It took a fair few hours to get out of Mumbai, following the manic rush-hour traffic on the highway to Gujarat. A quick pit stop at McDonald’s, we powered on cycling until the sun was setting. Once again, the choices of accommodation appeared to be limited, so we looked for somewhere to camp. Not exactly spoilt for choice, I noticed a sign for an agri-tourist resort. After our camping success on the agri-tourism mango farm on the Konkan Coast we decided to try and find it, albeit rather unsuccessfully. We passed a building site where a motorbike was parked a few metres from the open gate. Perfect. Somewhere we could ask to camp. Two brothers in their 50’s and a young lad were swimming in the most refreshing-looking pool and without hesitation they agreed and invited us in to join them for a swim. It turns out this was the agri-tourism resort we had been looking for, due to open in a few weeks. Lucky or what!
After an uncomfortably hot night’s sleep the young boy and his father returned to check we were OK. The owner also checked on us during the night but said we were fast asleep. Cute. He invited us to his house for breakfast where we met his wife and mother and watched National Geographic with two servings of savoury flat rice, a typical breakfast dish in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
His older brother then arrived and lead us to his home in the village across the highway via a small underpass. Again, we met his wife who asked us if we wanted a spicy or sweet dish. I’ve come to realise that Indian’s get very offended if you decline food, and never one to say no to some grub myself, I said sweet while Hugo said savoury.
Little did I know I’d be given a plate of spicy and a plate of sweet so I ended up having four plates of local breakfasts in the space of an hour. We were both SO full. It was as if my weight on the bike had doubled but I eventually made it to our destination, Silvassa, where I had organised a host through Warmshowers.com (like Couchsurfing.com but for cycle tourists – what an ah-mazing idea!) It was HOT and I had no other option than to cool myself down with a Faluda, a creamy iced dessert.
I was unable to contact our host to let her know we had arrived as Vodafone had cut us off yet again, so I went to the local tourism office to ask to use their phone. Luckily things worked out smoothly and our host Mahdu came to meet us and kindly took us for a bite to eat. We then went to the local museum which taught us all about local handicraft and the Union Territory the city was part of. Union Territories are different to states in India because funding and policies come direct from the central government as opposed to being determined by state government and regional authorities. it’s really rather interesting and surprisingly not many Indians know much about these Unions. I had a comfortable stay with Mahdu who kindly sent us on our way with tea and breakfast the next morning.
Roughly 15km up the road I passed a Vodafone store so I wasted another two hours of my life trying to get my SIM card working. I continued to have no luck and after what’s now been my 7th visit to Vodafone and hours totalling to TWO entire days out of my trip LIFE, I’ve given up. Working Wifi is hard to come by in India so you may not hear from me for a wee while. Sob sob. We found a lovely guesthouse at a train station that night with excellent hospitality. So far so good in terms of finding accommodation in the state of Gujarat, everyone has been so friendly and accommodating. A refreshing change.
The next evening we found another friendly guesthouse so we stopped early to try and get a SIM card from another company. It was the same old story with two hours in AirTel and another in Vodafone next door, time filled with countless lies and false promises. Instead of just saying ‘no’ to a SIM card they kept asking for all these weird and wonderful documents such as like a signed letterhead from our guesthouse and the managers bank card (!) in the hope we would give up and leave but and every time we walked off back to the guesthouse and returned with their request. It was rather funny seeing their faces as we returned with their request. All the Indian’s I’ve dealt with in big companies like Vodafone merely tell me what I want to hear in the hope I will leave and, for them, the issue will leave with me.
The temperature was rising and Hugo was the first to suffer from heat exhaustion while I followed the next day. It was time to listen to our bodies and revert back to our early starts. We can’t keep cycling past 6pm like the good old days, we need to stay alive. I’ve done my fair share of physical activities in hot climates over the past two years, like digging trenches in the Philippines and chasing cattle in the Australian outback but never have I experienced severe heart palpitations like this. It’s an odd feeling, over heating. No matter how much fluid, salt, sugar and carbs I consume my body still shivers. Previously relishing the cool sea breeze in Kerala, this wind now feels like someone is holding a blow torch to my skin, there’s no other words to describe it. As my heartbeat increases, a strange panic comes over me to try and cool down. Like a mad man I go on a desperate search for ice every time I reach civilisation. Luckily the mango shake men of Gujarat usually take pity on me and give me some crushed ice, which I make into a snow ball and balance it on my head while I drink my mango shake. I get some rather strange looks but I don’t care.
Evenings have also become unbearable and I am having to get up numerous times throughout the night to take a cold shower. It’s only between the hours of 6-7am I manage to sleep, which is the hour after my alarm has gone off! I soon regret the late starts and by 2pm my body starts to overheat with another 30km or so left in the saddle. Only now am I beginning to realise why everyone told me it was near impossible to cycle India in summer.
It was early evening and we passed a temple on the highway. “Shall we ask if we can stay” Hugo said. *head wobble* “Why not?” I replied. Sure enough, they handed us a key to a room and surprisingly, left us be. The room was incredibly basic but it was no worse than the ones we pay for when on the road. After trying to engage in conversation with the young men staying there I mentioned to Hugo that I thought they were rather rude as they weren’t really answering my questions. A bit later it clocked that they were all on a silent meditation and that was the reason why they didn’t speak – duh! Dinner was at an “establishment” across the road where absolutely zero English was spoken so again, I attempted my universal hand gesture for food. We received a plate of spaghetti in tomato ketchup with chapati for 50p. Can’t complain. We took a walk around the small town nearby, where I noticed everyone was carrying metal milk jugs. I then saw the queue at the dairy and realised it must have been milk collection time, which was incredibly interesting to watch.
After another sleepless night, thanks to the heat, we needed some fuel before setting off. Everyone shook (not wobbled) their head when I asked for food (universal hand gesture again), leaving Hugo becoming more and more frustrated. Now off the highway, the ride was much more enjoyable as there was more to see and less heat from the trucks and roads a little quieter. With that came further distance between villages and a few times I went into a panic when we had cycled just a couple of kilometres without seeing any sign of civilisation. The heat is making me go barmy, I swear!
With the heat comes the impossible task of trying to keep our water bottles cool. Mine seems to turn to molten after ten minutes on my bike. Sometimes it is so hot that it burns my skin when I tip it over me in an attempt to keep cool. Luckily there are heaps of chilled mango shake men on the streets in the towns we pass. My saviours.
Recently I’ve got into the habit of forgetting to pick up my change at restaurants. I always pay with meals using a big note due to the shortage of change in India, which means my change is often four times the price of the meal and a whole days “budget”. At least my ridiculously large “tips’ have made a few peoples day, I guess. Good karma is coming my way.
As we crossed states into Rajasthan the the terrain became drier and considerably more hilly. Luckily the highway wasn’t too bad and there were plenty of passing trucks to grab on to and hitch a lift up the hills. I’m FINALLY becoming good at this! On the final night before Udaipur we decided to splurge on an over-priced room with AC which we were both highly excited about. Paying triple of what a normal room would cost, the place was an absolute dive and the power clonked out every few minutes.
“You win some you loose some.”
A saying wildly used by travellers of this crazy country. Time to explore the most talked about Raj…..