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  • Janaki Meena V

Tour of Andaman, Edition - 3!! A rider's tale...

Updated: Apr 14, 2023


Group photo from Mt. Harriet

I am more of a leisure cyclist, prefer pedaling as a mode of transport (to work, shopping) and to explore new places on the bicycle. Unaware of what I am signing up for, I also did the Great Malnad challenge (GMC 2018) which was quite a challenge but thoroughly enjoyed it. The third edition of “Tour of Andaman” organized by Team Parikrama, was a weeklong cycling tour at Andaman with many halts and sightseeing in between.


It was quite a hectic phase in my life, with medical needs for elders, quite a bit of other responsibilities, work, home, etc., I decided to opt out and give it a try next year. My cyclist friend rekindled the desire, with a fully supportive mother despite her health situation, all I needed was the final words from my husband“there will never be a right time, nothing will change within this one week” to register. With hardly any time to prep for the event, except for short jogs to keep myself active, I consoled myself that it is good enough if I make it to the trip, everything else is a bonus, anyways it is more of a touring event.

Flag off from the iconic Cellular Jail, Andaman

Day 0 - On-board: The itinerary for the day was to check


in, and kick-start the tour with a meet-and-greet session. The Kick-off event was chaired by local bureaucrats and cyclists offering extensive support to tour Andaman on bicycles. We the participants were quite a diverse group aged 13-60 of professors, doctors, businessmen, kids, fresh graduates, and some from the IT industry (unlike Bangalore events that are swarmed with IT folks). Most of them were brevet cyclists, doing casual 100KM during weekends, with my last long-distance cycling (Anchetty) a year and a half back, the inevitable thought “do I fit in” kicked in. I had no choice but to use the first day as my prep/warm-up day.


Mt. Harriet Roads/Climbs

Day 1 - Port Blair Cruise: Cycles shipped from Chennai were all assembled and ready to roll on, I picked up Merida hybrid crossway, as it was the right-sized one brand-new bicycle. Today’s itinerary was a Port Blair round trip, a total distance of 55KMs, Cellular jail - Chatham Jetty point – Mt.Harriet – Tirang point – Chidiyatapu. The ride was a cruise on well-paved roads, with a fulfilling feeling to pedal in-between sea and greenery.

Roads views towards Chidiyatapu

Mt. Harriet was quite an ascend, elevation gain of 350m in 4 KMs. I used all known techniques (cycling plus psychological), to keep me going. It was evident when some brevet cyclists rolled/hopped onto a motorbike, like at work, different skills are required for different types of rides – stamina for brevets, stamina plus techniques for mountain biking. I rolled up a short distance but did a good ascend ride, a great start to brush aside my feelings of being among elite riders. Post lunch we pedaled to Chidiyatapu, halting at Tirang point wherein Nethaji first hoisted our national flag. At Chidiyatapu I stood still, lost in nature, my feet in shallow water, observing patterns cast in the sand by the tireless waves, salute to this unspoiled beauty.


Sholebay Bliss!!
Seaways

Day 2 – Sholebay Bliss:


Today planned to ride from south Andaman to middle Andaman, a total of 58 km cycling. Route is Port Blair – Tushnabad – Ferrargunj – Wimberlyganj – Shoal Bay 19 – cross Jarawa reserve area in support vehicle – Jetty ride – Baratang. We pedaled out of Port Blair town, crossing suburbs, the ride itself was not by the sea or greenery but in the hot sun.


As we entered Shoal Bay, the scenery completely changed opening into a tropical rainforest, a much-needed change. Post our lunch at Shoal Bay19, we hopped onto the waiting boats, across the stream of freshwater amidst mangroves relaxing after our ride. It was a short 10-minute ride when we joined unassumingly, into the open sea.


When you have no expectations, the experience is bliss, it was a treat to eyes and soul, a lone long-gone tree with its dried-up bark across the white sand, against the backdrop of bluish sea, just for us.

Catching the sunset from Chidiya Tapu!

Day 3 – Introspection at Heaven: Today was a ride-free day, route was Baratang - Yerratta jetty point - jetty to the long island - speed boat to Lalaji Bay. Lalaji bay was another hidden gem of Andaman, with a blue sky above and a shallow clean coral-colored beach below, which is a slice of heaven on earth. There were no tourists, no commercial activities, no locals, and not a single soul except for the forest guest house.


However, our transit delays gave us only an hour to spend in Lalaji bay, leading to a conflicting situation. When the organizer called out to pack up (so as not to miss the return jetty), my friend was heading to record sea life in his rented Go-Pro. He was ready to skip lunch but not the recording, unattended in the open sea was a big risk that the organizer cannot sign-up for.


Tension eased out when another cyclist, who was also trained in lifesaving skills stood guard.

Long Island view from Middle Andaman...

Retrospectively, conflicts are unavoidable even with people of similar interests and affinities. Disappointments occur when expectations are not met, especially when it has been iterated as from my friend’s view. It’s vital that the organizer/leader gets the cooperation of everyone on board to steer the group in and out of different transportation modes and negotiate expectations, which is not an easy task.


The analogy was hard to miss, the organizer/leader was doing a fantastic job of orchestrating the tour (delivery), but it’s also vital on how we deliver – especially, expectation management, being agile, and subtle ways to diffuse tension. These attributes differentiate and define leaders, be it professional or personal life.

Experiencing Sun, Sand, & Sea on a Saddle

Day 4 – Spirit of Teamwork:

Today’s 70KM ride was packed with halts at picnic spots en route, to reach MayaBhunder, Route is Rangat – halt at Morcidera – halt at Dhaninallah(mangrove walk) –MayaBhunder.


Route was very scenic, rode beside the sea and lush greenery on well-paved roads for the first half of our ride. Morceidera our first halt was another unassuming picnic spot leading to simple joys. Stream of cool fresh water gushing through rocks, to join the blue beaches amidst a picturesque setting of swing hanging low from the green tree, was hard to resist. It must be experienced to get off the bike, drenched in fresh water, and join the sea.

Moricedera Beach view from Middle Andaman

Off-roads full of slush and stones, that started off just before lunch point continued till the end of the ride, thanks to recent rains. One cyclist fell off suspecting a fracture in his hand, few others shifted to support the vehicle. My confidence to ride was worn out as my tire slipped often from the slush, adjusting the air pressure of my tires helped me to enjoy the ride to completion.


Tomorrow’s ride will be equally challenging, 93km with an elevation gain of 1000 meters, good roads only for the first 40 km, and typically only a few riders complete the ride. Determined to complete the ride and given the fact that the island is fully bright by 5 AM, me and my friend requested an early start (gets very hot and humid by noon). This was accommodated, but discussions around this request to change were not easy/comfortable, especially around teamwork (following the lead) vs voicing in changes(critics). In the spirit of teamwork if we don’t reflect or review then we will never evolve, maintaining this balance is not easy but a key attribute of leadership. Change is never easy, isn’t that the biggest challenge that we face at work too?


Day 5 – Well-planned Roller-coaster Ride:

Today was a pure ride day of 93KMs with an elevation gain of 1000m, with no halt at any picnic spot en route to reaching Diglipur, North Andaman. Planning and tracking/review of our rides do make an immense difference in completion, just like at work. And my friend planned our ride very well, had a goal to cover 15 kmph, distance check every hour, and breaks every 25 km. Route was scenic, with off-roads starting after 40KMs, with recurring ascends & descends.


Just like in my personal life, the ride was full of surprises/challenges, I was not drained, but rather prepared mentally to brave the ascends. Awaiting a nice flat ride past all ascends is exactly like waiting to enjoy life after all challenges are resolved. The only way is to handle them as they come and learn to enjoy them all along. It was a great fulfilling feeling to finish the long ride within 3 PM

Kalipur Beach, North Andaman

Day 6 – Ross & Smith, Adventure at Sea:


The Ross & Smith - iconic twin islands from North Andaman.

Today was the last but one day of the tour, no ride day also no phone day. Today planned to visit Ross and Smith Island, spend the morning half in the islands, and post lunch to board the cruise to Port Blair. Twin islands Ross and Smith are connected by a small patch of land that can be crossed over during low tides. British had enjoyed these beautiful beaches with picnics and parties as one could gather from the pictures at Central Jail.


I and my friend split from the group post lunch, to explore sea life at nearby islands. My friend swam across the sea to a nearby island with his snorkeling kit while I stood guard (ineffective guard as neither I had a phone nor can swim) at the lonely beach, a stretch of 1KM that the resort owner and his daughter have swum across umpteen times. Exhaustion took over and I dozed off and woke up to see my friend missing, he was neither at sea nor at the shore. Rains hampered the visibility; Just as I was speculating to get help, spotted him fervently swimming close to the island. It was 40 minutes since he started swimming, and he finally swam back to the beach re-assessing his energy and the rough condition of the sea. Amidst good advice from well-wishers and friends, I’m glad that we took a risk and tried out, after all, what is an adventure without any risks?


Like every sports activity, cycling tours are not just about fitness or sightseeing, the experience tests and builds you psychologically. It provides immense opportunities to sculpt you, and your thoughts, physical fitness is just a bonus.

The essence of penning down this experience is to emphasize that if I, a working mother of a teenager, with a good chunk of responsibilities (support for my parents) can go on a weeklong cycling tour then anybody can. You need not be a professional cyclist, cycling every day or weekend, with some basic fitness it is possible, also proved by a couple of first-timers in our group.


Touring by bicycle is an invitation to explore & embrace mother nature sustainably, to question comforts and so-called luxuries, to be off-line & disconnected from World Wide Web, to relive your childhood moments, to fly in the air without wings(downhills), to breathe fresh air without polluting it, to enjoy challenges, to break away from routine, to build bonds, to unlearn and relearn, to evolve, to enjoy life as a better person.


With a love for the outdoors, Janaki Meena V Tour of Andaman Rider, Edition - 3!!



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