24 Dec 2019  |   05:09am IST

Goan Hinterland on a cycle: Any takers?

The wave after wave of cycles exiting Ravindra Bhavan recently; it was a riot of colour and enthusiasm signaling the start of the XASTI 100/50. The numbers told a story of Goa’s fast developing cycling for fitness culture. In all 276 riders completed the course within the allotted time. A record 306 registrations was encouraging. The riders came in from all parts of Goa, Vasco, Panjim, Ponda, Mapusa to mention a few and Kankavili, Mumbai and Bangalore too. There were a couple of foreigners too. 

The route offered the best of Goa’s Southern hinterland, it passed through beautiful villages of Curtorim, Macazana, Chandor, Assolda, Zambaulim, Rivona, Caurem, Ambaulim, Balli, Fatorpa, Quittol, ONGC Betul, across the bridge to Cavelossim, Varca, Colva and finally back to Ravindra Bhavan. The route is scenic as well as demanding with a couple of tough climbs especially the one peaking at ONGC gate. The riders would have loved to have time to take pictures along the route, but the need to finish within the stipulated time was a deterrent. The fact that you will see many cyclists with proper gear, especially a helmet, riding around Goa, points to the success in the efforts of a small group of ardent cyclists, who got together a few years ago and started cycling club in Panjim; and now there are clubs all across major Goan cities.

Yours truly has got involved with cycling recently and found many benefits to cycling, apart from the fitness aspect, which is a given. Age, too is not a factor, among the current crop of cyclists, the oldest, Wing Commander Ajit Guglani is 77 and the youngest Ronel Gomes all of 8. The XASTI 50 was introduced to encourage women and youngsters to take up cycling as a means to keeping fit. A total of 36 women completed the course. The cyclists come from all walks of life, so one meets and gets to know different types of people.

In Goa, there are many oldies, who have cycled around the village their whole life and had a ripe old age to show for it. Now the trend is towards endurance cycling, 200, 300, 400 or 600 kms and Audax India certifies the rides under the BRM (BREVETS DE RANDONNEUR MONDIAUX) label. BRM loosely translates to long distance endurance cycling. A super randonneurs or “SR” is one who does all, ie 200, 300, 400 and 600 kms rides within the stipulated time in one year. It is notable that “SR” are ordinary folk with no history of being athletic, but it has contributed to them being fit. India’s goal for a fit India is well served by cycling.

The biggest advantage is being able to go around Goa, at a slower speed compared to a car and be able to see Goa. Since cyclists use back roads or rather avoid highways, one gets to see villages and village life up close. One gets to taste the food at small restaurants and cafes’ doting the countryside. Basically one gets the feel and beautiful panoramic views from the seat of a cycle. 

There is a disadvantage too, it is safety. The streets are not all lit and so riding at dawn or dusk has its risks. Potholes and unmarked speed breakers can spoil a ride pretty quickly. If you can let sleeping village dogs lie, while you cycle past, then you are safe from snapping jaws. Injuries because of these reasons are not uncommon. 

Cycling has the potential to grow Goa’s tourist enterprise on the seat of a bicycle. It has the potential to make a few more entrepreneurs. It has the potential to involve those in the hinterland in Goa’s tourism activity without them moving to the Coast. Cycling can benefit the Goan economy.

At present there are two types of possibilities, one morning or evening rides can be offered to adventure tourists. These will be limited to a radius of 20-30 km around the known tourist destinations, and given the generally hot weather, restricted to early mornings or late afternoons when the Sun is generally cooler. The second option is a la “Tour de Goa”, a three day cycle ride that starts in Panjim and meanders through the hinterland and the riders return on the third day. Two nights are spent in the hinterland. There are already two entrepreneurs offering the day variety. 

The advantage of the tour is tourists can be taken into the hinterland in the morning, there they can check into home stays in the village. They can have a local home cooked lunch. After a siesta possibly under the trees, they can explore the surroundings and local sights in the evening, and later enjoy dinner with a local folk dance and bonfire. They can then move to the next village in the morning. This can be repeated for 2 to 7 days or more if needed.

The advantage is that tourism comes to the village, which in turn creates demand for local food produce, folk dancers, local artifacts and homes will be rented as well. The resultant improvement in local economy will boost rural incomes and stem migration to cities. 

As we ride into 2020 on a cycle, hope this idea catches fire and we not only have a healthy and safe year ahead but also a prosperous one, not only for the cyclists but also for the population of the Goan hinterland. May cycling improve the health and prosperity of all connected. 

(The author prefers to write rather than chat in a balcao)


Iddhar Udhar