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For countless bikers across the world, the ride to Khardung La — one of the world’s highest motorable roads — is on their bucket list. At a daunting 17,582ft, the road isn’t easy, but the scenery is picturesque. The ride for most bikers, whether in a group or solo, is risky and strenuous, and one that is undertaken only after much experience.
On July 14, Mumbai-based Prisiliya Madan (22) and Sumeet Paringe (26) set off from India’s southernmost tip, Kanyakumari, on a 63-day journey to Khardung La, with one mission in mind — that of spreading the awareness around girl child education across the country. With just some basic supplies, the duo got on to their rather unusual mode of transport — eco-friendly bamboo bicycles — and pedalled away.
This Thursday (August 25), the duo arrived in Delhi after a gruelling 41-day journey, covering over 3,000km. They have another 1,400-odd km to go before their target is achieved. The bigger dream — that of collecting Rs 50 lakh in funds for the education of 1,500 girls — is under way as well.
“Education will help the girl child make informed choices. It is such an important aspect that is often overlooked by society,” says Paringe, an engineering graduate. Fewer than half of the girls who enter Class I complete Class X. “This mindset has to change and, of course, one campaign will not finish it. It will take an entire generation’s mindset to change.”
Cyclists for change
To spread this message, they tied up with Godrej and IIMPACT, an NGO involved in educating the girl child. Thus far, they’ve collected around Rs 28 lakh for the cause. The cyclists have sought the assistance from all stakeholders, including the government, for the campaign. “We visited a few schools along the way here, held press conferences with the local media and talked to the stakeholders on this important issue,” says Madan.
“They were all happy to receive us. Quite a few were impressed with the cycles we were riding,” Madam said of their bamboo steed. The processed wood is stronger but lighter than the usual metal-frame cycles. “It is a comfortable cycle that we are putting through its paces,” says Madan, who has a Masters in computer science and is also an accomplished Bharatnatyam dancer.
But the real test for the duo and their cycles is yet to come — the uphill task of cycling up to Ladakh. The journey will be both physically and mentally challenging; much akin to the charge of spreading their message. As they move from south to north, the challenge gets tougher.
“South India already has a high enrolment rate for girls,” says Paringe. “In northern states like Haryana, where the sex ratio is already low, is where the challenge lies.”
According to earlier reports, Haryana had one of the worst sex ratios in the country. But of late, there has been an up-tick in the fight against discrimination against girls. And recently, wrestler Sakshi Malik from Rohtak has given the fight another boost, winning the Olympic bronze medal in her category.
In comparison to this mammoth task, the physical one seems doable. It’s tough, but exciting, says Paringe, who is cycling to Khardung La for the second time. He had already been there in 2014. “We already had to fight our way through the traffic of many of India’s cities,” he says. “But Khardung-La is a whole different ball game.”
The road ahead
The duo had been preparing for this journey for over a month. “This is obviously not something a first timer should do. We have been riding our cycles for a long time before taking up this journey. Getting used to the cycle too is important,” says Madan. The two friends have been taking on shorter trips for a while now, which is why they were approached by the campaign to take on this mission.
The cyclists will have to rely on their wits and the guidance from the local residents to find their way to Khardung La as they are not carrying a GPS device or even physical maps for this 4,400km journey. Talk about relying on the universe to help out! Apparently there have been a couple of wrong turns, and well-intentioned misguidance, but overall the experience gained has made it well worth it. It’s also stressed on them, what’s really important in life.
“Our most important cargo is water,” says Paringe. “We eat when we can and if we find a good place, not a fancy one, on the roadside. But otherwise it is just water.”