Human beings are marked by innate uniqueness and when given an opportunity, every person can become an asset to the society in large.
This has been the experience while executing the Trans Assam Cycling Expedition, an initiative of the Red Horns Division of the Indian Army under Operation Sadbhavana, in January 2018.
Operation Sadbhavana is an endeavour of the Indian Army to facilitate all round development of an area besides weaning away young minds from negativity and destructive aspirations and instead implant in them a will to rise above the mundane to bloom as assets for society.
It is an attempt to open up vistas in the lives of the Youth in remote rural areas, engulfed by manifold problems of Insurgency, Poverty, Illiteracy etc. A Cycling Expedition to see from close quarters the beauty and culture of their homeland and to kindle the quest for adventure and sports is a sure means to wean these impressionable minds from all things regressive.
A group of 20 boys were selected from the two districts of Nalbari and Baksa for the Expedition accompanied by four Army Officers. The idea was to organise a Cycling Expedition from Rangiya to Sadiya covering a distance of more than 600kms in a span of 10 days that would allow the Rural Youth to explore and understand the vast culture, heritage and beauty of their own land besides being one with Nature. It was also expected that their exposure to the world of opportunities around them would in turn inspire them to reach greater heights in life.
That the Army has donned the mantle of a silent crusader in rebuilding lives sidelined by indifference and neglect, since decades is perhaps not known to many. But the difference it makes in the lives of these Youth by opening up windows of knowledge, possibilities and positivity, the assurance in the strong arm held out for them to hold on to as they step out from their shy, unassertive and demure selves and don the demeanour of confidence and positivity, is there for all to see.
Natventure, playing a leading role in the adventure tourism sector in the North East, was expected to execute the Expedition with precision and empathy to the larger cause.
The Expedition began on 6th of Jan and was lead by Innus and Kukil. The Group of 20 cyclists who had assembled at the Rangiya Headquarters was briefed up before the Ride began. For all of them it was their first long ride and they had to be provided with some basic instruction to ensure smooth conduct of the Ride.
Natventure has a professional team of instructors who aptly guided the boys right throughout. Manouvering of gears, braking etc were well explained. Proper Cycling attire was provided and the Dos and Donts of Riding were pointed out. The boys were all raring to go. The fact that the Ride would be among picturesque locales and green surrounds seemed to excite the riders immensely.
The Expedition was Flagged off by Brigadier Gaurav Rishi, 107 Brigade on the 6th of January. Though the boys hadn’t been exposed to such a Trip before, they showed great expertise and discipline while riding.
The Inaugural Ride took them from Rangiya to Guwahati (60km) where they halted for the night. The halt allowed the boys some time to get adjusted to the rigours of Cycling in store for the next few days. As they stretched and exercised to ward off stiffness and niggling aches, they also soaked in the noise and bustle of the largest urban area in the North Eastern region, Guwahati.
Wholesome dinner and a night’s good rest prepared them for the ride to Nagaon the next morning. At Nagaon, an ice breaking session was conducted as the boys had been drawn from various segments. As they played various games, indulged in some relaxed talks and danced and sang, the boys seemed to shed their inhibitions and opened up somewhat more to each other.
Bhaben Boro, a wage earner impressed with his dancing skill. A few others were students while a couple of the boys were into farming.
Then there was Partha, a promising Kabaddi player and an aspiring sportsperson. Jintu was good with the flute and mesmerised everyone that night. The boys let their hair down as they danced to various popular Bollywood numbers.
The next day saw them reach Kaziranga National Park where a one day halt allowed them to soak in the natural aura of this UNESCO heritage site. They were fortunate enough to have a close encounter with the Rhino, in fact, three of these magnificent creatures together. A jeep Safari around the Park and the boys were all excited, the cramps and the aches blissfully forgotten. Therein lies the real power of Nature. Its soothing greenery and marvels of sights eases all troubles and calms the self. And North East being specially endowed by such wealth, makes one here feel immensely fortunate.
It was indeed an emotional experience as a whole for quite a few who were overwhelmed and confessed later that such beauty and grandeur would have remained confined to words of mouth and pages of books for them if not for this Expedition.
The evening saw them visit the Orchid Park nearby. The Park houses almost 500 species of Orchids besides many other endangered plants. Almost 200 varieties of rice have been preserved here and cultivation of quite a few others is facilitated in the nearby villages.
A cultural programme was presented in the evening in the Park. Apart from Bihu and Sattriya dance, the heritage of the Tiwas, Rabhas, Misings etc were also showcased.
The Army Officials were equally thrilled. Captain Singh was mighty impressed with the spectacle as his brief stint in the state had not exposed him to such an experience before. His Junior, Karan was subject to some leg pulling as initially he was reluctant to ride but later refused to let go, once he got a taste of the thrill on the saddle.
The Expedition evoked quite a lot of curiosity and awe from passers by as well. Once, while on their way to Jorhat, the Team stopped near a field to catch their breath. The occupants of the house next door were naturally inquisitive about the group of geared boys. Finally the Team ended up having their evening tea and snacks with the Family, going out of their way to make the boys comfortable.
Before halting at Jorhat, the Team visited the Chaolung Su ka Pha Samannay Kshetra to witness the grandeur of the Ahom dynasty.
Su Ka Pha founded the Ahom Kingdom in 1228 AD. Such was the might of the Ahoms, who are the longest successively ruling dynasty (600 years) in India that they were able to thwart repeated attempts by the Mughals to establish their rule in this region.
The canons, the art and artefacts, weapons etc all on display at the Kshetra, evokes a feeling of pride on the glory of the land.
In Jorhat, the wear and tear of the bikes was taken care of and the Team continued its journey to Sibsagar the next morning.
The group visited the Tolatol Ghar in Sibsagar, the capital of the Ahoms. Along with the Kareng Ghar, it is also the largest of all Tai Ahom monuments. This is made of brick and an indigenous type of cement comprising of a mixture of Bora Chaul, a sticky variety of rice grain and eggs of swan among other ingredients.
Next, a visit to the the Shiva Dol was in cards. The temple has a central tower which is said to be the tallest among the Shiva Temples in India (104 feet) and the 8 feet Shikhara is crowned by a Kalasha made of gold.
Next morning the Group travelled to Duliajan, where an insightful meet with students of the Duliajan Oil H S school was scheduled. The students were all ears as the Team members recounted their experience during the Expedition till then. It did become another overwhelming episode for a few members given their lack of access to such environs at any time in their life.
Natventure was fortunate to be aided by the able support of individuals like Bhargav, a dedicated Health and Wellness Trainer, Joyon and Prasanta who selflessly seemed to make the Venture their own and facilitated comfortable stay and events for the Group at places during the Ride.
By now, the Group had arrived at the last leg of their journey, and reached the Dhola Sadiya Bridge, the 9.15 km longest bridge in India, the next day. The Ride at the Bridge seemed to actually give wings to the Group, both literally and figuratively. A silent metamorphosis was on and the morrow promised of good tidings for these boys.
The last night saw them enjoy a comfortable home stay and a campfire, the night coinciding with Uruka, a night of feasting before Magh Bihu, the harvest festival to be celebrated the next day. The Group danced to the beats of Dhol and gave themselves up totally to joy and the rhythm of Bihu folk dance.
The Expedition was Flagged in at Rangiya Hq by Major General P S Behl, GOC, 21 Mountain Division. The astute Army men did observe the transformation in the Boys who had been flagged off as silent, shy ones but had returned as assured individuals.
Bhaben later revealed when asked that he now wants to be a Businessman while Dipankar and a few others revealed they want to join the Army. It could very well be fathomed that the boys had come back with dreams and aspiration in their eyes.
The positive impact of such Ventures will be fathomed by families and society in the days and months to come. For the light of quest for success in those now-dreaming eyes is sure to lead them to greater heights besides influencing the lives of their less fortunate peers in their immediate surrounds.
The experience did leave one with a heightened feeling of respect for the Army and their visionary ventures. For Natventure, it was a proud moment, to be associated and also for being lauded upon a job well executed.