Day 4 cycling: Chandikhol - Ratnagiri - Udayagiri - Lalitgiri - Chandikhol
Distance (DST) = 82km; Total Ride Time (TRT) = 4hr 20min; Average Speed (AVS) = 18.9 km/hr; MAX = 37.5km/hr; cadence = 75rpm. Total Distance (ODO) =241km
Breakfast this morning was a cup of chai at a street stall, a bunch of grapes & a couple of Rich Cashew cookies. I briefly noticed on the TV (- none of the channels are in English, but one had ticker tape news headlines in English) that there's been a bomb blast in Pune, 24 police killed by Maoists in Midnapore (I'll be cycling through there in a few days) & something else about foreigners. Hmm... I assume there will be no problems ...
I decided that today I would do a round trip tour of 3 Buddhist ruins - at Ratnagiri, Udayagiri & Lalitgiri. It was a foggy morning but the road - Highway 5A - was pretty good (aside from all the trucks) - a divided highway. Contrary to expectations, the 3 sites were well signposted with large blue "Incredible India" signs every kilometer or so. It was a largely rural area, with the usual rice & other crops, goats & cattle. Everywhere you looked animal shit was being transformed into large round discs & left out to dry & then stacked in great cyclindrical piles. In a number of places, villagers would section off part of the road with boulders to leave their various grains out to dry. Overall, and especially after leaving the main highway at the 12km mark, it was a delightful area to cycle through (although you have to watch out for the local speed humps - usually at both ends of a village but sometimes randomly allocated also it seemed - they're quite high & narrow with no accommodation for cycles . People were very friendly, and later in the afternoon I was 'buttonholed' by a bunch of blokes into having a meal at the local school. After removing shoes I entered a room full of maybe 15 blokes sitting against the four walls. I was shown to a spot, a large square piece of banana leaf put in front of me & then a couple of blokes with buckets of food scooped out copious amounts of rice and various veg curries onto the leaf. No cutlery - a hand only job, which I did with about 5 blokes standing & observing. Then, a glass of sweetened rice & a trace of fruit. Very tasty & most hospitable of them; they wanted nothing in return.
The ruins themselves were actually quite impressive, and there were small museums at both Ratnagiri & Lalitgiri containing some impressive sculptures. The state government here seems to be working hard to promote the 'Buddhist Circuit' & work on Tourist Info Centres, Accommodation, Toilet Blocks, Parking, Conference centres, etc etc is proceeding apace. Road reconstruction was also happening in many spots. The ruins at Ratnagiri were the most extensive, and the only blight on the whole thing was the earsplitting Hindi music from the nearby village. Perhaps they were ensuring that they weren't being forgotten. Curiously, there was a Hindu temple smack dab in the middle of the Udayagiri ruins, perhaps to ensure that noone got the wrong idea with all th Buddhist stuff on show. Other than a handful at Ratnagiri, there were no other tourists to be seen, which made for a relaxing time. Cycling back, a young Indian girl with not much English cycled along with me, making an effort at conversation. She was quite chuffed when I gave her a 20 cent Australian coin, and then when discovering where I'd cycled from said "you're my hero!" ... unfortunately following up with "..and so old now!".
Indians are very funny about soiled money. I have a Rs100 note with red stains on 2 corners. Nowhere will accept it, even the big hotels, and when I throw my hands up & say "what the hell will I do with it then?!" I'm told that the bank might give me Rs90 for it. I can't help wishing that hotels & lodges would show the same diligence with their towels & sheets.
Stained money - not accepted anywhere