Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Melbourne II

I've been back for a little over a week now, and while I feel I've recovered from jet lag, I do continue to feel 'in a funk' - in the sense of a nervous depression - a sort of post-travel blues. It's not that I wish I was still in India - heaven knows, while India is a vast & fascinating place, it can also drive you barmy. I'm not sure I 'love' India, although I'd be keen to return & do some more cycling there (I'd like to cycle further into Rajasthan, and I also fancy cycling from Mumbai to Goa, return). Perhaps 'strong ambivalence' captures how I feel about the place - I both love it & hate it. And it's not that I can't make up my mind - I think it evokes strong feelings in both directions, which is perhaps what attracts me to it. No shades of grey.

I've heard people describe the place as anarchic, but I don't think this is correct. India has an extremely hidebound & conservative culture, as evidenced by, amongst other things, how large a part religion plays in the society, the poor status of women, and the ongoing strength of the caste system. To my mind, chaotic is a more apt description. And a bit of chaos is heavenly - perhaps that's what I'm missing.

I thought I might briefly review how it all went - for my own interest & perhaps for the interest of anyone who's been reading some of this blog or who may be planning a similar journey. My first entry (at provided, in somewhat obsessive detail, a list of what I intended to take with me. On the whole, it wasn't a bad list. In particular, though, I didn't take the windcheater, but bought a cheap jacket for use in Mt Abu, after nearly freezing to death on the bus from Rajkot. I also didn't take a sink plug or moisturiser; the latter might have been helpful as my feet, especially heels, became cracked & dried from wearing sandals the whole time. The Dunlop Volleys could well have stayed behind, as could the extra U-bolt lock, 1 padlock & wire cable, plastic spoon, bungy strap, sewing kit, & storage bags. Four pairs of undies was excessive - perhaps reflecting my slight nervousness as I packed; three pairs is certainly plenty. I didn't need the first aid kit or spokes but would probably take them again. I took an extra pair of long pants, and would do so again, to wear while the other pair were being washed. The laptop? It was a little daft to lug this around, especially as it enabled me to download photos onto it & preview them, with the result that I took over 3000 snaps. Still, I'd seriously consider taking it again next time, as it was good on several occasions to be able to listen to music & even to watch a few episodes of Seinfeld that I'd not seen. I also had some maps on it, my instruction booklets for the camera and bike, instructions on how to remedy various bicycle problems and various other bits & pieces. Having the day & date on it also helped keep me orientated.

Other than one self-induced sequence of flat tyres (in Mt Abu), I had no bicycle problems (well, that's if I don't count the twiddling & adjusting, by locals, of various knobs & levers on the bike whenever I was unable to keep it in my room). I think the MTB was probably a better bike for Indian conditions that the hybrid bike I took in 2000. Perhaps not quite as fast, but it seemed more robust, especially with the wider & sturdier tyres.

So, what stood out? I particularly liked cycling in Rajasthan - especially the roads to Ranakpur & Kumbhalgarh, even though they were a little steep in parts. They were interesting, with very little traffic & quite reasonable road surfaces for most of the way. I was very impressed by the fort at Kumbhalgarh, and by the baolis - step-wells - at Uperkot Fort in Junagadh, especially the Navaghan Kuva, which was just stupendous. The best restaurants were probably those at the House of MG in Ahmedabad - Agashiye upstairs & the Green House downstairs, although the buffet at Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur, was most impressive, and very tasty. I also enjoyed the kabab at Bade Miya, an evening street stall in Mumbai.

I found Ahmedabad (Amdavad) to be one of the more deceptively interesting places I visited - by this I mean that on first impression it seemed like a noisy, dusty, boring city, but further inspection revealed a fascinating city with lots to see & do, including eating at the aforementioned restaurants. I also really liked Junagadh, and the climb up Girnar Hill, despite the fact that I could barely walk for the next few days. Udaipur was magical, even without any water in its lakes, and I'd like to return there should they ever fill up again. Diu was a delightfully laid-back island, with some pleasantly deserted beaches, and I did enjoy my brief stay at Palace Utelia in Lothal, despite it being "ridiculously overpriced", according to the Lonely Planet Guide.

One of the best managed hotels, from a tourist's point of view, was in Daman, at the Hotel Gurukripa. It was about Rp 700 a night (about $16 USD) - not cheap - but had all the small touches that were just great for a weary, grubby, dusty cyclist - shampoo, soap, toilet paper, several towels, even little sponges to clean shoes & sandals with, and a pair of bathroom scales so that I could see how much weight I'd lost.

I should note that while I often tended to stay in mid-range rather than budget accommodation, many of the budget places I saw or stayed in were perfectly adequate (and conversely, a number of the mid-range places were pretty awful). In Udaipur for example, two people I spent time with, John & Marianne, were staying at Lal Ghat Guest House, which seemed pretty good to me, and somewhat cheaper than where I'd elected to stay. My reason for staying in mid-range places was that after 5 or 6 hours on the road, I really welcomed a bit of (relative) luxury - hot water/ shower, towel, a good bed, and easy access to a meal.

People have asked me about what dangers I encountered, questioned my sanity, called me intrepid & adventurous amongst other things & wondered how I could do something like this, especially on my own. While I'd admit to feeling nervous at times (eg prior to leaving Australia, and to cycling out of Mumbai & Nasik), the fact is that it was surprisingly straightforward. There's little or no requirement to be particularly fit - this begins to happen after a few days on the road - accommodation is easy to find, and the roads & traffic conditions are not really all that much worse than those in South India, or in Melbourne for that matter (well, I guess we don't have so many goats or cows on our roads, and people here do tend to look before they pull out into traffic or cross the road). It can get quite lonely at times, but this is manageable. Writing the weblog, checking emails, planning the next day's cycling, occasional phone calls to Australia and staring with desperate, glazed eyes at the wall all helped. There were a few times when I was daunted by what lay ahead e.g. cycling back up the hill from Ranakpur - from the "remote, plunging wooded valley, reached down a twisting road..." (LP guide), but in fact it was no big deal, once I decided to put my head down, bum up (a good cycling pose) & just do it. I hate to say it, but the Nike phrase, while being a bit simplistic, makes good sense.

I may well rejig this blog at some point into a website, including a selection from my 3000+ photos, as the reverse chronological order that Blogger uses is a little cumbersome to negotiate. To this end, I have been involved in some delicate negotiations with my good friend Mr Felix & his pal Mr Pumpy (see Mr Felix's Cycling Asia Blog and Biking Southeast Asia with Mr Pumpy!) about possibly having some sort of link with the Mr Pumpy site. We'll see.

map of the trip

here's a map of where I cycled ...

Thursday, March 17, 2005


It was a pleasant enough flight from Mumbai to Melbourne, although I was still smarting over the $60 excess baggage charge that Qantas stung me with in Mumbai. My bike-in-a-box (i.e bike, locks, tools & a few clothes) weighed in at 27kg, which I was informed was 2kg over the allowable 25kg & that they had been directed by the Sydney office to charge for anything over this.

I guess it's labouring the point to note that my box weighed 2.5kg. Still, it's hard to see how a similar cycling venture is viable with airlines that insist on a box. I guess not taking the extra lock & the laptop would trim overall weight by this amount.

I'm still adjusting to the cool weather here in Melbourne (it's about 20'C here at 1pm, compared to mid-30's in Mumbai), the 5.5 hour time difference, and the lack of Indians.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mumbai II

I can feel myself staring to wind down (or up) as my time in India comes to an end. I've spent the last few days cycling around Mumbai, taking in a few of the sights eg. Falkland St, the laundry guys near Mahalaxmi Railway station. On one of my forays out into the city, near a cricket ground across from the Chowpatty seaface, I spotted some bicycles with gears & two Westerners standing near them. "Other cyclists", I thought with excitement, as I've not met or seen any others on the trip. They turned out to be a pleasant young Australian couple who are working aboard the cruise ship Oriana as photographers. They've taken bicycles with them, and cycle around the various cities they stop in. It was good to chat with them; they are contemplating doing some cycling in a yet-to-be-decided country or countries.

Mumbai is a colossal & at times chaotic city, and cycling around it feels nearly as dangerous as cycling in Melbourne. Being a tourist, the 'hassle' factor is fairly high here. It does amuse me when some of the dodgiest-looking people you are ever likely to meet sidle up to you in the street and mutter "change money?". You would have to either have a total lack of judgement or be totally insane to even contemplate taking up their offer.

The other thing I've been doing is sorting out a fucking cardboard box for the bicycle. A telephone call to the Qantas office here revealed that, yes, they do insist on the bicycle being in a box, but no, they weren't able to supply one or suggest where to get one. Luckily the Indians are intrepid folk, and a worker in the hotel I'm staying in was able to find me a old refrigerator box. I'll be spending this afternoon cutting & remodelling it into a bicycle box. What a pain. So, words of advice to myself & other intending cyclists - DON'T TRAVEL QANTAS if you plan to take your bicycle. Most south-east asian airlines (eg Garuda, Malaysian, etc) are much more relaxed about this, and let you more or less wheel your bike aboard.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Back in Mumbai after 2.5 months - seems less overwhelming now having been travelling around India on my bike.

Yesterday, while still in Udaipur, I cycled to the Monsoon Palace, atop a nearby hill. It was a tough ride (return trip from Lal Ghat 15.9 km; average speed 12.66, but maximum speed back down the hill was 48 km/hr. Fabulous!). The Palace is not all that spectacular, but the view from the top makes it a worthwhile cycle.

The bus trip here from Udaipur was not very pleasant. The ticket was Rp 500 for me & Rp 100 for the bike, which travelled on the roof. And frankly, I wouldn't have minded swapping places. I had a sleeping compartment which was really like a big sardine tin ... I even found myself for some of the journey imagining that I'd died (which would have been a sweet release) & was being transported to Mumbai in a coffin. What was odd was that when I first got in & lay down I seemed to fit OK lengthwise ... I certainly didn't several hours later. I began to wonder if I was in one of those rooms in the old horror movies that slowly closes in, squashing its victim. Then I began to wonder if I was expanding! Around about this time I realised that I was slowly losing my mind in this perversely-named deluxe sleeping compartment.

Still, both I & my bicycle are here largely in one piece. We're (see how attached I've become to it ... I'm not sure how it feels about me though) here for a few more days, during which I'll poke around Mumbai on foot & by bike. I also need to find or make a big cardboard box to put the bike in for the journey home, to satisfy Qantas' absurd rules.

Today I saw the caves on Elephanta island, which all relate to the god Shiva. I thought they were well worth seeing, despite the annoying demand to pay 25 times what Indian residents pay to see the caves (Rp 250 vs Rp10).

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Day 22 cycling: Ranakpur to Kumbhalgarh
Distance: 53.34 km
Ride time: 4:38 hrs
Average Speed: 12.14 km/hr
Maximum speed: 50.4 km/hr
Total cycled: 2022 km
Total between towns: 1822 km

It took little less than 2 hours to get to the top of the hill out of Ranakpur, where a Hindu temple stands (about 19km from where I stayed). As I left my accommodation and began the day's cycling, a dog suddenly made towards me. Thankfully he didn't bite into me, as I at first feared, but merely began trotting alongside me - and did so for the next 13 km (which shows how fast I was travelling). My next reaction at him follwoing me was an echo of the irritation that I'd developed from the "one pen" kids who followed alongside, but then I figured the dog couldn't have been expecting much of me. I then began to think (cycling does strange things to your psyche) as the hill became steeper & I began to huff & puff a bit harder that "perhaps he knows I'm gonna die up here & he's tagging along for the meal" (I'd seen some dogs ripping into a bull carcase the previous day). He finally disappeared after it started to rain. Fair-weather friend.

Unbelievably, it began to rain really heavily on the way, and I sheltered for a time under a tractor trailer at the invitation of the driver & his colleague. There were even a few hailstones falling for a time. Thankfully it was fairly short lived & I finally made it to Kumbhalgarh, while singing at times "it's raining in Rajasthan ..." . It was an excellent ride, although hard in parts, and I made 2 milestones - the fastest downhill ride of the trip (50.4 km/hr) and breaking the 2000 km mark. It was predominantly a rural area, and I found it to be one of the more interesting rides this trip. There was so little traffic & so few signs of any sort that for some time I thought that I'd taken a wrong turn.

I stayed at Hotel Khumbal Castle, quite close to the fort, which was expensive at Rp 1000 (cheaper accommodation was in the town of Kelwara, down the hill a few kilometers, but I didn't fancy making my way back up the road to see the fort, which I hoped to do straight away). It was comfortable enough, and had a great view out the window. The fort itself was impressive & probably worth the cycle there.

Unfortunately during the night I awoke with "gastrointestinal problems" that I felt precluded me from cycling the final leg back to Udaipur (about 80km) and so I did the unforgiveable, for a cyclist, and hired a jeep to take me & my bicycle back here. It was interesting to muse on the difference between travelling by bicycle & by jeep (and I did enjoy seeing that even it was forced onto the shoulder several times by oncoming buses). Obviously the jeep is much faster, and so serves a purpose if you want to get from A to B quickly. On the other hand, it felt much more insulated from what was happening outside, and no-one waved or said hello (or, it must be said, cried out "one pen"). It was like being in a bubble. You still are on a bicycle, I reckon, but it's a much more slow moving bubble & it's a little easier to stop & look at things that grab your attention.

So, I've bought a bus ticket back to Mumbai, leaving tomorrow at 3pm. Less than a week & I'll be leaving India.


Day 21 cycling: Udaipur to Ranakpur
Distance: 102.88 km
Ride time: 6:27 hrs
Average Speed: 16.31 km/hr
Maximum speed: 49.1 km/hr
Total cycled: 1969 km
Between towns distance: 1769

It was good to get back on the bicycle after a week's R&R in Udaipur. It actually rained last night in Udaipur, and occasional drops fell on me as I cycled, taking the edge off the heat. I really enjoyed the ride & the scenery on the way, despite some hilly bits. The first part of the journey to Gogunda was along the same stretch of road that I cycled into Udaipur. The last 15km was largely downhill, as Ranakpur is tucked away in a wooded valley. The Jain temples were good to see, but I'm not sure that they were worth a 100km cycle, especially as I'd already seen and been impressed by those at Delwara (Mt Abu) and elsewhere. I stayed at the relatively lavish Ranakpura Hill Resort for 2 nights, after having managed to beat them down to Rp 700 for a quite nice room. They even had a swimming pool, which I sat alongside for an hour or so trying to even up my odd cyclists' suntan.

People were very friendly, waving, smiling and calling out, but the kids became exceptionally tiresome after a while, with their "one pen, one pen!" cries (and the occasional "one rupee!" and even a "shampoo!"?). The children will see you coming from the top of a hill, and start screaming like banshees as they hurtle down shrieking "one pen, one pen". At first I thought I was mishearing; that perhaps it was Hindi for "welcome, stranger on a bike, to our village", but the outstretched hand, the occasional tugging at the bicycle, and even running behind me for several minutes with hand outstretched dispelled that thought. Several times I cycled past obviously better bred children who would calmly, with one hand behind their back & the other imperiously outstretched, request "one pen". And this occurred almost the entire way from Gogunda to Ranakpur (and to Khumbalgarh). People who know me will know I'm not a cynical man, but I did begin to wonder if the delightful "bye, bye" that many people said as I cycled past was not perhaps "buy, buy".

Friday, March 04, 2005

Udaipur III

I'm still here in Udaipur after nearly a week, soaking up some relaxation & time not on the bicycle. I can become a bit driven & so it's been good to just stop for a while - not that a week is all that long. My plan is to cycle to Ranakpur tomorrow, about 90km to the north of here, and then a little further north to Kumbhalgarh to do some sightseeing (Jain temple, fort, etc.) I'll most likely return to Udaipur for a day & then get a bus from here to Mumbai where I'll hang out & explore the place by bicycle for a few days before departing.

I have enjoyed Udaipur though, enhanced by having met Marianne, a Swiss woman, and John, an Australian, who curiously lives fairly close to me in Melbourne. It's been good to eat out, walk about & generally hang out with someone who enjoys these things.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Udaipur II

Udaipur, known by some as "City of Lakes" or "Venice of the East", is struggling at present with the fact that its lakes have been dry for at least the past year. Apparently it's been many years since things have been as dry. Still, it's a pretty interesting place to spend some time in. At first I felt quite dispirited at how 'touristy' it is, in that there are more western tourists & tourist infrastructure here than anywhere else I've been in India this trip (without forgetting that I'm also one, of course). So, leaping wholeheartedly in, I had an 'Aruyvedic' massage out the back of a local barbershop (Millenium) for an hour (cost: Rp 400, which seems fairly standard around here. It was reasonable, but I'm not keen on the coconut oil residue that sticks around for the next day or so. Then, the next day I had a massage from Raju, who runs the Bharti Guest House, Restaurant & Massage Centre in Hotel Lake Pichola Road. It was a very strong massage, which I like, and he employed some unusual techniques. I was briefly alarmed when he removed his own trousers, but thankfully he put on some shorts, and was again startled when he sat astride me to commence the massage, especially as the hairs on his legs were rather prickly. His approach was thorough & professional, and I may well have another before I leave here. At Rp 1050 however, it was extraordinarily expensive by Indian standards.

Yesterday was the time for a big treat, and so I went and had lunch at the Lake Palace Hotel, a 5-star luxury hotel in the the Lake Palace, built in 1754. It's in the middle of the lake, usually surrounded by water. You're taken to the hotel by boat. Lunch is a buffet comprising soup, salads, a dozen or so veg and non-veg dishes and perhaps half-a-dozen different deserts (cost: Rp 1200). Sometimes buffets can be a bit pedestrian, but this food was delicious, and we were there for several hours. Later we managed to have a look at some of the rooms by the man in charge of housekeeping there. The rooms, at over $300 a night, were wonderful.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Day 20 cycling: Gogunda to Udaipur
Distance: 46.34km
Ride time: 3:01 hrs
Average Speed: 15.95 km/hr
Maximum speed: 42.8 km/hr
Total cycled: 1866 km

It was nice getting up with the realisation that I only had a little over 40km to cycle. It can feel quite a pressure when you know you have a 100km day ahead of you, especially when you have no idea how the road will be. I had a relaxed breakfast before heading off (mind you, if the sounds of hawking & gobbing in the morning are 'off-putting', the sounds of them emanating from the kitchen are especially so).

The road was undulating with some steep parts. Despite this, it was a very pleasant ride. Very rocky, with some amazingly long stone fences snaking across the hillsides. The people seemed extremely friendly, waving & smiling & saying 'hello' or 'bye', and children would coming running up to me from all directions, invariably, and annoyingly, with hands outstretched, demanding, very specifically, "one pen" or "ten rupees". Luckily they didn't know what a kindly spoken "fuck off" meant. But generally, the friendliness was extraordinary. I felt like how the Queen must feel with all the waving she encounters & in turn is expected to return - sweet, but a bit of drag after a few hours, and there's always the risk of falling off my bike as I do so. One kind gentleman even offered to push me & my bike up one of the steeper hills with his outstretched leg from his motorbike. I thanked him but declined this unsafe-sounding offer. The nice part about struggling up these undulations is that you get to hurtle down the other side at great speed, singing "what goes up must come down, spinning wheel ...". I was also struck by how many westerners - either singly or in pairs - were driving past as passengers in Ambassadors & other cars, probably on the way to Mt Abu. Always a hoot to watch them gawp when they see me cycling along.

I've checked into the Hotel Caravanserai. A clean & simple room, good value for Rp 400, with a fantastic view of Udaipur from the rooftop.


Day 19 cycling: Mt Abu to Gogunda
Distance: 107.75 km (plus 23 km in a jeep)
Ride time: 6:54
Average Speed: 16.24 km/hr
Maximum speed: 45.0 km/hr
Total cycled: 1819 km

Mount Abu is a charming town, with a sense of spaciousness and (relative) quiet, enhanced by the lack of autorickshaws & dogs. Touristy, for both foreign & Indian tourists, in that there are numerous hotels & restaurants, but now is a relatively quiet time of year. While there were quite a few western tourists about, there are no obvious western tourist 'hangouts', so again I found meeting other travellers difficult. A very hilly, treed area, with many old, interesting-looking mansions dotted around. I quite liked Arbuda restaurant - a large place that for some reason isn't listed in the LP guide.

As noted earlier, I had a shirt copied by TRILOK CHAND TAILOR, near the Union Bank of India. They did a pretty good job. I liked their motto: "Be holly - Be yogi".

I headed off, somewhat tentatively in the direction of Udaipur - I felt a slight insecurity for the first time about my bicycle, or more specifically about the tyres/tubes, given the troubles I had the previous day. The tube hadn't deflated overnight, so I figured it was probably OK to head off into the relative unknown. Unknown becaus ethe Lonely Planet Road Atlas is actually not all that accurate, I'm coming to realise. A local map of Rajasthan show roads that the LP doesn't - fairly critical for the ride to Udaipur from Mt Abu. The ride down Mt Abu was fabulous. The scenery was great - at times even reminded me of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, except for the troops of monkeys at various spots down the mountainside. I only hit a maximum of about 40km/hr however, as there were many curves & the road, while being pretty good, did have some hard-to-see bumpy spots.

I took the first left at the bottom of the hill as advised, and headed toward the town of Pindwara, one of two towns on the way to Udaipur that apparently had accommodation. This leg, to Pindwara, was about 80 km from Mt Abu, and comprised both flat & fairly undulating sections. I'd not reckoned on how desolate the road would be, and in the heat quite quickly ran out of water. Coming across a police post in the middle of nowhere I was able, after a halting conversation with the policeman on duty (I think he was; he seemed to be in his underwear), to pump some bore water into my bottle. Being the colour of weak tea, I added a water purifying tablet just in case. The resulting mix tasted awful, and some difficult arithmetic arose between becoming dehydrated & throwing up.

After cycling about 107km, with another 23km to Gogunda, the only other town with accommodation, I was utterly exhausted, and managed to secure a lift in a jeep with 2 blokes. We agreed on Rp 100, but half way there they tried upping this to Rp 200, taking advantage presumably of how buggered & yet grateful I looked (especially as they did all the heavy work of putting the bike on the roof). The silly thing was that I'd already decided I'd give them Rp 150, which is what I ended up giving them.

I stayed in a room attached to the Jai Shree Govind restaurant - not very flash, but like nirvana to me at 6pm, after nearly 9 hours on the road. It was quiet - no early morning traffic & no amplified noise at 6am from local temples.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Mt Abu IV

Disaster! I was all keyed up & ready to hit the road to Udaipur this morning, but a bicycle problem has delayed this. As part of preparing the bike last night I thought I would just put a little more air in the tyres, even though they didn't really need it. As a consequence, goodness knows how, it resulted in my rear tube stuffing up - the valve came apart from the tube. After much effort (the bloody tyre beading is really tight) I fitted my spare tube, only to damage this in the process with the tyre levers, as I discovered this morning when about to pedal off - the tyre was flat. Hours later, and with the assistance of several blokes from a motorbike shop I managed finally, I hope, to have some success in getting the tyre to remain inflated (the American no-glue patches just wouldn't stick properly). Happily I managed to remain reasonably upbeat about it all, although there were several flashes of dread ("oh no!", "what am I going to do?", "how will I continue my travels?", "what if it can't be fixed?" etc.) as obtaining a replacement tube in Mt Abu is not possible.

Yesterday I had the most amazing hairdressing experience. My beard was getting a bit long so I thought I'd get a trim at the local barbershop - a small shed with 4 chairs & 4 hairdressers. I was ushered into the corner chair & the barber began his work. After largely finishing the beard he asked if I wanted "the blade" applied to those parts of my face that I shave. I could hear the bristles crunching as he scythed his way through the stubble. He then asked if I wanted a face massage. When I said "yes, why not", he produced an electrical appliance that looked suspiciously like an orbital sander, although thankfully the disc was smooth rather than made of sandpaper, and applied it to my face, along with various creams, lotions & sprays. The noise & vibration in concert was an extraordinary, even indescribable, experience, especially when he applied it to my ears. He then asked if I wanted a head massage - "yes", I weakly replied - and he proceeded to beat a rythym out on my head with cupped hands (the resulting concussion is probably what led me to damage my bike tubes last night) and squeeze it hard - as you would if you wanted to know how much air there was in a football. The whole process was extremely invigorating. I was tempted to ask if he did buttocks also, but wasn't confident that he'd quite know what I was asking him for. All this cost Rp 60 - less than $2 AUD. I'm gonna have this done again - perhaps I'll try a haircut next.

So as I wandered Mt Abu this afternoon with a day to kill, I was approached by a tailor whose request to visit his shop I had declined yesterday. He's agreed to make me a duplicate of one of my 2 shirts that's nearly worn out (in fact, a number of things I brought are starting to wear out or have broken), and reverse the worn-out collar on the existing shirt, by 8pm tonight, and all for a very reasonable price (Rp 350). Good for him, good for me.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mt Abu III

Today I cycled to Mt Abu sanctuary. A sign there proclaimed that in 2001 there were 40 panthers, 108 sloth bears, 46 hyenas, 185 jackals, 85 wild boar, 44 pocupines, 2 wolves, 63 jugle cats, 393 peacocks & 7 crocodiles. Unfortunately I didn't see any of them during my visit, but with the number of Australian eucalypts in the sanctuary I was half-expecting a few koalas to make an appearance. From the tremendous variety of animal shit on the ground, however, there clearly were plenty of animals lurking about. Perhaps the best part of the visit was the experience, for a time, of quiteness - a rare commodity in India. What is it about so many Indians & their apparent intolerance of silence? Surprising in the country that presumably invented meditation. While I was in the sanctuary, a 4-wheel drive load of Indian folk (8 of them) arrived. The noise! (and this despite signs everywhere saying keep it quiet). Then another driver arrived & started doing some car maintenance, banging away with a hammer!

I'll leave for Udaipur tomorrow morning - by bicycle. I was briefly contemplating catching the bus again, having been put off by someone I asked who described the route as being "hills ... a tribal area ... no accommodation". However someone else, who seemed more knowledgeable (I hope) assured me that there was indeed accommodation on the way (it's somewhere between 153 & 180 km - a little too far to make in one day, especially with hills on the way). I am looking forward to whizzing down Mt Abu for 27km!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Mt Abu II

My first night in Mount Abu was a suprising one - so quiet, and I slept like a log (well, until 7am when a local restaurant turned on & cranked up the music). I woke up at one stage & didn't know where I was it was so quiet. Thinking it would help orient me to the place, I did a bus tour of Mt Abu. The tour was OK, except that it was all conducted in Hindi - like the old comedy sketch, where the guide says to me in English "Mt Shrikar, 5231 feet in height" and then speaks in Hindi to the rest of the passengers for 10 minutes, presumably about the same thing. The Dilwara temples, with their incredible & delicately carved marble were especially impressive, and the view from the top of the mountain was also striking.

I was hanging out to eat some meat - having been in the predominantly vegetarian state of Gujurat for a fair time - so went to one of the more expensive places in town - Mayur Restaurant, at Hotel Hillock. I, along with a bus load of German tourists & a number of presumably well-off Indians, ate heartily, for, in my case, the relatively large sum of Rp 432. I devoured dal shorba (soup), sweet lassi, coca-cola, murgh hara masala, naan, rice, gulab jamun with ice-cream, and still felt OK the next day. Amusing to note on the way back to my hotel that two hotels here are named Hotel Hiltone & Hotel Sheratone respectively.

I haven't read as much this trip as I thought I might, but two books that really stand out are Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (he is an excellent writer, with some wonderful insights & skill in how he writes about them) and the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks - a very perverse & enthralling book. The reliable Reginald Hill writes the Dalziel & Pascoe books, which are always a good read - they're crime novels, but intelligent ones. I've not seen any bookshops in India yet, but am perhaps not looking in the right places. I did think I'd use my laptop, on which I've numerous 'e-books' but it's a bit cumbersome to use in bed especially because it heats up quite dramatically after about 30 minutes & I don't want to use it in public, for fear of the crowds it would draw & the possibility of it being pinched. The bike is enough to have to manage.

Today I caught up with my old school chum Charlie, who's been involved with a group called Brahma Kumaris for over 30 years. The organisation teaches the Raja Yoga meditation technique and runs other courses & workshops. Mount Abu is their world headquarters; they claim over 6000 centres in 84 countries. Nevertheless, I expected it to comprise a few old buildings with some handouts for people interestd in what they do. In fact, the magnitude of the organisation & its facilities here are staggering. They have a "Universal Peace Hall" in Mount Abu that seats 3,000 people, while the hall in Abu Road ("Diamond Hall"), used for conferences, etc., seats 20,000 people! Gyan Sarover, where Charlie is staying, is a huge educational & residential complex. They also have a "Global Hospital & Research Centre" here, and a regular shuttle bus service runs between the 3 centres & Mount Abu township. There are folk everywhere, dressed in white, who are here to study at their 'Spiritual University'. Charlie introduced me to one of the BK people, Jenna, a delightful woman, who gave me a run down on their approach. Interesting, but the BK way is not quite my cup of tea.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Mt Abu

Distance by bus: Rajkot to Mount Abu - approximately 430 km
Time: 9.5 hours
Cost: from Rajkot to Abu Road - Rp 220 + Rp 100 for the bicycle

The bus arrived at the offices of Shrinath Travel at about 7pm, & so I somewhat nervously handed over my bike to be tied to the roof of the bus. It looked a long way up & there were heaps of other boxes & baggage being thrown up as well. (In 2000, my bike was badly damaged on a train between Kochi/Fort Cochin and the aptly named Managalore - the rear derailleur was damaged beyond my capacity to repair it & beyond that of Jyoti Cycles - the main bike shop in Mangalore. They weren't really familiar with gears & so were going to hit them with a big hammer, until I shrieked "no!" They were kind, however, in not wanting to charge me anything, and their efforts did enable me to be able to make slight gear changes with some struggle.) However I'm happy to report that it arrived safely at Abu Road. I, however, was in pretty bad shape when we arrived at 5am. It was unbelievably cold, and the bus seat was murder on my tender cyclist's buttocks. I was so cold, shivering uncontrollably in fact, and had hardly slept, that I decided not to cycle the 27km to Mount Abu from Abu Road, and caught a local bus.

Abu Road has a spacious and relaxed feel to it, and there seems to be an absence of the hideous traffic that blights much of India. I've checked into a relatively plush place - the Samrat International - but I feel the need for some comfort at present.


Day 18 cycling: Junagadh to Rajkot
Distance: 105.44 km
Ride time: 6:11
Average Speed: 17.33 km/hr
Maximum speed: 28.7 km/hr
Total cycled: 1697 km
Total between towns: 1512 km

The road surface was, on the whole, good, but the wind & traffic conspired to make it awkward. The last 30 km was a dual-lane divided highway. Interestingly, while I was still hobbling around, struggling to walk after my punishing hike up Girnar Hill & back, I had no difficulties with cycling - different muscles I guess.

I've now cycled a similar distance to my journey through South India in 2000 & for as many days. The main difference this time is that I've had no bike trouble whatsoever - in fact, I've only pumped some more air into the tyres once. In 2000, I incurred numerous flats, due to thorns, and my rear tyre had begun to perish. It was a little hotter then, and it rained several times. I have a mountain bike this time rather than my hybrid cycle (the worst of both worlds?), mainly because a 26" wheel is more convenient in India than a 700cc one, in terms of possible replacements, and I think it's a little more robust, as are the tyres.

The reactions from other travellers on hearing that you're cycling in India tend to be:
(i) they tell you you're mad (i.e dismiss you)
(ii) tell you about someone they know who's doing something even more extreme (eg "well, a bloke I know is walking cross India...") (i.e top you)
(iii) put themselves down (i.e "you're really seeing India ...")
Sometimes people enquire about the experience...

In Rajkot I stayed at the Hotel RR Palace. It was a bit of a drag that they didn't seem to provide breakfast and so I had to trek off to find somewhere to eat. I guess I've become spoilt. From the front desk of the Hotel RR, I rang the travel agent that people in Junagadh had suggested, to get a bus to Mt Abu (it's with great embarrassment that I write this, as it challenges my own purist notion of being a cyclist. Still, it's much too far to cycle in the available time - I want to be there in the next few days). The person who answered said there was a bus at 10.30pm that night - I was pleased, & said I wanted a ticket. Ah, but it's cancelled, they told me. Well, how about tomorrow night? "Cancelled also" The next night? "Cancelled" ... Oh no! They suggested another place, and I rang it. Yes, they had a bus leaving at 7.30pm (yippee!), but it only went to Abu Road, about 27km short of Mount Abu. They asked me the number of where I was staying. I began "221 ..". they said "321..?". I said "no, 221...". They said "231..?". I said "no, 2214...". They said "2213 ..?" I said "FUCK!!!". I think I must have been a little keyed up. At this point the hotel guy took over & gave the number. I went for a walk.

I didn't much like Rajkot, and was glad to leave, which I did at 7.30pm that evening.

Junagadh III

While in Junagadh I visited some of the other sights - the Arurvedic Research Institute & Museum was not very inspiring. As far as I could see, the place mainly comprised a collection of dusty bottles containing even dustier twigs, leaves and sundry other vegetable matter, in different sections eg for hiccups, angina, etc and a few old posters. However the comments in the Visitors' Book were all very glowing so perhaps I missed something. The Durbar Hall museum was of modest interest - it contained some weapons, portraits of various nawabs, chandeliers, chairs, howdahs and palanquins. The Zoo and Museum weren't much chop, although there are far worse zoos in India than this one. However, I really quite liked Junagadh, despite the shortcomings of some of its sights.

I might also note the typical process for changing travellers cheques at a bank, because once you get past the frustration it really is quite amusing. Today, as I entered the Bank of India a staff member approached & asked what I wanted. He then checked I had my passport and marched me up to a man sitting at a desk, directing me to "sit here". The man scrutinised my passport, then had me sign the TC and the back of a form. He then filled out 3 forms and made entries in 2 books or ledgers. Then he, I, the books & forms proceeded to another man who double-checked everything. When this was OK, the very first man took me and some of the paperwork to a teller who paid me. In some banks you get given a token after the paperwork is completed, and then you sit & wait until the number is called.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Junagadh II

Contrary to the views of two Australians, John & his daughter Vivienne, whom I met in Sasan Gir, I quite like Junagadh. While it's noisy & dusty, it's also a small enough town to be able to get to most places by walking or by a short autorickshaw trip. And there's lots to see & do here. Yesterday I made the big walk to the top of Girnar Hill & beyond. There are apparently 10,000 steps, which were built between 1889 & 1908. Dotted along the way are numerous Jain & Hindu temples, some of them dating from the 12th century. After reaching the final temple where you get given some coconut & sugar, you can descend to an ashram for a free meal of roti, dhal, aloo (potato) and rice on big leaves. Later I bought a bottle of "Mecca Cola" which tasted surprisingly like Coca Cola. I spent nearly six hours on the hill, and had very tired legs at the end (different muscles to many of those used for cycling are used in climbing, unfortunately.) But note:

As I walked stiffly toward the base of the mountain, a young man offered me a leg massage (from the knee down) for Rp10, which I gratefully accepted. After doing both legs (and it wasn't a bad massage, except for the bit where he cracked each of my toes by giving them a vigorous tug) he tried to charge me Rp 20, claiming that Rp 10 was just for one leg!

Also visited Uperkot Fort. At first it seemed pretty dull - a wall, a mosque and a rather unexciting Buddhist cave apparently 1500 years old. However, there are 2 baolis (wells) within the fort - one round and the other square. The round one was amazing enough, but the square one, with its superb winding staircase cut into the rock was just astounding - incredibly deep, and somewhat spooky, with hundreds of pigeons nesting and swooping about, and the associated cooing & smell of pigeon shit & urine (human).

I'm staying at the Hotel Relief (motto: "we care people carefully"). I like it - simple, cheap, clean, and the owner & his brother are very helpful and knowledgeable about Junagadh & its surrounds.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Day 17 cycling: Sasan Gir to Junagadh
Distance: 53.87 km
Ride time: 3:40
Maximum speed: 27.9 km/hr
Total cycled: 1591 km
Total between towns: 1407 km

What a great ride today was! The road itself was in pretty poor condition - a narrow strip of bitumen & rocks on the shoulder meant that I had to be especially vigilant for vehicles in either direction, as there was a great risk of toppling over when moving onto the shoulder (you really need both eyes & ears in the back of your head). I suspect the rocks were there as part of a plan to upgrade the road at some point. Nevertheless it was a very nice ride - not too great a distance, the weather was perfect for cycling, but the best part was the wildlife on the way - monkeys, peacocks, deer (? well, they had antlers), birds and some sort of fat possum-like creature. I also realised that I must learn to cycle with my mouth closed, as to date I've swallowed a large quantity of the Indian insect-life. It's not that I cycle with my mouth hanging open - I'm either talking to myself, gasping for air, or saying "hello" to a passer-by. I suppose I could take a leaf out of the Jain's book and wear a scarf over my mouth. The other nice thing about today's ride was that some folk pointed out a short-cut to me which I took (always a little bit risky) & I saved about 8km as well as having a very quiet road to cycle on.

One of the things to do in Sasan Gir - in fact the main or only thing to do - is to go on a 'safari' to see some lions. For some reason, I really couldn't summon up the enthusiasm to do this & so headed out this morning for Junagadh, after an absolutely inedible breakfast of lightly toasted stale bread provided, at extra cost, by the Hotel Umang at which I stayed overnight.

I was again momentarily disquieted by a road sign that said "Look Out For Lions" as I pedalled off into the distance. I'm sure they were joking.

As I hit Junagadh, a government official sitting in a booth at the side of the road waved me over to shout me a cup of tea. As usual, a small crowd gathered, asking the standard questions about me & my bike. My first impressions of Junagadh are that it will be an interesting place to look around - the town has quiet a nice feel to it. I'm staying at the Hotel Relief, in a very clean & pleasant room (Rp 300), although the traffic is pretty noisy.

Sasan Gir

Day 16 cycling: Veraval to Sasan Gir
Distance cycled: 43.03 km
Ride time: 2:58
Average speed: 14.64 km/hr
Max. speed: 25.9
Total odometer reading: 1537 km
Total Distance between towns: 1353 km

The first 13km to Sasan were OK, but then the road degenerated, wind arose, making the whole day quite arduous. Sasan Gir is the main town near the Gir National Park & Sanctuary, which is the "only abode of the "Asiatic lion" in the world ..." and houses a little over 300 of these lions, which are at great risk of extinction. I'd be lying if I said I felt no disquiet on entering the gates of the Lion Sanctuary on my bicycle (approximately 37km from Veraval). I reminded myself as I pedalled on that the risk would have to be much less than that posed by cycling on Indian roads.

Hotel Utsav, where I stayed in Veraval, comprised 5 rooms on the 4th floor of a building opposite the local bus station. Cheap but probably fairly priced at Rp 200, given how run down it was. Still, there was bucket hot water & towel provided - I'm beginning to quite like using the bucket method of washing myself, but I'm not sure my bathroom at home could handle this innovation. While in Veraval had an excellent thali at Prakash Dining Hall, which was a very clean & simple place. Recommended. On the whole though, Veraval didn't grab me as the sort of place that I'd choose to linger in for long.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Day 15 cycling: Diu to Veraval, via Somnath
Distance: 94.20km
Ride time: 5:35
Maximum speed: 25.6km/hr
Total cycled: 1494km
Total between towns: 1310km

On the whole, the road was fine - terrific for the first bit, awful for a while & then good again. The sun has quite a bite to it, and I now have sunburnt arms (as well as the gaps between the straps on my sandals & a strip across both hands,j ust below my knuckles ...). I detoured to the temple at Somnath on the way to Veraval but didn't find it all that enthralling. Curious to see that it was patrolled by soldiers, with one of them in a turret, with machine gun behind a sandbag. Expecting trouble perhaps? It was disquietly amusing to notice that two of the soldiers had left their rifles (they looked like the old Boer war .303 rifles) leaning against a column, with neither owner to be seen. I suppose that if I had ventured to pick one up the soldiers might well have reappeared, or maybe the guy in the turret would have sprung into action. For some reason I gave a totally voluntary donation to the restoration fund, before reminding myself with a small tinge of horror that I'd contributed to the maintenance of a religion - not something that I'm generally happy to do. The older I get, the less I can relate to or have time for religion of any sort ... perhaps a topic for another blog.

Diu II

Diu really is a laid-back & relaxed place, and it's very quiet at night (although the silence is punctuated at times (eg 4 am) by sudden outbursts of frenzied barking by the packs of dogs that inhabit the place, and last night a bunch of Indian blokes were partying in the adjacent room until very late. There were also some tremendous bangs at 1am last night - they sounded like cannons, and the whole hotel seemed to shake with each blast (turned out they were large fireworks - part of a wedding celebration somewhere nearby)... other than all this, it's quiet at night!)

One of the workers in the restaurant attached to Hotel Apana told me he earned Rp 2500 a month [about $75 AUD] (he takes the orders, which is one up from being a waiter, and hence gets paid a little more, but doesn't get tips as do the waiters). For this, he worked a six day week,and a ten hour day - from 11am to 4pm & then 7pm to 12 midnight. He also explained that his wife & child lived in Rajasthan - several hundred kilometres away,and hence he only sees them a few times a year. He said he liked the job & was thus prepared to live with this. Another waiter said his family lived in Nepal ...

I spent some time cycling around Diu - I passed through an area that was purportedly an Industrial Zone, but not much seemed to be happening. Along the northern stretch of road were a few bars, and it wasn't all that clean & tidy compared with the tourist area. I discovered that there are actually two bridges that connect the island to the mainland - this is not at all clear from the various maps of Diu. The western part of the island was curious - Vanakbara, a fishing village, which stank of fish & shit. I've never seen such a concentration of children - you get the impression that all the folk do there is fish & fuck. Nearly every kid wanted to do a sort of sideways "high-five" as I cycled past, and I've never heard so many requests for "pen" as here. It was a very friendly town,and one of the few places in India where even the women would greet you as you cycled past. Gomptimaka Beach, on the southern coast, was a delightfully secluded stretch of golden sand - quite idyllic & not a shred of tourist development there.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Day 14 cycling: Rajula to Diu
Distance cycled: 70.17km
Time: 3:36
Average speed: 19.82
Max. speed: 31.1
Total distance cycled: 1348km
Total distance en route: 1216 km

I was feeling a little queasy in the morning & thought that I'd ordered toast with jam. The jam sandwich that arrived wasn't quite what I'd expected. The ride itself started off delightfully; the road to Una was excellent & it was easy to maintain a pace of 22 km/hr or more. Most of the way from Una onwards was ghastly - either very rocky or else potholed & bumpy. It was nice to arrive at the Hotel Apana in Diu & freshen up after 2 days cycling. My room at the hotel is tiled from floor to ceiling (and including floor & ceiling). Theoretically, I guess it would make cleaning easy. I suspect the tiling also enhances rather than dampens any ambient noise, as the first morning here would have to be one of the noisiest starts to the day I've had in India - the usual banging, bellowing & dogs barking, with the addition of some of the loudest clearing of nasal & other passages I've ever heard. It sounded as if someone was being murdered down the corridor. I'm sure it could not be good to do whatever it was he was doing. The other sound that floated into my subconscious mind was the repetitive 'ding' of a bell being rung - which I slowly realised was my bike's, which was locked up out the front of the hotel, below my window. I don't think my yelling out the window at the perpetrators did much for the morning's harmony. In fact, at every single hotel I've stayed at, with the exception of Hotel Palace Utelia, my bike's gears have been changed from those I've left it in. This can be especially annoying when you start cycling in the morning & find your gears all out of whack, and slipping. The big question after "what is your country?" or "from where are you coming?" is to ask how much the bike cost. I'm usually pretty coy about this, and if pressed give a value of a fraction of what it cost.

India! You have to love it (otherwise you'd go mad here....).

For breakfast this morning I had utappa - like a big vegetable pancake, with associated sauces in small tin tubs, and for lunch channa chaat - chick peas with chopped up salad. The food certainly is one of the delights of India, and I'm working way through all the different food that I can.

Diu (pronounced "dew") comprises an island about 11km by 3km & a few bits on the mainland, and along with Daman, which I visited earlier, were ruled by Portugal between the 1530's and, surprisingly, 1961 when India kicked them out, using their armed forces (a few people died in the process). Daman & Diu are not part of Gujurat, but are both governed centrally, from Delhi. It also means that alcohol is available here, unlike in the rest of Gujurat, which is a 'dry' state, largely due to the influence of Ghandi. Typically, restaurants in Gujurat are vegetarian, and alcohol is not available.

Uhoh ... gotta go ... I can hear my bike bell ringing ..

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Day 13 cycling: Palitana to Rajula
Distance: 104.58 km
Ride time: 6:30
Average speed: 16.41 km/hr
Max: 29
Total distance: 1278 km
Distance between towns: 1146 km

My original plan had been to cycle to the port town of Mahuva, stay overnight there and then cycle on to Diu. However a worker in the Hotel Sumeru persuaded me to go via Jesar (not in the Lonely Planet atlas - it might have been the town labelled Dunghapur) to Rajula, which I did. I don't think he was aware of what an awful road it would be to cycle. The turnoff to Jesar was about 12km from Palitana. The road was slightly hilly, but it was quite scenic compared to many other roads I've cycled on the journey. Mt Shatrunjaya remained visible for at least the first 20km, and then another mountain with a huge temple on top took its place for some while. It was a laborious ride - the road seemed to really drag, and the wind was a hindrance. The road between Jesar and Rajula was bloody awful - full of craters and attempts at remediation i.e big clumps of tar. The average speed above contains a lot of variation - a few sections were reasonably speedy. Overall, the scenery varied quite a bit also - brown & dry in some parts; green, lush, fertile in others. Onions, cotton & other crops (corn? wheat?) were being grown, and the gentle sound of irrigation pumps was a nice accompaniement to the ride. Other motorists & their passengers were exceedingly friendly, and my face & arm became sore at all the waving & smiling I found myself doing. Many of the men were dressed head-to-toe in white - with white turbans, stove-pipe trousers that billowed out above the knee (jodhpurs I guess), and usually a big moustache. In fact, I had the uneasy feeling that it was the same damn bloke popping up in all these villages I cycled through.

One small oddity was that the Gujurat map I recently acquired showed two Rajulas, about 13 km apart. Luckily the one I arrived at had somewhere to stay (Hotel White House - which it certainly was - it felt like I was staying in a sanitorium). Very few roadsigns or mileposts were in English, and so I found myself doing what the worker at the hotel in Palitana recommended: stopping in front of a few people while shouting "Rajula! Rajula!" & emphatically pointing to my map . It seemed to work. I had one small mishap on the way. I'd stopped to jot something down in my notebook when a gust of wind blew all the loose leaves down an embankment alongside the road. As I went after them I took a bit of a tumble & drew a little blood. Luckily, nothing serious.

India is such a vast & fascinating place. So often I find myself exclaiming "what the ...!" or "how the ...?" or just "wow!". And I think I might generate this for a few Indians, who often struggle to comprehend why a Westerner would want to cycle through India. They'll often stick their hand out, moving their upturned palm up or down or sideways with a quizzical raising of the eyebrows.

Rajula itself did not seem all that captivating, but admittedly this was based on a short walk of one or two kilometers into the town.


Day 12 cycling: Bhavnagar to Palitana
Distance: 65.22km
Ride time: 3:42
Average speed: 17.85 km/hr
Max: 37.3
Total distance: 1173
Distance between towns: 1042

The road to Palitana was generally good, although became fair in parts, and there were several hilly bits. The traffic was challenging at times as the road was quite narrow. I stayed at a place called Hotel Sumeru, run by Gujurat Tourism. It was adequate, as was the attached restaurant, where I had vegetable makhanwalla, aloo mutter, dal fried, vegetable pulao and roti.

Many of these hotels & guest hotels amaze me by their utter obliviousness to the fact that people staying there might want to sleep at times. From 6.30 am onwards, doors slam, staff roam the corridors singing and shouting to one another, and it often continues late into the night. It's also interesting to ponder the obvious cultural differences in concepts of hygiene & grubbiness. Many rooms will appear pretty bloody awful to me eg muck all over the bathroom but this has clearly not registered with staff who've cleaned it. Kitchen and waiting staff will often have uniforms so grubby that you'd look askance at your local car mechanic if their overalls were as messy. Still, I notice my own sensibilities drifting - I typically don't react to things as I did earlier on e.g strange black items in my yoghurt drink, dried crap on the toilet seat, etc.

My Western sensibilities are also put to the test when I occasionally read the newspapers. One example: a woman became pregant after being raped by the son of her boss. Her family were demanding that he marry her or else they would have him charged.

There's a strange phenomenon I've noticed a few times: other westerners often seem to studiously avoid making eye contact when you pass them in the street or see them in shops & cafes. I even had this with an entire bus load of American tourists who arrived at Hotel Sumeru. What's this about? People's protective mechanism in managing India? (I don't think it's me)

Today, from Palitana, I climbed Shatrunjaya mountain, one of the Jain religion's holiest pilgrimage sites - it contains over 800 temples. The view in all directions was fabulous. It's a 600 metre ascent, comprising over 3000 steps, and took several hours up & back.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Lothal/Utelia to Bhavnagar

Day 11 cycling: Lothal/Utelia to Bhavnagar
Distance cycled: 111.73km
Ride time: 6:32 hrs
Average Speed: 17.35
Maximum speed: 25
Grand total: 1108km
Total between towns: 976km

Well, I've hit the 1000km milestone on my travels (if I just count city-to-city travel, then I've cycled 976km). Yesterday was really hard - the road surface was quite good, but I just felt buggered, and the wind at times seemed quite strong as it blew into my face for much of the trip. It was also very arid country, with mudflats, a few shrubs and not much else. I'll rest up for maybe 5 days when I get to Diu, on the southern bit of Gujurat where it juts out into the ocean.

Bhavnagar's not such a bad town to wander around, despite the Lonely Planet guide saying there wasn't much to see. I also went & checked out the local museum & took some photographs which apparently I was not meant to do. The exhibits were just great - many of them looked like something a Grade 5 pupil would bang out for a school project. I particularly liked the stuffed lion & the skeleton.

India feels quite a safe place to travel in (the roads, and what you read in the newspapers notwithstanding) - probably the scariest moment occurred today when a cow tried to eat my guidebook as I stopped to check something out in it.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ahmedabad to Lothal/Utelia

Day 10 cycling: Ahmedabad to Lothal/Utelia
Distance cycled: 94.72km
Ridetime: 4:49hrs
Average Speed: 19.96 km/hr
Maximum speed: 32.4
Total odometer reading: 973km

It's always difficult cycling out of a big city - "am I going the right way?" - and very cheering when you discover you are. Ahmedabad was surprisingly easy to get out of. It's also mentally taxing - can't let your attention waver for much more than 2 or 3 seconds. The times I have, I've invariably & suddenly spotted something e.g. a tractor, goat or motorcycle on the wrong side of the road, heading straight toward me.

Today's road was very good (mostly Highway 8A) - dual-laned divided highway, flat, excellent surface, light traffic. Scenery was mainly fields & factories (petrochemical, pharmaceutical). There were few refeshement stops.

Ahmedabad to Utelia is actually about 81km but I cycled an extra 14km to Lothal and back. While asking directions, people obviously thought that I was asking "Lothal?" when in fact I was asking "Hotel? ... Utelia". Utelia, where I expected to find Hotel Palace Utelia, was unsigned and doesn't appear on maps, even the local Gujarati one I bought in Ahmedabad. I eventually found it - a large mansion or palace in the middle of the small village of Utelia - seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I was prepared for a difficult time as the Lonely Planet describes it as being "ridiculously overpriced" (but "unusual") and a website by two cyclists ("Bike Brats") was quite negative about it. It was expensive - the tariff was Rp 2400 which I easily negotiated down to Rp 2000, dinner Rp400 an breakfast Rp200. Nevertheless, I had some sympathy for the owner's (Yuvaraj Bhagirath Sinhji) point that it was expensive to run, given its isolation, that tourists only arrived there sporadically, and that it had been damaged by the earthquake that hit Gujarat some years ago. I enjoyed my stay, and the host struck me as quite a pleasant fellow. The palace has 20 rooms, only 10 of them usuable at this stage for tourists, with fantastic views in both directions of the surrounding village and beyond, from the room I stayed in on the top floor. Hot water, soap, towels, toilet paper were all supplied & the food was pretty good - certainly much more than I or the other guest, a Frenchman, could possibly eat. It was also very quiet at night, which is a rarity in India. I'd recommend the place, despite its cost.

Ahmedabad II

Well, I think I may have experienced the "ecma" that Hotel Serena boasts of. I ordered boiled eggs for breakfast via room service, after having had the ghastly idlis that the Nutan Restaurant dished me up yesterday. The 2 eggs arrived - soft-boiled & helpfully cut up for me into 8 pieces, arranged sunnyside up on a plate, and doused in ground pepper. After the none-too-clean looking room-service guy put his hands all over the tines of the fork before giving it to me, my appetite seemd to evaporate and - I feel embarrassed to admit this - I flushed them down the loo.

This was planned to be a very early breakfast so I could get to the rendevous point for the "Heritage Walk of Ahmedabad" by 8am. I duly arrived, as did a couple from South Africa (Mo & Acacia). Unfortunately for us the guide didn't - we were told he'd gone away for the day. What a drag. However, the 3 of us managed to get a copy of the map of the walk & decided to do a self-guided tour. Mo was a whiz with the map & at asking locals where things were, and the resulting tour was a fascinating look at the side of Ahmedabad that had thus far eluded me. We walked through numerous pols - local micro-neighbourhoods - and saw Jain & Hindu temples, Muslim tombs, striking architecture. The walk left me feeling that Ahmedabad was a pretty interesting town. After that, we paid a visit to the Calico Museum of Textiles - an absolute mecca for those interested in textiles & weaving, I'd reckon - and I later cycled out to Ghandi's Ashram, about 5km out of town. It was an exhausting day, and it took some self-control to not flip-out on finding that my pants had been replaced by a pair of green socks when my laundry was returned to me. Luckily, they were found. (It is amusing to see all the numbers appearing on my clothes so laundries can identify them - so far, my white shirt has 133, 406 and 303 written on the inside collar.) Acacia, Mo & I caught up again that evening for a meal. They were a nice couple & it was good to spend time with them looking at stuff & chatting.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Ahmedabad (Amdavad)

Day 9 cycling: Baroda to Ahmedabad
Distance cycled: 119.57km
Ridetime: 6:27 hours
Average Speed: 18.67 km/hr
Grand Total: 867km

Overall, today's road was pretty good, and more scenic than it's been to date, although there were a few rough bits and was not a divided road for most of it. I was able to cycle at 19 or 20km/hr for most of the way, but was slowed down at either end as I negotiated my way through both cities. Had a few near misses - a woman & child ran acrosss the highway withway looking (!), and an autorickshaw swerved in front of me & slammed its brakes on hard, for no reason apparent to me. Luckily I couldn't recall the Gujurati swearword that Bhanu told me (she subsequently emailled & told me not to use it as I'd probably get a punch in the face if I did. I think the word involved one's sister ...). So I had to resort to one of the Australian ones I occasionally use. It does seem extraordinary to me how often motorists just pull out or stop suddenly without seeming to look in the mirror or to the side. This behaviour is of course reflected in traffic accident statistics which show India to be about the worst in the world. This, and the fact that so many vehicles are in such bad repair. One day, when I was cycling in South India (in 2000) I was cycling along when a truck came around the corner - the passenger suddenly opened the door and jumped out, then the driver, and the guy in the middle also tried to. The truck kept going in a straight line, into a power pole pulling the power lines down for quite some way in both directions. Presumably its brakes or steering failed, and I expect this is not all that uncommon. It's always in the back of my mind as I cycle along. This, and the memory of a dead motorcyclist jammed underneath a four wheel drive in South India, also encountered on the same trip.
But you have to love it when you see three young men on a motorcycle, or a family of 4 on a motor scooter tootling down the highway, invariably looking quizzically at you or else waving.

As I left Baroda yesterday, the road sign said Ahmedabad 100km, and then a little furthe on a sign said 106km. After I'd cycled 40km (and I know my bike computer is accurate), the sign told me it was 76km to Ahmedabad - my day's goal just seemed to keep getting further away. Similarly, at one stage there 3 successive road signs saying 50, then 51 then 52km to go (was I going in the right direction?).

Yesterday at Baroda I had a thali with Robert from Brisbane. He's taken the past year off from work and has been cycling for the past 8 months in Europe. He'd had enough, had shipped his bike back home, and was travelling India by bus. He was a nice bloke and it was good to chat about our respective travels and compare notes re cycling.

One of the things that Ahmedabad, which is otherwise a rather noisy, dusty, industrial city, has going for it is its restaurants. Last night I ate at a place called "Agashiye", a delightfully atmospheric open-aired terrace on top of a mansion (The House of MG). The service & environment were impeccable, and the food was very tasty. You had to pay in advance which was a little odd, and the manager mumbled something about needing to know in advance for catering purposes, which of course made no sense at all. I suspect some past guests must have run off without paying. Now, I'm sitting in the "biggest & chippest cybercafe" in town, having had a rather miserable breakfast of idli - which unusually came in a big tub of soup, and looked as if it had been nibbled at by a previous diner or something even more worrying to contemplate, and 'toast, butter jam' - which was like a toasted jam sandwich. The coffee wasn't bad. Had lunch in another restaurant in the same building - the Green House - and it too was excellent.

I'm staying at a place called Hotel Serena - not the flashest of hotels, but satisfactory. Their motto is "the proud of your service" and also "for the ecma of comforts". I'm not sure what ecma means, or that I really want to find out.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

last day in Baroda

Visited the Baroda (Vadodara) Museum & Picture Gallery. In the museum, there were heaps of exhibits, mostly well-labelled and in English, which was nice. There were stuffed birds, cats, monkeys, and a mis-labelled koala (it looked like a heavy-set fox or perhaps a fat dingo), statues, pots, trinkets from different cultures, plaster casts of Egyptian statues and of fish from around the world, countless pieces of rock and shell, and strange things in bottles. It was primarily a natural museum - nothing interactive or scientific in nature - and reminded me of the Melbourne museum in the 1960's.

In the Picture Gallery, which was not very interesting, I met an English artist with his easel set up, making a copy, in oils, of a painting of a legal scene by the artist W.P Frith. He had been commisioned by Gray's Inn (one of the societies of barristers in the UK) and was spending 3 days in the gallery to do the job. We had a chat, but he was rather coy about revealing how much he was being paid, other than "lots". In some ways his effort, which was half the size of the original (that's all hs employers could afford, he explained) looked better than the original.

When I returned to my room for a rest this afternoon after cycling around some of Baroda, there was loud hammering coming from the next room, and some other hammering from down the corridor. After about half an hour of this I'd had enough. I was offered a change of room which I accepted - without thinking. The change from the fourth floor to the first means of course that I'm much nearer the road .... noisy +++! I've tended to stay in mid-range hotels, which are generally pretty comfortable. I figure that it's hard on the road - no need for additional hardship at the end of a day's cycling. So, mostly I have hot water/geyser (e hot shower), a flush loo, supplied towel, soap, toilet-paper etc and often a TV - such luxury. The TV tends to have about 40 channels, showing everything from Bollywood movies to this or that guru expounding his or her thoughts on things. The odious Sai Baba was on the other night, sitting on his throne while music played and his devotees looked on reverentially.

Tomorrow I set off for Ahmedabad. I trust the ride will be a little more comfortable, buttock-wise, as I purchased a foam-padded bike-seat cover from a street vendor today.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Baroda (Vadodara)

Had a really solid night's sleep after all that cycling - well, until 6am - incredibly noisy, with the sound of horns, phones ringing, shouting, penetrating through the walls of the hotel and into my eardrums. For some reason it was dead quiet when I awoke again at 8am, for a short time anyway when an amplified brass band started playing, and then several long chains of fire crackers started exploding. So I got up and had an excellent breakfast - cornflakes & milk, idliis, toast, jam and coffee, and read the Times of India. Later in the day I strolled around the Sayaji Baug park - a relaxing oasis. Inside the park are a planetarium, a zoo (comprising cyclone-fenced enclosures and some very dispirited-looking deer), the Museum (again, Rp 20 for locals and Rp 200 for 'foreigners') and the fabulous Health Museum. This had some pretty funky exhibits that seemed as if they were from the 1950's. There was a tall mirror with a sign above suggesting "look at yourself to correct your posture" and another exhibit entitled "woman's sufferings to bear during fertility" with all sorts of complicated diagrams, models, and explanations.

While out cycling this afternoon, a man with bad teeth sidled up beside me on his motorcycle. He asked a few questions than wondered if I had everything I needed. "Like what", I ventured. "Sex" he replied. "You're not my type" I answered but he didn't notice my attempt at humour. After a bit more banter, I thanked him for his interest in my well-being and cycled off. Mind you, I do feel pretty isolatd at present - no other westerners to speak of, or with, for over a week.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Bharuch to Baroda: Day 8 cycling
Distance: 85.54 km
Ride time: 5:21
Average speed: 16.31 km/hr
Max Speed: 27.0 km/hr
Total Odometer Reading: 726km

Today was much like yesterday - flat road, fine weather condtions, some parts of the road were quite rough & other parts just perfect. Again, the road was a 2-lane divided highway, so no major worries from oncoming traffic. Nevertheless, great vigilance is called for - I was daydreaming for about 2 seconds and nearly collided with a motorcyclist entering the highway on my left. I'm staying at the Hotel Surya in Baroda, allegedly a fairly classy mid-range accommodation, but it's been left to become a little rundown. After I arrived, at about 4pm, I had the delightfully-named high tea here - comprising masala dosa, idlis and a coffee. Very tasty after a day's cycling. Last night I had a meal at the restaurant attached to where I stayed (the Hotel Sethna Plaza Annexe) - the food was not so good there, and in fact I complained re what they gave me. This was changed to something a little better, but not a recommended restaurant. While waiting for my meal, there were some very loud voices coming from the kitchen - I guess the chef was having a bad day.

Baroda looks like an OK place, so I'll spend a day or so here. And frankly, I'm a bit fed up with cycling at present, having covered something like 350 km & cycled for five of the last six days. My buttocks & I need a rest!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Surat to Bharuch (Broach)

Surat to Bharuch (Broach):
Distance cycled: 81.06km
Average Speed: 17.16 km/hr
Ride time: 4:48
Maximum speed: 27.1 km/hr
Total Odometer reading: 640 km

As I pedalled off this morning I noticed that the bike was in a different gear to the one I left it in last night. This minor hazard tends to occur when you're not able to leave your bike in your room - Indians love to fiddle with things (a cycling log I read the other day nicely described them as "twiddlers"). I also belatedly discovered that my ex-wife Bhanu's family actually came from two neighbouring towns to Surat, but it would've been too awkward a detour at this stage to have had a look around. Would've been interesting though.

This stretch of road was dustier, smokier, smellier and rougher than yesterday's. I also had the wind against me for much of the time. But the road was flat, and a dual-laned divided highway all the way, so on the whole it was a fairly straightforward ride. Not especially interesting though - mostly chemical plants, brick works and the occasional village lined the road. Perhaps the most entertaining sight was the effort to remove a truck from a ditch by means of a crane and a big tow truck. I stood there and gawked at proceedings for a while, along with a crowd of other onlookers. 80 kilometers is a much happier distance to cycle than a 100 km one.

The buttocks seemed a lot better today - was it the Enac gel or perhaps habituation to the task? I did wonder about doing a controlled study - just applying Enac to one buttock, and seeing how it goes. A double-blind experiment would be harder to arrange, but possible (this, by the way, is just one example of the sorts of things the mind ponders as one cycles along for hours at a time ....). A potential road hazard here I'm beginning to notice is mobile-phone use - by motorcyclists!

The day started off well, with a 'complimentary' breakfast at the Hotel Central Excellency. While the place itself was pretty drab, breakast was great - idlis, bhaji, cornflakes & milk and coffee. I also, unusually for me as I like to just keep on going, stopped and had lunch at a roadhouse. I'd stopped for a drink (and typically I'd consume several litres a day on the road) but was enticed into having masala papad (chopped-up tomato, onion and other bits and pieces, on a papadam), chai and some "Chinese" vegetable fried rice. Delicious!

I'm developing a great, if not unusual, suntan - face, legs from the knees down (with sandal markings on my feet) and lower forearms.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Daman to Surat:
Distance cycled: 127.86km
Ride time: 7.52 hrs
Average Speed: 16.57 km/hr
Max: 31
Total cycled (odometer reading): 559 km

Today was a pretty good cycling day - weather very pleasant (mid-20's), flat, good road surface most of the way, traffic tolerable. I cycled roughly north north east for about 15km before hitting the main highway. What was striking so early in the morning was all the spit on the road - Indians do so like a good gob. The road today was mostly a 2-lane divided highway (NH8), but roadworks were happening along most of it, and traffic kept being diverted along one side or other. This was good for me on the bike as I could usually continue cycling on the blocked-off section of road for quite some distance. The curious thing was the total lack of road signs or mileposts along the way, pretty much until I hit the turnoff to Surat. Still, no real problem here, as I was basically heading north all day, up the highway. The other curious thing was how friendly other motorists were - truckies, and others, smiling, waving, giving me the thumbs up sign. Very cheering.

I'm staying a night at the Hotel Central Excellency - a nightmare to find, as Surat is actually a rather big place - and a somewhat shabby and overpriced place (900 Rp a night - quite a lot more than the LP guide suggests), but I was too tired after cycling so far to even think about finding anything else. My buttocks really let me down today, otherwise the average speed above would've been a little faster. They were really sore, and I'm contemplating putting a big squirt of the marvellous Enac gel in my trousers for tomorrow's ride. Still, I can count myself lucky that I don't suffer from a numb or painful todger,as I know some cyclists do. I also have a bit of soreness developing in my right knee (is this getting too boring, dear reader...?). My friend Sue, who is in to these sorts of things, tells me that someone called Louise Hay reckons that a sore knee means an excess of pride. I reckon I'd be prouder if I didn't have the bloody pain. Well, a rather uneventful day on which to have a birthday and the nearby restaurants don't seem all that conducive to having much of a celebration. Tomorrow,as well as being Australia Day, is also Republic Day in India. I'm not sure how people celebrate this, or what it will be like on the roads. For me, I'll try & cycle to Bharuch (also known as Broach), a modest 86 km away.

Monday, January 24, 2005

24th Jan

Daman is quite a nice & relaxed little town by the ocean. I walked today around the Moti Daman, the fort area on the south side, after taking a boat across the small stretch of water between (cost Rp2). The centre span of the bridge apparently collapsed a few years ago, which must be a boon for the boat owners. The Moti Daman area is a relatively quiet, clean and somewhat charming area, with a few interesting things to see, such as the Church of Baby Jesus and another church that is apparently very ornate inside, in the Portuguese style. This was closed and the caretakers couldn't open it for me when I asked as the guy who had the key had gone off to visit his brother for the afternoon.

The food in India is great. I've had my fill of naan, paratha & rotis, as well as pakoras, puri bhaji, masala dosa, channa (chickpea) masala, murgh (chicken) makhani and of course thali, as well as gulabjamun and one or two other sweet dishes. Chai is always a delight to me, especially after stopping for a drink break during some heavy cycling. All this of course is likely to increase my bulk, but overall I'm losing weight due to the cycling. In fact, I might have to buy a pair of braces soon. And my buttocks, or "sitting bones" as yoga people cutely call them, are taking a hell of a beating (I was going to say "as sore as buggery" but thought better of it) what with sitting on them for 12 hours a day during the meditation course and then hours in the saddle cycling. Still, I reckon they'll be pretty taut and trim by the time I return to Australia.

Daman's such a peaceful place that I've stayed here a day longer than plannned. I'll be off tomorrow though, heading northwards.
... hmm, I've just remembered that tomorrow is my birthday, so I guess it will be a low key affair on my own, who knows where. I was cycling in India in 2000 on my birthday and went to a restaurant for a nice meal with the plan of having some ice cream as a sort of celebration. Unfortunately they said they didn't have any when I ordered it ...

Saturday, January 22, 2005


Day 5 cycling: Kaparda to Daman

Distance cycled: 53.83km
Average speed: 18.02
(that's more like it)
Ride time: 3:03 hours
Max speed: 47.9 km/hr
Overall total: 416km

The road, despite a few hilly and very rough patches, was very good. Daman is a reasonable little town, about 180 km north of Mumbai, on the coast and has a few forts, churches and beaches, although these are no good for swimming in. I'll most likely head off tomorrow, north, in the direction of Surat, but who knows, as the hotel I'm in is quite comfortable (in fact, one of the best I've stayed in in India - it costs about $20 per night.) The food so far has been pretty good, and I can recommend the local version of Chinese food if you begin to feel tired of just eating Indian food. The fried rice is delightfully hot, and is bright orange in appearance.

I'm happy to report that my bad gut was jsut a flash in the pan, and I'm in shipshape condition once again (unfortunately the immodium I took as a precaution resulted in not successfuly going to the loo for the next 3 days... (is this too much detail for you dear readers?))). I have developed a bit of a cough and chest congestion, but I recall having the exact same issue the last time I cycled India, in 2000. It may well be a result of diesel and other nasty stuff from cycling the roads here. I went to a pharmacy to see if I could get something for it e.g lozenges,and they quite happily gave me a blister pack of antibiotics (amoxycillin) - no prescription needed. I figured probably not a great idea at this point.

on the road again - Nasik to Daman

Day 4 cycling: Nasik to Kaparda
Distance cycled: 100.59km
Ride time: 6:47 hours
Average speed = 15.37 km/hr
Overall total = 362 km
Max Speed: 45 km/hr

The first 30km out of Nasik were fine - road conditions were very good (decent surface, light traffic, fairly flat, and occasional road signs in English). There were lots of eucalyptus trees along the route (Australia gave them to India, & they gave us the Mynah bird). It sometimes felt as if I were cycling some obscure road between Adelaide & Port Augusta. After 38km the surface was ... crap, although there was a nice downhill bit (which the bad surface managed to spoil). From my vipassana training of course, one should never be disappointed by uphill stretches or overjoyed by the downhill ones (but it's sure hard not to, especially with a good road surface & little traffic). The 45 km/hr section was rather fun. Funnily, when the road is steep and/or very awful, the truckies suddenly become very friendly, waving, smiling - I guess they feel some sense of common ground as we both struggle with the same difficult conditions. Out here, the locals don't seem quite so friendly, and tend to look blank when I cycle past saying "hi", "hello" or something similar. I later learnt that these words are unknown in these parts.

I arrived at Kaparda at about 4pm, utterly exhausted - 15.37 km/hr is not a great speed (I like it when I can hit at least 18) which reflects to some extent how bad the road was ( and a little bit my lack of cycling fitness). Allegedly there was a hotel in Kaparda - one of only two on the entire way between Nasik & Pardi. Only there wasn't - after going in this direction and that, given to me by helpful locals, I finally stopped & sat on a concrete slab ready to just weep, when a man crossed the road & took me to the local school hostel, where they agreed to put me up for the night. Such bliss! The conditions were pretty rough - squat loo, swarms of mossies, and so on, but I wasn't complaining. However I was a little unsure when given a cup, a bucket of water & towel, and taken into the midle of the school ground to make use of the equipment. I wasn't quite sure whether I was meant to strip off in front of the entire school or not ... but then sense arrived, and I just washed my exposed bits. Later that evening, I took the teacher to the local hotel/roadhouse for a meal - very tasty, and I'm sure much better than what any roadhouse in Australia would turn out. It was a little strained,as neither of us knew a word of the other's language, and I felt too exhausted to make any grand efforts at pantomime. I later slept like a log until 6am when the whole place came alive - morning chanting, washing, cleaning, sweeping, eating etc. The school's English teacher arrived, so we had a chat & he drew me a map showing how to cut about 15 km off my journey to Daman by taking roads not on my road atlas. (He explained that he's paid about Rp4500 a month (about $150 AUD), which is not great)

One thing that's been very tricky is that the names shown on my LP Travel Atlas, and also my map, bear little relationship to local reality - for instance, the town shown as "Peint" is called "Peth" by everyone - even the official signs, if in English call it this. Even worse, "Chioli", on the map, is called "Nanaponda" locally --- and locals apparently would not know what I was talking about if I asked the way to "Chioli". Curious. The two maps drawn for me to date by locals have been very helpful & fairly accurate ... much more than so than my maps. So, thanks guys.

Thursday 20th - Nasik

Cycled 8km out to some Buddhist caves south of Nasik (Pandu Lena) as a test run after my apparent recovery from the bad gut & then had a masala dosa at the Annapoona guest house. Things seemed OK & the caves were reasonably interesting (although I felt a little cross being charged Rp100 whereas locals pay Rp5 - nearly a 2000% hike). At the caves, again crowded by students & other young blokes wanting to take my photo. The main, and probably only, benefit to me in all this is that I can then ask someone to take mine with my camera. So,I have heaps of photos with me in the midst of crowds of young men. Which also serves to highlight how there is almost a total lack of contact with female Indians here ... in fact, about the only one I've had any dealings with was with a bank-worker, when I changed a traveller's cheque. . I sort of think this strange interest the young men have in me may be related to this in some way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

... still in Nasik

... so how come I'm still in Nasik? Well, I've been feeling pretty smug for some time that I've not had a bad gut during my last 3 or 4 forays into South East Asia/ Asia, and that somehow cycling & drinking lots of coca cola was helpful. Rudely shattered last night, and since then I've been spending most of my time, when not on the loo, lying on my bed reading & watching TV & generally feeling sorry for myself.I've taken a bit of a gamble rushing out to teh internet cafe to write this.

I went for a test run yesterday on my bicycle to see if I could at least find the right road to Pardi. I enquired of a bunch of youths on the outskirts of Nasik whether it was indeed the Pardi road; they assured me it was & were very helpful - offered me a cup of chai, some food, invited me for dinner and drew me a map (unfortunately the usual map conventions of north, south and so on didn't seem to apply). Nevertheless they explained that there were 2 hotels between here & Pardi, showed me roughly where and even wrote me a note in Marathi (they don't use Hindi where I'm headed & are unlikely to speak any English) to show to people if I get stuck (hopefully it doesn't say "you get fucked mister!"... ). They also wrote the names of some of the towns in Hindi, including a number not listed on my maps, which may be helpful if I get lost - apparently there are a number of crossroads on the way (indicated by spirals on their map). They were a little discouraging in shaking their heads, saying that a lot of it was a forest area, quite hilly, and that it was a bad area at night that I was heading into ("you'll get robbed")and that the locals were into "black magic" and other bad things. Gulp.

Again, they wanted my personal details (and looked a bit sorry for me when I explained I had no issue) and were rapt when I took a photo of them all ... there must have been a dozen or so crowding around by the time I left.

You do begin to feel like a celebrity - a group of school kids cycled alongside me while I was out riding yesterday, asking the usual: "who is your favourite Australian cricketer?" and "what do you think of Tendulkar?". Me: "fantastic!", of course, although I have toyed with being mean and asking "who's he?". He's the number one sporting hero here for sure. And with all these autograph requests, I'm beginning to feel like Shane Warne. Luckily no-one's asked me to play cricket yet.
Well, gotta run, if you know what I mean.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Nasik (or Nashik)

Day3 Cycling: Igatpuri to Nasik (Nashik): 47.68km. Ride time: 3 hours. AVS = 16.35 km/hr. MAX = 39.2km/hr
(Total Distance = 230km)
… i.e. about 200km from Mumbai to Nasik, which includes maybe 15 to 20km where I took a wrong turning. Road flat - i.e. little overall elevation over the distance, but variable shoulder - it often dropped away & was stony in many places.

The peace, harmony, and goodwill to others from the 10-day course was short-lived as I hit the road again, as I was regularly forced to the shoulder by other traffic. Even though I set off fairly early, and it was Sunday morning, the traffic was quite heavy. However the trip was a little more interesting this time - I saw several overturned trucks, and the results of a head-on collision, with police in attendance. I would be very mean spirited to think "serves you right", but it was hard to feel overly sympathetic for the drivers. And these graphic indicators of the potential hazards seemed to make little impression on the passing traffic - vehicles continued to overtake each other with careless abandon even at the accident sites.

I even saw an elephant lumbering along on the other side of road, with mahout (rider) on top and a fellow walking alongside, on its way to Mumbai - so I was told after giving them a small donation (at their invitation). With its huge yet beady eyes looming down at me, it sucked up the few small notes I put in its trunk and handed them to the mahout. I did feel a little uneasy looking into the eyes of this gargantuan creature, but it was quite fascinating at the same time. Other vehicles gave the elephant a little more room than they did to cyclists, but not much.

I’m also beginning to notice the signs of "bicycle hypochondriasis" -every new and unfamiliar squeak, rubbing or vibration - and there seem to be many - has me worrying that something is amiss!

So, here I am at the Hotel Panchavati, as suggested in the Lonely Planet guide (single room rates are 660 RP plus tax - about $19 AUD, which is reasonably lavish, but hey, if I’m doing it hard on the road, I may as well live comfortably when not travelling). The place was extremely hard to find without a map, with most of the street signs being in Hindi only, and the usual difficulty in asking directions. After enquiring of about half a dozen people wandering by I finally managed to find it. It’s quite reasonable, with friendly staff, hot water and shower, fan, TV and not too noisy - well, it’s pretty bloody noisy but tolerable. They wouldn’t let me take my bike into my room, which I rather prefer to do – one becomes quite attached to one’s bike – so it’s bolted to the wall downstairs under the steely gaze of the moustachioed security man (perhaps they’d let me if I paid for a double room ...). I’ll stay here a day or two to settle and figure out where to next.

I’m feeling a little anxious at present about where to next, and it may have been wiser to have cycled west from Igatpuri toward the coast, as this is now where I’m thinking of going. The map (Lonely Planet Road Atlas), which is OK but not fantastic, indicates a 96km journey to a town called Chiol, and then another 20 km to Pardi. Worryingly, my other map suggests something a little different, and doesn’t even include Chiol. Still, what’s the worst that can happen?! (hmm ... that doesn’t help me much). If I head west, I’m bound to hit the coast or Highway 8 eventually!

My rough plans are to head north into Gujarat - via Surat, Bhavnagar, to Diu and Veraval and back around to Ahmadabad and maybe one or two other places then on to Mount Abu where I hope to catch up with an old school chum Charlie who will be there in mid-February. He’s a member of a group called Brahma Kumaris, who have a ‘Spiritual University’ and museum there. After that, Udaipur and maybe one or two other places in Rajasthan. Depending on my time, I might then head down to Goa for some R&R. Knowing me, this plan is probably overly ambitious ...

5th January 2005

Day 2 cycling: Shahapur to Igatpuri: . 51.06km. Cycling time: 4hrs 20 min (but really, from 9am to about 2.30pm). AVS = 12.15 (poor, but a fairly hilly ride, mostly uphill…). MAX = 41.6 km/hr i.e. hills

Vipassana International Academy (VIA)
The VIA was an impressive campus, spread over many hectares (?18). Over 400 meditators, male and female in roughly equal numbers, were there to do the 10-day course, male & female – there were perhaps 20 or so Westerners. Scores of others were there as volunteers to help run the course – cooking, cleaning up, organizing and doing all the other tasks required to run such a large course. Many others were there doing long courses of between 20 and 60 days. Given the numbers, everything ran exceedingly smoothly.

The course involves the practice of certain Buddhist meditation techniques, including the observation of bodily sensations with equanimity – tough when your legs are unwinding from having cycled 150km in the preceding 2 days. Each day involves about 12 hours of sitting on a mat from between 4am and 9pm, with breaks in between. To minimize any distractions (there are enough mental and physical ones from just sitting on the mat), there is a requirement that no communication, either verbal or non-verbal, takes place between meditators, or that any reading or writing materials be used, and the cooking and cleaning-up is done by volunteers.

I was very fortunate in being given my own room, with fan, shower (cold), bucket hot water, loo – many others, particularly first-timers, had to live in dormitories or share toilet and bathing facilities. I was certainly glad no-one could see me in my shower cap with a bucket of cold water at 4 am (the bucket hot water did not come on until 6.30am each day, for about an hour). Furthermore, as an “old student” (this of course refers to having done a course before and nothing to do with age), I also had a cell in the pagoda, which could be used to meditate in for much of the time. The cell was a small room about the size of a small WC, which allowed you at various times to meditate away from the distractions of others (and there were many: the sounds of 399 other meditators shuffling, belching and farting away is awesome, and very disturbing at times)

Each day started at 4am, after the ringing of the gong and various other bells, followed by an explosion of sounds as people in surrounding rooms cleared their nasal and other passages – coughing, grunting, hawking, gobbing, spluttering, snorting ... Some people managed to make sounds that I am sure I could not replicate if I tried. There were many other strange noises during the course - thumps, grindings, half-caught singing from the nearby township – and no-one to ask what the hell they were.

We were given heaps of numbers for the course. Mine were: Reg Number: 0004; room: D-15; meditation mat: 12; pagoda cell: 125; Valuables pouch: 64; Group: 33; Laundry 133… all my undies, shirts, pants now sport the number “133” in indelible ink.

My first 2 days were torment, with my right leg being slightly swollen from cycling - within minutes it became totally numb every time I sat to meditate. While the experience of pain is a ‘given’ on this sort of course, this did not feel good. Luckily a rather stern and seemingly humourless doctor at the general office gave me a tube of “Enac Gel”, which saved the day. What great stuff – as it says on the tube, it’s an “anti-inflammatory analgesic” - I’ll be taking some with me when I cycle from now on.

I was allocated a seat in the front row on the far left, which was quite good, as I had no one sitting in front of or alongside me on the left other than a single column of Buddhist monks hard alongside the left wall of the hall. The guy on the right was quite distracting at times – he specialised in these initially very low, rumbling and then finally extremely loud and reverberating belches. As we were not supposed to communicate there was of course no way for me to tell him to knock it off. Meditation instructions were given in both Hindi and English, and occasionally we English- speaking folk trooped off to another hall to hear things in English.

The food was excellent and a good re-introduction to Indian food, although after a while I did begin to wish for something like cornflakes rather than the savoury food dished up at breakfast time – e.g. rice, idliis, various sauces. I did however come to love, even crave, the glass of warm, sweetened milk available at this time, followed by a good strong cup of chai.

Most of the Indians ate with their right hands, whereas I tended to use the supplied spoon. It’s interesting to notice my conditioning, I guess from an early age, when you’re trained to use cutlery and told to stop playing with your food when you used your hands. I must admit to a slight feeling of distaste when I see Indian folk digging in, with rice up to their knuckles, or when I try myself as I did yesterday when I went to a Thali restaurant. What’s this about? Similarly, I much prefer loo paper than left hand. Curious that we in the west invented toilet paper and cutlery, to put a distance between our hands and these basic functions.