India is famous for its rich heritage and we Indians hold great pride in it. However, when we speak of heritage, we concentrate on very specific places that have a well-known history attached to it. There is more to India than the Taj Mahal or the Mysore Palace. India’s cultural diversity is a magnet that attracts millions of people to visit and experience the real India. There are many heritage tours organised by the government and private organisations. One such is the Cycling Yogis founded by Mr Ramanujar Moulana from Chennai.
I had the opportunity to have met him by chance during his recent tours in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu where he had organised the Nava Kailasam and Nava Tirupati cycling tour. CSP was in conversation with him after the tour during which he spoke to us about the Cycling yogis venture.
Why and when did you start Cycling Yogis?
We started this in April 2012 and we wanted to amalgamate both the passion for cycling and heritage. When I started cycling in 2010 after a gap of 25-30 years, I found that cyclists were involved in endurance cycling or in a race. Most of them would ride until the Mamallapuram post and return without feeling the need to explore the place, its history or what the place had to offer. That’s when I decided that cycling needed some spicing up, and heritage came to my mind. In 2012, during the Madras week celebrations, specifically on Madras day that falls on August 22nd, we started our first tour and we consider that day as our flagship day.
Madras day stalwarts and Madras historians like Shri Muthiah, Shri Sriram V and Mr Vincent D’Souza were taking care of the Madras week celebrations. Along with that, we decided to begin the cycling tour.
For Cycling Yogis, Shri S Muthiah is our inspiration. He always said, “take pride in your city”. That became our main concept when we started this venture. We did not want anyone to be a foreigner in Madras city which is why we started exploring and documenting different parts of the Madras. Presently, we have moved beyond Madras and have been travelling to other parts of Tamil Nadu.
How many participants do you see every year? Do you have international participants?
When we began, we had around 25 participants. We have had more than 4000 participants over the years. We were on Facebook and we began to post articles on vintage cycles. We are the only people to hold a vintage cycle exhibition in South India. We source a lot of vintage bicycles and showcase them during the Madras Day exhibition. The passion was to turn back and look at the past.
We have had international participants. When we cycled to Palaverkadu, 40 kms north of Madras, we had a few cyclists from Europe. The Mylapore festival ride had around 30-40 people from the USA. These participants were from a yoga school in the USA and they found the tour very interesting.
How do you decide on the place that you would like to visit?
We first decided to cover Chennai. Following that, we covered the neighbouring areas of Chennai. We checked off a lot of places in and around Chennai such that we had made sure we had no more places to cover around the area. Then we moved to Chandragiri near Tirupati. Chandragiri fort is very significant since that is where the Fort St George agreement was signed. When we visited Palaverkaadu, the trip was featured in the Guardian UK and that for us, was a very significant achievement. We also bring out books called bicycle trails that focus on specific places. These books are released every year on Madras Day. The books talk about Old Madras Road, East Coast Road, hundred years of bicycle history in Madras and Madras cycles. This year we are releasing the book on Foot chains of madras. Each book has a QR code which when scanned will transport you to that place.
What is the kind of awareness that our own people have about heritage?
Those who have taken part in our tours have some knowledge about a particular place that they have gained via the internet. Moreover, they have a budding interest to explore these heritage sites. While we cycle, we not only come across significant sites but we also learn of the geography, topography, people’s history and their lifestyle. For example, in Palaverkadu, we learnt their history of being a coastal area and how it served as a dock for trading ships. The tours thus provide more of a practical experience than when you just read them from books.
Where was your latest tour and give us fun instance from the trip?
Recently in the month of January, we went to the Nava Kailasam and Nava Tirupati along the Tamraparani river. This was part of the Republic Day Heritage Ride and we had around 35 cyclists. We covered 275 kms over a period of three days. The tour concluded at the Bhakthavatsala Perumal Temple at Cheranmahadevi which is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
On the first day, we reached one of the Nava Tripathi temples which had a small lake. Our cyclists left the cycles and jumped in for a nice swim. Since it had rained the previous week, the water seemed to call us for a swim.
What is the future for Cycling Yogis and how do you want to improve the experience?
I don’t know what the future holds but I hope to keep doing this every year and the rest is left to the universe. Right now, I am concentrating on covering and exploring Tamil Nadu and its heritage. We want to make the experience unique to all. We are currently planning on an Andaman tour this August.