30 October 2008

CYCLING INDIA - Rishikesh to Delhi






1 October - Rishikesh – Muzzafarnagar - 113 km

It took a full 10 days for me to recover enough to be able to carry on cycling. By that time I also couldn’t handle the room anymore, so we packed up and left Rishikesh. It was good to be out on the road again, cycling along the Ganges. We passed Haridwar, another famous holy city for Hindu pilgrims located on the banks of the Ganges. I was definitely not feeling 100% yet, but it was better on the bike than in the room.

2 October - Muzzafarnagar – Ghaziabad- 85 km (& 20km by truck)

The surprises are never-ending. The roads are extremely congested with trucks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, buffalo carts and people. So I guess it was just a matter of time before I got knocked off the bike. What exactly happened I’m not quite sure, as the next thing I remember is half of India and Ernest trying to drag me out of the road. I must have been concussed for a while and felt totally disorientated. What a sight I must have looked with dirt all over my face and eyes looking squint!! Immediately I knew that I would not be able to cycle as I could not use my left arm.

While we were being stared at by crowds of locals, a passing motorist (who spoke English) stopped to help and phoned to police. The police then hailed an empty truck to take us to the next town (Ghaziabad) where we could find a room for the night. I slowly regained focus but the arm still remained useless. So now I’m not only feeling a bit unwell, but am stuck with a perfect black eye, a bruised leg, and a useless left arm!!

3 October - Ghaziabad – Delhi

As Ghaziabad is only about 20km from Delhi, I decided to take a taxi there (Ernest then cycle into Delhi, which sounds a lot easier than what it is). We’d agreed to meet at one of the budget hotels in the city (not the cheapest, but Ernest insisted on a TV – he’s probably expecting to be stuck here for another 10 days!).

Well, there’s little I can do now as cycling is out of the question. The weather is cooling down, but it’s still rather hot and humid (34 degrees C, and 55% humidity). Air pollution is particularly severe in Delhi; in fact we haven’t seen the sun for the past 4 days.

There is a definite pecking order when it comes to the traffic (pedestrians are at the bottom and give way to everything - bicycles make way for cycle-rickshaws, which give way to auto-rickshaws, which stop for cars, which are subservient to trucks). Busses stop for one thing only (not passengers, who jump on and off while the bus is moving). The only thing that stops a bus is the king of the road, The Holy Cow! The cows hold up traffic on 4-lane highways and at busy intersections, and no one seems offended! I have yet to see a cow which has been knocked down..

Here there’s a lot of kissing the ground, and every day I reach my destination I feel like doing the same thing, seeing that I’m basically at the bottom end of the pecking order.

Still, I love this place.

4 – 6 October - Delhi

I waited patiently for my injuries to heal, but nothing seemed to happen. The shoulder was not getting any better, in fact it felt like it was getting worse. I was basically useless with only one good arm. I also felt a bit frustrated, as I have not been well for some time and it was getting to me. In the meantime I decided to have my eyes tested, seeing that it was rather cheap and they could do it on the spot. Ernest and I decided to take the bus to Jaipur in Rajasthan and explore a bit by public transport instead of just sitting around doing nothing.

7 October 12 - Delhi – Jaipur (by bus)

We took the bus from Delhi to Jaipur, a 6-hour trip. I’d previously stated that the only thing which stops a bus is a holy cow, but that seems not to be quite correct. Shortly before reaching our destination the bus hit a cow, also doing some damage to the bus. Fortunately the bus managed to limp the last few k’s to Jaipur.

8 October - Jaipur

We spent the day walking around the old city, which is known as the Pink City because most of the buildings are painted pink. We also took a cycle riksha out as far as the Water Palace. There’s quite a lot to see around the old city, so I dragged Ernest around for a few hours before we picked up a few beers and took another cycle riksha back to our room. We almost didn’t make it back there, as our poor riksha wallah couldn’t speak any English, and it also turned out that he didn’t know where our hotel was.

9 October - Jaipur – Agra

An early morning bus was our best bet to get to Agra, so we were up earlier than usual and took a riksha to the bus station. The bus trip took around 5 hours and was not too uncomfortable a ride. Agra is a real tourist trap with tuc-tuc’s, cycle-ricksha’s and taxis all competing for business. We found a reasonable hotel very close to the Taj Mahal, which we decided we would visit the next day.

10 October - Agra

We were up early to catch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal, just to find that the place is closed on a Friday!! It gave us time to walk around the Taj and see it from the back where we took a boat across the river to get a great view of the complex from a different angle. At least now we had the rest of the day to see if I could do something about my shoulder that was not getting any better. Luckily there was an X-ray place just around the corner from where we stayed, and the X-ray confirmed that my collarbone was broken and the shoulder was out of joint. I could only get the medical report that evening, but in the mean time I thought I’d just go to the local hospital to see what they can do. The hospital was quite an experience with mice running around and after the 2nd power cut I gave up and went back to the hotel. Well at least we booked a ticket for the following day on the train from Agra back to Delhi.

11 October - Agra – Delhi (By train)

We got up real early and were at the gate of the Taj Mahal at 5h50, just to find that there was already a long line of tourists waiting for the ticket office to open. They opened at 06h00 and then it was another 30 minutes or so just to go through security. The entrance fee of 750 rupees is rather steep but I guess once you’re in Agra one is not going to turn around and not pay the entrance fee!! The monument is as remarkable as seen in pictures, made of white marble with delicately inlayed semi-precious stone patterns - it is worth the entrance fee. We rushed back to the hotel, had breakfast and then we were on our way to the station to catch the 10h30 train to Delhi. Once in Delhi, there was still quite a bit to do, including picking up my new glasses. I had also decided to go back to South Africa for 2 weeks, as it was my Mothers 80th birthday on 16th October and I needed time for my shoulder to heal. I would take the train to Mumbai and fly from there to South Africa (much cheaper than flying from Delhi). So, I still had to go to the station to find out what the procedure was with the bike, and to confirm my train ticket to Mumbai. I also wanted to go to the hospital and see if there was some treatment for my shoulder. A friendly local man gave me a lift to a nearby hospital and walked me through the procedures. Once again it was a case of going from office to office where each one signs a piece of paper, but eventually they strapped the shoulder up and half killed me in the process (or that’s what it felt like). At least it’s free of charge, so with a prescription for pain killers and calcium I was on my way again. Now that the shoulder was strapped up I was even more immobile that before.

12 October - Delhi - Mumbai (By train)

The train to Mumbai left at 5.30 in the morning and I had to be there 2 hours before the time to sort out the bike and also a few hours before to confirm my seat. So by 03h00 I was already on my way to the station. First it was to the ticket office to confirm my seat (for which they wanted a bribe as apparently the train was full - does that make any sense?). In the end another official arrived, and I got the seat without parting with any further money. Then it was off to the parcel office to book the bike in - what a performance. Thank goodness Ernest was there to help, as it was up over the stairs and then back again with bike and all the bags from platform 1 to platform 16 and back to platform 3. With only one good arm it’s rather difficult to organize things like that.

I said good-bye to Ernest and at last I was on the train to Mumbai. My carriage had sleeper seats, and was comfortable enough. There were 4 people to a “compartment” if you can call it that, as it has no door - but at least there was a curtain that could be closed. Tea and coffee was constantly being offered and every now and again they came around with snacks like samoosa’s or Brijani, so there was no lack of food.

13 October - Mumbai

The train was spot on time, arriving in Mumbai at 07h35. Things were a lot easier than expected as there were porters waiting on the platform. So it was just a case of getting the bike and then a taxi to the Bentley’s Hotel. Not the cheapest, in fact quite expensive, but centrally located for when I return. I will also leave my bike and bags at the hotel and hopefully carry on South when I return. Ernest will be heading to Bangladesh so I do not know when we will meet up again. I spent the rest of the day wandering around Mumbai, an interesting city with slums on the one side and designer stores just across the road. It was great being by the ocean again. I had not seen the ocean for far too long!!

14 October

Mumbai is one of the cities with some of the most beautiful old architecture, and it was a pleasure just walking around the Oval with its art deco buildings and cricket playing men.

15 October - Mumbai, India – Cape Town, South Africa

As usual the flight to Cape Town was a long boring affair, but I guest that’s the price you pay for staying at the southern tip of Africa. It was great being back and seeing my family and friends again


19 October 2008

CYCLING INDIA - Lahore, Pakistan to Rishikesh, India



INDIA

9 September - Lahore, Pakistan to Amristar, India - 67km

It was a 35km ride to the border, which was modern, efficient, and unexpectedly quiet. From the border it was another 30km to Amristar. What a great place!! As we cycled into town there was a parade, elephant and all!! Well, this is India after all. This is the land of the Sikhs and there are turban-clad men everywhere. We headed straight for the well known Golden Temple, and what a sight!! Amristar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, The Golden Temple. There were thousands of pilgrims, with free accommodation and food for everyone. The atmosphere inside is truly spiritual and one must remove your shoes and cover your head before entering. The main temple is covered in gold, and stands in the middle of a sacred pool. Music is played all the time and devotees dip in the pool which is suppose to have healing power. While I soaked up the tranquil atmosphere Ernest went off in search of the local beer (something we haven’t had for more than 3 months), and on returning he nearly got kicked out of the dormitory where we stayed in the temple complex.

10 September - Amristar – Jalandhar - 78km

After breakfast at the Golden Temple (sitting in rows on the floor with hundreds of pilgrims), we left for Jalandhar. The road continued west and it was a short and easy ride. The countryside is green and as expected there are many cows everywhere. It was refreshing to see so many women out and about. Although they still wear the Shalwaar Kameez, they do not cover their hair. There are also loads of women riding scooters and bicycles, something one never saw in Pakistan or Iran. Seems like I will still be wearing the Shalwaar Kameez for a while. We found a cheap room just before Jalandar which was like an oven. It appears that here the power cuts are mostly at night, so no fan!!

11 September - Jalandhar - Roper - 115km

What a pleasure it was to be on a flat and smooth road. The weather was still hot and humid and at times it felt like one was breathing pure watervapour!! At least the countryside is nice and green and with Ernest having a bad cold it’s a good thing that it was not too demanding. Another major problem is his broken wheel rim, which is now looking worse for wear and will not last much longer. We tried to fix it along the way, but it was no better than before. Hopefully there will be something one can do in one of the bigger cities. We found a Youth Hostel in Roper which has also seen better days, but provided cheap accommodation for the night.

12 September - Roper to Chandigarh - 25km cycled (&20km on truck)

Ten km after we left we stopped for breakfast (Dhal and chapatti with a small salad) Not much further Ernest had a flat wheel again, due to the broken rim. Only a few k’s further the same thing happened again. A local man took Ernest (and rim) on his schooter back to the previous town, without success. He then loaded our bikes and us on a truck for the 20 km to Chandigarh, where he dropped us at our hotel and even found a bike shop which had a spare rim (not the same quality, but better than nothing). I used the time to find a new sim card and do some shopping for the usual shampoo and toothpaste. In the meantime Ernest made some new friends in a popular tavern.

13&14 September - Chandigarh

We managed to find a professional bike shop and Ernest found a rim, cycle computer, decent tubes and tire sealant (very important). We also visited the well known rock garden created by Nek Chand, a 20-ha garden with walkways, staircases, waterfalls and figures all made out of junk, a truly fantasy world. We were also lucky to meet the well known Mr Narinder Singh, a retired civil servant who now welcomes tourists to Chandigarh, showing them cheap places to stay and eat. Nothing is too much trouble for him, and he also recommends places of interest in his home town.

15 September - Chandigarh – Nahan - 103km

After Narinder Singh took me to find a detailed road map, we left Chandigarh. By that time it was already 12h00. At one stage we went up and down the same road a few times before finding the small turnoff we were looking for, and we were further delayed when I had a puncture. The road at first was flat through green landscapes until we reached the village of Narayangarh. We were in for a surprise as the next 30km was steep uphill through some of the most spectacular countryside one can imagine. The going was slow, so we only reached Nahan about 2 hrs after dark, a hair-raising experience on a very bad and narrow road with lots of trucks and busses. Nahan is away from the regular tourist route, but has an interesting old town with narrow alleys and many Hindu temples and shrines. There is also a sacred lake in the center of the town. As most people know cows are holy in this part of the world, and these animals wander around the town at leisure – the way stray dogs and cats would do in other places (even sleeping on the pavement outside the doorways of shops).

16 September 2008 - Nahan

After our late arrival of the previous evening we spent the day wondering around the old city and resting our tired legs. Ernest was becoming a bit concerned about the girls calling him “Uncle”, so he shaved his beard again for the first time in more than 3 months. We did some laundry and hung it on the hotel roof to dry, but the ever-present local monkeys took a liking to some of the items (one of the hotel workers had to climb a big tree in order to retrieve a shirt, which had a hole bitten in the back).

17 September - Nahan – Dehradun - 98km

Once again a beautiful ride through the countryside. Villages are close together with busy markets, and at times it feels like the country consists of one large village. Finding the way is not always that easy as most road signs are in the local alphabet, so we had to constantly ask for directions (not always very accurate). Again, Ernest had problems with punctures as a tyre was damaged by the former broken rim. So, it was dark by the time we arrived in Dehradun. The streets were jam-packed with rikshas, motorcycles; bicycles, people and animals (all acting crazy), but eventually we made it to the hotel we were looking for.

18 September - Dehradun

I’m plagued with stomach problems and it was better to stay the day. We used the time to visit Tapkeshwar Hindu Temple, which has an unusual shrine inside a cave. We also went to the “World Peace” Stupa and giant Buddha statue. The stupa is in a Tibetan community on the outskirts of town, and is a multi-storey structure consisting of shrine rooms with fantastic murals and Tibetan art. The bazaars of Dehradun are crowded and full of colour, with women dressed in the most beautiful saris.

19 & 20 September - Derhadun

The late monsoon weather caught us, and we awoke to an overcast and rainy day on the 19th, which continued through the following day. Floods were being reported from all around India. We waited it out, watching endless TV re-plays of India winning cricket matches and reports on the Delhi bomb blasts from the previous week.

21 September - Dehradun – Rishikesh - 49 km

At last the weather cleared and we set off for Rishikesh, again a beautiful route to cycle, past villages and green fields. We reached Rishikesh early as it was a very short ride and found a real good (cheap) hotel right on the Ganges River overlooking the 2, 13-storey temples across the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge.

Rishikesh

Rishikesh is considered the Yoga capital of the world, as there are masses of ashrams and kinds of yoga and meditation classes all over town. The town has an exquisite setting on the banks of the Ganges and surrounded by forested hills, couple that with the constant ringing of the temple bells and Hindi music being played all the time, it sets the scene for some real soul-searching activities. No sooner had we arrived when I started feeling really ill, it was so bad that I sought the help of a Yoga and Natural Therapist (whatever that is). So the verdict was mal-digestion, low blood pressure, sluggish circulation and slow metabolism (well I felt ill enough to believe everything). So, I left there armed with a list of what- and what not to eat, as well as a bag full of (unpalatable) herbs.

CYCLING PAKISTAN - Istamabad to Lahore





4 September Islamabad – Jhelum - 123km

We said good-bye to our friends in the campsite and got on the road to Lahore. A fairly easy ride as the road is so much smoother than the KKH (that does not mean its perfect). It was still very hot and humid but it always appears to be better on the bike as at least there some air movement. The roads were also not as busy as usual due to Ramzaan. Most of the roadside truck stops and petrol stations, or CNG stops (they use compressed natural gas instead of petrol) were however open so there was no shortage of something to drink along the way. The road south was fairly level and we reached Jhelum in good time where we stayed in a local hotel. Even they wanted to give as breakfast at 4h00, which we politely declined. One thing about the local Pakistani hotels is that they clearly indicate the direction of Mecca, and rooms come not with towels but with a prayer mat.


5 September Jhelum – Gujranwala - 100km

After our own, much later, breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches, we left our room in Jhelum. In the early afternoon we encountered one of the biggest storms to date, first with a howling dust storm and then thunder and lightning and hail!! We look shelter with the locals and after about an hour it cleared and we could be on our way again. It was still drizzling but at least the dust settled and we could see where we were going. When it started pouring again, we pretended we were rich tourists and booked into an overpriced roadside hotel (still with dirty sheets and broken bathroom fittings!).

6 September - Gujranwala – Lahore - 82km

It was a fairly quick ride in to Lahore on a flat but very bumpy road (work in progress) Here the road passes through numerous busy markets with chaotic traffic. The area is not unlike Africa with cakes of buffalo/cow dung being dried next to the road for fire, and each and everyone on a bicycle racing you. It’s normally not long before a chain or peddle comes off, or otherwise they normally tire after a few minutes. Cycling into Lahore is another item that could be considered for “Fear Factor”!! The streets are jam-packed with vehicles, animals and people of all shapes and sizes and as far I can figure there are no rules, just go!! It seems important to make as much noise as possible, and for us on the bicycles every 10 metres of safe progress felt like a major accomplishment.

7th & 8th September - Lahore

We found a reasonable place to stay in Anarkali market with its narrow and winding ally’s. Not only do you have to dodge the rickshaws and other traffic but also the cricket balls flying everywhere, as it’s a game played on every pavement, street or open area. We wondered around and visited the old city, fort and mosque. We and ate from the street stalls, which are everywhere, even although it’s Ramzaan. The air pollution is tangible, and Ernest picked up the dreaded “Lahore Throat” (which turned into a bad cold later).