We cycled from the little town of Sankeswar to Kolhapur to be greeted first at the Maharashtra border by members of the Federation of senior citizens of Maharashtra (FESCOM). FESCOM has more than 5000 affiliated units at the district level and over nine lakh members. Quite a powerful body for lobbying with policymakers. The FESCOM presence could be felt all over the ride into Maharashtra at welcome and flag off points of the cyclothon.
This was one stage of the cyclothon that I felt I would face challenges of ghat sections that might prove beyond me. However, at the ghat stage near Satara and the Pune, I managed to cycle without too much difficulty. At Satara, we took a detour to visit an ancient Ganesha temple. There was significant climbing here which I just about managed. I cycled along the old highway to traverse the Karjat Ghat near Pune. Here too I didn’t have too much of trouble. After a short ride through a tunnel near the summit was a steep and winding descent that was a delight to traverse. The large number of engagements arranged by the HelpAge team and the traveling we had to do left little time for rest and towards the end of the stage at Pune was happy that we were halting for a three-day break. On the morning of the ride from Satara to Shirwal, I was distinctly weary. Luckily it was a short ride and largely downhill. The presence of other cyclists and one who rode with me all the way to Shirwal also helped.
At Kolhapur we spent a night at the Matoshree Virddhashram; a home for senior citizens run by elderly ladies in their seventies. Some of them were active members of the Mahila wing of the Shiv Sena. The ashram had a wonderful atmosphere and the residents looked comfortable and cheerful. Some of the ladies had pleasant and calm faces. The founders told us that this was because of the emphasis on prayer both morning and evening at the ashram and the chanting of mantras. Food was wholesome and rather good. The stay arrangements left a lot to be desired. I have spent a night in far worse rooms but for the support team, this was a bit of a dampener. It was largely to take care of their needs that I shifted the plan to stay at an ashram at Pune to the luxurious stay at the College of Military Engineering.
The FESCOM presence could be felt at Kolhapur, Karad, Satara and Pune. At Kolhapur, we had a wonderful meeting with a large gathering of senior citizens organized by my dear friend Ravi Dhale. I liked the interactions during the section and also the continued engagement with several seniors even after the event had been called to a close. Sadly, we made them wait for two hours as we made an unscheduled visit to the Sri Mahalakshmi temple; a must I am told for anyone who visits Kolhapur.
Likewise, I liked the interactions with the senior citizens at the Ananda Dham ashram. This stage of the cyclothon enabled me to speak about active aging and the attitude as we face the third stage of life.
A very unique welcome awaited us at Satara. After a visit to an ancient Ganesha temple we went to a school for Vedic studies, Vedpattshala, were the students and the guruji recited special Vedic prayers for the success of the cyclothon. It was an unusual but pleasant experience.
Another surprise welcome at the other end of the spiritual spectrum was a visit to a large shoe mart just outside Satara where I was presented a pair of Kolhapuri chappals.
Doctors continued to support the cyclothon. Dr. Nandalal Kulkarni was ever present where ever we went in Satara, running around briskly making arrangements for a warm welcome and a comfortable stay.
A group of doctors, at least a dozen of them joined me for a short ride of ten plus kilometres up till Umbrej. We also stopped for tea together and lots of photographs.
A quaint but interesting experience was at the Savitribhai Phule school in Shirwal
Two corporate houses stepped up to felicitate the cyclothon team. The first was the Karad Co-operative bank which appears o be one of the largest cooperative banks in the country and also very well run. The CEO is an avid cyclist himself and has a team of 40 or 50 cycling club members in the company. Emphasis on fitness by the CEO could be seen among his senior management team. We were hosted for lunch and dinner by the bank and a special felicitation event was held at the Shopping Festival where the President of the Satara Rotary Club and a senior vice president of the Bank were present among other dignitaries.
The TE Connections company also hosted lunch and dinner for us at their factory in Shirwal. Their staff members were most gracious and warm in their hospitality and involvement in our engagements and also at the early morning flagging off event.
Along the way to Pune from Shirwal, we kept meeting groups of people and stopped to have a pow-wow with them on active aging among other things.
A warm welcome awaited us as we entered Pune city. We were greeted by the President of the FESCOM Pune and other members.
On to the College of Military Engineering for a three-day break before we pedal on again to Lonavala on 19th Feb morning.