Note for the geeks – I am using Microsoft LiveWriter to create this post – not because I am unhappy with Zoundry Raven – but it is good to experiment. So forgive me if there are problems – I have no idea how the pictures get transferred for instance. I know I should have tried it out before I left – but time ran out on me. I am writing this post sitting in the shade, the temperature is 30C, I am surrounded by coconut trees, the sea is crashing on the beach – life is tough, it is too early for a beer though ;-)
Finally the day when we set off for India has arrived. We first fly from London to Bangalore and then from Bangalore to Trivandrum on the South-West Coast of India in Kerala state. My target was to leave at 8.00am and drive to Heathrow – only about a 100 miles but the journey around the M25 could be quite unpredictable. Our flight was at 2pm so allowing for 2 hours to get to Heathrow that would give us 4 hours before the flight. The safety margin was to allow for problems with getting the bike box (and bike) safely checked in. I drive a Land Rover Discovery so the bike box and our two suitcases fitted easily into the car with one back seat folded down. One thing I did was to transfer some weight out of my suitcase into Bens – just to try to keep us in the limits. I was carrying tools and spares for my bike which weighed quite a lot. (So Ben ended up carrying my tools in the end.)
Apparently the Rohloff hub (that provides the gears on my bike) can leak a little oil if kept on its side for extended periods. The rear space of the Disco allowed the bike to be upright though.
As always happens no sooner had we set of than we had to return home, Ben had forgotten his sunglasses. In the end we left at around 8.20am but had quite a fast journey around the M25. We missed the worst of the rush hour and arrived at Heathrow around 10am as planned. We were flying with BA from Terminal 5 and as I am no longer a frequent flyer I was not sure where to find the Long-term car park. T5 turns out to have its own Long-Term car park, with confusing road markings, but we unloaded the car and headed for a bus stop. Ben took our two suitcases and I took the bike box. Although the box was big it has wheels and was light enough that I one person could manhandle it.
T5 is a large airy space and as I had checked in on-line that morning all we had to do was leave out bags at the bag drop. At the time I had booked the flights BA were doing great deals on flights to India so I had booked Business Class tickets. When we got to the bag drop it could not have been easier. As we rolled up the cheery lady at the baggage drop said I see you’ve brought your bike as well and after asking me how much it weighed labelled up the bags and bike box, went through the formalities and then wished us a pleasant journey and directed us to the nearby oversize baggage ramp. The box fitted – the conveyor had been designed with large baggage in mind and we set off to the Security Check. Business class has a higher luggage allowance and even with the bike in the bike box we were within the limits.
After weeks of research and then getting a box and then fitting the bike into the box and then worrying about hw the airline would take it BA at least had been great. Completely fuss-free, just the sort of approach you need when travelling to far off places. Ben had always been more relaxed about this than me as he turned up for a flight to Lanzarote with 19 other students and kayaks and surf boards, so late that despite their low-cost tickets they were too late to pay for the additional costs. (They did have to pay for them on the way back).
Once airside I got some US dollars – yes I know that the Indian currency is the Rupee – however it is a controlled currency and you can only buy it in India. Also Ben’s bike rental was being charged in US $ so it is always good to have a true international currency.
We then went to the Business Lounge and did a bit of grazing and waited for the flight. An Urquhart tradition is to drink spicy tomato juice before flying so we did. Here is a not very flattering picture of Ben waiting in the lounge.
Whilst waiting we also saw one of the new Airbus 380s lining up to take off. This one is operated by Singapore airlines – it has two rows of windows all the way down. It seems to dwarf the other BA planes around it.
In this picture you can see how much the wings overlap the taxi-way, in fact the taxi-way looks almost too small for the under-carriage.
Eventually we got on the plane (on-time) and settled in, as we were taxiing we saw another 380, this time operated by Emirates. We were sitting in a Jumbo – not a small plane, the 380 is bigger.
In this side-on picture you can see the two rows of windows quite clearly.
The flight was uneventful – the Entertainment system worked fine and I watched three films in the end, it was a 9 hour flight during the day so sleeping was quite difficult. We had a nice Indian Vegetarian Meal for lunch – Paneer (Cheese) and dhall (lentils) and Sag (spinach). Before we landed we had breakfast - a Full English (Breakfast) sounds good – but unless it has been freshly cooked is not quite as appetizing as it might be. When we landed our Stewardess wished us well – she had been asking Ben what we were going to India for. I think the idea of cycling around India probably seems a little nutty.
We landed in Bangalore at around 4.50am, it was still dark. The airport was a modern airport and as part of the immigration formalities we had to complete both an Immigration card and a health card, dealing with Swine Flu. As we passed into the airport they also had infra-red cameras checking for any super-heated passengers. We then went through Immigration very smoothly and arrived at the baggage hall. I arrived with bated breath – would the bike be there!
The luggage came off pretty quickly and I wandered over to the Oversize Luggage door – and knocked and peeped in, but was waved off by a guard. I did see my bike box though. :-) A couple of minutes later the same guard came out to tell me that my Bike Box would appear on regular luggage belt. So far so good. Before exiting customs I bought some Indian Currency – always good to be prepared and went through customs. The Customs guys were very friendly and joked that my box cost more than the bike. So far the whole experience of taking the bike had been positive, it made a good conversation piece.
Once through the International side we headed off to the domestic check-in. I made the mistake of heading off to the wrong airline. They directed us to the right one (Air India) and when we tried to check in we were asked to come back an hour later. They were busy checking in people for an earlier flight. When we did check in, they weighed our luggage including the bike box and as we completed the formalities several porters gathered round admiring and even stroking my bike box vying to be the one who took it off to be loaded onto the plane. We where then escorted by another porter through Security through to the Business Lounge – I have never had that happen before.
A lot of English words seem to crop up when Indian people are speaking in their own language. You have to listen hard to announcements to see whether they are in English or one of the local languages with English interspersed. Whilst waiting to check in Ben had gotten to the point where he was so tired as he drifted in and out of sleep he thought he could understand a nearby Indian couple chatting. The same has happened to me on a Japanese flight when I thought I could understand Japanese listening to a couple chat in the seats behind me.
The flight down to Trivandrum was smooth and although we turned down the meal on the plane they brought us tea, coffee and biscuits. One of the problems of flying multiple segments is they feed you on each plane and when you have not done much exercise you aren’t hungry anymore.
The town has a much longer official name, but most people we talked used the old, shorter name Trivandrum. Once again the luggage appeared pretty quickly and we headed to the pre-pay taxi booth. You don’t actually pre-pay, but you do get a fixed price. There were three choices of taxi, small, medium or large. We went for large which was a 4x4 since it seemed most likely to be able to fit the bike box in and it had air conditioning. Our driver gave us a commentary as we passed through, it turns out that the Head Office for the Indian Rocket Activity is based here. He was not quite sure where the hotel was but on asking at the roadside it turned out only to be around 250m further down the road. We had finally arrived after 22 hours of door to door travel – Wild Palms at Sea – here is a view through the back of the property with the Wild Palms and the Sea.
It was still early morning and on arrival it seemed that most people had already arrived and were either selecting a rental bike or re-building their own bikes. As it happened Jim and Mary (who I met on the Cambodian trip) and Jim’s wife and daughter had been delayed so we weren’t the last.
The first thing to do was re-build my bike. So with Ben’s help I unpacked and set up my bike. It was fairly straight forward, although I had forgotten how hot it is and very soon was sweating profusely, but trying not to drip on my bike.
We were in the shade but it was still hot. The guy on the left is Bob- who runs Far and Away Cycles.
My first impressions were that everyone else seemed to be quite a committed bunch of cyclists, but my choice of bicycle for the trip (MTB) had been a good one. The Indian roads so far were all tarmac, but there were frequent speed bumps and as cyclists are at the bottom of the pecking order you sometimes have to leave the road and cycle on the verge. In all there will be 12 cyclists, so it will be a struggle to remember names, but those will fall into place once we are not so jet—lagged. We do have three continents represented- with an Australian, Americans and Canadians and two (us) Europeans.
After a quick test ride everything looked good – the hub gears attracted attention – but Ben was having problems. Ben is 6ft 2inches with a 36inch inside leg which means he needs quite a big bike, Indian people are not so big so there is not much call for big bikes. There were two possible bikes, one too small and the other with a saddle that was jammed – the hope was to get it fixed overnight – however it looked as if the wrong seat post had been used.
I then took a few photographs before having a short nap – which turned into a three hour sleep. The jet-lag had caught up. Ben also suffered the same problem. The palms near the beach all lean towards the beach – they are attracted to the sunlight. It looks as if there has been a tornado, but further in the palms are all upright.
The beach is a working beach, used by the fishermen. Similar to UK where the Queen owns all the beaches in India the Government own them. Here they fish from them although it is frowned upon for the Christians to do so. There are several religions around here with what look like open air churches/temples and the Communist hammer and sickle can also be seen on walls.
Here are some more upright palms.
Here is the palm equivalent of topiary!
There are loads of coconuts in the palms all round the Hotel – it might be worth wearing my cycle helmet. There are also crows and the staff sometimes wander around with catapults to scare them off.
Sunset was quite early and so I wandered out to take some evening pictures.
Here some fishermen return at the end of the day.
The sky was a little overcast and we did have one or two showers during the day. The sun did peep through the clouds from time to time as it set. The waves only seem to appear close to the beach.
The Hotel has a picket fence which provided a nice silhouette in front of the setting sun.
Here it is again without the fence!
By dinner time I was feeling quite hungry – and looking forward to my first Indian meal – in India. It was a buffet meal and many of the choices would have been very familiar to British people (since curry is almost our national dish :-) ). There were things like;paratha. chicken tikka masala and paneer. This breaks a tradition I have of trying to eat a curry in all places I visit – but never in India. I have eaten curry in the UK, Japan, US, Vietnam, Mauritius and Madeira to name a few.
It was delicious and to aid my digestion I tended to eat the vegetarian options. The one surprise is that the food although flavoursome was not chilli hot. Perhaps it is hotter in other regions. Another familiar addition to the dinner was Kingfisher beer.
Once we start cycling these posts will get shorter – so forgive the longer one this time. Also the observant will have noticed that actually this Day zero was two days. India is 5.5 hours ahead and so we started out on Friday and landed on Saturday. Tomorrow is Sunday when we have a shakedown ride to a local beach.