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.
On To Goa
Wednesday 16th October, 1991. Badami
I left the Hotel Adilshahi at 6:30 am - the bill for two days and nights in this rather nice hotel was only Rs 126/-. I headed south on NH13 (another dreaded national highway), which was signposted Bagalkot Loop. Once out of town, the road quickly degenerated into one of the worst, awful even by the already low national highway standards. It was wide enough for one vehicle but not for a truck (or bus) and a bicycle. The side of the road drops a few inches to muddy sand, filled with puddles for the first few kilometres. It must have rained recently, but I hadn't noticed anything. In spite of the bumpy surface, and regular excursions into the sand to avoid traffic, it was pleasant enough in the early morning coolness. After 25 kilometres, I stopped for tea at a row of roadside stalls catering to the truck traffic. A hundred metres after my tea break, the road split with the old highway continuing straight on and a new section of NH13 breaking off to the right and taking a more direct route to Bagalkot. Bliss. The new surface was smooth and wide enough for two vehicles, making excursions into the sand rarely necessary. Luxury!
People working in the fields here used wider yokes, pulling three ploughs. The ploughs were not going as deep into the poor-looking soil but made three furrows at once. There were vast areas of black soil with no crop showing through. The people seem more friendly in this area and not as bewildered by a Westerner on a mountain-bike.
All too soon, the nice surface came to an end and I was back on to narrow bumpy roads. But it was no longer a national highway so I didn't have too much traffic to contend with. This is a secondary highway, SH20, but apart from that information all the signs are in Hindi (or Kannada?) so I was riding a little blind. At a village called Sirur, I stopped for directions at a small clinic perched on top of a hill a little way from the road. A nurse brought me a chair and I watched a young doctor finish his instructions to his obviously adoring patients. The doctor gave me directions for a short cut, where the traffic consisted of numerous flocks of black sheep and goats. Then, suddenly, the signs were back in English all the way to Badami.
It was pleasant riding on tree-lined roads with sandstone crags on the skyline. Badami provides nice clean rooms at the KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourist Development Corporation) Hotel but the hotel restaurant could use some help to bring it up to the quality of the rooms. I'm the only guest; Badami is off the beaten track for Western travellers. It's not that easy to reach by public transport, but it wasn't much of a detour from my cycling route to Hampi, my next main destination.
I walked into town in the early evening and, while rehydrating with numerous lime-sodas in a little drink bar on Badami's main street, was startled by an explosion just outside! It was only a fire cracker, but it was quickly followed by several more. A shiny, bright new truck was parked out on the street, bedecked with garlands of flowers and palm leaves. It was a bore truck, for well-drilling. The owners were making a puja (offerings or prayers) to bring the truck good luck, having first ascertained that this was an auspicious day. Tomorrow, I learned, the truck would visit several temples before starting its 'professional' life the day after. I also learned that irrigation has made a significant difference to the farmer who can afford it. With increased yields, many were now quite wealthy although most maintained their old poor life-style.
My rest in Bijapur has paid dividends; my legs feel better and today I covered 137 kilometres without much difficulty.
Friday 18th October, 1991. Patadkal.
Yesterday was an excellent day. A nice restaurant, the Laxmi Vilas Hotel (in India, 'hotel' often indicates a restaurant and 'nightlodge' describes a hotel) provided a large breakfast and the usual lime-sodas to fortify me for a day of exploring the rock temples for which Badami is known. The temples are only of moderate size but are carved out of the sandstone cliffs that surround this town of 15,000 people. They have many finely carved square pillars which support the temple rooves. The temples are very quiet and peaceful; I saw only one other person while I did my sightseeing - strangely, this person was a Japanese cyclist! But he was sleeping and I didn't speak to him.
I followed some very steep steps (the carpenter inside me shuddered!) up to some battlements overlooking the town, the surrounding Deccan plateau and the huge water tank (an artificial water storage lake) lined with dhobi-women doing laundry. The slap-slap of clothing beaten against the stone steps at the edge of the tank drifted up to me from a couple of hundred feet below. It was a good place to write a letter, and I wrote to a friend in New Zealand. Later, I wandered around the tank, investigating a couple more temples before taking a path up a hill and enjoying the breeze and a few welcome spots of rain. Sitting on a flat rocky plateau next to a stone arch (two columns and a lintel) that looked straight out of Stonehenge, I wrote another letter - this one back home to Canada. I was joined by a friendly cowherd carrying a bundle of firewood. Everyone here is friendly, welcoming, with a ready smile. In the late afternoon, I headed across the hillside to some more temples I could see on the skyline overlooking Badami, then found a path down through the boulders back to town. Where I enjoyed a chicken kashmir at the Hotel Sanman. I should give up this quest for meat - prompted by a desire for sufficient protein to keep up my strength for cycling - it's generally all bone.
I left Badami with some reluctance this morning. I'd contemplated an extra day there but the hotel was fully booked by a coach tour from Bangalore so, rather than find a new hotel in Badami, I'm heading slowly to Aihole (pronounced eye-olay). I'm fuelled by a large breakfast of idli sambhar, puri sambhar, masala dosa, four large teas and a sweet lassi. It's a wonder I can even cycle after that lot. A pleasant 23 kilometre leisurely ride has brought me to this temple complex where I am writing this.
Friday 18th October, 1991. Ilkal.
So, guess what? When I arrived at the tourist bungalow in Aihole (which had been booked for me by the staff of the hotel in Badami), the place was closed for renovations and no-one was expecting me. Nonetheless, I was offered a room; there was a clean looking bed but there was no glass in the windows and no mosquito net available. It sounded as though a meal could be arranged but it wasn't that certain. I'd seen temples galore, some also in pleasant relaxing grounds, on the ride through the neighbouring village. But the village itself looked as if it had nothing to offer. Rather than whiling away the afternoon with an uncertain evening and night ahead (and 150 kilometres to Hospet tomorrow) I decided to forego the cultural offerings of Aihole and press on to the town of Ilkal, which would leave a fairly easy day to Hospet. The hotel manager seemed quite relieved by my decision.
I rejoined NH13 at Hungund, back to its single vehicle width. Just before Ilkal, four youths on two motorcycles informed me that the Ram Kreeshna Lodge was the best place to stay. And I am now, unhappily, esconced in the filthiest place that I have ever seen. The wash basin has not been cleaned since someone apparently vomited in it some months ago. The shower was also disgusting. And the drain was plugged so it started to fill with water with goodness knows what floating in it. There's no mosquito net and the (dirty) windows have broken or missing panes so I hope that I don't get eaten alive tonight. From where I'm sitting, in the approaching gloom, the room I declined in Aihole seems pretty inviting! But, at least, I'm 35 kms further along on my way.
Saturday 19th October, 1991. Hampi.
It's noon and I'm sitting in the shade of the Venkateshvara Temple. A little off the beaten track, its quiet and peaceful here, just bird noises and a breeze rustling the trees above me.
It was a relief to escape the Ram Kreeshna Lodge, and Ilkal, at 6:30 am yesterday. Next time, I'd certainly stay in Aihole (the renovations may even be complete by then!) and push through to Hospet in one day from there. It's a distance of 130 kms, not 150 kms as I'd thought. For the first time, my Canadian-bought Nelles map let me down. The map shows a distance of 89 kms from Kushtagi to Hospet but it's about 68; the numbers are printed upside down!
I stopped for a breakfast of tea and puri after a couple of kilometres, low on energy and anticipating a long day. The road surface (which is becoming an over-riding concern!) was average - that is, bumpy - but I slowly bounced through the day. There seemed to be less activity in the fields here and the crops looked a little further along. I passed a few caravans of what looked like gypsies; convoys of half-a-dozen bullock carts, complete with a hooped framework covered with sackcloth like a tall and narrow version of the wagons shown in old Westerns. They were jammed tight with a few adults and masses of children - no fertility problem here. The bullocks wore collars of bells and the processions were quite musical and colourful. The bulls were also bedecked with bright embroidered blankets, the women were heavily jewelled with bangles and prominent nose rings.
There were other caravans on the road, one or two families to each, riding along or walking beside the wagons. Heavily-laden donkeys had small children perched precariously on top of them. The donkeys carried long poles which protruded for five or six feet on either side of the animal - which made them difficult to pass. I assume that these were tent-poles. One man carried a small sheet with a tiny bundle - a baby a few months old - inside; the sheet was supported from his forehead Sherpa-style.
I even saw a boy walking along the road with a muzzled bear, with three inch long curved claws, on a leash.
Closer to the town of Hospet, I started to see boulder-strewn hillsides somewhat reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Monument in southern California. The horizon ahead looked quite hilly, but the road didn't do any climbing. Thankfully.
I checked into the Hotel Malligi, which came recommended by my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook, in the middle of the afternoon; for Rs 40/- I have a spotless single room, with almost-hot running water, piped music, clean sheets and a mosquito-net. Life is good!
It's a large hotel with mainly Indian guests, but there appear to be a few Westerners presumably here for the same reason as I am - that is, to visit the Vijayanaga ruins at nearby Hampi. The hotel restaurant lives up to its reputation, too; the malai kofta and naan were delicious. I talked to a Swiss tourist for a few minutes, my first Western contact since Bombay - but I felt less rapport with him than with many of the Indians I've conversed with. Must be going native...
Monday 21st October, 1991. Hampi.
I've just turned 1000 kilomtres, riding slowly around the ruins. And I missed it! One minute, the odometer read 999.7 kms and the next time that I looked it had already turned over to 1000. I re-calibrated the wheel-circumference setting on my little speedometer-odometer bike computer (down from 1995 cms to 1970) since I seem to have been reading high relative to the kilometre-stones at the roadside. Over short distances (up to 40 kms) I seem to be 1% to 1.25% high but on a longer journey it was as much as 3% - but there's no knowing how accurate these stones are over a long distance.
This is my second day exploring the ruins at Hampi. There are ruins spread out over some considerable distance and it must have been magnificent in its heyday. There is still much to see here, though, and I am undecided as yet whether to head for Goa (and the beach!) tomorrow or to spend another day here.
I'm not feeling that great; I may be getting a bug. I've had a slight cold, sniffles and a headache, for a few days now. But, in the night, I woke up and thought that I was going to be sick. And today I've been having sulphurous belches. I hope I'm not getting giardia.
I just stopped at a restaurant for a soda and was joined by a couple. Miguel is Argentinian, but has a trekking business out of Berkeley, California. He is just returning from an expedition to Masherbrum II in Pakistan. He was in my hometown of Canmore earlier this year and was shown around by a friend of mine. One gets used to meeting climbers with friends in common when at climbing areas, but I didn't really expect that here in Hampi. He was bemoaning the fact that he had no rock-climbing shoes with him to 'play' on the surrounding boulders and cliffs. I, too, had noticed the potential of these Joshua Tree National Monument-like rocks, but hadn't felt moved to climb - the whole culture of this amazing country is totally overwhelming/absorbing and rock-climbing seems a little irrelevant with so much else of interest.
I climbed Matanga hill for a good view of the surrounding countryside; there is a temple on top and it would be a wonderful place to spend the night. And it's a full moon on the 23rd! But it feels time to get back on the road - can I make it to Goa in two days? It's a couple of hundred miles.
Tuesday 22nd October, 1991. Dharwad.
I was up early (in spite of the non-arrival of my 5:30 call), showered, had toast and tea and was on the road by 6:30. In the cool half-light of dawn, I retraced my route north along NH13 until, after 14 kms, I turned west onto SH42 and was on my way to the beach. Feeling strong, I pedalled hard and reached Gadag Betgeri by 1:00 pm. The road was level and, with a gentle tailwind, I covered the 100 kilometres quickly. Traffic was light and the scenery was more like I'd expected the Deccan to be; flat and stretching endlessly in all directions. There was no sign of water and cultivation seemed threadbare.
From Gadag I pressed on to Hubli, beginning to see some hills in front of me but not having to climb yet. Getting through Hubli, with a stop for a cold drinks, didn't take long and, feeling tired now, I carried on to Dharwad. The road between Hubli and Dharwad was busy with commuter traffic (trucks and buses, and the rare private vehicle), all leaning on their horns. Which, in my weary state, was excessively irritating. The last 20 kilometres were quite an ordeal, my saddle got harder, my hands and wrists were sore and I just couldn't will any more energy into my legs. Just when I didn't need it, the road started to climb and drop, climb and drop. And there were not enough descents for my liking. Coming into Dharwad, my route lay back north along the dreaded NH4 that I'd taken out of Bombay. A sign indicated that Bombay was 525 kilometres away, but I'd covered 1200 kilometres to get to that point in my roundabout way. But I'd seen a lot of the Deccan, really enjoyed Bijapur and Badami, and had had a good (if sometimes hard) time.
I checked into the Hotel Dharwad, the first hotel I saw. It's definitely a little more upmarket (looks like the place to be, or be seen, in this quite large town), but a steal at Rs 52.50.
Distance today: 168.58 kilometres at an average speed of 18.5 kms/hour. Total distance to date: 1190.2 kilomteres.
Also, my adjustments to the cycle computer/speedometer seem to have worked well - today, it was accurate to 10 metres in 10 kilometres!
Reading a local newspaper in the lobby of the hotel, I was joined by an Indian gentlemen in his fifties who had an interesting story to tell. He had been a doctor in Arizona before running afoul of the FBI. Apparently, a patient of his had been mistakenly shot by police who then planted drugs and guns on the injured man so that it would look like the police had shot the right guy. As a result of this doctor's testimony, the injured man was awarded $225,000 in damages, and some of the police ended up in prison. The FBI had been somehow involved in the attempted cover-up and had made things quite unpleasant for the doctor. This was in 1979. Now, he was back in Dharwad, waiting to regain his Indian citizenship that he'd given up to become an American, so that he could practice medicine again. He, too, was called 'Dave,' which is short for Devidas.
Thursday 24th October, 1991. Benaulim, Goa.
I arrived here in the dark at about 6:45 pm last night, missing the sunset. But I think it was cloudy anyway, so I probably didn't miss much. Another long day - 162.7 kilometres. But consecutive 100-mile days have done me in!
For a more detailed description of this day's travel, click here.
Yesterday, I awoke feeling very tired and it was a struggle to get out of bed. After a light breakfast, it was already 7:30 am by the time I got going. A short distance out of town there were some good (and exciting) downhill stretches. But then the fun ended and it was plain hard work, up and down endless hills for hours. The scenery was more varied, hilly and treed, but I was too tired to really enjoy it. All I wanted was to lie down and sleep! I stopped for lunch outside Londa at a truck stop. Four lime-sodas and two Maazas (a sweet mango flavoured carbonated drink) quickly re-introduced 1.6 litres of fluid to my body. Fish was on the menu and very tasty it was, too! Something tasting like a pilchard in a curry sauce really hit the spot.
But, after lunch, there was still no downhill; just more dispiriting ups and downs until, after 90 kilometres, the road started to drop steeply. The surface was appalling, so I couldn't proceed as quickly as I could have on the smooth level road. But, at least, I could rest my legs.
I passed a sign that told me that I was passing through a tiger sanctuary and that I should protect them. Yeah, sure! If I saw a tiger, just who would need the protection?
On another section of rough downhill, I hit a pothole hard and punctured my front tyre. Examining the inner tube, I found the puncture on the inside of the tube; I must have crushed the tyre against the spoke protruding into the rim. Keen to keep going, rather than fix the hole then and there, I pulled out a spare tube. And found it full of holes! Ten of them! It must have been nipped by some of my tools while tightly packed in my tool bag - I still have much to learn about the tricks of cycle-touring. My second spare was holed too, so I had a forced rest while the glue on the tube patches dried and I could proceed.
Then a miracle occurred! There was a sign indicating the Goan state border and immediately, in the middle of nowhere in particular, the road surface improved dramatically. Hello Goa, good-bye pot-holes!
I passed a rare elevation marker - 560 metres above sea-level. So, I hadn't lost any altitude yet since Hospet; those bits that had felt like uphill must actually have been uphill! And this meant there was still some easy progress to be made down to sea-level. Feeling a little more encouraged now, I stopped to enjoy the view down to the coastal plain. At first, I fancied that I could see the sea in the distance, but I reluctantly concluded that it was just haze.
I had twenty kilometres of steep downhill with hairpin bends, but the free ride was over much too quickly and I still had fifty kilometres of up and down before I reached Benaulim.
From Ponda to Margao traffic was heavy. For the first time since my arrival in India, there was an abundance of private cars and vans. Margao itself, which I knew from visiting eighteen months ago, was surprisingly long and I began to wonder if I'd missed a turn somewhere. Then I came to the familiar garden square where I used to catch the bus to Benaulim. Then, on territory I should have known, I found that I didn't remember the route and took a wrong turn. Back on the right track, eventually, I had to ask repeatedtly for directions. Having travelled the route three or four times by crowded bus eighteen months earlier didn't adequately prepare me for navigating through the palm plantations in the deepening gloom.
But I made it...