We had a restful night – at least until 5.30 am when the local temple blasted out ear splitting Indian music – presumably with the intention of waking the whole town up. After about half an hour it thankfully stopped and we dosed back to sleep.
Today we had our first ‘mechanical’. On the climb yesterday David was suddenly only able to get into bottom chain ring. Not a problem for the rest of that day but this morning he found the problem was that the gear cable sheath had split. Luckily we had planned a short day today so we could get up leisurely, had a pleasant breakfast at the hotel and David was able to spend an hour or so putting together a ‘Heath Robinson’ repair with duck tape and an old guy rope (carried for just such an eventuality!).
We therefore set of with fingers crossed that the repair would hold (which it did – no top chain ring but again not a problem today). We were immediately out into stunning hill country dotted with tea plantations. After just a few km we reached ‘Vagamon Meadows’ a clear tourist hit spot with numerous coach tours with people pouring out to walk up a small hill and beyond, and to look out onto the rolling vista. We would have plenty of views that day but the people watching was amusing as ever. David got a round of applause when he offered to take a group photo of excitable young people.
Then we were on our way proper. The coaches turned back to the main road but we continued on the little road and saw very little traffic all morning. The reason soon became apparent. We were soon plunging down a steep descent with most of the road in a terrible state of repair. There must have been continuous tarmac here at some point in the distant past, but not much remained for several miles. We picked our way carefully down into a beautiful valley. The road improved somewhat as we cycled along a relatively flat road surrounded by lush vegetation. After a junction we joined a slightly more main road which took us past steep hillsides of tea plantations, all the bushes neatly trimmed.
We knew we had one big climb so stocked up with provisions in a small bustling town (actually a town that is not bustling does not exist in India) and after following a big river for a few km turned up a little side road where we had our picnic. Soon after that we began to climb – OMG what a climb – 350m but most at about 14% which meant too steep to cycle when fully loaded with out panniers in steamy heat with our level of fitness – so we pushed the bikes up and up – occasionally managing to cycle for 100m or so when slightly less steep then pushing on up. The scenery was stunning, which took the edge off the pain!
At last we reached the (nearly) top with a little settlement. They looked slightly surprised when 2 very dishevelled and hot looking cyclists stopped at a little stall but they sold cold bottles of water – bliss. A bit more up and then an almost equally steep descent, hands hurting on the breaks and picking our way round the pot holes. At last we reached the main road with only 15km to go. The road undulated up and down, just to emphasise the pain in our legs and then a last long cruise down to the town of Kumily, the entrance to Periyar Wildlife Park.
We soon reached our Homestay – a basic but enormous room and a fantastic hot shower. A lovely balcony out of the back looking out over trees., mountains and marshland flickering with birdlife. This will do for a couple of days!
Then David went out with the owner’s son to search for the lone bicycle shop in the town. “Shop” may be too strong a word, but it had a few bits and pieces including, remarkably, a new cable sheath. David snapped it up for 20 rupees (about 25p) and within an hour we had 2 fully functioning bikes again. Maybe there is a God.