So the day finally arrived. Le petit depart no2 of this trip (see 2014 for the first). A small crowd assembled around the bikes as we loaded on our panniers. The Garmins seemed to generate the most interest. And then we were off, ambling up the first hill of the day, avoiding the Tuktuks and pedestrians and heading westwards. The road surfaces were good almost all day. The main roads are busy but there are plenty of side roads, but it is often hard from the map to tell which is a main road and which is a side road.
Cycling in India is an assault on the senses. There is noise at times, constantly varying smells, and colourful sights around every corner. The convention here is that a driver sounds his (and they are mostly but not exclusively male drivers) horn before overtaking. That includes overtaking bikes, so we have cars, motorbikes and buses hooting all the time. It is not a message to “get over” but just “I am about to overtake you”, often followed by a friendly wave.
The smells vary constantly – some good and some bad. We cycled past a still waterway full of weeds and rubbish, and with a constant bad smell at one point today. But India has made a concerted attempt to clean up the rubbish in recent years and it is far less prevalent than reported. Plastic is burned rather than discarded in most places.
There is evidence that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) or Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) campaign (or Clean India Mission in English) is working. This is a campaign that aims to clean up the streets, roads and infrastructure of India’s cities, smaller towns, and rural areas. The objectives of Swachh Bharat include eliminating open defecation through the construction of household-owned and community-owned toilets and establishing an accountable mechanism of monitoring toilet use. Run by the Indian Government, the mission aims to achieve an Open-Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2 October 2019, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi by constructing 12 million toilets in rural India.
India is constantly colourful. Houses are brightly painted, saris are wonderfully bright and the symbols of religion have splashes of colour. It was a Hindu holiday (or possibly holy day) yesterday and so the temples were full, and there were roadside loudspeakers blasting out devotional music. The speakers were attached to lampposts or in stacks of speakers at the roadside.
We cycled for about 40km in the early morning light and then stopped at a roadside café for tea. Could we have it without milk? No was the answer. It came with milk and sugar pre-added, which was hard for a western palate to accept. But we persevered and it was worth it. And at 16 rupees (i.e. about 20p), it was cheaper than Starbucks.
After our tea stop, the heat built up. It was hot but not unbearably so. But we felt it each time there was a slope. Bottled water is available everywhere and we gulped down many litres each, but the worst of the heat of the day was bearable. And we are going North so maybe it will not get much hotter.
For large parts of the day we ambled along quiet roads, often by the sea amongst coconut groves. This is a fishing area and we saw men working on brightly painted boats. Little hamlets seemed to be around every bend, and there are children everywhere. This is a young country.
Often, if we stopped, someone would come up shyly to wish us Happy New Year and to chat. Not in an invasive way, but gently and welcoming. A local teacher and his 2 young daughters was strolling along the beachside road, and chatted for a while. The children were shy and wary of strangers, but he was proud of his profession and pleased we had chosen to spend time in his country. There is something about cycling which breaks down barriers instantly, and is so different to the response when one get’s out of a car. But then there is a hill and we miss having an engine.
At one point the road narrowed and 2 large buses were trying to pass each other outside a temple, with blazing music and thousands of devotees milling around. The skill of the drivers was astonishing as, inch by inch, they managed to pass each other. They had lots of “help” from those surrounding the buses and horns blasted to warn pedestrians that the bus was inching up against a wall – so please get out of the road. It was organised chaos that took 10 minutes to resolve, and everyone went on their way.
The day was a blaze of heat, dust and noise. We did 89km before we got to our destination which, as a taster for the trip, was a bit much. We finally arrived at the Aydurva Resort where we booked in for the night. It was a strange contrast. We were suddenly back amongst westerners who had all come here for the medicinal effects of massage, herbal treatments and relaxation (apart from one overweight man from Essex who seemed to be here for a detox, imposed by an unsmiling wife, as a punishment for too much good living).
We swam in the pool and then walked down to the beach. It was fantastic – miles of wide open sand. But there were thousands of families here for New Year’s day. We think there must have been a beach football competition, judging by the groups of young men in identical kit. But there is something common the world over about the joy of sand and waves. Children and adults frolicking in the surf; only mostly they were fully dressed. Loads of fun, laughter and sheer joy as young men carried their friends into the sea and small children jumped up as the waves hit them.
We watched a beautiful sunset and then walked back up the steep slope to the hotel. Dinner and bed – and I was sound asleep by 8.30pm.
Bernie: The first day of a New Year and it could not have felt newer. An amazing day which we really enjoyed and left my head buzzing. The fear that the roads would be unmanageable was unfounded. In the towns, there is organised chaos but between towns the roads were quiet – even on the main roads. Certainly no worse an experience than cycling in London and much prettier cycling along shady palm fringed roads! We even got used to using our Bicycle Horns that Santa gave us – it really does work as we tooted at Tuktuks and pedestrians wandering into the road to say we were coming past. We arrived elated and exhausted but ready for more.