● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The End of the Road! - UPDATED!

We made it! After 5853 kilometers, we have arrived to Varkala, Kerela, the end of our motorbike leg of the journey. We've now sold 'Harry' (our bike) and can now relax on the beach.

You can see our route on the bike to the left, we covered a huge part of the country.

Scroll down for loads of updates on the last part of our motorbike journey! We finally got up to date on our posts!


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Varkala

2nd – 6th May

Leg 23 – Alleppey to Varkala
Distance – 126kms
Time – 3.5 hours

Average Speed – 36km/h
Road – 2 lane highway, lots of traffic.


Our last leg was a short ride even further south from Alleppey. Lots of traffic made the going slow, but there highway was in good condition. We rode carefully – very conscious that this could be our last leg of the journey if we sold the bike in Varkala. We reached the turn off for Varkala and headed towards the coast and our finish line.

Varkala lies on the Keralan coast and is split from the sea by spectacular cliffs, towering high about the beach. The strip of golden sand is surrounded by bounded by the cliff, with all the bars, restaurants and hotels precariously perched along the edge. It was nice to arrive by the sea again, and we checked into a cliffside hotel and set out to explore the sands.

The popularity of Varkala with Indian tourists has lead the council to place tourist police on the beach in order to control the steady stream o
f Indian men walking along the beach with the sole purpose of standing and staring at bikini clad westerners. In practice, this segregation meant that around a fifth of the beaches length was out of bounds to the locals, with whistles blown and sticks waved if any group of men decided to try and stroll too close to the westerners. It was a strange arrangement, but we are embarrassed to say it was a welcome one, as the constant attention that Sam was getting from Indian men was becoming a little tiring.

We had arranged to meet a South African traveller, Jim, in Varkala, with a view to him buying our motorbike. He arrived the day after us and after a test ride and a visit to the mechanic, a deal was done. It was a very sad day for us, saying goodbye to our wheels – from now on we would be at the mercy of the tuk tuk mafia, and other public transport! We did get to have one last short ride on the bike when we went to dinner with Jim and another Enfield rider – on the way home Ady was extra careful as this was surely going to be our last time on the bike!

From Varkala, we took the train north back to Goa, where we would spend the last few weeks of our epic adventure. You can probably guess that it would involve relaxing on the beach, and mentally preparing for the step back to reality that the UK will bring!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Alleppy

1st – 2nd May
Leg 22 – Kochi to Alleppey
Distance – 69kms
Time – 3 hours
Average Speed – 23km/h
Road – Highway and then back roads through the backwaters following the coast

With only 70kms to cover, we planned to take the quiet road that followed the beach south, avoiding the highway. After trying to follow the beach, we found ourselves back on the highway and the directions we were given kept leading us back to it! We took another right turn off the highway, and finally found the road we had been looking for, and it was worth it! Winding along the coast, we saw local people going about their daily lives, in many ways untouched by tourism and the modern world. People fishing using traditional Chinese fishing nets, boats being built from wood and rope by hand, rope being spun by the women in the villages, and water being pumped by hand and carried to their homes. Everyone smiled and waved as we passed by, and when we stopped they came to say hello.

Arriving in Alleppey, we found a place to stay and jumped back on the bike to explore the area. The beach in Alleppey is very popular with Indian tourists. There is a derelict pier in the centre of the beach, and as is the case with many public places in India, litter was predominant everywhere. It is a continual source of dismay that we see such beautiful natural wonders covered with rubbish – the local people not understanding how big a problem is caused by their carelessness. The main attraction of Alleppey is the backwaters in the surrounding area. We decided that we wouldn’t take a boat trip on the backwaters as we had already ridden through the backwaters, off the normal tourist trail. We saw everything that the trip would show us from our bike, and it was a lot cheaper than the Rs4000 for a two day one night trip on a houseboat.

With little else to hang around for, we set off on our last leg. Our final beach was in sight, and a potential buyer for the bike lined up.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Kochi

28th April – 1st May

Leg 21 – Ooty to Kochi
Distance – 263kms
Time – 7 hours
Average Speed – 37.6km/h
Road – Ooty to Coimbatore – twisty, lots of bends and hairpins, good surface but lots of traffic. Coimbatore to Kochi – two lane highway, lots of traffic – not dual carriageway as shown on map.

Kerala has some of the busiest roads in the country and we have no doubt that this leg featured one of these roads. On the map it looked like plain sailing… descending down a nice mountain pass for 50 km, then a 4 lane highway all the way to Kochi. The mountain pass was spectacular in more ways that one. The views were certainly jaw dropping, but the quality of the driving skills of the locals left a lot to be desired. Our video below gives an example… watch it and try figuring out what is going on. We are still puzzled! After winding our way down the mountain, the map showed a nice dual carriageway all the way to Kochi. But why would the map be correct!? The busiest single carriageway road awaited us, and we battled the chaos for 4 long hours!



Ajay, one of Ady’s colleagues from Amdocs has a flat in Kochi and kindly offered it to us while we were in the city. His in-laws and their family live next door to his place, and were on hand to welcome us to Kerela. We found the place without too much trouble, a combination of luck and helpful tuk tuk drivers got us there in the end. Ajay’s sister in law, Anu made sure that we had everything we needed in the flat, and made us feel at home. It was a shock to our systems to drop our bags in a clean, spacious, air conditioned apartment, with amazing views of Kochi. This was by a long stretch the nicest place we had stayed in, and probably would stay in, through our whole Indian adventure. Once again, thanks so much to Ajay and Ranjina for letting us use their place, and to Anu and her family for everything they did for us there.

It just so happened that on the day we arrived in Kochi, a number of other people who we had met on our travels were in town too. Firstly, Grace and Flo, who we had met earlier in the month in Goa. Second, and more extraordinarily, Nathan and Aki, who we had a chance encounter with 6 months ago in Penang, Malaysia. We met them in Penang when Ady spotted Nat on his motorbike, and struck up a conversation – leading us to discover that they had ridden from Australia, overland as far as Malaysia. We were at the time very jealous and met up the same evening to talk about how they were getting on with their bike trip. Now 6 months, and 5 countries later, they are still riding and just happened to be in Kochi the same day as us!

We spent the evening recounting our adventures to date, sharing stories and giving advice on the road ahead. Nat and Aki are heading north, following a similar route to that we have just ridden. Check out their blog at http://faster-than-walking.com for an alternative perspective on travel on a motorbike – note that some of the blog is in Japanese, but if you look through it you will find many of Nat’s wonderful ramblings in English. Grace, Flo, and Sam spent more time talking about non bike related gossip, a relief for Sam in any case!

The next day, we were treated to a traditional Keralan breakfast by Anu and her family – it was delicious – Appams, rice flour pancakes with coconut milk together with chicken curry and a chickpea dish. Unfortunately we let the side down by eating only half of what was offered – we aren’t used to having such a lot of food for breakfast! The idea of having curry for breakfast is something that most non Indian people would turn their nose up at, but it wasn’t strange at all. Ady had been eating traditional Indian breakfast dishes for some time – Masala Dosa, Aloo Paratha, Chapatti and Dal is a great way to start the day (if you don’t like fruit!)

Kochi is one of the most cosmopolitan places we have been in India – we liked it a lot! After shopping for glasses, suits and more jeans, we headed back to the flat to relax – it was a luxury to have a lounge to lounge in and a kitchen where we could make ourselves a snack for lunch and enjoy cold drinks from our own fr
idge. In the evening, Anu had a treat in store as she took us our for Dosa, one of Ady’s favourite delicacies. Our driver dropped us at the restaurant and while he waited outside we tucked into some authentic food. It was great to eat our with a local, who could explain more about the food we were eating and how we should be eating it! After stopping off on the way home for cake and ice cream, we treated Anu to one of infamous slide shows of our trip. For all of you back in the UK, don’t worry – you’ve got all that to look forward to when we return!

More sightseeing the next day, we checked out pretty Fort Kochin during daylight hours before catching the ferry over to Vypeen Island. The sky was starting to look dark in the distance, but we weren’t too concerned as we rode up the coast down the narrow back streets where the poorer settlements were. After going round in circles for a while, followed by some off road dirt bike action, we eventually popped out at the beach we were looking for. Billed in the Lonely Planet as Kochi’s best kept secret, we were a little disappointed to see large amounts of rubbish strewn along the beach. It wasn’t a place we would want to spend any time. We rode back through the villages down alleyways, over footbridges, before finding the main road again. The black cloud was now looking more threatening, as we crossed the main bridge back to the city, we felt some spots of rain. The spots turned into a torrential downpour and we turned into a petrol station. It was like a motorcycle rally as all the bikes in the vicinity pulled under the canopy for shelter. Flashes of lightening and cracks of thunder signalled that this wasn’t going to be over quickly. We were distracted by the crowd around our bike however – someone had spotted our ‘For Sale’ sign earlier in the day and they called their brother, who came in his tuk tuk in order to view the bike. A lull in the rain, and phone numbers exchanged, we made a dash for home. But the heavens opened again. Water in the streets a foot deep, and huge raindrops ensured we were soaked to the skin… at least it wasn’t cold! Our new glasses were ready for collection at the opticians, and we had to call in to collect them. Sam took one step into the air conditioned store, in her clinging wet t-shirt, and decided it would be best if she waited outside. We didn’t want to be responsible for a number of Indian men having coronaries – the reaction to a conservatively dressed blonde is usually too much for them to handle let alone Sam’s current state of attire.

The next day, dried and ready to hit the road further south, we were fed again by our hosts and set off on the penultimate leg of our bike journey.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Ooty

26th to 28th April

Leg 20 – Mysore to Ooty
Distance – 140kms
Time – 4 hours
Average Speed – 35km/h
Road – Two lane highway into national park. Minor road with great surface through the centre of the park, across the state boundary. More national park road then 36 hairpin bends over 10kms, climbing 2200 metres up to Ooty.


With only 140 kilometres to cover, it sounds like a short and easy leg, but th
e last part is probably the toughest test for the bike so far. We left Mysore on the highway south, which looking at the map, should be a good road all the way. As ever, a surprise lay ahead. The nice road surface turned right at 90 degrees, and the signs to Ooty pointed straight ahead (actually there were no signs – the tuk tuk drivers are our signposts!) down an older looking road. After a couple of kilometres, the surface got even worse and we were reduced to 30km/h as we zigzagged along avoiding potholes and rocks. It continued like this for over an hour, and then to our surprise, we entered the national park. We found ourselves driving through the Nagarahole national park, home to tigers and elephants, feeling a little exposed to say the least! The scenery was amazing – no tigers, but we did see some deer. One national park made way for another, and then a signpost which shaved 20kms off our expected distance for the day. The ‘back road’ to Ooty is shorter but steeper. The final 10kms is the main climb, over around 2000m we estimated. It was a great ride, the scenery was stunning and the bike coped well considering it’s load. It was only over the last couple of kms where we had to pause for a few minutes for it to cool (with the help of some water from a stream!) We needn’t have bothered stopping as within 5 minutes the heavens opened and we got our second drenching of the trip. Sheltering in a petrol station for 30 minutes was a waste of time, the rain showed no sign of stopping. We ploughed on and found a hotel just around the corner – we’d have taken anything to get out of the rain, but this place looked nice enough and was within our budget too.

Udhagmandalam (or Ooty!) is South Indias most famous hill station, established by the British in the early 19th century as the summer headquarters of the then Madras government and memorably nicknamed ‘Snooty Ooty’

The rain stopped just after we checked in. Too late though, despite covering our backpacks with every plastic bag we could find, everything was soaked through and we found ourselves
decorating our room with wet clothes, ala a Chinese laundry. Starving as usual, at least we were able to head out for lunch. Ooty has developed largely around tourism and as a result was home to some quite nice and fairly fancy restaurants. The place we found for Thali lunch offered seating outside on a terrace and even tables adorned with pretty red and white check tablecloths – more in keeping with your local Italian. It was packed with well heeled (and well fed) Indian families and seemed a good bet; as usual we managed just half a meal each before rolling out of the door.

Although primarily known for it’s tea plantations, Ooty is also famous for it’s homemade chocolates. Virtually every shop in the town centre was a gift shop offering a huge selection of sweet treats and needless to say we had to sample the local delicacy! What we tried was good, not quite Bolivian standards but nice enough for us to gorge our way through half a kilo or so…the thali lunch long since forgotten!

It turns out that our comfortable Ooty hotel was also very “Indian”. Again, we were rudely awaken at 7am by the Chai man. If you don’t personally answer the door, the man continues to bang the door down until you do so. To the seller and indeed every being in India, it is inconceivable that anyone could dislike a cup of freshly brewed chai. Half an hour later and typically just as we’d nodded off we re
ceived another knock on the door, this time about the hot water…like we had any intention of showering at such an ungodly hour. Precisely ten minutes later, a third very excitable man could be heard banging frantically on every door down the corridor…”Hot water coming, hot water coming!!!”. We were not amused and the poor man took the brunt of Ady’s wrath.

Like most other hill stations we’d visited, aside from tacky family-oriented attractions, there wasn’t a huge amount to see in Ooty itself. The town was home to a famous racecourse and it would have been great to see a meet as the season was underway. Alas, it wasn’t to be and we entertained ourselves by riding up to the Dodda Betta viewpoint at 2633 meters, the highest point in South India. It turned out to be more of a bad theme park, getting in the way of the magnificent views, but was still worth seeing. We also dropped by a tea plantation and a nearby chocolate factory.

A massive man-made lake was a centre point to the town and featured every conceivable type of pleasure boat – small motorboats giving guided tours, rowing boats and pedalos. Overcoming our fear of family attractions, we paid an entry fee to allow us onto the fringes of the lake, hoping to hire a rowing boat and at least spend the afternoon on the water. Oh no…as we approached the boat house we noticed a very large and extremely infuriating sign prohibiting “Self Rowing”. It seemed that each rowing boat included it’s own rower, and the tourist was expected to sit patiently and be guided around the lake!! Incredible! Point blank refusing to pay a man to have all the fun and row us around and then no doubt expect a huge tip from us, we stormed off. The icing on the cake came in the form of an extremely rude and ignorant man who shoved his camera phone in Sam’s face and took a photo. Unfortunately this wasn’t the first time this had happened, but this guy picked the wrong candidate for his (not so) candid shot – we let rip and he didn’t know what had hit him!

The weather was starting to turn and the clouds were looking threatening. We stopped at the Rose Garden on the way home, a multi-terraced lawn of supposedly every species of rose. Not known for our appreciation of roses we were nonetheless disappointed to see rows upon rows of wilting, withering flowers. The other strollers didn’t seem to notice, perhaps it was too much to expect given the climate and altitude and I’m sure the gardener wasn’t a member of the RHS. We cheered ourselves up with more chocolates and returned to the hotel, to find no less than a note requesting us to move rooms!! Apparently there was something wrong with our bathroom. The slanging match that ensued downstairs after we refused to move made us believe that another large group had just arrived and we were in the way. Later that evening, a woman barged into our room and seemed quite taken aback to see us there, Sam in her undies practicing yoga! Thank **** we were leaving the next day!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Mysore

22nd to 26th April

Leg 19 – Madikeri to Mysore
Distance – 124kms
Time – 3 hours
Average Speed – 41.3km/h
Road – Half the distance on roughly surfaced back road, then the other half on brand new highway!

Winding our way slowly down from Madikeri, we sped up and slowed down as each small bridge along the road was under construction and covered in roc
ks, dirt and sand. After an hour or so, the surface improved and we took a detour via the Tibetan community at Bylakuppe for Momos. Then it was plain sailing all the way to Mysore along an empty new highway.

Finding a place to stay wasn’t
as straight forward as usual, we found that the cheap places had nowhere to park the bike. We were stalked by tuk tuk drivers trying to get commission from showing us a hotel – very frustrating when we had rode up to the hotel ourselves and we were not prepared to pay an inflated price to line someone else’s pockets! We settled on the Hotel Dasaprakash eventually – a large sprawling complex – a proper Indian hotel, catering for Indian families and not western tourists. Although the room was clean, it did remind us of some sort of institution. The attached restaurant was good though, with Thali for Rs45 with more than anyone could eat.

Mysore is a large city with several smart, cosmopolitan districts surrounding it. It was probably the cleanest city that we’ve been to so far, which made a welcome change. We planned to stay here for a few nights to relax, drop the bike in for a service and do some Yoga. As the home of Ashtanga Yoga, Sam planned on us visiting one of the many Yogashalas, but to her disappointment most of them didn’t offer drop in classes – you had to sign up for a 2 week course. We managed to find one school, in the posh Gokalum district of town, but as we were without wheels it wasn’t easy to get to. Could the bike service have been a cunning ploy by Ady to get out of doing Yoga?!

On our day without wheels we did manage to walk all around the centre of the town, taking in some of the sights, including the Rail Museum and the main shopping area. We both bought new jeans from the Levis store, for a fraction of the price back home. 3 hours were spent in various opticians, in the hunt for a new pair of sunglasses for Sam. The hunt was unsuccessful. Ady was very bored.

The following morning we felt fresh enough to tackle Mysore Palace, but upon arrival we had a slight altercation with the gate staff. When we refused to
pay the 10 times inflated price for foreign tourists, the man in the ticket office told is that we could walk in the grounds for free. As we tried to go through the gate, the guards wouldn’t let us pass without a ticket. We explained that we were just going to look around the grounds for free – they looked us up and down and tried to extract Rs100 each from us, a bribe, to which we laughed. This was still 5 times the price the locals would pay for full entry! Feeling frustrated we stomped of in search of cheaper thrills. The gallery in the Jagan Mohan Palace did not disappoint! For only Rs20 we could explore three floors of modern (?) art. On full examination of said artwork, we can confirm that it was in no way ‘modern’, but that’s our opinion – if you are in Mysore, have some time to kill and Rs20 burning a hole in your pocket, you should judge for yourself!

The next day we had the bike back, and rode to Chamundi hill, just south of Mysore, to take in the view. It was OK but very overcast, I think we were getting to the point that we are done with hills and temples and palaces… it’s been a long trip so far!

Sam got to attend her Yoga class, meanwhile Ady had to go and get the bike cleaned, because he had to do something to avoid Yoga. Ninety minutes later, the bike was still dirty as he failed in his quest, but Sam having taken a private Yoga class had been totally overhauled, limbs having been contorted into positions not thought ever possible! Ady did manage to locate a different option for dinner - Pizza Hut provided a welcome respite from the normal Indian diet! We also spotted a local clothing discount store, and picked up yet more jeans for even less than last time!

We haven’t mentioned the Hotel Dasaprakash since we checked into it. Well, as it was an ‘Indian’ hotel, the kinds of special services included were the free mandatory wake up call at 7am for Chai (even when you don’t drink it!), the laundry man at 6.30am, and the hot water for 1 hour a day between 8am and 9am, which is actually never hot. Not to mention the unruly children running up and down the corridor from 6am until 11pm… when do these people sleep?! We also returned one day at around 4pm to find a note under our door telling us that we had to change rooms. The floor we were staying on had been booked out by a group – we have no idea what would have happened had we not returned in time to move our things…! Anyway, our last night was as eventful as the rest, with power cuts, lightening storms and children keeping us awake – time to move on we think!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Madikeri

21st – 22nd April

Leg 18 – Gokarna to Madikeri
Distance – 410kms
Time – 10.5 hours
Average Speed – 39.5km/h
Road – 2 lane highway until Mangalore, then road under construction, followed by country lane winding up to Madikeri

What was supposed to be a short journey turned into a bit of an epic! We planned to only travel as far as Mangalore in this leg before heading to Mysore the following day. The bike was getting a little noisy from the tappets and Ady wanted to get it checked out. The garage in Mangalore would need a couple of days to fix it as they were busy with other jobs, so they advised us to push on to Madikeri and overnight there before heading to Mysore the following day. The road from Mangalore to Madikeri varied greatly, with the usual combination of brand new surface, and road under construction. We are used to this now though and it came as no surprise. The last hour was along a delightful twisty back road with little traffic. We climbed to Madikeri where the freshness of the air hinted at the altitude we were now at.

An unplanned stopover, Madikeri is the main market town of the Coorg region. Perched atop a ridge, the views were marred by the low cloud that was present when we were there. We checked into a hotel on the recommendation of Lonely Planet and set out to explore. After such a long ride, neither of us has much energy (!) and the hilliness of the town kerbed our exploration to the vicinity of our hotel. A visit to a discount supermarket, the purchase of some homemade crisps, and a very average meal is all we can say about the place really. We are finding that in many Indian towns, there is little to differentiate them from each other. They all have similar features, it’s often the geographical location alone that sets them apart. After a decent nights sleep we hit the road again and took in the scenery.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Gokarna (Om Beach)

19th – 21st April

Leg 17 – Palolem to Gokarna
Distance – 111kms

Time – 2.5 hours
Average Speed – 44.4km/h

Road – Single lane back road, then 2 lane highway

Leaving Palolem, we were both conscious that so far, in notorious Goa, we had not been asked for our bike papers or licence even once. The border between Goa and Karnataka, on the NH17 is notorious for extracting bribes from drivers, so it wasn’t a surprise
when a barrier was pulled down in front of us as we approached. To our surprise, it was actually the Karnataka police who asked to see our documents. As they were all in order, even our Pollution Under Control certificate, there was no reason for the officer to ask for any money. “100 rupees please” was the demand. Ady questioned what this payment was for. The response “for good luck” was all the officer could say. What could we do?!!! Meanwhile, Sam was also hassled, this time for English pound coins – wishful thinking on his part, its been a long time since we’ve seen one of those! So 100 rupees poorer, we continued the short distance to Gokarna and on to Om Beach. The road was great until we tried to get the last kilometre down to the huts near the beach. A rocky track, with 45 degree inclines made it tricky going with only one moment where we nearly dropped the bike. Sam managed to jump off in time to steady our heavy load and Ady managed to ride up the remaining part of the hill. It turned into a wasted effort though as we ended up staying at a place further back up the road in the end!

Lonely Planet describes Gokarna as the new Goa. A number of travellers we’d met on route had verified this and raved about how cheap everything was. We checked into Namaste Guest House for want of anywhere else to stay. For way too many rupees we had ourselves a room that resembled a bare brick garage with an attached bathroom - hardly the charming bamboo huts of Goa. At least the food in the Namaste restaurant was tasty and cheap! We checked out the beach and came upon an unusual scene… a large group of Indian tourist appeared to be camping out at the edge of the beach. They were accompanied by a police sergeant with a very large stick. He seemed to be rounding up the people with the assistance of said stick! After further enquiries, we discovered that the previous day an Indian person had been washed out to sea, presumed dead. They were all waiting for the body to be washed back into shore.

This little snippet of knowledge didn’t entice us to go for a swim in the sea, although the temperature was scorching as usual and the waves looked like serious fun. When the Indians tried to go in the sea, they were promptly whistled at and if they dared to ignore, were beaten by a very large stick. It seemed that the foreign tourists were immune from this treatment, and could do whatever they wanted! In fairness to the policeman, the Indians we have seen didn’t seem too at home in the water, most swam doggy paddle!

Sam bought a pineapple from one of the local sellers on the beach. We weren't warned that the pineapple would come with a free gift - a pet cow! The cow could smell the fruit and before long it had trampled our sarongs and practically attacked Sam! All the waving of a flip flop in it's face did was send it round in circles. It managed to get the pineapple too. The picture on the right was before it attacked!

After 2 nights, it was time to hit the road again – for us Goa this was not and we didn’t want to hang around on the beach any longer. Oh, the body did appear, the second night we were there, so if anyone is planning on dropping in to Om Beach in the near future, there’s no need to worry!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Goa

1st – 19th April

Legs 15 & 16 – Arambol to Anjuna to Palolem
Distance – 20kms / 93kms

Time – 45mins / 2 hours

Average Speed – 26.7km/h / 46.5km/h

Road – All good condition in Goa


Smooth black asphalt covers most of the roads in Goa, as one of India's richest states, they can afford it. The NH17 has a bit of a reputation amongst both locals and travellers that we speak to, but it’s really not that bad. Everyone frowns and shakes their head when you mention you will be usi
ng it. The occasional mad bus driver and kamikaze jeep we were prepared for. The western tourists buzzing around on scooters with hardly any clothes on was more of a surprise. As we crossed the state border, we smiled sweetly at the police and didn’t stop to look back. We had heard how the Goan police are notoriously bad at extracting bribes from foreigners, even if all your papers are in order. Sam still managed to get a photo of the ‘Welcome to Goa’ sign, but almost fell off the back of the bike in the process.

Arambol

Soon we were on familiar turf as we rode towards Arambol, where we had visited 3 and half years ago. Ady’s co
ncentration had to increase as we got nearer to the beach resorts. Bikini clad girls on motorbikes were more of a distraction than the usual cows on the road… After much searching, we settled on the same place that we stayed at last time we were here, in exactly the same beach hut. We were amazed it was still there. In a great location on the beach, but a stressful 15 minutes of dead end paths before we found the back entrance for bike access! A red faced Ady unloaded the bike and found the hut before promptly running off into the sea to cool off (including his temper!) This wasn’t as easy as you’d think though – the sea in Goa is so warm!!!

Arambol is a favourite haunt of ageing hippies, and a few wannabees off Khao San road Bangkok! Never have we seen so many men in thongs or ‘cod pieces’ and girls with hairy armpits and shaved heads. Did someone forget to tell these girls the only way to get rid of dreadlocks is to shave them off?! Shame they couldn’t use the razors on the armpits… On our first day on the beach, we observed a young girl strip to her bikini and lay in the sun for some time. She then sat up and took off her top and spent just a little too long rubbing sun cream into her boobs. After a while she pranced into the sea, wearing only a thong bikini bottom. When she emerged from the sea, the thong was off an in her hand and her neat ‘Brazilian’ was in full view to everyone on the beach…

Russians also seem to flock to Arambol now too, as we saw
no end of fake breasted botox laden women, who acted like porn stars on the beach, posing for provocative photos and prancing around hoping people were looking at them. They had a total disregard for local customs too, sunbathing topless on the beach and wearing bikini bottoms that didn’t leave anything to the imagination. Some of the locals who were talking to some English girls we met said how they thought it was very bad. Ady managed to gather some evidence of these inappropriate incidents on camera (photos available for a small fee ;-)) Contrary to what many people will tell you, Goa is still very much India unless you visit and stay on the beach only, then it is more than possible to forget where you are. As a result, peoples behaviour is often far more risqué than you would expect in India.

We did meet a number of normal people, Alex and Adam from Canada and Sweden who se
emed equally relieved to see some other non dreadlocked westerners. James, from the UK and a fellow Enfield rider, has been in Goa since January. He is a vet and was volunteering at the local animal hospital, neutering the many hundreds of dogs in the area which are notorious for their antisocial behaviour. It seems to be working as the dogs are far less aggressive than the last time we were here. Perhaps this tactic could be taken back to the UK and applied to people who go out drinking at the weekend and end up fighting in the streets!

The Saturday Night Market at nearby Anjuna is popular with tourists holidaying in all of Northern Goa. We rode there along with James and Adam to catch some live entertainment and have a look around the stalls. We had been to the market the last time we were in Goa, but the market had changed beyond all recognition. Brightly lit stalls, the majority of which were run by westerners, were selling handmade one off design clothing and accessories – a far cry from the numerous sarong and spice stalls that we remembered. The customers had changed too. We spotted very few Indians, it was rich western tourists all round, happy to pay extortionate prices for the food and drinks that were on offer – it was almost too much for Ady as he tried to buy some water and was charged 30 rupees for a bottle that would cost 12 outside the market!!!

A special mention must also go to the Russian contingent at the market. One girl wore an outfit of the hottest hot pants and platform heels which we all agreed wouldn’t have been appropriate in any environment outside either the bedroom or a lap dancing club. Many others wore similar outfits and most couldn’t c
arry them off! The men that accompanied them seemed oblivious to the fashion faux pas and resulting stares however - almost all looked like they could be members of the Russian secret service and would have no qualms with ‘removing’ a threat.

Entertainment was provided by a number of people, including a mesmerizing act by a French group, consisting of an alternative belly dancer, and a guy who could do some spectacular things with his large (crystal) balls!

The rest of our week in Arambol was spent lazing on the beach and eating in many of the beachfr
ont restaurants. It was difficult summoning up the required energy to move on, but when we eventually did, we weren’t going far!

Anjuna

After our shortest leg of the journey, 20km, we pulled up outside the Anjuna Villa, where we had stayed previously. Sam
popped inside to check out the rooms and the prices while Ady sweated in the heat outside. While waiting, the protective denim jacket – something that we wear whenever we are riding the bike - had to come off. What a mistake that turned out to be… Sam returned with a long face – the prices were way out of our budget so we set off further along the beach to find a room we could afford.

We stopped at a couple of places before settling on ‘A Vivenda’ where we found a nice large room. After carrying all the things to the room, Ady noticed that his denim jacket, along with iPod, was missing. Several trips up and down the road where it must have fell off the bike proved fruitless – not a good start to the day. The main issue was that it took us days to find the right kind of jacket at the start of the trip in Delhi, and getting a replacement was going to be a mission. The thought of riding without something to cover up arms was not something either of us relished. Not to mention the loss of the iPod – at least the bulk of our journey was now over, but we still had several long trains and flights to keep entertained through. A trip to Baga, the main tourist resort in Goa, and a fake Armani shop yielded a new jacket for Ady. It wasn’t as nice as the original, but it should keep the skin on his arms intact should we have any incidents on the bike

The main attraction of Anjuna is the Flea Market, held every Wednesday. It’s a huge site, with stalls selling lots of handmade clothes and accessories. Lots of the traders are westerners – the prices often reflect this. We enjoyed some live music at the café near the market and reflected on how things had again changed since the last time we were there.
The whole thing felt much more commercialised and local traders had been pushed out in favour of westerners.

On the beach during the day, Sam bought some pineapple from one of the friendly beach sellers. She didn’t bargain on the free cow that came with it – before long we were being attacked by the ‘Holy’ animal as it tried to find the source of the pineapple smell!

We didn’t stay long in Anjuna for two reasons. 1 - Sam counted 20 cockroaches in our room. 2 - Sam counted 20 cockroaches in our room. Actually we knew the next stop, Palolem, was our favourite beach from our last visit to India. The next day we loaded up and headed further south to our last stop in Goa.

Palolem

Our favourite beach in Goa from our previous visit, Palolem has most things you could want from a tropical beach. Golden sands lined with tall palms, warm water, enough life to be fun without being overcrowded and a good selection of places to stay and places to eat. It was busier than when we last visited, and for this reason we’ll say no more – we don’t want it to become overpopular! Lonely Planet labels the beach a ‘Tropical Glastonbury’ and to some extent this is true. This suits us just fine – like the infamous festival, Palolem attracts a fairly cool bunch of people who come to camp out under the stars, this time in bamboo huts rather than canvas domes.

We spent 9 nights here, and didn’t do much apart from lounge around, top up our tans, visit some surrounding beaches and enjoy not being stared at as much by the locals - infact the locals are more than used to scantily clad girls in bikinis, it was the packs of gawping weekenders from Mumbai and the like that were more of a nuisance – if you can’t deal strange men taking your photo or filming you on the sly then don’t ever come here! Lets just say lots of “up yours” were being directed their way! Anyway, with a room right on the beach for less than £3 a night, and lots of different types of food on offer, the time flew by.

It took even more effort than usual to pack up the bike and move further south, out of the state of Goa, and on to the depths of south India.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Road to Goa

30th March – 1st April

Leg 12 – Mumbai to Murud
Distance – 175 kms

Time – 4.75 hours

Average Speed – 36.8km/h

Road – 4 lane highway, 2 lane highway, single lane back
roads

After escaping the build up metropolis of Mumbai, we found the N
H17, the coast road that winds its way to Goa and on to Kerala. The road was surprisingly quiet, apart from when it passed through towns. Following the coast, the NH17 is a scenic ride, but we wanted to get off the highway, and explore the even smaller roads, closer to the coast. We found ourselves riding through luscious green jungle, past golden sandy beaches, through paddy fields (not literally!) and winding around high headlands. Suddenly everyone we passed was smiling and waving – welcome to South India! We expected a couple of ferry rides on the way to Murud, but the rapid development of India’s road network meant that all the ferries had been retired and new bridges had been built in their place. This cut our journey time significantly, and we arrived in Murud in time to head to the beach for the end of the afternoon.

Lots of places were closed for the season, the only place that looked to have any life was an expensive resort. Pleading poverty, we were directed to another place down the road, where we picked up a sea view room for Rs500 (looking back, that was still a lot to pay for what it was!!!).

After a walk down the beach, we strolled into the town in search of food. Murud is not on the foreign tourist trail, and is very difficult to get to by public transport. As we walked through the streets, we felt like we were the first white people to ever have passed through. Ady picked up some delicious pakoras and bhajis to stem the immediate hunger. We failed to find a restaurant, almost got lost in the dark, end ended u
p at the expensive resort eating a mediocre meal. Again, we decided to make a move in the morning, bringing the escape from India that is Goa, one step closer.

Leg 13 – Murud to Ganpatipule
Distance – 299 kms

Time – 8 hours
Average Speed – 37.4km/h
Road – Single lane back roads, 2 lane highway, single lane back roads

The plan to take the single lane back roads most of the way wasn’t really feasible – we fell at the first hurdle when we tried to take a ferry. We would have to wait 2 hours for the next boat, and then navigate a 10 meter steeper than 45 degree incline followed by a right angle corner in order to get to the boat, with deep water on most sides. Not wanting to give the bike an impromptu wash, and keen to keep moving, we decided to backtrack and head inland to the highway. Half way there, we found a new bridge, not on our map, which made the backtracking less than we had expected. 8 long hot hours later, we arrived in Ganpatipule.

Ganpatipule doesn’t see many foreigners. It’s a “local town, for local people” (like Royston Vasey?!), and Indian tourists. On arrival, a guy on a scooter said he would show us his hotel. The room was fine, we took it and went out to explore the town, to decide how long we would be staying. The beach wasn’t particularly nice, and we struggled to see what we would do for more than a day given we couldn’t sunbathe or swim – this would have raised more than a few eyebrows (amongst other things!) as Indians sit on the beach and swim fully clothed.

We strugged to find food too – all the menus were in Hindi (impossible to decipher, with the
non roman script) and people spoke little English. The one local place that had a menu that we could read was deserted, although the menu looked promising. We over ordered big style and had to apologise for sending so much food back. The small tip of Rs10 we left was appreciated as the staff weren’t used to western tourists.

Goa was now firmly in our sights so an early start to try and get there for some afternoon beach time was in order.

Leg 14 – Ganpatipule to Arambol (Goa)
Distance – 289 kms
Time – 9.5 hours

Average Speed – 30.42km/h (including 2 punctures!)
Road – Single lane back road, then 2 lane highway

7.30am, and we were ready to roll - our earliest departure
since we froze in Agra at 6am. As the temperature in the south is higher, we figured it wouldn’t be too cold at that time of the morning. Proud of ourselves for getting up early we only got 500 meters from the hotel when we felt the back of the bike start to wobble, a feeling that we had surprisingly not yet experienced, even though we’d already covered over 3500 kilometers. Our first puncture of the trip, conveniently just outside the town, we immediately expected sabotage! Rolling slowly back down the hill, there were very few people around (have we mentioned how people in India seem to differ from the rest of Asia, as in the most part, they aren’t up at the crack of dawn!) but one guy pointed us in the direction of a mechanic, just over the road.

The mechanic didn’t start work until 9am, so our early start was already at least an hour and a half delayed. When we spoke to the man in the hotel next to the garage, he commented ‘ah yes, you arrived yesterday, you from England, Yes?’ It seems our exact whereabouts were known to the whole population of the town. Wheel off, and tube out, we found the offending nail. The damage was too bad to repair, but the mechanic had a spare old tube which he told us would get us to the next town, 35kms away, where we must change it. The cost of the old replacement tube and labour - Rs16 (about 22 pence!). Sabotage was ruled out, unless someone was expecting us to stay an extra night.

A short way out of town, we felt the familiar wobble again, this time we were going faster and Ady did a good job to keep the bike upright! Pulling over to the side of the road, we took off the wheel and Ady jumped in a tuk tuk to get the tube changed. 300 rupees later, he returned and we were back on our way. Progress was slow for the rest of the journey – nothing like a blown out tyre to knock your confidence when riding.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Mumbai

28th - 30th March

It took almost as long to cross Mumbai as it did to reach it (just like being in London!) – well, that’s what it felt like and we were both in considerable discomfort by the time we pulled into the district of Colaba, Mumbai’s tourist centre. After even the shortest journey we’re never in the frame of mind to start hunting for a room, so needless to say after 11 hours riding we were not looking forwards to arguing with hoteliers over the price of their flea pits. Mumbai proved to be the biggest rip off yet, probably of our whole year’s trip and we ended up paying 1500 Rps (just over £20) for a basic room. It also proved to be rather damp and within 24 hours our clothes felt like they’d be left out in the rain.

Despite our previous nights respite from traditional Indian food (in the form of Dominos) Ady was eager to taste yet more MSG and dragged us into the first McDonalds we could find. Typically, there were m
ore western tourists here than we’d seen in the whole of our stay in India, but equally a number of wealthy Indian teens and twenty somethings, so we didn’t feel such heathens. Also in our defence, a trip to an Indian McDonalds is actually an experience in itself. The chain made famous by its array of beef offerings was faced by a fundamental problem in this Hindu dominated country of holy cows. So with beef off the menu we were intrigued as to what they would offer instead – spicy bean burgers every which way? We suppose the local population didn’t know any different and was more than happy with a McChicken Maharaja (complete with reformed chicken) and McAloo Burgers, but to a western brainwashed mind it was quite surreal! At least the fries were good! It was a Saturday night but after the long day, earlier laid plans to hang out with Bollywood’s A listers (and wannabees) in Mumbai’s hottest nightspots went to pot; we were in bed as soon as we’d swallowed our last mouthfuls of quarter pounder McAloos.

The following day was Sunday and our initial relief at being able to wander central Mumbai without millions of commuting office workers was sadly followed by frustration as we realised that almost everything was closed! Nevertheless we followed the Lonely Planet walking tour around the Gateway of India, the University, the High Court and a number of fountains and small parks, stopping briefly at an art gallery and the Victoria Maiden to watch some cricket. This being Sunday morning, the Maiden was home to not just one or two cricket matches but as many as twenty or thirty wickets were all lined up next to each other. It was amazing the fielders knew which ball to catch!

Part of the Mumbai experience is to watch a Bollywood movie at one of the many cinemas. We may have missed the point because we rather stupidly went around asking which films were in English language, and were rather disappointed when the only ones showing were (funnily enough, though most of the middle classes do speak fluent English and some even use it between themselves) mainstream Hollywood flicks. We should have brushed up on our Hindi, or at least just gone along for the laugh! Instead, we spent the afternoon at the famous Chowpatty Beach, along with half of Mumbai (the half that weren’t at the Maiden playing cricket). As are most city beaches, it wasn’t much to write home about, though it was popular with locals and you could even get an authentic Italian gelato. We sat down to observe the comings and goings but it wasn’t long before we’d attracted a few people’s attention, embarrassingly so for Sam as the gelato was now melting faster than the ice caps (comparatively speaking) and she was making a right mess. Without wanting to be rude, we made a hasty escape, before the small group had attracted a small crowd. This was the last thing we expected in Mumbai, which without question is India’s most cosmopolitan city.

Bizarrely, we’d been led to believe that Mumbai and its inhabitants would be a different breed to the India we’d seen so far. Clearly way too influenced by what we’d seen on local TV and in Indian Marie Clare, we were expecting to see some people dressed in expensive, fashionable western clothing, with cutting edge hair-dos and chemically whitened skin to match. This certainly wasn’t the case and sari clad women and men in typical check shirts and trousers were very much abound. The most radical behaviour we saw was a woman pillion passenger sitting astride a motorbike, instead of side saddle as is the norm. Perhaps we may have seen evidence of this side of modern India if we’d made it out to the clubs on Saturday night. Disappointed, we spent our second and final night in Mumbai in one of the few open restaurants, a cosy local affair where we tried Spring Dosas and Mango Lassis and were shooed out of the door by 9pm!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Road to Mumbai

27th - 28th March

Leg 10 – Udaipur to Vadodara
Distance – 390 kms

Time – 7 hours

Average Speed – 55.7 km/h

Road – 4 lane highway, then expressway that we couldn’t use on a bike, so diverted to 2 lane highway

The journey was going very well until we reached the ring road around Ahmedebad and we tried to get on the expressway for the last 80kms to Vadodara. As we passed the toll booth, we were stopped and told that motorbikes weren’t allowed on the expressway (this is what you get in a country where people sit side-saddle and refuse to wear helmets!), and we had to take the other road instead. This alternative was an extra 20kms, and one of the busiest 2 lane highways yet, way more challenging than the expressway. With loads of lorries overtaking each other and our being run off the road continually, it wasn’t the nicest part of the journey so far.

Vadodara had little to offer us – finding a cheap room was a mission, most hotels claiming to be full. We found out later that they weren’t really full – it was because we were foreigners and we would cause them too much paperwork. A break from Indian food came in the form of Dominos pizza – a nice way to end a rather stressful day!

Leg 11 – Vadodara to Mumbai
Distance – 443 kms
Time – 11 hours

Average Speed – 40.3 km/h
Road – 4 lane highway with major roadworks for 150kms.

On the map, a 4 lane highway all the way to Mumbai looked all too easy. As always is the case, too good to be true and after an hour cruising at 80km/h, we were at a standstill. Lorries filled all 3 lanes, and the road turned into a lorry park. We tried riding down the inside, but impatient car drivers had done the same and blocked the road as far as the dirt verge. After squeezing through several small gaps, with Sam walking behind, Ady hit a rock and the bike was on its side, half way down the dirt embankment. We cried for the people who were milling around their parked vehicles to come and help, but it was incredibly only after much persuasion that enough people rallied round to get us back on our wheels. Surprising, in this country of lusty, testosterone filled males! There was no damage to the bike, or Ady for that matter but a hundred meters down the road, the same happened again! This time a broken mirror. It was time to turn to plan B. This involved crossing to the other side of the dual carriageway, and riding into the oncoming traffic – a trick learnt from the locals!

This was quite possibly the most difficult journey we’d done so far, but then we always knew that to travel almost 450km in one day would be an ambitious move. Still, we were keen to reach Mumbai in daylight and when the roadworks cleared up at Surat, our speed and mood improved no end. The rest of the journey was uneventful and after a while quite dull. It was a long haul and even frequent breaks did little to relieve our aching limbs and painful buttocks. Counting down the kilometres on the road sign we were so happy to finally reach the outskirts of Mumbai, and even happier to be allowed onto the express highway. A series of fast, connecting flyovers and five lane chaos was the 80km highway into central Mumbai. It’s said that if you can ride (or drive) in Delhi then you can ride anywhere in the world, but personally, the road into Mumbai tops the capital for madness. We regret not having filmed this part of the journey, it has to be seen to be believed, but Ady was concentrating about 110% and Sam had her eyes closed for most of it!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Udaipur

24-27th March

Leg 9 – Mount Abu to Udaipur
Distance – 175 kms
Time – 4 hours

Average Speed – 43.75km/h

Road – Mountain pass, 4 lane highway, tiny back roads, new 4 lane highway
under construction in parts with gaps of no road!

The road to Udaipur was also under construction. What was completed was superb to ride; amazing sweeping curves of smooth tarmac through slowly climbing hills. What hadn’t was predictably a nightmare. As soon as we’d got used to the new road it would end just as quickly, leaving us to flounder in potholed dirt and gravel. How we’d love to come back in a few years time when it’s all been finished!


Watermarked by whimsy and splendour, the Venice of the East holds stage as one of India’s truly seductive cities. Udaipur is an international destination unto itself, with splendid Lake Pichola lapping against shimmering white buildings and the Aravalli hills closing in to savour the view. The centre-piece of the city is the floating Lake Palace, brash enough for a Bond film (parts of Octopussy were filmed here), yet refined enough for his majesty’s pleasure. Packed with princeliness and passion, Udaipur is raw Rajput dreaming, with palaces, temples and havelis at every turn.

Upon a recommendation in Mount Abu we checked into the Mewar Inn, a small budget hotel on the outskirts of the city. Though extremely cheap at 200 Rps (and that was the Diamond Suite!) and d
espite being luxuriously decked out (new bed, pillows etc) was it not for our own transport we’d have been forced to travel everywhere by rickshaw. Not a top recommendation then, travellers by foot should aim to stay in the Gangaur Ghat area, north of the lake.

Whilst Ady spent the afternoon scouring the city for bike parts and garages
, Sam checked out tourist-ville. We both wanted to take a cooking class and the one we’d read about in Udaipur sounded good. Though expensive compared to its rivals the guy selling the class did a convincing job and so we were signed up for the following evening. We spent the next day at the City Palace overlooking the lake, but on a friend’s advice didn’t take the rip off boat tour (with the Kuoni crowd) across to the Lake Palace on Jagniwas Island where Octopussy was filmed. The view from the mainland is good enough and the lake itself is a shallow shadow of its former self, due to poor past monsoons. The palace has now been turned into a luxury hotel and was, at the time we visited Udaipur, home to Nicole Kidman, in India to shoot her latest film. We also found a supermarket (they’re so rare and we were so excited I’ve got to mention it!), visited the nearby City Tank, the Bagore-Ki-Haveli (an 18th century house, built by the Prime Minister) and a Vintage car collection, where Ady got turned on by the engines and Sam cooed over the aesthetics.

The cooking class was fun and we nibbled our way through 3 hours of cooking, before enjoying a final feast (complete with mango chutney…finally!) where we stuffed ourselves silly! We learnt to make a few different curries, some pakoras, a biryani and a chapatti. Unfortunately by midnight the same night, Sam was doubled over in the bathroom, enjoying those oh so familiar cramps of what we can (now that we’re in India) finally call Delhi Belly! We delayed leaving for Mumbai as a day at the hotel was called for – still, we’d been in India for a whole month now and were beginning to think we were untouchable!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Mount Abu

22nd-24th March

Leg 8 – Barmer to Mount Abu
Distance – 325 kms

Time – 7 hours
Average Speed – 46.4km/h

Road – 2 lane highway, brand new 2 lane highway – uncompleted and no road in parts! Last 30kms mountain pass.


Clothes almost dry, we set off early for Mount Abu. We were assured that the road was good… all the way? Of course! The highway 15 was fine but then we
turned off to join a new road, straight through to Mount Abu. After fifteen minutes the road ended. The old road was being dug up and we were forced to ride on a single carriageway of loose gravel and rocks, competing for space with oncoming trucks and buses. Each time of course we lost the battle and had to pull into the ditch at the side of the road. Thoughts (as usual) of reaching our destination by lunch quickly evaporated and we prepared ourselves for a hard slog.

We reached Abu Road by mid afternoon and it was still baking hot. Sitting at 1200m altitude we were mildly concerned about whether we’d make the steep climb in this heat. Thankfully the roads were more sweeping than tight hairpin and the views were so spectacular Sam filmed a good part of the ride. We stopped for a photo at the mid point and on re-starting the bike a loud backfire managed to blow the carburettor off! Fortunately it was nothing our on hand mechanic (Ady) couldn’t deal with we were shortly on our way.

Mount Abu rises high above southern Rajasthan, cool on the heels of the baking desert plains. It’s a welcome hill station retreat, nestled among pedalo-filled Nakki lake which attracts hoards of weekenders from neighbouring Gujarat. The tremendous wooded valleys that line the winding drive to the summit lend some longed-for Alpine beauty to a Rajasthan excursion and house wildlife including bears, wild boars, langoors, India civets, hyenas and sambars.

We stayed at the friendly Shri Ganesh guesthouse who provided us with a map of the local area and its highlights. As the sun was dropping we decided to check out Honeymoon point, a supposedly picturesque place to see the sun set over Rajasthan. Lazy as ever, we hopped back on the bike and proceeded to ride around the enormous lake to reach Honeymoon point, at the far side. For some reason it didn’t occu
r to us why everyone was walking – in our experience Asian people never walk anywhere! Before long we hit a large barrier, set up to prevent traffic movement and it dawned on us why we’d been getting so many annoyed looks!

We found Honeymoon point to be overcrowded with large groups of local tourists. The resulting noise of boisterous chatter was such that it wasn’t a peaceful place to watch the sun set. We stopped a while to chat with a small family who seemed quite amazed to see foreigners in Mount Abu before heading back to the lakeside to indulge on delicious whipped ice-cream.

The next day we found the bike sitting in a small puddle of oil and found ourselves using the morning to fix it. Finding parts in this tourist town proved to be difficult but Ady managed a bodge job that should at least get us down the mountain. We checked out a couple of the listed temples but each time found our mobile, camera and bike helmets prohibited. Unwilling to leave them (our UK helmets are irreplaceable in India and for some reason everybody wants to try them on!) we made for the nearby Peace Garden, a strange museum of a garden set up by Raja Yoga Meditation. We found ourselves following a path through the garden, maintaining the requested silence, reading the mantras written
on various placards. At one point we were invited into a tent to meditate and suitably freaked out by the cultish feel of the place, bolted for the exit with profuse “thanks but no thanks!”.

Still curious though, we visited the Brahma Kumaris Spiritual Museum. Attached to the University of the Same Name it’s aim is “the establishment of universal peace through the impartation of spiritual knowledge and training of easy raja yoga meditation.” Apparently there are 4500 branches in 70 different countries. The aim of the museum is to answer questions as “How can world peace be established?” We left feeling no more enlightened but then many of the displays were in Hindi and as usual we had declined an offer of a guide. Needing to return to our comfort zone we sought out an ice cream stall and took a stroll around the lake.

There are a number of strange rock formations around the lake’s perimeter, the most famous is Toad Rock. A s
teep climb up a flight of crumbling stairs is needed to reach the rock, which is said to resemble a toad about to hop into the lake. Whoever thought this up was clearly on something; to us it looked more like a sheep’s skull! In any case the view over the town and lake was great and easily beat Honeymoon point as a vantage point. We had the place to ourselves and sat on a large boulder for the remainder of the afternoon, appreciating that this was the first time in our month in India we’d been able to sit in public, undisturbed and unharassed. Unless you are a keen temple goer, Mount Abu doesn’t hold a lot for the western tourist, but this town, established solely for tourism is the cleanest, most well-maintained town we’ve visited, a far cry and welcome relief from the poverty and grime down below.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Road to Mount Abu

1st-22nd March

Leg 7 – Jaisalmer to Barmer
Distance – 165kms

Time - 5.5 hours
Average Speed – 30km/h
Road – Good 2 lane highway, very wet!

The first 50km were uneventful, though the dark clouds behind us to the north were looking more threatening and the distant rumble of thunder could be heard. We continued for another 30km, amazed that it still wasn’t raining. All around us the sky was thick black, momentarily lit by brief flashes of sheet lightening. And then the rain came. To start with just small droplets on the visors of our helmets; we pushed on convinced we could out run the storm gaining pace behind us. The heavier rain quickly followed – massive droplets hitting us with the force of hail stones, reducing us to crawling speed. The sheet lightening was joined by vicious forks, to the left and right of the road and seemingly right behind us. The magnitude of the lightening was quite unlike any we’d both ever seen – this was a storm of truly tropical proportions.

We pulled off the road at the first opportunity, a small village with a handful of shacks selling chai and other essentials. By this stage we were unsurprised when half the village (in other words, all the men – the women don’t ever seem to leave their houses) turned out to see the strange arrivals. They were mostly very young and for once not in the least shy. Crowding round us claustrophobically they demanded Ady’s attention and proceeded to give him the Spanish inquisition. It felt a little like a press conference, bar the obvious lack of flashing cameras and we stayed as little time as possible, convincing ourselves and others that the storm was abating. No sooner had we left, the rain slashed down again. The menacing lightening continued and we were forced to pull over time and time again; in a school, a sweet shop, a bus shelter, and once in an HP petrol station whose attendants rudely shooed us from its forecourt as we didn’t want petrol!

Our progress was painfully slow. In the end we were so completely soaked to the skin that we decided to carry on right through to Barmer, now 40km away. The lightening didn’t relent and unsure of what protection the bike would give us we (Sam) feared we’d be struck down. We’d already passed several fallen trees and to our amazement, a large overhead road sign had been hit on one side and was now lying across the middle of the road. By the time we reached Barmer we were freezing cold as well as soaked, despite the still quite balmy air temperature. Barmer was flooded, the roads sitting under twelve inches of water and Ady had difficulty keeping the bike on two wheels as we rode through newly formed rivers. A hotel plucked from Lonely Planet proved a bit of a mission – aside from filling the usual ream of paperwork required from foreign tourists (it’s a bit like big brother here as your every move is documented) we also each had to submit three photos!! The room was only 300 rupees and we were only staying the night! Thankfully, for once, our room was super hot and we were able to lay out the entire contents of our pack to dry.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Jaisalmer

19th-21st March

Leg 6 – Jodhpur to Jaisalmer
Distance – 300 kms
Time – 5 hours
Average Speed – 60km/h
Road – 2 lane highway all the way

The road to Jaisalmer was a dream; a quiet two lane highway which for the most part was newly resurfaced. The only thing we had to contend with were the usual cattle, goats and an increasing number of camels. We made good time and arrived by early afternoon, only to be greeted by a number of touts on motorbikes, all plying for our custom at their various hotels (or worse still, the places they receive commission, at our expense).


Being hassled by touts is all part and parcel of travelling by bus or train but this was the first time we had to deal with them since touring by bike. We’d merely pulled over just outside town and before we knew it we were surrounded! Politely, we took their cards but it seems this wasn’t enough. They all followed us into town and wouldn’t leave us alone, despite our promising to visit after we’d eaten lunch. Offers of hotels with rooftop restaurants promptly rolled in. In the end we were just really rude and they backed off, only for us to “bump into” them as we reached Ghandi Chowk, home of the budge
t guesthouses. We ended up taking a room at one of their hotels – it was newly opened at a massively reduced price to get people in and was at least very clean. We can completely understand the frustration for a hotel not listed in one of the major guide books, and often they are so much better value, but the more we are hounded by the touts the sooner we say NO!!!!

Jaisalmer is a giant sandcastle with a town attached, an emblem of honour in a land of rough and tumble. The fort is a living monument to long-lost desert might, a Golden City of dreams that exceeds expectations of the most travel sick tourist. Rising high from Trikuta hill, 99 bastions hide havelis of crumbling beauty. Like a Hansel and Gretal wonderland, the enclosed palace is carved from the same near-edible golden sandstone

Jaisalmer seemed like a pretty sleepy place and we spent a couple of hours wandering around the old forted city. After Bu
ndi and Jodhpur we didn’t feel massively inspired by anything we saw, despite LP’s ravings (above, italicised) and didn’t take any pictures – definitely a severe case of jaded travellers fatigue here, it seems to take a lot to impress us these days! To anyone free of these symptoms it’s definitely worth a visit and probably quite soon as poor drainage and overcrowding have led to the fort slowly sinking into the hill. It’s even made the World Monuments Watch list of the 100 most endangered sites.

One of the main reasons people visit Jaisalmer is to take a tour into the Great Thar Desert. The only way you can travel is by camel and both of us were sceptical about signing up for this, after boycotting all elephant rides for the way the animals are abused. None the less we’d travelled considerably out of our way to reach Jaisalmer and we weren’t going to leave without even a short jaunt into the desert. Our camel driver for the next two days was to be a guy called Baba and his son… Aladdin!

We were driven to the edge of the desert about 30km west of Jaisalmer where we met our guides and our mounts for the next two days – Luca and Warrior. They were laden pretty heavily, certainly more than the Enfield and our first concern was that the poor beasts were overburdened, and this was before we’d added to their load! Fortunately they were immensely strong and raised themselves from their peculiar kneeling position to standing without much bother. Unlike horse riding you mount the camel in this kneeling position and then hang on for dear life whilst it clambers to its feet, like a bucking bronco in slow motion. The height at which you are sat, above the camels hump is quite mad, much, much higher than your average horse and for Ady who’d never been horse riding at all it was quite an experience! Nice to see him out of control for once!

To begin with Baba reined the camels together and led from the front, on foot, with Aladdin bringing up the rear on his young camel (who we hate to add was being broken-in for such tourist safaris). Only at this point did we realise that we hadn’t been provided with stirrups, a minor oversight perhaps but one that caused a great deal of discomfort and a complete lack of control. Just half an hour of bouncing in the saddle was enough to render us both completely saddle sore, though in very different ways...Then we were given the reins and from there on had responsibility for our own necks – was that a disclaimer we signed?!

Though we’d been warned as such, the Great Thar Desert, initially at least was a bit of a disappointment and was little more than barren scrubland – just like much of the desert we’d travelled through whilst on minor roads with the bike. After a few hours in the hot sun we finally stopped for lunch, the earlier discomfort had now turned into real pain and we both struggled to dismount. Baba cooked up a feast with seemingly no ingredients and we watched him make chapattis using a special skillet. Aladdin had previously asked us if we liked meat and at this point we had to massively backtrack for fear he would fetch us some (possibly butchered several days before and left to fester in the sun) from one of the tribal villages nearby.

After a break of around 3 hours (whilst Baba slept under a tree), we were off again. Despite a br
ief respite when we stopped at a small village to water the animals (nobody came out to speak to us!) we rode for around 3 hours solid. When Ady could bear it no more and decided to walk alongside to mobilise his joints, Baba decided to ride the camel in his place and, having reined in Sam’s camel behind him, meanly set a cracking pace. Unfortunately for Ady the scenery had changed from scrubland to soft, heavy sands – the beginning of the silky sand dunes for which the desert is famous. None of the riders realised he only wanted to walk for ten minutes and so a very pissed off Ady finally caught up after an hour trekking at a distance behind the group, struggling with the increasing deep sands.

We were now amongst the larger dunes, a pretty spectacular sight (for anybody that hasn’t seen desert dunes before) and would have made for some great pictures if we hadn’t encountered a sudden, massive sandstorm. The sky went black and the wind picked up. Needless to say there was sand absolutely everywhere and we had to cower behind a makeshift shelter for about an hour until it abated. By this time the sun had set and there was little light left. It was quite amazing how Baba and Aladdin managed to make dinner given we could barely see
each other, so poor is our night vision. As soon as we’d eaten we were ushered to bed – some camp beds had appeared from somewhere and we were given a heavy pile of blankets. Still, it was only 8pm and neither of us was tired, despite hours in the saddle. We watched the stars for a while, listening to the incessant barking of Rocket (Aladdin’s dog) and some other dogs. Ady casually joked that the guides all brought dogs along on the safaris so as to warn them of predators. Not funny! Each time the dogs began their urgent barking, Sam had visions of tigers or leopards strolling into camp!!!

After a poor nights sleep we were hauled out of bed at
dawn and handed a tower of dry toast and biscuits to eat. Neither of us like tea or coffee and Baba seemed to take it as a personal insult each time we refused cups of Chai, the spiced sweet milky tea that is the national drink of India. We were given the choice to finish our tour at 5pm as planned, or cut short the day and finish after lunch. Despite feeling that he just wanted an easy day and despite having paid for the full 2 days we were both in too much pain to enjoy a whole day in the saddle – so we agreed to just another 4 hours riding. After taking the scenic route through the larger dunes (the camels managed the slopes with ease but Ady was yelping at the steeper dunes!) Baba joined Ady on Warrior, the larger camel who was now relieved of his load. He tethered Luca behind and spurred Warrior into a fast trot, practically dragging the smaller camel along. Without stirrups we bounced uncomfortably in the saddle, wishing we’d not eaten the little breakfast we had!

It was with massive relief when we finally stopped for lunch, under the shade of a tree. Thankfully this was the end of the riding – camel riding that is – due to our early finish we’d decided to push on that afternoon and ride the short distance south to Barmer. The skies were looking forbidding but we’d heard the road was a fast highway and the journey shouldn’t take long. After the camels our padded bike saddle felt like luxury – we plugged in our ipods and enjoyed the emptiness of the open road.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Jodhpur

17th-19th March

Leg 5 – Pushkar to Jodhpur
Distance - 206kms
Time – 6
Average Speed -34.3km/h
Road – Small back roads, dirt tracks, sandy desert, more back roads, 2 lane highway.


To get to Jodhpur we had two options; the highway route backtracking over Snake Mountain, or the longer, scenic way. After the congestion on the last leg we decided to take the scenic and avoid the highway as long as possible. Within minutes of leaving Pushkar we were asking for directions; our map, though detailed enough didn’t show every junction and the multiple choices of back roads. People seemed more than happy to help. After all, to them we must have looked quite a spectacle – two foreigners wearing futuristic helmets of space man proportions, big sunnies, heavy jackets (in 40 degrees heat) and leather gloves. If ever we stopped for more than a few minutes a crowd would gather around, sometimes quite shyly, unsure of who we were, in other places all clamouring for Ady’s attention. None seemed to know what to make of the pale blue-eyed woman sitting astride the pillion seat (women here all ride side saddle), looking every bit as unladylike as possible.
To begin with the road was amazing – a prime example of Rajasthan’s recent investment in its infrastructure. The white road markings look like they’d been painted just yesterday and the absence of bumps and ditches made for a fast, fun ride. But all good things come to an end and just a few kilometres further the new surface ran out and we were back to painfully bouncing
up and down in the saddle, speed much reduced. At one point the road diminished so badly we were riding on gravel and dirt and then eventually just sand – the golden sands of the Rajasthan desert! The Bullet definitely isn’t built for this kind of terrain, let alone with a passenger and 20kg bag in tow and it was nothing short of a miracle (Ady claims it was his excellent riding skills) we stayed upright! Eventually we found the highway and managed to cover the same distance again in just a fraction of the time.

The walled city of Jodhpur and its majestic fort towered above us. Once inside the city gate we got completely lost in the maze of tiny lanes, none with street names and each looking the same as the last. Again, helpful locals put us right and we turned into a particularly narrow alleyway, following the signs for Cosy Guesthouse. As we turned each corner the gradient became steeper and steeper still; the engine was revving too loud when suddenly somebody stepped out in front of us. Ady slammed the brakes on but there was no way they were going to hold us on this hill…we started rolling backwards! Somehow Sam managed to leap off the back seat and without the added weight Ady managed to get the bike under control. It was a heart stopping moment and the ride further up to Cosy wasn’t much fun either – when we arrived there was no room to turn around so we ended up
jamming a brick under to rear tire! Exhausted after the long journey we didn’t make it past the Cosy rooftop restaurant that day. The view over Jodhpur and the fort was unbeatable though.

The following day we both felt achy and fluey (and as
usual it was difficult not to assume we had malaria!) and it took an age to get ourselves together. We made a poor attempt at sightseeing, spending just a brief time at the Jaswant Thada memorial before visiting the main attraction – the Meherangarh fort. To brighten things up the fort was being used as a film set for a Bollywood flick. The cast and hundreds of extras were milling around, dressed in full medieval costume, including a number of westerners as members of the British Raj. We got a bit of a shock when one of them walked over to us and started talking. It was Damien, kitted out in a red soldiers outfit and fetching moustache (and Charlotte, who wasn’t dressed up), from our guesthouse in Bundi! They’d arrived at the fort just a short time earlier and Damien had been coerced into taking part. Thankful for our lie in bed – extras notoriously get paid peanuts for the privilege of hanging around all day, waiting for a few seconds of fame. Besides it was about 40 degrees and we were grateful to escape to the refuge of the fort interior.

Inside the fort there is a deep-terracotta-coloured, latticed network of courtyards and palaces, beautiful examples of asymmetry and symmetry that marks Rajput buildings. The palaces have evocative names such as the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Sukh Mahal (Pleasure Palace) and Phool Mahal (Flower Palace) – the latter is beautifully decorated using a curious concoction of gold leaf, glue and cows urine. At the southern end of the fort, old cannons look out from the ramparts over the sheer drop to the town below.

After such a hard afternoon we cabbaged back at Cosy for the rest of the day and enjoyed some R&R. Our next stop was Jaisalmer on the edge of the Great Thar Dessert, 280km northwest, home to the another famous fort and the start of the infamous Camel Safari.

N.B. We can highly recommend the Cosy Guesthouse Spicy Veggie Burger…Indian style – we’ll never go to Burger King again!

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