Day 24. Panaji to Malvan (not Malvern). 112km. 1100m climbing.

 Today was a day of contrasts and also a day that turned into a ‘mega day’. We started as usual as the sun rose at 7am but Panaji wakes earlier than places further south and this time we were not alone on the road (although I would not say it was busy).

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The morning sun over the river across from Panaji

We were soon through the city and turned to the coast. As we hit the first ‘beach’ we also hit 10km of total ribbon development with a series of western chains transplanted into a concrete jungle. It was beyond me why anyone would want to holiday there – but then I am sure plenty of people look at us and can’t fathom why we would want to holiday this way so I guess it takes all sorts. However no one jumped out to offer to do my nails, despite being promised this yesterday!

It continued to be very busy for another 10km or so and then started to thin out. We had left without breakfast or even a cup of coffee (room too posh to brew up in) so at last we could get off the road and brew up ourselves, drink coffee and eat boiled eggs and cheese rolls. That helped to put me in a better mood! We now passed by several prettier and less developed beach resorts, although still much busier and a very different character to the more laid back developments in southern Goa.

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We paused at one point where it was away from the beach and was much nicer, and were approached by someone who started to ask us about our bikes and our cycling. “Do you want a cup of tea?” he said in a Liverpool accent. Tea never knowingly refused so we spent a pleasant half hour or so chatting with Carl. Originally from Liverpool area, he divided his time between Portugal, Goa and the Himalayas. He was a keen cyclist and so totally understood what we were doing. He pondered doing a long cycle through India himself, but had not yet done so. We hope we have inspired him into his next cycling trip!

At about 50km, we crossed a bridge over a wide river and we were out of Goa and into Maharastra. It instantly felt as if we were on another planet. First, we lost the ultra smooth tarmac road surface and then all the traffic disappeared. We looked out over a landscape that looked empty of everything except rolling hills covered in thick brush and trees. Villages were few and far between and much poorer than we had seen. There were only a few tourist signs, and they were in curly Indian writing. But we were also back though were the cheery waves and “Hi’s” from excited children. In Goa we were much more anonymous – just another western tourist. Since we entered Maharastra, apart from one or 2 western tourists on motorbikes in the first few km we have not seen another white person.

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The last fingers of the Western Ghats mountain range extended to the sea in a series of ridges. This made the afternoon ride tough as we had to climb and descend each ridge. The first few went well but the climbs became more of a strain as our legs got more tired. The ‘top’ of some of the ridges were flat for a few km but we were then battling a very strong head wind (or, more accurately, David was as he tended to lead when there was a wind). It felt wild and desolate and quite alone at times.

We then seemed to descend into a slightly more populated area but the road surface turned into a crumbly mess. We battled on. On what we thought was one of the last ridges we climbed a steeper incline and when we got to the top…..they were building a fairly large commercial airport. Seriously – they were building an airport in the middle of nowhere – with no good roads leading to or from it – right across where our little road should go. We could see the start of a runway and lots of building activity. It seemed through that we should follow the ‘diversion’ sign that took us bumping round the periphery of the site. Harder work again with tired legs.

 

Down to ‘Chippe bridge’, across another river with hoards of lorries coming up the other way to the airport site. One last ridge to go – which was the highest of the lot, a steep climb and with the worst road surface. Just what we needed after over 100km! Then, at last, we were descending towards the little town of Malvan (a coral reef diving centre) where we found our Lodge.

 

We were exhausted after almost 10 hours in the saddle (far too long in a day) but one of the good things about being fitter is that the recovery time is much shorter. After showers and a brew (not too posh to brew up here), we were ready to explore before it started to get dark.   We strolled along the road to ‘sunset point’ just at the right time as the sun was sinking. Possibly our ‘best’ sunset so far in that the sun sank gracefully into the sea rather than into cloud as we sat on rocks. We then strolled into the main town. A bright and bubbly place we enjoyed strolling round, doing bits of food shopping for the next day and had a Chinese meal in an unprepossessing looking place but great food (total cost – less than £4 for 2 of us). Time to finally collapse!

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