08 January 2009

CYCLING INDIA - Calicut to Varkala

1st January 2009
NC Gardens Beach Resort - Chavakkad

Amanda was strong and we settled into a good rhythm. After 20km, we stopped for our usual breakfast. Amanda is really getting fit and so we pushed on to Chavakkad. Just once, I heard her swearing under her breath after her bike zigzagged through the loose sand and then headed for the bushes. She recovered and soon after that we reached a river where we had to take a ferry across again. Water phobia or not she pushed her bike on without saying a word.

We found a room on the beach for Rp 500, which we considered far over-priced, but we took it anyhow.

2nd January
Chavakkad - Cherai Beach

An easy and relaxing ride to Cherai Beach, which turned out to be closer than expected. Once there, we went from one set of rooms to the next, all seemed way above our budget. This is a real touristy place so everything is quite expensive. In the end, we found a room for 750 Rp. While Amanda and I went for a swim in the ocean, Ernest cooked pasta in the room, so at least we saved on food. The beach was packed with holidaymakers, mostly Indian families. Swimming in a bathing suite is quite a daring thing to do there. Although Amanda and myself walked way down the beach for our little swim, spectators (cell phone camera in hand) appeared in no time. By now, our pictures must be on half the cell phones in India!! And that looking the way I look (bed bug eaten and half bald). For some reason my hair is falling out at an alarming rate, and I am socked at how little hair I have left.

3rd January
Chenai Beach - Fort Kochi

Although Chenai Beach is a cool spot to hang out, we moved on as the accommodation is a bit too expensive for us. It was only a short pleasant ride to Kotchi, with the Arabian Sea on the one side and the Kerala backwaters on the other. It was a short ferry ride across the inlet to Fort Kochi island (the city of Kotchi - formerly Cochin - consists of a number of islands). Fort Kochi had a real relaxed feel out it. Accommodation was again not cheap as it is a popular place for tourists. As we arrived early there was plenty of time to wander around and watch the locals operating the famous Chinese Fishing nets - a contraption which looks a bit like a spider web which they repeatedly dip into the water at high tide.

That evening we were also lucky enough to see a Kathakali show, which is story-telling through drama, music, dancing and hand gestures (or something like that). The costumes, make-up, and headgear is quite something, and I believe it takes anything from an hour upwards to complete dressing.

4th January
Kotchi - Alleppey

Once again, it was a ferry ride from Kotchi to Ernakulam, the twin city on the mainland. Fortunately it was Sunday and the traffic was not too serious - we got through the city without any problems. We cycled past palm trees, temples and shrines until we reached the town of Alleppey - known as the Venice of the East. The area is famous for backwater cruising and houseboats, so we decided to stay the night and find out what the cost will be to do a trip on the backwater. Our accommodation was cheap at R30 for a double room and R16.00 for a single room. One cannot expect much for this price but at least the room and bedding was clean.

5th January

Amanda and myself look the public ferry from Alleppey to Kottayam along the backwater - a taxi ferry stopping all along the way to pick up and drop off people. We cruised past numerous villages, rice fields and palm trees. We had about an hour and a half to walk around Kottayam and get back on the ferry for the return trip, a 3-hour ride.

6th January
Alleppey to Kollam
By ferry

Instead of doing a houseboat-cruise, Amanda and myself decided to take the State ferry South along the backwaters to Kollam (while Ernest cycled there). What a scenic and leisurely way to get to the next town!! We spent the entire day on the ferry, which stopped once for lunch and once for tea. Again, we saw many villages with villagers going about their business. These waters are used extensively by the locals, not simply for washing themselves, but for laundry, dishes, etc. Fishing seems to be the most common activity and the method varies form Chinese fishing nets to hand nets. We only arrived in Kollam at 6.30pm and it was already getting dark. Fortunately Ernest on the bike beat us there with hours to spare - he’d found a room and bought food, which he was preparing when we arrived.

7th January
Kollam - Varkala

We took a leisurely ride to Varkala, which which was only 36km away. We stopped along the way to do some shopping and pick up something to nibble on. Once there it was the normal search for a cheap room. We were lucky to find a room big enough for the 3 of us at Rp 300 (R60.00). Once again Ernest’s job was not done for the day and spent most of the afternoon working on Amanda’s bike.

8th January
We decided to take a rest day to do laundry, internet, and perhaps spend some time on the beach.

CYCLING INDIA - Mangalore to Calicut

23rd December
Mangalore - Kappil Beach

Amanda was strong as an ox and we did good time. The road was fairly flat and the weather good. Disaster, however, struck again, as Ernest’s front tyre was so smooth it wore right through, causing yet another puncture. So after a few trips on the tuck-tuck back and forth to the village he had a new Indian tyre, and the wheel was fixed. We found a secluded beach where we could camp under the palm trees, while Ernest cooked supper for us.

24th December
Kappil Beach - Bekal

First, we stopped to inspect the Bekal Fort and then found a most fantastic beach resort. Although we’d only cycled 6km it did not take a lot of convincing before we decided to stay put for the night. The price was extremely high but it included three meals. We stayed in luxury-tented accommodation with bathroom and all. We spent the entrire day swimming, lying in the hammocks and just sitting around doing nothing (except some laundry, of course).

25th December
Bekal - Payyanur

We were really lazy and after a good breakfast, we continued down the road, looking for the famous backwaters and houseboats. However, as usual, there were plenty of road signs, which then abruptly ended, and no word of it was mentioned again. So we missed the turn-off and decided to find a room in Payyanur town. Ernest had to work on his bike again in the room, changing all the incorrectly placed spokes on the front rim which kept on breaking (after changing the hub with the help of a local “shop“ earlier in his travels).

26th December
Payyanur - Kannur

We left rather late as Ernest still had one last visit to the local bike shop. After 20km, we had our brunch stop. Most of the day’s km’s were done that afternoon in Kannur town in order to find the beach (local directions!). At last, we found a beach but it was not a place we could camp, instead we found a room at the Savoy Hotel (not quite what it sounds, but comfortable enough with TV & all). That evening we ate at a local diner, and as usual in the smaller towns, there was a power failure during the meal (at least the food was good and cheap, as usual).

27 December
Kannur - Payyoli

After breakfast, we saddled up again and headed further South. The road was fairly flat and the weather good. Once again we found an idyllic beach where we camped. However, our camp was near a large village, and we had loads of spectators, watching keenly from the moment we arrived - and then the word spread. Once Ernest lit the stove to start cooking, the women watched in amazement, that a man is doing the cooking while the women are just sitting around (the MSR stove itself could have been Apollo 11 due to the attention it attracted).

28th December
Payyoli - Calicut

This was not Amanda’s day, she puked again shortly after breakfast and was nearly knocked down by a bus. Shortly after that, she lost her camera bag off the bike and it was nearly flattened - it was a miracle Ernest retrieved it from the traffic undamaged. There is however no rest for the wicked, and we peddled on. Once we reached Calicut, we looked for a room. It was easier said than done. All the hotels were full but in the end, we found a room at Sasathapuri Hotel. A large room with four beds and TV. This is such luxury we did laundry, showered and repacked our bags.

29th December

Every day brings another challenge. We left at 8h30 and already the traffic was heavy. Ernest stopped to do shopping in the town, and before he caught up to us again he was squashed by a truck against a stationary bus. He escaped with hardly any injuries, but the truck drove over his back wheel, destroying the rim (his 3rd since leaving Cape Town). He had to take a tuck-truck back to a bike shop in the town - luckily he was carrying a spare rim. We then took another room for a further night in Calicut.

30th December
Calicut - NC Gardens Beach Resort

That morning we left much earlier than usual, just to try and get out of town before the traffic started. After about 10km we turned off the main road onto a secondary road, running next to the coast. We’d hardly started cycling, but Amanda spotted a Resort. Who are we to argue? We pulled in but found the price rather touristy. They however made a plan and put us all 3 in a tiny room with mattresses on the floor for less than half the price. We decided to stay for 2 nights, as it was a most magnificent place right on the beach with loads of palm trees. Ernest cooked supper again, and the next day he spent most of the day cleaning and servicing the bikes.

CYCLING INDIA - Murudeshwar to Manglaore

17th December
Murudeshwar - Marawanthe

The road was flat and easy but Amanda was not as strong as the day before. Although there are plenty of beaches along the way there is no accommodation on these beaches. We, however, found a room just across the road from the beach. The electricity kept on cutting out so it appears to be a homemade electrical job they did. The owner was very friendly and offered to go to the local restaurant and get us some food. Lovely food (curry again).

18th December
Marawanthe - Udupi

As we were on the road early again, we stopped along the way for breakfast - a typical breakfast consisting of Puri (pastry puffs with curry)!! (Poor Amanda). Although the road was flat, the traffic was extremely heavy. With road works underway every now and again, going was a bit nerve racking.

We arrived in Udupi fairly early and after we found a room there was still plenty of time to wander around the temples. We were even lucky enough to see a drama/musical at one of the temples.

19th December
Udupi - Manglaore

We followed the highway to Mangalore (not the same connotation to “highway” as we are used to). The traffic was, as they say here “very congested and all”. All one can do is cycle along and hope for the best. A few times we had to dive off the road into the bushes to avoid oncoming traffic. In the end we arrived safe and sound in Mangalore, after Amanda, once again claimed that she was going no further and was going to take a bus. In the end, she gets back on the bike and cycles on. After taking a wrong turn at one of the intersections, we eventually found our hotel.

The next day we just rested and explored a bit of the city. We also had word from Ernest that he was not far away from Mangalore so we stayed another night to let him catch us up.

Ernest arrived on the 21st looking a bit worse for wear, dirty sweaty and very thin. At least we had a cold beer ready for him. The next day we did absolutely nothing but lie around the hotel room and enjoy the luxury of watching TV. (Mostly Hindi TV but at least two channels were dedicated to cricket). With England, touring India there was little chance for us to catch a bit of the South African win against Australia.

CYCLING INDIA - Agonda to Murudeshwar

11th December
Agonda - Karwar

At last, we dragged ourselves away from Agonda heading further south. We even had time for a lunch along the way at a 10th of the price of the tourist areas. We turned down to Devbagh beach only to find that there was no accommodation except for a very expensive resort. It is absolute heaven as the area is very remote with no roads leading to the resort. We cycled along the sand to find it, sadly, we had to leave again and found a room in the town of Karwar. Amanda was very tired again and just passed out on the bed after we settled in. Poor Amanda was taking strain as she was desperately looking for something to eat which does not contain curry, but to no avail!

12th December
Karwar - Gokarna

We left early and the weather was pleasant, not too hot, and the road not too hilly. Amanda felt nauseous again. We still had 10km to go before we reached Gokarna when she puked next to the road again. Nothing else to do but to battle on. Eventually we reached Gokarna and booked into the first Hotel we saw. I real nice hotel for 275rp (less than R60) for the room. The town was interesting with a good few temples and lots of pilgrims and rituals.

13th - 15th December
Gokarna - Om Beach

It was a short but very hilly 6km to Om Beach, which is a small beach tucked away behind the cliffs. The place was packed with tourists for obvious reasons - beautiful beaches and good food. We stayed at Namaste guesthouse but there are also other places to stay along the beach.

16th December
Om Beach - Murudeshwar

The previous night we organized a boat to take us across the estuary instead of cycling the 6km over the hill and then a further 10km to the main road. So, on the spot at 9h00 our boatmen were there. Amanda had a kind of panic attack on the boat but stopped short of jumping overboard. Arriving on the other side there was a small wave which lifted the rear end of the boat a bit, at which Amanda let out a yell and hit the deck, the boatmen stared in total amazement and wanted to know if she was OK? Finally, we were safely out of the boat and on the beach. We cycled on the Murudeshwar with its huge Shiva statue on top a little hill overlooking the beach. Here we were definitely out of the tourist area and we were back to swimming fully clothed again. We found a cheap room but proceeded to spent what we’d saved on the room rent - supper at a fancy resort (all so Amanda does not have to eat curry once again).

A Short visit to Hampi

5th December
Agonda - Hampi (by train)

We were up real early in order to take a taxi to the train station. From there it was a short ride to Margoa where we got a sleeper train to Hampi. The train took about 7 hours to Hampi, but it’s a comfortable ride and food is for sale on the train. The train only goes to Hospet and from there it is a short ride by taxi or bus to Hampi. We still had time to walk around Hampi village before it got dark.

6th December

We organized an auto-riksha (tuk-tuk) to drive us around the ruins for the day. I was impressed with the scale of the ruins, and everywhere you look there are old ruins, some cut into the huge boulders surrounding Hampi town.

7th December

No rickshaw today, instead we walked along the river to inspect some more ruins. A large part of Hampi is on the opposite side of the river to where we were. The only transport across is by boat, a type of woven basket boat. Here Amanda drew the line and plainly refused to board the thing.

8th December
Hampi - Agonda Beach (by train)

We took the early morning train from Hampi back to Margoa, again a 7-hour journey. This time we took a bus back to Agonda. We arrived back in the late afternoon and were lucky enough to find a beach shack still available. This is true paradise.

We spent the next day doing what one does in Goa, just chilling out!! This is so easy one can comfortably just stay right here and go nowhere else.

The following day I took the bus back to Panaji to go pick up my new ipod, which had arrived, and Amanda stayed on the beach. The sad part is that now I have a new ipod but no music on it.

CYCLING INDIA - Arambol to Agonda

25- 27th November

As our shack was made of woven palm leaves, we just hoped we would not get any rain. One could also easily see both in and out, so not a great deal of privacy. Arambol is so different from the rest of India that one can hardly believe you are in this country. Coming from the more conservative parts it was quite a shock to see ageing foreign men jogging on the beach with only a G-string!! What a sight - drooping backsides swinging from side to side!! Remind me never to run in a G-string!! The place was packed with Europeans, all on holiday thinking they are old time hippies. Therefore, you see the weirdest people in the weirdest outfits. Each one doing their own thing, from morning exercises to yoga. Even Amanda and I invested in bathing suites.

We stayed and stared, ate, drank and swam until it was time for us to move on.

28th and 29th November
Armbol - Anjuna

We cycled along to Anjuna, another touristy beach. This time we stayed in a real room at Mary’s. Not on the beach, but a short walk to the beach. We continued with our lazy existence, walking along the beach, swimming and eating. At night we went to one of the local restaurants where we could also watch movies, so it’s about the most popular place in the village.

30 November
Anjuna - Panaji

It was a shorter ride than expected into the Goa state capital, and what a surprise. This is where one can clearly see the Portuguese influence. We found a room in an old Portuguese house for 300 rp. Amanda was not at all impressed with it and was becoming fed up with rooms not smelling like roses.

As one wanders though the streets a person can easily think you are in Portugal instead of India. The narrow alleys are lined with colourful houses decorated with mosaic and shells. That night we even took a cruise on the river.

1st December

We spent the day, firstly trying to find a decent derailleur for Amanda’s bike, but although there is a Firefox bike shop branch in Panaji it would have taken 10 days to order the part, it so we gave it up. My brand new ipod, which I bought in Cape Town, packed up after just one day of music pleasure!! Fortunately there was an Apple store in Panaji and they kindly offered to order me a new one. As that would also take a few days I was not going to wait for it. So I decided to rather come back to pick it up at a later stage. My new little laptop was also virus infected and I tried to sort that out but not very successfully.

2nd December
Panaji - Colva.

We were in a habit of getting on the road early in order to escape most of the midday heat. By 8h00 we were on our bikes and followed the main road, but after a few km’s the traffic became too much for us. Amanda once again claimed that she was going to pack it in. Therefore, at the first opportunity we turned off the main road and followed the coastal road to Colva. What a beautiful ride it was as well. We arrived at around 12h00 and found a room outside the main tourist area but still on the beach.

The remainder of the day was spent on the beach (nothing like a swim after a sweaty ride) a quick shower and then back to the beach for supper. It started raining in the evening, cooling things to near perfection.

3rd December
Colva to Agonda

It was a “pushing up the hill” day again for Amanda. She also had her first flat tyre and shortly afterwards the derailleur gave problems again. Everyone coming past wanted to help, and after a while they organized a lift for us to Agonda. There we found a bike repair shop where they fixed the problem. We found a fantastic place to stay right on the beach, and we sat chatting to our neighbours for the rest of the evening. Agonda is one of the nicer beaches as there were very few tourists, most of them long-term travelers.

4th December

We changed our plans again and decided to book a train trip to Hampi, which is about 300km inland, to go and see the famous ruins.