Last month, Aarohi, an NGO based in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region, organised a two-day charity bike ride in the mountains. Creating awareness among the youth about cycling as a sport was just as crucial to the 22 riders as raising funds, finds Moeena Halim
Bicycling in the breathtaking Himalayan hills of Kumaon can be so much more satisfying when it is done for a cause. You can take Delhi-based cyclist Shreyas Kumar’s word for it.
Twenty-two riders participated in the charity ride, which was flagged off on April 18 from Satoli and covered more than 200 km over two days
The marathoner returned to cycling in 2010, and has since participated in several events and races. But what attracted the 34-year-old most about this charity ride was introducing a group of youngsters to a stimulating new sport. “Most of the children in the region aren’t familiar with the bicycle at all and have never even climbed onto one.
Participants had travelled from across the country; some even flew in from Europe. Aarohi, an NGO based in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region, managed to collect Rs 40 lakh
They stay up in the mountains after all and they’re used to walking up and down the hills. It’s barely been a decade or so since they’ve had roads up here,” explains Sheeba Sen, head of policy, fundraising and communications at Aarohi, an NGO based in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region.
“This constant exercise makes them naturals when they take to the two-wheelers,” adds Siddhartha Singh Bhandari, who helped support the ride through his Mumbai-based travel company Walk to the Himalayas.
Riding in the mountains
Twenty-two riders participated in the charity ride, which was flagged off on April 18 from Satoli and covered more than 200 km over two days. Participants had travelled from across the country; some even flew in from Europe.
“We’d all be up before dawn to admire the breathtaking views, and by 7 am we were ready to take off. We’d start in the rolling hills and then it would begin to get much more challenging.
They’d organised support stations on the way, where we could stop for a cup of chai or a quick snack,” recalls Kumar, who completed the ride second, finishing after local cycling hero Rakesh Rana. Pramod Bisht, also from Kumaon, finished third.
All praise for their skill, Bhandari reveals that the 20-something Kumaon boys have only just begun cycling. “Last year, they took part in the Tour of Nilgiris for the first time and finished in the ninth and 15th positions. And this was after barely a month of training; they’re just naturally gifted,” he reiterates.
“On the last day, they told us they had to finish up the ride early to make it in time for a wedding in the family. They finished so early that by the time we got to the end of the ride in Binsar, they’d already left,” recalls Bhandhari, who was riding along in a vehicle, videotaping and photographing the entire ride.
Pushing the sport
Thanks to some very generous and enthusiastic sponsors, Aarohi managed to collect a whopping R40 lakh. “We were truly overwhelmed by the response. All of the funds will go towards Aarohi Bal Sansar, where we hope to enroll more and more students, educate them and empower them,” says Sen, who intends to make the ride an annual affair.
Hoping these annual rides will encourage the youth to take up cycling, raising funds is merely one motive behind organising the ride. “The main idea is to engage young boys and girls, who can sometimes get a bit lost. There’s little for them to do around here if they don’t go off to university.
We decided to introduce sports as a recreational activity about four years ago with our Youth Wing. And then when Rakesh and Pramod did so well in the Nilgiris, we thought why not bring an event like that here,” reflects Sen.
“Cycling is a great way to keep teens away from dirty habits, drugs and so on,” agrees Bhandari, who plans to organise a similar event in Kumaon in October through his travel company.
The next step for Aarohi is to find a way to generate livelihood for the cyclists in the region. “On May 12, we are going to hold a meeting with Pramod, Rakesh and his cousin Kamlesh and discuss how this initiative can be useful for other kids in the area.
We also want to encourage these three to ride more and participate in other challenges,” says Sen. Rakesh is the entrepreneurial, hardworking one in the group.
“He wants to start his own company and wants to take people cycling around the region,” reveals Sen, keen on helping him figure out a long-term sustainable livelihood option. “If he has something of his own, he will employ others too,” she explains.