Archive | November, 2012

Indian outset

24 Nov

Hello one and all.

I will begin in Devanhalli. A town 20km north of Bangalore airport. I decided not to ride into Bangalore, I was there on my last trip and didn’t want my first taste of India after a long haul flight to be riding in a city. So I stayed in Devanhalli for a couple of days and soaked up the Divalli atmosphere.

What struck me as I wandered round the town was the familiarity of the smell. You can read all about a place but there is no way to experience it until you have smelt it. The air was thick and hot, filled with aromas of spices, incense, vegetables, bidis (little leaf cigarettes) and urine. As you walk down the road you get a hit of each one and more but put them all together and there is an overall smell that bought back so many memories; it felt a bit like coming home.

From Devanhalli I have been riding north east, into Andrha Pradesh. I visited Puttaparthi, the former home of Sai Baba, a famous ecumenical guru who is revered by many millions of devotees. He was also a very rich man and common magician, producing ash and gold rings from nothing supposedly (although refused to perform the ‘miracles’ under test conditions). The ashram, a prison come holiday camp did have some pretty tasty all you can eat meals for only 10 Rs though (13 pence). Here I saw the first white people I had encountered in India, mainly dressed in ‘authentic clothing’ with red dots on their foreheads looking ridiculous. Still I managed to buy a map in the town, at last. And found one of my favourite foods, deep fried chillies.

The riding has been mainly on the plains, surrounded by paddy or cotton fields; I got some hills going over a granite mine and then through a small forest on my way to Cumbum. However the riding hasn’t been boring. I am never alone on the road here. There are always people working in the fields, taking their oxes for a walk or riding along on a motorbike. Every so often (possibly more than I would like) somebody pulls up alongside me and starts talking to me. This, in varying qualities of English, is 75% the same questions, but I have been trying to keep polite and open and not get frustrate, they are just curious, after all ‘no Indian would do this’. The most challenging is ‘What is your purpose?’, which gets a different response depending on my mood and motivation. Whenever I stop for chai or food (which I have been absolutely loving), I am also fired questions at whilst the men poke my tyres, squeeze my brakes and honk my newly acquired horn.
I had a strange experience when a rickshaw pulled up next to me and pointed at the newspaper which he gave to me. I have clearly achieved a minor celebrity status with an article about my in it. Apparently is says that I like the food, and cycling. Another weird experience happened to me in Amaravarti; I went for my breakfast where a lady tried to fatten me up and force feed me chai, not that uncommon. What was strange was that when I returned to my lodge she was there waiting for me. At first she looked in my room and asked a few questions (in Telugu), like what my first aid kit was. Then she started talking in hushed tones and I was bamboozled. Only when she tapped me then herself and then the bed did I get the message, despite my protests she forced my hand to her breast and kept trying to push against me. Obviously I declined the offer from this small plump woman and managed to get her out my room but I couldn’t help wonder what the scam would have been.

Anyway that is just a taste of the weird and colourful Indian cycling experience so far. Yesterday I was stopped by a guy in a car who invited me to stay at his school for a few days, so here I am. I will tell you about the experience in my next post.

More photos uploaded, some take by Sage


Turkish Delight…. (yes, I know it’s obvious!)

15 Nov

Hello again one and all. Yet again I have fallen behind on my writing. I blame the company I have been keeping; I never feel like sitting on my own and writing when there are people around to talk to. 

I left you what seems like weeks and weeks ago on the Greek border. I changed my flight to the 11th of November, but it still meant that I had to slow down, which I did. Fortunately I met Guillame, a French circus performer on the outskirts of Thessaloniki and rode into the city with him. It was fortunate as that was where my maps that seen me all the was from Slovenia ended, and it was a bank holiday. So with the joy of digital photography took photos of his maps all the way to Istanbul and could refer back to them.

So what did I do in Greece? I got rained on one day so took refuge at a beach bar which was obviously closed for summer. As it was raining heavily the next day I decided to stay there all day. A day without getting on my bike and just reading was quite nice, but I braved the weather the next day to get moving again. I also spent a sunny afternoon next to a river bank doing washing and swimming in the river. Basically just plodding along doing between 30-50 kms a day.

The riding on the whole pretty uneventful apart from the road to Alexandroupolis. I saw on the map that there was a small road along the coast that rose up alongside the hills, which obviously would have been nicer that taking the motorway in. When I asked 3 different people they all said that it wasn’t possibly but the last one eventually conceded that it might be, so naturally that sounded like a challenge. Loaded up with food and water I set off, and it was definitely worth it; short steep climbs on varying surfaces, from rock, gravel and dirt. It went through olives groves, close to the sea and big chunky boulders (which of course I scampered about on and wished I had my climbing boots). Made a nice change to be on some rough stuff.

About 20 km from the Turkish border one morning my ride completely changed. As I was packing away my goodies bought with the last of my Euros 2 other cycle tourists rode past me with a wave and a hello. So I rode after them and started chatting. They were Martin (a 30 year old Austrian embarking on a 1 year travel (partly paid for as it was his ‘study year’ off work!)) and Sage (A 33 year old Alaskan who has been touring Europe over the summer). These two had met in Thessaloniki and were riding to Istanbul together. I had planned to watch Arsenal v Man U, but the company was better so I rode with them for the day, which turned into all the way to Istanbul where we stayed together.

It was really nice to have some good company, especially in the evenings. However it means that you also have to make compensations when riding. The other 2 didn’t eat as much as me so I couple of times I got to the stage of hunger, where your body feels really weak that you can barely carry on. We all got this one day when we rode 70 km before lunch! Normally my rule is to eat before I am hungry (and drink before thirsty) but didn’t want to be the one to stop the flow. Anyway it was fine, even if I did realise what I looked like crouched on the floor licking a cake wrapper. 

The road to Istanbul was very up and down, despite us being told it was flat (car drivers never know) and quite busy at certain points, especially the last day. The last day into Istanbul, signposted 95 km (more like 120 km), has to be the worst roads I have cycled on. All main road, at some points with a one foot hard shoulder which meant hugging the white line while buses lorries and cars cruised past. The day climaxed with a chat to a man (car driver!) who said the motorway was the only way into the city! That was truly scary. But eventually we found a better route along the coast into the city. 3 km from the destination Martin got a flat tyre, which we changed to the bemusement of a prostitute who used it as a marketing opportunity. Secretly we had all been praying to the puncture God and not mentioning the ‘P’ word all day, but at that point it was fine. 

Ok so I will split the next bits up. I will begin with my airline woes. After days of trying to get though to the Air Arabia cargo department I was told I couldn’t take my bike on the plane, damn! So I tried to buy another ticket with Qatar, the payment didn’t go through for days, thankfully actually because the day before I was due to fly I found a cheaper ticket with Saudi Airlines (and someone to cycle to the airport with) so cancelled the other one before payment went through. I managed to get a bike box the day before from a bike shop, this I attached to my rack and rode the 25 kms there with a big tail sticking out the back. 

The ride to the airport I was dreading slightly considering Istanbul’s roads. It could not have been more perfect. It was the day of the Istanbul marathon, and the route followed exactly the way we were going save the last 5 km! So we cruised along clear roads, probably to the disgust of the runners (get a bike then, running 26 miles is a silly idea!), not only that but it was sunny and we had a strong tail wind! And the airline were fine about the bikes. The only trouble I had was that I put my U lock on my hand luggage to save the weight and that was confiscated at my stop over in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). 

Anyway back to Istanbul. I has to be one of my favorite cities. Especially once Sage and I moved to a really nice hostel the other side of the river. Over that side there are lots of little side streets with bars and cafes, markets and just a nice, slightly BoBo, feel. I had a nice night out walking the streets supping on beers, meeting locals and culminating in dancing at a little minimal techno bar with Sage. We also went shopping on the Asian side, via a ferry which itself is a really nice experience with great views of the huge sprawling city.

So I would definitely recommend Istanbul to everyone it is very East meets West and has a lot of character and life. I would especially recommend it to cycle tourists, you will meet plenty of your kind, or I certainly did. However don’t eat the Rice Pilauf, especially at 4 in the morning you know it has been sitting out all day as Sage and I did, despite both having food and hygiene qualifications, well unless you want Turkey Tummy. 

Oh yes I forgot to mention my puncture woes, I got 2, one front one back my Rice Krispie campsite, where the plants were dry and crunchy underfoot. At the beach bar I got 3 from the same tyre, each time thinking I had pulled out the culprit but clearly not. I also got one from a small piece of wire in Greece. Oh and one from a huge thorn in Macedonia. So I had about 7 in a week, which was very frustrating. And I got one 3 km from Bangalore airport from a piece of wire, a nice welcome to India.

Anyway I have been in India for 4 days now, but I will bite my tongue about describing it and save it for my next post.