She comes off as a tiny little girl with a soft voice, but when you hear about her achievements you will be blown! When I first met Sayali Maharao, I had never thought I would say this about her, but the girl is a real dynamite in a small packet. After listening to her achievements, I had to write a story on her. So here it goes..
Cycling was something that I had started for practice and to be fit for my forthcoming mountaineering expeditions, but I never realised when it turned into a passion and today it is my life. Along with trekking and mountaineering, I am equally crazy for cycling. First two cycles I owned were stolen. But that did not deter me from my passion, I bought a third one and promised myself to take extra care of this one. I named it ‘Taramati’ after the tallest peak in the Harishchandra-Kalsubai range, and thereafter whenever I rode it, I imagined myself on Taramati and as if I am taking a good look at the mesmerising view below. It was a normal Btwin 7-geared model, a quite heavy one. Thus started a beautiful alliance between Taramati and myself, which would take me to the lengths and breadths of the country.
I started with small rides around Mumbai and then moved on to slightly longer ones like Mumbai-Pune, Mumbai-Nasik and Mumbai-Satara. In the course of time I met Pooja who would later by my partner in crime in one of my most ambitious rides – Kashmir to Kanyakumari. She incepted this thought in my mind on one of our rides from Pune, and then there was no looking back. I was equally energised for K2K as she was and the power of two gave the dream double energy! Soon, we had reached a state where we wanted to do it at any cost.
Convincing parents was not a big task for me as they were already aware of my mountaineering activities and by now they had grown trust in me. But for Pooja, it was a little difficult, but we managed it together. We started the route mapping two weeks prior to our departure and established contacts wherever we can. We got in touch with local riding groups, blood donor groups, etc and planned out our accommodation, route and spaced out the duration taking into consideration the weather and topographical conditions. We received a lot of support from many social and commercials entities, for example, MSA sponsored two brand new cycles for us for this ride.
Finally the day came when we had to bid good bye to our families to undertake the ride of our dreams. We left on 30th November 2017, carrying the message of ‘Beti bachao, beti padhao’ and ‘Pollution-free India’ and spreading the word wherever we went. Even before we began the ride, we had visited a couple of schools promoting our mission and during the ride too, we held similar sessions in schools and colleges emphasising on our slogans. During our ride, we did not have any support vehicle, nor any guide, it was just the two of us – two passionate young girls against the menacing hills, sprawling desserts, vast expanses of fields, winding ghats and the unforgiving weather! India is really a country with diversities, we have everything from snow-clad mountains to blazing deserts. And same is the case with the people, cuisines, traditions and culture across the country. We explored food to our heart’s content, lived with locals, tried regional lifestyles and enjoyed their cultures.
We used to ride for about 130-140 km daily managing everything by ourselves. I learnt technical stuff like curing a puncture, servicing my cycle and everything else that was necessary. We had to be self-competent as sometimes we encountered patches, especially in Rajasthan and Gujarat where we saw not a single soul on the road for many, many kilometres. On such scary roads, we used to keep our spirits high by singing songs loudly to beat the silence and the complete abandon.
I remember one day, while slurping chai off a kullhad in Rajasthan, we came across some truck drivers who had also stopped there for chai. They were flabbergasted by the fact that we were two unmarried girls cycling across the country without any support from anyone. While they appreciated our courage, some also criticized our audacity saying that the world is bad and women should always be indoors. We paid for the chai, mounted on our cycles, and while leaving from there, gave them a good piece of our mind and encouraged them to unleash their daughters and allow them to fly. How much of it made sense to them is a questionable topic, but we surely did our bit to bring in a change!
While we encountered some people of restricting mentality, we were also welcomed by people who absolutely loved our mission. For example, organisations like Shivdurga and Nisargmitra felicitated us and at one place in Ichalkaranji, we were actually honoured with ‘fetas’, symbolic head gear of Maharashtra.
On the first day of 2018, we visited the Meenakshi Amman Temple to take Devi maa’s blessings. It was the first time in my life that I was beginning my year while on a ride, while doing something I really loved, and it felt blissful. On the last day of our ride, we covered a whopping 162 km and reached Kanyakumari on 3rd January 2018 – only to find our family members waiting there to surprise us! It was like a dream come true. Another surprise, unknowingly though, was that another women cyclists group had completed their Pune-Kanyakumari ride on the same day and we met them there. The eldest cyclist amongst them was a 72-year-old lady! I cannot put in words the inspiration I received from her and the kind of change that has brought in me regarding my attitude towards life. It was truly an enriching journey!
And thus, came to an end a ride which had gone on for 35 days, spanning over 9 states and covering 4,000 km, this only being the beginning of much greater adventures.
Dreams do not believe in the barriers of age, caste, creed, gender, poverty, disability or illness. All they believe in is the power of the will. – Unknown