Some first picture of our trip through India:
The last few days we took it slowly. We had just a few kilometers to ride, we’re in a beautiful (and touristic) area and Koen got some stomach problems…
This morning we drove the last 5km, like real Indians with 2 boxes on Koen’s bike, to the airport where we packed our bikes under judgement and with help of ‘a few’ Indians. The boxes we’ve bought weren’t big enough for our full bike and they weren’t strong enough either so we wanted to get them sealed in plastic as well. After some negotiation the guys at the sealing desk agreed and had big fun with packing our bikes. Maybe it was because of the price we’ve paid. At the check-in-desk we seemed not the only ones carrying bikes on this flight, the big difference: this bike isn’t packed at all!
Now we’re back at Koen’s parents house enjoying water from the tap, a nice bed… and the cold outside!
The great thing about cycling here is that almost every day brings a new environment and atmosphere.
Last saturday and sunday we drove from Kottayam to Kochi (72km) and further to Allappuzha (60km) through the backwaters (for the dutch: a sort of Giethoorn).
Our route to Allappuzha went again over some minor roads. When Han and Hennie drove this route last year (summer 2011) some parts were muddy and hard to cycle on, they wrote on their website. We found out what they must have experienced when we reached a dirt road with loose stones and many (big) holes. Our speed dropped to 14km/h instead of 22km/h what our normal speed is. We had to laugh when we past a sign ‘road works, road closed’, what should they be doing? Fill up these holes, removing all stones? No, some meters further there was new fresh smooth asphalt!!! 😃
In a small village we stopped to buy some water. Sabine went in a shop and Koen watched over the bikes. After 10 minutes Sabine asks Koen to come in as well. The owner of the shop (also a lawyer) collects coins and banknotes. He showed us his collection which was very impressive. His oldest coin was a Russian from 1371! Two euro-coins (from spain and greece) which we had with us weren’t in his collection yet, so we gave him those. He was really pleased and proud of that! To pay us back he proudly showed us his ‘typical’ house from Kerala, with a painting of jezus in a LED-shrine…
Around noon we reached Alleppuzha. So we could enjoy a nice shower, lunch and the great weather (30+ and very sunny). Tomorrow we’ll take a ferry over the Backwaters to Kollam and there we’ll have another day of rest!
The day after our nice day in the Periyar parc we had the longest and most challenging trip of this holiday.
After breakfast we left Kumily for a trip of 110km with a total ascent of more then 1.000m, towards the west coast of India. While cycling over some mountains (max 1113m) we past beautiful tea plantages, luxury houses and a lot of churches, we definitely reached a different part of the country. It was really funny to see Michael, who we met yesterday, halfway our trip hanging and waving out of the bus! Thanks for the warm greetings!!!
The differences between Kerala and Tamil Nadu became very clear today. The Hindu religion in Tamil Nadu looks maybe a little weird and hard to understand for us, but the christians in Kerela are a little over exaggerating calling Kerala everywhere ‘God’s country’. Also the Hindu temples often look old and can use a little paintwork, the churches and mosques in Kerala all look very new and perfectly captured.
The number of cars outside of the cities is in Kerala much higher then in Tamil Nadu. As we are looking for a hotel and we take the shortest route in the opposite direction of the other traffic (as we’re used to in Tamil Nadu) we find out that there are traffic rules here which they even obey! A man makes clear to us that we’re driving in the wrong direction on a one way street (as we didn’t notice that ourselves) and that we have to turn around, he kept waiting till we did… Probably he was a retired policeman, he looked like it for sure!
Kerala looks like a total different world but the people are as friendly and welcoming to us as they were in Tamil Nadu.
After two days of cycling it should be a resting day. Instead of having a rest we booked a safari tour which means we had to get up at 4.30 to be at 6 o’clock at the gate of the Periyar tiger reserve. The name is a little strange as there are just 44 tigers and 1.300 elephants in a area of 777 square kilometers…
At 5.15 a noisy Mahindra jeep turned up and took us to a tea house first, then we joined the queue in front of the entrance of the parc.
When we were aloud to go in the parc the drivers did their best to be real guides to show us an elephant. When we stopped, all tourists were still waking up and having fun because of the drivers who run around full of energy. They saw some fresh elephant shit on the road and heard an elephant walking through the forest. They were trying so hard to see him. Sadly they didn’t succeed.
We drove further into the jungle to a sort of restaurant, had breakfast and got a real guide for a walking tour to see some more elephants… During this nice hike with Mohini, Andreas, Michael and our guide we saw a squirrel, a snake (very poisoned), an eagle and a wild chicken but no elephant. After a good lunch we had a relaxing boat trip to a probably fantastic waterfall during rain season, which is in october!
On our way back the drivers again turned into ‘guides’. This time they succeeded and so we went hunting for the elephant…
When we came back we had a nice Indian diner with our new friends and bought some home made chocolate and fresh cardemon and clove out of this region, so we can make our own massala tea at home!
We’re halfway and left Tamil Nadu today and are now in the province Kerala. After 55km of slow climbing the last 10km went up steeply. After the hard work we reached Kumily, the touristic spot for visiting the jungle and see some elephants, wild boar and tigers.
Today we first took a minor road which wasn’t on our map or GPS. With some screenshots of google-maps and the help of some locals we found the exact route. The route went through a beautiful area with banana trees, rice fields, grape orchard and palm trees, it looks like paradise.
When we stopped to watch some men climbing in a palm tree to cut some coconuts, they prepared two coconuts for us. Besides the nature also the bus drivers seem to be nicer then on earlier days. As we told earlier the traffic is mad but when cycling it’s ok. Only bus drivers are a nightmare! They seem to be the only ones in this country to be on a tight schedule. They don’t care about traffic rules (if they got them here), other road users or nice tranquil villages. They seem not to have or don’t know how to use their brakes, they just horn as hard and long as they can and blink with their lights if someone is driving in their way. We’ve been pushed of the road by a bus several times!
Our plan for saturday was to cycle to Dindigul, but we weren’t looking forward to drive for 100km over a 4 lane highway and stay in big city with 4 milion inhabitants which isn’t in lonely planet so we decided to change our route. Instead of cycling to Dindigul we drove to Karaikkudi. Neither in Lonely Planet, but a smaller city and on the route there should be villages with nice old houses. Because Tiruchirapalli is the crossroad of southern India, all roads from/to it are big and busy. Our new route turned out not to be different. The first 40km were on a wide road with no lanes but you could make 4 of them, and the Indians did of course. Several times we had to drive over gravel/dirt roads because of roadworks or something what should look like that.
After 40km we left the highway and took a very small road to a real empty, peaceful, beautiful and quiet part of India, with indeed beautiful houses in the villages as we were told.
In the villages are a lot of speed bumps (speed brakers they call them here). Some are visible and on a logical location, some are announced but a lot come as a complete surprise and they really are good speed brakers, even for us on our bikes! A collapse at 25km/h of Koens bike with one, changed Koens front wheel carrier into a piece of wrecked steel and had to be removed.
Now Koen has to travel further with 2 instead of 4 bags, this isn’t a problem but the balance on the bike just isn’t as perfect as it could be. Happily he didn’t crash (again) and the bike itself didn’t get damaged.
One of the locals who was on the spot where the ‘accident’ happened turned out to be our local gardian angel for the rest of the day and guided us the last 30km on his motorcycle, warning us for every speed bump. So finally we arrived safely at our hotel in Karaikkudi. After a necessary shower we treated ourselves on a nice beer (650ml which is standard here) with some spicey snacks. The bars in the hotels seem always to be in a dark cellar, with a mysterious atmosphere.
Today we drove 60km from Thanjavur to Tiruchirappalli. The weather this morning was rainy and it kept rainy for half of our trip. Happily the temperature is good, so it was still pleasant to cycle. The route today went over very small roads through rice fields, banana- and palm-trees.
Because of the rain the roads were more calm then we were used to, the villages were busy as usual. Sabine went to buy some water, when she came back, Koen was surrounded by the boys of the village.
After our last post we left the main roads and cycled mainly over smaller roads and through smaller villages. Cycling goes easy as the roads are still pretty good, the tarmac though has ‘some’ holes but traffic is very low on these roads. Funny aspect is that our average speed drops every day (we’ve started at 21,5 and are now on 18,5 km/h average cycling speed).
As we told before people were greeting us warmly when cycling over the main roads, on these smaller roads they even seem to cheers harder and more enthousiastic. Kids spotted us from a big distance and organized a big welcome.
They want to be, for any reason which we don’t know, on our pictures. We think some cyclists/tourists before us brought loads of pens and pencils to India, all the kids ask us for those. We’ve just got one pen with us, so bad luck this time for these kids.
We first thought we get all this attention because of our ‘gear-/super’ cycles as the Indians call them. Today we found out it’s just because we’re foreign and our white skin. We’ve visited the ‘big temple’ in Thanjavur which was really beautiful, busy and big. The temple didn’t seem to be the main attraction, it was us and our fellow white skinned tourists who got the most attention.
Indian families want us in their family photoalbum or they want their kid of around 6 months to get used to us, white creatures, so we had to hold the crying kid and the parents took pictures of us…