In Conversation with Milind Tambe, a Navy Veteran, who did the Indian Coastal Cycling expedition & then rode to Khardung La with friend and fellow cyclist, Shriram Kondhawekar…
On the 5700 km coastal journey and 500 km mountain journey, Milind had a strong partner in crime in the form of Shriram. Together the duo are the ‘Pedal Bums’!
Shriram Kondhawekar, 50, based in Pune is an IT professional, as well as a freelance commercial photographer. Milind Tambe, 56, is a Naval Architect, who after retiring from the navy, ran his marine consultancy firm in Mumbai till recently. Now he has finally retired from his profession and looks forward to cycling a lot. As if the Indian Coastal Cycling expedition was not ‘a lot’! A Mumbai born and bred boy, he has now shifted to the calmer and more peaceful Panaji.
Neither Milind nor Shriram were into cycling. They met on a photography tour and bonded over multiple treks in the Western Ghats. That connect continued on the saddle as well.
A Dream: Indian Coastal Cycling Expedition
On retiring from the navy, Milind had a dream of walking along the Indian coast. He had seen the coast multiple times from the sea. It was time for a change in perspective.
That dream burned strong in his heart and mind for more than two decades. 2021 saw the dream coming to fruition, but with a twist.
In the middle of a trek and a conversation, Shriram and Milind mused that walking 7500 km might not be the most feasible idea. Cycling was a fantastic alternative. A slow-paced journey, which allowed the rider to observe every element of the coast, but significantly faster than walking.
Milind rode a bicycle for the first time since his schooldays in 2018. Shriram was even newer to this world of two wheels. He bought his bicycle just a few months before the expedition!
Sustainable travel had been in the thought process for some time. Milind in fact had built himself a couple of trikes as well!
From there the ride’s tagline was formed, ‘Burn Fat Not Fuel’…
Indian Coastal Cycling (ICC) Expedition
The decision to ride around the Indian coast was made in January 2021. The next few months saw the Pedal Bums, spend a lot of time preparing themselves for this arduous journey.
Part of the preparation saw them ride from Mumbai-Goa in February 2021. As they pedalled through the Western Coast, they realised it wasn’t as harsh or difficult as previously imagined. That renewed their confidence in completing the ICC.
The next few months gave them enough time to read up about riding gear, the route, and the touring lifestyle. It is not easy to live a life of eat, ride, sleep and repeat, it takes conditioning.
14th November 2021, saw the first pedal strokes. The duo set off from Goa to cover the entire Indian coastline on their bicycles. They eventually finished it on 25th February 2022 back in Goa after having cycled 5700 km.
Plans tend to abruptly get stopped in their tracks by reality. Pedal Bums’ plans met a similar fate!
They were unable to ride the section from Vishakhapatnam to Kolkata because there was a lockdown in West Bengal. So that stretch remains incomplete to this day. From Vishakhapatnam they flew to Bhuj in Gujarat. The Indian Coastal Cycling expedition recommenced from there. From Bhuj they rode all the way down to Goa, to finish their ride.
Manali to Khardung La
Unlike the ICC expedition, riding in Ladakh was an impromptu decision. It was challenge to the self, to see how far they could go.
Shriram and Milind were on this occasion joined by the latter’s friend from Bengaluru, Hubert Augustine and his son. 3 fifty-year-olds and 1 twenty-year-old made up the group!
On this occasion, they didn’t carry their world on the bicycle. Looking at the difficulty of the terrain, they chose to ride with a support vehicle, to minimise risk. After having finished the ride, they are open to riding it again self-supported!
Difference between Coast and Mountains
“It is impossible to compare the two rides, it is like comparing apples and oranges”, says Milind. Both were challenging, but in different ways.
Milind feels the coastal ride was more strenuous because they were on the road for 101 days. That included more than 70 days of riding, interspersed with rest days. Riding with luggage, cooking meals whilst on the road, was a different kind of challenge. That wasn’t the case from Manali to Khardung La.
It was a different pleasure to ride with support, opines Milind.
The Western Ghat climbs were sort of a preparatory ride for Khardung La. There is nothing to compare to 18 continuous kilometres of climbing to the passes in the mountains. It is a different ball game entirely.
Lessons from the Mountains
“There is a thin line between adventure and foolishness”, says Milind, when talking about the mountains. They learnt this as they saw many other cyclists on the road. There were a number of actions undertaken by young cyclists on the road, which a prudent cyclist would not.
The mountains aren’t a bed of roses. It has manmade difficulties as well. One of which they faced was from automobile drivers. Most of whom were inconsiderate, with no respect to others having right of the road. The vehicles with number plates from outside Himachal and Ladakh, were the worst offenders.
Another sad state of affairs is alcohol being sold in the dhabas. Drivers and riders would buy and drink alcohol. Something which is a strict no at such altitudes. Alcohol dehydrates you and it is easy to get a severe case of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) when inebriated. Doing this gets you across that thin line of adventure and straight into foolish territory.
Then & Now
Milind had driven from Mumbai to Leh in 2005 in his Wagon R.
In 2005 after Marhi there were no roads. It was all mud tracks and two vehicles could barely pass each other. Now two trucks pass each other without a problem. Compared to 2005, the road is more like a highway now.
Food and accommodation along the route has also grown over the years. Milind found Leh unrecognisable. He carried his old photos from 2005 and tried to compare it to the new city. But things have changed incredibly since then. Even enroute he found a lot of improvement in terms of eateries and dhabas. In 2005, after Dharcha there was nothing till you crossed Upshi.
Now it is much easier to do this route feels Milind. Anybody who bicycled to Leh in 2005 would have faced a lot more difficulties.
Milind and Shriram are already chalking out their next ride.
They are looking forward to completing some unfinished business. The Kolkata-Vishakhapatnam section which their missed riding on the Indian Coastal Cycling expedition is in their sights.
After riding there, they will put their bikes on a ship and travel to Port Blair. Where they will be riding in the Andaman archipelago. Not just the bicycle ride, but the ship journey will also be quite an incredible experience.
We wish Milind and Shriram loads of luck and happiness in all their future rides. And we hope to continue getting inspired by this amazing duo…
Photos: Pedal Bums