By Shrividya Somanna*
The residents of a remote place called Balele in Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka have developed a passion for cycling.
Initiated by Armanamada Shashi, a group of cyclists started touring around to not just keep themselves fit but also to purify the air! There are about 20-25 cyclists called the “Balele Cyclists” who have 60-year olds to 20-year old members.
The start of this cycling community came up from an informal discussion at Balele Club. Parvangada Somanna, a banker had toured the South India by cycling in the 1980s.
“My close buddies and I were studying in the 10th grade and we were excited to cycle. Our cycling tour in 1975 was interesting. On the first day, we traversed 160 km. When we reached Tamil Nadu, we ran out of cash. Since mine was a new cycle, I travelled 40 km and encashed our traveller’s cheque before the banks closed. Unlike today, we had no first-aid kits back then for the expedition.” When his story was narrated in the Balele club, there arrived an interest among the men to cycle for fitness.
Their first journey on wheels began with a 70km stretch through Ammathi town. Buying cycles from Decathlon Sports India, a sports retail store in Mysuru, these cyclists have been bringing back their days full of outdoor adventures than spending it digitally indoors. Their next target is 100km.
“Today after 41 years, I found a group to cycle with. Back in the 80’s, we did not have the luxury of gear cycles nor cycles good for a particular distance. Touring around South India and being sponsored by Nehru Yuvaka Kendra was a great feat. Hercules and Atlas were popular cycle brands then and now, you even have the right cycling wear, the shoes etc. Our cycles had a flat tyre in every hair pin bend and we went on spending half our time repairing it back then”, recollects Somanna who works in SBI, Virajpet. He also adds that the need for use of cycles is very important to curb pollution.
The Balele cyclists group believes that there is really no need to use cars and bikes to travel to places. Sagarica Kuttappa residing in Balele says, “We often don’t realize how this simple act of cycling can have a huge impact on our environment. It keeps us energetic and active throughout the day. It also helps to boost your self-esteem and promotes a healthy routine. In a busy routine of city life, cycling was long forgotten until this entire pandemic brought back the simple joy peddling with the wind gushing through our faces”.
Even brighter news is that there are cyclists, mostly the youth who have come down to Kodagu during the pandemic. They have been taking adequate safety measures and cycling every other morning. Not only do they get to view the beauty of nature but it has also kept them fit! For them, the happiest idea is that there is not much traffic to hinder cycling in Kodagu.
“I cycle with my neighbors whenever we’re up to it. We go where the road takes us, it is fun and is a way to maintain our fitness. Moreover, cycling in Kodagu is special because of its pollution free and nature-friendly environment. Cycling helps to keep it that way”, says Tarana Ramesh Alamengada, aged 18.
With hope, this group aims to remind Kodagu of its former days, of simple lifestyle. Cycling down the memory lane, they have certainly introduced the youth to save the land.
*Shrividya Somanna (in picture), is a freelance writer and an athlete.