Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Meghalaya’s Cycling Renaissance: A Journey of Inclusion and Sustainability

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By Monojit Mandal

In the lush hills of Meghalaya, where the symphony of nature intertwines seamlessly with human endeavour, a subtle revolution quietly takes shape. It’s not the roar of engines or the hum of technology that permeates these valleys; rather, it’s the gentle whir of bicycle wheels, spinning narratives of inclusivity and sustainability.

Leading this charge is Lening Bareh, the visionary President of the Meghalaya Cycling Association, whose words resonate as a clarion call to embrace cycling not merely as a sport, but as a way of life.

His vision finds resonance in protégés such as Aron Kharpuri, Kevin Lyngdoh, Lambor Phawa, and Taitus – names synonymous with excellence in the field. Their recent triumphs at the 20th National Mountain Bike (MTB) event held from March 28 to 31, 2024 not only shine a spotlight on Meghalaya but also underscore the transformative potential of cycling as a catalyst for change and empowerment within the state.

In an exclusive dialogue with Sunday Shillong, Lening Bareh and these cycling luminaries share insights into their journey, dreams, and the profound impact of the sport.

Bareh’s voice echoes through the misty air, proclaiming cycling as a sport for all, irrespective of background or circumstance. “Cycling is a sport that can be taken up by anyone interested, and we, in Meghalaya are naturally inclined towards it,” he declares, underscoring the accessibility of cycling amidst the hills and valleys of Meghalaya. With fervour, he urges the youth to not only pedal towards personal fitness but also towards a greener, more sustainable future.

The COVID-19 pandemic, a time of turmoil and uncertainty, saw an unexpected surge in demand for bicycles, catapulting it from a niche pursuit to a mainstream mode of transportation. Bareh acknowledges this seismic shift but laments the dearth of designated cycling lanes, a hindrance to safe commuting, especially post-lockdown. His plea for infrastructure development reverberates with urgency, echoing the need for tangible steps towards making cycling a viable and safe mode of transport in the state.

However, it’s not just about the practicalities; cycling embodies a holistic approach to well-being. His vision extends beyond mere rhetoric, advocating for dedicated cycling lanes in urban planning initiatives, a testament to his commitment to safer cycling practices.

“In Shillong, our main challenge lies in the narrow roads, particularly during peak hours, making vehicular movement quite challenging. We hope that in the development of new townships, dedicated cycling lanes will be given due consideration. The Meghalaya Cycling Association operates as a voluntary organisation, committed to promoting cycling among our youth and citizens without charging any membership fees. Therefore, we earnestly appeal to the government for assistance in procuring professional equipment, as our athletes may not be able to afford it otherwise,” said Bareh.

As the conversation shifts to the global stage, Bareh’s pride in Meghalaya’s cycling prowess shines through. With the terrain as diverse as its culture, Meghalaya boasts a natural advantage in mountain biking (MTB), a discipline synonymous with the state’s rugged landscapes and untamed beauty. Yet, amidst this natural bounty, Bareh acknowledges the challenges faced by aspiring athletes, from equipment shortages to financial constraints.

Aron Kharpuri: Pioneering the Path to Victory

For Aron Oniel Kharpuri, resident of Khlieh Shnong, Shillong, winning the gold medal at the 20th National MTB Event was not just a personal triumph but a testament to the resilience and dedication of Meghalaya’s cycling community. In his own words, “It was an incredible feeling to be able to bring victory for the state since I’ve given my best.”

“Mountain biking, or cycling in general, is an incredibly enjoyable activity. Beyond India, individuals often cycle to escape the confines of their busy work or academic lives. Venturing out of cities on a bicycle offers a unique experience, especially when exploring natural trails. I recommend taking advantage of weekends to ride through Malki forest, following the trekking trail to Motinagar field, for an unforgettable experience, added Aron.

Reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on bicycle sports in Meghalaya, Aron acknowledges the role of cycling as a beacon of hope and resilience during challenging times. He believes that cycling has evolved into more than just a sport; it’s a way of life that promotes physical and mental well-being while fostering a sense of community and camaraderie.

Drawing from his experience competing nationally, Aron emphasises the global perspective of bicycle sports and identifies trends such as gravel and adventure cycling and sustainability as catalysts for the growth of cycling in Meghalaya.

Kevin Lyngdoh: Silver Linings in the Clouds of Adversity

For Kevin Lyngdoh Sangriang, resident of Mawmitbah village in South West Khasi Hills, winning two silver medals at the National MTB Event is a testament to his unwavering determination and passion for the sport. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin sees a silver lining in the increased interest and participation in bicycle sports in Meghalaya.

“I firmly believe that cycling fosters growth and development of the youth in Meghalaya. I’ve observed significant changes in participation and interest, and personally, I attribute numerous health benefits to cycling, which helps me maintain strength and vitality. I am confident that these benefits will positively impact the community of Meghalaya. Cycling, in my opinion, is a challenging aspect of sports, and I envision a thriving cycling sports culture in our state,” said Kevin Lyngdoh Sangriang.

Beyond the physical aspect, Kevin recognises the overall health benefits of cycling and its positive impact on the community. He envisions cycling as a vehicle for social change and environmental consciousness, urging fellow cyclists to embrace their role as ambassadors for change.

Looking ahead, Kevin is optimistic about the future of cycling in Meghalaya and believes that collaboration and innovation are keys to unlocking its full potential.

Lambori Phawa: Pedalling Towards a Brighter Future

Lambori Phawa’s journey from Chamcham village of East Jaintia Hills to securing the 5th position at the National MTB Event is a testament to his perseverance and dedication. Despite facing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lambori remains steadfast in his commitment to promoting cycling as a means of improving health and well-being in Meghalaya.

Drawing inspiration from his experience competing nationally, Lambori envisions a future where cycling becomes a symbol of pride and identity for Meghalaya. He believes that by harnessing the state’s natural beauty and creating opportunities for young cyclists, Meghalaya can emerge as a cycling powerhouse on the global stage.

“I firmly believe that increasing the number of cycling events annually will propel our state towards greater prominence in the realm of cycling sports. With a larger pool of athletes, competition will intensify, paving the way for more opportunities for our state. Presently, I am eager to delve deeper into the world of cycling sports, as I sense its tremendous potential to benefit me. My aspiration extends beyond national or state-level competitions; I envision participating in international events one day, thereby bringing greater pride and success to our state,” said Lambori Phawa

Reflecting on his own journey, Lambori emphasises the importance of dedication, discipline, and a positive mindset in achieving success both on and off the bike. He is committed to inspiring the next generation of cyclists and nurturing talent to ensure the continued growth and success of the sport in Meghalaya.

Taitus Marak: Upholding Meghalaya’s Cycling Legacy

For Taitus, resident of Bajengdoba village in North Garo Hills, winning the silver medal at the National MTB Event is a testament to Meghalaya’s rich cycling heritage and the tireless efforts of its athletes. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Taitus remains hopeful about the future of cycling in Meghalaya and believes that with the right infrastructure and support, the state can become a hub for bicycle sports.

“I am convinced that the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a shift in people’s attitudes towards overall health and fitness. A heightened awareness of health prompted more individuals to engage in sports and fitness activities, with many investing in bicycles to bolster their physical well-being. This surge in interest undoubtedly contributed to the growth of participation in cycling sports, leading to a substantial increase in the cycling community following the pandemic, ” said Taitus.

As an ambassador of cycling in Meghalaya, Taitus is committed to inspiring the next generation of cyclists and nurturing talent to ensure the continued growth and success of the sport. He emphasises the importance of perseverance, dedication, and a positive mindset in achieving success both on and off the bike.

In summation, the cycling champions of Meghalaya transcend mere athleticism; they embody the spirit of innovation, courage, and societal change. Their journey epitomises the profound impact of sports on individual lives and communities, showcasing the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. As they forge ahead towards a brighter tomorrow, they carry with them the aspirations of an entire state, paving the way for future generations to follow. Moreover, Lening Bareh’s unwavering optimism shines like a beacon, casting light on Meghalaya’s cycling potential. With the right support and resources, he envisions a future where Meghalaya’s cyclists ascend to national and international acclaim, propelled by the steadfast dedication of the Meghalaya Cycling Association. As he bids adieu, his words serve as a poignant reminder of humanity’s resilience and the transformative power of a simple act – pedalling towards a sustainable and prosperous future.

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