Mountain Walking

The Mountain Walker Diaries: By The Bicycle

Chandigarh-Kharar Road, Punjab, India, March 26, 2018:

We are now heading out towards Himachal Pradesh and as we drive through Mohali and Chandigarh, I am glad to rediscover how a significant part of Indians get around – on bicycles.

I have already spotted more than a 100 bicycles in the 15 minutes since we left the airport. And these are not people who ride bicycles for fitness or lifestyle. These are people who cycle to work, to labour, to make a living and some youngsters who cycle to school or educational institution.

When one lives and visits only cities, it is easy to forget where one comes from. For instance, my father and his siblings walked and cycled to school, college and work when they were growing up and beyond. I remember sitting on the handle bar of our full sized Hero cycle as my father or uncle cycled an hour’s journey to buy vegetables for the week. On a week, it was possible that one of the brothers took the cycle to find work and that meant the vegetable run was a walk that day.

Now personally I haven’t had much truck with cycling – I was and am a Walker. But watching cyclists jostle for road on these Tarmac and dusty roads reminds me of what a city upbringing makes us forget – the masses of India walk, trudge or cycle across vast kilometers every day just to find work or food or shelter. You can see the years on the weather beaten faces of the cyclists, you can see the dust on their jholas (bags), you can see the determination and hope of making a living and you can taste the simplicity of the lunch that they will have mixed with dust – sattu or roti with onion maybe a dry vegetable preparation – when they take a break under some elusive shade under the wide open sky.

Bicycles are also vehicles of choice in many small towns and cities in India. But maybe that will change when development catches up. And that makes me think about the balance of how we need to develop (in the metros I know people who have 2-3 bicycles but no time to use them and then we head to a gym to stay fit in a closed environment). I love the city life and I love the rural life and I love the Mountain life … how does one maintain the dam city of what’s good in each while taking society at large towards a better life, how shall the twains meet?

Up ahead is a land that’s best seen when one is walking and climbing and for the next week I will hopefully do my share of both, and in the process learn a lot more (and at close quarters) of one of the cultures that is unique to the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh.

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