Saturday, November 7, 2009

India Day 3 Cycling from near Madurai to Theni – 40Km/ 30 miles

After lunch we were driven in our mini-bus to a spot around 30Km/20 miles outside of Madurai – it would have been quite a challenge navigating a bunch of cyclists through an Indian city as busy as Madurai.

After a while we stopped alongside some huts to find our bicycles almost ready to cycle away on. They had come by van from Trivandrum and to get all the bikes in the pedals had been removed and the handlebars turned around.

The bike originally allocated to Ben had been “fixed”. The size of the bike was ok, but the seatpost was jammed and the seat could not be raised to a comfortable height for Ben. To free the post they appear to have used an oxy-acetylene torch and there were burn marks all around the frame where the post goes in. At least Ben could get it to the right height. We fixed our pedals pack on, Ben sorted out the height and we were ready. Oh yes – we filled out water bottles as well.


Cyclists preparing to leave is a spectator sport – it seems as if the whole village turned out to see us get ready. An interesting set of “straw huts”


After the load of pictures I took in the morning I did not actually take money on this cycle journey (for many read any). It was so nice to be out of town and the sun was shining it was warm and the countryside was beautiful.

The one headache is the way motorists use their horns non-stop. It is the social norm around here and is almost a friendly “here I am greeting”. From motorbikes to trucks they all use their horns incessantly. Sometimes the loudness of the horn is a guide to the size of vehicle and sometimes it isn’t. Vehicles will beep their horn at you when it is obvious that you have seen them – it is part of driving in India it seems.

After 15Km/10miles or 25Km/15 miles, I am not sure, we had a snack stop. Our support team had set up by the roadside and had plastic stools, a table and a hot water urn along with snacks of biscuits and bananas. So after a pleasant break we set off again. Mary led with Jim, Ben, Abby and myself following along at the same pace. People by the roadside would often say hello or wave it was so good to be cycling along. There was a slight gain in height – but nothing too serious.

The first gremlin then struck. Ben’s chain broke on his rental bike. This was something that happened to me when cycling in Bangkok on a rental bike last year. Fortunately I have a multi-tool that has a set of various cycle tools in a small package. Amongst other things it has a chain splitter – so we removed the damaged link and re-joined the slightly smaller chain and got Ben going again.

The traffic was not too bad – however going through the towns required more care – there were people and vehicles everywhere and so we started using our bells in the same way that other road users were – constantly, when coming up on other pedestrians or cyclists.

After a while Jim took over the pace-making duties and it was like old times on the Bangkok to Saigon cycle ride – although with other family members along as well. Jim is very good at maintaining a constant pace but we slowed to ensure that we did not lose anybody. Cycling requires quite a lot less effort following than leading, so it is energy efficient for a group of cyclists to work together.

In general we have not been bothered by dogs, although they do wander loose in the streets. One did start coming towards me and then Ben who was behind me. He did wonder whether he was going to have to follow the advice of a classic cycling book – Richard’s Book of Cycling – which suggests that if all else fails then stuff your pump down the dogs throat. Unfortunately (although not for the dogs) my pump is a bit too small for anti-dog tactics – your hand would soon follow.

We arrived at Theni after 43Km in around 1 hour 40 minutes of cycling. It was quite a busy town and finding the hotel was going to be tricky. It was a good job that the support team had positioned themselves and waved to us at the right turn.

The hotel had an underground car park but in the end we locked our bikes (well Jim, Alan and me) in one of the vans. They gave us a glass of lemon juice to welcome us. Jean afterwards told us that her guidebook said to not use straws unless they were wrapped because they are sometime re-used in India.

Here is Ben looking cheerful after a good ride through some beautiful Indian countryside in the lovely winter sun – which was of course hotter than a UK summer.


I had to let him take my picture in return – here am I sipping my lemon juice with straw, in front of my bike. Custard is on the other side of the rackpack for those who followed by Bangkok to Saigon travels.


The hotel was a little strange – the entrance was great – but other things were less good. My bathroom had a window that would not shut – so I made sure the door to the bathroom was closed – I did not want a load of mossies coming and chomping on me in the night. I also did some washing as I needed to keep on top of my clothes supply for the trip. Although it was highly unlikely to dry and would need to be packed wet and then taken out to dry at the next place.

Ben and I then went to the bar – which turned out to be a temporary bar. We entered a very dark room and were shown into an even darker cubicle. We asked for the lights to be turned on and our waiter stood on the table fiddled with the light which stayed off and then walked out. A little while later he brought two menus. I had brought my laptop down in order to download the photographs from my camera. In the end I had to read the menu using the laptop screen.

Two cold beers turned up which was good and I started copying the photographs from the camera’s memory card. At first I used my multi-card reader – but realised that they it would plug straight into the Laptop.

A little while later some snacks arrived – completely unasked for – it was all getting a little strange in the dark, so after we finished our beers we settled up and left. We wandered back into the foyer and sat down. I then realised that the pictures were transferring very slowly – I checked the card reader which had become unplugged and thought nothing off it and plugged it back in again. The transfer then failed so and I then noticed that the memory card had dropped out of the reader – just what I wanted, to lose the all the pictures I had taken so far, we hunted high and low.

We went back into the gloomy bar – Ben took my phone to use as a light source – they had a torch but the light was hardly working. In the end Ben got them to move all the chairs and table where we had sat – no luck. The I realised it was plugged straight into the laptop all the time. Oops!

We later met for dinner and re-arranged their table layout so we could sit together as a group. This was the first time the Ganz family had been around for dinner as they were delayed by 48 hours and then we only had a packed meal on the previous day’s train journey.

We had an early start the next day – 84Km/ 50miles distance with 1,700m of height to climb- so an early night. The afternoon’s cycling had been great though.

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