Using Menstrual Cups & Cycling the Himalayan Ranges

In 2017, when was part of an adventure travel company, I organised and guided many tours across Bangalore and South India. We mostly did cycle tours and cycling upwards of 50 km daily on a tour was the norm. In the summer of 2017, I was chosen to be part of the support staff for a Himalayan expedition on — you guessed it — the bicycle. The thought of cycling over 500 kilometres over nine days was daunting, to say the least, but it came with its perks. Witnessing the vast mountain range in all its beauty, challenging your mental and physical capabilities makes you appreciate the gifts you have been endowed with. And I definitely wasn’t going to say no to that!

With a standard Himalayan expedition, the support guides need to fill-in their saddle hours, multiple mountain climbs and ensure they’re as physically fit as possible. I began training much before I was told to support the tour and by all means, I was ready. But being a support guide had its challenges, and, by definition, I had to be better, fitter and more “composed” than the participants joining the tour. Since this was my first ever tour (much like the rest of the participants) I was allowed some slack. However, the internal urge to be better than the best never ceased to exist in me. So, I trained as hard as I could — gym, HIIT, boxing, timed runs etc

D-day arrived sooner than I had anticipated, I took a flight to Delhi and then a bus to Manali, a popular hill station in North India. What I hadn’t anticipated in my months’ preparation, that totally caught me off-guard, was menstruation. On the first day of our cycling leg, I was welcomed with Menstruation.

I am a happy menstrual cup user, advocate, and evangelist, however, in my 3 years of cup-use, never had I come out of my comfort zone. I realised that this would have been the first time I would be using the cup 1000s of kilometres away from home. I was worried.

Recapping the 500 km expedition. The tour was of 15 days in total with 9 days of cycling. 6 out of the 9 cycling days were in tented camps, all of the 9 days involved 6–7 hours of cycling on an average with little or no scope of finding public toilets. Even before finding public toilets which I realised later on, finding a “private space” in the vast tar-marked roads of the Himalayas was a challenge.

Naturally, I was worried. I had used my cup in the Urban concrete jungles of Bengaluru, in the safe haven called my home and office, I had used in my college and hostel where I had a nice, clean and peaceful toilet to myself.

Here I was, all alone in this battle of sanitation, with no one to confide in or seek advice from.

I haven’t come across a reliable source, but having known many women in my lifetime and with my own little empirical poking around, I have realised that there are very few women who use menstrual cups in India today. Although a growing concept, I am yet to find literature or statistics that will give a ballpark range of the number of cup users in India.

Day 1 & 2 of the cycling leg were especially difficult (from a cyclist’s point of view). There were long arduous stretches of uphill climbing, along with getting acclimated to the changing altitudes. We had yet to exit the popular side of the mountains, which meant honking cars, whirring motorbikes, overflowing buses, and towering trucks tumbled in by the dozens giving us — particularly me — almost no sense of privacy.

  • How did I manage? You may wonder.

When I look back, had I used sanitary disposable napkins, I would have been worse off. I would have been subjected to the discomforts of itchy, rash inducing sanitary disposables, finding newspaper or waste papers and innovative ways of disposing it somewhere “unnoticed”. Where I would have to constantly placate myself just by knowing that the chemicals from the napkin and the odourless dioxins released were not causing someone “immediate harm”. It was a relief just knowing that I wasn’t subject to such a mental trauma and guilt during my journey.

Here is how I managed the first few days of cycling up the Himalayan ranges, passing through world’s second highest motorable pass and countless ups and downs through snow covered roads and silt.

  • All you need is a bottle of water. Period. (Pun intended)

I am not going to give you a list of bullet points or steps, because a list is not warranted. I cannot emphasise on the simplicity more, so I am going to reiterate what I said before — if you are a regular cup user, all you need is a bottle of water. If you are not a regular cup user — I suggest you start using one.

Back to how it all panned out for me - it was wonderful. While cycling up the ranges, all I had to do was spot a cozy corner, or a relatively rocky terrain (most of the times I didn’t really care). I would carry an extra bottle of water, and empty, clean and reinsert the cup within minutes. The only challenge that I faced was exposing my bare hands (and rear) to the chilly , icy winds. There was no physical discomfort only timely scouting of rocks, boulders or bushes. Once we reached campsite there were plentiful places to relieve yourself, including a makeshift toilet and access to water.

  • So why am I telling this to you?

There has been a growing movement towards using sustainable menstruation options, however, more often than not, Indian women are shy, skeptical and wary of adopting such novel methods. I often hear — “oh I am a working professional, I don’t have the luxury to be a home”, “I travel every other week” or “I live in Europe and you know I don’t find health faucets there”. My motive behind writing this article is to simply educate those women who are, maybe, one blog, or one motivational rant away from switching to a menstrual cup.

A 2011 research calculated that 9000 tonnes of menstrual waste, largely caused by disposing sanitary napkins, is generated in India every month.

Burning, burying, or turning a blind eye the problem won’t solve the issue of tonnes of dioxins and harmful chemicals that get leached or emitted into the environment.

Using menstrual cups are not only easy, simple and hassle-free they also come with the added bonus of not clouding your mind with the guilt of littering, polluting, and harming your surroundings.

A win-win situation for your internal health and external environment.

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