Sunday 11th November I had a broken night and was up early but it was still 8:00 am before I had breakfasted, settled my hotel bill and was underway – without the usual sense of exhilaration to be back on the bike. I’ll have to shake this malaise off, somehow!
Puri was a lot easier to navigate on the way out, having studied the map carefully, and I found myself on the road back towards Bhubaneswar. After 13 km, I turned left onto a smaller country road and passed through a series of delightful villages. The road was good, asphalt, then concrete where it was elevated over the surrounding flooded landscape. Our taxi-driver on the way to Chilika Lake had pointed out prawn and crab farms; maybe these are the same.
Just when I was beginning to believe that the road would be smooth until I rejoined NH5 and headed south, it turned ugly. Not potholed but 15 km of dirt and rocks that had me picking my way along at little more than walking pace for the better part of two hours. Fortunately, this did eventually end, and I regained some momentum for the last ten or so kilometres to the highway.
I reached the highway at about 1:00 pm with over 50 km to go but fortunately the surface was excellent. There were some gentle hills but it was worry-free riding. About 15 km before my destination, Barkul, I was diverted off the highway at some roadworks onto a quiet country road that paralleled NH5 pretty closely. There was still traffic on the highway (I could see it) so I’m not sure why the diversion but it was a pleasant one. (Hopefully, it’ll be easy to get back on the highway to go south…)
My hotel was well signposted every kilometre or two, and easy to find. My room is nice, and after a meal in the OTDC restaurant, I fell asleep watching Chelsea play Liverpool.
Day 18 Today: 103.7 km, Avs: 14.6 kph, Time: 7hr 7m, To date: 1434 km.
Monday 12th November I was up at 7:00 for a boat ride to the bird sanctuary. The man at reception was unusually forthright, saying that there were ‘limited’ birds at the moment but I decided to go anyway.
It was a lovely morning, motoring over a smooth lake for an hour to where the sanctuary boundary was staked out in the lake. None of the advertised million pink flamingos, egrets, etc., was in evidence. All I saw were a few cormorants, a hawk or type of raptor, and a kingfisher. But on the way back, I noticed a dolphin quite close to the boat. We stopped for a while as they (two, I think) came to the surface and dived, listening for their breathing. These were the fairly rare Irrawady dolphins, and it wasn’t a spectaular sighting, but good nonetheless. I think that the recent cyclone that passed over Chennai and brought unseasonal rain and flooding to the area may have had something to do with the absence of birds.
Tuesday 13th November I was topping up the air in the rear tyre after breakfast when I noticed that the tyre sidewall, by the rim, was very damaged. There was very little holding the tyre together for a couple of inches. I put my spare tyre on the rear (it’s a lighter tyre; maybe it should go on the front and the front tyre moved to the back but it’ll do for now) and kept the damaged one. Until I can find another spare, I’ll hang on to it – maybe an ingenious Indian can fix it. Despite this, I was underway shortly after 8:30.
There isn’t a lot to say about today’s ride. The surface of NH5 continued to be excellent – hardly a pothole all day. Around the south end of Chilika Lake there were some fairly steep hills, with slow hot ascents and cooler but too short descents.
I passed out of Orissa and into Andhra Pradesh, where there were lines of trucks in each direction, waiting to have whatever was required processed. I had to ride about four km off the highway into Ichchapuram to find the Surya Lodge. (A good lodge, with AC even, I was assured by a man at the highway turnoff but good is relative – I took an AC room because the sheets were marginally cleaner than the non-AC room. It’s not the best deal I’ve had but at least I have somewhere to sleep.) Now I’d better see what Ichchapuram offers in way of food!
8:00 pm. It’s a war zone out there! Explosions all over the place lighting up the sky. Accompanied by loud cracks and bangs. It’s the beginning of Diwali, and every family seems to have acquired a lethal quantity of fireworks. There are a line of candles around most of the houses and the street lights are out (of course, this may be the normal state of things) but it keeps turning into daylight as fireworks burn bright. Rockets soar into the air before exploding into cascades of coloured bursts and cracks. Some slide horizontally across the road before exploding. Bangers, fireworks that just explode with a fearsome noise, are a favourite with teenage boys. (I wonder how many eyes and limbs are lost over India tonight; probably tens of thousands. England banned the sale of fireworks to the public in favour of large, professionally organised shows many years ago because of the number of injuries and the firework displays around bonfires on Bonfire Night were sedate and restrained compared to the mayhem outside.) With explosions all around, it’s a pretty sight but it also feels risky to be out on the streets, constantly running the gauntlet and not knowing what the firework some mischievous youth has just tossed in your direction will do. And very little is open. Sweet stores selling barfi and the like to celebrate the holiday, but no restaurants. No meal for me tonight! Next to the lodge, I picked up a large bottle of Sprite, some potato crisps and some chocolate. Health food! Back in the room, the constant sound of explosions continues.
10:00 pm It’s starting to get quieter outside, the fireworks are winding down. Not the insects though, that keep landing on me. The little green ones look harmless enough but the biggies (they look like large mouse turds with wings), are quite intimidating.
Day 19: Today: 93.7 km, Avs: 16.4 kph, Time: 5hr 43min, To date: 1528 km.
November 14th I was awake early, as it was getting light and was checked out in time for a couple of companionable cups of tea with some of the local menfolk before setting off at 7:00 am.( I saw some of the womenfolk later, drawing water from a well – the men have it relatively easy.) I started slowly, feeling both the exertions of the previous day and the lack of food.
Back on the highway, the road continued to be excellent. I stopped at a dhaba (dhabas are roadside restaurants providing inexpensive food primarily to truck drivers and crews) for an onion dosai and tea, after which I had more energy and picked up the pace a bit. I crossed the 1000 mile mark at about 12:30. In the mid-afternoon, I stopped again for roti and chicken curry. This time, when I got back on the bike, I just felt tired! The last couple of hours were a struggle and there seemed to be an incredible number of men on motorbikes who wanted me to chat, the traffic was suddenly busy and noisy.
The scenery changed too, with more hills, scattered with granite boulders. I made it to Srikakulam as it was getting dark – my longest day so far.
Day 20 Today: 140.6 km, Avs: 16.4 kph, Time 8hr 33 min, To date: 1668 km.
Thursday, 15th November The Hotel Vijetha Inn looked top notch from the outside, the most impressive building I’d seen in my admittedly limited exposure to what Srikakulam has to offer. But, as too often is proving to be the case, reality didn’t match up. The sheets and bedspread were stained and the shower had one temperature: cold. This morning, however, the shower had one temperature: scaldingly hot. Well, they certainly can advertise hot and cold running water. Breakfast was a disappointment too, although being included in the room rate helped a bit. The mouse running across the floor and diving into a cupboard upon which the plates were stacked didn’t.
I was on the road just after 9:00 and, on the outskirts of town, stopped for a shave. It took half-an-hour, but I did, and do, feel better for it.
The legs didn’t want to work, but that is normal in the morning. However, this was the case for the whole day. The road was excellent, there were no punctures (again) to slow me down, but I just didn’t have that extra bit of energy. Maybe the inadequate breakfast, maybe the long day yesterday…
But I made it to SaiPaya Beach Resorts, the Lonely Planet’s Top Choice. Another disappointment, and an expensive one. The room is average, but costs three times what it is worth. These are my most expensive digs so far (over $40) but I didn’t have the energy to ride the ten kilometres into town and find another place.
The resort is on the beach, but separated from it by a high chainlink fence that is open from 5:00 am until 8:00 am for sunrise viewing but locked up tight otherwise because it is too dangerous for swimming. We have a small pool as consolation. I can see an adjacent beach, apparently safer, from the verandah outside my room, the best on the east of India according to the Lonely Planet, but it looks small and underwhelming. I’ll should move on early (check out is 8:00 am) but I think a day resting is required – my legs feel bruised. Maybe I’ll take a train excursion…
Day 21 Today: 92.7 km, Avs: 16.0 kph, Time: 5hr 49min, To date: 1761 km.