Monday, 22 October 2012

As the Fat Lady Slumps Exhausted

As the fat lady slumps exhausted to the stage floor it is time to bring this little exercise to a close.  I have really enjoyed the whole process of writing to keep in touch with my friends and family and at the same time exposing my thoughts to a wider audience.  It speaks to the frustrated journalist/writer/communicator/big-mouth in me and amuses me no end.  The Internet is a remarkable tool.

I spent my last afternoon, as predicted, in packing up my bike and preparing my stuff for the return.  I had failed utterly in my search for the interesting gifts.  Whether this was lack of effort on my part or lack of interesting stock on the shopkeepers part I can't say.  I then had an interesting evening with another eclectic group of souls I found living on the roof of my hotel.  It just goes to show that India is more full of surprises than anywhere else in the world.  At 23.00, bike in the boot I headed for the airport. 
The streets were alive with people and lights celebrating the start of Calcuta's Durga Pouja.  Entire buildings were draped with strings of coloured lights and elaborate temporary temples were packed with Bengalis.  In the darker corners the poor still slept, their ragged covers over their heads.  Dogs roamed and cows settled down by the sides of the roads to ruminate.  I sat back in the corner of the Ambassador taxi and watched the city pass by.  This trip to India, my fourth, had been a special time for me and had opened my eyes once again to a host of themes.  I had endured some physically testing days and some mentally testing ones as well.  I think I had seen a slice of India in all its beauty and with all its contradictions.  From the burgeoning glass towers of Cyberbad (Hydrabad) to the absolute poverty of many urban areas.  From adverts where happy people consume sophisticated products to the simple tragedy of the old man holding the head of his dead cow by the side of the road.  From the worshipful gaze lavished on my 21 speed bike to the dab of ghee on the feet of a temple statue.
I hoped that this trip would be some kind of closure for me .  For years I have buttonholed anyone who would listen to me about my dreams and desires for travel.  I think I had become a bit of a bore on the subject and it really was time I put my money where my mouth was.  So when my ever patient wife said "well just get on with it then" I was trapped.  Trapped by my own words, with no excuse but to do it or forget it.  So 4 weeks ago I found myself alone in India and today it is all behind me.  When asked "what have you learnt about yourself" I can say just 2 things at the moment.  1. I am not as physically strong as I once was but I still managed 1,654 kms in 20 cycling days so all is not yet lost.  2. I know that I have no excuse whatsoever for not being content with my lot.  This knowledge won't stop me complaining, which is probably in my nature, but it does put my petty worries in perspective.  There are probably other things which will come out of all this over time but for the moment those two are pretty good.

Some people who have read this blog think that I have not enjoyed myself, but they are wrong.  I have had an amazing time, but it is always more interesting and more amusing to write about the things which go wrong, than the things which go right.

In Conclusion.

Low points:- Feeling too sick, tired and hungry to go on only 24 kms from Haldia.  Being without the presence and support of the three people I love the most in the world.  Having to turn back and take the coast road after getting horribly lost.
High points:- Meeting some incredibly kind people in the most unlikely places.  Blasting through the Indian dawn with Pink Floyd on the mp3.  Arriving in Calcutta despite wanting to give it all up just the day before.

Thank you for listening.
A room with a view.

Friday, 19 October 2012

In India I Normally Stand Outside

When my wife shops in India I normally stand outside the shop and let her get on with it. This is because shopping in India (or indeed anywhere with a bazaar) involves a lot of negotiation and hard bargaining.  She loves to haggle and I think is genuinely good at it - I don't and I'm not.  I remember on one occasion she gave a cigarette to the shop keeper just so he would at least get that from the sale!  But now I find myself trying to do this on my own and not doing very well.  Outside the S.S.Hogg Market there are entire squadrons of men who try to guide you to certain shops and they can be very persistent indeed.  Once they were shaken off though, I was free to roam this amazing place and spend a happy hour or so just enjoying the hustle and bustle of it all.  I think if you tried, you could find almost anything here.  Clothes and foodstuffs are main items but it is no way limited to just that.  Eventually I sidled up to a shop selling paintings and curios hoping to find a painting to take home, but unfortunately the majority of the items for sale are the ubiquitous Mogul style works from Rajasthan or garish Batiks.  I found something interesting in the form of a folding sheet of bamboo slices which the vendor assured me was done by charring the design into the surface and then colouring.  "Very nice" I said, but it was only when I looked very closely that I saw it was in fact drawn in Biro and then coloured in crayon.  Not what I was looking for.  So I have now given up the idea of buying more Indian art, which is probably not too bad a thing as we do have a lot already.  If I had the patience and negotiation skills of my better half I might have continued but I would rather go and drink a chai.
This afternoon I will be spending some time disassembling my bike and preparing it for the flight tonight. Then dinner and a beer with the last of my Rupees before the taxi man arrives at 23.00.  We should be at the airport at midnight even though I fly at 04.20.  But I am sure that trying to get my abnormal luggage on the plane will take time and involve a lot of negotiation and hard bargaining.

S.S.Hogg Market, Kolkata.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Queen Victoria and the Raj

Queen Victoria and the Raj have left a wonderful building to remember them by.  I suppose any opinion as to whether the time of the British here in India was a positive thing or not, can only be answered by the Indians themselves.  However, the splendour of the Victoria Memorial must stand outside this decision.  It is simply a beautiful building.  I set out to walk there this morning, approaching it from across the large park right in the centre of Calcutta and it was from under the shade of an immense Banyan that I took my first picture.  Italianate and domed its white stones stood out against the milky sky and the green gardens which surrounded it.  If you don't get a chance to see it for yourselves, look it up on Google Images, it really is worth a look.  The grounds are immaculate and gravel paths lead you from the entrance to a statue of the Queen seated on a throne.  From there she could watch her subjects taking there ease under the trees and resting in their cool shade.  To find something like that in the middle of one of the worlds busiest cities is remarkable and even the traffic noise seems to fade away.
There, that's the descriptive prose out the way back to practicalities.  I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of young French people today and to use the language of MoliĆ©re once again.  The first were a group of 7 youngsters studying in India, on their way to the Himalayas to do a bit of trekking and passing through for the day.  The second were a young couple who have given up their jobs to travel, before they eventually have to settle down and get serious.  They were really friendly and we are meeting this evening for a beer which I am sure will be nice.  My bargaining skills are nowhere near those of my wife's so I have given up trying to buy gifts.  The only thing I will regret is not buying a piece of artwork, as this is something we have always done before.  I might have one last try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Un peu de Francais

Salut les amis Francophones.  Je suis bien arrive (pas d'accents sur ce clavier) a Calcutta apres 1 650 km et quelques difficultes.  Je m'imagine plus fort que je suis et par fois j'ai eu beaucoup de mal.  Mais je suis a Calcutta apres 24 jours et quelques kilos de moins.  Pour celebrer j'ai attrape la tourista donc je ne peu meme pas manger le cuisine Bengali qui a l'aire si bonne.
Voila pour le Francais et a bientot en France.


Street life.

A Stroll Down to the Hougli Bridge

I started the day today with a stroll down to the Hougli Bridge, between Kolkata and Howrah, which was something of an eye opener for me.  During the 4 visits I have made to India over the last 20 years I have seen a lot of poverty.  There is the poverty of the rural poor, who work very hard just to fill their bellies at the end of the day.  There are families in India who make their livings turning large rocks into road chippings.  The final breaking of the stones, to produce the smallest pieces, being done by the children with there nimble little fingers.  In one way this is abhorrent.  People, men women and children breaking rocks when a machine could do this so much better.  But this work provides a living for these people and in the absence of other paid work it is their means of survival.  Farm labourers often have very physical jobs to do.  Also this work is often accomplished by women whilst the men bags the standing about and watching the cows job.  There are often the old and the infirm who beg, particularly in the cities.  They have no other alternative but to hold out their hands in the hope of alms.  But today I witnessed the urban working poor in a way I have never seen before.  Finding myself in an area where goods are distributed to the rest of the city, I saw men working harder than I thought possible.  Probably cheaper than beasts of burden, they carried and hauled impossible loads to their final destinations.  Their physical strength and endurance must be incredible.  I know for a fact that I would not last half a day in their places, toiling barefoot through the streets.
So I returned to my hotel (and some more Imodium) with yet another image of India in my head.  These men I saw, worked hard, tremendously hard, but I also saw a camaraderie between them and a mutual support which was wonderful.  When I lay down tonight in my hotel room with AC and hot running water I shall wonder where they are sleeping and if they have eaten their fill.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Tonight I Will Sleep In Kolkata

Tonight I will sleep in Kolkata for the first time.  The days since my last post have been even tougher and culminated with a 2 hr nightmare bus journey with about 150 other people.

After Balasore I continued on and wanting to get off this highway I headed for the coast and the delights of Digha.  The day was hot and long and I was still being very slow.  When I finally arrived I set about finding a hotel which at first sight should have been a breeze.  Digha is a kind of Bangladeshi version of Blackpool.  If you don't know this place look it up.  There are scores of hotels so I selected a clean looking one and asked for a room - no room for me.  So to the next and the next and the next.  I tried 10 hotels before discovering that there is some sort of global "no-singles" policy in town.  As a last resort (really last resort) I tried a guesthouse I had passed in a side street and was rented a dingy room for an unreasonable amount of money.  After chewing the fat with some of the locals on plastic chairs outside the guesthouse I set off to look for some food.  I have been really put of the usual Indian fare which is a shame, as I love it.  It seems it was my day for unsuccessful trying today.  It took me about 8 restaurants to find some one to make me eggs on toast.  Suitable full of egg I wandered down to the shore to see the delights of nocturnal Digha.  By the light of a thousand bulbs and a million stars row upon row of souvenir stalls touted their wares.  Throngs of tourists browsed and grazed their way through the evening.  Change the colour of peoples skins and it could have been anywhere from Coney Island to Blackpool. 
The next morning I set off for Haldia and the promised ferry to Kolkata.  The signs suggested a journey of 75 kms and my recently acquired sat nav even less. The vagaries of the Indian roads and road signs led to a ride of 95 kms once again.  The day was very hot and I tried to stop in the shade for a bit if a doze at one point but soon gave up.  The Bengalis are much more "in your face" than most other Indians I have met.  They are happy to stand 3 feet away in groups and discuss you, with their friends, in loud voices and with much touching of my stuff to boot.  The end of this day proved to be the hardest I have had to date.  It should have been easy but during the last hour if someone had offered me a ride home I would have taken it.  One incident did help me though.  I was 14 kms from Haldia and my moral was in my boots.  The road was incredibly busy and noisy.  Darkness was falling and I was starting to worry about my safety.  I had just been hassled by the police for no obvious reason.  Then I saw an old man holding the rope round the neck of a dead calf.  The animal had obviously been hit by a vehicle and killed.  A small crowd stood and watched.  As I approached the man continued to stand, holding the rope as if waiting for his cow to get up and move.  I cycled path and looking back over my shoulder I could see the old man was still waiting as if in a tableau.  This small cow must have been of great importance to the man and perhaps to his entire family.  I stopped to take a drink and watched as he continued to hold the rope and stare at the dead beast perhaps lacking the belief or the courage to let go of the rope.
The next day I discovered that Haldia is not the place to get a ferry to Diamond Harbour.  You actually need to go to a small town 25 kms up the road.  When I got there I asked if there was a ferry to Kolkata, was told yes and duly bought a ticket.  Once on the ferry all was going well until we pulled into another small town on the opposite side of the river.  Rather like the old man the night before I stood and waited for the boat to move again.  Like him I was still waiting even when it was obviously no use.  Last off I finally admitted to myself that the ferry does not go to Kolkata.  So I caught a bus.

Anyway I am here now and 1st impressions are good.  My room is standard but with HOT WATER, the first for nearly a month.  The bazaar area near Sudder Street is frantic and very friendly.  I am still a bit off colour so I will seek comfort in spaghetti tonight and then exploring time tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Regurgitating an Old Blog Page

I wrote this some years ago and it is part of "Another blog that might interest".  I still think it holds true so I thought I would post it again.

We have arrived in Pondycherry after a 2 hour re-acquaintance with Indian driving. Here are the simple rules you too will need to follow when you take to the wheel Indian style.
1. Might is right. Cyclists force pedestrians off the road: rickshaws force cyclists off the road: in turn they are forced off the road by the cars who bow down before the trucks and buses.
2. Add an impossible number of motor cycles into the above mix. They do not appear in the hierarchy but circulate at speed in amongst the rest of the traffic.
3. The surprise element, if needed, is the cow. They walk, stand and even sleep where ever they like, including the highway.
4. Put your newly acquired mobile phone to your ear and devote most of your attention to your friend, cousin, barber, whoever...
5. If you are on a motorcycle or bicycle, balance something impossibly large and unwieldy somewhere on the machine where you can't quite control it.
6. Drive on the left, India is after all a civilised country, unless it is either a) closer to where you are going to by using the right b) quicker by using the right c) you just feel like using the right.
7. At all occasions use the horn. For example, at a junction, when over taking, when undertaking, on a blind bend, at a slight dip in the road, when passing a dog-goat-cow-little old lady, in heavy traffic, in light traffic, when you are on a wide, empty straight road with not another living soul in sight.
Follow these few simple rules dear reader and you too will soon be an accomplished Indian driver. Feel free to improvise and throw in the odd improbable move as the moment takes you, it will just add to your style.

The Long not Winding Road Continues

The long not winding road continues towards the vanishing point.  I don't know if it is the sameness of it all but I am having real trouble pushing the pedals round.  Yesterday and today have been relatively short days so they should have been easy, but they have been the 2 hardest days so far.  I seem to need to stop every 5ks or so and have an overwhelming desire to go to sleep.  Even my normal 30ks of hard fast riding in the cool of the morning only lasted 15 ks this morning.  I might just be a bit off colour, or perhaps it's this bloody road.
Enough of the complaining.  I am now in Balasore which is just before the West Bengal border.  It is a fairly typical Indian town but has a great many Police establishments.  From Training Colleges to Officers Clubs to Barracks these seem to dominate the approaches from the south and the west.  The rest of the town is pretty standard and I eventually found a hotel at a reasonable price.  Last night I stayed in an upmarket place for 1050/- in an A/C room.  Here the first two "hotels", I use the word with some reservations, wanted 1500/- and 2500/- respectively.  The hotel I have chosen is a bit of a pit, but at 250/- a cheap pit.  So dhobi done I sallied forth and discovered they had a great restaurant - bonus.
Most people I meet seem somewhat perplexed as to why I am making this journey and why particularly on a bike.  I can obviously, as a westerner, afford to do all the visiting I want by car, bus or train.  So the hot, difficult and sweaty choice of the bike is difficult to understand.  All I can say is that I like to cycle, that I love India and that the bike is a good way to do it.  This is all true but I have deeper motivations which I get a lot of time to think about whilst cycling.  This has been a journey of discovery for me and it is not over yet....

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Long not Winding Road

The NH5 is a long not winding road through flat countryside filled with paddy fields.  I set out from Bhubaneswar toward Cuttack and then onwards.  Once out of the towns it really was featureless and almost straight as a die.  I seem to have mislaid the mp3 player or lost it all together so there was no music to listen to.  All in all it made for hot and boring 130ks.  However I have met some of the nicest kindest people who have taken their time to help me on my way.  After my 10/- breakfast I met some guys at the chai stall who bought me chai and explained the route to me.  At lunch (a really good 30/- thali) more help and advice and lots of friendly chat.  There is a town I was heading for on the map which does not exist but nearby there is another one.  I pulled off the highway and asked directions of a rickshaw driver but we couldn't understand each other.  Waves and shouts from the shade of a cafe drew me over and I spent a very happy half hour cooling down, drinking sprite and getting directions for the last 15kmsfrom a group of blokes who seemed to have been put there just for me.  They all spoke English and the patriarch was a particularly interesting and cultured gentleman.  My last meeting of the day was a young guy on a Hero Honda ( I know I've been unkind before) who guided me through a labyrinth of villages and unmade roads to the temple I was heading for in Jajpur and then my hotel.  I now have a vast room with ceiling fan and a working shower.  The only downside of the whole day is the temple which I, as a non-Hindu, can't visit.  I also mis-timed my evening meal and arrived at the only restaurant in town just as it sold out and shut. 
One of the things I have noticed over the last 3 days is the lack of Human excrement by the side of the road.  Let me explain.  Further south the roads edge was a vast latrine with people lined up in the early morning as far as the eye could see.  The consequence for me was the obligation to slalom between the turds when I was driven off the road by a speeding bus.  This is not pleasant experience.  But now further north this seems to have stopped and the roads edge is crap free.  Why is this?  Cultural?  Social?  Economic?  I don't understand.  But it's so much better, believe me!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Puri to Konark and Then to Bhubaneswar

The Journey from Puri to Konark and then to Bhubaneswar is not a long one but I decided to do it in two days.  So on the first leg I took my time, had a leisurely breakfast, said good-bye to my fellow travellers and set off.
I had met some really interesting people and I would like to take the opportunity to describe two of them.  They are both women, that's not because the men weren't interesting, but I have a particular admiration for solo women travellers.  For someone like me, 6' 3" and 85 kilos the dangers are much less than for them, yet both these ladies have travelled more than most of us ever have or I ever will.  Briannagh (spelling?) is 25 and from Australia.  She has already travelled to most of the Far East, India, Canada, Jordan, Mexico and a lot more besides.  She has done all this by working at any job that is available wherever she is.  She has a lust for travel which is incredible and plans to visit the Americas from north to south in the next year or so. Annie is probably in her 50's (sorry if I'm being unfair Annie) and has worked and travelled for the best part of her life.  She is a fund of advice and anecdotes from the135 countries she has already visited and she's not stopping there.  Next trip will take her through the "Stans" back towards Europe.  Over an evening of biriani she entertained us with her stories and advice to ladies when needing to pee out of an African brothel window (I kid you not) and other harrowing toilet tales (a traveller's favourite).  Bravo to these two and to all other intrepid adventurers.
I arrived in Konark, for what was my 2nd visit, in time for a very good lunch and then set off to explore the Sun Temple.  It is probably one of the best temples in India and is beautifully preserved in lush grounds.  The lighting at sunset is particularly effective.  This morning I started out for Bhubaneswar at 6am and arrived at 11am.  I would have been quicker but had a puncture on the way which took a bit of time to fix.  Once here I went out for a walk to visit the town, get a shave and find an Internet cafe.  I must have walked for miles, only to find both less than 50 meters apart in the street parallel to my hotel's.  Twas ever thus.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Morning After the Night Before.

The morning after the night before was difficult for some of my fellow travellers.  Emerging from rooms, sporting shades and with that tentative gait of someone who is not sure of the ground, they gravitate towards the restaurant.  I won't name names here, as that would not be fair of me, but our young Australian friend, yet to be seen, who led the debauch has a lot to answer for.  He provided a bucket of cocktails and a bottle of rum to get the party started.  He was gererous to one and all and I am pretty sure the bucket even made the tour of the kitchen staff.  The two traveller groups did come together last night and under the influence of much alcohol, many splifs and innumerable chilums tales were told, friendships made and ideas exchanged.  Talk ranged from India to Israel, people to politics and from life to love.  Songs were sung and an impromptu jam session between a 100/- guitar and a bamboo didgeriedoo was as memorable as it was remarkable.   Our group included people from 25 to 52, of British, Isreali, Australian, Indian and South Korean extractions.  I don't think I have ever seen a better group of new and interesting people.  So in answer to my question of yesterday "Are there really two groups or will people join together to make a single group but with a wide range of types?", I reply yes, they did come together.  I don't think the younger ones are any different to the older ones.  They are more switched on perhaps to the technologies and the possibilities of social networking.  The older ones travel perhaps for shorter times for reasons of career and family.  Yet both groups are united by their love of travel for its own sake and of India, this amazing, frustrating, vast and beautiful place.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

One of the Unfortunate Consequences of Progress.

One of the unfortunate consequences of progress is the demise of ISD or Internatonal Subsciber Dialing.  Once upon a time nobody had a mobile phone and to make an intenational call we used ISD.  There were ISD phones everywhere and keeping in touch with ones loved ones was easy.  Progress has killed off this system as everyone or nearly everyone has a mobile.  Little old ladies who you would think hadn't two rupees to rub together have them, chidren have them, brahmin priests have them, everybody has them.  I have one, but calling from here by mobile costs me a fortune because I have a foreign phone.  Being the old skinflint that I am I search in vain for a faded ISD sign and ask without much hope if they still have this service.  No I am told we don't do that anymore.  In the end my wife rings me from home on our house phone and it doesn't seem so bad.  Stupid really when you think who will be paying the bill.

The hotel where I am staying has had an influx of new guests.  We (and I include myself in the first group) seems to fall into two groups.  Firstly, the more mature ageing hippy types who have `done India` before and can talk of the things we have seen and the changes we have noticed.  We seem to travel alone but recognise kindred spirits when we see them.  The second group is young, often heavilly tatooed and of the more marginal nature.  They seem to know each other, either directly or from their facebook walls.  Their talk is of the places they know, of dope and the trips they plan.  Now that seems a little judgemental when you read it back, but I am not being so.  I am just writing down my impression of what I have seen yesterday and today.  What will be interesting will be tonight, when I hope both groups will be in the restaurant together.  Are there really two groups or will people join together to make a single group but with a wide range of types?  It is sure to be interesting.

Baywatch?

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The 6 am Ferry Leaves at 7 am

The 6 am ferry leaves at 7 am of course.  Yesterday when I had found my hotel 6 kms from the ferry I thought I would check the times with the port people.  So I cycled into the town and asked what time it leaves and how much.  6 am and 45/- was the reply.  So back to my hotel, eat dinner, set alarm for 5 am and early to bed.  When I arrive at the ferry at 5.50 am loading is in progress and I load my bike and stake out a bit of deck.  It is here I am informed that the 6 am ferry leaves at 7 am and will cost me 100/-.  Time for breakfast.

After feasting on various bits of street food and chai I return to the now much fuller boat clutching a bag of cakes and an extra bottle of water.  I must pause to praise the sweets I have bought.  Normally I avoid these Ghee based things as they make me a bit nervous from a hygiene point of view.  However these ones were so fresh I had to try them and they were exceptional.  Ideal food for cycling as they must pack a hefty calorie punch.
7 am and we cast off for a great crossing of the Chilka Lake which lasts nearly 3 hours.  As our stately craft powers across the lake I am slowly eased towards the gunwale by a large grandmother and her screaming grandchild.  I am totally unable to sit cross legged like Indians of all ages seem to be able to do, so I sit with my legs dangling overboard.  This has the double benefit of cooling my feet and easing my poor old aching bum. Unfortunately the upright bamboo pole holding up the sun shade is not attached as I imagined it to be and when I lean on it, it comes away bringing down the sun shade on everyone.  Much embarrassment on my part, much hilarity elsewhere and it allows the telling of all the `stupid foreigner` tales people have. 
One of the things I noticed as we crossed the lake was the tendency by everyone to use it as a dumping ground.  This lake is the life blood of entire communities, home to countless birds and one of the last remaining habitats of freshwater dolphins, yet it is being polluted every day.  I have asked a lot of people about this littering thing and the only explanation I have heard that sounds plausible relates to the Caste system.  All the Castes except the Untouchables, whose job it is to clean up after everyone else, simply throw things to the ground when they have finished with them.  Once they have done this, things cease to exist in peoples minds and are beneath their concern.  This ignoring of things allows people to litter (and worse) in even the most pristine environment without any concern and/or guilt.  Maybe this explains why countries like the Indonesia or Thailand are so much cleaner than India.  The only part of India approaching clean is Kerela and that's run by the women. 

We disembarked and 48 kms later I arrived in Puri having passed the 1000 km mark sometime in the morning.  My hotel is OK and the food good so I will stay for 2 days.  Puri is one of Hinduisms most important centres and receives many foreign tourists so it should be interesting.

Dawn over Chilka Lake.


Our Pilot.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Cheesy, Cheesy, Cheesy.

Gopalpur on Sea is cheesy, cheesy, cheesy but in quite the nicest possible way.  From its broken faux cast iron street lights to the kitch sculptures on the promenade someone has made an effort.  The people are really friendly and even though I am the only non-indian tourist in town it is nice not to always be at the centre of attention.  They have seen people like me before and so I am foreign not an extraterrestrial.  My hotel is the Sea Breeze Beach and I have a room on the roof which is clean airy and private - the dogs. (pout toi Patricia.  Je t'explique des mon retour.)  Yesterday started well, went badly and got better again.  Leaving my hotel in the early morning was great.  It had stopped raining so was nice and cool.  I bowled along for about 25 of the 90 kms I planned to do when my back wheel started to wobble.  A few yards later and Bang!  Catastrophic rear tyre failure again!  I stopped, looked at the tyre and was just deciding that I would need a lift to the next town when a chap from the other carriageway approached me.  He didn't ask any of the standard question - blessed relief - and just told me that the village 500 meters further on had a bike shop.  I pushed the bike on and found a chai and puri stall next to the still shut bike shop where I had a lovely breakfast.  Half an hour later a great guy opened the shop produced the exact tyre I needed and fitted it for me.  In total I lost 40minutes if you exclude breakfast.

I have been reading back over some of the entries to this blog and I do seem to painting a bit of a negative picture sometimes.  Well, sometimes this place makes me pretty negative.  However, sometimes it fills me with warmth and hope for a truly wonderful people and country.  Travelling here is a difficult and frustrating process compared to the west.  Not being able to slip through life in total anonymity and to be the object of everyone's attention is for me, very hard.  So every once in a while little oasis's of peace like Gopalpur are a god's send.

Indian kitch!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

This is All Getting a Bit Tough.

This is all getting a bit tough this getting out of bed and cycling business.  The knees are aching and my legs don't seem to recover from each day to the next.  My good old bike is starting to have quite a few problems also.  The gears are getting very limited in number and don't always run smoothly, my bike rack keeps coming off and the back wheel has a wobble.  The tyre I bought here has already lost most if it's tread so we will see how long that lasts.  Today was a 90km run along the Nation Highway 5 from SRIKAKULUM to KASIBUGGA.  More than a little wet but no wind.  Punctuated by a Dhosa breakfast, rain stop in a bus shelter with a crooner and 2 near misses for the Hero Honda drivers.  The dhosa was really great and set me up for the morning.  I have a theory about fat cooks - their food must be good, so eat where they eat.  Or it could just be that they are rotten cooks but eat all the un-solds.  Well my dhosa chef was well on the large side, his misses was even bigger and the food was great.  Later it started to rain very hard and for a very long time.  I hid in a bus stop with a bloke who crooned along to the doubtful musical contents of his phone.  We were also visited by goats at one time who wanted to join us but the crooner shooed them away.  The first near miss was between me and 2 idiots on a Hero Honda.  They tried to ride along side me, on my inside thus I was in the traffic.  I accelerated to get past them but the just kept pace with me, so I braked and tucked in behind them.  They now also braked which resulted in the near miss.  At this point I threw my teddies out the pram.  Next time it was 2 men with a child between them.  We exchanged some words along the lines of the 5 standard questions and I had my picture taken with the child.  They then continued to dog me for the next ten minutes until they had a close one with another HH trying to join in.  Sometimes competition for position is fierce.
Tomorrow should see me in Gopalpur with its seaside delights.  I'll keep you posted....

Early morning.

Monday, 1 October 2012

It's Lashing it Down.

It's lashing it down as I push the bike out through the gates of the lodgings at 04.30am and roll down the hill to the seafront.  There is also a strong headwind and it is still very dark.  What am I doing?  I was happy under the fan in my room and I could easily have spent a couple of hours more in bed.  There is a slight slope on this part of the seafront and I am making a miserable 12kph.  Leaving town on the north side means climbing up to the National highway number 5 which rums behind town and it all seems to take a very long time.  I have been riding with the front light aimed just in front of my wheel, my headlight set to flash and on back to front and no glasses because of the rain.  This also does not encourage speed.  All that to say that I took 10hrs to cover the 110kms to Srikakulam.  I must also admit to 2 breakfasts 2 soft drink stops and quite a lot of time spent crouching under bushes sheltering from the rain.

I spend a lot of time looking at the road just in front of me and can't help noticing a lot of the things I see.  In particular, orphan flip flops.  Now why is there only ever one?  Think about it.  You break a flip flop and throw it away.  What do you do, take the other one with you?  I can't imagine why.  Surely the two flip flops would be jettisoned together or at least not far apart.  Are people hoarding single flip flops in the hope that one day they will buy an identical pair and when the first of that pair breaks they will have just the very thing already in stock.  I don't think this is a sensible thing to do.  If they are anything like me it is always the same flop flop that goes first.  They are now in the position of having two identical orphan flip flops and having to keep them both or throw one of them away....
Another cyclist I met along the way.