Wow. I never thought I would make it. I’m sat here in a Mumbai coffee shop (terrible coffee) having reached civilisation for the first time in what feels like a life time. Cycling the Konkan Coast was tough. I mean REALLY tough. The 600km from Goa to Mumbai tested me both physically and mentally, and Hugo felt the same. SO much has happened during these past few days I’m breaking my story up into two separate posts. And so it begins…
It all started with a sad farewell to our friends in Arambol. We were both on a bit of a downer but happy to be back in the saddle and for me, try to rebuild the muscle I’ve seemed to have drastically lost in just two week living the ‘Goan life’. Looking out to sea when cycling is no doubt beautiful. Did you know, India’s biggest casinos are situated out there in the ocean? Gambling is illegal, so casinos are located on boats so they aren’t “technically” on Indian soil. Smart.
As beautiful as coastal roads are, I love a good diversion and there are certainly no shortage of them in India. To Hugo and I, a DIVERSION sign simply means an off-road adventure. We casually ignore all signs and opt for our own, what we consider a more “direct” route across. This has led us to some weird and wonderful situations and much fun, like cycling across India’s newest airport runway which is still under construction. I expected our route to follow the picturesque Konkan coast line but most of it weave inland due to the lack of seaside roads.
We were more towards the sea than the highway though, which may have been the reason for the incredibly steep red dusty roads. The land scape is extremely barron and there was nothing to see for miles. For a country so densely populated I was surprised at my struggle to find food or water. There were times when I thought I would kill over and die, not just because of the intense hills and unbearable heat, but the lack of vital supplies. I absolutely HATE being without any food and water. “Don’t let me get Hangry”
Finding accommodation “off the beaten track” in India is just as hard and on the rare occasion we came across any form of lodging, prices were sky high as they catered for Indian tourists, not poor cyclists like me. The accommodation we have found within our price range all deny us. I’ve been told this is because they lack the knowledge or technology to register foreign guests with local authorities. Luckily one man took pity on us and let us sleep in the vacant rental apartment he had. Another kind lady let us camp in her Mango farm and fed us delicious Alphonso mangos – India’s best. The location was stunning, set up high on a breezy plateau, but our sleep was ruined as we unknowingly pitched next to a family of Indian holiday makers who were up laughing and joking until the early hours. It did make me wonder why we don’t spend more time with our extended family back in the UK, large annual family holidays are rare. This is one of the things I like about Indian culture, the family and community are a big part of daily lives.
After successfully managing to slice the bottom of my foot open AGAIN, this time on a tent peg, we were off. The main change from Goa into the state of Maharashtra was the noticeable lack of spoken English with road signs and number plates now being in the local language. This meant I could no longer count down the Kilometre signs to help motivate me or understand a word of what anyone was saying. Even when someone can speak English in India, I never quite understand what the hell is going on and this is another thing I love. My request for “water”, has been mistaken for, cigarettes, Coca Cola (probably down to me acting out the universal drinking gesture), food and even a pigeon! You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve recently had a breakthrough in learning the hand gesture for both a number one toilet (peepee) and number twos (poopoo). I no longer have to squat in public and act out going to the loo with everyone thinking I am an utter looney.
When people think of Indian food they usually imagine all these weird and wonderful curries but in reality, away from the tourist destinations, the food is suprisingly simple and a proper curry is often hard to come by. During my six days on the Konkan Coast I ate nothing but Vada Pav, Maharashtra’s signature street side snack. Vada Pav is essentially a ball of deep fried potato sandwiched in a white bun with, if you’re lucky, some deep fried chills and a dipping sauce. Serving plates like in the photo above are rare as Vada Pav’s are usually grabbed at the side of the road and gobbled down in one. Hugo wins for the most Vada Pav in one day – 10!!! – but I’m not far behind. It’s safe I am officially Vada Pav’d out (for a few days at least!)
Unlike Goa, all of the built up beaches we stopped off at were popular with Indian tourists. Beaches along the Konkan Coast are packed full of Indians sipping on sweet sugar drinks, munching on Chaat and other Indian street snacks and best of all, getting that all important photo. Selfie?! Unable to find anything other than a bloody Vada Pav, I jumped at the chance to buy some berries which I was adamant would kill me as they weren’t washed but hey, I’m here to tell the tale. More tales, including the night we were saved by an adorable Hindu family, coming up next of the blog. Don’t miss part two!