For the most part, my journal was written late at night after a long, tiring day in the sun. In places, it is not the most clearly written of documents. So what is written here is not necessarily taken verbatim from my journal; parts have been doctored so that they make some sense. The essence of the trip and my reactions to the many and varied experiences and challenges has been preserved (I hope!).
Areas highlighted in red are parts that were not included at the time, but hopefully add some clarification to what was happening at the time.
British Columbia to Bombay and Bijapur
Tuesday October 1, 1991. Somewhere between Vancouver and Hong Kong
(1600 hours BC, time)
The trip has finally started, although I'm not really excited yet. With all the rushing of the last few weeks, I haven't really had time to enjoy the anticipation of the holiday. But, ready or not, in a few hours I'll be in Hong Kong. So far (half-an-hour out of Vancouver!) the flight has been comfortable; the service is good, I have an aisle seat, and there is no-one sitting beside me. The video screen has been showing a map of the BC coast with our changing position on it (we are flying in a northerly direction, between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, somewhere close to Powell River) and our speed, altitude, and time and distance to Hong Kong. Twelve hours and six thousand miles to Hong Kong; by the time I reach Bombay, I imagine that I'll be exhausted.
In both Calgary and Vancouver, I had to unpack my pannier containing my bike tools; they looked suspicious on the radar. (My panniers were carry-on luggage; all I had checked in was my bicycle - my reasoning was that if my checked luggage was lost, I would still have enough with me to enjoy a few months travelling around India - Dave.) By Vancouver, however, I had smartened up enough to have my tool bag on the top of the pannier, not at the very bottom as it had been in Calgary.
While in Vancouver airport, I was paged by Cathay Pacific. I had a message to call Bev at home; she wanted to tell me that my Canadian cash that should have been with my credit card and driver's license in my travel wallet was still safely nestled in my everyday wallet safely in her possession in Canmore. Luckily, I had already discovered this for myself just before I waited in line to buy some HK$s. Thank goodness for credit cards and automated bank machines!
In a few hours, I'll be in Hong Kong. Tomorrow (or the next day, really, since I'll be crossing the date-line) I'll be in Bombay. But it's not real yet; I'm just sitting in a jet and could be going anywhere. Yet, shortly, I'll have to adjust, get on my bike and ride south into the Indian countryside, into a different age altogether. It'll be like going back a few hundred years, or a thousand. It'll be a shock when I wake up to what's happening.
Thursday October 3 (I think!) Hong Kong Airport
They've just announced a twenty-five minute delay as we're waiting to board for the flight to Bangkok and Bombay.
The hotel provided by Cathay Pacific (the Park Hotel) for the overnight stop is very posh and in the heart of downtown Kowloon, so after a quick shower I changed into shorts (it's hot and humid) and went exploring for a couple of hours. Although 10:00 pm local time, it was just about time to get up in Canada and I seemed to get a second wind. There are lots of camera shops and I got a price of HK$2,000 for the Olympus IS1000 (just over C$300 as compared to C$800 + GST in Calgary) which is tempting.
After a couple of San Miguel beers, I turned in at midnight. I checked out at 7:00 am and took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong. Everything is well signposted, making it all very easy. HK is clean and sterile, with lots of people oozing money; all the taxis are Mercedes! I took the tram up the Peak which, apart from being steep, was not really special. Back in Kowloon, I decided to go for the camera - but they wanted a ridiculous price for batteries (over C$80!) so I backed out. At another place, the batteries were cheaper but they wanted $C120 for a soft plasic case, so to Hell with it. If I didn't have the problem of then having three cameras to pedal around (my main camera for this trip was a small point-and-shoot Pentax with a 38-105 zoom lens, but I also took a Rollei 35 as a back up in case the Pentax died) I would have tried a little harder. I think I could have got everything for HK$2600-2700. That's about C$425 which is not bad for such a good camera. (Later on, back in Canada, I was given an Olympus IS1000 as a 40th birthday present; it is a really good camera with a nice lens - it would certainly have been an asset on this trip. My results would have been much crisper.)
I think HK would be worth a few days more, taking ferries to some of the islands would be fun. And there are great bargains to be had.
I'm on the plane now and have just been handed a warm towel to freshen up with. After using it, it still looked clean; this was after walking around for six hours in the heat so HK is definitely too clean to be Third World. It's difficult to imagine the population, with their frenzied pace and generally affluent lifestyle being absorbed into mainland China in 1997. Somehow, all the flashy cars and people on the street with cell phones grafted to their ears doesn't fit with my image of a billion people riding bikes wearing Mao suits.
Friday October 4, 1991, early morning. Hotel Ashwin, Bombay
Well, I've made it. And so has my bike!
Bombay airport routine was familiar, but the airport itself didn't seem as rundown as it had eighteen months earlier. I think that it is unchanged, so it must be due to my expectations. I changed US$200 at the airport, so now have a huge bankroll of 5100Rs. In future, I'll probably only change half as much.
Of course, there was no pick up from the Airport Plaza Hotel. (Hotel accommodation can be hard to find in Bombay, especially late in the day when I arrived. In anticipation of this, I had phoned ahead to the Airport Plaza Hotel to reserve a room. They had promised to pick me up at the airport.) I called them and they said they'd have a bus to me within fifteen minutes. An hour later, I decided to pack it in and went to the Hotel Ashwin instead. The location isn't great (but probably no worse that the Plaza's) and getting downtown is going to be an expedition. But it's clean, and cheaper than the Plaza.
Armed with the mistaken belief that I had a hotel reservation, the hotel touts outside the airport didn't seem as intimidating as I remembered them. Several touts approached me, but took "No" for an answer pretty good-naturedly, although all wanted to know whether I had paid for my room at the Plaza - I lied and said that I had - because, of course, they all had something better and cheaper. Mr Lewis, from the Hotel Ashwin, seemed pleasant enough, wasn't pushy, and had transport waiting. We chatted while I waited unsuccessfully for the ride to the Airport Plaza Hotel. His gentle persistence paid off.
During the ride to the Hotel Ashwin, he told me that tourism was down and hotels easier to get. The troubles in the Punjab and Kashmir (both of which want independence from India), the riots in Uttar Pradesh (where the Hindus wanted to demolish a Muslim mosque to build their own temple) and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have all taken their toll on the number of visitors (in this, the Indian Year of Tourism!)
Things to do today: Get roadmaps from the Automobile Association, check out cycle shops to see what sort of parts may be available (none!), buy aerogrammes and check out ferries across the bay from the Gateway of India to facilitate my leaving Bombay. Also, tonight, I should reassemble my bike if I'm to be on the road tomorrow.
0930 Sahar International Airport
I'm back at the airport, re-learning the Indian waiting game. I'm pleased to report that it's coming pretty easily. Upon the advice of Mr Lewis, I came here to get maps from the Govt of India Tourist desk. As expected, they have nothing. Also, it seems that there is no ferry across the bay; I don't remember where I heard about the ferry. The man at the tourist desk gave me directions to the WIAA (West India Automobile Association), where I should be able to get maps.
I'm now waiting for the EATS bus to downtown. I suspect that this is a similar organisation to the one that operates the airport bus service in Delhi, run by ex-servicemen. Its pretty warm here and biking doesn't feel very exciting at the moment; it was 31 degrees when we landed last night and still 22.5 degrees at 5:00 am this morning, when I awoke. And its humid.
Saturday October 5, 1991. Jai Hill Resort.
Yesterday proved to be surprisingly successful. Another Govt of India Tourist Office, which I stumbled across whilst looking for the WIAA, verified that there is no ferry across the bay. But I got some state maps from the WIAA and saw a bridge across the northern part of the bay, which will cut out miles of cycling north only to head south again. I had a shave (probably not the smartest of moves in these days of widespread HIV and Hep C, but at the time there was not much news of the rate at which these diseases were spreading in India) and a masala dosa (a delicious southern Indian food specialty), and then met a Canadian couple on bikes at the Gateway of India!
Their trip, however, sounded quite different from my proposed one. They planned to cycle around Bombay (ugh!) and then take the train to Agra and do the same there, before going to Nepal for a week.From Vancouver, they were on an eight-month round-the-world tour. But, to me, it seems hardly worth the hassle of dealing with bikes and planes (especially in India, where it is simple to rent bikes by the day for trips around the city). Having arrived at the airport the previous night, they'd slept there before riding downtown that morning. The girl was finding all the Indian men staring at her quite unsettling, so I explained that Indians were extremely modest in their dress and Indian women, in particular, didn't expose much flesh. She might not be so noticeable, I said, if she covered more of herself - shorts and a neon green vest with bare shoulders, on a Western mountain bike, was not the best way for a blonde to travel incognito.
It took two-and-a-half hours to get back from downtown Bombay to my hotel, and I had difficulty staying awake on the bus - I'm definitely feeling the effects of the time change. But I managed to put my bike together by 12:30, before going to bed. Where I slept about two hours! But, there was no point in hanging around Bombay for another day; there was little to do at the hotel and the trip downtown was too much of a chore.
Armed with confusing directions, I set off at about eight. Expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself making the correct turns and eventually I was on the road to the bridge across the bay. The bike is very different with the heavy bags on the front, but manageable.
Its 10:00pm and I have just slept for three hours. And feel much better! I'm sitting on the veranda of the Jai-Hill resort restaurant and it's a little cooler now - at least I'm not sweating.
After a while, today, my bike began to play up. One pannier kept jumping off the low-rider racks, so it's a good thing I'd also strapped them in place. It was always the left one; it may be overpacked so that it's deformed and won't sit on the rack properly. It began to happen more and more often, especially on the frequent long bumpy sections where there was talk, but little evidence, of roadworks. Is was as though the road menders had removed the top surface to expose rocks underneath, and then decided to abandon their project.
There was a lot of traffic on the road but it didn't come too close as it passed me. I got filthy from sweating in the dust and black exhaust fumes from the continual parade of trucks (I was on the main road from Bombay to Pune). The scenery wasn't too exciting - just long drawn out suburbs and slum colonies for miles. Even with the city left far behind, it still felt fairly urban. At noon, I stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant in Panvel. I didn't feel hungry (effects of the heat, probably) but I hadn't had any breakfast so I thought I'd better eat something.
My pedalling energy seemed to desert me after lunch - I'll spend a couple of days at the hill station of Matheran to acclimatise and get over my jet-lag - so when I saw the Jai-Hill Resort at Chowk, by the Matheran turn off, I decided to call it a day.
This place defines kitsch. There are lifesize concrete statues of giraffes guarding the entrance from the highway, more concrete statues (this time of Disney characters, Mickey and his pals) guarding the entrance to restaurant. More are dotted around the grounds. Mice run around the veranda and birds swoop through missing panes of glass of the large high circular room that is the main part of the restaurant. But its not too bad here, in the countryside now and the Western Ghats (the mountain range that separates the thin coastal strip from the central Deccan plateau, down the western side of India) impressive in the distance. The ride tomorrow should be short; just a couple of hours to Neral Junction where I'll catch the narrow-gauge railway up to Matheran.
Distance today: 71.7 kms, at an average speed of 15.5 km/hr.
Monday October 7, 1991 Matheran
Yesterday was much, much better! After chai (a gently spiced milky tea) and a salted lime soda,I was on my way while it was still relatively cool. After a hundred yards on the dreaded Bombay-Pune highway, I turned east onto the Neral Junction road. With very little traffic, it was nice and peaceful in beautiful countryside. Everything seemed so clean (after the city) and green; the monsoon season had not finished too much earlier and the surroundings were probably at their best at this time of year. People were harvesting a crop (I don't know what - it looked like a grain of some type), bent double, cutting it a couple of inches above the ground with short scythes and leaving a short stubble. In the hour and a half that the ride took me, I was passed by fewer than two dozen cars. And I could here them coming soI didn't need to hug the side of the road but could search out the line of least resistance between the bumps in the road. I had better luck with my panniers, too; I'd made some modifications to my front racks and had only to stop a couple of times to replace the panniers. Considering the bumpy surface, this was a distinct improvement. Despite this, though, I'm not sure having all the weight on the front wheel is such a good idea. This had been suggested to me by a friend who had also toured in India, but it made the steering sluggish. A better solution, I think, would be to have two smaller bags on the front and a small pack with compression straps on top of the rear rack.Then, when I had to carry the bags, everything could be fitted into the expanded pack and carried on my back; at present, after carrying my panniers for a hundred yards I feel like my arms are being pulled out of their sockets! Next trip...
In Neral I learned that I couldn't take my bike up to Matheran. The only modes of transport allowed are foot and horseback. So, with only minor misgivings, I consigned my bike to the parcel office.
The train, with four carriages perched precariously on wheels barely two feet apart, set off at 1100am. And was back in the station by noon - having failed in its assigned task of hauling us up the mountain. Resigned to a wait of several hours, I was very surprised to find a different locomotive hitched up and to be on the move again after a wait of only twenty minutes. Once again, the wonderful Indian Railways impressed me. There was no problem this time and, moving at little more than walking pace, we slowly rose above the plain and toward the spectacularly shaped Ghats. The views were as good as any I'd seen from a train in India and it was a masterpiece of engineering to find, and build, a route up the steep hillsides.
Matheran seems very pleasant, with plenty of shade trees and a bearable temperature. I walked to Panorama Point - over an hour through the trees with magnificent views and peace and quiet. In the evening, I walked to Porcupine Point to watch the sunset - another enjoyable excursion. The sun disappeared into a haze before reaching the horizon but the views of the receding hill-lines in the twilight were as good as any sunset. I think I'm starting to get over my jet lag.
Tuesday October 8. Jai-Hill Resort (again)
A great day! After breakfast, I spent hours writing letters in a little park. I was undisturbed, except for a confrontation with snarling monkeys who would have liked to have taken possession of my handlebar bag. After lunch, I caught the 2:45 train back down to Neral Junction, feeling much rested. And much more excited about my trip now. Sitting on the view side of the train this time (left hand side on the way down). Some of the drops from the edge of the track go a long, long way! Definitely an impressive feat of engineering.
When the train arrived at Neral Junction the parcel office was closed. I enquired at the Station Master's office, where I was told that it closed at 5:00pm. It was only 4:30; when I pointed this out to the station-master, he just smiled and shrugged as if to indicate, "What's half-an-hour?". However, there was someone waiting to open up the parcel office for me, everyone was friendly and helpful, and I'm really starting to enjoy India again.
The run back to the Jai-Hill Resort was fun, though a little pressured, as I raced against darkness. The road was more crowded at this time of day, with workers bringing home their day's harvest or animals after a day in the fields.
Wednesday October 9, 1991. Mahad
What a great day! Another one! This is getting to be a habit - one that I'll enjoy growing accustomed to.
I left the Jai-Hill Resort in Chowk at 7:00am and continued south along NH4 (National Highway #4), busy as always, to the Pen turnoff. At the junction there was a crowded truckstop and I stopped for an excellent - and spicy - breakfast of egg masala (curry) and paratha (bread). My plan had been to continue on the busy highway to Pune but, tired of chewing on truck exhaust, I decided to take a cross-country diversion that would avoid Pune altogether. After breakfast, I took the turning for Pen and shortly afterwards turned left (south) onto what I hoped was the road shown on the map - there was no sign - which brought me instantly back into the quiet of the countryside. Although this road was even rougher than the national highway, with patches on top of patches on top of even more tarmac patches, I had the road to myself and didn't have to worry continually about being run off the road by some belching behemoth. Also, I could choose a path between the worst of the bumps without fear of moving into the path of something much larger and faster than myself. It was a foggy morning, which kept the heat down and my speed up. I'm beginning to learn that the smaller the highway, the nicer and more unspoilt the surrounding scenery. Most of the run on this third-class road was through uncultivated woodland - a rarity in this country - which offered frequent shade.
Sometimes I have to give myself a shake - here I am, on the other side of the world from my home in Canada, having travelled back in time - it's wonderful!
Two-and-a-half hours, and about fifty kilometres, of this peaceful progress brought me again to a national highway (NH #17). This one was not as busy as the one from Bombay to Pune but exhibited some of the same characteristics: short excellent stretches with a good riding surface, interspersed with slow bone-jarring sections of rocks in tar, apparently abandoned in the middle of repair. I was quite tired by now and it felt a long haul into Mahad, which I reached at about 4:30. The first hotel I found had no space (or, maybe, the clerk didn't want to deal with a foreigner) but this proved quite fortunate; following signs for a Government Rest House I rode past the newly constructed Hotel Shym. The hotel is new and clean, the staff seem efficient and professional. After a much needed shower, I collapsed on the big double bed and room service provided me with tea, lime-sodas and the Times of India. My enthusiasm for a walk around town soon waned and I lay on the bed, recovering from a long hard day and reading the paper. (Where I learnt, to my surprise, that the Matheran railway would soon be re-opening after the monsoon! Funny, I could have sworn that I had ridden on that very train yesterday.) I ate at the hotel restaurant where the good service continued and then, somewhat re-energised, went for a stroll around the town.
I covered 127 kilometres today, at an average speed of 17.5 kilometres/hour. It was my first full day of riding, and I'm worn out! Good night!
Friday October 11, 1991. Mahabaleshwar
I was tempted to spend a day and another night in Mahad, tempted mainly by the comfort of my hotel. But, although town had a nice atmosphere, it wasn't special enough to keep me occupied all day. So, after breakfast, it was time to head back out to NH #17. I am developing a strong distaste for these primary roads; there is too much traffic and too many road "repairs" - every one to two hundred yards, it is necessary to slow to walking pace for anywhere from ten to a hundred yards. By the time I'm back up to cruising speed, it's necessary to brake again for the next slow section. Also, the scenery is not so good along the highways - there is more industry and evidence of 20th century intrusion into this unspoilt medieval world that I'm enjoying so much. But with heavy legs and a saddle-sore bottom from the previous day, I wasn't the most enthusiastic of cyclists on the road, so my criticisms of the major highways may well be due to crankiness.
Fortunately, I only had to travel for an hour on the main road before turning off for the hill-station of Mahabaleshwar. There were road signs indicating that Panaji (Panjim, the capital city of the state of Goa) was only 400 kilometres further on highway - and Goa was, in a roundabout way, where I was headed - but it was with no reluctance at all that I left the highway at Paladpur.
It was a few miles along this new road before I got confirmation that I was, indeed, on the right track. This confirmation, when it came, was welcome; today would be enough of a challenge without any unnecessary backtracking. The going was level at first and it felt great again to be cruising along, fields on either side of me and trees lining the road. But the hills were towering threateningly in front of me! All too soon, the uphill came. And, when it came, it really came; no messing around - this was serious stuff. (Or so it seemed to me, the inexperienced and unfit cycle-tourist, at the time!) Once it started, it was steady uphill for miles. Occasionally, it would ease a little and I'd quickly accelerate until I began to think that I was riding downhill, or at least on the level. But, if I relaxed my pedalling efforts, I slowed immediately.
After what seemed like an eternity, I stopped to talk to a surveyor mapping the road. He wasn't sure, but he thought that we were about 200 metres above sea-level! "He must be wrong, please let him be wrong," I silently prayed.
In spite of the relentless hard work, in a masochistic sort of way, it was still fun; peaceful, just me and the bike in bottom gear plodding along at about 8 kms/hour. It was hot work and I took my shirt off - something I was careful to avoid generally, not wanting to offend any Indian sensitivities to immodest dress - since it was a little overcast and the sun wasn't killing me. As the valley floor dropped slowly away below me, I started to appreciate the challenge. There was no question of riding without rests - I needed increasingly frequent stops for water, to stretch my back, to ease my legs - but I was keen to ride the whole thing. It might have been more sensible to walk sections and use different leg muscles, but my ego would not allow it.
I exchanged cultivated fields for thick forest on either side of the road, generally dropping on my left side down towards the valley bottom. Then, 22 kms from Poladpur, I reached the top of Ambenalli Ghat and had a cup of tea at a roadside stall frequented by truck drivers. Further on, at Pratapgarh, there was a sign for a fort but I didn't have it in me to do an extra, unnecessay, eight kilometres; there was still a long way to go and it was already 3:00 pm. The road levelled out for a while and then resumed climbing for the last fifteen kilometres into Mahabaleshwar. Clouds rolled in for the last part of the climb, but the air was still warm. I had my first coffee of the trip at a little stall next to a checkpoint, where I had to pay a tax of Rs 5/- before continuing into town. I'd made it!
I was accosted by several hotel touts as I entered town. A young boy ducked under to arm of one of the more aggressive touts to suggest the Hotel Kolpana. He received a severe cuff to the head for his cheekiness, so I glared at the culprit and accepted the boy's suggestion. The hotel advertises "MINI DELUX SUITS ONSIDE" and, ambiguously, "WHERE LIVING COMFORTS END" on a board outside; it's clean, the bed - although short - will accommodate me diagonally and, anyway, I didn't feel like traipsing around town looking for anything better.
As in Mahad, the town centre is the market. But there are concessions to the Indian tourist trade: amusement arcades like at seaside resorts in Britain thirty years ago and many stalls selling sandals, bags and walking sticks. It's quite spooky here, with mist swirling around and the streetlights barely cutting through it.
That was yesterday. This morning, I lay in bed reading until 8:00 am. I'm here for another day, to rest and get some laundry done. After breakfast and a wander around town, I came back to my room for a nap but ended up doing some maintenance on my bike. I adjusted the front derailleur, the front brake and trued the wheels. Then I went for a ride to test my repairs; it felt good to be riding without panniers. Up in the clouds, there were no views to be had; on a clear day, it is supposedly possible to see the sea but today, in the swirling mist, visibility was only about fifty feet.
Saturday 12th October, 1991. 8kms west of Vite (I think!)
Yesterday was a long and tiring day. It started well enough, climbing out of M'eshwar on the Satara road. I had been warned off this road (although why was never really made clear) and told to go through Panchgani; I was actually headed in this direction when a Satara sign tempted me to take the more direct route. For almost 25 kms, it was steep downhill. The road was a rough one, so I had to use the brakes continually to keep my speed down to a reasonably safe level. But it was very pleasant to be reaping some benefit from the hard climb a couple of days before. After the downhill finished and I'd left the terraced fields behind, the valley floor was level going as far as Satara.
My legs still felt pretty burned by the hard climb up to M'eshwar, and I could sense my speed decreasing. After lunch in Satara, I cut across country (now the central Deccan plateau) on minor roads to Rahimatpur and to Aundh, where I had been told that there was accommodation. At Aundh I couldn't find any sign of a night lodge (hotel) so I carried on into the night, unsuccessfully searching for a room in which to sleep. I filled my water bottles from a small holding tank beside a motorised pump at the roadside; as I approached frogs dove down from the surface of the tank; I didn't have time - with daylight disappearing - to pass the water through my filtering system so I settled for two purification tablets per litre.
The road I was on wasn't shown on my Indian-bought map, but looking later on my Canadian-bought Nelles map of Southern India I could see it clearly marked. This is not the first time that my local state maps have let me down. Finally, I reached the major road leading to Bijapur - the next major city on my route - and road along it in the dark, hoping to make it as far as Vite. With still 11 kms to go, I realised that this was a stupid move on my part; riding blind at night with no lights was asking for trouble. The sky was black, but the trees lining the road were a darker shade of black so I could tell where the road went. By this time, the bullock carts were off the road and the motorised traffic - what little there was of it - had lights so I could see it coming. When traffic approached from behind, I threw a faint shadow in front of me from the headlights and I knew to aim for the dirt at the side of the road. It was the other road occupants that were the main problem; after narrowly avoiding a dog that was sleeping on the warm road surface, and that would have catapulted me into space, I came to my senses and found a field to crawl into and sleep.
So, I went to bed, hot and sweaty and very dirty, at 7:00 pm. I took off all my clothes and lay on top of my sheet sleeping bag. I felt a little hungry without dinner, but I was still probably much better fed than anyone in the vicinity so it was no real hardship.
But it was a little scary, lying there in the unknown; who knows what creatures lurk in these parts. Every rustle in the undergrowth caused my heart to pound. (I have recently learned that the inhabitants of Goa, not all that far away, avoid fields at night for fear of cobras!) I managed, after watching the stars for a few hours, to get a broken night's sleep.
Sunday 13th October, 1991. Jath.
I'm grinding to a halt! My legs are finding it harder everyday. I was on the road at 7:10 am, wearily pedalling, hungry, and dying for a shower. After a few kilometres, there was a signpost indicating that Bijapur was still 160 kms further on. There is no way I'd make that without both luck and fresh legs; not wanting to repeat last night's experience, I set my sights on Jath. It was slow going but, with an early start, I was only 20 kms away by 2:00 pm. So I found a tree to sit under and write a letter home. It was very peaceful, in the middle of sparse grassland that stretched in all directions, a hundred metres away from the road.
This wasn't typical, though. Much of the countryside I rode through was under the plough. I saw countless dark skinned men with silver-grey beards, dressed in white dhotis (a cloth wrapped around the thighs, for trousers), shirts and turbans, being pulled on old wooden ploughs behind magnificent pairs of bulls (complete with brightly painted horns).
Traffic continued to be light: bikes, motorcycles, oxcarts and the occasional truck or bus.
Jath is a fairly primitive place but I had no problem being directed to the only lodge in town. Which is also fairly primitive. I'm holed up in a tiny cubicle, barely the size of the tiny bed. But it has a light and a fan and is better than last night! My bike almost caused a riot amongst the incredible number of children here. Someone at the lodge speaks some English (a young man from Bhopal, selling textbooks to college professors) and we managed to find a restaurant in a backstreet. Without his help, I might have gone hungry again.
A cheap day - breakfast for Rs 10/-, drinks of tea for Rs 3/-, dinner for two for Rs 19/- and lodging for Rs 12/-. India on Rs 44/- per day (about C$ 1.75).
Today: 97 kilometres at an average speed of 15.8 kms/hour. Total distance to date: 569 kilometres.
Monday 14th October, 1991. Bijapur.
I'm sitting in the grounds of the Ibrahim Roza and it would be very peaceful were it not for the plague of young boys crowding my space. "Your name!", "Your country!" and "Pen!" seem to be the limit of their vocabulary. Ibrahim Roza was supposed to be, in part, the inspiration for the Taj Mahal (Bijapur is known as "the Agra of the South" due to the Muslim influence; it was an ancient Muslim capital from the 15th to the 17th centuries). Its a nice piece of architecture, but certainly no Taj. If it were constructed out of marble instead of weathered sandstone (I think) it would be better. Still, it's nice to be a tourist instead of cyclist for a while. It makes one relatively anonymous.
It's been a full day, with its usual ups and downs. The riding felt easier today. I don't know if I'm getting stronger or if it was just the prospect of a shorter day that gave me more energy. After 35 kms today, I had my first puncture, on the back wheel, which was repaired fairly easily. While the bike was upside down, and stripped of bags, I tried to adjust the front derailleur which has never been right since I adjusted it the last time! In some gears the chain rubs which, since it should be easy to fix, annoys me. Each time I adjusted the position of the derailleur on the frame, searching in vain for the ideal position, I must have overtightened the bolt because, when undoing it, the bolt snapped with its end stuck in the nut attached to the derailleur. Changing the front gear to the middle chain ring by hand, I set off again having wasted the better part of two hours. Now, instead of a 21-speed mountain-bike, I have a seven-speed.
I arrived in Bijapur at 2:00 pm and checked into the Hotel Adilshahi. It seems a nice hotel, but I was hit by a wave of loneliness and, for a while, found it hard to see anything in a positive light.
After a shower and a meal, I set out and had a fairly successful afternoon. English is widely understood here, which makes things much easier. After being directed from place to place (as normal), a bike shop found someone to break the locked nut loose and sold me bolts, washers and nuts with which to (hopefully) re-attach the derailleur. The proprietor of the bike shop had never seen a derailleur before (the standard Hero Indian bicycles are one-speed affairs) but seemed to quickly grasp how it works. The only thing that didn't work out this afternoon was at the Post Office, where I was unable to buy aerogrammes. I'll try again tomorrow and see if someone else can rustle some up. And then I walked here, to the Ibrahim Roza, where it's beginning to get dark. It's time to go.
Tuesday 15th October, 1991. Bijapur.
Its going to be a full day as a tourist, wandering around casually and visiting some of the sights. And to rest my legs, which complain every time they have to climb stairs. I'm sitting in the shade, in an octagonal tower with views over the city, at the Golgumbaz monument, Bijapur's most famous. It's a big hall, capped by a huge dome (larger than St Paul's in London, second only to St Peter's in the Vatican) and the tower where I'm reading this leads up to the "whispering gallery" which runs around the dome, high above the hall floor.It would be a more special place were it not for the people checking out the acoustics; there weren't that many people but, with each sound echoing (apparently) ten times, it doesn't take many to create an overwhelming cacophony of sounds.
From where I'm sitting, I can see the railway line and the train sitting at the station seems very tempting. Biking is OK but with the state of the roads - and my recent attack of loneliness - its hard to relax and enjoy it as I should. More of a challenge than fun, and I'm definitely ready for some fun. Surprisingly, I'm seeing more of the countryside but I'm not getting to meet the people. In the rural areas communication is hard; the women look away, but the men will return a smile. I'm not ready to give up on the bike yet, though. There is probably still a couple of thousand kilometres ahead of me, barring mechanical failure. I'm just a little homesick; I haven't seen a Westerner since Bombay. I'm looking forward to Goa and some Western company.
Last evening, I wandered back slowly from the Ibrahim Roza along the crowded main street, stopping to buy a flashlight along the way. (The word 'flashlight' seems more natural to me now than the 'torch' that I grew up with in England - and used by Indians.) It was a scene typical of India, but hard to adequately describe in words. Crowds of people walking in all directions, bicycles making their tortuous way through these crowds and noise. Noise from everywhere. Tongas loaded with people or cargo (jute sacks containing goodness knows what) pulled by emaciated ponies, spurred on through the masses of people by their drivers' cries and whips. Ox-carts, always seeming to be struggling against the main flow of humanity. Auto-rickshaws weaving in and out, horns blaring. Occasional buses ploughing through regardless. And stalls and shops and restaurants lining the streets, selling all manner of merchandise and exotic (to me) food specialities. Vendors sitting on the roadside, wares laid out in front of them on a cloth, brightly illuminated by Coleman lanterns. Women squatting in front of baskets of neatly arranged bananas or vegetables. And more noise, lots of it, from a thousand different sources: people talking, shouting, laughing, joking; taped Hindi movie music from loudspeakers suspended from store fronts; radios at full volume (of course); bicycle bells; rickshaw horns; bus horns; car horns. Wandering along on a warm evening (and they're all warm), it's too much to all take in. And - before I forget - cows wandering everywhere, butting their noses into everyone's business and being shooed along. Where they butt their nose into someone else's business.
This is so different from the country towns and villages. There's much more activity and things don't shut down at sunset. More signs in English. More facilities. More humans than goats or chickens.
It took some time for the merchant to get my new torch to work (and how long it will continue to do so remains to be seen), reminding me of the torches available in England twenty-five years ago. This is typical; India, a couple of decades behind the West. But catching up quickly.
On the way back from the Golgumbaz, I stopped for a shave and - on the spur of the moment - a haircut. Now, my hair is very short, ears completely uncovered and neck shaved. Fortunately, there aren't too many mirrors around! But it is functional. I'll have to be extra careful about sunburn, though.
Afterwards, I visited the Mehtar Mahal and the Jami-e-Majid, neither of which moved me much, so I decided that I'd seen enough of the local architecture for one day and went for a vegetarian thali (a meal presented on a large steel platter, containing bowls of different curries and a heaping portion of rice and bread - delicious!) at the Hotel Tourist. Then, back at my hotel and with a certain degree of success, I re-attached the front derailleur to my bike and it's working fine once more. I hope that the new bolt is strong enough. In the late afternoon, I went out for a walk in the bazaar. Again, an incredible amount of enery and people rushing everywhere. I came across a fancy looking building, which turned out to be a Jain temple. A group of young boys dragged me away from the temple to a screened-off area; behind a curtain were twenty models of famous Jain temples around the country. Some of these models were crafted out of styrofoam, others out of tiny glass bottles glued together, all lit by strings of Christmas-type lights. The boys who had abducted me (in friendly fashion, of course) were clean, well-dressed, well-educated and definitely enthusiastic. Obviously, these were children from comfortable, middle class homes; I wonder if this is typical of the Jains. The actual temple itself was small (a single room) but brightly lit and colourfully decorated with murals.
The main street was strung with tens of thousands of tiny red and white bulbs celebrating the festival of Diwali, the most joyful of festivals in the Hindi calendar. The lights are to show the god Rama the way home from his period of exile. (Nowadays, the festival also celebrates the gods Lakshmi and Kali.) On a stage, a dozen life-size mannequins controlled by wires from below, were moving in rhythm to loud (what else?) music, clapping hands and dancing. The mannequins were decorated as pirates or seamen, against a backcloth picturing a tropical island. In front of the stage, crowds of adults and children clutching balloons were mesmerised by the scene.