Tuesday, 18 December 2012

I Am in a Bit of two Minds


I haven't given lots of distances or road conditions or other handy cycling hints because if you are interested in this sort of thing you probably know as much as I do.  I took an old Muddy Fox mountain bike frame with slick tyres and the original 20yr old brakes and gears.  I did this as much for sentimental reasons, it was the same bike I used 20yrs ago on my first trip to India, as for the practical reason that it is a tough bike but not worth much.  Gear was reduced to the absolute minimum of 9kgs and I bought 1 or 2 things on the way.  Water is available anywhere, accommodation is still as hit and miss as ever.  Some of the best places were cheap, some of the worst places were not.  Some of the cheapest places were OK some of the most expensive were dire.
My longest day was 185 kms and the shortest 32 kms.  It rained, I got sunburnt.  Veni, vidi, I was conquered (again).


I like this picture.  I'm an atheist, but when I see things like this little temple in the middle of the fields I am moved by it.  There is no earthly reason to build it there.  It is not close to anyone's home.  It is not on the way to anywhere.  It is not even big enough to provide shade.  Yet it is important enough for someone to look after it and to pray at it.  Someone who has an eye perhaps on the bigger picture.

A shrine in the middle of the fields.

Monday, 22 October 2012

As the Fat Lady Slumps Exhausted

As the fat lady slumps exhausted to the stage floor, it is time to bring this little exercise to a close.  I have really enjoyed the whole process of writing to keep in touch with my friends and family and at the same time exposing my thoughts to a wider audience.  It speaks to the frustrated journalist/writer/communicator/big-mouth in me and amuses me no end.  The Internet is a remarkable tool.

I spent my last afternoon, as predicted, in packing up my bike and preparing my stuff for the return.  I had failed utterly in my search for the interesting gifts.  Whether this was lack of effort on my part or lack of interesting stock on the shopkeepers parts I can't say.  I then had an interesting evening with another eclectic group of souls I found living on the roof of my hotel.  It just goes to show that India is more full of surprises than anywhere else in the world.  At 23.00, bike in the taxi's boot, I headed for the airport. 
The streets were alive with people and lights celebrating the start of Calcuta's Durga Pouja.  Entire buildings were draped with strings of coloured lights and elaborate temporary temples were packed with Bengalis.  In the darker corners the poor still slept, their ragged covers over their heads.  Dogs roamed and cows settled down by the sides of the roads to ruminate.  I sat back in the corner of the Ambassador taxi and watched the city pass by.  This trip to India, my fourth, had been a special time for me and had opened my eyes once again to a host of themes.  I had endured some physically testing days and some mentally testing ones as well.  I think I had seen a slice of India in all its beauty and with all its contradictions.  From the burgeoning glass towers of Cyberbad (Hydrabad) to the absolute poverty of many urban areas.  From adverts where happy people consume sophisticated products, to the simple tragedy of the old man holding the head of his dead cow by the side of the road.  From the worshipful gaze lavished on my 21 speed bike, to the dab of ghee on the feet of a temple statue.
I hoped that this trip would be some kind of closure for me.  For years I have buttonholed anyone who would listen to me about my dreams and desires for travel.  I think I had become a bit of a bore on the subject and it really was time I put my money where my mouth was.  So when my ever patient wife said "well just get on with it then" I was trapped.  Trapped by my own words, with no excuse but to do it, or forget it.  So 4 weeks ago I found myself alone in India and today it is all behind me.  When asked "what have you learnt about yourself" I can say just 2 things at the moment.  1. I am not as physically strong as I once was, but I still managed 1,654 kms in 20 cycling days so all is not yet lost.  2. I know that I have no excuse whatsoever for not being content with my lot.  This knowledge won't stop me complaining, which is probably in my nature, but it does put my petty worries in perspective.  There are probably other things which will come out of all this over time, but for the moment those two are pretty good.

Some people who have read this blog think that I have not enjoyed myself, but they are wrong.  I have had an amazing time, but it is always more interesting and more amusing to write about the things which go wrong, than the things which go right.

In Conclusion.

Low points:- Feeling too sick, tired and hungry to go on only 24 kms from Haldia.  Being without the presence and support of the three people I love the most in the world.  Having to turn back and take the coast road after getting horribly lost.
High points:- Meeting some incredibly kind people in the most unlikely places.  Blasting through the Indian dawn with Pink Floyd on the mp3.  Arriving in Calcutta despite wanting to give it all up just the day before.

Thank you for listening.
A room with a view.

Friday, 19 October 2012

In India I Normally Stand Outside

When my wife shops in India I normally stand outside the shop and let her get on with it. This is because shopping in India (or indeed anywhere with a bazaar) involves a lot of negotiation and hard bargaining.  She loves to haggle and I think is genuinely good at it - I don't and I'm not.  I remember on one occasion she gave a cigarette to the shop keeper just so he would at least get that from the sale!  But now I find myself trying to do this on my own and not doing very well.  Outside the S.S.Hogg Market there are entire squadrons of men who try to guide you to certain shops and they can be very persistent indeed.  Once they were shaken off though, I was free to roam this amazing place and spend a happy hour or so just enjoying the hustle and bustle of it all.  I think if you tried, you could find almost anything here.  Clothes and foodstuffs are main items but it is no way limited to just that.  Eventually I sidled up to a shop selling paintings and curios hoping to find a painting to take home, but unfortunately the majority of the items for sale are the ubiquitous Mogul style works from Rajasthan or garish Batiks.  I found something interesting in the form of a folding sheet of bamboo slices which the vendor assured me was done by charring the design into the surface and then colouring.  "Very nice" I said, but it was only when I looked very closely that I saw it was in fact drawn in Biro and then coloured in crayon.  Not what I was looking for.  So I have now given up the idea of buying more Indian art, which is probably not too bad a thing as we do have a lot already.  If I had the patience and negotiation skills of my better half I might have continued but I would rather go and drink a chai.
This afternoon I will be spending some time disassembling my bike and preparing it for the flight tonight. Then dinner and a beer with the last of my Rupees before the taxi man arrives at 23.00.  We should be at the airport at midnight even though I fly at 04.20.  But I am sure that trying to get my abnormal luggage on the plane will take time and involve a lot of negotiation and hard bargaining.

S.S.Hogg Market, Kolkata.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Queen Victoria and the Raj

Queen Victoria and the Raj have left a wonderful building to remember them by.  I suppose any opinion as to whether the time of the British here in India was a positive thing or not, can only be answered by the Indians themselves.  However, the splendour of the Victoria Memorial must stand outside this decision.  It is simply a beautiful building.  I set out to walk there this morning, approaching it from across the large park right in the centre of Calcutta and it was from under the shade of an immense Banyan that I took my first picture.  Italianate and domed its white stones stood out against the milky sky and the green gardens which surrounded it.  If you don't get a chance to see it for yourselves, look it up on Google Images, it really is worth a look.  The grounds are immaculate and gravel paths lead you from the entrance to a statue of the Queen seated on a throne.  From there she could watch her subjects taking there ease under the trees and resting in their cool shade.  To find something like that in the middle of one of the worlds busiest cities is remarkable and even the traffic noise seems to fade away.
There, that's the descriptive prose out the way back to practicalities.  I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of young French people today and to use the language of MoliĆ©re once again.  The first were a group of 7 youngsters studying in India, on their way to the Himalayas to do a bit of trekking and passing through for the day.  The second were a young couple who have given up their jobs to travel, before they eventually have to settle down and get serious.  They were really friendly and we are meeting this evening for a beer which I am sure will be nice.  My bargaining skills are nowhere near those of my wife's so I have given up trying to buy gifts.  The only thing I will regret is not buying a piece of artwork, as this is something we have always done before.  I might have one last try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Un peu de Francais

Salut les amis Francophones.  Je suis bien arrive (pas d'accents sur ce clavier) a Calcutta apres 1 650 km et quelques difficultes.  Je m'imagine plus fort que je suis et par fois j'ai eu beaucoup de mal.  Mais je suis a Calcutta apres 24 jours et quelques kilos de moins.  Pour celebrer j'ai attrape la tourista donc je ne peu meme pas manger le cuisine Bengali qui a l'aire si bonne.
Voila pour le Francais et a bientot en France.

Street life.

A Stroll Down to the Hougli Bridge

I started the day today with a stroll down to the Hougli Bridge, between Kolkata and Howrah, which was something of an eye opener for me.  During the 4 visits I have made to India over the last 20 years I have seen a lot of poverty.  There is the poverty of the rural poor, who work very hard just to fill their bellies at the end of the day.  There are families in India who make their livings turning large rocks into road chippings.  The final breaking of the stones, to produce the smallest pieces, being done by the children with there nimble little fingers.  In one way this is abhorrent.  People, men women and children breaking rocks when a machine could do this so much better.  But this work provides a living for these people and in the absence of other paid work it is their means of survival.  Farm labourers often have very physical jobs to do.  Also this work is often accomplished by women whilst the men bags the standing about and watching the cows job.  There are often the old and the infirm who beg, particularly in the cities.  They have no other alternative but to hold out their hands in the hope of alms.  But today I witnessed the urban working poor in a way I have never seen before.  Finding myself in an area where goods are distributed to the rest of the city, I saw men working harder than I thought possible.  Probably cheaper than beasts of burden, they carried and hauled impossible loads to their final destinations.  Their physical strength and endurance must be incredible.  I know for a fact that I would not last half a day in their places, toiling barefoot through the streets.
So I returned to my hotel (and some more Imodium) with yet another image of India in my head.  These men I saw, worked hard, tremendously hard, but I also saw a camaraderie between them and a mutual support which was wonderful.  When I lay down tonight in my hotel room with AC and hot running water I shall wonder where they are sleeping and if they have eaten their fill.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Tonight I Will Sleep In Kolkata

Tonight I will sleep in Kolkata for the first time.  The days since my last post have been even tougher and culminated with a 2 hr nightmare bus journey with about 150 other people.

After Balasore I continued on and wanting to get off this highway I headed for the coast and the delights of Digha.  The day was hot and long and I was still being very slow.  When I finally arrived I set about finding a hotel which at first sight should have been a breeze.  Digha is a kind of Bangladeshi version of Blackpool.  If you don't know this place look it up.  There are scores of hotels so I selected a clean looking one and asked for a room - no room for me.  So to the next and the next and the next.  I tried 10 hotels before discovering that there is some sort of global "no-singles" policy in town.  As a last resort (really last resort) I tried a guesthouse I had passed in a side street and was rented a dingy room for an unreasonable amount of money.  After chewing the fat with some of the locals on plastic chairs outside the guesthouse I set off to look for some food.  I have been really put of the usual Indian fare which is a shame, as I love it.  It seems it was my day for unsuccessful trying today.  It took me about 8 restaurants to find some one to make me eggs on toast.  Suitable full of egg I wandered down to the shore to see the delights of nocturnal Digha.  By the light of a thousand bulbs and a million stars row upon row of souvenir stalls touted their wares.  Throngs of tourists browsed and grazed their way through the evening.  Change the colour of peoples skins and it could have been anywhere from Coney Island to Blackpool. 
The next morning I set off for Haldia and the promised ferry to Kolkata.  The signs suggested a journey of 75 kms and my recently acquired sat nav even less. The vagaries of the Indian roads and road signs led to a ride of 95 kms once again.  The day was very hot and I tried to stop in the shade for a bit if a doze at one point but soon gave up.  The Bengalis are much more "in your face" than most other Indians I have met.  They are happy to stand 3 feet away in groups and discuss you, with their friends, in loud voices and with much touching of my stuff to boot.  The end of this day proved to be the hardest I have had to date.  It should have been easy but during the last hour if someone had offered me a ride home I would have taken it.  One incident did help me though.  I was 14 kms from Haldia and my moral was in my boots.  The road was incredibly busy and noisy.  Darkness was falling and I was starting to worry about my safety.  I had just been hassled by the police for no obvious reason.  Then I saw an old man holding the rope round the neck of a dead calf.  The animal had obviously been hit by a vehicle and killed.  A small crowd stood and watched.  As I approached the man continued to stand, holding the rope as if waiting for his cow to get up and move.  I cycled path and looking back over my shoulder I could see the old man was still waiting as if in a tableau.  This small cow must have been of great importance to the man and perhaps to his entire family.  I stopped to take a drink and watched as he continued to hold the rope and stare at the dead beast perhaps lacking the belief or the courage to let go of the rope.
The next day I discovered that Haldia is not the place to get a ferry to Diamond Harbour.  You actually need to go to a small town 25 kms up the road.  When I got there I asked if there was a ferry to Kolkata, was told yes and duly bought a ticket.  Once on the ferry all was going well until we pulled into another small town on the opposite side of the river.  Rather like the old man the night before I stood and waited for the boat to move again.  Like him I was still waiting even when it was obviously no use.  Last off I finally admitted to myself that the ferry does not go to Kolkata.  So I caught a bus.

Anyway I am here now and 1st impressions are good.  My room is standard but with HOT WATER, the first for nearly a month.  The bazaar area near Sudder Street is frantic and very friendly.  I am still a bit off colour so I will seek comfort in spaghetti tonight and then exploring time tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Regurgitating an Old Blog Page

I wrote this some years ago and it is part of "Another blog that might interest".  I still think it holds true so I thought I would post it again.

We have arrived in Pondycherry after a 2 hour re-acquaintance with Indian driving. Here are the simple rules you too will need to follow when you take to the wheel Indian style.
1. Might is right. Cyclists force pedestrians off the road: rickshaws force cyclists off the road: in turn they are forced off the road by the cars who bow down before the trucks and buses.
2. Add an impossible number of motor cycles into the above mix. They do not appear in the hierarchy but circulate at speed in amongst the rest of the traffic.
3. The surprise element, if needed, is the cow. They walk, stand and even sleep where ever they like, including the highway.
4. Put your newly acquired mobile phone to your ear and devote most of your attention to your friend, cousin, barber, whoever...
5. If you are on a motorcycle or bicycle, balance something impossibly large and unwieldy somewhere on the machine where you can't quite control it.
6. Drive on the left, India is after all a civilised country, unless it is either a) closer to where you are going to by using the right b) quicker by using the right c) you just feel like using the right.
7. At all occasions use the horn. For example, at a junction, when over taking, when undertaking, on a blind bend, at a slight dip in the road, when passing a dog-goat-cow-little old lady, in heavy traffic, in light traffic, when you are on a wide, empty straight road with not another living soul in sight.
Follow these few simple rules dear reader and you too will soon be an accomplished Indian driver. Feel free to improvise and throw in the odd improbable move as the moment takes you, it will just add to your style.

The Long not Winding Road Continues

The long not winding road continues towards the vanishing point.  I don't know if it is the sameness of it all but I am having real trouble pushing the pedals round.  Yesterday and today have been relatively short days so they should have been easy, but they have been the 2 hardest days so far.  I seem to need to stop every 5ks or so and have an overwhelming desire to go to sleep.  Even my normal 30ks of hard fast riding in the cool of the morning only lasted 15 ks this morning.  I might just be a bit off colour, or perhaps it's this bloody road.
Enough of the complaining.  I am now in Balasore which is just before the West Bengal border.  It is a fairly typical Indian town but has a great many Police establishments.  From Training Colleges to Officers Clubs to Barracks these seem to dominate the approaches from the south and the west.  The rest of the town is pretty standard and I eventually found a hotel at a reasonable price.  Last night I stayed in an upmarket place for 1050/- in an A/C room.  Here the first two "hotels", I use the word with some reservations, wanted 1500/- and 2500/- respectively.  The hotel I have chosen is a bit of a pit, but at 250/- a cheap pit.  So dhobi done I sallied forth and discovered they had a great restaurant - bonus.
Most people I meet seem somewhat perplexed as to why I am making this journey and why particularly on a bike.  I can obviously, as a westerner, afford to do all the visiting I want by car, bus or train.  So the hot, difficult and sweaty choice of the bike is difficult to understand.  All I can say is that I like to cycle, that I love India and that the bike is a good way to do it.  This is all true but I have deeper motivations which I get a lot of time to think about whilst cycling.  This has been a journey of discovery for me and it is not over yet....

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Long not Winding Road

The NH5 is a long not winding road through flat countryside filled with paddy fields.  I set out from Bhubaneswar toward Cuttack and then onwards.  Once out of the towns it really was featureless and almost straight as a die.  I seem to have mislaid the mp3 player or lost it all together so there was no music to listen to.  All in all it made for hot and boring 130ks.  However I have met some of the nicest kindest people who have taken their time to help me on my way.  After my 10/- breakfast I met some guys at the chai stall who bought me chai and explained the route to me.  At lunch (a really good 30/- thali) more help and advice and lots of friendly chat.  There is a town I was heading for on the map which does not exist but nearby there is another one.  I pulled off the highway and asked directions of a rickshaw driver but we couldn't understand each other.  Waves and shouts from the shade of a cafe drew me over and I spent a very happy half hour cooling down, drinking sprite and getting directions for the last 15kmsfrom a group of blokes who seemed to have been put there just for me.  They all spoke English and the patriarch was a particularly interesting and cultured gentleman.  My last meeting of the day was a young guy on a Hero Honda ( I know I've been unkind before) who guided me through a labyrinth of villages and unmade roads to the temple I was heading for in Jajpur and then my hotel.  I now have a vast room with ceiling fan and a working shower.  The only downside of the whole day is the temple which I, as a non-Hindu, can't visit.  I also mis-timed my evening meal and arrived at the only restaurant in town just as it sold out and shut. 
One of the things I have noticed over the last 3 days is the lack of Human excrement by the side of the road.  Let me explain.  Further south the roads edge was a vast latrine with people lined up in the early morning as far as the eye could see.  The consequence for me was the obligation to slalom between the turds when I was driven off the road by a speeding bus.  This is not pleasant experience.  But now further north this seems to have stopped and the roads edge is crap free.  Why is this?  Cultural?  Social?  Economic?  I don't understand.  But it's so much better, believe me!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Puri to Konark and Then to Bhubaneswar

The Journey from Puri to Konark and then to Bhubaneswar is not a long one but I decided to do it in two days.  So on the first leg I took my time, had a leisurely breakfast, said good-bye to my fellow travellers and set off.
I had met some really interesting people and I would like to take the opportunity to describe two of them.  They are both women, that's not because the men weren't interesting, but I have a particular admiration for solo women travellers.  For someone like me, 6' 3" and 85 kilos the dangers are much less than for them, yet both these ladies have travelled more than most of us ever have or I ever will.  Briannagh (spelling?) is 25 and from Australia.  She has already travelled to most of the Far East, India, Canada, Jordan, Mexico and a lot more besides.  She has done all this by working at any job that is available wherever she is.  She has a lust for travel which is incredible and plans to visit the Americas from north to south in the next year or so. Annie is probably in her 50's (sorry if I'm being unfair Annie) and has worked and travelled for the best part of her life.  She is a fund of advice and anecdotes from the135 countries she has already visited and she's not stopping there.  Next trip will take her through the "Stans" back towards Europe.  Over an evening of biriani she entertained us with her stories and advice to ladies when needing to pee out of an African brothel window (I kid you not) and other harrowing toilet tales (a traveller's favourite).  Bravo to these two and to all other intrepid adventurers.
I arrived in Konark, for what was my 2nd visit, in time for a very good lunch and then set off to explore the Sun Temple.  It is probably one of the best temples in India and is beautifully preserved in lush grounds.  The lighting at sunset is particularly effective.  This morning I started out for Bhubaneswar at 6am and arrived at 11am.  I would have been quicker but had a puncture on the way which took a bit of time to fix.  Once here I went out for a walk to visit the town, get a shave and find an Internet cafe.  I must have walked for miles, only to find both less than 50 meters apart in the street parallel to my hotel's.  Twas ever thus.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Morning After the Night Before.

The morning after the night before was difficult for some of my fellow travellers.  Emerging from rooms, sporting shades and with that tentative gait of someone who is not sure of the ground, they gravitate towards the restaurant.  I won't name names here, as that would not be fair of me, but our young Australian friend, yet to be seen, who led the debauch has a lot to answer for.  He provided a bucket of cocktails and a bottle of rum to get the party started.  He was gererous to one and all and I am pretty sure the bucket even made the tour of the kitchen staff.  The two traveller groups did come together last night and under the influence of much alcohol, many splifs and innumerable chilums tales were told, friendships made and ideas exchanged.  Talk ranged from India to Israel, people to politics and from life to love.  Songs were sung and an impromptu jam session between a 100/- guitar and a bamboo didgeriedoo was as memorable as it was remarkable.   Our group included people from 25 to 52, of British, Isreali, Australian, Indian and South Korean extractions.  I don't think I have ever seen a better group of new and interesting people.  So in answer to my question of yesterday "Are there really two groups or will people join together to make a single group but with a wide range of types?", I reply yes, they did come together.  I don't think the younger ones are any different to the older ones.  They are more switched on perhaps to the technologies and the possibilities of social networking.  The older ones travel perhaps for shorter times for reasons of career and family.  Yet both groups are united by their love of travel for its own sake and of India, this amazing, frustrating, vast and beautiful place.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

One of the Unfortunate Consequences of Progress.

One of the unfortunate consequences of progress is the demise of ISD or Internatonal Subsciber Dialing.  Once upon a time nobody had a mobile phone and to make an intenational call we used ISD.  There were ISD phones everywhere and keeping in touch with ones loved ones was easy.  Progress has killed off this system as everyone or nearly everyone has a mobile.  Little old ladies who you would think hadn't two rupees to rub together have them, chidren have them, brahmin priests have them, everybody has them.  I have one, but calling from here by mobile costs me a fortune because I have a foreign phone.  Being the old skinflint that I am I search in vain for a faded ISD sign and ask without much hope if they still have this service.  No I am told we don't do that anymore.  In the end my wife rings me from home on our house phone and it doesn't seem so bad.  Stupid really when you think who will be paying the bill.

The hotel where I am staying has had an influx of new guests.  We (and I include myself in the first group) seems to fall into two groups.  Firstly, the more mature ageing hippy types who have `done India` before and can talk of the things we have seen and the changes we have noticed.  We seem to travel alone but recognise kindred spirits when we see them.  The second group is young, often heavilly tatooed and of the more marginal nature.  They seem to know each other, either directly or from their facebook walls.  Their talk is of the places they know, of dope and the trips they plan.  Now that seems a little judgemental when you read it back, but I am not being so.  I am just writing down my impression of what I have seen yesterday and today.  What will be interesting will be tonight, when I hope both groups will be in the restaurant together.  Are there really two groups or will people join together to make a single group but with a wide range of types?  It is sure to be interesting.


Saturday, 6 October 2012

The 6 am Ferry Leaves at 7 am

The 6 am ferry leaves at 7 am of course.  Yesterday when I had found my hotel 6 kms from the ferry I thought I would check the times with the port people.  So I cycled into the town and asked what time it leaves and how much.  6 am and 45/- was the reply.  So back to my hotel, eat dinner, set alarm for 5 am and early to bed.  When I arrive at the ferry at 5.50 am loading is in progress and I load my bike and stake out a bit of deck.  It is here I am informed that the 6 am ferry leaves at 7 am and will cost me 100/-.  Time for breakfast.

After feasting on various bits of street food and chai I return to the now much fuller boat clutching a bag of cakes and an extra bottle of water.  I must pause to praise the sweets I have bought.  Normally I avoid these Ghee based things as they make me a bit nervous from a hygiene point of view.  However these ones were so fresh I had to try them and they were exceptional.  Ideal food for cycling as they must pack a hefty calorie punch.
7 am and we cast off for a great crossing of the Chilka Lake which lasts nearly 3 hours.  As our stately craft powers across the lake I am slowly eased towards the gunwale by a large grandmother and her screaming grandchild.  I am totally unable to sit cross legged like Indians of all ages seem to be able to do, so I sit with my legs dangling overboard.  This has the double benefit of cooling my feet and easing my poor old aching bum. Unfortunately the upright bamboo pole holding up the sun shade is not attached as I imagined it to be and when I lean on it, it comes away bringing down the sun shade on everyone.  Much embarrassment on my part, much hilarity elsewhere and it allows the telling of all the `stupid foreigner` tales people have. 
One of the things I noticed as we crossed the lake was the tendency by everyone to use it as a dumping ground.  This lake is the life blood of entire communities, home to countless birds and one of the last remaining habitats of freshwater dolphins, yet it is being polluted every day.  I have asked a lot of people about this littering thing and the only explanation I have heard that sounds plausible relates to the Caste system.  All the Castes except the Untouchables, whose job it is to clean up after everyone else, simply throw things to the ground when they have finished with them.  Once they have done this, things cease to exist in peoples minds and are beneath their concern.  This ignoring of things allows people to litter (and worse) in even the most pristine environment without any concern and/or guilt.  Maybe this explains why countries like the Indonesia or Thailand are so much cleaner than India.  The only part of India approaching clean is Kerela and that's run by the women. 

We disembarked and 48 kms later I arrived in Puri having passed the 1000 km mark sometime in the morning.  My hotel is OK and the food good so I will stay for 2 days.  Puri is one of Hinduisms most important centres and receives many foreign tourists so it should be interesting.

Dawn over Chilka Lake.

Our Pilot.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Cheesy, Cheesy, Cheesy.

Gopalpur on Sea is cheesy, cheesy, cheesy but in quite the nicest possible way.  From its broken faux cast iron street lights to the kitch sculptures on the promenade someone has made an effort.  The people are really friendly and even though I am the only non-indian tourist in town it is nice not to always be at the centre of attention.  They have seen people like me before and so I am foreign not an extraterrestrial.  My hotel is the Sea Breeze Beach and I have a room on the roof which is clean airy and private - the dogs. (pout toi Patricia.  Je t'explique des mon retour.)  Yesterday started well, went badly and got better again.  Leaving my hotel in the early morning was great.  It had stopped raining so was nice and cool.  I bowled along for about 25 of the 90 kms I planned to do when my back wheel started to wobble.  A few yards later and Bang!  Catastrophic rear tyre failure again!  I stopped, looked at the tyre and was just deciding that I would need a lift to the next town when a chap from the other carriageway approached me.  He didn't ask any of the standard question - blessed relief - and just told me that the village 500 meters further on had a bike shop.  I pushed the bike on and found a chai and puri stall next to the still shut bike shop where I had a lovely breakfast.  Half an hour later a great guy opened the shop produced the exact tyre I needed and fitted it for me.  In total I lost 40minutes if you exclude breakfast.

I have been reading back over some of the entries to this blog and I do seem to painting a bit of a negative picture sometimes.  Well, sometimes this place makes me pretty negative.  However, sometimes it fills me with warmth and hope for a truly wonderful people and country.  Travelling here is a difficult and frustrating process compared to the west.  Not being able to slip through life in total anonymity and to be the object of everyone's attention is for me, very hard.  So every once in a while little oasis's of peace like Gopalpur are a god's send.

Indian kitch!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

This is All Getting a Bit Tough.

This is all getting a bit tough this getting out of bed and cycling business.  The knees are aching and my legs don't seem to recover from each day to the next.  My good old bike is starting to have quite a few problems also.  The gears are getting very limited in number and don't always run smoothly, my bike rack keeps coming off and the back wheel has a wobble.  The tyre I bought here has already lost most if it's tread so we will see how long that lasts.  Today was a 90km run along the Nation Highway 5 from SRIKAKULUM to KASIBUGGA.  More than a little wet but no wind.  Punctuated by a Dhosa breakfast, rain stop in a bus shelter with a crooner and 2 near misses for the Hero Honda drivers.  The dhosa was really great and set me up for the morning.  I have a theory about fat cooks - their food must be good, so eat where they eat.  Or it could just be that they are rotten cooks but eat all the un-solds.  Well my dhosa chef was well on the large side, his misses was even bigger and the food was great.  Later it started to rain very hard and for a very long time.  I hid in a bus stop with a bloke who crooned along to the doubtful musical contents of his phone.  We were also visited by goats at one time who wanted to join us but the crooner shooed them away.  The first near miss was between me and 2 idiots on a Hero Honda.  They tried to ride along side me, on my inside thus I was in the traffic.  I accelerated to get past them but the just kept pace with me, so I braked and tucked in behind them.  They now also braked which resulted in the near miss.  At this point I threw my teddies out the pram.  Next time it was 2 men with a child between them.  We exchanged some words along the lines of the 5 standard questions and I had my picture taken with the child.  They then continued to dog me for the next ten minutes until they had a close one with another HH trying to join in.  Sometimes competition for position is fierce.
Tomorrow should see me in Gopalpur with its seaside delights.  I'll keep you posted....

Early morning.

Monday, 1 October 2012

It's Lashing it Down.

It's lashing it down as I push the bike out through the gates of the lodgings at 04.30am and roll down the hill to the seafront.  There is also a strong headwind and it is still very dark.  What am I doing?  I was happy under the fan in my room and I could easily have spent a couple of hours more in bed.  There is a slight slope on this part of the seafront and I am making a miserable 12kph.  Leaving town on the north side means climbing up to the National highway number 5 which rums behind town and it all seems to take a very long time.  I have been riding with the front light aimed just in front of my wheel, my headlight set to flash and on back to front and no glasses because of the rain.  This also does not encourage speed.  All that to say that I took 10hrs to cover the 110kms to Srikakulam.  I must also admit to 2 breakfasts 2 soft drink stops and quite a lot of time spent crouching under bushes sheltering from the rain.

I spend a lot of time looking at the road just in front of me and can't help noticing a lot of the things I see.  In particular, orphan flip flops.  Now why is there only ever one?  Think about it.  You break a flip flop and throw it away.  What do you do, take the other one with you?  I can't imagine why.  Surely the two flip flops would be jettisoned together or at least not far apart.  Are people hoarding single flip flops in the hope that one day they will buy an identical pair and when the first of that pair breaks they will have just the very thing already in stock.  I don't think this is a sensible thing to do.  If they are anything like me it is always the same flop flop that goes first.  They are now in the position of having two identical orphan flip flops and having to keep them both or throw one of them away....
Another cyclist I met along the way.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Worst Bits are the Bouncy Bits.

When you get on a bus the worst bits are the bouncy bits and they can be really, really bouncy.  My bike is bungied to the roof and I am squeezed into a seat next to a guy who is in training for the Indian Olympic snoring team.  It's 8pm and there are 10 hours of this to do.  I had spent my afternoon in a small town 30kms along the road from Khemmen in a bid to avoid the Ghanesh festival which was going on.  This has been building for some days, but has now reached a peak.  The frenzy of some of the participants is a little unsettling and the fun bit seems to be dying everybody purple.  I am greeted enthusiastically when ever spotted and invited to join the heaving purple throng.  I decline and/or accelerate away.  A really nice young teacher has befriended me and helped me book my bus ticket.  I have a shave and a change of shirt so feel better even if I am still incredibly grubby.  The afternoon passes reasonably quietly at an APTDC restaurant where I eat rice and later pakora. Time is approaching to get on the bus.  A brief stressful minute as I tie down my bike among the sacks of onions and we're off.. If the bouncy bits we had to put up with for the next 10 hours are anything to go with, I am almost glad I didn't have to do it on the bike.  I also seem to have acquired a bit of a belly ache which precipitated a trip to one of the worst toilets India has to offer.

I am now in Visakhapatnam in an OK hotel on the sea front.  The day has been stormy but I intend to repair to my room with some snacks and then get a 4am start.  Going north along the coast and this time surely in the right direction....

Oh, and looking at the stats for this blog I have had quite a lot of unknown hits from around the world and 14 from Russia.  So Mr or Ms Russian person leave me a comment I would love to hear from you.

Lord Ganesh.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

What a 'Kin Morning I've Had.

What a 'kin morning I've had!  Best start of the day yet.  I was up with the lark, on the correct road in 10 minutes and heading out of town.  The road was gently undulating as usual and I was determined to keep the speed down so as not to get too tired too quickly.  Then BANG!  Rear tyre blowout.  Not a puncture, but destruction of the rear tyre.  So 20 mins of repairs (much sticking tape and strapping) later it's back the way we came and looking for a tyre shop. I almost immediately find one open and with a tyre that would fit my bike, but the bloke insists it is no good and shoos me away.  The tyre was ideal and I try to explain but he's not interested so I slope off to look for another shop.  I also check out the bus and the train stations.  I have just missed the morning bus and the next one is this evening which is a possibility.  The morons at the railway station say 4am but it is not very clear so also a possibility, but less so than the bus.  You see I have spent 5 days travelling now and I am only 200 kms from my start point despite the 550 kms cycled.  So its off to the coast and sandy beaches for me.  I want to eat fish and have a swim at the end of the day.

Yesterday someone asked me what is different about India when one comes from Europe and I have been thinking about this question ever since.  There are the obvious things like the climate, the people, the food and the scenery, but why is it so very different.  What is it that makes Europe so clean and so organised?  And what is it about India which makes it the total reverse?  I suppose the answer can only come from the people themselves.  I see brand new buildings sitting in a sea of filth and desolation and nobody seems to care.  Have we legislated our way to cleanliness or is there a real aspirational difference. If any of you know I would love to here from you.

Beautiful Child.

Friday, 28 September 2012

East is East and West is West.

East is east and west is west or so I thought, but I had real doubts this morning.  I was keeping an eye on the sun to check my general direction when I really started to ask myself questions.  You see, the city I am heading for is to the East of where I am.  So I should be going towards the rising sun. Shouldn't I?  I was in fact heading mostly due south and even by periods south-west.  I was starting to think I was wrong about the sun or going the wrong way, so I had to imagine the orientation of my house to check the rising and the setting of the sun.  Much later in the day the direction thing sorted its self out and I am now going west.

125ks today on good roads.  Witnessed a head on between two trucks - both write offs -so they should be running again in a week or so.  In the 20 years since my first road trip here things like that have not really changed.  They are the same trucks, the same colour, driven in the same cavalier manner.  It is not usual to have cow being overtaken by bike being overtaken by rickshaw being overtaken by bus or lorry or both.  It makes for an interesting moment if you have that lot coming towards you.

I rather threw the teddy out the pram today with the locals and the Hero Honda motorbike manufacturer.  Every youth in India (and they are many many) who has nothing to do with his days and has a friend with aforementioned Hero Honda or parents rich enough to give him a Hero Honda and has 4 words of English has spent the day riding alongside me asking the same bloody questions.  I know I am being unfair as each case is an individual and just being nice, but it is so annoying.  My defence has become my shades, a rictus grin of effort - easy to do - and the mp3 player at full volume.  A doctor and his daughter flagged me down and I stopped.  We chatted for a few minutes and then they invited me for tea.  I had visions of a cool shady doctoral garden, tea, homemade snacks and perhaps a kip in the shade.  Perfect.  I cycled to the next town where they lived and was happily flagged down.  Oh dear.  Not what I expected.  They were perfectly nice but I was interviewed by the local paper in his office and photographed comforting the sick in the surgery next door.  Not a leaf of shade in sight.

I stopped about 10kms outside of this town to have a sleep in the shade by the side of the road.  I push the bike into the bushes and lie down on the sleeping mat in a pose which says sleeping not dead.  An hour passes with various groups stopping to discuss me until I can stand no more and get back on the bike.

This town is called Khammer, I think and I have checked into a ritzy hotel.  I looked at the Lodges but they really didn't say much.  A short stroll away is a market with a brilliant Tiffin stall and superb samosas which is where I am going now.  They should give me some peace as I have already answered their 4 questions.

Muddy Fox and Milepost.

With the Sun in my Left Eye.

And so with the sun in my left eye I turn round and push the bike back up the bank of the river.  Twas ever thus.  The day had started out on a most promising fashion when I eluded the youth who ran the dive I was staying in.  He had quite ruined my afternoon and evening by treating me as his pet "Engleesh" and bringing around a succession of his dodgy mates.  Any way I managed an essential repair on the bike - the front changer had stripped a thread - with the help of a nice chap in an electrical shop and a hacksaw blade.  The gears were working again.  So the next day I set off following the red line on my map - meaning a track - on a reasonable road to a town where I hoped to cross the river.  I found the town I needed after 40ish k and then asked for "Bhopalapatnum"  Everyone agreed it was this way and for once there was no doubt about the directions.  I continued on along what really was a track, and then a cart track and finally a path into the forest.  After a few minutes getting more and more worried in an ever deepening forest I reached a river.  I couldn't cross, there was nothing to the left, therewas nothing to the right, I had to turn back.
Bhopalapatnum obviously means Grandma's House or somesuch.  The locals didn't have the faintest about the town I wanted to find.  So I have chosen another town and another river crossing point.  Much pointing, head wobbling later it became clear that I was lost and so were all the denizens of this region.  Much pedalling and sweating later I put my bike on a bus and returned to Warangal.  With smiles and "told you so's" the guys at my old hotel gave me my room back and I settled back in.  Decision now taken - head the 400+k's to the coast and go that way.  It all adds a lot of distance and will mean long hours in the saddle but it is possible and I won't have to leave a trail of biscuit crumbs to find my way........

A river in my way.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

OK you Lucky People.

OK you lucky people here is the second update of the day.  Today has been a difficult day for me.  I have been taking to some of the staff of the hotel I am staying in about my proposed route.  Once past the disbelief that I would want to do this in the first place and I am coming to understand this feeling, they don't think I will find places to stay going the way I propose.  Or that was the situation until the oldest (and the wisest?) said otherwise.  The conventional wisdom is that I follow the main roads down to the coast and on to Kokata, but I always wanted to go through the hills and forests inland.  So decision time.

I am going to go the way I wanted and head to Jagdalpur.  Worst case scenario is a 209k day (gulp) or a night without a hotel.  If this really is not possible and no fun, I will cut east to the sea and be sensible.  So tomorrow is the big day again with an easy 80ish ks then another day the same and then the third day will be the decider.

Morning scenery.

Start of the Magical Mystery Tour.

It's the start of the magical mystery tour.  I had forgotten about how the simple things here can sometimes be so difficult.  This is not a complain but an observation.  I really do like it here.  Anyway, I have got my bike back.  It was simple if a little long winded.  I waved goodbye to Achille, my taxi wallah, who still can't believe I am going to try to get to Kolkata on a bike and set off into the early morning light.
Hyderabad is hosting a world conference on Bio-Diversity soon.  So to celebrate they have built lots of lovely new roads.  It will soon be possible to whizz from the airport to the best bits of the new city in total air conditioned oblivion to the state of the rest of the place.
Benefiting from these new roads I was able to swoop into town at 35kph and get lost in record time.  Much pointing, arguing - between taxi drivers - and time later I found my route through the to other side.  40ks done 72ks to go, a piece of cake!  The ride to Aler was not too difficult yet it was relief as I hove into town.  Town: that is a misnomer.  I might be being harsh in the place but I can't think why they bothered to put it on the map.  2ks of dusty shops and chai stalls and no accommodation.  I set off to the next town which was not on the map but might have lodgings.  It didn't.  Nor the next, so I ended the day with 190ks on the clock in Warangal with a very strong desire to sit down.  My hotel is ultra simple but clean and friendly.  They said I could leave the bike in the yard outside but when I came back from supper it was in the corridor next to reception.  It seems that the "geary-cycle" can still fascinate after 20 years.

Today I have been out for a ride for an hour, to get some of the cramps out of my legs.  The town of Warangal is easy to navigate and has some great rock formations in the middle of it.  The roads are diabolical in places and the traffic frantic but I am getting used to the Indian style of driving.  I've even started going the wrong way round roundabouts and cutting junctions like the locals.  It is totally against nature but because everyone does it, it's actually safer and easier.  All the reception staff agree that the way I want to go is not a good way, as there is no accommodation.  I am loath to change my plans but it might be inevitable.  I need to think about this before I set off again tomorrow.

Strange Fruit.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Here we go With the First Try

OK here we go with the first try from a public computer her in India.  1st problem is that most of the keys have been worn blank and the layout is slightly different than the normal layout.

OK here we go with the second try from a public computer her in India.  I had just finished when I lost the lot.

I can't recall all the pithy and incisive remarks I had made on my first go, so I will have to try and do it all again.  Hyderabad Airport is exactly like an Indian airport should be.  It is a shinning, modern edifice, named for a great Indian politician staffed and run on  the post Raj Indian railways style.  There are legions of men in a multitude of uniforms scattered on plastic garden furniture around the concourse.  Are they there to hide the stains which are already appearing on the walls or do they have a real purpose?  What do they do with all those little pieces of paper which they make us fill in?  And how do they get them all into that ancient filling cupboard in the corner?  The rudeness of the man organising the queue for the immigration counter is spectacular and he saves his best invective for any hapless Indian who fails to understand his English.  Immigration complete I go to the over sized luggage counter to confirm that my bike has not made the journey.  There follows 40 minutes of form filling and stamping of papers for me to receive a receipt for my bike which I haven't got.  I walk blank-eyed past the customs men who are enjoying exploring the other passengers baggage and out into the large atrium.  The sounds of insects and birds roosting in the beams great me, as does that particular smell which is India!  I love it!

A young bloke asks if I want a Taxi and rather than say no and use a pre-paid taxi I say yes.  His taxi is an ancient Hyundai without a meter -of course - and we set off to look for a hotel.  He is an agreeable young chap and after a chai stop he drops me at the hotel I chose opposite the railway station.  I always find this is a good wheeze as if I get lost and forget the hotels name I only need to find the station.  Good room.  Great chai and snacks by the station.  Biriani restaurant next door.  It's bloody marvellous!

Brahmin Priest.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Only Three Days Away From the Start

I am now only three days away from the start of the trip and things are beginning to hot up.  My brother-in-law Mark has sent my passport from the UK today by FedEx so I should get it in time.  This whole visa business has been fraught.  The visa website by VSF is one of the more baffling I have come across and I might have been better sending my passport to another office than the London one.  Any way, all's well that seems to end well and my visa is in my passport and my passport is on its way. 

I have started to pack my bike bags and find them remarkably light at the moment.  Maybe they will get heavier when I suddenly remember lots of things I can't do without for a month.  The Kindle is coming with me and is a lot lighter than the usual books.  The only problem is that the guide book is less easy to use.  So I suppose it doesn't matter that they don't even mention where I am going.  The direct route from Hyderabad to Kolkata goes through the south of Chhattisgarh, western Orissa and then West Bengal.  There are some interesting tribal regions to cross and a few sights to visit but for the most part it is virgin territory for the Lonely Planet + Rough Guide.  Non of this matters, as I am not going to tick off the sights but to try and re-live my last bike trip in India 20 years ago.  Recent visits have shown how fast urban India is changing and I must admit to a certain nostalgia for more sleepy rurality.  We shall see.  And as my ever tollerant wife Angie says "we shall see how your temper handles things". 

Friday, 31 August 2012

Getting a Visa

Getting a visa is proving to be more difficult that I hoped.  Just got an email from the consulate saying that the pictures I sent are not the right size - standard passport not 2 x 2 inches - but that they also don't ship the passport back to France.  Ho Hum...

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Nearly Three Weeks To Go

Nearly three weeks to go until my first solo trip to India.  Preparation is slow and I've broken the gears on my faithful Muddy Fox bike.  I suppose this is better here and now than there and then.  Too busy to train, seen my doctor who thinks I should survive, got most of the essentials either bought or sourced, yet to get my passport back from the Indian Consulate.