After a blissfully quiet night we were up early and on the road by 7 to try and beat the heat. We fiddled about a bit trying to get off the island but found the little ferry to take us to the road heading north and we were on our way. The first 15 or so km were on fairly quiet roads and the road surface not bad – we saw workmen mending the road – Boys from the Black Stuff Indian style. It looked a hot and tough job with the only mechanical aid the final roller. The rest was done by hand. Those bits that were completed delivered us a stretch of road relatively free from pot holes. The road criss-crossed the railway and we learnt to negotiate the masses when we were stopped at crossings, and then had to go with the flow of humanity as the gates opened up.
We then turned on to the main highway – the main artery up the coast – and hit traffic in a big way. However the road was wide, the surface very good and there was a shoulder to cycle on. True, there were often pedestrians, motorcycles and tuktuks coming the other way on the shoulder; but we could usually negotiate our way and we made good pace. We were learning the rules of the road and the pecking order (bicycles give way to everything) and it did not feel (that) unsafe.
We stopped at a roadside restaurant and met a multigenerational Irish family and chatted for a while. They were going south the backwaters, but then returning to Goa so the 7 year old could attend a Steiner school there.
We passed on our website address and later they were kind enough to comment on the blog. Perhaps we will meet them again in Goa. We then chatted to the restaurant owner while we ate delicious masala omelettes. He had worked with his company in Finland and the UK and was now retired back to the family home, which he had converted into the restaurant/hotel.
The day was heating up and time to move on. Our next stop was the Krishnapuram Palace museum. An old Keralan palace built by a maharaja and now a museum of Keralan artifacts. The wooden building was built for coolness with a large pond in the garden (looking a bit green and slimy) and there was the largest mural painting in Kerala on one of the walls. A pleasant stop.
On again, as we knew we had a lot if distance to cover. Soon we turned onto a less busy road but still a good road surface passing through towns and villages. We stopped for lunch under some trees by a Hindu temple. Having asked whether it was ok, their main concern was that we were not going to eat any meat. We could assure them we were only boiling water for our brew. A woman from the house next to the temple brought out a rice/milk drink and something that looked like a curry paste on a banana leaf. So kind and hospitable, it felt bad to decline. We managed, I hope, to decline the curry gracefully by miming stomach problems and sipped at the milky drink until we could tip it away without being seen. Stomachs holding out so far but we did not want to tempt fate.
We revived somewhat after our coffee and snacks but don’t feel we have really found a good system of cycling food yet.
During the afternoon we were mainly on busy roads but managed a couple of stretches on side roads (thanks to the Garmin and Googlemaps) where within a minute of leaving the main road it felt as if we were on another planet peddling past peaceful paddy fields. An ice cream stop cooled us down but we were managing the heat a bit better.
The last stretch bypassed the city of Kottayam, then down to the shores of Vembanad Lake, Kerala’s largest lake and home to Kumakarom bird sanctuary which we plan to visit at dawn tomorrow. Our bed for the night is at Tharavadu Heritage Home in a beautifully restored 1870s teak mansion. We had a not very satisfactory search for a meal. Googlemaps marked a seafood restaurant but it turned out to be part of a very swanky 5 star hotel which was firmly hidden away behind enormous wooden gates. We were told the restaurant was full but suspect it was just closed. We found a pleasant family restaurant and ordered fish. A rather small single fish cooked in a banana leaf was very tasty but was rather meagre in size but not in price!
Overall an A to B day where we covered a good amount of distance, saw some interesting sites, got more confident in the traffic and look forward to turning inland to the mountains tomorrow
David: I think we are now getting acclimatised to travelling, the heat, the distances and the general ambiance of India. It always amazes me how people can get used to something new so quickly. Maybe the same thing happens to conscript soldiers in a war, children shipped off to boarding schools or prisoners when they are first incarcerated. The difference is that we are volunteers, but there is still a vast difference from the way the rest of our lives run to get used to. No one calls Bernie “doctor” and I am trying to ignore law (as much as I can). We are no longer tough professionals but would-be tough cyclists. Our problems are not those of our clients or patients, but getting enough of the right food, avoiding tuktuks and trying to plan and book accommodation for the next few days.
I sometimes wonder if we are being selfish – leaving those who depend on us behind for 2 months whilst we cycle off into the Orient. Maybe we are a bit, but I also see these trips as a time for personal battery re-charging. It’s a time for reflection, rebalancing priorities and having new experiences. In India – there is no shortage of experiences.
One of the things that strikes me from my first few days in rural India is that it is a land where people are defined by the deity they inherited from their parents. Kerala has a massive Catholic population, with full churches and overt signs of religion on buses. It is not quite as “in your face” as in Ghana but Christianity as a religion is alive and growing. But I suspect that, despite all the modernisation of a fast developing country, a census which had a box for “No Religion” would have very few subscribers.
A child of Muslim parents is defined by his or her inherited religion; a child of Hindu parents not only inherited a religion of mystifying complexity but a caste system which is almost as complex. There was a push to marginalise the importance of the caste system after Independence, but it has endured and under the BJP government may even have revived. Is it that different to the English system of “class”? It may be slightly more structured and inflexible here but it has distinct (and uncomfortable) similarities. So, awkward as the caste system may feel to us, an English QC and a doctor not in the best position to express progressive views – so we hold our thoughts to ourselves.