Jullay from Leh

Welcome to Prue and Ian's blog of their cycle tour of India

"Soaring thousands of metres above the rush, heat and chaos of India's plains, the Indian himalayaare a world apart. prayer flags snap in the wind on high mountain passes, immense yaks thresk barley at harvest time and the colourfultata trucks crawl up the hairpins like ants. The people, especially in Buddhist Ladakh, are cheerful, honest and gentle. The landscape is a reflection of their religion - white chortens line the roads and approaches to villages like pawns from a giant game of chess, burgundy-clad monks hitch lifts at the side of road, gompas perch on spectacular crags and everywhere the air is alive with the flutter of prayer flags Here is some of the most starkly spectacular mountain scenery you will find anywhere in the world"

Laura Stone Adventure Cycling

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In the end we always arrive at the place we are expected.

Yesterday, November 22nd, we arrived in Mumbai increasing its population to 16.4 million + 2. Our arrival was calculated to miss a long cycle into this megalopolis. Instead we caught a ferry from the southern side of Mumbai Harbour at Mandwa.
Our journey from Kochi five weeks ago had taken us inland on two occasions but our path generally followed the coastal route.
Cycling from the Kerallan capital, we hoped to leave the late monsoonal rain behind us, but it seemed to follow us for several more weeks. Rust and mould were constantly a problem - only on the bikes and clothing though!
We ferried across to Vypeen Is from Fort Cochin and as we cycled beside the backwaters we enjoyed the political fanatacism leading up to the local elections.Small villages supported by coconut or banana plantations or rice paddies were inhabited by the local Malayalams. It didn't take long to leave the non-Indian tourist trail and the ease of English road signs. This inability for us to read the signs was to be a constant problem for the next few weeks. Languages spoken across southern India change rapidly as well. Luckily the usually reliable "point at the map and follow the non verbal direction from whoever we asked" worked well.- especially if repeated at every major intersection.
As mentioned in earlier blogs, the religious diversity of a population so devout in their chosen faith is astonishing. Leaving Catholic Kochi one day, sleeping a short walk from Hindu central - Guryayir's Sri Krishna's temple, the next. If the money changers at the temple so incensed Jesus in the New testament account, he wouldn't have coped at all in India. Actually "in the temple " is a sacred place for the Muslims, Christians, Jains, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists but one step outside the hard sell is on for religious icons and just about anything else.
Our next day was a long 100 kms cycle to Calicutt arriving after dark with flashing tail lights and head torches letting the evening traffic know of our arrival. The day's ride was again slowed down by numerous people stopping us, interested in our journey ( and usually with a new phone number to "ring me if you need help") Kingfisher beers from Room Service was the reward for the long day.
 Our coastal route now took a turn inland as we caught a bus up on to the Western Gnats and to the old Raj hilltop town of Ooty. "Snooty Ooty" as it was known when the Brits escaped the heat of the plains to take the officialdom up into the hills for some colonial air-con. Here we again ran into teachers Ian and Megan from W.A. working at Ooty's International School. We had previously met them at the cricket in Kochi. They helped us make some decisions about our next riding leg.
I wanted to connect a ride from Ooty to Mysore with a visit to the Nilgiri Hills and its ecologically significant Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. Tigers and wild elephants being the star attractions. Having a personal and professional interest in ecological management issues, I have been drawn to the tigers' plight in India ( and the other 12 countries that support the remaining tiger populations)
Guess what is the main problem facing tigers in India? And guess what the human population is in the Wayanad sanctuary? 780,200 humans. 38 tigers.
I have been reading Valnik Thapan's book The Last Tiger - Struggling for Survival. Of course it's a very similar tale to that of our own thylacine. Hopefully the current tiger summit in St Petersberg of the 13 tiger range countries will help India towards the plan to double tiger populations by 2020.
I have digressed from the cycle route planning. After looking closely at the maps of Northern Kerala, the road to Mysore actually dissected the Wayanad Sanctuary. Tiger symbols each side of the road on the map led to the thought that "we might have a chance on a downhill run but an encounter with a tiger on an uphill could place us at a distinct disadvantage". I discussed my plans with Ian and Megan. Ian related the stories of deaths from the previous year. Not a high number but a significant factor in our decision making. Aggressive, wild elephants on the road were the real problem, although tiger attacks had happened.
 Knowing you all would have been disappointed if this final blog wasn't completed, we decided to ........ catch a bus to Mysore.
Mysore was a great place to spend a few days - bustling markets, magnificent monuments - many created by the Wodeyar Maharajas, and the friendly locals. The Maharaja's Palace is an India must-see and diving into Devaraja Market was exciting as the the Hindu devotees geared up for Diwali - the festival of light (and noise).
Next we put the bikes back onto a bus and "over-nighted it" to Panaji in central Goa.
As we rode out of the bus stop the next morning, Amey a member of the Goan bike Club, pulled us over and invited us on their Sunday morning ride the next day. Guest house Casa Paradiso became our home for the next week as we explored the rich Portuguese-flavoured history with new friends.The town was alive with Diwali lights and the making of huge papier-mache effigies. The Panaji sojourn allowed us to not only explore Old Goa's grand cathedrals- once the ecclesiastical wonder of the Eastern World, and eat more seafood, but also take in a dose of Indian musical culture and a baby boomer surprise. The Kala Academy Cultural Centre hosted a classical Indian musical event which we enjoyed- especially the sensational tabla players. Several days later we read that The Cavern Beatles were in town - a cover band from .......Yes. Liverpool. There were only a handful of non-Indians in the sell-out crowd and we were surprised when not only did the locals know every word to every song, but spirited singing and dancing was the response to the mop-tops' urges to join in. Great fun and a very sweaty night dancing in humid Panaji.
A chance discussion previously with a fellow traveler in Bundi made us plan a visit to the inland again to the World Heritage-listed Hampi. Quoting Lonely Planet "Unreal and bewitching, the forlorn ruins of Hampi lie scattered over a landscape that leaves you spell bound the moment you cast your eyes on it".
Think Mt Buffalo with its monolithic boulders and rock formations but with the alpine vegetation replaced with jade-coloured palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields. It was easy to visualise the decaying facades of the 16th century bazaars coming alive when you learnt of the original 500,000 population dabbling in international trade from faraway lands.
Without the bikes, we hired a scooter for the afternoon and enjoyed the experiences of visiting local rural villages. One fleeting image down a laneway brought back childhood memories and brought a smile to my face. Diwali celebrations also includes plenty of fireworks, particularly crackers- big crackers.(penny bangers if you're over 50)As we scootered past, I glimpsed four boys surrounding a large, fresh cow pat. A penny banger was sitting in the middle of it, an older boy was striking a match and the other 3 were about to leave the scene as quickly as they could.
After our return to Panaji we realised it was time to explore more of Goa. Another ferry took us across the river and we rode north through the seaside towns of Candolim, Callangute, and Baga. Wall-to-wall sun seekers cheek-to-cheek on the beach and the local economy trying to flog everything from spiderman beach towels to diamonds. Not for us.
Our hope was to find the best Goan beach and to stay put for a few days. Vialankanni Beach Resort, Mandrem ticked all the boxes.
No crowds but new friends to meet. - tick
Bamboo hut for sleeping to the sound of the waves - tick
restaurant/bar - tick
French Patissier close by - tick
interesting walks, clean beach, beach lounges, waves, - tick
G&T's delivered to the above lounges at sunset - tick
We booked in for 2 days, extended for another 2 days, and a another ( final) 2 day extension.
We contemplated a 5-day yoga course but ordered another G&T instead.
Prue's diary reads "Run/swim/breakfast/lounge/swim/walk/swim/read/food/lounge/G&T/ dinner/read/sleep" x 6!
We had fun meeting Ulva and Jonathan from Stockholm and sharing several meals, conversations ranging from ABBA to social justice issues, and a trip to an Organic Spice plantation.Tack så mycket!
Yes we finally left after making the most difficult decision in 4 months.
An 80km ride took us to Malvan for the night and then on to Devgarh the next day.
Our plan to ride to Mumbai was unravelling as we realised how many kilometres were ahead of us. So again Plan B ( B as in Bus) came into action. Another "over-nighter" took us to Nagothana. After a quick omlette and chai at a roadside cafe we headed off to Roha. Midway to Kashid, our destination for the night, we stopped at the village of Chennare. Local kids asked if we played cricket, and 10 minutes later The Chennare Test started. Local backyard rules were explained - on the roof - out, in the long grass - out, near the windows - out. The same all over the world! End of the morning session and we were invited home for a drink and lunch. Just another example of the very hospitable locals.
Back on the road we finally reached Kashid- the beach playground of Mumbaikars. Stupidly we hadn't realised it was a busy Saturday night, and the place was throbbing with day-trippers and over-nighters enjoying the weekend and end-of- Diwali school holidays. We eventually found accommodation. Strangely the Diwali sales prices we had seen in shops didn't flow on to Guesthouse prices - quite the opposite. Consequently our most expensive accommodation was agreed upon -  R2500- actually only about $50 so we didn't stress for too long.
Our final leg into Mumbai was via the coastal city of Alibag and then onto Mandwa to catch the ferry.
Our week in Mumbai will go quickly, the traffic isn't too chaotic for cycling, and many attractions and experiences are within walking distance of our Hotel.
Commentators of Mumbai talk of its rhythm- a harmony that takes a while to hear. " A complex but playful raga, a gliding, light-footed dance." So we have a week to become a part of the song.
We depart Mumbai on Wednesday 1st December, followed by two days in Singapore before setting foot on Terra Australis on Saturday 4th December.
Finally, a newspaper snippet that caught our eye.A local entrepreneur is making paper products derived from elephant dung. He has been experimenting with colours, feeding his elephant beetroot or tumeric. We are trying to source some Christmas cards for you all.

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