A trek to Lake Tosar in Sikkim with Sandeep Talpade and friends, writing a book on Active Ageing in partnership with HelpAge India and running the Airtel Half marathon,beating myocardial bridge,are some of the adventures that beckon me as I enter the second half of this year.
Trekking in the mountains is awe inspiring and breathtaking.The majestic and daunting mountains are a challenge but food for the soul and very cleansing. As Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Sandeep Talpade arranges a trek each year and it is through him that I experienced the joy and thrill of trekking in the mountains. This years trek to Tosar Lake in Sikkim, at an altitude of 3950 metres,commences in the last week of September and promises to be picturesque and thrilling. Here are a few images off the internet to inspire the soul.
I have committed myself to writing a book on Active Ageing in partnership with HelpAge India. This is an adventure and soul searching journey in its own way. There is much that I, and all of us I dare say, need to learn about active ageing and to acquire the wherewithal to lead a happy and productive life as we age. I have resolved to complete this adventure by November 18th, an important day in the calendar of the Soka Gakkai,a Buddhist spiritual organisation that I am part off.
Cheers to writing and sharing.
Then there is this business of getting past the hurdle of a myocardial bridge that has dogged me all these years and prevented excessive loading of my heart. Time to push the barriers here and take on a challenge that seems beyond me right now. So it will be with a fresh resolve that I train and prepare for the Airtel half marathon this year.
What I finally choose to do only time will tell. But these challenges and adventures that beckon will surely add a spice to life.
I am not gifted with unusual endurance or abilities and as vulnerable as any seventy year old. I had never been on a cycle ride of this distance and this duration. Three thousand kilometres over two months was something that I had never dared venture to do before. Now at seventy I needed a lot more time and effort training than a younger fifty year old may require.
I trained for approximately six months, gradually increasing the work load and then tapering it off over the last 15 days before the cyclothon. In the mornings I cycled or walked /jogged in the park and in the evenings I would work out in an improvised gym at home. At peak effort I would cycle for about two hours in the morning and work out in the evening for about 1 1/2 hours.
I used a heavier hybrid cycle for the training than the light weight carbon fibre cycle I would use on the cyclothon. For a month and a half before the event I was in Bangalore and cycled on rolling roads; cycling on some occasions on the road leading to Tumkur and the one leading to Hosur to be as close as possible to the actual ride conditions. Many of my friends who are ultra cycling enthusiasts said that this level of training was inadequate. I however stuck to my plan taking care to avoid injury or sapping illness. A gym in the colony where I was staying in B’lore gave me the opportunity to step up strength and cardio training.
Planning the route, daily distances and night halts for the cyclothon was a very critical part of the preparation.With copious use of Google Maps for the route and distances, and Google Pro for checking the elevation profile of every likely path, I finalised the route and daily ride plans. Inputs from cyclists who had cycled on these roads before also helped in the decision making.
I eventually decided on riding along the NH48 all along the way from Chennai to Delhi. For the Pune-Panvel and Vadodara – Ahmedabad stages we had to get off the express way as cycling was not permitted on these roads and cycled on the old national highway. The daily distances planned was 60/70 kms per day. We had some days when the ride was just 50 kms but other days when the ride was 100 or more kms.
Now when all is done and dusted, I can say that the detailing that went into the planning, including the rest halts, played a major part in ensuring successful completion and I had so much left in the tank that I could have continued for another month or more when the ride ended at Delhi.
During the ride stretching and staying hydrated were very important. In the initial and relatively easier part of the cyclothon I took breaks at 10 km intervals for stretching and alternatively drinking water and tender coconut juice. Later on I extended the early morning rides to intervals of 30 kms as the rides were of longer duration and the early summer heat was beginning to make an impact. Drinking Electrol/ ORS after riding for approximately two hours was also mandatory. This regime ensured that I had little muscle soreness on the entire cyclothon. Must be quite remarkable for a seventy year old.
Food was very spartan to avoid infection and also for easy digestion and keeping the stomach light. A couple of bananas along with a protein drink was the early morning pre-ride nutrition as we set off at 6.15/6.30 am every day. During the ride a couple of hard boiled eggs and idlis/ pohwa was the breakfast and after the ride lunch and dinner was just steamed rice and boiled dhall with salt. A dhal kitchidi was a luxury at times.
This spartan diet seemed more than adequate for the entire cyclothon. I had lost a couple of kilos during the training phase to reach a weight of 74kg. When I reached Udaipur and ventured to take my weight it had dropped to 68kg. I maintained this weight till I reached Delhi. Apparently I lost body fat and fluids during the early part of the cyclothon before stabilising at around 68kg. At no stage did I suffer from cramping or excessive weariness.
Staying healthy and illness free was of utmost importance in such a long endeavour. Supplements such as turmeric, calcium and magnesium and jaggery was a daily feature. Bananas and oranges were the staple fruits. Rigour and discipline is an essential requirements when one sets out on a physically strenuous venture of this nature. I made it with more than a smile and plenty in the tank as I said.
I have always been worried about the ghat sections and the hills on account of the heart ailment, myocardial bridge , that I carry. This doesn’t allow me to place a lot of load on my heart. The cyclothon din’t have too much of climbs baring a few as we approach Belgaum, the approach to Satara and Pune and the Aravali range in Rajasthan. As it turned out I didn’t have much problem negotiating these ascents.
The rolling nature of the roads in Karnataka helped in continued conditioning and cardio fitness, an extension of the long hours of training that one had put in prior to the event. Towards the second half of the cyclothon I felt a distinct improvement in cardio fitness.
As we approached Satara we took a detour along an inner road to visit an ancient Lord Ganesha temple.I am not too sure if this was an easier approach. However the road condition was not good adding to the degree of difficulty. A cyclist from Satara joined me for this ride and also accompanied me from Satara all the way to Shirwal. He is a very strong cyclist having cycled from Manali to Leh and now training to ride from Leh to Kanyakumari on a gear-less cycle. He hopes to get into the Limca Book of records with this effort. His presence pushed me a trifle in riding speed. However he kept just behind me at all times and it was good having a cycling buddy accompanying me.
The ride into Pune was along the old national highway and I had to cycle over the Karjat Ghat section. Just as I felt the need for a rest break I noticed that I had reached the peak and the going was from thereon all down hill. It was a winding road with fairly heavy traffic and I had been warned to be careful on the descent. I therefore descended cautiously breaking frequently and keeping the speed to the mid 30s. It was wonderful just cruising down hill.
The ride from Lonawla to Panvel was all down hill and I just had to cruise all the way. Here is a brief video clip of this section of the ride.
A real surprise was the ride from Manor to Vapi. I didn’t expected to face very much of hill riding but had to contend with the Western Ghats. The ride to Vapi was over 80 kms and out support vehicle had a flat tire and we lost quite abit of time sorting that out. This meant that I had a fair amount of riding under very hot weather conditions. This photo is a good reflection of the tiring conditions.
I had been looking forward to the approaches into Udaipur from Rishabdev. However we had avoided riding on this section due to extensive road repair work and heavy vehicular traffic. I had however been warned by friends that I would get a fair share of the Aravali Hills as I rode from Udaipur all the way to Bhilwara and beyond. And so it was. However I did not face too much of difficulty traversing these sections as we flirted with the hills from time to time. I rather began to like it as it a broke the monotony of the ride and also allowed for some down hill cruising. Also as I said my cardio fitness had increased by this time.
I told myself that when the cyclothon was over and I had a little rest I must continue training in a manner that will further increase cardio fitness and push the fear of myocardial bridge into the recesses of my mind.
For much of the cyclothon riding conditions were excellent. The NH48 was wonderful and the weather favourable. Towards the later end of the ride in Rajasthan, daily riding distances increased and the conditions after 10.30 am were quite hot and tiring.
Cycling in Tamilnadu and for most of Karnataka along NH48 was a cyclists delight. I clocked average speeds of around 24kms/hour comfortably. A short stretch from Krishnagiri to Hosur was a bit of a challenge due to the ascent but this was quite doable.
The road condition deteriorated in Maharashtra as there were several stretches with repairs and maintenance in progress and rough surface conditions. Road conditions deteriorated even further as we approached Himmatnagar in Gujarat and all the way to Udaipur.
The road to Udaipur from Shamlaji was under major repairs and road widening with the road reducing to double and even single lane for extended distances. On the advice of the HelpAge team and my Xerox colleagues we decided to stop cycling on this stretch and clamber on to the support vehicle as the road and heavy vehicular traffic conditions had an element of risk.
Just as we entered Udaipur I didn’t see a bank of rumblers, lost control of the cycle and took a fall. I suffered bruising on both legs just below the knees but with quick attention by the HelpAge Mobile Medical Unit staff and a tetanus shot I was back on the cycle very quickly. This was the only mishap minor as it was for the entire cyclothon. In fact I didn’t have even a single tube puncture. The poor road surface after Jaipur led to a minor tear of the tyre requiring a change.
After Anand en-route to Ahmedabad I developed the dreaded saddle sores. I had to take a great deal of care to ensure that blistering and infections did not take place as this would have made it nearly impossible to cycle. I used Neopsprin cream to avoid infection and aloe vera gel to prevent further deterioration when cycling. Thankfully the situation did not go out of hand although I had to cycle with a fair amount of difficulty for the last 1000 plus kms.
I needed to make a tactical change in the daily cycling plan once we entered Rajasthan. This was because daily rides increased to 80 and 100 kms every day and the hot sunny conditions after 10.30 am. I resorted to riding 30 kms stretches before taking breaks for hydration and stretching and then tapering it of to the shorter 10 km breaks later in the day. I also cut down the leisurely breakfast breaks we used to have in the early part of the cyclothon. This ensured that I completed the days ride by abut 11.30 am each day before the scotching sun could take its toll.
In the early phases of the cyclothon I took 10 kms breaks for hydration and stretching and a longish breakfast break.
Stretching all through the ride at regular intervals and after I stopped for the day ensured minimal muscle fatigue and soreness.
They were experiences to cherish each in its own way unique. I had hoped that the cyclothon would include stay and visits to senior citizen homes and these stays and visits exceeded expectations.
At the flag hoisting ceremony
A pow-wow with the residents
At the lunch room
Our first stay was at the Ramana Maharishi Ashreya, a premium senior citizen home at Hosur. There is a wonderful atmosphere at the home The Maharishi’s philosophy seemed to pervade the place. The cottages are also comfortable and the surroundings green and peaceful. The only minor drawback would be its distance from Bangalore and the Hosur town. However the new highway from Bangalore to Hosur will pass close to the home and this should be a boon to connectivity.
The Matoshree Vridhashram in Kohlapur was a different experience. The home is run by a group of ladies in their late seventies and eighties. We walked into a meeting arranged by the trustees and were struck by the calm demeanour of most of the residents. We were told that this was the direct result of the prayers and chanting of mantras that the residents carry out in the morning and evening.
Food was clean and wholesome and there was an easy informality among the residents as they sat around.The stay arrangements however were not so comfortable.
The Anand Vridhashram in Palgarh, Maharasthra was by far the most vibrant home we visited. We were treated to a scintillating variety entertainment in the evening.Here are a few clips of that evening.
The 75 year old dancing in this clip came to the home a year and a half ago with deep depression. He didn’t talk to any one for three months. Look at him now. This is surely a big tribute to the atmosphere in the home.
Here is another clip. The elders in this dance practised for three days and took the help of a choreographer !!!
Food was of high quality and this home came the closest to a desired level of social activity for the residents.
There were other homes we stayed at. Manav Mandir at Navsari, Gujarat, Snehanjali Senior Citizen Home in Nallasapora, Maharashtra and Tara Sansthan, Udaipur and the Senior Citizen Home run by Indian Red Cross, Ahmedabad. Tara Sansthan was by far the best equipped in terms of the standard of the rooms and the facility. It compares well with a three star hotel and is an airy and bright place. The home run by the Indian Red Cross was also very well run with good rooms, environment and food. Activity levels in both these premium homes seemed very low. At any rate we din’t get to see any activity.
Snehanjali is one home that also provides day care facilities and is nestled in a green environment. Since we were there over the week end we did not see much activity. Manav Mandir also seemed low on activity and subdued residents.
There was much that passed through my mind as we stayed at these homes and during the visits to several others. I will however reserve my observations for a different post.
It was an exhilarating encounter with the youngsters of St. Joseph’s High School Panvel. Over a hundred of them had assembled along with their cycles for what they thought was a rally along with the Silver Cyclist. I didn’t know that this was the expectations so I had not taken my cycle along or was in my riding gear. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful interaction before I flagged them off for a ride around the school. There was a very high buzz as the kids assembled for the ride and then cycled off with shouts of joy.
Another remarkable experience was at the Rasmi Residential School in Davengere. This was a school for the poorest of the poor girl children run by a couple devoted to the cause of providing quality education to this disadvantaged section of society. What struck me was the beautiful infrastructure for the children. There was a touch of class about the place. Also remarkable was the discipline shown by the children. They clapped in unison, sang in a chorus of over a hundred in perfect harmony and rhythm and conducted themselves in the most disciplined manner.
The school trains them to perform all the duties of maintaining the cleanliness of the premises, maintaining the vegetable garden and also the elder girls looking after the younger ones. The adherence to a set of acceptable rules brought orderliness and discipline that the students seemed comfortable with.
Another school that we visited and were very impressed with was the Edu Asia School for rural children just on the outskirts of Davengere on the road to Haveri at Karur.
Here too we saw evidence of quality education and character development focus. The kids looked a bright bunch with their eyes set on the future.
In a different vein but very heartwarming was our experience at the Khabeerananda Ashram, Chitradurga, which runs a school for orphans. I was particularly taken in by the bright hope-filled eyes of the school children. This was in sharp contrast to the eyes devoid of hope in the elders who were residents of the ashram. I must add though that the elders appeared well taken care off. They were all shelterless prior to finding a home at the ashram. Young children and elders residing in close proximity we thought was very good.
Amoving and unforgettable experience was our visit to the Government School for the blind in Hubli.
We can never forget the confidence and poise of the visually handicapped boys who walked around unaided within the premises of the school and who carried themselves with self confidence. Credit goes to the acting schoolmaster Annapa who has dedicated more than thirty years of his life to caring for the visually handicapped children.
We made a brief visit to a school for orphaned blind children just outside Davengere as I cycled into the town. The school teaches them Carnatic music. It was a moving experience hearing them sing. Even more moving was to see a young boy demonstrate the use of a Braille slate. I could see then what a huge and uphill journey of life he was on. A journey far more daunting and tougher than the cyclothon I was on. I received a memento from a little visually challenged boy. That was the most memorable of all the mementos I received on the cyclothon.
With some thought I put together the core elements of the messages I would share with the people I meet on the cyclothon. The delivery and emphasis would change depending on the composition of the group I am talking to; the core messages however would remain the same.
Celebrating active aging:
Working on your fitness needs to start when you are well ahead of your sixties
Actively work on your fitness in and post the sixties
Active aging is not just staying free of illness; it is being fit and being in a position to successfully complete physically challenging tasks
Give full play to the hobbies and passions that are dear to you.
Stay active socially, spiritually and mentally
Senior citizenship is not a period of decline but the third phase of life when we can add value to the society and community we belong to
Leading a long life is meaningful only when we resolve to reach out to others to enable them to be happy
Respect and caring for elders
Elders have spent most of their lives often with several sacrifices to ensure that their children are well educated, get good jobs, get married and live lives that are more prosperous than their own
The elders deserve the support, caring and comfort of the younger members of the family
Care for the elders has always been a part of our heritage and culture
The growth of micro-families and the need for the young to take jobs far and wide has made taking care of the elders a challenge
There are too many instances of the young abandoning the elders especially when they fall ill; the young must remember the debt of gratitude they owe to the elders
Several studies indicate that there will be over 150 million elders in our country by the year 2025; this is a huge population that requires rapid enhancement of infrastructure for the caring and treatment across the board
The government needs to e conscious of this and deploy adequate resources for developing and funding initiatives related to care and treatment of the elders
Trusts, religious institutions and private enterprise need to expand their investments and involvement in this sector manifold
Volunteer support from the young and able elders also needs to be stepped up with appropriate training
Living in peace and harmony
Our youth was always spent in the company of friendly neighbours who were an extension of our family; they walked in and out of our houses just as we did theirs
Today we take very little effort to get to know our neighbours and create a neighbourhood of mutual respect, caring and encouragement
Let us resolve to reach out our hands in friendship to our neighbours and the people we are associated with to build communities of friendship, harmony and happiness around us
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.
A spiritual journey more than a cycling journey you could say, in spite of the relentless cycling often under the blazing sun and over rolling roads. This stage was a little more taxing from a cycling perspective as was to be expected. I went through all the legs reasonably comfortably, a few niggles notwithstanding. We have now completed 900 kms of the journey. The standout memory is spiritual, a gradual awakening that would leave all of us very different people deep inside of us as the journey progresses.
Several humbling experiences told us that there are journeys more taxing and arduous than the one I have embarked on. At a school for orphaned visually impaired just outside Davengere, we saw young children combating the challenges of learning to write in Braille. The thought of the journey of life that lay ahead of them had a sobering impact on us. Yet we were moved by their zeal to sing as they were being trained at this school founded by Sri Pt. Panchakshara Gavai, who was blind from birth but was an outstanding musician.
Even more moving was our visit to a government school for the blind in Hubli. The current premises are sparse and inadequate and the classrooms dark and depressing thankfully they are moving into a new and better premise in a month.
We were amazed at the confidence and agility showed by the visually impaired students. As they moved around the school premises, they gave no impression of visual impairment. Their confident demeanour was admirable. The students were tutored under the caring eye of the acting headmaster Annappa. He has devoted all his life to caring and teaching the visually impaired. He told us that he firsts orients the children to their surroundings so that they can move around unaided and with confidence. He then orients them to the world around them and helps them to use all the other senses and their hand and bodies to “see” the world around and understand where they are. He then teaches them to be self-sufficient in daily life skills. Finally, is the training to memories and use the Braille language and tools to communicate.
Rarely do you get to meet a teacher in a government school so very dedicated to his profession, increasing his own capabilities by completing an MEd.
Seeing so many caregivers at close quarters helped us understand that a re-engineering of your inner selves was necessary to be a good and caring caregiver on a sustained basis. I refer to caregivers as anyone working for uplifting the lot of the underprivileged. Be they teachers of the blind, or teachers of children from the poorest of the poor families or those caring for the shelterless and those chronically ill.
In Davengere we visited the Rasmi school for girls from the poorest of the poor families. We were struck by the disciple and training the girls were receiving. I can’t recall such discipline in a school or group of young children that I came across. There wasn’t a regimentation; it seemed that the students willing accepted a disciplined way of life.
The Kabeeananda ashram and the Anandadham ashram in Chitradurga stood out for us because of the relatively happy faces of the residents. Both these ashrams housed senior citizens and children. The proximity of these two disparate groups seems to be a good model. The elderly are in close proximity to the vibrancy and hope of the young and the young are exposed to the needs of the elderly.
Not such a good experience was the home for the urban homeless in Ambur. The shelter which is run by an NGO and supported by the government was quite depressing. The dormitories were shabby and the residents had forlorn eyes devoid of hope.
At the Kabeeananda ashram, I was moved by the bright and hope-filled eyes of the children. The ashram runs a school for children who are orphans or from broken homes. Something very good is happening at this place from what we could see.
We got a pleasant exposure to the ashrams run by religious Mutts. We stayed at the Sri Murugarajendra Mutt in Chitradurga. It was a large sprawling place well constructed and well maintained. There were rooms for travelers who needed to stay the night, home for orphaned children and large spacious canteens that served food for anyone who chose to walk in for a meal at lunch or dinner time. The Mutt serves food for approx. 1000 to 1500 every day. Above the dining area was a large conference room that could house approx. 5000 people. An impressive hall that had no pillars. On the 5th of every month, the Mutt conducts marriages for couples who wish to use this facility at no cost along with the wedding lunch for the guests.
We never got a chance to get a deep insight into the working of these Mutts but what we saw from the outside was very impressive. The influence these institutions have of the community is enormous. They seem to have a very necessary place in the fabric of the country.
At every place we went, we were warmly welcomed.
The Rotary Club of Chitradurga held a meeting where I was the key note speaker.
An event that warmed our hearts was a community meeting at Hiriyur which was held in a temple premise.
Welcomes galore was the order of the day.
And so the cyclothon goes on. It is as much a spiritual journey as a cycling event. We have much to learn on what it takes to be a caregiver.