“Fort To Fort Cycle expedition” in Rajasthan, India (392 kms in 2 days)
Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive. I was determined to pedal on some untraveled path and that too without being bothered by the nitty-gritty of a detailed plan. It was only at the 11th hour that I decided to embark upon a journey based on a whim of connecting some historic places in my ride, which I had dreamt of sometime before. The idea of a ‘Fort to Fort’ cycle expedition in Rajasthan crossed my mind and on an impulse, I decided to pedal my way from Amber Fort near Jaipur to Chittorgarh in southern Rajasthan.
On a whim, I was packed and ready to pedal in just two days. I imagine myself as a later day time traveller who visits the ruins of once flourishing and rich civilizations to be mesmerized by the grandeur of an age gone by. I donned my cycling attire, hopped on the saddle and I was good to go. For the first time in my life, the weather was not something that touched me, it caressed me, froze or sweated me, but became me.
I chose to cycle because in a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realise that through that car window, everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone and you’re completely in contact with it all.
Act of Leaving
I was surprised by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility. So without much ado on route, time and places to cover, I started for the first fort to ‘conquer’.
Forts in Jaipur
I began my ride from Amber Fort, 11 kilometres from Jaipur. Standing proudly on a hill, it has witnessed thousands of historical events and stories of the various dynasties who ruled in the Jaipur region in the 16th and 17th centuries. After registering my presence at the Amber Fort, I pedalled further to reach Nahargarh and Jaigarh. The most memorable thing for the whole cycling community about these two forts is the perilous road climb that we have to pedal through to reach there. This climb is a formidable challenge that every cyclist in the city loves to face every other morning — a climb that is satisfying to fully stretched muscles and heaving lungs as well as rewarding to the strenuous efforts that one has to put in when pedalling towards the peak. When you reach the top you get to experience the first ray of the sun and a brisk breeze on your sweating face, the panorama of the Pink City seen from the Nahargarh is an icing on the cake. Once flourishing and prospering fort, Nahargarh (Lion’s Fort) is now a rendezvous for young people to hang out over weekends.
The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart, head and hands, and then work outward from there and surely this part of my ride turned out to be the most venturesome, wayward and unpredictable. This is the part of my journey when I experienced my true self. This was not just a cycle trip onto the national highways to Chittorgarh, rather a journey where I discovered some new horizons of my strength while facing hardships as I pedalled two consecutive nights. I looked at where I was going and where I was and it never made sense, but then I looked back at where I had been and a pattern began to emerge.
Life on Highways
I’ve keenly observed a life, through my escapades, which is pretty different from ours. The sprawling life on highways is considered as merciless and cruel by the people living a cosy life but this is the life which has the all the subtle nuances required to survive in harshest of the conditions. The “Life on Highways” has its own pace, it runs round the clock and never settles, it never stops for anyone.
Everyone has their own stories which are inter-woven and coinciding with other stories unfolding concurrently.
Some Stories from the Highways
I sat with villagers at various places who thought I was an alien just descended from a desolated planet on a bicycle. They could not fathom digest the fact that I was actually pedalling from Jaipur to Chittorgarh. They were sure my bicycle battery-operated instead of being pedal-powered. The trouble is that we’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-today shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. This realization dawned on me while interacting with them.
“A fascinated Child”
I stopped at a dhaba somewhere about 70 km before Chittorgarh to rest. It was already nearing 10.30 at night and I was famished. I spied a little boy surreptitiously eyeing my bike and me. When he could not resist anymore, he came over with a plate of food and sat beside me to make friends. After examining my bicycle with his charming eyes, he asked me softly, “Bhaiya, aap kaha se aaye ho?” to break the ice. We started chatting. He told me about his home, his parents and school and asked me about myself.
I have always found chatting with children energizing as they naturally tend to be playful and charming. When I was ready to leave, I couldn’t say goodbye as he had already fallen asleep. I gazed at his relaxed face for a few seconds and moved on.
“Truck Drivers – The Wanderers by Profession”
I have always been fascinated by the lives of truck drivers who unremittingly move on the highways covering the length and breadth of country. Unlike us city slickers, they lead uncommon lives that the faint-hearted cannot fathom. Every momentous event in their lives happens behind the wheel on the road. I’ve closely studied them during all my rides to understand what makes them stick. On this journey I met Durgalal, a very congenial man, who shared with me his experiences of being on the road for 15 years and how they’ve learnt to survive on roads.Just swapping stories about our travels made for an enriching interaction that would be Greek and Latin to a couch potato.
Everyone, from the truck drivers to the dhaba owners and their cooks, pilgrims heading on straight to a holy place, kids walking to the village school, tourists in luxury cars, mechanics repairing damaged vehicles, toll gates, vendors on the roadside, villagers quenching their thirst at a handpump against the sonorous honking of buses, screeching of tyre, people resting at roadside dhabas lying on wooden beds, truck drivers having their food under the shelter of their trucks, even the nature also.. dry fields and prosperous green meadows all are part of this life. They all are interconnected lives that co-exist on the roads.
Adventures from a Solo Night Ride
I will cherish my fort-to-fort ride for one more reason. This time I had challenged myself to ride solo at night all the way. I have done solo rides earlier, but doing it at night, pedalling under the inky skies and through stark dark roads chasing the taillights of passing vehicles was a different kettle of fish. I had been warned not to ride in the dark due to the frequent occurrence of life-threatening events like robbery and murder on some infamous stretches on the highways. But I was adamant and continued and spent two nights on the road. Physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn’t mean much. So resting in a hotel on a cushioned bed comfortably with a fluffed pillow under my head was a luxury which was not on my agenda. Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree.
Eventually, I survived pushing myself through thick and thin. In the bargain, I got a first-hand look of life on the highways. This increased the level of ‘uncertainty’ of my life, which is the driving factor in all my escapades.
By morning, I was within striking distance of Chittorgarh, the fort I had been longing to visit for last eight months. I increased my pace as soon as I saw the famous fort loom large over the city. Many folk tales retell the historic events that happened in the past and once you are actually there, there is no reason to disbelieve them.
This “World heritage site” also houses the “Tower of Victory” (Vijay Stambha), “Mira palace”, “Kumbha palace”, “The Self-Immolation palace of queen Padmini”.
All these places resonates with the stories of war and valorous warriors. “Maharana Sanga” the king and a top-notch warrior sustained mutilations on body during fatal wars but didn’t flinch and stout-heartedly fought for his people.
The saga of an impeccably sublime love in which the divine soul “Mira” devoted herself selflessly for her beloved Shri Krishna.
The tale of sacrifice by the queen “Padmini” and other royal ladies who, when besieged by a vicious enemy attack, unflinchingly performed the self- immolation and sacrificed their lives into a conflagration to protect their chastity.
The story of a loyal servant, a selfless mother, named “Panna dhay” sacrificed her baby boy to save the infant and future king of Mewar dynasty “Udai Singh” who later grew up to accede to the throne of ‘Mewar’.
These are the Folklores that signify the aura of historic events and earns accolades from travelers and tourists.
I got to see a rare art that is being sustained and still observed by the Bhil tribe, the same ancient clan that provided muscle to the armies of the Mewar kings. The descendants of the Bhil warriors live inside the fort and continue with the age-old practice of making saris and quilts.
Very fine varieties of ‘Sari’ are fabricated with thread extracted from lotus flowers’ roots which flourishes in a pond within the fort and by weaving the fiber extracted from the bark of custard apple which is also grown up within the fort area itself.
One more exquisite variety of ‘Sari’ is made by ‘Banana silk’. The most beautiful thing about this Sari is the depiction of whole wedding congregation along with the palanquin of the then Queen ‘Padmini’.
Alas! the challenge was over. My cycle expedition to storm four magnificent forts in Jaipur and Chittorgarh, covering a distance of 392 km in two days had come to an end.
Journeys like these trigger the traveller to find his own words and weave them into a story, a story that is totally his own.
My story is of being reborn and growing up after imbibing a plethora of learning experiences while travelling. I have met a lot of pedal pushers and each one’s story is different from the others. Indeed, a traveller is in a true sense a book in which every chapter has a different tale offering a fresh perspective. Life doesn’t mean to be static, to be a single, unchanging person all your life with a fixed mindset.
Now it’s time to flick through the maps to find and plan my next route for the next escapade. As Ian Fleming pointed out,
You only live twice – once when you’re born and next when you’re on a bicycle.
A cycle traveler and blogger-beyond-border is exploring on two pedals with a flair for long distance road expeditions and giant mountains.The blend of ‘uncertainty’ while testing my mettle keeps me going. And to pen it down is a complete pleasure for me. Writing is what brings solace to me in my never ending solitude.
After having covered around 14,000 kms in 6 north Indian states by cycle with a first ever title of “Super Randonneur” in Rajasthan under the French body “Audax Club Parisien” along with a national record my thirst has increased for greater miles and higher peaks.