This September, the Indian Army organised a bicycle ride in the Kashmir Valley to celebrate the 75th year of India’s independence. Friend of CyclingMonks, Damanpreet Kaur from Mohali, joined the celebratory ride. She shares her experience of being a part of this super cool initiative. Damanpreet, who lives in the land of five rivers, Punjab, is a fashion designer by profession and has taken up cycling relatively recently. In 2020, in the first wave of new bicycle riders, Damanpreet and her husband got themselves bikes and enjoyed the new found freedom of two-wheels.
It was all nice and rosy in the beginning as the couple would head out for 20 km rides on their single-speed machines. Things changed when they headed up the popular Morni Hills, which tops out at 1159 metres. The duo walked 5-6 km uphill as they could not pedal. They did not get discouraged, instead they went back and bought multi-geared bicycles to fuel their saddle time!
Now they ride almost daily with city cycle clubs of Cyclegiri, Dil Se and Cyclegarh. Being a part of these clubs is how Damanpreet got to know about ‘Ride Kashmir’ from a fellow rider Dr. Sunaina Bansal. Initially, she was sceptical about the ride, considering it was from Baramulla to Uri in Kashmir. She immediately adds, after doing the ride, her perspective of the place has completely changed.
Ride Kashmir: The Ride
The ride itself had about 150 participants. 40-50 were ladies from the Kashmir Valley. The rest from around the country. Motto for the ride was ‘Women Empowerment’ in the valley and beyond…
The ride in Damanpreet’s words:
This rally went the best ever ride of my life.
Pedalling in the valley from Baramulla to Kaman Aman Setu, Uri was an overwhelming experience. Women from across the country participated in this 65 km ride and most were beautiful ladies from the valley itself.
From the day we landed at Srinagar till our departure, the Indian Army went out of their way to make us feel welcome and comfortable. The distance I covered while being shot is the defining experience I had while cycling. Mountains and clouds on the one side and River Jhelum on the other. It was a sight that I won’t forget for the rest of my life.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, my cycle got punctured 10 km before the destination. But the beauty of nature would not let me stop. I rode with a flat tyre for almost 5 km.
With the Top Brass
After that I got a lift in the army vehicle of GOC – Major General Virendra Vats and Brigadier Amit Dheer. I could never have imagined such a moment. For last 5 km I did the ride in an open jeep.
Along the way, the two officers of the Indian Army, explained about the area of India and Pakistan and the stories linked to them. Army officers were saluting the Major General and Brigadier, sitting in their vehicle I was feeling like a Maharani!
Milind Soman, the iron man of India was the brand ambassador for Ride Kashmir. Riders who could do 10 push ups got a chance to take selfies with Milind. And I was one of them!
The locals were supportive through the way, cheering us with the tricolour, smiling and waving at us with Jai Hind, Namaste and Salams! There were many check points manned by the army. After the ride, they took us to a local Shivji temple and to a view point in Cantt. In the cold weather there, we were served hot samosas and chai.
They made the route comfortable for women, with portable convenience points. It was humbling to see the jawans and officers in uniform with their guns, and our flag, protecting our nation. Just so that we can sleep peacefully.
Saying that it was a once in a lifetime experience, is an understatement!
On Riding with the ladies of Kashmir:
Most of the Kashmir girls were in their traditional dress and were happy to be a part of this prestigious event. We danced, chatted and enjoyed a lot over the bonfire, post the ride. While leaving Kashmir, they invited us to visit and ride again with them.
Photos Courtesy: Damanpreet Kaur
Also read this article by Numaan Sandroo about Mountain Biking in Kashmir and Sameera Auluck, from Ludhiana, who rode from India Gate to Gateway of India.