Tuesday 27th November (Gudur – Tirupati) I was almost out of town when my rear tyre crunched down into a pothole and was immediately flat. I pulled off to the side of the road, onto some unused land (amazing!) behind where a shoe repairer had set up for business, squatting below an umbrella with his meagre set of tools and supplies. ‘Puncture’ he told me. This was pretty much the only word we had in common and it was pretty apt. He pointed across the road, where I presumed there was a tyre repairer, but I assured him that I could fix it myself. This was, of course, in sign-language and I didn’t get the message across at all well. I took the wheel off, and pulled out the tube. I couldn’t pump it up enough to figure out where the hole was so he indicated that I should stay with my bike and was about to set off across the road with the wheel and tube when the tyre repair man came to us. Well, it was written, I suppose… I’ve stayed away from these roadside repairers, remembering tales of leaky patches but I looked like I was going to check them, or at least one of them, out now. The shoe man stayed put and kept an eye on my bike, and maybe even fixed a shoe or two, while I joined my wheel and tube on the far side of the road. It probably wasn’t very smart, but my handlebar bag, containing passport and cameras, was still attached to my bike. But I did feel that I was being well looked after and didn’t think anything would go missing.
The repair man stepped down a couple of stalls to another tyre repair man, this one dealing with truck tyres, and used his air line to pump up the tube. There were two quite large holes. Then, back at his own stall, he roughened up the tube with a file, cut a patch from an old tube and roughened that, and then applied rubber cement to both tyre and patch. When the cement had dried, he pressed them together, and I had a good tube again. He stepped down the road to inflate the tube, dipped it in a bowl of water to show there was no longer a leak, reassembled tube, tyre and wheel and, after a third trip to his friend with a compressor, handed me a tyre more firmly inflated than I had ever managed with my little pump. He indicated that I should pay whatever I thought was right – a difficult one, because I didn’t want to disrupt the local economics of tyre repair but he had been a great help and I’d enjoyed watching his competence. I gave him 30 rupees and he seemed quite content. I reinstalled the wheel, fielded some questions from some boys with a little English who had gathered around the bike, and tried to give the shoeman some money for his help. Which was refused!
So, after thirty minutes, I was back on my way and much cheered by my contact with a couple of good people.
I was out of town before finding anywhere for breakfast but stopped at a ‘rustic’ place a little further along. I had idli, a plain dosa and a couple of bonda (deep fried doughballs, but OK dipped in sambhar) and a couple of chai for forty rupees. Hell of a deal – if I don’t get sick. The people here were very friendly and open, and very poor too.
After about 30 kilometres, I left NH5. It had served me well, providing relatively pain-free, if a little unexciting, distance. It continued on to Chennai, which I wanted to avoid cycling through. So, it was back to state highways, with lots of bright green paddy fields. The road was wide and fairly recently resurfaced. So, despite it being my third day cycling I still managed to maintain good progress and made it to Tirupati around four o’clock despite stopping first for chicken biryani and then for ice-cream and lassi.
I checked into the Annapurna Residency, for 700 per night. It is not the Hotel Annapurna recommended in LP but is fine anyway. (Although the TV quality really sucks!)
Day 29 Today: 96.7 km; Avs: 16.5 kph; Time: 5hr 51min; To date: 2565 km.
Wednesday 28th November, 2012 (Tirupati) People come to Tirupati to visit Tirumala, a very important pilgrimage place for Hindus. An average of 40,000 Hindus go up to Tirumala daily to perform darshan. Turumalai is about eighteen kilometres from Tirupati, high in the Eastern Ghats.
I joined a bus full of pilgrims for the ride up into the hills on a steep hairpinned road – there is an up road and a down road.
The atmosphere in Tirumala was different, there was definitely a subdued spirituality present in the visitors, many with heads shaven especially for this day. But there was also a quiet holiday atmosphere too, and much commerce in religious bric-a-brac with stalls selling all sorts of religious goods, some kitschy to my untutored Western eye. The line up for darshan was ten hours today and, for 300 Rs, you could queue jump but even this ‘Quick Darshan’ had a wait of four hours. So, with my spiritual side in remission, I passed on the opportunity to wait in a crowded cage with the moneyed-others, wandered around, enjoyed the coolness of the shade at almost 1000 m above sea-level, and caught the bus back down again.
Thursday 29th November (Tirupati – Vellore) The road out of Tirupati took me past an inviting breakfast place so I stopped and had a couple of masala dosais and a cup of tea. I hadn’t realised that rats could climb glass until one disappeared up the window in front of me. Then it was a bit of a climb for me, past the road up to Tirumala, along the road that went towards Bangalore. It was a national highway again but smooth, untwinned and very pleasant. Pedalling was a bit of a struggle, so much so that I did actually check that my rear brakes weren’t binding. The rear wheel spun freely so I must have been going gradually uphill.
The scenery was nice, with hills and climbworthy-looking crags atop them. At Chandragiri (a name that resonates with some vague historical memory, some British campaign probably), there were the remains of a fort climbing up the hillside and enclosing quite an area.
I ‘wasted’ some good daylight time, riding around the back alleys of Chandragiri, looking at the fort and enjoying myself. When I found an old mansion with a museum, though, I thought I’d better not dally too much longer. So I settled for a couple of very cold mango ice-lollies from the cart outside the museum and got back into cycling mode.
The day continued very pleasantly with not too much uphill, some relaxing downhill sections, steady but manageable and fairly well-behaved traffic. I didn’t have lunch but stopped for fruit juices and ice-cream. I turned off onto the road to Vellore, and it was even quieter. Until the outskirts of Vellore, which stretched for miles. When I thought I reached the middle of town, I started to look for lodges but the only two I saw didn’t look very good – access was up steep narrow stairways with no bicycle ‘parking.’ Then I saw signs for the Darling Residency. Very fancy (for me, at any rate) and expensive. But it was getting dark – and they have wifi.
The hotel is the nicest yet, the staff are friendly and helpful without being intrusive, a good find. A good place, also, to catch up on some work.
Day 30 Today: 114.8, Avs: 15.5, Time: 7hr 23 min, To date: 2679 km