Thursday 30th November – Tuesday 4th December (Vellore) The Darcy Residency is the best hotel I’ve stayed in yet. Clean, good food, excellent service. A room with a desk to work at and wi-fi. But pricy. A good place to catch up on my project, so I decided to stay for a day or two. Which turned into five.
Not much to say, really, about these days. I wandered around the Vellore Fort one day after I’d gone out to get some cash from the bank. One morning I took a rickshaw to the Golden Temple, about seven kilometres out of town, and spent a couple of hours there – no photos allowed. On another day, I went to FastFoto to get some prints of photos I’d taken of some of the Darcy kitchen staff; they were excited and appreciative when I handed them over. I remember taking pictures last time, and writing down names and addresses, but never getting it organised to make prints and mail them, so it felt good to actually follow through this time. After getting the photos, I went back to the fort (with cameras this time) and got caught in a downpour. I woke to steady rain on Tuesday so decided to stay another day. I checked on my bike and the rear tyre was flat, so replaced the tube with a new one and found the rear wheel out of true due to a broken spoke. I repaired it, with help from one of the hotel security men (I needed a third hand to get the cassette off the rear wheel), in a light drizzle in the hotel car park.Fun, actually, figuring out how to do it all again after twenty years, and the security man seemed to enjoy it too.
Wednesday 5th December (Vellore – Turupattur) A great day! I woke at around six but didn’t feel ready to get up; it had taken me until around 1:00 am to fall asleep. So I tried, unsuccessfully, to get a bit more sleep time, finally giving up at around 7:00. Even so, it was almost ten before I was on the road.
According to Google Maps, I should just turn left outside of the Darling Residency and arrive in Tirupattur in about 90 kilometres, having travelled the country road I had opted for rather than the national highway. Of course, it’s never that easy. But today was pretty close.
The road led directly back to the Golden Temple in Sripuram. I stopped to take a picture of the entrance and was immediately surrounded by a group of (friendly) priests. Much chatter and handshaking ensued. I wasn’t allowed to leave until one of their group returned with a video camera to film us all. Not to be outdone, I managed to get some pictures of my own camera.
The road on varied between reasonable and excellent, traffic was quiet, the countryside was green and beautiful. Trees provided shade much of the time. There were hills on both sides, thickly treed, some with cliffs that looked like good climbing granite. Lots of villages. Majestic cows. Temples. But nowhere to eat and my masala dosai for breakfast was soon used up. I bought half a dozen bananas.
My progress was pretty slow; it felt like I was climbing a little. After fifty kilometres, the road narrowed and started to climb steeply into the trees. Troops of monkeys. When I stopped, all I heard was birds, and a distant cock crowing. Plenty of bottom gear work.
At the top of a hill, I checked how the back wheel was performing and found it considerably out of true. Another broken spoke! It was a peaceful spot, about three in the afternoon, cloudy, and I got to work on repairs. Out of nowhere appeared four boys on two cycles, watching quietly. They spoke some English. A man on a motorbike stopped to watch as well. The gear cassette came off fairly easily (I hadn’t tightened it too much yesterday) which was handy. Repairs went pretty well, having had recent practice, even truing the wheel was quick. My spectators helped me reload the bike and I was on my way again soon, although there was still a long way to go and the sky looked threatening.
The boys accompanied me to their village, and then caught me up as I was looking at the map and they were heading to a temple a couple of kilometres futher on. So we rode together again, as far as the temple. Then I continued, tired legs from the climbing, picking up speed through more fertile countryside back out of the hills, and made it into Tiruputtar as it was getting dark.
Again, a great day!
Day 31 Today: 93.6 km, Avs: 14.9 kph, Time: 6hr 17min, To date: 2773 km.
Thursday 6th December (Tiruputtar – Salem) A not so great day – mainly because I felt really tired and my right knee was giving me some pain. Still an OK day, though. I had a breakfast of masala dosai, idli and lassi to fortify me for the day ahead. I figured I would need it because I felt pretty tired from yesterday. I must have lost my fitness in the five days off!
The road was busier and the scenery less enchanting, more small towns than the villages I’d ridden through yesterday, but I plugged away on flat ground. I was tempted to stop for a shave and haircut but I recognised this as mere procrastination and I had a lot more distance to cover before dark. I stopped at a hole in wall place for lunch and, foolishly, ordered mutton curry to go with my rice and veggies. I was thinking protein but I should have just been thinking; this was not the place to risk meat. And when it arrived, it was cold. When had it been cooked and how had it been stored since? I chewed through a couple of pieces, finished the veggies and some of the rice, and was back riding quite quickly. And quite nervously.
After the lunch break, my knee stopped bothering me for a while and the scenery became more pastoral so my mood improved. My legs, though, were protesting and, despite multiple adjustments, I didn’t seem to be able to get the gears to change properly (I think I need some maintenance time).
And there were hill looming in front of me; uphill sections were not what I needed today and the afternoon was progressing too quickly. Lots of hills, some quite steep, slowed me down and it began to look like I’d be arriving in Salem quite some time after dark. The hills were thickly treed, some of it bamboo and most that I didn’t recognise. It was very pretty but it was a struggle. And, of course, the respite from my knee was long over. At least, there were no problems from lunch as yet.
Then the downhill; long, winding and quick. Monkeys to avoid (usually the bell had them scampering away) and, more seriously, trucks in my lane passing slower trucks going north and uphill. But it was quite a long downhill, getting my average speed back up somewhat, and making Salem before nightfall look more likely. Judging by the length of the downhill, I must have climbed more than I’d realised – I’m working these old legs too hard. Salem is about 100 metres lower than Tiruputtar, so that explained a little of it.
I saw a strange sight as I entered town: a young woman in a vest, showing arms and shoulders, and the outline of her breast under the vest. Nothing out of the ordinary in the West but I’ve seen nothing like it in India. She was dark but I couldn’t tell in the few seconds that she was in my vision whether she was Indian or not; she didn’t quite have the Indian face or hair.
It was a weary cyclist that arrived in Salem at about 5:30 pm, around the time the sun was setting and checked into the first hotel I saw: the Shiva Lodge. This is more down market but CLEAN and cheap, the cheapest yet in India at 275 rupees (about $5). The lodge is on the second floor and my legs didn’t want to do stairs. My bike is downstairs, chained to the stair railing, hopefully safe and sound.
After a shower (the water even had a hint of hot to it – this place is a good deal!), I wandered down the road I’d ridden in on, towards the centre. Very busy, stalls everywhere, internet cafes, furniture stores, bicycle repair, just about everything, hustle and bustle, lots of energy. But not much in the way of restaurants so, after 25 minutes, I went into a non-veg locals place for some paratha and gravy and chicken 65 (sort of salt and pepper chicken). A little safer than my lunch time stop. Power seems to be a problem in Salem, or at least in this part, frequent power cuts. It’s pretty warm in the room without the fan, although the air is nice outside. And I’m still healthy, so far.
My legs, with bruised thigh muscles and aching calves, are telling me I need a recuperation day. But I’m not sure this is the hotel for it. See how I feel in the morning.
Day 32 Today: 113.4 km, Avs: 15.4 km, Time: 7hr 22min, To date: 2886 km.