We are in conversation with Lavanya, from Hyderabad and mother of 2 who recently went cycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari!
Lavanya Reddy Kesari, mother of two and a certified fitness and nutrition coach hailing from Hyderabad, embarked on a journey of a lifetime. Pedalling her way from Srinagar in the north to the southernmost tip in Kanyakumari.
In a 19-day odyssey covering a staggering 3700 kilometres, Lavanya, conquered diverse terrains, weather conditions, and personal challenges, transforming her dream of the Kashmir to Kanyakumari (K2K) ride into an awe-inspiring reality.
Lavanya’s Path to Cycling
Lavanya has been professionally in the fitness industry since the last 7 years. She even competed at the national level in the sport of bodybuilding for 2 years.
Lavanya’s fitness journey took a significant turn after the pandemic lockdowns. As someone deeply invested in fitness, primarily through gym workouts and running, she sought new avenues to explore the world beyond confined spaces.
Encouraged by her friend, Lucky, she ventured into cycling. Starting with short rides, where even 8 km felt like an achievement to gradually extending into longer distances, even completing a 200-kilometer ride within six months of her cycling debut. Along the way, she made many cycling friends, who helped her along the way. She recalls when she first started riding alone, “cyclists would see me riding alone and come to me and ask me to join them for regular rides”. The two-wheeled camaraderie lives strong!
Bodybuilding to Bicycling: A Transition
Transitioning from bodybuilding to cycling introduced Lavanya to an entirely different physical experience.
Cycling brought its unique set of muscle soreness, challenging her perseverance and mental fortitude. Despite the initial discomfort, her unwavering determination, honed through years of fitness training, drove her to overcome these hurdles, setting the stage for bigger adventures.
Dreaming of K2K: From Motorcycle to Bicycle
The lockdown didn’t just see Lavanya riding bicycles. She also learnt to ride a motorcycle and inspired by the stories of her biker friends, she one day dreamed of motorcycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
However, concerns regarding safety, especially as a mother of two, steered her towards reconsidering this ambitious plan.
The cycling bug bit harder and she gravitated to human powered two-wheels. Her husband was left speechless, as cycling was riskier than motorcycles. A cycling group from the city, Hyderabad Cycling Group, does an annual K2K ride. But she didn’t find that challenging enough, since, accommodation, food and all is pre-arranged. All that you need to do is ride. She wanted a bigger challenge.
Lavanya was adamant. Undeterred by societal scepticism, Lavanya, along with two like-minded companions, resolved to undertake the journey on bicycles.
Preparation for the Extraordinary
The dream went awry as Lavanya had a bad crash on her bicycle during a regular morning ride. She needed surgery for torn ligaments and was off the saddle for 6 months. Her fitness went for a toss during that period. It was only back in March 2023, that she managed to get back on the bike. And from then on, preparation began in earnest. The last 3 months before the ride, she didn’t miss out a single day’s ride, alongside regular gym strength training workouts.
Her preparation was further complicated by the fact that one of her female co-riders had to drop out of the plan due to health issues. That left just Lavanya and her male cycling friend, Zarbaf, to attempt the ride. Unfortunately, in the society that we live in, just that fact gets tongues wagging and eyebrows raised.
Lavanya describes herself as being ‘ziddi’. That stubbornness saw her transition from weighing 90 kg after having 2 kids, to building a 6-pack in her bodybuilding competitive phase. She feels, others negativity does not bring her down, instead it only fans the flames of her passion. And in this instance, the passion was cycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
There wasn’t a force in the world who could stop her from doing this ride… Of course, the support from her husband and children made the entire task infinitely easier. Her husband is a cricketer and her 17-year-old daughter is a state level cricketer, even her 10-year-old son is a cricketer. Love for sports runs deep in her family and makes it easier for the others to understand her madness!
Embarking on the Epic Journey
Setting off on October 24th, Vijay Dashami from Srinagar, Lavanya and her cycling partner Zarbaf commenced their odyssey, navigating through a diverse array of landscapes, weather conditions, and terrains.
She recalls, that riding in Kashmir was relatively easy. Not physically, but mentally. The beauty of the land is so mesmerising that you barely notice the hardship of the saddle. The real mental torture began in the plains from Ludhiana onwards. She was constantly battling, ‘cities, traffic and pollution’, questioning her choice to her ride. At such times, she really needed to push herself mentally to get on with it.
Memorable Encounters and Unforeseen Twists
The journey was punctuated by memorable encounters with people along the way. From heartwarming interactions with strangers recognizing her Telugu roots to experiencing the rich diversity of regional cuisines.
The latter saw, Lavanya having more variations of ‘Hyderbadi Biryani’ than she could have imagined. Though a “pakka non-vegetarian”, she mostly stuck to parathas, dal and rice along the way. Staple food which is almost certainly freshly prepared and least likely to cause harm.
The former was an incident in Maharashtra. She was cycling through the Pench Tiger Reserve, when a vehicle was tailing her for a bit. Unable to control their enthusiasm, they pulled over and a lady ran over to Lavanya. Asking if she was Telugu, because she looked so! This lady from Kurnool, was so happy to see somebody from the state undertaking this arduous journey, that she invited her home. At such times you remember that bicycles truly are magical.
Coping with Challenges and Embracing Surprises
Challenges were an inherent part of the journey. Unexpected closures of the Banihal tunnel and manoeuvring through traffic jams on the way to Ramban presented unforeseen challenges that the duo skilfully navigated.
The Banihal tunnel had been closed for 3 days and had just been re-opened. They were not allowed to cycle through the tunnel, because of the fear of speeding cars and motorcycles who were stuck for 3 days. Eventually the got a ride on a pickup truck to the other side of the tunnel, where both sides of the roads were jam packed.
Lavanya and Zarbaf had to thread their way through the mass (and mess) of humanity, reaching Ramban after dark. Their backup car remained stuck in traffic and joined them only at the end of the day.
When we asked her if this was the worst experience of the trip, she said emphatically, “of course not, this was the best experience of the trip”! Such is the cycling life…
Support System and Unexpected Hurdles
Though the duo had a support vehicle trailing them, Lavanya and Zarbaf primarily rode solo, with the vehicle leapfrogging ahead and occasionally offering moral support. The two riders also rode a good 2-3 km apart, Zarbaf would stop and check on her from time to time. But for all practical purposes, they were doing solo rides!
Which Lavanya says was ‘fortunate’. Spending so much time with one person can get on your nerves and tempers boil over. Fortunately, they managed to ride 19 days together with just ‘one’ small skirmish!
It only underscored the emotional toll long-distance riding takes on interpersonal dynamics. Despite this, their camaraderie and resilience prevailed, ensuring they remained united in their goal.
Lavanya also liberally used her ‘phone a friend’ lifeline! Every time she needed moral support or just a pep talk, she would take a break and call her friend Lucky. The same friend who got her into cycling, was also a pillar of support on this ride.
The Daily Rigors and Lifestyle on the Road
Their daily routine revolved around rigorous cycling, averaging an astonishing 140-170 kilometres each day.
Some days demanded more, with stretches of 200+ kilometres, while the terrains, especially the hilly regions, required more climbing.
Food and accommodations were basic, often comprising dhaba meals and simple lodgings, reinforcing Lavanya’s understanding that comfort was secondary to the pursuit of her dream.
The first order of business to be undertaken on arriving at the night halt, was charging the batteries of all electronic devices. This needed to be done, even before the riders got a chance to wash their faces!
Navigating Language Barriers and Regional Nuances
Being born and brought up in Hyderabad, Lavanya speaks fluent Hindi. This held her in good stead for almost the entirety of her journey. She could communicate with ease and this made travelling not just easier, but more immersive.
The North Indian food on the other hand was difficult to digest. Only after they reached Maharashtra, did Lavanya get her staple of rice, with food cooked with more familiar flavours.
Language was only a barrier for her when she went to Tamil Nadu. Adapting with broken Tamil interspersed with English became her go-to mode for communication in Tamil Nadu.
The Culmination: Triumph at Kanyakumari
The culmination of their extraordinary expedition was a momentous arrival at Kanyakumari on the 19th day.
Overcoming challenges, both physical and emotional, Lavanya and Zarbaf stood triumphant at the southernmost tip of India, realizing a dream that began as a daring aspiration.
Final Reflections and Future Aspirations
As Lavanya reflected on her achievement, she expressed gratitude for the unwavering support of family, friends, and fellow cyclists who rallied behind her.
She remembers midway through the journey, when she stayed a day at home in Hyderabad. Each pedal stroke after that was a chore, as she cried every morning, homesick for the next 3 days. Leaving family and going out, does take a mental and emotional toll.
Despite the physical toll and logistical challenges, the journey fuelled her aspirations for future exploits, hinting at a potential East to West expedition in the offing. But as she said jokingly, “I have just finished cycling Kashmir to Kanyakumari, first I need to get out of this debt!!!”
Photos: Lavanya Reddy Kesari
If you enjoyed this travel adventure, then check out Vignesh VP’s journey from Jammu to Kanyakumari on a single speed bicycle. Also check out Tahseen’s journey from Kanyakumari to Ladakh!