... hey, I'm now in Delhi in one piece, after a cycling frenzy of over 400km in 4 days, from Mahendranagar to Delhi! "Over 400" because I took a wrong turning & went to a place called Bareilly instead of Rampur, which probably added about 60km to the journey. Time for some R&R, and for resting the buttocks which are feeling a bit sore. So, below comes a blogging frenzy (I've been able to access what i wrote onto my laptop & thence USB...)
[this place! the guy in the internet room at the hotel here in Delhi just asked to see my passport!! (I told him to nick off...) ... the paperwork to just use the internet here is more extensive than what I was required to complete at Banbasa to enter the country. India!! Gotta love it!]
Day 14 cycling: MAHENDRANAGAR to Bareilly
DST= 120.54km; RTM = 7hrs 15 min; AVS = 16.6km/hr; MAX = 49.6km/hr; cadence = 59rpm
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 1094
How sweet - there's a mouse in my room scuttling across the room from time to time. Oh well, I suppose it can't do me any harm; I'll just have to make sure my last few Parle-G biscuits are well hidden away. Crikey though, it's dark around here when the lights go out. I was coming back from the internet place without my headtorch when the lights went - walking back was quite hazardous as of course the blackout didn't deter any drivers, cyclists or livestock. The headtorch I have is a bit dorky; I'd not really come across them before, but my aunt Jocelyn gave it to me a year or so back for a birthday & I did wonder what the hell I'd do with it, but it's been extremely useful on this trip as it's turned out. It was amusing one evening in Bandipur when the lights went out; all of the half-dozen or so tourists sitting in the guest house restaurant had them on. It was a bit like being at an undergound miners' convention, but you had to be mindful about not stickybeaking at anyone because it'd be obvious, and you'd end up blinding them.
The border was about 16 or so kilometres from Mahendranagar, and after an easy ride I arrived at the Nepalese Immigration Office, a small squat nondescript office at the side of the road where a portly fellow pottered around, pasted a stamp in my passport & then rubber-stamped it, all in a pretty low key way. The road to the next office - Indian Immigration - was a shocking stretch of mainly rock & dirt, a bit like the road to Bardia. But the procedure here was a breeze. No customs check; I helped the bloke complete the necessary paperwork, which didn't take long at all, after which he said "welcome to India" and gestured me on. I tried to take a photo of the dam wall that greets you after leaving the office but someone official-sounding shouted at me "no photo!" so I complied (well, I did sneak one a bit later on). The track headed across the dam wall and then I was out & in India! "Where the hell am I? Which way to Delhi?" were my first thoughts. I rode ahead, along a riverbank, past a stand of eucalyptus trees .... a few kilometres further I cycled through a vast troop of monkeys that swarmed across the road & roadside. The road itself, except for a section that had clearly been washed away some months earlier & replaced by a makeshift stony track, was nice & flat & I made good speed. Except I wasn't exactly sure where I was heading, not having any map other than a printout of the map of Uttar Pradesh from Lonely Planet's guide to India ... and I unfortunately didn't have the wherewithal to consult this early on. Before long I found myself on Highway 4, heading to Pilibhit (29km) ... ?! It was a little concerning when I started to ask some locals "Delhi ... Delhi??" & they looked blankly at me, clearly not grasping my pronunciation at all. In fact, I think this is how I found myself heading to Bareilly, which does sound vaguely like "Delhi" if said in a desperate enough tone. This wrong turning - going to Bareilly instead of more directly to Rampur - probably added about 60km to the journey; no big deal in the scheme of things I suppose. It all became clear to me when I finally did recall I had the Uttar Pradesh printout & was able to locate Bareilly & Pilibhit. The ride itself was pleasant enough - heaps of sugar cane, monkeys & brick factories (there seem to be brick factories everywhere I cycle in India... ?). I finally reached Bareilly & then had a devil of job finding somewhere to stay, cycling in what seemed like circles for an eternity. I eventually located the JK Hotel, a dive of a place for which they wanted to charge me 300 INR. Amusingly, the paperwork to stay here was more extensive than what I had needed to fill out to get into the country. First a form, enquiring about all sorts of things relevant to accommodation such as 'father's name', followed by an entry across two pages of an enormous ledger book. Dinner was in the room; for a sum of money I received a rather oily looking mutter paneer, cold rice, 4 chapati wrapped in old newspaper & a Pepsi that the food guy was able to arrange. Not a very appetising meal, but better than breakfast which comprised a cup of plain milk tea & 4 pieces of soggy buttered warm bread (like buttered toast that's been reheated in a microwave, which they most certainly wouldn't have had) wrapped again in old newspaper that looked as if it had been recycled from someone else's earlier meal. Being able to access breakfast was a change however, as most places in Nepal, except for perhaps the classier ones, tended to not provide any breakfast.
So, as is apparent, I've elected to cycle to Delhi rather than up north to Pithoragarh & Almora & to then bus or train from there to Delhi as had been suggested earlier. My reasoning was largely that I wanted to see Nepal & Delhi & I rather like the idea of the completeness of cycling all the way. A bit of hard core cyclist's reasoning I guess.
Day 15 cycling: Bareilly to Moradabad
DST= 96.03km; RTM = 6hrs 32 min; AVS = 14.6km/hr; MAX = ?
ODO =1190 km
Ahh! Nothing beats an early Sunday morning ride under the gum trees, I thought, as I headed out of town - easier than I'd thought; I really didn't have a clue where I was when I ended up at the JK Hotel, but it was a reasonably straightforward ride out to the main road to Rampur, after being given directions by people at the hotel. Mind you, things are NEVER straightforward when cycling in India - you'll be given instructions to cycle straight ahead, all the way to wherever you want to get to, only to invariably find yourself at an unmarked T-intersection. Sometimes I'll take a punt, based on the compass, and sometimes I'll ask. Usually someone will know, and so you find yourself negotiating your way across or out of town in fits & starts. Overall, it was a hard stretch of road to cycle, except toward the end where it became a divided highway, elevated from the surroundings, and with a nice cycling surface.
Surprising how many animal carcasses there are on the road - dead cattle, dogs, a cat, some racoon-like critters ... often being devoured by dogs or pecked at by crows. Enough to convert you to vegetarianism.
The roads in India are tough to cycle, tougher than Nepal, and you're given little or no quarter by the bus & truck drivers (although you'll sometimes get the positive thumbs up from truck drivers if they see you've cycled up a difficult hill or if they've seen you before on the road). I've referred before to the main hazard being from oncoming traffic, which, if it spots a break in the traffic, will swarm out all over the road, filling up both lanes in a mass attempt to overtake each other and pushing you off the road (that is, if you care to not join the aforementioned roadkill). So a concerning sight is if you see a slightly slow vehicle (eg a slow truck, or a horse & cart, or bullock & cart) coming towards you with a convoy of other vehicles banked up behind, all itching to pass - you know that within seconds of there being a gap in the traffic headed toward them there'll be a mass breakout, at which point you have to be prepared to hit the dirt at the side of the road (hoping of course that there is a space at the side). Often cars will be zooming past with only inches to spare, almost brushing the bike in their frenzied dash for liberation.
Some while later, I encountered a major road blockage, caused, in a sweet irony, by a gum tree that had fallen across the road. Traffic was banked up in both directions for maybe a kilometre and I quietly pedalled past scores of the cars, trucks & buses that had hurtled past me an hour or so earlier. A team of men with axes & handsaws were working valiantly to clear the road, and I was able to sneak through a small gap they'd created. But the mindlessness of the traffic - impatient drivers, not content to wait in line, were rushing ahead in the other lane hoping perhaps to get to the front, and in so doing were thus blocking both sides of the road, in both directions, from the site of the blockage. The resulting chaos when the tree was finally removed would've been an ignoble spectacle. As I pedalled off, enjoying the freedom from traffic behind me for a time, I realised with horror that a likely tsunami of traffic would soon follow when the tree had been finally removed.
I eventually made it to Moradabad, my goal for the day. Now to find somewhere to stay ... I stopped to ask a couple of likely looking chaps, and before long a crowd of 20, maybe 30, had gathered around me! Hotel Raj Mahal seemed to be the consensus, and some rather complicated directions were given & a map drawn for me. Needless to say, it wasn't too long before I again had no clue where I was. However, at the instigation of someone who spoke a little English, a bicycle rickshaw man was hired to lead me there. Next door to the Raj Mahal, which was a little more expensive than I preferred to pay, was the Hotel New Castle, which had a room for 500 INR - a good deal more comfortable than anywhere I'd stayed at since KTM. They were hosting a wedding reception there that night, which I figured was a bad omen, but in the event, the repetitious drumbeat music, which lasted all night, was curiously relaxing. The place looked like a disaster zone in morning, with all sorts of food & other detritus outside my room when I opened the door, leading me to feel some concern about how the kitchen might be looking & whether or not to brave breakfast. It wasn't too bad though.
There's this odd phenomenon I've noticed while cycling in India: you'll often hear "Hey!" being yelled out - in an insistent, authoritarian tone. It'll either be a farmer, yelling instructions to his bullock, or some bloke, usually sitting in a plastic chair, waving, and who, on seeing you cycle past is expecting that you'll suddenly stop cycling & immediately head over to him. Rarely will they stir from their chair, even if you do stop & look in their direction.
I've been thinking I really should learn some Hindi words, such as "hotel" or "guest house?", "which way to ...", and perhaps even "Delhi"!
Day 16 cycling: Moradabad to Ghaziabad
DST= 136.11km; RTM = 8hrs 17 min; AVS = 16.3km/hr; MAX = 38.5km/hr; cadence = 67rpm
ODO = 1358km
At first, the road out of Moradabad was looking good - a divided highway (so much safer, as there's (generally) no oncoming traffic). I'd stocked up with 2 litres of water, an orange, 600ml of Pepsi & some chocolate biscuits for the journey, anticipating that the divided highway might continue & that maybe it'd be hard to buy stuff on the way. I was dreaming of course, and the road alternated between divided highway, partially completed divided highway & yet-to-be constructed divided highway - the plan seems to be to eventually make Highway 24 a divided highway into Delhi. Often though I was able to cycle in the unopened sections of the partially completed divided highway, which was quite nice. Again, another massive traffic jam was encountered, this time due to a diversion & a vehicle breakdown. Again, a deal of smugness & schaudenfreude on my part as I squeezed through the blockage.
I'm not quite sure what possessed me to cycle so far today - I think the idea was to get as close to Delhi as possible today so I'd have just a short distance to cycle into Delhi the next day. I figured that it might take me quite some time to do this, having only the LP map to guide me, and factoring in my experience of becoming hopelessly lost & disoriented in relatively small towns. I thought maybe Hapur, about 54km from Delhi, might be the go, but as I reached there no obvious accommodation revealed itself to me so I plugged on, and on. It started to become quite dark, and if you think cycling in India during the daylight is tough, it's insane in the dark. So here I am in Ghaziabad, in the pitch dark, not having the faintest idea of the layout of the town or where accommodation might be found. Eventually, after stopping & asking a couple of blokes, one of whom had some English, I was given directions to the Hotel Mela Plaza, which, happily was where he said it would be. Not so happily did I receive the news that it was a 3 star hotel & they wanted nearly $100 USD for a room. Some haggling brought this down to $60 USD (and I was really in no position to argue much, having no other options up my sleeve ... and it was very dark outside.) It was certainly over-rated as 3 star, and even the $60 was excessive ... but it was cosy, and fantastic to have hot water that was actually HOT, toilet paper, 2 sheets on the bed & both of them clean (I don't think I've encountered this on this trip until now) ....
Day 17 cycling: Ghaziabad to DELHI = 30.74km; RTM = 2hrs 10 min; AVS = 14.0km/hr; MAX = 32.7km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 1389km
After a leisurely start to the day, including a non-complimentary breakfast in the hotel restaurant (although what was the story with the powdered coffee out of a sachet that the waiter somewhat ostentatiously opened & slowly poured into my cup, followed by the powdered dairy creamer - that's not 3 star, surely?) And there was no bacon as per the American breakfast I'd ordered ... and HEY! I've just remembered ... whatever happened to the cornflakes that were meant to be part of the deal?
It was nice to know I only had a relatively short distance to cycle today as I headed off into the smog ... again, the road occasionally branched into two & it was often a guess, corroborated by the occasional motorcyclist I questioned, that kept me on the right track. I had a vague route in my mind I'd that I'd mapped out during a chat with the helpful Harvinder ("Harry") Singh I'd met at Bardia. This was derailled after being given some bum directions by a couple of blokes standing on a corner, but luckily I had a more complicated route B also mapped out, and so eventually I got to the Paharganj area where all the tourists hang out (because it's near New Delhi Railway Station & also pretty central to all the tourist attractions. ). I've decided to stay midrange rather than budget, as I've stayed at enough budget & below-budget places this trip. My first choice - Hotel Grand Godwin - gulp, was booked out, but I managed to find a room at the Hotel Ajanta, a relatively flash joint down the road in Arakashan Road, Ram Nagar. They tell me however that I can only have it for 2 nights as they're then all booked out. Ouch, I didn't figure things'd be this busy. It's about 1420 INR a night, plus tax - about half the price of the reduced price at Mela Plaza, and a lot better feel to it.
I've not ventured outside at all since arriving, as I reckon I've seen enough of the outdoors here to last me for a time. Lunch and then some internetting I reckoned was the thing to do, and so had a large thali, a Limca & a Merinda, and a coffee.
You've gotta love this place though (otherwise you'd go insane) ... the hotel has internet access, but to use it I had to fill out a ledger with all sorts of personal details (eg Full name, Date, Address in Australia, Address in India, Purpose in India, Time started, etc, etc ... again, more detailed than I needed to actually get into the country), and after I'd been online for a bit another attendant entered the room and WANTED TO CHECK MY PASSPORT DETAILS!
After about 3 or 4 weeks here, I reckon I've just begun to acclimatise to the sub-continent - it always takes some time to get used to ... the roads, food, hygiene, noise, the way people go about doing things ... & .... the INCESSANT FUCKING DRILLING & HAMMERING that seems to be going on in every hotel you ever stay at ... what ARE they doing? ... OK, maybe I still haven't quite ...