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.

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