My quest for travel has just begun and this year I had set a target to visit one international destination and two Indian cities. Everything worked as planned and I travelled to the Netherlands in June, Hyderabad city to see the solar roof cycling track in September. And finally, I visited Ahmedabad in October specifically to see Mahatma Gandhi’s Bicycle. Have you seen it?
Cycling from Ahmedabad Airport to the hotel:
When I was discussing about my trip to Ahmedabad with Arjit Soni, the founder of MYBYK-India’s largest public bicycle sharing company, he offered me his electric bicycle and suggested that I should commute from the Ahmedabad airport to the hotel and explore the entire city on e-bike. I had not done anything like this before, but I accepted his suggestion.
After landing, Nitesh from MYBYK was already waiting for me outside the airport with two electric bikes for both of us. Typically, we book cars and taxis from the airport and sometimes take public transport, but this is a rare case of using bicycles at the airport in an Indian city. Let me also make it clear that at present MYBYK doesn’t have a docking station or a rental hub at the airport but there could be one in the future.
Nitesh and I made a video at the start of the journey which you can watch here:
Nitesh took the lead, and I followed him enroute. I had a haversack and a sling bag on my shoulder basically not much weight and with the pedal assist e-bike the 9km ride was comfortable and easy. Being a weekend, the traffic was less and moving fast and with decent roads I could pedal along conveniently. On couple of occasions, I lost sight of Nitesh but with communication we were re-connected. And in just about 35 minutes we reached the hotel and made another video which you can watch here:
After completing the check-in formalities, I had lunch, rested for an hour and got ready to visit Sabarmati Ashram.
Mahatma Gandhi’s bicycle at Sabarmati Ashram:
Few days before my visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, I had made an inquiry about the public display of Mahatma Gandhi’s bicycle in the Ashram. I was told that the bicycle is currently not on display for public and I need to send an email to the ashram director requesting him for a permission to see the bicycle; and I wrote to him. On the day of my visit to the ashram I received a reply stating that I need to meet the secretary of Sabarmati Ashram preservation and memorial trust Mr. Amrut Modi.
Excited and happy, I pedaled on MYBYK to Sabarmati Ashram which was 2kms away from the hotel. I walked inside the office and met Amrut Modi, and he appeared to be a very senior man – 90 years old dressed in a white kurta-pyjama and sat on a wooden chair. He had a printout of our email communication and said, “how can I help you? young man.” I gave him my professional background and asked if there are any stories related to Gandhi’s cycling activities in ashram records. Modi took out a book from a cabinet, flipped pages and showed me a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi cycling which had a caption –
“In February 1928, Gandhi ji was at Vidyapith for a meeting. After the meeting he had to return to the Sabarmati Ashram on time for evening prayers. Ranchodlal Seths car was supposed to pick him up but got delayed for some reason. Gandhi ji borrowed a bicycle from a student Amritlal Sholat and commenced his journey. On reaching Osmanpura, the car approached Gandhi ji from behind and he sat in the car and reached Ashram on time. He would have still managed to reach Ashram on the bicycle.”
Amrut Modi clarified that the bicycle kept at the Ashram was a common bicycle shared by Gandhi ji with other people living with him in the Ashram village. This is the story behind it and Modi granted me permission to have a look at the bicycle kept in the library area. I thanked Amrut Modi with folded hands and walked towards the library. An ashram staff guided me inside and lifted the cover for me to have a full look of the bicycle. I clicked a few photographs and made a quick video which you can watch here:
Visit to the Sabarmati Ashram was a successful one and it was an honour to see the historic bicycle in person. Gandhis bicycle was also displayed for public viewing in an exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr. and Nelson Mandela at the Nieuwe kerk, Amsterdam in 2017. I had read about this during lockdown in a post by Indian embassy in the Netherlands. That was the moment I wished to see his bicycle and it came true.
Note: The ashram authorities informed me that the government has a redevelopment plan for the ashram, and it might be shut in the future. All my readers if you are planning to visit do check their website before going (https://www.gandhiashramsabarmati.org/en/).
Ride to Sabarmati Riverfront to see Atal Bridge:
Arjit came to pick me up on his e-bike at the hotel in the evening and we pedaled to Sabarmati Riverfront to witness the sunset and ride on the riverfront. Our common friend Yougal Tak-Bicycle Mayor of Udaipur city joined us at the riverfront, and we went to the Atal Bridge. This bridge design is inspired by kites and was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2022. The unique bridge lit’s up in the evening and offers a fantastic view of the river Sabarmati. We had conversations over tea and clicked pictures.
The next morning, I arrived alone at the riverfront to see the sunrise and it was mesmerising. A lot of fitness enthusiasts were cycling and walking on the riverfront. MYBYK has several rental hubs from which you can unlock a bicycle and ride. The riverfront is a 10km long and has space to sit and relax. I cycled on the entire stretch and returned to the hotel for breakfast.
Ahmedabad Heritage Cycle Tour:
I had reserved an appointment with a local guide for a heritage tour, but he failed to turn-up due to an emergency. He messaged me the list of sites that I should cover. So, in the afternoon, I embarked on a self-guided solo heritage cycle tour of Ahmedabad city. Using google maps, I could convincingly visit the top spots like Siddi Sayed Mosque, Badhra Fort, Teen Darwaza, Juma Masjid, Manek Chowk, Mangaldas ni Haveli, Rani no Haziro.
Most of the heritage sites are 200-300 meters apart. The route has narrow streets with shops on either side, leaving very little space for movement. I had to maneuver through the compact by-lanes balancing cautiously facing aggressive motor cyclists and rickshaws. It’s very noisy in the daytime and one must be very calm to stay in control inside the bustling streets. I certainly had the advantage of an e-bike which helped to discover the old architecture tucked inside the small passages.
The tour concluded with a lunch treat at the MG house. It’s a 120-year-old building converted into a boutique heritage hotel and restaurant that serves Gujarati Thali. From the staff, I learned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hosted his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe and his wife Ake Abe to an exclusive dinner at the MG house in 2017. It was a privilege to visit this site and savour on delicious local food.
Cycling at the Statue of Unity:
My cousin had mentioned about a small cycling track at the Statue of Unity. I googled to know more about it and found a website www.soutickets.in. I contacted Prem (+91 9904662277) and reserved an e-bike for 400 rupees a day (regular bike rental costs 250 a day).
After exploring the World Tallest Statue of Sardar Patel – The Statue of Unity, I explored the Jungle Safari, Valley of Flowers and the Narmada dam which were all part of the one-day tour package. The trip starts from Ahmedabad city and covers the above sites with breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a cost of 2500/-. The tour operator is Navbharat Tourism which picks you up in the morning in an air condition bus and drops you back in the midnight. There is no tour guide but only a tour manager onboard who explains all the travel itinerary, timings and gathering points. Contact Yash for reservations of Statue of Unity tour +91 9898484999.
After finishing my visit to the Statue of Unity, I went to the SOU cycling tour hub next to the valley of flowers. The operator handed me an e-bike and, also assigned a guide as a special gesture to help me take pictures and videos-perks of being a blogger. The route has a small elevation which was easily managed with the e-bike. The sunset point is at a 5km distance and once you reach there the feeling is amazing. We sat there in company of few other tourists. Thankfully, there is very minimal car movement so you can ride safely. On one side of the road there are mountains, and Narmada River flowing on the other side. You can see the Statue of Unity from the top. Satisfied and happy we returned at the cycle rental hub. I took a rickshaw and headed back to the entrance of the Statue of Unity to see the light show. The trip ended with a dinner and a bus ride back to the city of Ahmedabad.
Trip to Ahmedabad city was one of my best and I am thankful to Arjit Soni and MYBYK team for lending support with the e-bike. I had never imagined that I could explore a city fully on an e-bike. I think there is tremendous scope for cycle tourism in the country like India which is vast and has a huge bank of heritage attractions across the states. I look forward to my next trip in January 2024 to Indore city – the cleanest city of India. Guess what I will be riding? MYBYK off course:). Followed by a cycling holiday to Vietnam in February.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai.