comfortable posture. I thought I will find some bicycle repairing shop soon but couldn’t find. Once I got down in the middle of the road to bring it to proper position and a lady, morning walker, warned me of a speeding vehicle coming from behind. Phew! People are quite good.

I traveled almost 10 km when I stopped to ask for direction from an auto rickshaw guy. He told me the direction and then I suddenly asked about if he is having some instrument by which I could tighten the screw of the bicycle. He had it! I was saved but little did I know that this problem is going to be a recurring phenomenon. Was it because of putting a better hero cycle seat on a BSA SLR frame or due to wrong design of the bicycle itself I couldn’t identify? Many of the concepts of proper physical position by Pier remained just concepts yet some helped me in identifying my proper paddling position.


Well I had it twice. After traveling almost 25 km the sun had started showing its full colors and it was just 8:30 am! I was feeling quite thirsty but also excited that I had been able to paddle for 25 km in one stretch and was feeling I could go for 300 km. Well before taking this trip I had done almost 30 km round trip to Thol bird sanctuary so I am not so insane as people may thinkJ.

So now the first breakfast. First one I had that of watermelon. I ordered a whole watermelon and had it for almost 15-20 min. The shop owner was a wholesaler of watermelons. He asked me where I am coming from and where I am going. I told him that I am going to Anand and asked him the distance. He told around 35 km more. I was relieved. I have traveled 25 km and it will almost take the same time. Sometimes giving you a smaller target makes you feel comfortable. I didn’t tell him that I was on the way to Vadodara otherwise he may have psyched. I had seen such expression on the face of a guy who I asked the way for Vadodara just outside Ahmedabad and he was shocked.

So after my first breakfast I left for my journey but I thought that I must have some eggs as I had read somewhere that eggs are very much needed for athletes. They are good source of protein. I traveled almost 10-12 km and got down from the bicycle few times as well. I wasn’t used to sitting on a small seat for long. But I will get used to it.

After traveling 10-12 km from my first breakfast position I stopped at a Sardarji’s dhaba. Well this part of the journey is quite interesting. It was around 10:00 am so I won’t say that Sardarji had 12 o’clock effect. So I stopped at his dhaba and asked if they had some dishes of eggs. Small sardarji, I mean a kid, told that there where only boiled eggs. So I ordered two boiled eggs and a paratha. The paratha was quite crispy. Then ‘the Sardarji’ comes to me with a pillow. Around 40 years old without any cover on his upper part of the body except the turban. He lied down on one of the charpayis [For my non-indian friends a charpayi is a sleeping bed with for 4 wooden legs and is woven with strings. The structure is not firm and gives you a feeling of hanging in the air. Next time you visit India a must try during a village visit]. So he asked me where I am heading and I told that I am going to Vadodara via Anand. Sardarji’s facial expression didn’t change. May be he was thinking 130 km is nothing and by his truck he must have traveled more than 1000 kms. He advised me that why don’t I go to Punjab. Baishakhi is quite near and I may get free food there if I carry ‘jhandi’. I couldn’t explain him that it is on the other side of my way and quite far. I think he himself ‘understood’ that I am heading on the opposite side. Suddenly he got an idea and told me that why don’t I go to Mumbai and then from there by ship I can go to Punjab. Holy shit! Mumbai was more than 400 Km and I didn’t have any incentive to go to Punjab. I think he might have seen Veer Jara a no of times. I didn’t argue with Sardarji and after bidding farewell left his dhaba towards my first stop of the journey i.e. Anand.

I reached Anand, it is also the name of one of my younger brothers but both don’t have any correlation, around 11:30 am and was searching for some place where I could eat some food and then relax like at dhaba. After searching for half an hour I couldn’t find anything so went to the city and planned to see the factory first. May be I will get something to eat thereJ. It was 4 kms from the highway. I went to the city. It was nothing which I would have expected. The access road from the highway side is quite crowded. You could see many people on the narrow road side shops even though it was 12:00 noon. The sun was shinning like anything but I had probably lost the sense of heat on the way to this place. I was so immersed in studying the atmosphere around me that didn’t feel anything.

I went to see the Amul factory which had been the hallmark of Indian milk revolution. I was disappointed by the behavior of the security guard. Even though he could make out that I am not a local person his behavior was quite rude. He told that now all the visits to the factory have been stopped. He didn’t know the reason but when I insisted on talking to some higher official he got me in touch with PRO. The PRO also didn’t allow and told that it is because of Mumbai bomb blast that the visit to the factory has been stopped for an indefinite period. Terrorists could scare people so much I didn’t have the idea or is the lack of confidence in our own system which makes us feel so unsafe? Open to discussion. I just took the photograph of the building from outside and headed towards my next stop i.e. Vadodara.

I was searching for a place to have lunch as well as some rest as it was around 2:00 pm and the sun was at its ‘best’. If only we could share sunrays with other parts of the world how comfortable life would have been. Only the last night I saw my friends in Europe desperately looking for sun and here in India we have at least something in abundance, even in the time of great recession.

Kathiyawari Dhaba:

I was cycling in the sun and hoping for an oasis. I stopped for half an hour at one small roadside shop to have some peanuts and water. I still love the water in the ‘Ghara’ [an earthen pot]. It is always so refreshing! Something which is so low cost based model that technologies may not be able to compete with it ever.

Some people told me that there is a roadside dhaba which has quite good food and not so far. I thought ‘Thank God’. I found something finally. I went for about 15-20 min by bicycle in the heat and on my right was the place where I spent more than 2-3 hours. On the first sight it will look more like Vishala but Vishala is much bigger and doesn’t have so much of wooden structure. This place is nicely done and 20 years old. They have nice benches and it gives it a look of something from the 1960s. Quite decent food, quite inexpensive, nice chach and people with good service attitude. One guy told me that they get visitors from Vadodara also. I had good food and slept on a ‘Charpayii’ like a kid. I felt in heaven. After spending good time at Kathiyawari dhaba I again headed towards Vadodara with an intention of visiting again at Kathiyawari dhaba.

Final leg to Vadodara:

Vadodara was around 35 kms ahead and I was quite happy. It was around 4 pm and I thought I will be able to make before my scheduled target. After cycling for quite sometime I saw a milestone written 9 kms, I know it is bit confusing why they say it milestone when they write distances in kms, and I was quite happy! Finally I am going to reach to Vadodara and will relax. After cycling for 15 min I saw another milestone written “Vadodara – 16 km”! What the hell! How can it be! I just now saw it 9 kms? I rechecked it at the next milestone “Vadodara – 15 km”. Somebody had done something! Phew! It wass so hot and 15 kms so let us relax. I again went to a chai shop by the side of the road with good shade and spent 1 hour. Drank loads of water & chatted with the locals. I realized we don’t need big things in order to be happy in our lives. We miss the real pleasure which is their in small things around us. The air we breathe, the beautiful sky with stars & moon, the wonderful morning etc. When will we realize it?

After resting I headed towards Vadodara and first searched for the house of Alakanada ma’am. After getting a rough idea I searched for a decent accommodation with low cost. A guy suggested the name of ‘Siddharth Hotel’. Wow! Siddhartha resting at Siddharth. Let’s do it.

The room charges were reasonable even though not on the lower side. I negotiated with the guy about a/c and complimentary breakfast and he agreed as I was occupying it only for one day and they didn’t have any visitor. IIM A has taught something to me though negotiation came quite early in my life, actually during childhood itself. Many Indians are quite good at itJ.

As soon as I entered in my room the only painting on the wall read “This day you will be with me in paradise”. How apt!! How did it know? I was quite tired physically but quite excited to complete the journey, which is a precursor to bigger things in the future, and had learnt so much from this journey. I took a shower and was ready to meet Alakananda maa’m.

Meeting with Alakananda ma’am:

After almost ½ hr search for the house, though it was conveniently located but people didn’t have right idea about it, I reached to the house of Alakanada ma’am. It read I. G. Patel. She is the wife of late Dr. I. G. Patel, who was a legendary person and also IIM Ahmedabad’s director during ‘82-‘84. His achievements will fill may be a book and ma’am has a family history of noted economists who changed the shape of Indian economic environment. Dr. I. G. Patel was also Dean of London School of Economics and one of the Governors of Reserve Bank of India among many of the responsibilities he handled. My meeting with Alaknanda ma’am was 2nd and the first was quite surprising.

When I was traveling to Jodhpur for the test lecture as a visiting faculty to the Aravali Institute of Management (AIM) I met her in the train. She knew all the directors till Prof. Bakul Dholakia and could talk about them as they all had grown up before her. She gave me lot of food stuff from different places to eat. She didn’t reveal herself at that time also. She took me with her to AIM, where she was a guest speaker for one of the conferences, and wished me luck. She invited me to visit her whenever I wanted. She gave me her card which just had her name and address. Nothing else! Later I came to know about her from the Director – AIM, an IIM A alumnus from 1983 batch, and I was quite surprised. So down to earth approach and so much care for a student from IIM A. IIM A has produced legends which will continue to shape not just India but world as well.

So when I visited the house at Vadodara she came to the door to open it herself. She gave me lot of nimbu pani but was worried that I made a bicycle trip till Vadodara. She treated me as if a long gone grandson has returned. My visit was a surprise for her. She was quite apologetic as she didn’t know I will be coming and didn’t prepare dinner. She didn’t used to cook much food as she eats quite less. But she brought lot of sweets for me brought from her Turkey trip and numerous visits to different other countries. The visitors’ place was a small museum. I could barely recognize one or two things present in that room. So many things from so many countries. Later I came to know that she herself had visited more than 40 countries and Dr. I. G. Patel more than 100. Wow! Collection of a lifetime. She wanted to give me hand carved calendar from some country, the name which I didn’t remember, but I didn’t take it as I was just praising it and didn’t intention to take anything from there. In that big house only she lives and few of the servants. She has only one daughter who is settled in US [I came to know from one of the old servants who has been with the family since last 17 years!]. What a loyalty. So after eating lot of sweets I was quite full. We had small conversation and she told me that she expected me to come with a wife or at least a girlfriendJ. I told inside “not so lucky ma’am” or “not so unlucky ma’am”J. Can’t recollect now. I asked her about when was the last time she had visited IIM A and she told long back. She didn’t feel any more attachment with IIM A though she says RBI is her family. I saw three volumes of a book published by Oxford Publications on an adjacent table, I won’t be able to read them even in 10 years – mostly because of not so much of interest, recently written by her and comments by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Amartya Sen, Bimal Jalan to name a few. One of the knowledge powerhouses of this country and I felt so fortunate to be in her company. I left her around 8:00 pm and told that will come tomorrow before leaving as I will also be seeing some of Vadodara. She told me to come at whatever time I wanted to come.

As I went to my room I slept like a kid even though my body was acing at lot of places. But I slept with peace. “This day you will be with me in paradise

Next day [3rd April 2009]:

Next day I visited the bus stand first to enquire about the bus timings to Ahmedabad. It takes just two hours. The cost of the ticket is slightly more than 1 euro. Cool! Afterwards I visited, on bicycle of course, the zoo and was quite surprised to see so many wild animals in the middle of the city. God help everybody if any one of them escapes!

After my trip to city & other old places I went to the hotel, packed my stuff and went back to Alaknanda ma’am to say bye. She had asked her maid to prepare bread & omelets for me as she takes very small amount of food. She also got lot of jams for me and brought nimbu panni. She was sitting by my side and watching me eating & advising, like a grandmother. She gave me lot of advices on not going on bicycles for such a long trip and when I argued she told not to do so at least in summer season. I assured her that I will take proper care. She went on to fetch lot of sweets and packed them for me and told to eat them as and when I wanted. The sweets I shared with Rajat & Anand but Makhan (Pier) missed it! I am not to be blamed for that. She asked me if I had enough money and I told her yes I have. She remembered about some beautiful Burma calendar and went on to fetch it for me. Some repairing work was also going on with her computer so even after searching for 15 min she couldn’t find it. I told her not to worry about it and after taking her blessings I left for Ahmedabad on a bus [return journey on the same route by bicycle can become so boring sometimes when you are traveling alone].

On the way to Vadodara I had watched small things and had taken pleasure being part of them. Be it chatting with roadside small shop owners, kids or eating foods there it gave so much pleasure. Why do we all miss these? Is there any sense in having a fast paced life which doesn’t help us in finding peace, not allowing us to enjoy our lives? Only the individual can tell. After reading the story of ‘One who saw’, weeks later, I can say that we need to ‘see’. Pleasure is all around us even in smallest of the activity which we do with interest, in the people around us. See it, experience it and enjoy!

Bon Voyage!!