‘BICYCLES ARE NOT ONLY THERMODYNAMICALLY EFFICIENT, THEY ARE ALSO CHEAP.’
“You girls going by yourselves?” queried the Husband with an incredulous look masking a hint of concern.
“Evidently.” I shrugged my determined shoulders, trying to disguise my disappointment at his inability to join us for the trip.
“Oh, well. Call me up in case you need help.”
“I’m sure there won’t arise a need.” As usual, the sarcasm failed to find its mark.
Besides, life is sometimes about false bravado. I realise, it often turns real, in time.
Anyway, it had been decided. The ‘Chainoritaz’, for that, ’s what we call our Women Cyclists Group, were set for a Ride to Hajo, around 30 kms from Guwahati, a Town steeped in rich heritage.
I have always been impressed by the religious importance of Hajo for the Hindus, Muslims as well as the Buddhists since ages. It truly is a blessed land which unites our often fragmented religiosity and is a lesson in Tolerance and Love to this day.
I felt an ‘Enid Blytonic’ kind of sense of thrill at the prospect of a Bike Ride with the countryside and the sun and the ‘picnic hampers’ or meals by the roadside. Somehow I’d never trade that child within for anything in this world. I know, it is the reason why I still believe in the Promise of Sunrise.
The D day arrived and I met Ankita, Diyashikha and Karobi at our Assembly Point. Ankita and Karobi are teachers, Diya, an aspiring mountaineer. That morning, something in the Clang of our Chains and the tinkle in our laughter assured me of a Trip to remember for a long time.
We were not very well versed with the Route but a little bit of enquiry of Passersby and we were on the right track. When the Road sign read 27 km to Hajo, I was a bit unnerved but managed to easily subdue it with adventurous resolve.
While stopping beside the Ganesh Mandir for photographs on the way, we attracted a small crowd. I could understand that it wasn’t everyday they saw a bevy of geared girls to liven things up. I’m sure, dear Reader, you’ll not grudge us our ‘nearest to celebrity like’ moment and feel.
We kept pedalling hard. At one point of time, the rushing Traffic at the Highway did spoil things a bit but we pedalled furiously to cross the busy stretch. Finally the Sign read 1 km to Hajo and we were all smiles as we posed near it.
I’ve done longer distances before but this was special for some reason – could be the weather, the pretty fellow riders or the prospect of uncertainty. And there was this tremendous sense of thrill.
After having tea in a pretty bamboo teashop, we enquired through our way to the Hayagrib Madhab Mandir. Chaining our cycles to bamboo poles, and keeping our shoes underneath a bench in a flower shop, we bought Earthen lamps from the seller to light at the Temple.
The visit to the Madhab Pukhuri ( pond) was interesting with the shy tortoise simply refusing to allow me a good shot with my Device that morning. I was intrigued when one of the men selling the tortoise feed informed us that one of these was more than 300 years old.
We went in with piety uppermost in our minds and lightened the burden of our expectations at His Altar as we lit the ‘sakis’ (lamps).
As we circumambulated the Sanctum, we observed the fine carvings on the Temple walls and couldn’t help feel awed by the precision and finery.
Originally constructed by the Pala Kings, the present structure was erected in the 16th century by the Koch King Raghudeva Narayan. Though a Hindu Temple primarily dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it happens to be a Buddhist pilgrimage site as well, as it is believed that the Buddha attained Nirvana here. Doul (Holi) and Janmashtami are among the more popular celebrations in the precincts.
After we came out, we looked for a place to have Breakfast. Unfortunately, we failed to get any as most of the shops were still closed.
Soon, we were met by a barrage of inquiries from a few bystanders about the make, price etc. of our cycles. Judging from their enthusiasm, you would conclude, some city shop would make a heavy sale that day.
Soon we were on our way to the Kameshwar Temple, a 10 minute ride. This 18th century Temple, constructed by Ahom king Pramatta Singha and dedicated to Lord Shiva, has a calming effect on the mind.
Considering the Picturesque surrounds of green fields and distant hills, we decided to spend some time there. We sprawled on a comfortable rock base. Fortunately we had some Energy Bars, snacks etc. and we happily munched on them to satiate the pangs of hunger.
Karobi and I being former roommates during our student days in Delhi, recounted those days of fun and laughter. We came to the conclusion that our renewed love for the Bike had just taken us back in time. What fun it is to again feel the breeze in the hair! The hairline might have receded but the breeze still feels the same, welcoming us back with the embrace of a dear old friend.
Unfortunately, we discovered that we had become the subject of curiosity. A group of people had stationed themselves comfortably against the nearby rocks, totally unaware of the discomfort their gaze was causing us.
I decided it was time for us to leave. The stomach anyway had also passed the same verdict with their massive growls.
We started to descend down the pathway only to discover that Ankita had lost her cycle lock keys somewhere. We were on the verge of giving up when one of the boys called out to her to hand her the keys. Seemingly, it had fallen out from her pocket on the stones.
With profuse thanks but polite dodging of their questions about bikes and whereabouts, we mounted our cycles and left the vicinity.
Poa Mecca, the 17th century mosque where the faithful gains one-fourth of the piety attained from a visit to Mecca, was next in our cards. We decided to keep it for another occasion as it was getting dark and we had a long ride ahead.
We had noticed a quaint Restaurant while cycling to the town and had our meal there. The food was not only piping hot but equally tasty. The strong Tea, served on special request, just made the day.
I had a small Bike issue and Diya helped fix it in no time. Ankita and Karobi had already ridden away but were furiously pedalling back, worried that the two of us were not following them. Soon, however, we were on our way to Guwahati.
Manoeuvring Guwahati’s traffic was nerve wrecking but we survived the ordeal and finally it was time to bid goodbye to each other.
That day when I reached home to the tight embrace of those soft arms of my 3 year old, I found all my weariness gone in an instant.
I was instantly hammered with ‘She didn’t have her Lunch today’,’ Have to help with this Project, Mom’ and ‘I’m out of this madhouse. You take it up from here now’. All I could respond with was an uncanny smile.
Along with that came the realisation that I somehow felt ready to shoulder it all…the dull and the drab, the adverse and the challenging.
Strange! Did that seemingly innocuous Bike Ride have anything to do with it?