Tuesday, November 10, 2009

India Day 7 Cycling from Palani to Munni

One of the things we have been doing on the trip is checking with Jim on Abby's progress – she has made it back to the US – it is a long way - and is due to see some specialists on later that day (The US is around 11.5 hours behind)

Today was billed as a ride in three parts. The first a flattish 40Km (30miles) then 50Km of rolling hills, followed by a rather brutal climb and then with a 10Km downhill run into Munna. The climb was shorter than the ride up to Kodaikanal but Bob felt it was more brutal.

So the day was to start at 6am with breakfast on the road, to make sure we got in before dark. I think everyone was a little concerned. That sort of distance is not too bad but throw in a steep and long climb at the end and it gets pretty tough. This was going to have to be a two bags of Jelly Babies day for energy supplies.

We were also hoping that the weather would be ok – we have had enough rain.

Ben’s bike had a replacement chain overnight so hopefully it was going to be a bit better. That hope was unfounded although it would change gears it make a loud creaking noise. The local support team did not really seem to be any help. They wanted to do something with the chain. There were three problems: because of Ben’s age they don’t take him seriously, the bike is rubbish and they do not really want to waste money fixing it, they do not really appear to have the skills to perform bicycle mechanics.

So despite the fact we were riding along quieter roads through a rural and agricultural part of India – it was marred for Ben by the weird noises his bike was making. It also state raining again. You can tell that because this chap is having to wander through the rice fields with his umbrella up.


The growing rice makes an interesting pattern.


I had stopped to take a picture. Ben is following Jim up a slight rise and is pointing out a dead lizard on the road.When cyclists cycle as groups they use hand signals to point out things like potholes or whether they are slowing. We also shout out car up, or lorry back if a car is coming down or a lorry is trying to overtake. This co-operation helps to ensure we do not hinder traffic and makes it a little bit safer for us.


We stopped alongside a Crocodile Zoo for breakfast. I did not bother going in though. When we stopped Bob, Jim and I had a go on Ben’s rental bike. In the end I thought the noise was coming from the bottom bracket – the axle the pedals rotate around at the bottom of the frame triangle. I did not think we could pull it apart – but given the rain we had cycled in the previous day it seemed likely that there was rust or dirt in there. As a make-shift solution we put a bit of oil in – normally you would pack the bearings with grease. Fortunately for Ben’s peace of mind it worked.

Breakfast was a sort of chappati pancake plus three different sauces, small bananas and tea/coffee of pepsi. If it had not started raining it would have been idyllic as the road was not at all busy. Here is the Croc Zoo.


After around 40Km /30miles we turned off the road onto a Tiger Wildlife Park. There were signs warning people not to get out of their cars SO it felt a bit strange to be on a bicycle going through a tiger park. I was hoping it was a bit bigger than WIldlife reserves in England – otherwise we were going to be meals on wheels for tigers. It also occurred to me that a tiger did approach I couldn’t just cycle off without making sure Ben was OK, my wife would not be happy if I returned with the news that Ben had been a Tiger Snack. THre were also signs warning about elephants.

The road that went through the park was very good and as Bob had promised the hills were rolling. It had also stopped raining and although it was a bit overcast it was a good temperature for cycling.


The tree up ahead looks like it could have been on the African Savannah – it was quite a change of scenery. As for my concern abut how big the park was – well this road was 50KM/30 miles long


A view across the planes – no tigers there! (or elephants.


After a while the road started climbing a bit – oh dear is this is Bob’s idea of gently rolling then the brutal hil is going to be terrifying.


Ben waiting patiently while I take yet another picture.


Phew the rolling up has turned into rolling down again – the sky ahead does not look to promising though.


As we were cycling along Graham mentioned that the distance was not 140Km but closer to 110Km. How did he know – well we were heading to Munna and the signs showed it was closer than expected if we were cycling 140Km. At first I did not want to get my hopes up, wondering if the route would detour and so add extra distance – in the end though believed him - it was quite a morale booster.

One of the mileposts (in kilometres) that gave us hope.


There were quite a few tourist buses also going through the park. We often stopped at the same spots to take pictures. We became as much of an attraction as the scenery in the park. Here is Bob posing with one of his new friends.

Later at another stop Ben also had his picture taken with a couple of Indian guys – they felt he was a handsome chap.


This is what we really stopped to photograph.


The trees were an interesting mix.


After a while we started to climb more seriously and at about 1000m we started to see tea plantations. We stopped for lunch at this spot. The tea trees make a green mosaic across the hills.


In fact the landscape is a green blanket with spindly trees and boulders.


There was a lot of water around as well. All the right conditions for growing tea presumably.


Lunch turned up around 10 minutes after we stopped – here is Ben contemplating the tea trees whilst waiting. When you aren’t cycling you do spend quite a lot of time waiting for things to happen.


Custard seems happy enough hanging around though.


A low level look at the tea trees. I take pictures when waiting.


The tee grows in steep slopes – it must be hard to pick.


It stated to rain so some of us got in the van to wait and after lunch turned up ate in the van as well. Lunch was chappati, chicken, sauce for the chicken and chick peas – Ben and I left out the chicken. I think that it makes for easier digestion and less risk of food-poisoning to avoid meat when travelling in countries like India where many people are vegetarian. I also had Mirinda to drink – it almost proudly proclaims that it does not contain any fruit! It had sugar though – stocking up for the “brutal” climb ahead.

After lunch we pressed on on the rain – up through the valley past loads of tea plantations. The rain also got worse and worse until there were torrential rainstorms. It was not pleasant – but it was not too bad I left my fluorescent yellow rain jacket on to make me more visible in the rain and gloom.

We plugged on and on – Ben took the lead – he seems to be getting (too) good at climbing hills – every now and then we would stop to drink water and eat Jelly Babies. I had as much water in my jacket as outside – as it had elastic sleeves, when I raised my arm to drink from my water bottle I got a cold shower down my spine.

Towards the top of the climb one of the support vans seemed to be shadowing us – I mentioned to Ben that we might be the last of the riders on the road – but we could not believe that Barry and Mary would give up – they seem to be real hard-core self-sufficient touring cyclists.

We reached the top at exactly 100Km distance (62.5 miles) and then the descent into town started. The wet, sandy, gritty roads acted like grinding paste on the brakes. I went ahead of Ben spotting problems so he could start slowing down sooner – his brakes were rubbish compared with mine.

We caught up with Bob on the way and the three of us turned up the track to the hotel – C7 – it looked very welcoming as by this point we were absolutely soaked.

When I got to my room, after showering I found that my rack pack and cycle wallet had leaked. So I had to lay out all the paper (UK and Indian money, list of hotel addresses for our stay in India et) and wallets on the bed under the fan to dry the out.

Meeting Jim in the lobby it turned out he had also been “attacked” by a leech – in his case his leech had wandered around his ankle looking for a choice spot to feed – so he had a few areas leaking blood – I think it must be because we stop so often to take pictures and step onto the grass at the side of the road.

The hotel did have a WiFi internet connection in the lobby – it was 100 rupees for 1 hour – around £1.50 – not bad and it worked as long as I sat in a certain place..

This hotel was also a dry hotel – so our support team brought some beer and after a buffet meal (very nice) we went to Mary’s suite and had a chat and a glass of beer. I guess that with block bookings it is the luck of the draw as to who gets what room – these hotels do not have enough of the same sort of room.

We also discovered that the Barry, Mary, Christine, Denise and Jay had taken the decision to go in the van at the lunch stop. They arrived there a little later than we did and so were just about to start when the torrential rain started. It is much harder to start out in torrential rain than to just carry on when you are already cycling.

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