In August 2016, Divyanshu Ganatra, a visually-impaired adventure enthusiast set out with a sighted captain to pedal from Manali to Khardung La in the Himalayas, a length of 550 kilometres that the team completed in just eight days. He became the first blind tandem cyclist to accomplish the feat.
For Divyanshu, this was just a beginning and he decided to plan the annual tandem cycling expedition on the same route. On the heels of last year’s success, this year’s edition of ‘In Sync M2K2017’ which is Manali to Khardug-La has drawn the participation of visually impaired, sighted, as well as amputee cyclists from across India and beyond.
Cyclists are as diverse as one can imagine, with professions ranging from corporate giants to language teachers, from the armed forces to motivational speakers. The age bracket ranges from around 15- to about 70-year-old. The experience on board spans seasoned cyclists to those getting on the bike for the first time ever.
Divyanshu will team with another adventure enthusiast Christopher Louzado.
When Divyanshu and his captain were celebrating at Khardung La last year, I was rejoicing at the successful summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. On the heels of Kilimanjaro, with Divyanshu honoring me with a request to be his captain for this momentous expedition, I decided to try my hand at tandem cycling. What started as a way to support a cause and spark a new adventure has become so much more today,” Louzado said.
However, Divyanshu is more involved in logistics than his own individual ride.
“It’s a whole new thing. I am not thinking about my ride. The tougher part is getting together all the support staff, medicals and cycles. There are lot of things to consider and fortunately everything is set now,” he said.
Divyanshu will be part of the first batch, leaving on July 26 and will start the expedition from July 29. A total of 11 cyclists including 6 tandem bikers will be part of the first batch while 20 riders will be in the second batch.
Another interesting pair for this expedition is Kailash Baheti and his daughter Manasvi. The youngest participant, Manasvi, is 15-years-old and visually impaired and aims to complete the expedition with her father.
“My dad and I listen to very different music when we cycle, and both of us sing aloud. When everything is so new, the cycling, the terrain, the experience, it is nice to have some familiarity to hold on to,” she says, while Kailesh is all praise for his daughter.
“We have developed a system between us – if I tap her on the hand once, it means she needs to up the pressure a little bit and twice means even more than that. Two months ago, she would easily tire, but these last few trips she seems to have bottomless wells of energy,” he said.
Vinod Rawat , a former participant in MTV Roadies is biking with an artificial limb.
“In 1997, I got my artificial limb. That same year, I cycled from Mumbai to Lonavla because the Lions Club promised me a telephone booth. I used to cycle to work, from Thane to Lower Parel to Bandra back to Thane. I was hungry for more and this year, I am biking from Mumbai to Khardung La to Manali before joining M2K2017 and cycling up again,” he says.
The two Pune-based oldest participants, Santaman Swamy (69) and Reena Ginwala (56), are also joining in the adventure.
Not blind to adventure
Divyanshu, who lost his eyesight to glaucoma when he was 19-years-old previously became the first blind solo paraglider in 2014. His thirst for adventure and love for adrenaline sowed the seeds of Adventure Beyond Barrier Foundation (ABBF), and the community is only growing by the day.
ABBF uses adventure sport as a platform to promote inclusion between Persons with Disability (PwDs) and the able-bodied community. ABBF works in five verticals currently – tandem cycling, scuba diving, mountaineering and trekking, paragliding and marathons – and since inception in 2014, has been able to reach out to 3500 PwDs and over 1.5 lakh people from the mainstream community.