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INDIA

(6140km - 196days)

 

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9 September - Lahore to India - 67km

It was a 35km ride to the border, which was modern, efficient, and unexpectedly quiet. From the border it was another 30km to Amristar. What a great place!!  As we cycled into town there was a parade, elephant and all!!  Well, this is India after all. This is the land of the Sikhs and there are turban-clad men everywhere. We headed straight for the well known Golden Temple, and what a sight!!  Amristar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, The Golden Temple. There were thousands of pilgrims, with free accommodation and food for everyone. The atmosphere inside is truly spiritual and one must remove your shoes and cover your head before entering. The main temple is covered in gold, and stands in the middle of a sacred pool. Music is played all the time and devotees dip in the pool which is suppose to have healing power. While I soaked up the tranquil atmosphere Ernest went off in search of the local beer (something we haven’t had for more than 3 months), and on returning he nearly got kicked out of the dormitory where we stayed in the temple complex.

  

10 September - Amristar – Jalandhar  - 78km

After breakfast at the Golden Temple (sitting in rows on the floor with hundreds of pilgrims), we left for Jalandhar. The road continued west and it was a short and easy ride. The countryside is green and as expected there are many cows everywhere. It was refreshing to see so many women out and about. Although they still wear the Shalwaar Kameez, they do not cover their hair. There are also loads of women riding scooters and bicycles, something one never saw in Pakistan or Iran. Seems like I will still be wearing the Shalwaar Kameez for a while. We found a cheap room just before Jalandar which was like an oven. It appears that here the power cuts are mostly at night, so no fan!!

  

11 September  - Jalandhar - Roper  - 115km

What a pleasure it was to be on a flat and smooth road. The weather was still hot and humid and at times it felt like one was breathing pure watervapour!!  At least the countryside is nice and green and with Ernest having a bad cold it’s a good thing that it was not too demanding. Another major problem is his broken wheel rim, which is now looking worse for wear and will not last much longer. We tried to fix it along the way, but it was no better than before. Hopefully there will be something one can do in one of the bigger cities. We found a Youth Hostel in Roper which has also seen better days, but provided cheap accommodation for the night. 

  

12 September  - Roper to Chandigarh  - 25km cycled (& 20km on truck)

Ten km after we left we stopped for breakfast (Dhal and chapatti with a small salad)  Not much further Ernest had a flat wheel again, due to the broken rim. Only a few k’s further the same thing happened again. A local man took Ernest (and rim) on his schooter back to the previous town, without success. He then loaded our bikes and us on a truck for the 20 km to Chandigarh, where he dropped us at our hotel and even found a bike shop which had a spare rim (not the same quality, but better than nothing). I used the time to find a new sim card and do some shopping for the usual shampoo and toothpaste. In the meantime Ernest made some new friends in a popular tavern.

 

13-14 September - Chandigarh

We managed to find a professional bike shop and Ernest found a rim, cycle computer, decent tubes and tire sealant (very important). We also visited the well known rock garden created by Nek Chand, a 20-ha garden with walkways, staircases, waterfalls and figures all made out of junk, a truly fantasy world. We were also lucky to meet the well known Mr Narinder Singh, a retired civil servant who now welcomes tourists to Chandigarh, showing them cheap places to stay and eat. Nothing is too much trouble for him, and he also recommends places of interest in his home town.

  

15 September - Chandigarh – Nahan - 103km

After Narinder Singh took me to find a detailed road map, we left Chandigarh. By that time it was already 12h00. At one stage we went up and down the same road a few times before finding the small turnoff we were looking for, and we were further delayed when I had a puncture. The road at first was flat through green landscapes until we reached the village of Narayangarh. We were in for a surprise as the next 30km was steep uphill through some of the most spectacular countryside one can imagine. The going was slow, so we only reached Nahan about 2 hrs after dark, a hair-raising experience on a very bad and narrow road with lots of trucks and busses. Nahan is away from the regular tourist route, but has an interesting old town with narrow alleys and many Hindu temples and shrines. There is also a sacred lake in the center of the town. As most people know cows are holy in this part of the world, and these animals wander around the town at leisure – the way stray dogs and cats would do in other places (even sleeping on the pavement outside the doorways of shops).

 

16 September - Nahan

After our late arrival of the previous evening we spent the day wondering around the old city and resting our tired legs. Ernest was becoming a bit concerned about the girls calling him “Uncle”, so he shaved his beard again for the first time in more than 3 months. We did some laundry and hung it on the hotel roof to dry, but the ever-present local monkeys took a liking to some of the items (one of the hotel workers had to climb a big tree in order to retrieve a shirt, which had a hole bitten in the back).

  

17 September - Nahan – Dehradun - 98km

Once again a beautiful ride through the countryside. Villages are close together with busy markets, and at times it feels like the country consists of one large village. Finding the way is not always that easy as most road signs are in the local alphabet, so we had to constantly ask for directions (not always very accurate). Again, Ernest had problems with punctures as a tyre was damaged by the former broken rim. So, it was dark by the time we arrived in Dehradun. The streets were jam-packed with rikshas, motorcycles; bicycles, people and animals (all acting crazy), but eventually we made it to the hotel we were looking for.

 

18 September - Dehradun

I’m plagued with stomach problems and it was better to stay the day. We used the time to visit Tapkeshwar Hindu Temple, which has an unusual shrine inside a cave. We also went to the “World Peace” Stupa and giant Buddha statue. The stupa is in a Tibetan community on the outskirts of town, and is a multi-storey structure consisting of shrine rooms with fantastic murals and Tibetan art. The bazaars of Dehradun are crowded and full of colour, with women dressed in the most beautiful saris.

 

19-20 September - Derhadun

The late monsoon weather caught us, and we awoke to an overcast and rainy day on the 19th, which continued through the following day. Floods were being reported from all around India. We waited it out, watching endless TV re-plays of India winning cricket matches and reports on the Delhi bomb blasts from the previous week.

 

21 September - Dehradun – Rishikesh - 49 km

At last the weather cleared and we set off for Rishikesh, again a beautiful route to cycle, past villages and green fields. We reached Rishikesh early as it was a very short ride and found a real good (cheap) hotel right on the Ganges River overlooking the 2, 13-storey temples across the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge.

  

22-30 September - Rishikesh

Rishikesh is considered the Yoga capital of the world, as there are masses of ashrams and kinds of yoga and meditation classes all over town. The town has an exquisite setting on the banks of the Ganges and surrounded by forested hills, couple that with the constant ringing of the temple bells and Hindi music being played all the time, it sets the scene for some real soul-searching activities. No sooner had we arrived when I started feeling really ill, it was so bad that I sought the help of a Yoga and Natural Therapist (whatever that is). So the verdict was mal-digestion, low blood pressure, sluggish circulation and slow metabolism (well I felt ill enough to believe everything). So, I left there armed with a list of what- and what not to eat, as well as a bag full of (unpalatable) herbs.

  

1 October - Rishikesh – Muzzafarnagar - 113 km

It took a full 10 days for me to recover enough to be able to carry on cycling. By that time I also couldn’t handle the room anymore, so we packed up and left Rishikesh. It was good to be out on the road again, cycling along the Ganges. We passed Haridwar, another famous holy city for Hindu pilgrims located on the banks of the Ganges. I was definitely not feeling 100% yet, but it was better on the bike than in the room.

  

2 October  - Muzzafarnagar – Ghaziabad- 85 km (& 20km by truck)

The surprises are never-ending. The roads are extremely congested with trucks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, buffalo carts and people. So I guess it was just a matter of time before I got knocked off the bike. What exactly happened I’m not quite sure, as the next thing I remember is half of India and Ernest trying to drag me out of the road. I must have been concussed for a while and felt totally disorientated. What a sight I must have looked with dirt all over my face and eyes looking squint!!  Immediately I knew that I would not be able to cycle as I could not use my left arm.

 

While we were being stared at by crowds of locals, a passing motorist (who spoke English) stopped to help and phoned the police. The police then hailed an empty truck to take us to the next town (Ghaziabad) where we could find a room for the night. I slowly regained focus but the arm still remained useless. So now I’m not only feeling a bit unwell, but am stuck with a perfect black eye, a bruised leg, and a useless left arm!!

  

3 October - Ghaziabad – Delhi

As Ghaziabad is only about 20km from Delhi, I decided to take a taxi there (Ernest then cycle into Delhi, which sounds a lot easier than what it is). We’d agreed to meet at one of the budget hotels in the city (not the cheapest, but Ernest insisted on a TV – he’s probably expecting to be stuck here for another 10 days!).

 

Well, there’s little I can do now as cycling is out of the question. The weather is cooling down, but it’s still rather hot and humid (34 degrees C, and 55% humidity). Air pollution is particularly severe in Delhi; in fact we haven’t seen the sun for the past 4 days.

  

There is a definite pecking order when it comes to the traffic (pedestrians are at the bottom and give way to everything - bicycles make way for cycle-rickshaws, which give way to auto-rickshaws, which stop for cars, which are subservient to trucks). Busses stop for one thing only (not passengers, who jump on and off while the bus is moving). The only thing that stops a bus is the king of the road, The Holy Cow!  The cows hold up traffic on 4-lane highways and at busy intersections, and no one seems offended!  I have yet to see a cow which has been knocked down..

 

Here there’s a lot of kissing the ground, and every day I reach my destination I feel like doing the same thing, seeing that I’m basically at the bottom end of the pecking order.

 

Still, I love this place.

 

4 – 6 October - Delhi

I waited patiently for my injuries to heal, but nothing seemed to happen. The shoulder was not getting any better, in fact it felt like it was getting worse. I was basically useless with only one good arm. I also felt a bit frustrated, as I have not been well for some time and it was getting to me. In the meantime I decided to have my eyes tested, seeing that it was rather cheap and they could do it on the spot. Ernest and I decided to take the bus to Jaipur in Rajasthan and explore a bit by public transport instead of just sitting around doing nothing.

  

7 October - Delhi – Jaipur (by bus)

We took the bus from Delhi to Jaipur, a 6-hour trip. I’d previously stated that the only thing which stops a bus is a holy cow, but that seems not to be quite correct. Shortly before reaching our destination the bus hit a cow, also doing some damage to the bus. Fortunately the bus managed to limp the last few k’s to Jaipur.

  

8 October - Jaipur

We spent the day walking around the old city, which is known as the Pink City because most of the buildings are painted pink. We also took a cycle riksha out as far as the Water Palace. There’s quite a lot to see around the old city, so I dragged Ernest around for a few hours before we picked up a few beers and took another cycle riksha back to our room. We almost didn’t make it back there, as our poor riksha wallah couldn’t speak any English, and it also turned out that he didn’t know where our hotel was.

 

9 October - Jaipur – Agra

An early morning bus was our best bet to get to Agra, so we were up earlier than usual and took a riksha to the bus station. The bus trip took around 5 hours and was not too uncomfortable a ride. Agra is a real tourist trap with tuc-tuc’s, cycle-ricksha’s and taxis all competing for business. We found a reasonable hotel very close to the Taj Mahal, which we decided we would visit the next day.

  

10 October - Agra

We were up early to catch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal, just to find that the place is closed on a Friday!!  It gave us time to walk around the Taj and see it from the back where we took a boat across the river to get a great view of the complex from a different angle. At least now we had the rest of the day to see if I could do something about my shoulder that was not getting any better. Luckily there was an X-ray place just around the corner from where we stayed, and the X-ray confirmed that my collarbone was broken and the shoulder was out of joint. I could only get the medical report that evening, but in the mean time I thought I’d just go to the local hospital to see what they can do. The hospital was quite an experience with mice running around and after the 2nd power cut I gave up and went back to the hotel. Well at least we booked a ticket for the following day on the train from Agra back to Delhi.

  

11 October - Agra – Delhi (By train)

We got up real early and were at the gate of the Taj Mahal at 5h50, just to find that there was already a long line of tourists waiting for the ticket office to open. They opened at 06h00 and then it was another 30 minutes or so just to go through security. The entrance fee of 750 rupees is rather steep but I guess once you’re in Agra one is not going to turn around and not pay the entrance fee!!  The monument is as remarkable as seen in pictures, made of white marble with delicately inlayed semi-precious stone patterns - it is worth the entrance fee. We rushed back to the hotel, had breakfast and then we were on our way to the station to catch the 10h30 train to Delhi. Once in Delhi, there was still quite a bit to do, including picking up my new glasses. I had also decided to go back to South Africa for 2 weeks, as it was my Mothers 80th birthday on 16th October and I needed time for my shoulder to heal. I would take the train to Mumbai and fly from there to South Africa (much cheaper than flying from Delhi). So, I still had to go to the station to find out what the procedure was with the bike, and to confirm my train ticket to Mumbai. I also wanted to go to the hospital and see if there was some treatment for my shoulder. A friendly local man gave me a lift to a nearby hospital and walked me through the procedures. Once again it was a case of going from office to office where each one signs a piece of paper, but eventually they strapped the shoulder up and half killed me in the process (or that’s what it felt like). At least it’s free of charge, so with a prescription for pain killers and calcium I was on my way again. Now that the shoulder was strapped up I was even more immobile that before.

  

12 October - Delhi - Mumbai (By train)

The train to Mumbai left at 5.30 in the morning and I had to be there 2 hours before the time to sort out the bike and also a few hours before to confirm my seat. So by 03h00 I was already on my way to the station. First it was to the ticket office to confirm my seat (for which they wanted a bribe as apparently the train was full - does that make any sense?). In the end another official arrived, and I got the seat without parting with any further money. Then it was off to the parcel office to book the bike in - what a performance. Thank goodness Ernest was there to help, as it was up over the stairs and then back again with bike and all the bags from platform 1 to platform 16 and back to platform 3. With only one good arm it’s rather difficult to organize things like that.

 

I said good-bye to Ernest and at last I was on the train to Mumbai. My carriage had sleeper seats, and was comfortable enough. There were 4 people to a “compartment” if you can call it that, as it has no door - but at least there was a curtain that could be closed. Tea and coffee was constantly being offered and every now and again they came around with snacks like samoosa’s or Brijani, so there was no lack of food.

  

13 October - Mumbai

The train was spot on time, arriving in Mumbai at 07h35. Things were a lot easier than expected as there were porters waiting on the platform. So it was just a case of getting the bike and then a taxi to the Bentley’s Hotel. Not the cheapest, in fact quite expensive, but centrally located for when I return. I will also leave my bike and bags at the hotel and hopefully carry on South when I return. Ernest will be heading to Bangladesh so I do not know when we will meet up again. I spent the rest of the day wandering around Mumbai, an interesting city with slums on the one side and designer stores just across the road. It was great being by the ocean again. I had not seen the ocean for far too long!!

  

14 October

Mumbai is one of the cities with some of the most beautiful old architecture, and it was a pleasure just walking around the Oval with its art deco buildings and cricket playing men.

  

15 October - Mumbai, India – Cape Town, South Africa

As usual the flight to Cape Town was a long boring affair, but I guest that’s the price you pay for staying at the southern tip of Africa. It was great being back and seeing my family and friends again

 

BACK IN SOUTH AFRICA

 

15 October - 2 November - Cape Town South Africa

Back in Cape Town, it was pizza after pizza, braai after braai and copious bottles of red wine. I had my hair cut, went for a facial, had my legs waxed and my nails done!! What luxury!! Therefore, within a week I looked and felt nearly normal.

 

3 November - Cape Town – Mumbai

Soon it was time to say good bye to my friends and family again. This time my sister Amanda decided to join me. The plan was that she would cycle along for 2 months. Amanda has never cycled long distance before and does not even like camping life, so watch this space!!

 

BACK IN INDIA

 

4 November Mumbai

Disaster struck sooner than expected. On our arrival in Mumbai, we had to put the bike together as it was still in its box. Amanda knows even less about bike mechanics than me. After assembling the bike as best we could, she took it for a spin around the block. That's when disaster struck!! After just a few minutes, she came walking back up the road with a broken derailleur!! This is quite a disaster in a town where I have hardly ever seen a bike with gears. We spent the rest of the day wondering around Mumbai looking for a bike shop selling derailleurs, but to no avail.

 

5 NovemberMumbai

We slept and slept and were woken by crows at 10h00. The search for a new derailleur was now on in all earnest. We were lucky enough to find a bike shop selling bike spares who had the part in stock, and who could fit it. The quality was little suspect but beggars can't be choosers. Therefore, we spent the entire day running back and forth to the bike shop. We were also given an opportunity to be extras in a movie and Amanda is still mad at me for refusing such an opportunity!! I was far to worried about her bike to even consider such an adventure.

 

6 November - Mumbai

With the bike fixed, we could enjoy Mumbai and did our own little walking tour of the area. We also took a boat to Elephanta Island with its cave temples. Amanda, being scared of water was very nervous, but made it there and back without totally loosing it. These rock-cut temples were established between 400 - 600 AD. The temples are dedicated to Shiva and many sculptures are cut in to the rock face.

 

ON THE ROAD AT LAST

 

7 November - Mumbai - Alibag - 20km

Our first day on the bike!! Amanda’s chain broke before we even rounded the first corner, so it was back to the bike shop again. I suspect they did not do such a good job with fitting the new derailleur. At last, we were on the ferry to Mandwa. Amanda must have been a nervous wreck but handled it well. At last, we were on our bikes and cycled the 20 km to Alibag. The going was very slow (10km per hour). Amanda’s back was sore by the time we reached Alibag, so we found a cheap room by the beach to rest for the night. The room was as basic as any African room but came with a sea view. We even had a swim, fully clothed (like the locals). The water was lukewarm. This is my type of ocean!! That evening we ate the most delicious food from the food stalls next to the ocean, which was jam-packed with locals all giving us a good stare.

 

8 November - Alibag - Murud -55km

Out first full day of cycling started with near disaster as we were hardly on our way when Amanda fell off her bike. Nothing serious but she was a little shaken. Her bike is still not a 100% and the gears are not working so well. Although it is very humid it’s beautiful weather for cycling. The scenery is fantastic as we followed the coastline to the South. After an about 45 km Amanda was feeling weak and she decided to take a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) to Murud. Once there we looked for a camping spot on the beach but the tide comes in real high so there was not really a place to camp. In the end, we found an unofficial camping spot in someone’s yard. We also met a fellow cyclist from Hungary who camped with us.

 

9 November - Murud - Harihareshwar - 55km

We cycled the short 5km to Janjira with its magnificent old fort, just off the coast, a 15 min sail by dhow. With Amanda having a fear of water, she waited at the harbour while I went to explore the fort. We took the 12h30 ferry across the river to Dighi and then carried on cycling. It was, however, only about 10km before Amanda stopped for the day and took a tuk-tuk again. She felt nauseous and weak, must be the heat or water. I carried on cycling until I reached Harihareshwar. The road is in real poor condition and with little steep up and downs. The hills together with the heat makes it a demanding ride for a novice, so maybe it was a good idea she took a lift.

 

10 November - Harihareshwar - Harnai - 57km

So the drama continues!! From Harihareshwar it was about a 5km cycle to where we had to, yet again, get a ferry (poor Amanda’s nerves must be shot by now, and all that while she is not feeling well). Once across we asked around and it seems that there was no short cut to Kelshi. Amanda, feeling ill, decided to take a lift while I carried on to Kelshi. Once in Kelshi there was no sign of Amanda, who should have been there by then. As she did not overtake me along the way, I decided to carry on to Harnai. Once in Harnai there was still no sign of her so I decided to stay put. In the meantime, I found us a room. The owner’s son was kind enough to take me on his scooter back along the way I came, to see if we could find Amanda. We were hardly out of town when we spotted a rickshaw with bicycle sticking out.

 

Apparently, there was a short cut to Kelshi. Amanda took this way after not being able to find a lift. The short cut, however, involved a ferry crossing and a long walk along the sand. Amanda being really ill by then, was fortunate to find Gabor (the cyclist from Hungary) and the two of them managed to get a ride to Harnai.

 

11 November - Harnai

We stayed an extra day in Harnai hoping that Amanda will get over her nausea. She spent the day sleeping and felt well enough by the evening to take a walk to the fish market. The market was a jumble of color and smells. Hundreds of boats arrived with their catch of the day and traders were eager to buy whatever was on offer.

 

12 November - Harnai - Guhagar - 57km

Amanda felt well enough to cycle the 13 km to Dapoli. At Dapoli she got a local bus to Dabhol, where we had to get a ferry again. Needless to say, she was a real novelty on the bus. We arrived in Dabhol at about the same time and crossed over to Bankot. It was a hilly and hot ride to Guhagar. In Guhagar, we were lucky enough to find a camping spot behind a house/shop/restaurant, right on the beach. Everyone was very curious about us and we had a constant stream of visitors. Before supper, we swam in the luke warm water with the sun setting over the Arabian Sea. The owner prepared a real home cooked Thali for us.

 

13 November - Guhagar – Ganpatipule - 60km

We woke with the sound of the sea in our ears. Before we left, we first had a home cooked breakfast. Amanda still felt nauseous and decided it was best to take a bus to Ganpatipule and have a rest there. Once again, she was a novelty with the locals taking pictures of her. I carried on cycling along the bad and hilly road. Once again, we arrived at about the same time. A misunderstanding lead to us each booking a room, so that night we each had our own room!! We hunted for ice cream, as Amanda has developed an ice cream craving (she who never eats ice cream). Once again, we tucked into the local cuisine. Amanda claims that everything, including the sodas, tastes of masala!!

 

14 November - Ganpatipule

We stayed one more day in Ganpatipule. We visited the sea-side temple and lazed around on the beach. We also hoped that the rest will help Amanda’s nausea go away.

 

15 November - Ganpatipule - Ratnagiri - 30km

The rest did Amanda the world of good. We cycled the entire 30km to Ratnagiri without Amanda taking a tuk-tuk. Once in Ratnagiri we decided to stay and take a bus to Kolhapur in the morning.

 

16 November - Kolhapur

We took the bus to Kolhapur, which was a 4-hour bus ride. Once there we wandered around the Mahalaxmi Temple and old town. Then back to Ratnagiri to our hotel to get ready for the next mornings ride.

 

17 November - Ratnagiri - Nate - 60km

We peddled along the road, with lots of short little lung-buster hills. Amanda was threatening to take a lift again, but none was available. I could hear her swearing in the background something about another $%^%$ hill again. On top of that, it started raining and we could not find a ferry across the river. We did, however, find a room - although Amanda said she would have to disinfect herself afterwards.

 

18 November - Nate - Devgath - 46km

We started on a perfectly good road with English road signs and all, but then the road abruptly ended. We followed gravel roads up and down many hills, and half the time we had no clue where we were. We crossed over rivers with ferries of all shapes and sizes and everyone seemed to point us in a diffferent direction. Eventually we found a beach to camp on and have a swim. Amanda was dead tired after a hard day on the road and after a swim she fell asleep in her tent. Food is a bit of a problem when we camp in deserted places, as we have no stove with us. This is also not an area were one can find tinned food in the shops. However, people are very friendly and a lady in the village prepared us a meal. The meal was brought to us, still piping hot, by taxi - our own Mr. Delivery.

 

19 November - Devgarh Beach - Kunkeshwar - 25km

We woke to a beautiful morning with dolphins playing in the ocean. One could immediately tell it was going to be a hot day. We left with the intention of cycling to Malvan, but after 20km Amanda was too tired to carry on. The heat and the hills really get to her. It was not only hot but also very humid so we were sweating buckets. We turned off at the first opportunity and found a room (with fan) in Kunkeshwar. At least Amanda could have a shower and rest under the ceiling fan for the remainder of the day. It was also a good opportunity to do some much needed laundry. Kunkeshwar is a tiny village consisting solely of a temple, a few restaurants, and a hotel. The temple was built around 1100 AD and has a wonderful location right on the beach. We sat on the beach watching the sunset and then returned for some good Indian food (not that we have any other option).

 

PARADISE AT LAST (BUT NOT FOR ALL)

 

20 November - Kunkeshwar – Malvan/Tarkarli - 55km

After our usual Indian breakfast (curry veg and bread), we set off up and down the hills again. It was a hot and sweaty ride but Amanda had renewed energy and zooted past me while I sat under a tree waiting for her. I did not even notice her going past and went back to the previous village looking for her. We stick out like sore thumbs here, so it’s easy to ask about her whereabouts. Locals told me she has already gone past, so off I went again, finding her not too far down the road. We reached Malvan just after lunch. Midway between Malvan and Targarli we found the most idyllic beach. A white sandy beach, palm trees, hammocks and lukewarm water. What a paradise! We rented a room at a “resort”, consisting of a property with only one room. The people were extremely friendly and offered to make us food, sold us beer and gave us snacks. So we sat on the beach watching the sunset and the fishermen pulling in their nets while drinking a beer. What more can a person ask for?

 

21- 22 November - Malvan/Tarkarli

We spent two entire days, just lying around on the beach. This is truly a paradise. We ate, we walked on the beach, we lay in hammocks and floated in the ocean.

 

23 November - Malvan - Vengurla - 40km

Just 4km down the road, we found a ferry to take us across yet another river. Needless to say, it was another hot and hilly day. Amanda claimed that she had to push her bike up 6 hills within 25 km. She also said that this was not for her and that she was going to take a bus. I’ve heard that many times already so I was sure she would be fine by morning. We found a room in Vengurla which was below all standards, but I took it as I feared Amanda was going to throw her bike in the ocean if we had to cycle up one more hill. There was obviously nothing wrong with the beds, because we’d hardly set foot in the room before Amanda was fast asleep. After her little nap, we bought a beer and sat on the beach drinking it.

 

24 November - Vengurla – Arambol - 18km

We cycled at least 7km before we got to our first hill and then it was mostly downhill to where we found the ferry at Terakol. It was a short ferry ride across the river and about another 11km cycle to Arambol. We were a bit shocked at all the tourists and tourist trade in Arambol. Coming from a far more rural area, we were not so used to seeing tourists and all that goes with the tourist trade. It definitely has its upside as well, as there were many restaurants serving western food. I could do with a pizza or anything not curry! Amanda was in top form this day, she did not want to throw in the towel or dump her bike in the ocean - in fact, she did not even have her usual nap!! We found a shack directly behind the beach at Rp 200, which suited us just fine. It only had an outside toilet and shower but it appeared to have no bed bugs or other biting things. We are so bitten by what-so-ever by now, that we have invested in a can of insect killer which claims to have “laser fast” action.

 

Goa - Life on the beach

 

25-27 November - Arambol

As our shack was made of woven palm leaves, we just hoped we would not get any rain. One could also easily see both in and out, so not a great deal of privacy. Arambol is so different from the rest of India that one can hardly believe you are in this country. Coming from the more conservative parts it was quite a shock to see ageing foreign men jogging on the beach with only a G-string!! What a sight - drooping backsides swinging from side to side!! Remind me never to run in a G-string!! The place was packed with Europeans, all on holiday thinking they are old time hippies. Therefore, you see the weirdest people in the weirdest outfits. Each one doing their own thing, from morning exercises to yoga. Even Amanda and I invested in bathing suites. We stayed and stared, ate, drank and swam until it was time for us to move on.

 

28-29 November - Armbol – Anjuna - 30km

We cycled along to Anjuna, another touristy beach. This time we stayed in a real room at Mary’s. Not on the beach, but a short walk to the beach. We continued with our lazy existence, walking along the beach, swimming and eating. At night we went to one of the local restaurants where we could also watch movies, so it’s about the most popular place in the village.

 

30 November - Anjuna – Panaji - 20km

It was a shorter ride than expected into the Goa state capital, and what a surprise. This is where one can clearly see the Portuguese influence. We found a room in an old Portuguese house for 300 rp. Amanda was not at all impressed with it and was becoming fed up with rooms not smelling like roses.

 

As one wanders though the streets a person can easily think you are in Portugal instead of India. The narrow alleys are lined with colourful houses decorated with mosaic and shells. That night we even took a cruise on the river.

 

1st DecemberPanaji

We spent the day, firstly trying to find a decent derailleur for Amanda’s bike, but although there is a Firefox bike shop branch in Panaji it would have taken 10 days to order the part, it so we gave it up. My brand new ipod, which I bought in Cape Town, packed up after just one day of music pleasure!! Fortunately there was an Apple store in Panaji and they kindly offered to order me a new one. As that would also take a few days I was not going to wait for it. So I decided to rather come back to pick it up at a later stage. My new little laptop was also virus infected and I tried to sort that out but not very successfully.

 

2 December - Panaji – Colva - 36km

We were in a habit of getting on the road early in order to escape most of the midday heat. By 8h00 we were on our bikes and followed the main road, but after a few km’s the traffic became too much for us. Amanda once again claimed that she was going to pack it in. Therefore, at the first opportunity we turned off the main road and followed the coastal road to Colva. What a beautiful ride it was as well. We arrived at around 12h00 and found a room outside the main tourist area but still on the beach.

 

The remainder of the day was spent on the beach (nothing like a swim after a sweaty ride) a quick shower and then back to the beach for supper. It started raining in the evening, cooling things to near perfection.

 

3 December - Colva – Agonda - 40km

It was a “pushing up the hill” day again for Amanda. She also had her first flat tyre and shortly afterwards the derailleur gave problems again. Everyone coming past wanted to help, and after a while they organized a lift for us to Agonda. There we found a bike repair shop where they fixed the problem. We found a fantastic place to stay right on the beach, and we sat chatting to our neighbours for the rest of the evening. Agonda is one of the nicer beaches as there were very few tourists, most of them long-term travelers.

 

4 December - Agonda

We changed our plans again and decided to book a train trip to Hampi, which is about 300km inland, to go and see the famous ruins.

 

A Short visit to Hampi

 

5 December - Agonda - Hampi (by train)

We were up real early in order to take a taxi to the train station. From there it was a short ride to Margoa where we got a sleeper train to Hampi. The train took about 7 hours to Hampi, but it’s a comfortable ride and food is for sale on the train. The train only goes to Hospet and from there it is a short ride by taxi or bus to Hampi. We still had time to walk around Hampi village before it got dark.

 

6 December - Hampi

We organized an auto-riksha (tuk-tuk) to drive us around the ruins for the day. I was impressed with the scale of the ruins, and everywhere you look there are old ruins, some cut into the huge boulders surrounding Hampi town.

 

7 December - Hampi

No rickshaw today, instead we walked along the river to inspect some more ruins. A large part of Hampi is on the opposite side of the river to where we were. The only transport across is by boat, a type of woven basket boat. Here Amanda drew the line and plainly refused to board the thing.

 

8 - 10 December - Hampi - Agonda Beach (by train)

We took the early morning train from Hampi back to Margoa, again a 7-hour journey. This time we took a bus back to Agonda. We arrived back in the late afternoon and were lucky enough to find a beach shack still available. This is true paradise.

 

We spent the next day doing what one does in Goa, just chilling out!! This is so easy one can comfortably just stay right here and go nowhere else.

 

The following day I took the bus back to Panaji to go pick up my new ipod, which had arrived, and Amanda stayed on the beach. The sad part is that now I have a new ipod but no music on it.

 

The final stages in Goa

 

11 December - Agonda – Karwar - 56km

At last, we dragged ourselves away from Agonda heading further south. We even had time for a lunch along the way at a 10th of the price of the tourist areas. We turned down to Devbagh beach only to find that there was no accommodation except for a very expensive resort. It is absolute heaven as the area is very remote with no roads leading to the resort. We cycled along the sand to find it, sadly, we had to leave again and found a room in the town of Karwar. Amanda was very tired again and just passed out on the bed after we settled in. Poor Amanda was taking strain as she was desperately looking for something to eat which does not contain curry, but to no avail!

 

12 December - Karwar – Gokarna - 40km

We left early and the weather was pleasant, not too hot, and the road not too hilly. Amanda felt nauseous again. We still had 10km to go before we reached Gokarna when she puked next to the road again. Nothing else to do but to battle on. Eventually we reached Gokarna and booked into the first hotel we saw. I real nice hotel for 275rp (less than R60) for the room. The town was interesting with a good few temples and lots of pilgrims and rituals.

 

13-15 December - Gokarna - Om Beach - 6km

It was a short but very hilly 6km to Om Beach, which is a small beach tucked away behind the cliffs. The place was packed with tourists for obvious reasons - beautiful beaches and good food. We stayed at Namaste guesthouse but there are also other places to stay along the beach.

 

16 December - Om Beach – Murudeshwar - 60km

The previous night we organized a boat to take us across the estuary instead of cycling the 6km over the hill and then a further 10km to the main road. So, on the spot at 9h00 our boatmen were there. Amanda had a kind of panic attack on the boat but stopped short of jumping overboard. Arriving on the other side there was a small wave which lifted the rear end of the boat a bit, at which Amanda let out a yell and hit the deck, the boatmen stared in total amazement and wanted to know if she was OK? Finally, we were safely out of the boat and on the beach. We cycled on to Murudeshwar with its huge Shiva statue on top a little hill overlooking the beach. Here we were definitely out of the tourist area and we were back to swimming fully clothed again. We found a cheap room but proceeded to spent what we’d saved on the room rent - supper at a fancy resort (all so Amanda does not have to eat curry once again). 

 

Meeting up with Ernest

 

17 December - Murudeshwar – Marawanthe - 57km

The road was flat and easy but Amanda was not as strong as the day before. Although there are plenty of beaches along the way there is no accommodation on these beaches. We, however, found a room just across the road from the beach. The electricity kept on cutting out so it appears to be a homemade electrical job they did. The owner was very friendly and offered to go to the local restaurant and get us some food. Lovely food (curry again).

 

18 December - Marawanthe – Udupi -57km

As we were on the road early again, we stopped along the way for breakfast - a typical breakfast consisting of Puri (pastry puffs with curry)!! (Poor Amanda). Although the road was flat, the traffic was extremely heavy. With road works underway every now and again, going was a bit nerve racking.

 

We arrived in Udupi fairly early and after we found a room there was still plenty of time to wander around the temples. We were even lucky enough to see a drama/musical at one of the temples.

 

19–22 December - Udupi – Manglaore - 60km

We followed the highway to Mangalore (not the same connotation to “highway” as we are used to). The traffic was, as they say here “very congested and all”. All one can do is cycle along and hope for the best. A few times we had to dive off the road into the bushes to avoid oncoming traffic. In the end we arrived safe and sound in Mangalore, after Amanda, once again claimed that she was going no further and was going to take a bus. In the end, she gets back on the bike and cycles on. After taking a wrong turn at one of the intersections, we eventually found our hotel.

 

The next day we just rested and explored a bit of the city. We also had word from Ernest that he was not far away from Mangalore so we stayed another night to let him catch us up.

 

Ernest arrived on the 21st looking a bit worse for wear, dirty sweaty and very thin. At least we had a cold beer ready for him. The next day we did absolutely nothing but lie around the hotel room and enjoy the luxury of watching TV. (Mostly Hindi TV but at least two channels were dedicated to cricket). With England, touring India there was little chance for us to catch a bit of the South African win against Australia. 

 

And now there is 3 of us

 

23 December¶ - Mangalore - Kappil Beach - 64km

Amanda was strong as an ox and we did good time. The road was fairly flat and the weather good. Disaster, however, struck again, as Ernest’s front tyre was so smooth it wore right through, causing yet another puncture. So after a few trips on the tuck-tuck back and forth to the village he had a new Indian tyre, and the wheel was fixed. We found a secluded beach where we could camp under the palm trees, while Ernest cooked supper for us.

 

24 December - Kappil Beach – Bekal - 6km

First, we stopped to inspect the Bekal Fort and then found a most fantastic beach resort. Although we’d only cycled 6km it did not take a lot of convincing before we decided to stay put for the night. The price was extremely high but it included three meals. We stayed in luxury-tented accommodation with bathroom and all. We spent the entire day swimming, lying in the hammocks and just sitting around doing nothing (except some laundry, of course).

 

25 December - Bekal – Payyanur - 43km

We were really lazy and after a good breakfast, we continued down the road, looking for the famous backwaters and houseboats. However, as usual, there were plenty of road signs, which then abruptly ended, and no word of it was mentioned again. So we missed the turn-off and decided to find a room in Payyanur town. Ernest had to work on his bike again in the room, changing all the incorrectly placed spokes on the front rim which kept on breaking (after changing the hub with the help of a local “shop“ earlier in his travels).

 

26 December - Payyanur – Kannur - 52km

We left rather late as Ernest still had one last visit to the local bike shop. After 20km, we had our brunch stop. Most of the day’s km’s were done that afternoon in Kannur town in order to find the beach (local directions!). At last, we found a beach but it was not a place we could camp, instead we found a room at the Savoy Hotel (not quite what it sounds, but comfortable enough with TV & all). That evening we ate at a local diner, and as usual in the smaller towns, there was a power failure during the meal (at least the food was good and cheap, as usual).

 

27 December - Kannur – Payyoli - 64km

After breakfast, we saddled up again and headed further South. The road was fairly flat and the weather good. Once again we found an idyllic beach where we camped. However, our camp was near a large village, and we had loads of spectators, watching keenly from the moment we arrived - and then the word spread. Once Ernest lit the stove to start cooking, the women watched in amazement, that a man is doing the cooking while the women are just sitting around (the MSR stove itself could have been Apollo 11 due to the attention it attracted).

 

28 December - Payyoli – Calicut - 48km

This was not Amanda’s day, she puked again shortly after breakfast and was nearly knocked down by a bus. Shortly after that, she lost her camera bag off the bike and it was nearly flattened - it was a miracle Ernest retrieved it from the traffic undamaged. There is however no rest for the wicked, and we peddled on. Once we reached Calicut, we looked for a room. It was easier said than done. All the hotels were full but in the end, we found a room at Sasathapuri Hotel. A large room with four beds and TV. This is such luxury we did laundry, showered and repacked our bags.

 

29 December - Calicut

Every day brings another challenge. We left at 8h30 and already the traffic was heavy. Ernest stopped to do shopping in the town, and before he caught up to us again he was squashed by a truck against a stationary bus. He escaped with hardly any injuries, but the truck drove over his back wheel, destroying the rim (his 3rd since leaving Cape Town). He had to take a tuck-truck back to a bike shop in the town - luckily he was carrying a spare rim. We then took another room for a further night in Calicut.

 

30–31 December - Calicut - NC Gardens Beach Resort - 24km

That morning we left much earlier than usual, just to try and get out of town before the traffic started. After about 10km we turned off the main road onto a secondary road, running next to the coast. We’d hardly started cycling, but Amanda spotted a Resort. Who are we to argue? We pulled in but found the price rather touristy. They however made a plan and put us all 3 in a tiny room with mattresses on the floor for less than half the price. We decided to stay for 2 nights, as it was a most magnificent place right on the beach with loads of palm trees. Ernest cooked supper again, and the next day he spent most of the day cleaning and servicing the bikes.

 

Cycling into 2009

 

1 January - NC Gardens Beach Resort – Chavakkad - 72km

Amanda was strong and we settled into a good rhythm. After 20km, we stopped for our usual breakfast. Amanda is really getting fit and so we pushed on to Chavakkad. Just once, I heard her swearing under her breath after her bike zigzagged through the loose sand and then headed for the bushes. She recovered and soon after that we reached a river where we had to take a ferry across again. Water phobia or not she pushed her bike on without saying a word.

 

We found a room on the beach for Rp 500, which we considered far over-priced, but we took it anyhow.

 

2 January - Chavakkad - Chenai Beach - 64km

An easy and relaxing ride to Chenai Beach, which turned out to be closer than expected. Once there, we went from one set of rooms to the next, all seemed way above our budget. This is a real touristy place so everything is quite expensive. In the end, we found a room for 750 Rp. While Amanda and I went for a swim in the ocean, Ernest cooked pasta in the room, so at least we saved on food. The beach was packed with holidaymakers, mostly Indian families. Swimming in a bathing suite is quite a daring thing to do there. Although Amanda and myself walked way down the beach for our little swim, spectators (cell phone camera in hand) appeared in no time. By now, our pictures must be on half the cell phones in India!! And that looking the way I look (bed bug eaten and half bald). For some reason my hair is falling out at an alarming rate, and I am shocked at how little hair I have left.

 

3 January - Chenai Beach - Fort Kochi - 28km

Although Chenai Beach is a cool spot to hang out, we moved on as the accommodation is a bit too expensive for us. It was only a short pleasant ride to Kotchi, with the Arabian Sea on the one side and the Kerala backwaters on the other. It was a short ferry ride across the inlet to Fort Kochi island (the city of Kotchi - formerly Cochin - consists of a number of islands). Fort Kochi had a real relaxed feel about it. Accommodation was again not cheap as it is a popular place for tourists. As we arrived early there was plenty of time to wander around and watch the locals operating the famous Chinese Fishing nets - a contraption which looks a bit like a spider web which they repeatedly dip into the water at high tide.

 

That evening we were also lucky enough to see a Kathakali show, which is story-telling through drama, music, dancing and hand gestures (or something like that). The costumes, make-up, and headgear is quite something, and I believe it takes anything from an hour upwards to complete dressing.

 

4 January - Kotchi – Alleppey - 66km

Once again, it was a ferry ride from Kotchi to Ernakulam, the twin city on the mainland. Fortunately it was Sunday and the traffic was not too serious - we got through the city without any problems. We cycled past palm trees, temples and shrines until we reached the town of Alleppey - known as the Venice of the East. The area is famous for backwater cruising and houseboats, so we decided to stay the night and find out what the cost will be to do a trip on the backwater. Our accommodation was cheap at R30 for a double room and R16.00 for a single room. One cannot expect much for this price but at least the room and bedding was clean.

 

5 January - Alleppey

Amanda and myself look the public ferry from Alleppey to Kottayam along the backwater - a taxi ferry stopping all along the way to pick up and drop off people. We cruised past numerous villages, rice fields and palm trees. We had about an hour and a half to walk around Kottayam and get back on the ferry for the return trip, a 3-hour ride.

 

6 January - Alleppey to Kollam - By ferry

Instead of doing a houseboat-cruise, Amanda and myself decided to take the State ferry South along the backwaters to Kollam (while Ernest cycled there). What a scenic and leisurely way to get to the next town!! We spent the entire day on the ferry, which stopped once for lunch and once for tea. Again, we saw many villages with villagers going about their business. These waters are used extensively by the locals, not simply for washing themselves, but for laundry, dishes, etc. Fishing seems to be the most common activity and the method varies form Chinese fishing nets to hand nets. We only arrived in Kollam at 6.30pm and it was already getting dark. Fortunately Ernest on the bike beat us there with hours to spare - he’d found a room and bought food, which he was preparing when we arrived.

 

7 January - Kollam – Varkala - 36km

We took a leisurely ride to Varkala, which which was only 36km away. We stopped along the way to do some shopping and pick up something to nibble on. Once there it was the normal search for a cheap room. We were lucky to find a room big enough for the 3 of us at Rp 300 (R60.00). Once again Ernest’s job was not done for the day and spent most of the afternoon working on Amanda’s bike.

 

8 January - Varkala

We decided to take a rest day to do laundry, internet, and perhaps spend some time on the beach.

 

9 January - Varkala - Kovalam - 59km

From Varkala we found another small coastal road through the villages, which meant we once again had to take a ferry across one of the many river mouths. This time the boat was a smallish wooden affair resembling a dug-out canoe, which the 2 crew propelled with long poles. Again Amanda was rather nervous about this arrangement, until I pointed out that the water was hardly more than waist-deep. She still clung on with white knuckles until we reached the other side. The last 20 k’s were along the main road, bypassing the capital city of Kerela, Trivandrum (abbreviation – nobody can pronounce the proper name). After turning off the 2 k’s to Kovalam Beach we eventually found a suitably large room with 3 beds, and then went straight down to the touristy beach for a snack and a beer.  Amanda and I went for a swim while Ernest chatted to another cyclist from Italy who we’d met on the road before. Later that evening we splashed out on a meal at one of the beachfront restaurants.

 

10 January - Kovalam – Takkalai - 54km

A fairly hot day on the road, past villages having festivals complete with music and flags, what a colorful place India is. We followed the Western Ghats, and when we could see serious-looking mountains in the distance we nervously wondered whether we had to cross them. It made for a very scenic ride though, and in the end the mountains tapered off so least we never had to cross those.

 

11-12 January - Takkalai - Kanniyakumari - 36km

We finally arrived in Kanniyakumari, Amanda's final destination. She was quite pleased with herself for reaching her goal, the most southerly point of India. Not the 2 oceans, but the spot where 3 oceans meet, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.

 

The next day we spent stripping Amanda’s bike for any usable parts, replacing it with our old and worn parts. That night we went out for a more fancy meal at one of the better hotels as a farewell meal.

 

13-17 January Kanniyakumari - Chennai - by train

On the afternoon of the 13th Amanda and myself took the train to Chennai, were we arrived early in the morning of the 14th . We found a really decent hotel to stay for the next two days, pack her bike and organize her stuff for the flight back to Cape Town. After Amanda was on the plane back to South Africa, I took the next available train back to Kanniyakumari.

 

18 January - Kanniyakumari – Tirenelveli - 83km

With Amanda back home, it was just Ernest and I again. For the first 30km we cycled into the breeze past wind farms, a clear indication that this is a notoriously windy area. Nothing to do but battle on. After 30km we stopped for brunch, a real South-Indian meal of rice and spicy veg served on a banana leaf, and all this without cutlery. Let me tell you, it is not that easy to eat rice and sauce with your fingers!! Ernest was getting real good at eating like a local, but I keep a spoon handy, normally to the delight of the spectators. The road was in good condition so we reached Tirunelveli fairly early, found a room, beer, and food, and settled in for the night.

 

19 January - Tirunelveli - Sattur - 83km

An uninteresting stretch of road into the wind on the highway. At least the road was in good condition, as it was a brand new double lane highway. Interesting, however, that traffic goes in both directions on each side of the highway, defeating the purpose of the highway somewhat. On top of that the local farmers use the nice new tarred road for the purpose of threshing their rice-crop, by spreading it in the road and forcing traffic over it.

 

We found a cheap room in Sattur, a busy little village with loads of food stalls, selling yummy Indian food. I’m picking up a lot of weight as it is just impossible to ignore all the tasty food that’s available everywhere.

 

20 January - Sattur – Madurai - 81km

Another day spent cycling into the wind. At least Amanda has taught us one thing and that is that there’s no reason to rush anywhere. So we took it real easy and once in Madurai we found a room and stayed for 2 nights. It must have been one of the noisiest rooms we have had in a long time, with cars hooting, motorbikes revving, music playing, and just the normal jumble of sound.

 

21 January Madurai

We spent the day wondering around the maze of narrow streets. Madurai, the second largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu, is also known as "Temple City". Unfortunately the main temple complex was in the process of being renovated, and although one could go inside the outside was all covered up. It was, however, still imposing due to its sheer size.

 

22 January - Madurai – Tiruppattur - 70km

At last we left the highway and were back on a much smaller road, what a relief. It was a good cycle past a huge bird sanctuary giving the ride a real peaceful feel. It is such a pleasure being away from the main road and traffic and one could once again enjoy the countryside.

 

23 January - Tiruppattur – Pudukkottai  - 80km

We casually cycled along a small road past numerous temples, shrines, rice fields and small villages. Once again we experienced the road being used for the threshing of the rice crop. The rice is spread out on the road for vehicles to drive over and in the process doing the hard work for them.

 

24 January - Pudukkottai – Thiruchirappalli

We found a room in the Ashby Hotel which looks a bit worse for wear from the outside, but quite interesting inside. It was an old British guest house and still has some remains of old wooden furniture. The rooms open onto a shady courtyard with restaurant, so all in all quite a pleasant place to stay.

 

25 January - Thiruchirappalli (Trichy)

Trichy is an enjoyable city and fairly easy to get around in. We spent the day visiting the Rock Fort temple, perched high on a massive rocky outcrop. So together with the other pilgrims we climbed the main stairs cut into the rock to the top. I also went to see the superb Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, dedicated to Vishnu. This is a large 60 hectare complex complete with beggars, pilgrims, tourists and loads of stalls selling cheap souvenirs.

 

26 January - Thiruchirappali – Thanjavur - 63km

Just getting out of town in the hair-raising traffic is a feat in itself. Hardly outside town we were flagged down by a life-insurance salesman in a passing vehicle. Him and his companions bought us each a coconut, and (like just about everyone else) they were rather curios about our trip. So with coconut in hand we explained where we’d come from, but it’s becoming more difficult to say where we’re going (a mystery even to us).

 

As they left the man told us how dangerous that section of road was, and presented each of us with one of his business cards (we must have been prime candidates). After a short and enjoyable ride we reached Thanjavur with its World Heritage Temple complex. These towns normally have loads of cheap accommodation and food stalls, all catering for the many pilgrims constantly visiting the temples.

 

27 January - Thanjavur – Mayiladuthurai - 80km

We awoke to an overcast morning, making it incredibly humid. We left rather late as we had no intention of going very far. A great cycling day on the road it was! The overcast day made the colours quite beautifully brilliant. We once again cycled past numerous temples, shrines and villages. The traffic signs along the back roads never fail to amaze me. They are either non-existent at the most crucial moments, or otherwise of no use at all (bold signs pointing straight, left, or right, when that is the way the road goes and there is no other option).

 

28 January - Mayiladuthurai – Pichavaram - 60km

Again it was a relaxing day on the road. The countryside is flat with lots of rice paddies. We soon reached Chidambaram, a chaotic town with a huge Shiva temple. We did not stay long, as one can only appreciate so many temples. We turned off the main road onto a little side road and came upon the little fishing village of Pichavaram, situated on an area of tidal canals and backwaters. The state-run restaurant also had a few dilapidated rooms for rent, so we booked in there for the night. That afternoon we rented a row-boat (with local skipper), and spent 2 hours before sunset cruising around the backwaters and through the mangrove swamps.

 

29 January - Pichavaram – Pondicherry - 95km

I left fairly early, before Ernest, as he decided to go his own way. It was a really good day as the weather was perfect and the road flat and scenic. I arrived in Podicherry around midday but it took hours to find a room. The rooms are very expensive and the cheaper ones were all full. What felt like hours later I eventually found a room at a reasonable rate. Ernest apparently had the same problem finding accommodation, as he arrived at the same place soon after I did.

 

30 January - Pondicherry

Spent the day in Pondy, as they call it here, just walking around and pigging out on cheese and biscuits. Pondy was a French colony and therefore still retains a little French vibe. The result is that one can find cheese as well as wine - Two things which I have not seen in a long time.

 

Although Pondy is a coastal town the beach is very rocky and not a place for a swim, but a walk a long the beachfront is quite pleasant and one can wonder past old French buildings which makes it slightly different from the rest of India.

 

31 January - Pondicherry – Mamallapuram - 91km

It was an absolutely brilliant day, the weather is so good this time of year it’s a real pleasure to be out. Not too hot or cold and no wind. What more can a cyclist ask for. The road was flat and ran past lots of rice fields and the ever present coconut palms. Once in Mamallapuram it was easy to find accommodation. It’s a very touristy town with lots of backpacker-type travelers and everything that goes with it, from eating places to curio sellers. It has the best beach along this side of the coast so no wonder it is jam packed with travelers.

 

1 February - Mamallapuram

I spent the day on the beach, something I haven’t done for a while. Then I wandered around the rock cut temples of Mamallapuram. This village is actually a world heritage site and therefore quite interesting. The most wonderful temples and sculptures are cut into the huge boulders strewn all over the place.

 

I'm also happy to report that my hair has stopped falling out, and hopefully will now start growing back again.

 

2 February - Mamallapuram

I took the bus to Chennai to see if I could find a charger for my notebook (which I’ve lost) and also to see if I could for once and all sort out the virus on the lap top. It was a good day as I found the Asus agent and I found someone who could sort out the virus. I left everything at the shop and decided to head back to the beach and pick it up again the next day.

 

3 February - Mamallapuram – Chennai - 61km

I left at just after 8h00 and it was a relatively easy ride into Chennai. Once again the traffic, as you got closer to the city, was hectic. I found my way into the city after only going wrong once. The lack of directions is one problem and asking directions is another amazing story. Once you ask the replay is always "Go strait!" and they clearly point either left or right. Or they will say "Go strait and then left/right" and all that happens is that the road bends either left or right.

 

I found the Broadlands Lodge, where I met Ernest again, who was already there for his second day.

 

4 February - Chennai

Decisions, decisions, decisions!!! I have come to a point where I finally have to decide where to go from India. I had a few blissful months of no decision, but now the time has arrived. The land border with Myanmar is closed so one has to fly out of India to reach the other Asian countries i.e. Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

 

The other option is to go further north to Nepal and hope to obtain a permit there to enter Tibet and from there on to China. The down side is that once over the Himalayas and into China one will be back in the dessert again!! To be quite honest, I have had enough of cycling through the desert to last me a number of life times, just the idea of cycling through another desert is enough to put me off the whole thing.

 

On the one hand I am very reluctant to fly, its not only the cost, but the hassle of packing and getting oneself with bike and bags to the other side. Then again I’m really not ready to give up the beach life, which awaits (I hope) in Thailand. The weather in this part of the world should (I hope) still be good for a month or three before the monsoon season starts.

 

So what to do? That’s the main question.

 

5-6 February - Chennai 

The Broadlands Lodge, where we stayed, was a very interesting ramshackle place. Although it was old and dilapidated it had a great atmosphere, with courtyards, stairs and alleyways. I was lucky enough to find a fellow traveler with an excellent range of music on his i-pod, which I copied. At last I could listen to music again on the road. I finally came to a decision regarding where to go next, and Nepal looked the better option.

 

7 February - Chennai – Naidupeta - 118 km

Ernest and myself left together and headed north on the highway. The highway is never a very interesting option but looked the easiest way out of Chennai. The road was in excellent condition and with a little tail wind we made good progress. Along the way we were even interviewed by a local newspaper reporter!

 

I’m rather excited about my decision to cycle to Nepal, as an overland trip from Cape Town to Kathmandu is something that has always appealed to me. Never, however, did I contemplate doing it on a bicycle!!  

 

8 February - Naidupeta – Kavali - 131km

Another day spent on the highway; at least the road was in good condition and the going easy. The day before we crossed from the State of Tamil Nadu, to the state of Andhra Pradesh. Each state varies slightly from the others and appears to have its own favorite food and Hindu Gods. We definitely could see that in this state Hanuman (the monkey God) is very popular, as there are many large Hanuman statues along the road.

 

Along the way people pointed out to us that there was an article about us in the newspaper and wanted our autographs!

 

9 February - Kavali – Ongole - 72 km

Just the give a perspective of distances in India, I left the most southern point in India 22 days ago and there is still 1400 km to Kolkata!!  From there to the Napal border app. another 900km!! 

 

The other extraordinary thing is that people in India crap in full view of everyone. On the beach, next to the railway line and along the road!  In Africa, people sort of go into the bushes, but here it is very normal to sit, doing your thing in full view of everyone!

 

10 February - Ongole – Vodarevu Beach -  71 km

I made the mistake of turning down to Vodarevu beach. We reached the beach at around midday and proceeded to spend the rest of the day in a stuffy room with a strong fishy smell close to the beach. However, later in the afternoon the beach became a hive of activity as the fishing boats returned with their catch of the day. There were many good-sized fish which were sold auction-style, in what appeared to be a chaotic manner. While this was taking place the next set of rather flimsy boats took to the open seas for yet another night of fishing.

 

11 February - Vodarevu Beach – Challapalle - 96 km

We left rather late, around 10 o’clock but had an interesting day on the road. We followed a minor road, past many small villages, corn fields and the ever present rice paddies. Once again we were stopped and interviewed by a local newspaper reporter - this seems now to have become a daily event.

 

Once we crossed the Krishna River Delta we reached the small town of Challapalle where we found a room in a traditional guest house. More basic accommodation one will not easily find, but at a 100 rupies I guess one cannot complain.

 

Indian men are constantly chewing paan, (a replacement for cigarettes), which makes their teeth and lips blood red. They therefore spit long jets of red paan juice everywhere. Evidently in rooms as well, as the walls in the room are covered with traces of paan spit!!  

 

12 February - Challapalle – Narasapur - 128 km

Take perfect weather, throw in a good road and great scenery and it makes for a perfect day of cycling. We followed one of the back roads, and managed to take the wrong turning on three occasions!  The people along the way are very helpful, but if they’re not sure the response is normally “Go straight”, which we did, just to find out later we should have turned off in the previous village. The last wrong turn was at a washed away bridge where an obscure old wooden ferry boat was carting the traffic across the river, a lengthy process. With the result that we had to peddle like the clappers to reach Narasapur before sunset. We’re moving further east, and it’s still “winter”, so the sun sets fairly early.

 

We were like celebrities, along the way. Every day there seemed to be a small article about us in the paper and the local people are quick to point it out to us and asking for autographs. (Ha, ha, imagine that, me giving autographs!)

 

13 February - Narasapur – Jaanam (Yanam) - 79 km

Another good day!  I did not even need my ipod, it was so interesting and scenic. You will not believe this, but once again we were stopped by newspaper reporters and interviewed!

 

It was a fairly short day and once we arrived at Yanam we took a room. Mainly for the purpose of doing some laundry. It was however not as great as expected, and although there appeared to be quite a good riverside location, there was no accommodation along the river, but only in the main town. We took a room and no sooner had we settled in and the water in the taps dried up, so much for doing laundry. If it’s not the electricity that keeps going off then it’s the water! 

 

14 February - Yanam – Tuni - 106 km

A longer day than expected, again due to some bad directions. As one man pointed out to us, it was still 60 km to Tuni and too far to go by bike, better we go to the next village, which was only 10 km away. He was quite adamant that we would not be able to cycle to Tuni in one day. Although everyone here cycles (I mean this is the home of the Hero bike), no one goes very far, normally just to the next village or the market. If you mention that you want to go to a town, 100 km away, they stare at you as it you are from outer space.

 

Once again, there were two articles about us in the local newspapers (how many newspapers can this state have?). So, people were flagging us down to show us the articles. No sooner have we arrived in Tuni and a TV crew spotted us and had a lengthy interview. My goodness, I have never been so famous in my life before, quite a novelty. At least the excitement and all the attention made up for the dreary room. (O, how I wished for a decent and clean room, just once!).

 

15 February - Tuni to Visakhapatnam - 110 km

We were back on the highway again, together with salesmen on bicycles, with their bicycles stacked high with everything imaginable, from plastic chairs to pots and pans. The highway made for an easy ride into Visakhapatnam. Vizag, as the locals call it, was much larger than I expected. It had loads of cheap accommodation around the train station, (as usual) and we soon found a room with, this time, wait for it, clean sheets!  I was as happy as the proverbial pig.

 

16-18 February - Visakhapatnam

We spent our time doing the usual laundry, internet and shopping for the necessary bits and pieces. The following day we took a train from Vizag to the Araku Valley, 120km North of Vizag. At 21 Rupees (one way) for a spectacular 5-hour ride into the mountains, it was worth it. Once in Araku we took the bus to Borra Caves for another Rp 10. The 1 000 000 year old lime stone caves are huge and quite spectacular. From Borra we returned to Vizag by train again, where we arrived in the evening.

 

Taking the train in India in the “general section” is always an experience. We sat packed in like sardines, with sari-clad women (amongst others) staring at us with foolish grins all the way.

 

The following day we went shopping for new sandals (ours were falling apart). That evening we went down to the beachfront for a walk and to sample some of the delicious street food found there.

 

19 February - Visakhapatnam – Srikakulam - 109km

Our map was not as accurate as we would have liked, it showed the road following the coast; instead we landed up on the highway miles from the coast. We had a good tailwind so cycling was a real pleasure.

 

Apparently there was a bit about us on TV, as people stopped us and told us that they’d seen us on TV. Others stopped to take to take pictures. This was quite a novelty. Soon we reached Srikakulam, and as it was very hot we decided to call it a day. It was fairly hard finding a cheap room, as apparently there is an important temple in town, and therefore loads of pilgrims filling up the rooms.

 

20 February - Srikakulam – Palasa - 89km 

We set off with a plan to do 140km, but along the way we came upon a smallish town which looked good enough to spend the night. As it was still too far to Gopalpur, we found some nice accommodation and stayed. In these smallish towns it is always fun to go out after dark in search of food. The streets come alive with people, carts, bicycles and rickshaws. Food stalls spring up everywhere, and the variety is immense. After settling on some veg fried noodles and other bits and pieces we headed back to our room to devour the feast.

 

21-23 February - Palasa – Gopalpur - 93km 

The road deteriorated somewhat as we came to the border between the states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Trucks were lined up for kilometers, and combined with roadworks it was a real dust bowl. We turned down to the seaside village of Gopulpur, a small pleasant place with lots of cheap accommodation, a small beachfront promenade and some food stalls.

 

We are getting really fussy with accommodation, as now we don’t only want cheap but also ground floor, and preferably around a courtyard!!  Ernest had stayed here in December at old Mr. Singh’s Tourist Holiday Inn situated in one of the back streets. It was just what we were looking for; a few rooms with bathrooms all arranged around a courtyard. At 140 Rupees (R28.00) it was a bargain so we stayed for 3 days.

 

Ernest worked a bit on the bikes and discovered that the rear axle on his bike was broken (probably due to the incident with the truck in Calicut). So he was on the phone to my sister, Amanda, again and begged her to send more spares. Even my bike is looking a bit worse for wear and I just wonder how much longer it will last.

 

24 February - Gopalpur – Balagoan - 86km 

With a good tailwind we had a most delightful ride. O what a pleasure!! Ernest was nursing his bike along, with broken axle and all. It still had to last until Patna where Amanda had sent to spares. Unforeseen expenditure at home has left me totally broke (say no more). Now we really have to economise!  We found the cheapest place to stay in Balagoan, (on Lake Chilika) as the next day we planned to take the ferry across the lake to Satapada.

 

The lake is one of the largest in India and well known for its migratory birds. So instead of taking a tourist boat at Rp 600 each, to see the spectacle of a million-plus birds, coming from as far afield as Siberia, we decided to take the local ferry to Satapada at Rp 40 (on the other side of the lake). That evening Ernest went shopping at the local market for potatoes and salad and made a most delicious potato dish. As you have no doubt noticed by now, Ernest is the cook and shopper, as I’m totally useless when it comes to anything domesticated.

 

25-26 February - Balagoan – Puri - 169km  

We were up at 5h00 to catch the ferry at 6h00, to our surprise there was no ferry, but just a small fishing vessel loaded with ice and other fishing paraphernalia. The price also shot up to 250 rupees. We gave up on the idea and decided to rather cycle around to Puri. It was somewhat further than expected and an incredibly hot day. The scenery was also not as exciting as what we had become accustomed to. We arrived in Puri late and tired but found a decent room (with shared bathroom but a hot shower!!)

 

The heat continued into the next day - by the time the heat is mentioned in the local papers, a person knows it’s unseasonably hot (even for India). We did laundry and rested indoors, going out in the evening for a walk on the beach.

 

27 February - Puri – Konark - 45km 

Before leaving Puri we first stopped to see the famous Lord Jagannath Temple. Non Hindus are not allowed inside but we could view it from the roof of the nearby library. Konark was only 36km along the coast where we found another well-known temple, the Sun Temple (a world heritage site). As it was already mid-day we decided to stay, so we found a real cheap room - baking hot and with a very noisy fan. At least it gave us the opportunity to see the Sun Temple again at night when it was lit up.

 

28 February - Konark – Bhubaneshwar - 64km 

I was happy as hell to get out of that stuffy room. It was a short and pleasant ride back to Bhubaneswar where I vowed not to get a windowless room again. It, however, appeared to be the least of our problems as there were just no rooms available at all (many cheap hotels don’t cater for foreigners). In the end, after a very long search we found a spacious but overpriced room (on the ground floor!).

 

1 March - Bhubaneswar – Chandikhol - 81km  

First we turned off the highway in order to take a side road. This road was, however, in real bad condition and with Ernest nursing his bike along we turned around after 8km and went back to the highway. We reached Chandikhol fairly early, but decided to stay as the next place was still too far away. The only hotel fortunately had a TV in the room, and the Aus/SA cricket was on. The tension of the game must have gotten to Ernest, because so did the cheap local whiskey - retiring at the end of play!

 

2 March - Chandikhol – Balasore - 137km 

Another boring day on the highway, except for Ernest getting a flat tire. This, he had to fix with the normal crowd of spectators. They’re normally most interested in the bell, gears and odometer, which they can’t resist to fiddle with (which irritates Ernest no end). There was road works for the last 50km, and it was slightly further than expected (the road signs, map, and actual distance normally differ). As we left rather late we arrived in Balasore just as it got dark.

 

3 March - Balasore – Baripada - 58km 

We finally turned away from the coast and headed inland. The scenery immediately changed and the countryside became drier. Baripada was a maze of activity and the streets lined with security forces. The chief minister was in town and was making a speech on a podium erected in the main road close to where we stayed. Due to the political meeting room was scarce, so we had to wait 1 hour for one to become vacant. While waiting we were befriended by some local youngsters (who called us “Auntie” and “Uncle”).  They treated us to a beer in the local bar, proudly pointing out that I was the first women to visit the bar.

 

4 March - Baripada – Ghatsila - 99km 

The road became slightly hillier than along the coast, but nothing too serious. We crossed from the state of Orissa to the state of Jharkhand were few tourists go. This was immediately evident as locals stared at us in amazement without as much as a wave. In the small town of Ghatsila we found a room, again with curious onlookers in close pursuit. We had to close the bedroom door and windows to get some privacy. I guess they just want to see what two foreigners are doing in that room, and what all is in those bags. As a guy along the road pointed out, that the bags are probably for carrying rice and water!

 

5 March - Ghatsila – Jamshedpur - 50km 

A short but slow road - very narrow and extremely busy with trucks and busses. Ernest was also not feeling well. We turned down for Jamshedpur, and what a hassle it was trying to find accommodation. Eventually we took a room in the Holidei Inn (not part of the hotel group), at quite a steep price but it was the cheapest room for foreigners in the entire place. I am convinced that they had never even had a female foreign guest, as the staff were staring and taking photos.

 

6 March - Jamshedpur – Bundu - 94km 

Ernest was suffering from an upset stomach, and not feeling too strong. We however decided to push on towards Ranchi. The road was incredibly busy and the road surface in poor condition so the going was rather slow. We reached the little village of Bundu in the late afternoon and enquired about a room, without success. We ended up at the Catholic Mission school (St Xaviers HS), where we were given a room in the priest’s quarters as well as supper and breakfast.

 

7-8 March - Bundu – Ranchi - 47km 

The day started with a prediction of a large hill looming ahead. The predictions varied between it being between 1km to 10km long. In the end it was approximately 13km from Bundu and about 2km long. We were also approached by a truck driver (who clearly had some of the local liquor) who wanted a photo with us. The scary thing is that few of these drivers have driving licenses, add to that the poor road condition and very narrow roads, it’s a miracle that we made it to Ranchi without any incidence.

 

Once in Ranchi it was with great difficulty that we found a room. There were loads of hotels all along Main Road and Station Road, but none seemed to be willing to take foreigners. Eventually we found a rather over priced room and decided to stay for 2 days, in order to give Ernest time to recover from his upset stomach. 

 

9 March - Ranchi – Hazaribag - 96km

The day promised to be a climb up to the Hazaribagh Plateau, but none of it materialized, instead, we had a massive downhill.  The road was nothing short of hair-raising, being fairly narrow and with loads of trucks flying past at high speeds. The area is known for coal mining and the black dust clung to our sweaty limbs.  All this made for a rather stressful day and, I for one, was happy to reach Hazaribag (black face and all), where we managed to find a room at the first place we enquired.

 

10-11 March - Hazaribag – Bodh Gaya - 126km

Another stressful day, and I must admit, a rather awful day on the road.  After 20 k’s we came across a victim of a hit and run accident.  In passing we noticed an unconscious man in spasms lying next to the road, his broken motorbike and bags all over the place.  We waved down a passing motorcyclist who fortunately had a cell phone to call for help.  We could do little, as the person was unconscious and obviously seriously injured.  It made me realized just how fortunate we are to arrive safely at our destination every night.  We reached Bodh Gaya in good time, found a good room and retired for the night.

 

Bodh Gaya, where Buddha reached enlightenment, is a very peaceful place.  The entire village is set around the Old Temple built at the site where Buddha sat under the tree.  The original tree is long gone, but a sapling of that tree is planted in its place – which is also now a large old tree.  We also  spent the following day wondering around the various temples and gardens.  It was “Holi” day (Hindu day), a national holiday in India, and children were running around the village painting everyone with coloured powder and spraying red and green water at everyone.

 

13-14 March - Bodh Gaya – Patna - 135km

Another hectic day on the road, cars just pull into the road without looking left or right. As I overtook a stationary car, it pulled into the road, fortunately it only knocked one of the panniers off the bike and then still proceeded to nearly drive over it.  Entering Patna was just as hectic with heavy traffic but eventually we found the city centre and a room.  We enquired at many places before finding a budget hotel which accepts foreigners. 

 

We stayed two nights, as Ernest had to pick up the parcel with spares which my sister Amanda had sent.  Only 1 of the 2 parcels had arrived but with too many of some things and other things missing.

 

A major disagreement took place between Ernest and myself, with him not wanting to wait in Patna for the next parcel - instead he suggested that we cycle to Varanasi and back again (a distance of over 500km).  I’d had enough off the heavy traffic and preferred to stay put and wait for the second parcel.

 

THE VARANASI LOOP

 

15 March - Patna - Ara - 65km

Whatever I suggested was not good enough, and in the end Ernest took off though the traffic to Varanasi with me in tow.  Somewhere during the day he was bumped off the road by a truck, but fortunately there was some runoff space and he managed to keep the bike under control.  It was a short, but hectic day on the road before we found a room in a fairly fancy hotel in Ara.  However, we had a rather interesting time getting there, as we took the wrong turnoff and entered this large town from the back end.

 

16 March - Ara – Buxar - 74km

In the morning TV and newspaper reporters were waiting for us downstairs as we were preparing to leave.  After a long interview and some filming along the road, we were finally on our way. It was a laborious task for me to be cycling along a busy narrow road, to a place I didn’t even want to go to.  The best part of the day was finding the Tourist Bungalow in Buxar, a friendly place with good clean rooms.  The rooms even had a little balcony providing both air and light.  What a pleasure the room was, I could even handle the loud chanting from somewhere nearby which carried on all night.  This was either a holy man chanting or a wedding taking place - but whatever it was, the event will definitely NOT be remembered for the singer’s melodical voice!

 

17-21 March - Buxar - Varanasi - 135km

We cycled on in near silence, as we were not really on speaking terms.  The busy road and poor road condition did not do much for my already dark mood.  We reached Varanasi late, and what chaos it was.  It’s a large and busy town with narrow and confusing alleys (fortunately Ernest had been here before).  Just to add to my bad mood we managed to get a room in a guesthouse without any external windows, making it rather stuffy.  The whole place was like a jail with very steep stairs leading to the upper rooms and bars across the windows and no natural light.  On the bright side, the room was ridiculously cheap.

 

We stayed in Varanasi for a good few days as both Ernest and I had picked up a cold.  During that time I also managed to see some if the sites, including a row-boat ride on the Ganges along the river ghats.

 

22 March - Varanasi – Mau - 128km

At last we left Varanasi, we got away fairy early (that means before 9.30). Ernest and I cycled together to Ghazipur where I headed North to Nepal and Ernest East - back to Patna to pick up his parcel from the Post Office. I suggested that we head straight towards Nepal, and he could take a bus to fetch the parcel.  However, he was set on cycling back to Patna.

 

Being on one’s own brings a completely new set of circumstances.  People seem to be even more interested in what I’m up to, and often they’re more helpful. One of the problems is always to keep the crowd out of your room - every now and again someone knocks on the door with an excuse, and then there’s half a dozen faces staring in.

 

23 March - Mau – Gorakpur - 110km

A short but tiring ride, as the road was in real bad condition and very bumpy.  A real pain in the ass! On reaching Gorakpur I managed to find a hotel.  The best option is usually to go to the bus or train station, where there are cheap hotels and eateries. The room I found was not the cleanest, but at least it was cheap. 

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