You need a certain level of fitness to cycle from Manali to Khardungla, a distance exceeding 500 Kms over one of the highest altitude roads in the world, but every year, hundreds of cyclists do it anyway. When Divyanhsu wanted to try this though, everyone told him it was impossible. This story tells you why.
It also shows what cycling in the Himalayas is all about and why it’s worth it, especially for someone like Divyanshu.
SPOILER ALERT: Read on further only AFTER you have seen the 3MinuteStory.
Your phone sounds like a Mickey Mouse.
I told Divyanshu within the first 15 minutes of meeting him in person in Manali. Below is a short audio clip of how his phone sounds like.
‘This Mickey Mouse keeps me independent’, he smiled and explained. It made sense for him to listen to the audio narration of his iphone at as high a speed as possible, to be most efficient in using it (yes, that’s how he uses his phone, some app narrates everything that’s on screen).
Divyanshu lost his eyesight from Glaucoma when he was nineteen (he is in his forties now). After going through a short low period, he jumped back to life and took things in his stride. He wanted to learn computers. No one would teach him computers. So he learnt it on his own, thanks to internet. He worked in the IT sector for six years and then shifted to clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience (in the year 2000). At present, he runs a company called Yellow Brick Road that offers corporate training in behavioral facilitation. He also runs a not for profit called Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF).
Those eight days in the hills and how I went about shooting it all
I traveled with the team throughout the journey. ABBF was kind enough to take care of my return flight from Goa (where I live). They also took care of the entire stretch of travel and accommodation. Other than Divyanshu and Gagan, the team included Herman – Divyanshu’s friend from Mumbai, Tanya – who works for ABBF and the youngest of all – Rahul – our local guide (from Manali) who drove the support vehicle (his 4-Wheel Scorpio Getaway) like a boss.
Those of us not cycling, travelled mostly in the support vehicle. At times, I would ask Rahul to cross the cyclists and stop the vehicle some distance ahead where I would then wait for them to approach the frame as I filmed (mostly handheld) . At other times, I would stand on the Scorpios’ rear luggage holder while Rahul kept driving his SUV, at slow speeds, just ahead of the cyclists, and I would film tracking shots. On several days, I also ran on the road (though only for few minutes at a time), that being the only way to get close-up moving shots as they cycled. The quadcopter (my 3rd one; purchased just a day before the trip started) was flown for the aerial shots obviously, whenever the landscape called for it (and the batteries had juice in them). I was clear I did not want to overdo the aerial bit and definitely wanted to avoid the cliched time-lapse and hyper-lapse and super slow-motion shots. Vimeo and internet is full of them already and lately they have become the biggest excuse for not telling what matters most – a good genuine story (IMHO). Enough ‘music videos’ already!
I did not want the video to be about my cinematographic abilities and over-exploit the beauty of the landscape. I wanted the video to tell the story of Divyanshu’s journey. And why it’s important.
When I finally put together the first cut, I had a one hour movie (yet to work on the longer version). There is so much that this short story doesn’t show. In the opening shot of this 3MinuteStory, you see Rahul trying to fix the loosened crank (which by the way never got properly fixed till the end; these guys managed to cycle nevertheless). Dealing with a loose crank was only one of the struggles. One day, the chain broke. The same day they realized that the backup cycle was impossible to ride because the shafts were way out of sync. On another day, Divyanshu felt feverish (but thankfully recovered soon). On yet another day, Gagan suffered from a mild high altitude sickness and the team had to help him with Oxygen. There were times when I felt dizzy too. But nothing devastating enough to stop the ride, ever happened. We all held up fine one way or other and at the end of eight days, the expedition was successfully over.
From that first Micky Mouse conversation to the many more that I had with Divyanshu (some on record, many off the record), I bonded really well with him. During the course of the expedition, it was obvious to me that this story was not about ‘blindness’ at all. That is not to say that any of us ever forgot that Divyanshu was blind. We did not. But that’s similar to how the rest of them never forgot that I had beard and held camera in my hands for most part. Or that we all never forgot that Tanya was a woman. And so on. We all were different people and that was that. There was nothing more to it. And that’s pretty much the bottom-line. When able bodied people like me hang out and do things together with folks with a disability like Divyanshu, we are able to move over the stereotypical notions that we have and this makes life so much better because we become more accepting. We see each other as different individuals (with different abilities and disabilities) but that never becomes the basis to draw conclusions about what one can and cannot do.
Now that Divyanshu has shown that tandem cycling on the Himalayas is pretty much doable for a blind person, his not for profit Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF) plans to organize expeditions for more cyclists every year. ABBF already organizes marathons for blind (a sighted runner holds hands of a visually impaired person and they run together). And I am sure, Divyanshu and team will keep coming up with more ways to bring together the two communities. The world needs this.
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