Tour of Andaman_Sun,Sand and Sea
Day 0 – The Icebreaker
Andaman has been a fascination for me since my childhood and on this tour I have gotten to know many friends who shared similar views about visiting this mini-Heaven on Earth. I remember marking the most coveted Indian archipelago in map-marking exercises during Geography lessons. Everyone who hears Andaman and Nicobar islands has a spark and curiosity to explore these islands where the indigenous tribes still roam free.
An opportunity to explore these islands came in the most interesting and surprising way when I saw a Facebook post about cycling in these pristine islands. There was a shout out to all the cyclists about this mega multi-day cycling event which was being organized by Team Parikrama in the Andamans which was running across the length of the islands - from the South to the North Andaman point. It encompassed a total of 370 + km of pure bliss. Being an amateur cyclist from Bangalore it was a thrilling opportunity to test my skills and also learn from experienced cyclists from across the mainland.
Ernest Hemingway once said “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” The event was slated to take off from 15th September to 21st September 2019 where 25 individuals showed up with their swanky professional bicycles.
I waited for months for this event to kick-off and the excitement was growing to cycle in the land of Jarwas. The fun began right from the airport meeting strangers turning friends during this expedition. Each of us were carrying the spirit of adventure and the excitement of the unknown. Touchdown to the islands we were welcomed by rains and a smiling group of volunteers from Teamparikrama. The volunteers guided us to the hotel, treated with sumptuous breakfast while completing the registration process. A quick refreshing nap followed by pre-tour briefing, we were boarded off on to our support vehicles to drive us to the tour starting point – Baratang. It was almost 100 km away from Port Blair and we were escorted in a convoy for this is where the indigenous tribes of Jarwas thrive. We were lucky to spot a few of them driving through some of the untouched rainforests on earth and chills ran down our spine to witness them so close (photography is prohibited). We were happy to learn that they were protected by the Government and left in isolation as it was their choice.
Andaman has been a fascination for me ever since my childhood, on this tour i understood it was others fascination to also visit Andaman. All i remember is marking the Indian archipelago on the geographical maps during exams. Everyone who hears Andaman and Nicobar islands has a spark and curiosity to explore these islands where the indigenous tribes still roam free on their small islands.
The event was officially flagged off by Mr. Girish Arora, President - ACCI. The organizers gave us a brief about the Andaman, its beautiful islands, the tribes and about the next morning’s ride!
Day 1 – Baratang to Rangat – 70 km.
It was no sunshine but rains which woke us up for the day at 5 AM. All the cycles were checked and kept ready by 6:30 AM and after some healthy breakfast day 1 was flagged off at 7:30 AM. The incessant rains did not dampen the spirits – not even one bit. The road conditions were not ideal but yet everyone pedaled through with spirits so high.
One of the experienced rider said that this tour is all about "Character Building" as the conditions of the road and weather were not for the fainthearted. The scenic beauty kept us going – the canopy of the forest above us and the humming of the birds, to see a kingfisher just fly in front of my eyes along the way made cycling easier with one push of a pedal at a time. The stretch brought along challenges in the form of slush and heavy rain and some more rains
If you are in Andaman's you are never far from a ferry ride. It is a way of life connectivity between some parts of the island is only via ferries and here we are on a ferry with our cycles and buses and tempos for company. The ferry ride gives us a glimpses of beautiful mangroves.
Some struggled and battled it out with rain, some battled it out with courage to win hearts. Our fellow riders Abhishek and Shailesh taught us how to do ride like a pro when the going gets tough. The first day was a trailer of the entire tour and it ended with a sense of “Okay..... It’s not going to be an easy one! But.....we have to because it demands to! Just remembered the pre-tour briefing and figured what they mentioned was right. Andaman has 3 seasons i.e., 1. Hot 2. Hot and Wet 3. And, very Wet !
Day 2 – Rangat to Mayabhundher – 90 kms
After much needed overnight rest and respite from heavy downpour, we were greeted with warm sun in the morning. The roads were relatively better compared to the previous day and the organizers informed that the ride ahead is going to be a treat – the mountains on the left and endless pristine ocean towards the right. The scenic beauty cannot be narrated and no pictures would do justice of the natural beauty this place is. It has to be experienced with eyes wide open
The downhills to reach Morice Dera beach wasn't a difficult ask and most of us just zoomed with fresh sea breeze hitting the face. This place is so unique as there was fresh waters from the hills marrying the salty ocean water and a perfect spot for the riders to take a dip in these amazing waters. Refreshing and relaxing. Team Parikrama marshals were always around the corner to cheer, applaud and encourage the riders to ride that extra mile and evoke the challenger each of us rider.
The waterfalls along the way made the riders stop their bicycles to cool off for it was perhaps the only day in the whole trip when the Sun God overpowered the Rain God. A splash of pristine waters from the hills in the form of waterfalls in many nooks and corners felt so good along the way. The second half of the ride on this day started to show it's true colors, besides the turquoise blue waters, in the form of steep upward inclines but overcoming them made all the riders feel stronger than ever before. The views along the way made up for the challenges in a way and reaching the final destination for the day was a sense of accomplishment and pride for many.
Day 3 – Mayabhundher to Diglipur 90 kms
The DCP of Middle and North Andaman took time off his busy schedule to wish us good luck for ride to Diglipur for it was going to be a tough ride of 94 kms only. The riders were already raising the standards and expectations quietly but surely with one pedal at a time and one kilometer at a time. The prediction for the day was clear skies but no one warned us about the road work being undertaken. The already non-existent roads were being dug up and thanks to on and off rains, we rode through the slush laden roads for most part. Some of the riders even witnessed the elephants clearing the roads along the jungle patches paving way for the future. The terrains perhaps will not be the same next year with better roads, but the slush will be missed dearly.
The latter part of the ride was seemingly becoming tougher and a touch treacherous as the clear skies turned cloudy and the last leg of the ride was with near zero visibility due to incessant and heavy splash from the clouds. The rains did not play a spoilt sport for the pro-riders as they continued to march on pushing themselves, pedaling harder and reach the North Point of Andaman – Diglipur. Looking back at the day, the ones who rode all the way, had only one expression. What a challenging ride it was!!!
The moist deciduous forests and not a soul on the roads for long, long stretches; it was something any cyclist would ask for. A special mention about the fastest rider on most days, Mr. Rahul Mohandas, was lucky to get some great roads finally to zip through ! The gears were being shifted ever-so-swiftly to match the terrain.
The inclinations were super tough but that’s what made the ride worthwhile. If it were flat then it wouldn’t be challenging and if it weren’t challenging then it wasn't worth pursuing was the spirit amongst each of the rider. Just like Bob Marley once said about pursuing a woman who was challenging !!! A sense of accomplishment after reaching North Andaman - super delighted to rest well at Pristine resorts.
Day 4 – Dilipur to Ramnagar (Loop of 100 kms)
Continuous riding in the most arduous terrain forced a few riders to take a day off and just lay around, relish the local cuisine and immerse themselves in the waters of Bay of Bengal.
Refreshing as I would call this day a special day to a lot of people including volunteers, the team photographer turned cyclist, the doctor, singer and the President of Team Parikrama herself knocked a special century ride, a special one inspiring a lot of people around because a lot of us gave up on the 50 km right at the U turn point.
The ride started with the flag off at 7:45 and the riders were thrilled as the roads were intact and absence of slush helped to surge further without a worry of skidding or fall anywhere. The stretch was flat for almost 20 km but we had another 80 for a perfect century ! On this day, the entire team of cyclists were escorted by a police man leading and making the way with another cop at the tail to ensure everyone’s safety.
Radhanagar beach was refreshing and most of the riders did the first 50 km and decided to take a break and soak in the sun and the beach for rest of the day. Only 3 riders, Neeraj, Raj Kiran and Ruben Raj continued and completed this challenging stretch and setting an example. That was the end of cycling and a party awaited all the riders that evening. Stories were being shared, memories were being made and everyone were soaring high on successful completion of the tour.
DAY 5 – Ross and Smith Island and environmental conservation and awareness
Party the previous night had no effect on the day and were happy to learn the initiative of Team parikrama had up their sleeves. Since Team Parikrama is a social enterprise which aims to provide a platform for individuals who are passionate about Environmental Conservation, Women Empowerment, Cycling and Adventure Sports and a part of their proceeds are channeled towards education of girls who are deprived of basic education owing to their humble financial background. Currently, the team has adopted 4 girls and are funding their academic fees for this year.
To make the cycling event more than a sport they took the initiative to make this event Zero Waste and Environmentally Friendly. On the entire tour, usage of plastic was discouraged, food was carried and served in steel plates and glasses and finally organized a clean-up drive across the Ross and Smith islands in association with the Forest Department of Andaman. The team of riders and the volunteers has been led by Dhiraj D Sharma, the founder and leader of the team to make a difference in the islands and "Tour of Andaman" turned out to be more than just a cycling event. It was a character builder in its true sense, an active catalyst in environmental conservation and awareness programs.
The journey back to Port Blair was in a ship and it was an experience for everyone. Experiencing sea for more 12 hours straight was going to be tough and with no entertainment onboard we had to find ways to keep us entertained by observing the ocean and a few lucky ones even caught bottle-nose dolphins doing their routine along the way remind us of Titanic. Playing cards, music, dancing, singing and Ludo on the phone kept us going till past midnight and the morning rays of sunlight we were back to Port Blair. Days in Andaman just flew and I only realized it at the end of the Tour.
Day 6 – Wrap up in Port Blair
Rains welcomed us back to Port Blair and time to pack our cycles, refresh and bid farewell to fellow riders and head separate ways. Tour of Andaman gave a rich experience and a treasure chest of memories which will be cherished forever. It was a test of endurance, character building and a motivator to pursue other – ‘on road’ and ‘off road’ cycling events. Few of the practices of the organizing team will surely be imbibed in most of the riders’ lives as well.
Looking forward to the next year’s bigger and better riding experience. Way forward to Tour of Andaman 2020 ! Mr. Chaitanya Goud, Cyclist - Tour of Andaman, 2019