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 http://davidinindia.blogspot.com/2004/12/my-plans-what-i-plan-to-take.html) 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.