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Day 37: Jodhpur to Osian: 55km and 200m of climbing (i.e. flat as a pancake territory)

Today was a day when the work returned for the first time this trip. I cannot say who I was advising or what it was about, but it would not wait until my return so half a day was spent sitting in a hotel room with dodgy internet, writing an Advice. I suppose it will pay for a few days (or more than a few days) travelling but it brought me back to reality with a bump. I remain of the view that work is way overrated as a pastime.

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An evocative face – at our tea shop

However, we started the day at about 9am – late by our standards. We ambled out of Jodhpur, up and down a few narrow streets and managed to avoid being hit by motor bikes or hitting any cows – but it was a close run thing on both at times.

The outskirts went on for a long time, then turned into a series of quarries so it was not that great, but we were soon out in the open countryside. Cycling in the flat scrub desert can sometimes feel like one is on an exercise-cycle in the gym. It can be fairly monotonous, then something of interest comes along.

We stopped for a tea break at one point and became the centre of attention. There was no doubt that the most weird thing about us was not that we arrived on bicycles, or even that we came all the way from England. We were really marked out as mega-strange because we asked for black tea with no sugar.   The locals warmed to us, exchanged views about cycling and tutted about our strange choice of beverage.

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One side of the road with no irrigation
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The other side of the road with irrigation

After 55km we arrived in Oisin, well before lunch. It is a desert town that has seen better days, but used to have over 40 Hindu and Jain temples because it was a crossroads for the caravans coming from the west. Most temples are now discarded and in various stages of decay, but a few have survived. We visited one after lunch that was clearly set up for mass pilgrims, with lots and lots of places for people to file along before doing their devotions. It had some good carvings but overall did not impress me.

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A beautiful and peaceful place

I then had my period of work, and just before 6 we went out to try to find another temple. It took some finding around the backstreets but once we got there it was well worth the hunt. This was a C8th Jain temple and was exquisite in all respects. It was peaceful, the carvings were beautiful and the whole atmosphere was amazing. We were the only visitors and ambled around for about half an hour taking in the feel of the place. Then, as the light was fading, we returned to the hotel and had an excellent (vegetarian) meal in the next door café.

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One of many statutes of dancing women – temples seem to embrace this side of life.

Tomorrow is a proper cycling day so this is a short blog!

Day 36. Day off in Jodhpur.

Today started with 2 shocks – one was being in a state of half sleep, half awake and hearing the call for prayer reverberating round the city but being able to drop back into slumber again. The second was waking properly and finding a cloudy day. We haven’t seen a cloud since Ooty – way back weeks ago. Our fears that Rajasthan may be too hot totally unfounded. Even the sunny days have only peaked in the high 20s and today much cooler.

After a very lazy slow start to the day we ventured out. First was the famous ‘omelette shop’ at the entrance to Sadar Market where a multitude of different types of omelette can be rustled up, slapped between 2 slices of white bread and consumed sitting on plastic stools by the stall. Delicious and a good meeting place, where we chatted to 2 travellers from the UK and one from Bangladesh.

We then climbed the hill up to Mehrengargh fort, a huge complex that broods over the city. We took the audio guide, which is one of the best we have ever done, and made our way round the huge battlements, doors with steel spikes to deter marauding army elephants and then into the palace complex.

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The architecture was stunning but they had also created a fantastic museum of paintings, fabrics, armouries, palanquins etc. It was fascinating, interesting, intelligent and with stunning views over the city. We really enjoyed the visit.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent back at the guest house. David continued his book writing on the rooftop, I did ‘chores’ (washing , filtering water, shopping) and spent time reading.

In the evening strolled out and went to the ‘step well’. We weren’t sure what this was but it was an amazing structure of steep tiered steps down to a pond.

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We then went to the ‘best restaurant in town’ and had a fantastic meal. We bumped into a couple from New Zealand that we had walked up the hill with to the fort, Peter and Erica, and joined them in good conversation, great food and amazing 360 views up to the fort and over the market area. All on all a great day off.

Day 35: Pali to Jodhpur: 78km and 100m of climbing (i.e. nothing at all)

Today was a breeze – in all senses of the word and hardly felt like doing any serious cycling at all.   We packed up and left the anonymous but friendly hotel in Pali, and turned South to access the Pali by-pass.

This was a 2 lane highway with a shoulder – flat as a pancake with a following wind. It was Sunday morning but there were quite a lot of trucks about, although with the 2 lanes they gave us wide berths and loud toots on horns that played tunes as opposed to just sounding warnings. The packing of these trucks is a serious and impressive business. They carry vast quantities of goods with tarpaulins over top, bulging out at the sides and back, all held together by a complex system of ropes. It looks as if the whole load will shift off the side or back at any point but we have never seen this happen. Added to that, they are brightly painted and have numerous instructions and commendations on the sides, all in English. The utility of these must be questionable as I am not sure how many drivers can read English!

The first 34km passed quickly – indeed we did 21km in the first hour alone. That may not seem a great speed for those on road bikes but we are loaded with panniers and our bikes are built for endurance, not speed. Come to think of it, that description may apply to us as well.

After about 30km, we passed the most bizarre Hindu temple yet – all constructed around a Royal Enfield motorbike and with young bikers paying homage to the gods of the bike, seeking good karma for safe journeys. The Triumph Royal Enfield has a “Rolls Royce” or perhaps “Harley Davison” type status amongst the millions of motorbike riders in India. When Triumph motorbikes ceased production in the UK, someone from India bought the rights to the name “Royal Enfield” and design and began manufacturing them in India. The design must have been improved over the years, but the same shape and Easyrider style has been retained, and they are hugely popular.

The temple is said to have arisen when a young man was killed at this spot, when his Royal Enfield hit a tree. The police retrieved the bike but it is said to have mysteriously keep moving itself back to its lasting resting place, by the tree. This caused the legend which led to the Temple. It is now visited by bikers who are (slightly paradoxically) seeking good karma and safe travels on their bikes. All very strange but, in a delightful way, the merging of the ancient and the modern in a very Indian way.

We stopped for “tea” at a roadside café, just as we were due to leave the main road. The boys running the tea stall had some English and were very excited by the prospect of foreigners on bikes at their restaurant. Their attention to Bernie was a little too close! I suspect they may see foreign women in a slightly sexual and negative light, no doubt influenced by the media. They also tried to overcharge us for the tea, no doubt thinking that as foreigners we were clueless as to the cost of anything. To their surprise, we stood our ground and paid the usual rate, which they of course accepted. Even that was probably more than they charge locals, but then locals don’t make the weird request of having black tea without sugar!

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Cycling along a desert road – another busy road!

The next 40km were on flat side roads with a good surface (outside the villages) that were largely unoccupied. It was a total delight. Without irrigation, the land here cannot be cultivated. But there is water and large sections were developed fields, with an unseen system of cultivation. The road more or less ended at each of villages and we cycled over hard, rough sandy paths. This had (I assume intended) the effect of slowing the (very limited) traffic to a walking pace. Small children, women and men all gave us cheery encouragement when we passed. Touring cyclists are a rarity here but maybe not as much a rarity as elsewhere.

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Banana stop.
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Dry river bed.

By lunchtime we rolled into Jodhpur, a city of a million people. The old city remains intact and is dominated by the fort (which we will visit tomorrow). The network of alleys is designed to keep cool in the summer. They are so narrow that even tuktuks cannot go down most of them. But that does not prevent motorbikes doing so, often at quite high speeds. So anyone walking the narrow alleys does so at their own risk and with eyes and ears fully awake. We wound our way through the tiny alleyways to find our guest house.

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‘Old soldier’ and his wife who came to chat while we paused finding our way into Jodhpur.
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Battling our way through the bizarre with panniers was fun!
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Colourful india.

In the afternoon we ambled around the market, read and I did more book chapter. Then we had a delightful vegetarian meal in the evening and bed. We had dinner with a young Dutch man who comes here to buy textiles for his online business in Holland. He has done so for 7 years and was fascinating to talk to. He expressed the view that the British are bonkers in trying to leave the EU and go it alone in the world; a view with which we agree and may even be shared by an increasing number of people in the UK. Sadly, the leadership of neither of our main political parties appear to have moved away from Brexit la-la land but we assured him that there are small signs that collective sanity may be returning.

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View of the fort from the rooftop restaurant at our guest house

Day in Udaipur

We spent the night being tossed and shaken on our sleeper train but also lulled into sleep, at least on and off through the night. The train drew in more or less on time and we held our breath that our bikes had been loaded onto the train and arrived with us. We needn’t have worried – they arrived safe and undamaged and released back into our care after David had leapt across various railway lines to the parcel office to sign his life away again.

A short ride from the station took us to a guesthouse in the heart of the tiny lanes of the old city. Feeling slightly woozy from the night we revived after having breakfast on their little roof top terrace and a hot shower. We were last here in 1988 – where we splashed out and stayed in the famous Lake Palace Hotel (featured in one of the Bond films) for 20 dollars. It is now about 600 dollars a night! We were perfectly happy this time in our little guest house which was bright and clean with a very friendly owner.

Udaipur is a beautiful city full of palaces and temples. We set out into the sunshine and strolled down to the lake then through the streets to Jagdish Temple. The streets were picturesque and atmospheric but potentially lethal as motorbikes and scooters zoomed through at tremendous speeds with little regard for pedestrians. We felt safer on the bikes!

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Jagdish temple was constructed in 1651 and covered in beautiful sculptures. Inside devotees were singing loudly and playing drums in front of the black stone image of Vishnu. All very lively.

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Then on to the main event of the day. The wonderful City Palace. Dating from the 15 hundreds it was added to by each subsequent Maharana of Mewar. It was full of intricate architecture, beautiful courtyards, carvings and stain glass. We took our time with an audio guide and sucked up the atmosphere.   It gave us an interesting introduction to the history of Rajasthan. We know we have a feast of palaces, temples and forts coming up over the next few weeks so decided on a tactic that we would see one place well and in detail rather than try and see every ‘site’ in a town or city.

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The rest of the day was spent planning out our next 3 weeks in some detail to make sure we have a ‘tour’ that gets us to Delhi at the right time. We then treated ourselves a delicious evening meal to fortify ourselves as we get back on the bikes tomorrow.

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Day 31: Mumbai to Udaipur (by train).

Whilst we would liked to have carried on cycling continuously through India, we didn’t have time to cycle from Mumbai to Delhi and take in the wonders of Rajasthan. So we either did a direct route to Delhi from Mumbai by bike, missing out Rajasthan, or would have to miss out a section of cycling by a train journey and then have the time to explore the delights of the desert kingdom of palaces and forts. There are no “rules” for our trip, so we opted for the train and Rajasthan, and so had to brave the Indian Rail system – so today was mostly about trains.

We woke late having got to bed around midnight after the meal with Dan, Tania and his parents. Ambling around, doing last minute things took most of the morning and then, as we attempted to leave, we found Bernie had a puncture. After changing the tyre we went to the petrol station that the family run to say our goodbyes and profound thanks. We feel that we have gained some really good friends and are determined to ensure we stay in touch.

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David, Kevin, Jacinta, Bernie and Dan – fond farewells.

It was only 16km from the gas station to Bandra Terminus, so surely that was not too much of a challenge after the thousands of kilometres we have travelled. However, it was 16km ride through a heavily polluted city with frantic Indian traffic and so counted as “Istanbul II”. Those long standing readers of our blog will recall the descriptions of traffic we endured in Istanbul in 2015. This was just as crazy but with an Indian twist to it.

We tried to stick to the main roads but, however major the road, there were always multiple pedestrians cyclists, motorbikes and tuktuks coming the wrong way down the inside of the road. That meant constant swinging out into the traffic to overtake them, and the oncoming traffic did not appreciate that one little bit – so we often came to a grinding halt. Numerous traffic lights held us up, then diversions caused by the work to create a new metro (which diverted major traffic down a tiny series of side streets). It was slow going, a touch frightening at times and we counted down each kilometre.

Finally we arrived in the vicinity of the station. When I say “in the vicinity”, that suggests we had arrived but it was a case of “not quite”. Our route brought us into the area of the station, but on the wrong side of the tracks. We found what looked to be a route over the railway and found it was just that, a route over the railway. So we ended up pushing our bikes across a major rail line junction, hoping no train came (which it didn’t). There was a sign threatening a 200 rupees fine for anyone who crossed there, but no sign of any enforcement.

That brought us into a wasteland area and we followed the Garmin to reach the back of a vast station. Indian trains are perhaps 2 or 3 times longer than the longest UK train, and so the platforms seem to go on for miles. But at least we had made it.

We arrived about 2pm, about 2 hours before the train was due to leave. That time was needed to get the bikes onto the train as approved luggage. The Parcel Office was, of course, at the far end of a mile long platform, but with lots of help we found it. Then we filled in the forms, provided our passports and gave numerous details. They did not ask for the date and place of birth of our children, but it would not have surprised us if this was needed. A helpful man “sewed up” the bikes by putting packing around the handlebars so notices could be written on, and then we paid our 400 rupees and were told proudly “the bikes are now in our custody”. Slightly dubiously (but without justification) we left the bikes to the parcel office staff, and trawled off carrying our panniers to store on the train.

An hour later we were outside our carriage (having found B1 – which was of course no where near carriage B2) and, once it opened, we got on. We then got a text message to say our bikes were loaded on the train, proving once again that India is a weird mixture of old fashioned bureaucracy with new technology overlaid on top.

The journey was 18 hours (3.50pm to 9am) and passed in a largely uneventful way. We were in AC3 class – which means that the coach was air-conditioned (in fact rather chilly at times) and there were 3 bunks arranged one above the other in each compartment. We were swopped from one to another at various times at the direction of a rather officious guard but it was all fine, and we dropped off to sleep with the sounds of the train chuntering along the 760km journey towards Udaipur.

 

Day 30. Ambling in Mumbai

We started the day with a lovely breakfast with Dan, Kevin and Jacinta. It was lovely to be in a warm and friendly family home. Then our first aim of the day was to acquire tickets for the train to Udaipur, which only goes 3 times a week. On line tickets were full but there is a system of buying last minute tickets fro the reservation office, and also a quota for foreign tourists.

We pedalled into the Mumbai traffic to the station. It was no worse than London – especially as there are no tuktuks in the south of Mumbai and no cows, both of which are our usual hazards! At the reservation office were told that there was no quota left but the last minute ticket system opens at 10. We filled out all the forms and gave our passport details in advance then on the dot of 10 the helpful assistant frantically typed away trying to reserve tickets for us. Our credit card did not work and in that time we lost the first set of tickets but we managed to get 2 tickets on the next class down – not next to each other but he assured us we will be able to rearrange seats when we are on the train. Goal 1 achieved. Booking the bikes on will be the next goal but we can only do that at the station luggage office, and so have to allow 2 hours before the train goes.

We then cycled down to the High Court – an enormous and grand building. As we wandered round the building we passed barristers in the same garb (although did not see any wigs) and peaked into court rooms, although none seemed to be in session. I glanced into a bit bigger grand hall and something seemed to be going on. We were ushered in to stand by the side. Then all the judges gradually wandered in, mostly men but some women judges in beautiful white saris. There was a large painting of Mahatma Gandhi and then a garland was put round the picture and each judge lined up to place flowers in front, followed by what looked like other lawyers.

Back out in the corridor I asked a young female lawyer what the ceremony was and she explained it was Gandhi day and they do this once a year. We got chatting and she invited us up to the bar mess for coffee. We were plied with more food and also met a very senior lawyer who had been leader of the Bombay Counsellors. She had very firm (and adverse) views about Modi and the current political state in India and was very concerned about how all the new judge appointments were ‘friends’ of the BJP. It was a fascinating discussion. Another chance conversation that took us behind the scenes.

From the High Court next stop was the bike shop of Dan’s friend Deepak, who had confirmed he had the right size inner tubes. Traffic was getting a bit more busy but manageable with lots of traffic police blowing whistles at major junctions. Deepak had been riding BMX bikes since the last 90s and said that cycling was gradually becoming more popular in India as people became more health conscious. A really nice guy.

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From the bike shop we headed to Malabar Hill – the posh end of town – with views to Chowpatty beach and Marine drive and rested a while in the ‘Hanging Gardens’. Not much was hanging and there was not much shade, although the gardens were pretty.

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We then headed back to the flat and spent the afternoon sorting things out, picking up more bits of pieces for the next stages of our travels and resting. In the evening we had said that we would like to take them all out for a meal to say thanks for their amazing hospitality. We met Dan’s girlfriend, Tania, who is a part time piano teacher and part time editor of scientific papers. We were taken to a lovely restaurant with great seafood – our most delicious meal yet!

Not many pictures today (we forgot to take the camera) and we had not been to many formal sites but felt we had got a good feel of the city by cycling round and had seen some magnificent buildings. It felt much like London – but sunnier!

Day 29: Arriving in Mumbai : 70km.

We woke late(ish) and were on the road by 7.30. It was quiet and flat as we ambled North from Murud. We passed a series of places where the road had been improved and then suffered the bumps and jarring as we hit sections of road with more potholes than road. We later learned that this may be down to local politics.

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Beware – Man at Work (or what passes for work)

Continue reading Day 29: Arriving in Mumbai : 70km.