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Feature - Peddling for peace

A short journey on a long road

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Our plan was to cycle to Kannivadi and spend the night at Bethania Orphanage. I had called Joshua Inbaraj, the Director of Bethania (financed by Kodai alumni) to let him know we were on our way. I hadn’t visited the orphanage since last October and I was looking forward to seeing the children again.

However; first we had to cycle the 28 km along the highway to Oddanchattram. If someone would have told me that one day I would be cycling on one of India’s national highways, I would have thought they were nuts. Theoretically drivers are supposed to keep to the left; however, most drivers stay in the middle of the highway because there’s fewer potholes. The rule of the road is when a smaller sized vehicle meets a larger one, the lesser sized vehicle cowers to the side.

Overtaking is interesting too. Overtaking takes place on blind corners, steep hills, and in the face of oncoming traffic. And then there’s the horn. Vehicles may be driven with bald tires, without breaks – but it’s guaranteed their horns will always work.

We reached Oddanchattram safely and we needed water. I had already drank two litres and I knew I would need a couple more before reaching Bethania. From the road I spied a coke machine and I indicated to Tad that was where we were stopping. Power outages are quite common in India and I’ve learned to be grateful when I do find a cold coke.

We had approximately 20 km left to cycle and we hoped to arrive at Bethania before noon. Five kilometres outside of the city we found our turnoff and headed southeast, towards Kannivadi. This was a secondary road with much less traffic. At one point we met an old pilgrim dressed in a green lungi. We stopped and attempted some communication, but after my few words of Tamil we didn’t have too much left to say to each other. He allowed me to take his photograph, he blessed us, and we said farewell.

We reached Kannivadi around 11:30 a.m. The heat had drained me. We bought some biscuits for the children and headed down the last kilometre to the orphanage. It was a relief to reach the cool compound. Priscilla Mohl, founder of Bethania, met us with a pitcher of fresh lemon-aid. After three glasses, I excused myself to pour a bucket of cold water over my head.

It was wonderful to see the smiling faces of Bethania again. Today there are 14 orphans who call Bethania home. Six have now moved to the cities and post-secondary education, therefore the association can’t afford to accept any younger children.