Friday 30 January 2015

Republic Day Heritage Ride to Puducherry 2015

Start at Ibis Hotel, Chennai 
The rain was unexpected. After setting our alarms to unearthly hours of the morning, we gathered at our starting point, the Novotel hotel, only to watch an unscheduled downpour. To commemorate the country’s 66th Republic Day, we were all set to participate in a Heritage Ride to Puducherry, 119 km in all. The ride was finally flagged off at 6.30 a.m. About 70 cyclists in all, men and women, began pedalling down the road to Kelambakkam, riding past the Thiruporur temple tank brimming with water. We made good time, and thanks to the morning rain, the weather was perfect. Hence, many of us reached Poonjeri by 7.45 am, doing about 20 to 22 km per hour.

Garnering plenty of attention along the way, we slowed down occasionally to answer questions from passers by, which ranged from ‘Where are you going?’ to ‘How much does this cycle cost?’ As we progressed onto ECR in a big group, the formation gradually changed, with people breaking away into smaller groups, each setting their own speed, while a few of the riders simply drafted behind each other. Since there were riders who were doing their first 100 km along with veterans, our group included a ‘sweeping team,’ whose job was to stay at the back and ensure that no rider was left behind.
Mudaliyar Kuppam Boat House
Reaching Vengambakkam, we rewarded ourselves with a packed breakfast, which included plenty of bananas, to keep up everyone’s energy levels. It was still easy riding though, with most participants chatting as they cycled, enjoying the company and the weather. Since this ride was intended to double up as a ‘sight-seeing expedition’ as well, we headed next to Mudaliarkuppam’s TTDC Boat House.
Of course, seeing the world from a bicycle is completely different from viewing it through the tinted windows of a traditional tour bus. It’s also infinitely more challenging — in a good way. The wind, for instance, plays a vital role when riding on ECR. While the tail winds assist you, the cross winds and head winds sometimes sap energy levels. Luckily for us, the wind gods seemed to be on our side — and we were blessed with mostly tail winds all the way.

Chambre de Commerce

Riding to Mudaliarkuppam took us through the lush green parts of ECR, taking many selfies along the way to remember the ride. After another food break, where we washed down more bananas with energy drinks, followed by peanut candy, we rode past Kadapakkam and set onto the road to Alamparai Fort. We reached Marakkanam before noon:  the road here can be tricky for experienced cyclists as it bone dry, with hardly any vegetation. The dramatic and vast expanse of salt pans located near Buckingham Canal creates a perfect setting for those seeking solitude. The pleasant weather soon gave way to a hot and humid afternoon, becoming a source of concern for those doing their maiden 100 km. This was possibly the most challenging part of the ride, and as we crossed the Toll Plaza near Hanumanthai, the distance between the smaller groups increased considerably. After this, it was just grit that kept us going. Pedalling past the last stretch, and entering the Union Territory triumphantly, most riders reached the finish point located beside the picturesque sea between 1.00 p.m. - 2.00 p.m. For 11 riders, it was their maiden 100 km finish. The more experienced riders, who included marathoners, tri-athletes and endurance cyclists, stood by the finish line to cheer all the newbies on an inspiring and gratifying sight.

Medal Ceremony at Novotel Hotel
In keeping with our bicycle-tourism agenda, after lunch we hopped back on our cycles, along with the Minister for Tourism, P. Rajavelu. The Minister cycling along with us, even if it was for a short distance, was the highlight of the evening however the Heritage part of the ride was there to be covered. Now crisscrossing the French and Tamil Quarters  which houses many of the landmark churches and buildings in Puducherry we stopped over at few places like Notre Dame des Agnes (Pink Church), Aayi Mandapam, Raj Nivas and Immaculate Conception Church posing for group pictures and had a very brief interaction about the significance of the place. Once done with the heritage part it was time for bidding adieus to this  place historic place, later in the evening all  the riders and their cycles were transported back to the starting point by bus and trucks. A gala medal followed by dinner  brought the curtains down to what had been a memorable day. All's well that ends well. Thankful to our sponsors Novotel & Ibis Hotel Chennai, DP World Chennai, Sagitec, Pro Bikers, Klachak, Orange Cube and Puducherry Tourism  

Aayi Mandapam, Puducherry

Newspaper Clipping

The Hindu - Puducherry

New Indian Express

      This blog was earlier published in "The Hindu" Metroplus on 27th January 2015