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".