Wheels like wings, 6 men in the saddle to find their lives

When the first nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24 last year, Rajinder Manan was caught off guard – like everyone else. From one boring day to the next, from one crippling confinement to the next, he saw his business crumble. A padlock hung outside his Manan hotel in Mehatpur, Una District, Himachal Pradesh. No one knew when that lock would open, no one knew when the unlock would begin. There was enormous pressure, both financial and mental. Unlike everyone else, however, he found the way forward – with the help of his son’s cycle.

“The hotel was closed. The losses were piling up. We were inside our house. There was nothing to be done and there was nothing we could do to improve the situation. It was difficult to pass the time and it was difficult to cope with the increasing stress. Then my eye fell on the cycle my 25 year old son Vedant had bought for himself. He was locked. I opened the lock and started cycling, ”Rajinder explains.

What started as hawking around his house has seen a new peak now: Rajinder is part of a six-member team who returned from a five-day cycling expedition from Manali to Chamba via the Sach Pass, from August 29 to September 2. distance of 372.03 km, gained a total altitude of 8,254 meters, rolled at an altitude of 4,500 meters. And he’s only 58 years old.

“Age doesn’t matter, willpower matters,” says Rajinder, who has been walking in the morning for 18 years. He is also an athlete. He placed second in his age group in the ‘Super Sikh Run Vaisakhi 7 km Fateh Run’ in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, in 2018. He has the trophy, medal and newspaper clipping to prove his affirmation.

If Rajinder took his son’s cycle, Jasbir Singh didn’t have to. “My 29 year old son, Rachpal Singh, is a BTech. He gave me a bike for his first salary when he landed his first job in Chandigarh, ”says Jasbir, 56. “Cycling has added 10 years to my life.

Jasbir owns Kalgidhar Furniture House in Rakkar Colony, Una, but claims his business did not bother him during those five days. “Tension na kaam ki, tension na paise ki (there was no tension about work and money),” he says. “Hum to swarg ghoom aaye (We’ve been to heaven).”

Another 56-year-old player on the team is Jagtar Singh, owner of Him Corner, a candy store in Una. It is not a typical halwai, with the paunch hanging from its belt. He belongs to the sports family: his two sons are cricketers, his brother is a former Ranji player and his nephew is a badminton coach. Jagtar himself is a member of the Badminton Association of Himachal Pradesh. While he cycles about 15-20 km in the morning, he plays 8-9 badminton in the evening if he is not otherwise busy.

Isn’t that tiring? “Thakawat to hoti hai, by pareshani nahin (I’m tired but not upset),” says Jagtar, who started cycling two years ago.

Their young teammate is Dr Rohit Sharma, who cut his teeth three years ago. An avid runner, the 41-year-old says he has participated in half-marathons in Mumbai, Chandigarh, Ludhiana and other towns in the Punjab. He runs his Healing Touch dental hospital in Una. “The senior members of my team have been an inspiration to me,” he says.

On August 28, the four men loaded their bikes and bags into a minibus in Una and headed for Manali, where they met Sandeep Kumar, the engine of the expedition.

The cycle also came as a gift to Sandeep. “It happened four years ago. I was then appointed deputy commissioner in Kangra. I couldn’t find the time to exercise, so a friend of mine gave me a bike, ”says Sandeep, 51. He is now assigned to Shimla as Managing Director, Himachal Road Transport Corporation.

State Transport Minister Bikram Singh Thakur praises the IAS officer because “he sets an example for others to stay in shape.” Youth Services and Sports Minister Rakesh Pathania claims to have seen the officer cycle while in Kangra DC. “It was his hobby. Now what his team has done is truly commendable, ”said Pathania. “Covid has indeed given a big boost to cycling in the state. All of a sudden, everyone, especially the young people, got on the bike. In the morning it seemed that all of Shimla had come out with their cycles, as if all of Kangra had come out with their cycles. However, as business dwindled, the cycling craze also waned. “

Jasbir attributes his love for cycling to the IAS officer. “Meri cycle ko pankh lage Sandeep ji ke saath (My cycle had wings in the company of Sandeep),” explains Jasbir, referring to the time when Sandeep was deputy commissioner at Una. He stayed there from June 2019 to October 2020.

On February 23 of last year, Sandeep said he organized a cycle rally, “Pedal Against the Peddlers”, which was reported by Mithali Raj, the captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, in Una. It was a successful 100km rally that subsequently brought together like-minded people with bikes in their hands, but the coronavirus and lockdown came in their way.

“On the positive side, Covid also paved the way for my cycle. There was no traffic. So I used to take my bike out and go to quarantine centers for inspection, ”says Sandeep.

Slowly and slowly, as unlocking began in June, an informal group took shape: Cycling Enthusiasts, Una.

The only one with no connection to Una is Jasprit Paul, a professional photographer from Mandi. He became a member of the team due to his association with Sandeep.

Like Rajinder, Jasprit also started cycling during the lockdown. “Karne ko kuchh tha nahin. Isliye apna camera udhate the, apna cycle udhate the, aur nikal padte the (There was nothing to do. So I took out my camera, my bike and moved), ”says Jasprit, who rides a 100 km bike. Sunday and 30 km every day now. This year, he won a virtual cycling competition, Firefox Firestorm Cycling Challenge 2021, covering 1,976 km and 76,271 vertical meters in 42 days. From June 10 to 13, with Sandeep, he completed a four-day cycling expedition to Lake Chandertal in Spiti from Thunag to Mandi, covering 250 km.

At 40, Jasprit is the youngest member of the team, single and yet to be vaccinated.

The expedition from Manali to Chamba began at Prini, the home of the late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The challenges were many from the start. “There was a rough road between Udaipur, Lahaul and Pissa,” says Jasprit.

Sandeep the second: “There was a kashcha road from Udaipur to Bairagarh with a steep ascent and descent. Distance, height and oxygen were other concerns.

“It was difficult terrain,” says Rajinder.

Sandeep and Rajinder fell once during the expedition, so Dr Rohit gave them first aid. “We had to deal with weather, health and cycling issues. So for about 30 km we traveled by minibus, ”says Dr Rohit.

The pollution made the teammates suffer endlessly. “People go there by bike and by car, and throw plastic, whether it’s packaging or bottles, here and there. They shouldn’t be doing this, ”Jagtar said.

While Jasprit says that they have cleaned up the mess in many places, Jasbir says, “People should stop this habit of throwing kachra everywhere.”

The highlight of their trip? “From Killar in the Pangi Valley, we reached Pissa, Chamba, in one day, covering a distance of 99 km,” says Sandeep.

The scenic beauty enchanted them along the way. “Hills, waterfalls and the Chanderbhaga river – it was a whole different experience to ride a bike in such a setting,” says Sandeep. “More and more people should come and explore the beauty of Himachal Pradesh.”

For Rajinder, it was a difficult but pleasant experience. Dr Rohit found it wonderful but tiring. The others had a great time and said bahut maza aaya.

At the end of the day, everyone agrees that it’s the fitness that counts and that an Individual Fit is equal to Fit India.

Rajinder, who cycles 40 to 50 km on Sundays these days, leads the way in fitness: “Cycling, walking and running are essential for staying in shape and living without medication.