Monday, January 17, 2005

4th January 2005

Day1 cycling: Mumbai to Shahapur: Total 102.64 km. 6hrs 54mins ride time. MAX = 38.6km/hr. AVS = 15.36 km/hr – a little slow but a lot of time spent getting through Mumbai (around 20km until out of Mumbai). Road conditions were generally good, although the surface became a bit rough over the last 15km. Overall, not a very interesting ride – mainly highway, and not so many places to stop for a cup of tea. When I did, people seemed a little incredulous to see me, as if I was an astronaut just off the space shuttle – people seem baffled to see a westerner on a bicycle & would stand around and gawk at me and the bicycle (and they do tend to fiddle with bike bits) … just doesn’t make sense to them. I started to run out of puff after about 90 km (!), but there seemed nowhere evident that I could stay. After another 10km or so I arrived at the small town of Shahapur, which seemed an unlikely place to have a guesthouse or any accommodation, and my attempts at asking led to a few ‘bum steers’. (At this point, I recalled that many Indians prefer apparent helpfulness to accuracy, and may well make up an answer and point in any old direction, rather than admit they don’t know. This cost me about 15kms on the trip, when I took a wrong turn based on faulty directions.) It was beginning to look hopeless when a young boy understood my request for “accommodation” and took me to the Engineers’ Training School (I think that’s what it was) where he and some other lads aged 16 to 19 helped negotiate me a room there. For 200 Rp (about 6 Australian dollars) I was given a room with a fan and bathroom with hot water. I felt stuffed but so pleased to be able to stop and rest. 100 km was probably a little too ambitious for my first day’s cycling.

I was a celebrity for an evening. The lads crowded into my room (nine of them at one stage, plus an engineer or two) plying me politely with questions (what I was doing, age, profession, marital status and so on) and examining my bike. Four of them invited me for a Chinese meal in a local restaurant. They were so very friendly, and at one stage a small squabble erupted over who would sit next to me at the restaurant. At the end of the evening they gave me some small gifts (a Hindi calendar and a small sort of flower arrangement), despite my protestations that I couldn’t fit anything else in my panniers.

Indians are usually very placid and friendly on person-to-person basis, but their aggression seems to become unleashed on the roads. Trucks and buses are relatively respectful when travelling in the same direction, and will give you a wide enough berth if possible when they overtake (unless there’s oncoming traffic also overtaking, in which case they’ll toot away indicating that they’re coming and you’d better watch out). Oncoming vehicles however have no scruples in forcing you off the bitumen when overtaking slower oncoming traffic. Funnily, oncoming traffic usually gives the best indication of when to be extremely cautious or to pull over onto the shoulder of the road.

Signs indicating blind curves are also another cue to be very careful, especially when the sign indicates no overtaking: Indians seem to regard these signs as an indicator to do just the opposite. I guess it’s because they can’t see anything ahead. Going downhill, especially when it’s a steep hill, can be particularly dangerous, as you’re likely to meet a whole phalanx of vehicles crawling uphill bunched up behind the slower vehicles. As soon as there’s a break in the traffic coming down the hill (a bicycle doesn’t count as traffic) every second vehicle pulls right out with a view to overtake, entirely filling the lanes in both directions.

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