Cycling for Swachh Bharat Twenty-two participants rode 4,800 km on bicycles, through the changing landscape of India, to usher in #swachhbharat and promote WinS.

Porkodiyal Chidambaram, the only woman cyclist in the group, with her parents.
Porkodiyal Chidambaram, the only woman cyclist in the group, with her parents.

Dressed in fluorescent jackets and bright helmets, hundreds of Rotarians, Rotaractors and cycling enthusiasts welcomed the peloton of 22 cyclists who participated in the K2K Tour De Rotary at the Elliot’s Beach in Chennai. RC Madras Midtown, D 3230, the organisers of the annual cycling event, ensured that the welcome was a grand affair. The icing on the cake was a special video message from TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee: “I am glad that you are taking this trip from Kashmir all the way down to Kanyakumari for The Rotary Foundation and doing good in the world. I appreciate the initiative and wish you good luck for this journey. Anything you do to promote our Foundation will always be appreciated.” Club Secretary Bhavesh Shah said that this “was a huge encouragement, especially because it came from the most revered Rotary leader.”

The club flagged off the 4,800 km tour on November 7 from Kashmir, dedicating this year’s rally to commemorate the 100th year of TRF, raise funds, sensitise people pan India about Rotary’s WinS programme and promote the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. This initiative was also supported by the Ministry of Urban Development.

DG Chandrashekar Kolvekar and his team welcoming the cyclists at Navi Mumbai.
DG Chandrashekar Kolvekar and his team welcoming the cyclists at Navi Mumbai.

The journey

With 27 flag-off points and a pit stop every 40 minutes, the journey has been a colourful affair for the 22 cyclists. While one cyclist who is in his early twenties felt that the scenic Kashmir valley stole his heart, another 60-year-old rider was fascinated by vibrant Gujarat. “We’ve seen India like never before and this is as good as a padyatra,” says cyclist Srini Swaminathan. Describing his best experience of the tour, he says that at the Gandhi Nagar Stadium in Gujarat, 3,000 cyclists were instructed to ring their cycle bells “as we rode into the stadium and that gave us all goosebumps. That is the best welcome a cyclist could ever receive.”

Small vendors, who sell fruits, tea and sugarcane juice wouldn’t take money from us when they came to know the cause of our ride. They’d say, ‘you’re doing your bit for the country, we are doing ours.’

“The journey in itself is a lesson for all of us,” said 26-year-old Porkodiyal Chidambaram, the only woman cyclist in the group. It was her passion and the support of her husband and her boss that made it possible for her to embark on this “amazing, once in a lifetime journey.” Yes, Swachh Bharat and WinS were a priority, but she has a message for “all the women out there. Follow your passion and focus on it, and not on the obstacles.”

Curiosity has been the key of this promotional rally. At many places, two/four-wheeler drivers would stop the cyclists to enquire about their ride. “If they weren’t wearing helmets, we would advise them to get and wear them,” says Swaminathan, adding, “building a rapport was important, otherwise, they wouldn’t be interested in listening to us.” At every point, few motorcyclists or onlookers would take pictures and share them on social media with the hashtags, #K2K and #SwachhBharat. “This promoted our cause to a larger audience instantly,” says another cyclist.

Apart from their experience of riding 150–200 km every day through steep inclinations, ghat roads, tunnels and scenic backgrounds, the one thing that remained constant was the support of various Rotary clubs. District Governors of all the 19 districts the rally coursed through were present at the flag-offs and ensured that the cyclists were given a warm reception. “We met dignitaries, social workers, leaders and so much love was showered on us.”

But the rest of India is far more fascinating, says Swaminathan. “Small vendors, who sell fruits, tea and sugarcane juice wouldn’t take money from us when they came to know the cause of our ride. They’d say, ‘you’re doing your bit for the country, we are doing ours.’ We were taken aback by their gesture,” he says.

Just before the Chennai flag-off, which was led by cricketer Jonty Rhodes, the club released a Tamil song, Thooimai Indhiya, (Clean India) composed and sung by Annets Abhinav Narayanan, a 12-year-old violinist, and Rishab Ramnatha, a 14-year-old vocalist, to promote the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. District 3230 DG Natarajan Nagoji thanked the local urban government bodies and Rotary clubs who supported this event and added, “This rally is to ensure that people in rural areas are sensitised to avoid open defecation and usher in a change that will build a cleaner and healthier India.”

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