Archive | December, 2012

Chilly Christmas

24 Dec

Hello, one and all, seasons greetings. I somehow deleted the first part of this before I published it yesterday, so this has been edited.

Last time I wrote I was heading towards Bodhgaya. Bodhgaya is of special importance to Buddhists as it was where the Buddha received Enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. I spent a few days relaxing, soaking up the atmosphere and hanging out with some other tourists. I found it interesting wandering round the temple complex with the sound of Buddhist chanting over a PA system, small monks playing around and impressive mandalas made out of butter a flour. I also managed to time my visits well for the free cup of tea and biscuits in the afternoon The place is town is also home to lots of impressive temples from Buddhist communities and a huge 25 meter Buddha statue which I wandered.

While in Bodhgaya I decided to head up to Darjeeling to spend Christmas somewhere cold, and where there would be  other tourists to share it with. When the time came to pack up my room and leave for the 600 km ride I had a change of heart and decided to see if there was a bus instead.  The scenery had been a bit monotonous and I didn’t want to feel under pressure to get  to Darjeeling before  Christmas. So I took my first shortcut to avoid cycling.

Anyway I got the bus and met a nice Aussie and Italian on it, so when we arrived owe found a place to stay together and then hung out for a few days. It was nice to have some good  company and conversation, however they have carried on to Sikkim now. I have been in Darjeeling for 5 days now; it is really cold unless the sun is out, thermal underwear definitely required. It has been nice to explore the zigzagging roads, finding new routes and shortcuts every day. I went to the zoo and the Himalayas Mountaineering Institute museum but mainly have just been wandering and eating. There is a host of good food here; I especially like the tiny restaurant in a little shack that can hold only 8 people at a squeeze that serves momos (rice flour dumplings filled with cabbage ginger and onion, they are steamed and served with a spicy dipping sauce.) And there is a reasonably nice pub, a rarity here.

Tomorrow I plan to start my Christmas day before dawn and watch the sun rise over the hills and illuminated the mountains, gorge myself on good food and drink a few beers at the pub. I’m sure I will meet some other guys to hang out with too. EDIT – I met an English guy last night and went to bed late so there was no chance of me watching the sunrise. I will watch it set instead, much more civilised. But yes, I have been eating a lot and even treated myself to 100 rupee cup of coffee this morning!

So Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have a nice time celebrating.

Birthday Bliss

10 Dec

So Tuesday was my 100th day of this trip (Thanks for doing the maths Grandpa); it also happened to coincide with my birthday.

I got up reasonably early and enjoyed the cool of the forest I had camped in. I had my first nice fast descent for a long time, but got a  puncture front and pack from hitting a pot hole when I was overtaking a truck. After I had fixed the wheels I set off again and had some excellent puri (fried flat breads served with curry) for breakfast. 

I was hoping for a shorter days riding but, due to the days riding before, I still had 80km to cover before I could get to a hotel, and a cold beer. Luckily for the first time in a while the roads were smooth with very few bumpy sections; I was zipping along at 22 km an hour with ease and it gave me time to think. When it is bumpy I have to concentrate on my line and speed whereas on the flat and smooth I can just ride and let my mind wander more.

Now with it being my birthday it made me think back to my previous ones; I have been lucky that the last few years I have had some smashing bashes thanks to my chums. It made me think of my family, and at being at home and Mum making a cake and a nice meal. I would have liked those things, to see those people, but it also made me think about the trip. It made me realise that I could have been anywhere in the world, doing a lot of different things, but I was there flying along in the sun on my bike. And most importantly, that that was what I wanted to be doing. I rode along quickly all morning with a smile that I couldn’t get off my face.

I made good time and got to Bahwanipatna by 1; found a hotel, had some lunch and then had a cold beer. On my ride into the town I had seen a big rocky hill, so made my way out of town and up that for the sunset with a nice view. An evening of a few more beers and plenty of street food followed.

(When I get a room in a town I very rarely get on big evening meal, normally I frequent 3 or 4 of the little street stalls which sell small meals or snacks. On my birthday I found one of the best ones yet, I can’t remember the name but it was some sort of chaat. Spherical crisps had a hole pushed in the top, filled with pea and potato curry, 2 sauces, one creamy one sweet and tangy, various spices and topped with crisp salad of carrot, beet and onion and crunchy little Bombay mix bits. They were such a good combination and balance of texture, moisture and flavour that explodes as you put them in your mouth. I went back there 4 times in the 2 days I was there.)

I spent the evening drinking a couple more beers and wandering and then reading. All in all a very nice day.

So there it is, sorry it’s not me falling off my bike, getting kidnapped or attacked by a tiger but  that is how my birthday was so, I thought I would share with you.

 

Map updated and photos updated

School. No it’s not, it’s hot

1 Dec

Hello. I left you lingering over the thought of me, an atheist, visiting a Christian school. So let me explain how this happened.

I did what as a child you are taught not to do; talk to a strange man in a car. Jaipeep pulled up beside me and explained he had set up a school for village children, would I like to come and stay for a while. Well I think part of travelling is about taking opportunities when they present themselves and throwing yourself into the unknown, so I did. 

I ‘skitched’ (held on to a moving vehicle whilst riding a bike) the 30 km hanging onto the window at breakneck speeds to the school. I was staying at Victor’s, Jaideep’s father house on the grounds. The first day I took a drive with Jaideep while he ran errands and came home to a lovely meal (They were all great, it was nice to have home cooking instead of restaurant food) of chicken curry with beer and scotch. Thank God they weren’t T-total Christians.

the following afternoon I was plonked in classroom in front of 12 or so expectant kids with no lesson plan or preparation. It was a little nerve racking at first but basically just had a relaxed lesson of explaining my trip, trying to get them to practice English and having fun. Afterwards I had a kick about with a few lads, the hours of heads and volleys at uni paid dividends. I left the next day after a blessing in Telugu from Pastor Joe.

So how was this experience. The family were very lovely, really welcoming and easy to talk to; we had some good debates and I Iearnt a bit about Indian culture from the inside (I was a bit shocked about Sylvie rushed in the morning, feeding us and getting the kids ready fetching her husbands socks for him). I have a huge amount of respect for what the family did; leaving a well paid job and moving to village out of pure altruism. Ok, so I don’t believe that ‘miracles’ occurred in the founding of the school (I would take David Hume’s stance on the matter) but they are certainly doing a good job in the face of adversity and lack of funds.

What begs-the-question for me is how and why the Indian government, one that has a space program, is failing so many village children all over the country. I will always hold a skepticism over missionary work, despite it’s good intentions and good work, I feel that it is preying on easy souls. People will believe a lot of things if alongside those belief come benefits to their life. 

If you would like to know anymore about the project, or to donate much needed funds to their cause then their website is: www.vineyardindia.org Or if any native English speakers out there would like to give up their time, live in a beautiful surroundings and teach some very willing to learn children then you would get room and board for free. 

So I left Sunday morning, after my blessing, and proceeded to get struck by a bout of diarrhea (I’m not going to jump to conclusions here). Foolishly I popped am Immodium to get me the 40km to Ashwaropet, which probably harboured the bug than would have been otherwise in me and prolonged the illness. So for 4 days I watched bad american films; such as Captain America, Hitch and Cruel Intentions (which is even worse with the swearing and anything the slightest bit raunchy cut out). And familiarised myself with the awful adverts that you see 10 times a day on loop. 

After that hiatus the riding up until now has been excellent. It was nice to see the back of Andhra Pradesh, where I have spent almost all my time so far. A.P was predominantly flat and farms of cotton or rice, the last few days have been small hills and quiet roads all through forest. I have found amazing campsites both day which were a welcome change to my strip light hotel room. The moon has been full and the skies punctuated by flashing bugs.

Yesterday was a challenge, the road was almost not existent or like riding over a wash board. It was tough going, being bumped up and down, surviving on biscuits as there was a long way between towns and very getting very hot. I got covered in the fine red dust whenever a truck went past that stuck to my sweat to make a thick grime coating. There were frequent police checkpoints because I am in a Naxalite  affected area (A communist militia group that try to recruit the villagers and occasionally blow things. I wrote my dissertation on them). These added to the feeling of adventure that the small roads through the forest instilled and were quite funny. One police man was very impressed with my big shiny knife, but I wasn’t willing to part ways with it despite his frequent requests.

I had an easy morning today only covering 50 km and checked into a lodge in Malkangiri after registering at 2 different police stations, who seemed bemused as to why I would like to come to this place, especially on bike. I have a bit of a pain in the back of my thigh by my knee but hopefully should be fine by tomorrow. 

Anyway goodbye for now. Hope it’s not too cold in England, I have hot weather every day and my cycling tan is coming along nicely.