Nothing seemed open and inviting for breakfast so I was out of town quickly. The next couple of places, more bus stops than towns, didn’t appear to have a hotel or restaurant along the roadside. So I ate idli at a stall, friendly but definitely would not be approved by the Travel Clinic in Calgary.
Later, my rear pannier rack died and I came to a quick stop. At first it just looked like one of the bolts attaching the rack to the seat post tube had worked loose. I scanned back over my route for twenty or thirty yards but it was a fruitless task. Fortunately, the bolt for the second water bottle holder was the right size so I tightened everything up and was starting to load up again when I found the real problem; the weld between the upright support and the horizontal platform part of the carrier had failed. I managed to (sort of) strap it in place and continued gingerly to the next town, where I found a welding shop along the highway quite easily. A quick repair, and cheap at 20 INR too.
Day 35 Today: 112.6 km, Avs: 16.6 kph, Time: 6 hr 48 min, To date: 3283 km.
12th December. Study day. Didn’t step outside the hotel.
13th December (Thirunelveli – Kanyakumari) My cycle computer isn’t working. Hopefully, it’s just the batteries that have run down and not the result of some tampering at the Hotel AppletTree. I have some spare parts so I should be able to fix it in Varkala, if it isn’t the battery, and I can let Google tell me how far I’ve gone today.
It was quite a late start – around about 11:30 – since I’d been working until two in the morning. I saw my second cycle touring group: three Indians from Kolkata who had cycled Kolkata – Delhi – Mumbai – Kanyakumari and were now returning home to Kolkata. Quite the ride! We chatted for a while, then continued on in our opposite directions.
I got a flat in the front tyre, but couldn’t find the hole. So I reinflated and carried on, having to add more pressure every ten kilomtres or so. I ended up having to race to get to Kanyakumari before dark.
I tried the Hotel Trisea first, one that I’d checked out on the internet and was also recommended by a German I met upon arrival. It was there that I discovered that I no longer had my reading glasses; I must have put them down somewhere on the road when I was pulling out my camera. Or when I was trying to locate the leak – I don’t remember whether I had them on to see the hole. That is a big drag, with a lot of computing work to do on my course over the next few days. In addition, the rooms I was shown were not very impressive (rather the opposite, in fact) – so I went over to the Hotel Tamil Nadu where I’d stayed in in 1991. That was too pricy so I settled into the Santhi Residency which was reasonable.
With the help of a bucket of water (buckets are in just about every Indian bathroom, a plastic beaker and bucket full of water being the preferred way to shower where there might not be sufficient pressure for a ‘real’ shower) I located the tiny leak. Seeing it was another matter, wearing prescription sunglasses in a dimly lit room. Eventually I thought I had patched it, and went to sleep.
Day 37. Today: 84 km, To date: 3366 km.
14th December (Kanyakumari – Varkala) The ‘fixed’ tyre was flat this morning. Time for my last new inner tube. Then I rode down to beach road, already bustling at 9:00 am, for some photos. Didn’t get much of note, unfortunately. Then up to the railway station.
Apparently, I was unable to book the bike through to Varkala; the 10:30 train is the Bangalore Express and only stops briefly in Varkala, not long enough to unload the bike. But a helpful man from the parcel office took me to the ticket counter and explained to the clerk there that I needed to buy a ticket and book my bike as far as Trivandrum. With this help it was plain sailing and I had time for some lemon rice and a cup of tea at the railway food counter for breakfast. There were quite a few Western travellers in the station (as there had been around Kanyakumari) so I must be back on the tourist trail, which is quite a change to what I’ve been used to.
It was a delightful couple of hours to Trivandrum, rocking along, palm trees and banana plants everywhere. At Trivandrum, I followed the bike to where I could reclaim it, in order to rebook it on the slow train to Varkala. Then things got more complicated, unnecessarily so, than it had been in Kanyakumari.
First, I was sent off to the ticket counter to purchase my ticket to Varkala. With this as evidence, I was (almost) able to book my bike on to Varkala. Then it transpired that my bike and I would be travelling on seperate trains; my ticket was for another express and left fifteen minutes earlier than the non-express (“passenger”) train that would carry my bike. I baulked at this, wanting to stay close to and to keep an eye on the bike. Could I use the express ticket for the passenger train? No, I should cancel the express ticket, get a refund, then purchase a much cheaper passenger ticket before booking the bike onwards. Back in the ticket counter queue. To be fair, the queue moved fairly quickly and my request was processed efficiently, although there was a cancellation charge that ate up half of my refund. Back in the parcel office, there was a new clerk (a little more senior, I think, brought in to handle this difficult foreigner) who complained, light-heartedly enough, that he had been waiting for me for fifteen minutes! I paid for the bike transportation. Was I done? Of course not. I had to purchase a piece of sheet metal and write my details on it (including my passport number in lieu of my address, but not my age, weight or sexual preference). This hadn’t been required in Kanyakumari, I mentioned. Well, a piece was found for me, I dictated the necessary details, a hole was bashed in it so it could be tied to the bike. Then some sacking was sewn around the saddle and I was done. Except for the required tip to the porter who refused my twenty rupees, demanding fifty. We settled on thirty; I didn’t want the bike to end up in Delhi! Now I was done. The officer at the parcel office couldn’t tell me where the train left from, only that the train originated in Nagercoil. So, I followed the porters when they disappeared pushing a laden cart with my bike on top. Now I was done!
Varkala is unrecognisable. Where there were palm trees, there are now restaurants and hotels. There are a few Indian tourists but it is mainly Westerners. Despite the commercialisation, it is still a subdued and beautiful place. My hotel is nice, a ten minute walk from the cliff top, above the beach, where all the action is. I wandered down there and caught the end of the sunset, then strolled up and down deciding where to eat. Lots of options, all quite attractive.
The Abba Restaurant played nice laid-back (non-Abba) music and the two cool beers (my second and third since Darjeeling ten weeks ago) were very pleasant, as were the seafood salad and the grilled tuna and chips. With HP sauce for the chips? There was a thin crescent moon, the crash of the surf, the lights of fishing boats offshore catching my tomorrow-night’s dinner. I must have looked a total poser, though, wearing sunglasses to read the menu in the dimly lit restaurant.
On my way back to the hotel, I noticed there was even a Baskin and Robbins. Am I still in India?
Just seen the breaking news, and heart-rending pictures of little traumatised children, out of Connecticut. I just can’t fathom it.