Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cycling in India final stage to Kanyakumari

The first half of the 80 km ride followed busy secondary roads over hills and through villages. On that part of the ride, I realized I have had enough of the Indian driving with the honking, corner-cutting, and disregard for traffic coming from behind. We had to put up with it to enjoy the trip, and I am glad to have made the trip without having a collision with a vehicle or a pedestrian. 
As usual, there were some nice surprises along the way.  I was delighted to come upon a colourful set of papier mache statues from a religious procession that had been left along the roadside with their heads covered. 
As we approached Kanyakumari, we were on flat land close to the coast, and there was little traffic. We all gathered for a picnic lunch, and rode the last few kilometers in a convoy to the jetty where we could shoot the group picture with the statue in the background.  With our new "Indian Adventure " jerseys on, we  looked like a co-ordinated group!
At dinner, we enjoyed looking at pictures taken throughout the ride. We have seen so much in the past weeks, going from one experience to the next,  that the pictures will be very helpful aide memoirs.
We packed the bikes into boxes, and we have spare time to explore this little town which seems to thrive on a combination of inshore fishing and pilgrimages.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cycling in India stage 41 to Kovalem beach

This was not the prettiest ride of the trip. We rode on state highway 1 through a lot of commercial strips. The road surface was smooth and gently hilly, so we rode fast, and it was Sunday, so we probably had less traffic than normal, but it was nice to arrive at the hotel by the beach.
The beach scene is fun, with local and foreign tourists enjoying the surf and the restaurants. Very resort like.
Throughout Kerala, we saw a lot of Communist party advertising, much of it very old fashioned. Red background, hammer and sickle, pictures of Marx, Lenin and even Stalin.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cycling in India stage 39 to Allepy

Relaxed ride down a small coastal road for 58 km straight South from Conchin. We had breakfast at 8, considerably later than usual, so that we wouldn't arrive at our destination hotel too early.  There was relatively light traffic on the road and many trees shading us, so it was a pleasant ride through a mix of humble homes and villas on a sand ridge between the sea and lagoons. There were a few public access roads into the beach, some were used for recreation,  and some for fishing.  Elsewhere, there was often a substantial dike between the houses and the beach.  This is such flat, densely populated country that it is hard to imagine what they could do in the event of a tsunami warning, other than head out to sea.
On the inland side of the road we saw canals and lagoons.
Allepy, aka Alapuzza, looks like a busy regional centre. Some tourists come here to go houseboating in in the canals.

Cycling in India stage 38 into Fort Cochin

It was a short ride of some 40 km from the suburbs to the Fort area. We rode down busy secondary roads to a ferry terminal, and immediately felt a difference when we landed on the fort side. This is an old neighborhood that has an island feel; less busy, more vacation and tourism activity.
The afternoon we arrived, we explored the area on foot. The local palace is not very elaborate, although it does have intricate murals portraying Hindu stories.
The following day was a rest day. A number of us signed up for a tour which offered a combination of visiting an elephant training camp and going for a ride in the back waters by boat, which turned out to be relaxing and interesting.
We drove out to a place where we watched a number of elephant handlers bathing four elephants; one mature male and three small ones. We even had a chance to pat a younger elephant. Then we drove out to a lagoon, where we boarded a large pirogue with a lovely hand-woven canopy, and were quietly poled around. Very peaceful, and fun to observe lake  life from the boat. We had lunch in a funny old cabin on an island, catered by local women,  and served on a banana leaf. In the hottest part off the day, it was lovely floating about,  enjoying the breeze on the lake, although the poling crew had to work hard to keep  the heavy boat on course.

Cycling in India stage 40 to Kollam area

We rode East, through canal country, with a mix of tourism and agriculture, and then traveled through little hills to a resort on the Eastern edge of the lagoon (aka backwater) near Kollam.
Lovely ride on small, relatively smooth roads with lots of people all along.
No more bullock carts, but I saw three working elephants traveling on the road. Each elephant had two keepers; one riding and one leading.
We all rode quite fast. I averaged over 25k, despite stopping to shoot pictures. The resort is a pleasant place to relax, and enjoy the windy warmth like a hot summer day at home.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cycling in India stage 37 to Cochin suburbs

We started a 7am at 1600 metres, where the temperature was 8 degrees, so I dug in the bottom of my bag to find my jacket and some gloves!
We set off on a small, bumpy road down the hill, which I named  the "Western Ghats White Knuckle Roller Coaster"! We dropped 1,000 metres in 35 km, which is a gentle incline,  when compared with Mont Ventoux, but gravity was pushing plenty fast.  The road surface was rough and unpredictable, and there was typical Indian traffic on the road, including big buses, tuktuks, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians operating in their idiosyncratic ways, so I rode the brakes pretty hard, and lifted off the saddle most of the time. Average speed for that stretch was under 30 kph. Good fun steering down the hill, stopping occasionally to admire the mountain scenery. By 8am, the temperature was in the low 30s.

The second half of the ride was on a fast, smooth highway with a slight downward incline through lots of busy villages. Traffic was not too busy, so it was fun riding through all the activity. I watched a rather sad looking elephant and his handlers cross the road near me.
The heat was manageable on the bike, with the air flow, but when we reached the hotel in the suburbs of Cochin, we locked up our bikes, and were sweating profusely as we walked into the lobby. Fortunately, nice waiter handed me a couple of paper napkins to clean up with!
Off to try out the pool...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cycling in India stage 36 to Munnar

We were all glad to leave the MP hotel after a noisy and hot night, although the restaurant made a good effort of serving dinner and breakfast.
We had to ride in the vans for the first part, because the road went through a wildlife sanctuary. We drove through hilly forests, saw one herd of deer-like animals, but no other wildlife.
We were dropped off at the end of the park, after a climb of 600 meters. We rode into beautiful country; first coffee plantations where the bushes were flowering, then tea plantations, where women were trimming the bushes and collecting the leaves. We also rolled by "factories" that  were processing the tea, which smelled like freshly brewed tea.
The tea bushes look like they grow for many years, and the women use shears to collect the tea by trimming the top leaves, so the plantations look beautifully trimmed and laced  with irregular  narrow paths that the pickers walk on.  They can be planted on very steep slopes, and very high up the hills.  There are some trees within the plantings, but not the full cover of trees like coffee plantations.
There were various trees and bushes in bloom along the road, including poinsettias.
We climbed for some 30k from where we were dropped off, and finally reached a pass where there was a nice breeze blowing and it felt cool. Then we dropped down part of that altitude to the busy little town of Munnar, where it is still quite cool.  Although we only rode 45km, I feel quite tired from the climbing, but it was one of the most beautiful rides on this trip.