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.