Touring cycling has its actual as well as metaphorical ups and downs, and this was perhaps an example of mainly the latter. I had developed a sore throat at Bundi and felt pretty crap, and yet we had a 120km cycle day to undertake. Some things just have to be done.
We woke and it became clear that the promised 7am breakfast was plainly not there. So we paid up, checked out and got on our way with only a self-brewed coffee in us. The town was just waking up too, with men wandering around in large blankets and other huddling over small roadside fires. It was not “cold” but could be described as “chilly”.
After 3km I had a puncture in my back tyre – the first of 3 today (although I did not know this at the time, of course). This is just what you do not need on a cold morning, just as the body was getting used to the idea of some exercise. Locals watched on in amusement as we followed our well-practised routine of stripping the bikes, changing the tyre, reloading and then getting back on our way. It is at these points that I crave a foot pump – getting tyres up to 60psi with a hand pump warms me up on a cold morning.
The road went eastwards, following a valley floor, with spectacular hills to our north. This meant that, as the sun got up, parts of the hills were picked out in the low light with all types of coloured rocks reflecting in the morning light. It was beautiful but impossible to photograph (or at least impossible for us to photograph). The ridge carried on, nearly continuously, for the next 60km and so would be a brilliant ridge to soar (for the benefit of any of my paragliding mates who are reading this). I am firmly grounded these days, preferring 2 wheels to a harness, but there is great potential here in a southerly wind.
The road surface was – how shall I say this – “variable”. There would be a few hundred metres of reasonable tarmac and then more potholes than tarmac and occasionally no tarmac at all. It was almost empty of traffic and so just about OK to ride for most of the time, but was jarring and slow. The effect of my cold went straight to my legs and so, in true Jens Voigt style, it was a case of “shut up legs” for most of the day. (For anyone unfamiliar with the expression, I suggest visiting Mr Google for an explanation).
The terrain was partly given over to agriculture, but only where it was irrigated, and was dusty desert elsewhere. The cultivated areas had frequent villages but then there would be long stretches of uncultivated land without evidence of habitation.
In one of the more remote sections, we came to a Hindu temple complex in the middle of nowhere, and with only a few people minding the site. It had 12 small cupula structures around a central structure, with water and statutes. The whole thing felt a if it had been built yesterday, but in an ancient style. There was a huge picture of a modern mystic at the entrance. The staff were friendly and welcoming but no one spoke English and our knowledge of the local languages was zero, so we left mystified as to what it all signified.
As we went on the bumps in the road surface gave us puncture number 2 – and so the same process was repeated – again with onlookers who appeared from nowhere to watch this strange ritual. More pumping and expressions of hope that this was the last puncture of today; dashed as it turned out.
Next we saw a camel train on the road. About 200 camels were being marched westwards (maybe to Pushkar?) along the main road. They were untethered but followed each other, with one straggler nursing a poor foot a few hundred metres behind. The camel herders were all men, walking along with their herd of mostly young camels at a fair pace. Where were they going and why? All questions to which our lack of language prevented us having any answers.
At 70km we got to the town of Lakheri, which was the most significant place on our route. It was a buzzing place, with school children out for lunch and bustling markets. We stocked up on fruit and had some delicious deep-fried vegetable pekoras.
After Lakheri the quality of the road thankfully improved and we sped along until I had a close encounter with a stray thorn bush, which resulted in puncture number 3. This was getting tedious!
The afternoon dragged on as we crossed the desert, the km ticking over too slowly and my cold making me feel increasingly grumpy. Bernie was supportive and we made progress. After several stops for water, oranges and bananas we finally reached the outskirts of Sawal Madhopur and, after negotiating more then usually chaotic traffic across a set of junctions, found our hotel. I was exhausted but we had made it.
This cycling lark seems like a bit of a breeze when it is all going well; and then there are days like today.