Monthly Archives: November 2011

Rajasthan – land of the kings.

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After two days resting, Joel finally had his energy back enough to continue. We hit the road, relieved to find our route now left the highway, and wound through rolling hills into Rajasthan; Land of the Kings. I’m sure you’ll all be shocked and disgusted to read that at this point we took our helmets off, to enjoy the wind in our (my) hair, and easy conversation; i.e. not shouting single words at each other. There was next to no traffic on the roads, and the surface quality was appalling, leading us to reach no greater speed than we would on our pushbikes. It felt amazing, and suddenly people became so friendly! –It’s important to note here that about 1% of Indian motorcyclists wear helmets, perhaps because they’re too pricey; but more likely they’re too hot! In cities, there are often laws (unenforceable on the whole, but a good source of police baksheesh, and applicable for the driver only!) and wonderful signs encourage riders to don some protective headgear, usually in a nifty rhyme – in Goa, a favourite one was: Don’t be a hell-mate! Wear a helmet!– So I suppose we look less like two aliens on an over-loaded bike, and begin to resemble humans, a little. We started to get more smiles and waves, which felt lovely and welcoming. We spent the night in a clean hotel in Banswara; Hotel Raj Palace; no street noise, A/C, and even a little balcony, all for 400Rs (£5). However, of all the facilities, the one thing we appreciated most was the lack of fumes, as our last residence had been over a paint shop!

 

Next stop: Udaipur… but before we set off, a morning trip to a mechanic pulled in a good crowd, and some bad news – talk of big problem in Dolly’s engine, a good few hours work, the mechanic signed to us. Can we make it to Udaipur we asked? – a beautiful city, home of the Lake Palace Hotel, made famous in Bond’s Octopussy. We’d rather be stuck there waiting. He motioned that we’d be fine to carry on (160km) so we decided to take the risk. The road was stunning, as we neared the city, we came through a protected forest, and some gorgeous pinky hills. No problems with Dolly, she was running OK but Joel had a bit of an uneasy feeling about her; there were some new noises, and she wasn’t feeling right. Hmmm… The joy of the Enfield.

 

We found a big, light room with an absolutely splendid view over the lake, complete with un petit balcon, wall hangings and stained glass windows; in the traditional Udaipur style, arches with scalloped edges. And wifi?! We are really feeling like a modern Maharaja and his Maharani now.

 

The next morning we made our way to a mechanic, bracing ourselves for bad news. When the boss finally arrived, he confirmed it was just that. He showed us little shavings of metal in the oil. I ain’t no biker, but I got a feelin’ that ain’t great… New crank bearings needed, a job which involves taking the whole engine to pieces. Ouch. The rupees add up…

 

In the evening we went to see a traditional dance performance and puppet show at a beautiful old haveli on the lakeside. The performance was divided into sections, and each was introduced by the compere. The first one was a ritual, in which the male dancers pranced about staring maniacally into the heavens; the drumming was fierce and intense. Mirroring my sentiments exactly, a toddler burst into tears and was taken out by her father. Luckily the following dancers were smiling women, twirling and shaking in their finery; J and I were tapping our knees and grinning like little hyenas in no time. Phew!

 

Next Morning: Just picked up Dolly, only to find all petrol magically vanished. Our hosts in the hotel laughed when we told them; “You should always be emptying the tank before taking it to the mechanic! Just leave them 1 litre!” I shoulda known. (Indian English is mainly comprised of verbs in the present continuous, for those who’re interested!)

We’re almost ready to set off for Pushkar, on shiny Dolly, good as new. Went to pick up a shirt from a tailor that Joel got talked into having made last night after a beer, (By me and the tailor both!)

 

 

VIEW FROM OUR WINDOW OF LAKE PICCHOLA:

Travelling by motor – HeLLO DOLLy!…

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Travelling by motor – HeLLO DOLLy!…

 

…A strange phenomenon; no sweating, no cursing, no nuffin’. You put in this condensed energy in the form of liquid, that someone somewhere extracted from the earth, and thanks to a series of noisy events I certainly don’t understand, you are propelled forthwith with great force.

From my throne on the back of old Dolly, I while away the hours watching the seemingly endless farmland, shacks with tin roofs, most with satellite dishes balanced on top, piles of plastic waste, and the thoughts in my mind. All arrive quickly and just as quickly pass by.

We pass oxen-carts piled high with sugarcane, just harvested, heading for the local processing plant, women carrying oversized piles of wood or sacks of rice on their heads, entire families working to fix the roads – a wonderful technique; the women and children fill big bowls full of tiny stones, that their husbands and fellow workers have manually broken down, and carry them on their heads to the broken section of road, where they tip the stones -from head-height- into the holes, then through the dust, a man covers the stones over with tar from a metal watering-can taken from the vat, precariously balanced on a fire at the roadside, and finally a guy may or may not roll over the rocky-tarry mess in a steam roller, I believe this last stage is often left to the passing traffic, who wheedle their way through, horns blaring, leaving mere millimetres between their them and the dusty scene, and everyone carries on as if the other is a mere obstacle to their progress, which I suppose is why noone gets upset by it all. Indian life is filled with obstacles and hazards, they’re used to it. You pass at least twenty just popping out for brekkie in the morning!

Thus we have travelled a great distance since I last wrote. We would have made it into our fourth Indian state (Goa, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh all ticked off), were it not for a nasty feverish virus descending onto poor Joel just before sundown yesterday. We made it to the nearest lodge, and thanks to a kindly bunch of chaps who I believe work here at the lodge, although no work ever seems to take place; certainly no cleaning: I don’t know why these hoteliers with their fancy new brightly painted buildings don’t just clean them, and fix the electrics here and there, in no time they are covered with grubby hand marks, the reddy-brown spit-stains of ‘pan’ (a spicy mix including betel nut, wrapped up in a leaf, chewed by Indian men) all up the walls, or sockets hanging by a wire. This is standard behaviour even in the pricier hotels; even when we splashed out 700Rs (just under a tenner) for the poshest hotel in town, the bathroom was 

unfinished with loose wires dangling over the mirror, and the room falling victim to neglect. It seems to me that the Indian mentality across the board is paint over the filth…..

Where was I? Ah yes, thanks to the kindly bunch of chaps, we ferried a shivering and pale Joely to the doctor, in the lodge’s 4×4. Thoroughly dosed up, we now just have to sit it out. The doctor said it was a virus, which we assume is the result of drinking three glasses of local water at lunch yesterday. I quote Joel here; “Think I’ll just take the risk, the Lifesaver [our filter]’s so far away” (Out the front of the restaurant, attached to Dolly). I guess this time he was unlucky. I also drank some, but only half a glass, thankfully with no ill effects. We’ve been drinking tap water the whole journey up until India, where we decided to use our filter (most of the time!), seeing as there can be some nasty things in the water here – BUT, we figured that our bodies might just have adjusted to the local water, with our gradual journey. (Evidently not.) There are mixed views on drinking local water here, from friends who gradually adjusted after drinking little by little, suffering minor tummy upsets to begin with but eradicating the need to buy unnecessary plastic bottles, which, in turn, are adding to the piles of garbage under which the Indians (especially in rural areas) now live. It is said that in such warm climates, we should be drinking 3l a day, so if you calculate that for a six month visit, you’re looking at potentially 540 plastic bottles per traveller. Which in my opinion, is not even thinkable. Many people do this! Even Indians, if they can afford it.

So with all this in mind, we’ve carried the best water filter on the market, The Lifesaver Bottle, up all those hills, all those miles. It even takes out viruses.. Anyway…

For the mean time, we’re in a fairly low-end noisy, smelly lodge, in Badnawar, Madhya Pradesh- until Joel’s feeling up to leaving. We feel like celebrities when we step out the door, especially if i venture out without Joel. You’d be amazed, you can be surrounded (all men) by about 30/40 people in under 5 minutes, the word spreads fast. When someone manages to say something to you, that brings another 10 or so who’d been cowering in the shadows, eager to hear this white woman speak. Maybe I should say something more profound…

Meeting Dorothy

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Sorry if you’ve been on the edge of your seats, checking for updates every other minute, I said there’d be more news tomorrow; then left it 3 whole days! You may think we’ve been too busy swimming in the sea, jumping waves hysterically, eating delicious tikka King fish watching the sun burn red as it sets…. (That was the case up until Mon, rest assured.) But the reality is i’ve been struck by a case of Delhi belly, so it’s yoghurt, plain rice and porridge all the way, when Joel can get me to eat it that is 😉 . Devastating, but really no better place to be under the weather!

So, I’ll resume the story…

You’ll recall our friend Abhinav, who was kind enough to put us up in Mumbai? Yes, well he headed down to Goa with Silvia, the sweet Italian hitchhiker who’d been staying with him when we were, leaving us alone in his apartment – so kind of him.
We gave him a call from our favourite Cookie Walla (best value thali, run by sweet Nepalese guys) and he was in the cafe next door! Bit of a coincidence, considering he could have been anywhere in Goa! So we popped in… He was sitting with a couple of Israeli guys and a German girl he’d met when they’d all been travelling up north in the mountains. Not long after we arrived, one of the guys and Mira, the girl, got up and said they had to go to Panjim, Goa’s capital. They stepped out, and we began to tell the others about our problem, which to recap, is this:
Our plan was to arrive in Mumbai and cycle down the coast, taking in the beautiful places Joel’s been hearing about continuously since we met, and was looking forward to finally seeing! Then we’d turn north and ride from the tip of India way up to Nepal; a grand total of 3000kms. We’d really been looking forward to the pressure being off in India as we’ve been racing for various visa deadlines along the way. A six month visa would allow us plenty of time, even to cover just 150km a week, spending the rest of the time sightseeing and relaxing. Enter the problem… As we applied for our visa in Dubai and not in London, we were given only three months (even though the clerk had assured us six would be fine, so we’d paid for six), which really threw a spanner in the works. This meant that we’d have to be out of India by Jan 15th. NB: the Indian government have recently introduced a new rule – you must leave India for two months before they’ll allow you back in. Now consider my best friend Loren’s flights out here she’d booked (completely non-exchangable, and inflexible – of course, of course…) to Mumbai for Jan 23rd.
Gah! So we had some rethinking to do…
If we pushed really hard we’d make it all the way around, by bicycle, but that would mean cycling long days, every day, and having no time or energy for sightseeing. Seeing as this part of the trip was meant to be more of a holiday, we ruled this out. Plus that would mean cycling in the cold North in winter. Another option was to stick the bikes on trains. Public transport was something we’d categorically ruled out when we’d been discussing the final leg of the trip whilst awaiting the visa in Dubai, we really wanted to ride it all.
We thought for a long time about options… Whilst talking one evening, Joel and I decided we needed to make this trip suit us, and not just about our plan that we’d made; which was now out the window. We knew we should see everything he wanted to, seeing as who knows if/when we’d ever come back. He said he thought he would like to come back one day, to buy a motorbike and ride around the country, as so many people do. I said to him that if that was really what he wanted to do, why leave it ’til next time? So we started thinking about that. The feasibility and the expense. Whether it would work. Also weighing heavily was our agreement with Rainbow Zebra, and whether the cash they’d pledged for The Siddhartha Foundation UK would be out the window, seeing as we wouldn’t be cycling. Unfortunately the main man at their end, was out of the country, so we couldn’t even discuss it with them. We really felt lost, searching for a solution.

So back to the cafe: We explained all this to Abhinav, concluding with our idea of continuing by motorbike. (The expense of buying one would be outweighed by half the number of nights needed in hotels, and a helluva lot less food – cycle-tourists are renowned for their huge appetites!) He leapt up, “You know, that’s what they’re going into town to do, sell Dekel’s Enfield!” He ran out and delayed them. The excitement made our chests tight, Dekel explained he was flying to Thailand tomorrow and needed a quick sale, so the price was low: Rs 22,000 (£293). But we’d need to decide within half an hour, as he was on his way to meet an Indian who was interested. Ahh… I was unsure, and didn’t want to rush such a decision. Joel went for a ride with Dekel, on the back, and came back gleaming! Abhinav and Mira had been discussing it, and concluded that if we didn’t buy it, one of them would, just to sell it on when the full-season began, it being so cheap and all.
Travelling by Royal Enfield in India is something I’m familiar with, and it’s a great way of getting around. Same experience as cycle-touring in that you get right off the beaten track, but without the sweating up the hills. (I might have mentioned previously that Joel has been dehydrated almost continuously since we arrived in Mumbai, no doubt adding to the lure of the engine!) Dekel told us that she would need 5000-8000 Rs spent on her to get her up to perfect condition. This was still a good deal, remembering we’ll be able to sell her on no problem.
So we bought her, and named her Dorothy.
Dave hired a fancy new Yamaha with only 40k on the clock, and we took them for a spin. Dorothy cut out on a hill, after 80kms of smooth sailing. We got her going again, Dave being quite the expert on motorbikes, having raced them in his (extended) youth!
Back in Arambol, we checked her into an Enfield Walla, Dekel’s quote of 8000Rs was pretty accurate. We’ll get the final figure today.
Dave left a couple of days ago, bright and early. He’s heading down to Sri Lanka, totalling up incredible daily mileage no doubt. That’ll be the end of his trip, flying back to NZ for xmas. He had some incredible tales of his time in China, Vietnam and Thailand. His blog is on crazyguyonabike.com entitled: Dave’s Chillout Tour of South Asia. You can read about all sorts of adventures there and see the pics, including whatever he’s written about us! I better check actually! We had a great time with him, and hope to meet him somewhere again one day. Thanks for an awesome time Dave! (A drinking buddy for Joel!)

We plan to set off in the morning, guts and Dorothy dependant. 🙂

Mumbai to GOA!

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Headin’ South from Mumbai

 

We took a rickety old ferry from the Gateway of India, across the filthy water to Mandwa with a large number of Indians, who enjoyed the on board entertainment: us. We felt the pressure lift when we rolled off the pier, into the shade of the coconut trees; ahh space and oxygen – what luxuries.

It was already pretty late in the day so we didn’t make it too far; only 20 or so kms, but an beautiful little shady road, mainly flat, through little villages full of confused-looking locals (I guess we mustn’t have been what they were expecting). We arrived in Alibag, where we stayed in Guruji Beach Resort – cheaper and less grandiose than it sounds! All other hotels were full (or hideously over-priced – R6000 (£80) for a tiny, dirty room?! Yeah I know it’s Diwali but come on, that’s a little much, no?), and we were getting mozzy-bitten and frustrated so we were delighted to come across Guruji (best price after haggling R820 (£11; for spacious clean room with bathroom) down a backstreet near the beach. The fish thali wasn’t great, I think we were the only guests, so the fish must have come out of the freezer, and was uncooked in the middle.

 

The following day we only made it another 20kms down the coast, the scenery, despite it’s beauty, was seriously hilly – us being unaccustomed to riding after 2 weeks lazing around waiting in Dubai/Mumbai. AND for some reason we’d got into the habit of sleeping all morning, completely unable of rousing ourselves before 11am! It felt like we were jet-lagged from our 2 ½ hour flight; which seemed a little absurd a good 5 days later. By the time we managed to get out of the guest houses in the morning, it was lunch time. Tsk! What we needed was a little kick up the backside; and such a kick rolled up alongside us as we sat by the side of the road trying to get a map to load on the kindle, in Mhasala – in the form of a fellow cycle-tourist, namely David from New Zealand! Wow! Another foreign cyclist, in India, must surely be a pretty rare sight! We were gobsmacked! he’d started out in Singapore and ridden through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia before flying to Mumbai, and riding down the coast (in almost half the time we’d taken!) When we met him, he’d just completed a 100km day (we’d only just begun! -slackers!) He came at just the right time; and was heading South to Sri Lanka, which is what our plan had been, before we only got granted half the India visa-length we’d be counting on. He was just the inspiration we needed to get our sleeping pattern back to daylight hours, we checked into a nearby lodge, and made plans to set off just as the sun rose at 6.45 the next morning. Great! I love the early mornings in India, and looked forward to leaving the town just as it woke up.

 

The next day turned out to be a scorcher, even as we hit the first hill before 8am, we were sweating buckets. For some reason Joel’s sweat glands work on over-drive so he looks like he’s just been for a swim for the most-part of the day. This is really a struggle for him, as it’s almost impossible to keep hydrated when you’re losing so much water. He was wondering if he’d be able to continue, but kept on truckin’, stoically. We wound around the little lanes, deciphering the Hindi signs, and after stopping for a second breakfast (something we found we had in common with David, and probably quite a few other cyclists!), reached a little river and loaded the bikes onto a waiting ferry.

The other side of the river, we rode through a tiny fishing village, with no roads, only narrow little lanes between the houses, and everyone was out in the street wishing us happy Diwali and smiling as we passed. It was so colourful, with lots of traditional, bright, sand patterns drawn on the ground to celebrate the festival of light. The day was Friday – the weekend of Diwali, and we’d been warned that the guest houses along the coast would fill up, as they’re popular with the local tourists, who drive down from the state’s major cities, Mumbai and Puna. We rode out of the little village along a coast road/path, but a couple of chaps stopped us in our tracks saying “How you will go? high tide is there!” They happily diverted us up the steepest hill on the planet (but luckily not too long), which we made a good crack at, but Dave (his bike a good 20kg lighter) zoomed on past. We stopped for breath next to an old man with blue eyes I recognised from the ferry, who’d asked us for money, just ‘because’. He timely asked me again, and a saw a little win-win situation. For ten rupees (13p) he pushed Arthur up the hill for me. (Don’t worry, he wasn’t that old! He was perfectly capable, and happy to make such easy money. He kept a fag in one hand the whole way up.) We then followed the coast round until we reached a second river, where we ummed and ahhed about which place would be the crossing place, not wanting to drop down unnecessarily, and then have to climb back up if it was wrong. Our water supplies were getting dangerously low, and the heat was almost too much to bear; these hills were tough going and Joel and I were burning. David checked out the options and reckoned we’d do best to keep going a bit along the road. We followed and got some mixed advice from some road-workers, stopping to lunch on the side of the way. One group said to ride straight, presumably to a bridge, 30kms away; the other to go back to the point we’d considered previously for a ferry. We turned back. Luckily there was a port there, in the business of shipping aluminium ore to Ukraine, and the boss spoke perfect English. We’d missed the boat, but this friendly chap set about making us feel comfortable with water and all, and in fact arranged for the port’s boatman to come and collect us. We had a kip in the meantime.

On the other side we had to walk down the beach a bit before arriving in a gorgeous jungly village, just like something outta the Jungle Book. Monkeys n all, much to Joel’s delight. We found one guest house with one room available, and after a small mix-up with the first room, which turned out to have been pre-booked, we moved into the attic room and the manager told us we’d get breakfast thrown in free for the hassle. Nice and early he said, what time you want? 4? 6 we said, OK six no problem.

We went for a walk around the village before dinner, and after some ominous rumbling, the heavens opened! The first rain we’d seen in a good 2 ½ months. Unfortunately it didn’t last long, to Dave’s pleasure, as he’d seen far too much water on his way through SE Asia, having hit Vietnam during the monsoon!

The place was teeming with Indian holiday-makers, mainly big family groups from Puna. We all ate dinner communally, veg thali served on banana leaves, as is customary in S India.

The next morning we were up at 5.40 and went down for breakfast at 6, as we’d been promised. We sat around drinking chai til 7.30 when it was finally served. A spicy semolina dish, with grated coconut on top. Tasted like super-noodles to me.

 

Today was easier going temperature-wise, and I think our legs have re-adjusted to riding again, so the hills didn’t cause quite as much grief as yesterday. We rode along the coast, up and over the various hills, and stopped at around 3pm when the boys found a bar… As they enjoyed their extra strong Kingfishers in the dingy little room, I received a call from my friend Tom back home, and took pleasure in catching up on the latest from home.

We checked into the last room in town again, this time a ‘Deluxe Suit’ [sic] was the only one available, complete with a gazillion lights and switches, air-con and hot water! All for R2500 (£30 – £10 each). The entire hotel, and the only other in town had been booked up for a YEAR by a local ship-building company, this was the only room free.

It came as quite a surprise when the phone rang, just as we were all getting into bed, and a little voice explained that he too was a cycle-tourist, and had just arrived! He turned out to be Gurav, from somewhere near Delhi, also riding from Mumbai to Goa, but arrived too late to get a room. He took our number, and we agreed to meet him tomorrow morning to ride on together! I hope he finds somewhere to stay, last we heard he was off to the bar! We’ll see…

 

We were practically woken up by Gurav; waiting downstairs and raring to go! He popped over to a controversial shipping yard (the one who’d booked up both hotels in town presumably!) to get the low-down – as he’s studying journalism, and met us a few kms down the road, where we were waiting for our extra large omelette brekkies. It was great to ride with him, he could even read the signs and speak to the locals, something we could previously only struggle with. He was a really sweet chap, and a great addition to our group. He only had a few days left of his college holiday, so was pushing hard as he wanted to make it to Goa. Something I think he ruled out after the first few gruelling hills! (There were plenty more!) We made it to Ratnagiri, where Joel and I stopped at a post office to send home some of our unnecessary camping gear – an experience that was pure India, a ridiculous number of hoops to jump though, ended up lasting us over three hours! We had to find a box, then find some white material to wrap it in, then sew it up, then write the to/from addresses in marker on the packages. Corr Blimey, this was enough to drive us both through serious frustration into hysteria! We waved goodbye to Gurav, who got the train back to Nagpur, where he’s studying. (His hostel there costs him about £10 a month! Super cheap!)

 

The next day was Joel’s birthday, I woke him up with a pistachio and pineapple and luminous green flavour cake, complete with number candles I’d found the night before. They didn’t have a nine, so he regressed to 26 (I’d bought a six thinking of turning it upside down, but alas, no wick! 26 will do.) Other pressies found in record time included; a mosquito-wall-plug, the biggest firework I could find, a card for one’s dear husband, written entirely in Marathi verse, a handful of chocolate eclairs and a bagful of local fruit, including pomegranates, his favourite! The biggest present was yet to come, although we didn’t know it just yet.

 

A few more seriously sweaty days in the saddle saw us finally board the ferry over the creek that divides Maharashtra from Goa; the boat was full of Russians and other bright white tourists, none of whom acknowledged our presence, which felt a little odd after being stared at unabashedly for 2 weeks. Bring on Arambol beach I thought… The boys were shocked at how crossing a little creek could feel like crossing an entire continent – we suddenly rolled into Europe, but a little hotter and cheaper. We checked into a cute little bamboo hut on the beach for Rs250 ($5) and hit the beach for a fresh fruit juice cocktail and a fresh fish tikka supper all for next to nothing. YUM! I heart Goa! ❤

 

MORE NEWS TO COME! ran outta time, gotta meet Abhinav for dinner. xx

 

Pics and latest news tomorrow x