Tuesday, 14 April 2015

13/14 April - Mumbai and homeward bound

Distance: 48 km - Bandar Terminus to CST Mumbai and then a meander to the airport.

Total trip distance: 2,858 km

It wasn't a bad trip down to Mumbai but I got really frustrated trying to leave Bandar Station. Not knowing what end of the train's two baggage cars my bike was stored in I  lugged my panniers from one end of the platform to another (it was a very long train) constantly hounded by touts and porters. When I finally spotted  my bike and loaded it up ready to leave I wasn't allowed to take it!  I had to go to the baggage office (miles away outside the station) and get a clearance ticket. Off came all the bags again and another mega-trudge along the platform.  In the ticket office they were messing about trying to fiddle the weight reading on the scales by adding stones and waste paper bins to a parcel being weighed. I really don't know what they were doing but it took at least 30 minutes and I was dripping sweat in the steamy cargo shed. While waiting my bike was actually wheeled in. Somebody had tried to steal the front Edelux light but it is firmly attached and all that was missing was the rotary switch, so the light is now permanently on. Not the end of the world. When I finally got my ticket no-one even looked at it. Grrrh!

In the evening I go off in search of what I now know are 'gunny bags' to wrap my bike in for the flight home. I'm given some old ones by a very friendly parcel company. On the way home I spot this bamboo scaffolding on a high-rise building. I wouldn't trust it to hold my runner beans up!

Around lunch-time I start a heading north through and around Mumbai on the way to the airport. The traffic was jammed in places because of road closures due to protest marches. Mumbai does have some reasonable beaches but I don't think they'd get a 'Blue Flag' for water quality.

Who'd have known it!

Getting to the airport is really frustrating because 2 wheelers aren't allowed on the flyover roads, and I have to pick my way round the back streets to find a way in. Finally, I wheel the bike into a lift in 'Arrivals'' and go up 10 levels to 'Departures' and set about gift wrapping it for the baggage handlers.

I'm quite pleased with the end result - triple gunny-bag wrapped

I survived India! Now back to see what the real world has been up too..........but I'll be back!

Monday, 13 April 2015

12 Apr - Udaipur

Udaipur. I can look out from the small rooftop restaurant and see many of the Udaipur sights laid out before me, like the Lake Palace Hotel (strictly for the uber-rich) floating in the middle of Lake Pichola. After a touristy breakfast of honey/banana porridge I force myself to plan the rest of the day before heading off to the train station tonight. I say 'force' because, as Chattergee says in her backpacking odyssey 'Special Lassi', the process of looking at a map, shortlisting the landmarks and working out how to get there seems more like a chore than a leisurely holiday activity. We share the same paradox, that our love of travelling is at odds with our dislike of sightseeing.

I prefer to get the feel of a place by getting lost and just cycling about, stopping and chatting at tea and street food stalls. Nevertheless I bite the bullet and head for the City Palace museum to inform myself about the 'victory or death' Rajput dynasty and their many battles with the Moghuls.

I'm off to see Udaipur

Ho hum! Another day, another palace. The entrance to City Palace Museum.

That's the Taj Lake Palace Hotel - as featured in the 007 film 'Octopussy'

More tricks with mirrored glass - that's me in the distance.

I thought these lemonade bottles, sealed with a glass stopper were antiques........still in use here.

Bye bye Udaipur.......I say goodbye to the hotel gang and head for the train station.

The baggage handling with coolies and porters is quite antiquated too. I'm worried all these sacks will be dumped on top of my bike at some stage.
How different this train trip, now that I have 'the knowledge'. As I arrive at the station I just breeze past the security person waving me to the motorcycle parking and pedal straight on to the platform and look for the luggage office. A touch overconfident perhaps. I've booked a hotel in Mumbai, situated a convenient 500m from the Central Station. It's a pity, as I later discover, that my train is actually going to Bandra terminus to the north of Mumbai, and 16 km from my hotel. Smart guy!

I'm sharing the relative comfort of an air-conditioned sleeper with relatively affluent Indians. On the outskirts of Surat (but it could be any big city) we can look down on the abject filth and misery of the track-side slums and the black, putrid rivers choked with rubbish. I look at my travelling companions to check for signs of embarrassment or discomfort at the view. I don't think they see it.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

11 Apr - The final touring day! Nathdwara to Udaipur

Day's run: 51 km
Total: 2,810 km
Start:  06:52 am
Saddle Time:   03:13
Total Climb:    367 m
Total Descent: 345 m
Average: 15.8 kph

It's the final day today. I'm catching the train tomorrow night from Udaipur to Mumbai. Definitely feeling ready to go home now and cut some grass........and eat some cheddar cheese on toast.

For a final day#s riding it is a bit of a let-down. The road improvement works to the NH58 plague me for most of the way with passing traffic raising choking dust.

The original road at least had some big old trees that provided green and shade, but the new road is like a motorway.

I'm at the top of a small pass at 700m and it's a final 10 km downhill run into Udaipur. That's the new road down below which is going to go through a tunnel.

The view from my balcony in Udaipur

This is a panoramic shot from the roof-top restaurant. I might go and be a tourist tomorrow, before I make my way to the train station.

10 Apr - Devgarh to Nathdwara

Day's run: 81 km
Total: 2,695 km
Start:  06:42 am
Saddle Time:  04:55
Total Climb:    376 m
Total Descent: 438 m
Average: 16.4 kph

A dusty, hazy sunrise from my balcony

The entrance gates to the Palace courtyard

Well, these gates to the coach-house look original. My bike is parked inside. As I drag them open to go in I find some of the hotel staff playing an early morning game of badminton.

On the road again, the best time of the day.......and the scenery is improving

Flame trees

On the other hand, 'What goes up must come down'. My aptly named room for the night in Nathdwara.

09 Apr - Pushkar to Devgarh (the Palace Hotel!)

Day's run: 149 km
Total: 2,614 km
Start:  06:57 am
Saddle Time:   08:32
Total Climb:    664 m
Total Descent: 523 m
Average: 17.00 kph

I find a real backwoods route out of Pushkar to avoid the climb back over the hill to Ajmer. I'm not sure where I'll end up tonight as there aren't any towns enroute that look very promising hotel-wise.

I've cycled past several small dairies on my travels. Nothing more than collection and distribution points really. I pluck up courage and march in with my own glass and ask the milkman to fill it up, trying not to think too hard about the bits of grass and whatnot I can see floating on the top of the churn. The milk is bought and sold by weight. The churn sits permanently on electronic scales so anyone selling chucks their milk into the churn, anyone buying gets it ladled out. My breakfast milk was warm and creamy and cost me a princely 5 rupees.

My back road route which was dirt for about 20 km. I was really expecting to get a puncture along here as those are wicked thorn bushes on  the roadside, used as  an animal barrier. Some thorns had already worked their way through the sole of my sandals and at first I thought they were rusty tin tacks.

I took this just to show some of the squalor through the rural villages. Civic pride seems an alien concept. The only relatively 'pretty' urban places are the tourist hotspots. There are no rubbish bins anywhere.....ever. Rubbish is dumped in certain parts of the street........the pigs, dogs, and cattle all pick over it and what's left is periodically burnt. I saw a cow munching paper cups next to a tea stall the other day.

I pull up next to a well for morning tiffin. In Pushkar I found brown sliced bread, and a slab of butter. So I enjoy rough-cut tomato and cucumber sandwiches, followed by banana sandwiches........I won't say how many but you don't want butter melting in your panniers do you?   : )

and suddenly the road improves..........it's my maxim in life.....'Yes, I know it's bad, be patient and it will get better'. It usually works.
I decide to push on to Devgarh, a largish town. When I arrive it is dusk and I can't find any accommodation anywhere. I find out from a local that there is only one hotel in town, The Devgarh Palace. It is a real 400 year old palace, the Maharajah still lives in part of the Palace but the rest had been turned into a rather nice hotel in 1996. It's on a hill top right in the centre of the town. As I pedalled up the steep cobbled entrance, somewhat bedraggled and road-stained after 150 km I wondered if they would let me in. Sat in reception sipping a complimentary rosewater and fruit juice I came out with it. "Look, it's very nice, but let's cut to the chase, I don't know if  I can afford to stay here, how much is it?"  "How much do you want to pay, what is your budget? Well, I wasn't expecting that. The Maharajah must be really strapped for cash. "Umm....2,000 rupees".  The room was lovely, lots of  original features but then I had to explain that I had to find an ATM as I didn't have enough cash.
Luckily there was one in town, and finally I was sat munching a chapati with a Kingfisher up in the roof-top restaurant..........'When it's bad it can only get better'!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

08 Apr - Rest day in Pushkar

OK, I didn't do much in Pushkar as I had some work to do on our cottage-letting website. Just a gentle afternoon stroll along the bazaar looking for an ATM.  Pushkar is a pilgrimage destination both for real pilgrims and neo-hippies. It's a small, friendly, laid back place built around a holy lake where nothing seems particularly urgent. Lots of beads and dreadlocks and swamis. I look and feel a bit out of place, like the pallid Russian tourists. Some-one said once your here it's hard to summon the energy to leave. I can relate to that.

I decide to get my cycling shorts repaired. There are dozens of tailor's shops in this small town........why is that?
 I ask how much the repair has cost me. "Whatever you want to pay". That's Pushka.

Me trying to be arty

The Apprentice

I'm heading off south tomorrow, not sure where I will end up as there doesn't look to be anything much ahead in the way of towns between 80 and 120 km..........not the tent again : /

07 Apr - Pushing on to Pushkar

Day's run: 139 km
Total: 2,465 km
Start:  06:30 am
Saddle Time:   07:32
Total Climb:    360 m
Total Descent: 269 m
Average: 19.7 kph

I was awoken by a bleep from my phone at 5am. It was a message from Angie with more devastating news about dear Sandra's family. I get up and get going like an automaton, quietly so as not to disturb the other dorm sleepers. Outside, it is raining. So, back inside to rummage around for my rain jacket. Come on, this is Rajasthan in April.........what's happening to the world? And my leather saddle is all soggy.

As I go to hang a front pannier on the bike, I notice a rack bolt has worked it's way loose. Back inside again and another rummage for my toolkit. I'm glad I had the foresight to pack some Loctite......if I was really organised I would have loctited all the threads before I left. Anyway............eventually I get going and the rain stops once my legs have been nicely spattered with mud.

The news from Portugal has knocked the stuffing out of me. I just want to get back home now. I choose the easy but dull motorway route from Jaipur to Ajmer. It's flat and smooth, three lanes each way and mostly I get a hard shoulder to myself, ...........still fraught with danger with all types of vehicle coming towards you along the hard shoulder.

The final phase of my journey - it's 800 km from Delhi to Udaipur.
Every local I talk to on my numerous tea breaks asks if I'm going to Pushkar. I check it out in Lonely Planet. A bit far but it sounds interesting. I knuckle down for a long day in the saddle. Music on and pedal. Bob Marley said the good thing about music was that it doesn't hurt when it hits you.

What are all these trucks doing in MY lane? Looks like an accident ahead.

Yes, there is. I wiggle through and am on my way with an empty motorway to myself. There are no police around to control the incident, but I notice a token traffic cone has been put out just in case you didn't realise the road was blocked.  Being India, all the trucks do a U turn, drive back down the motorway, cross over through a gap in the central reservation and drive along on the other side of the motorway against the oncoming traffic! That would be a recipe for a major disaster anywhere else in the world.

Under all this tat is a motorbike. The man waving sells the tat to lorry drivers to pimp up their vehicles. The idea is to dangle as much as possible in your cab so that you can't see what's about to hit you. Seat belts are optional.

Ajmer Lake

Looking back at Ajmer and the lake as I start to climb Snake Mountain, the sting in the tail that separates Ajmer from Pushkar

........and down some nice hairpins on the other side.

See! I don't always end up in flea-pits. I splash out 600 rupees for a poolside room and enjoy a cold beer and a swim. I'm taking a day off here tomorrow.