bicycle travelling
preparing for 3onTour!
INDIA I: mumbai - bhopal

17. May 2003

INDIA I: mumbai - bhopal

7513 km, bhopal (INDIA)

route: mumbai-alibag-murud-ganpatiphule-ratnagiri-pune-aurangabad-ajanta-jalgaon-bhopal

4 things were dominating after bine and i arrived in mumbai (former bombay) on international airport at 4 o clock in the morning: the hot, sweltry air even at night. second the huge difference between rich and poor (financial buildings beside slums). third, the dominant influence of british architecture and culture. the famous victoria station and the post office built in british-victorian style. the traffic circles, buses, the queues... many things remind me of the british past in india. and fourth - cricket! the current cricket worldchampionship 2003 in south africa makes the indian crazy. when the indian team is playing, the streets are obvious by far less crowded. people are gathering before TV-shops to see the match. in the parks we are visiting in the 20-million-people city mumbai hundreds of indians are playing cricket. like football in england or italy.

we enjoying mumbai very much. after travelling over a half year through the islamic middle east and north africa, we like the different and more 'liberal' way of living in india. the 'cafe mondegar' is a place bine and i are visiting quite often. we are relaxing at cold beers, french fries and live matches from the cricket cup. talking about our adventures so far and about home while hearing good songs from the juke-box. it is really good to me. on the last evening, after 6 days of sightseeing and doing the 'homeworks' of traveller, we clink two bottles of cold 'kingfisher'-beer and sprite for our oncoming adventures in india. cheers!!

first we are just cycling to the port and taking a ferry to rewas, to avoid traffic hell of the metropole. urs from switzerland ([=>http:\/\/]) cycled a lot in india. he recommended us to go to goa. not just of the famous beaches and the touristic but relaxed amtosphere, but also the route to goa - not on the main road but on the small 'coastal'-route - seems to be the one of the most beautiful and quite remote areas of india. and urs is right! it is really beautiful. although it is hard cycling, because we have to get used to the totally different climate, and because of the small but steep roads through the western ghats. nature and people are great. we are observing ape-families and dozens of colourful and exotic birds. compared to other regions of india i know, this area is also quite less populated. the people very friendly and the small billages look quite primal to me. simple, wooden huts covered with straw and situated under palms.

we learn also the difficult things during cycling: on many ascends we sometimes get totally exhausted. the heat, the humidity, the spicy food (which i knew from my indian himalaya trip in 1997 that this will be hard for me) let us to cycle often just 50 km a day. quite demanding cycling. but when bine and i then are cycling along an empty, small road along a pure, white sand beach with accompaying coconut-palms, or when we see 20 white egrets resting at a beautiful lake...then all efforts are forgotten. the road or sometimes just the paths we cycle, are disrupted by many rivers coming down the western ghats. because of lack of bridges, small boats and logboats are carrieng local people from one side to the other. and also the pedalglobal-team. but bargaining was very hard, and the prices often unreasonable. at one crossing the ferryman wants to have third times more than the locals, 100 rupees! they stop. and pretend to get rid of us before going to the other side. and all passengers stick together. typically for india, and not very symphatic.

anyway, reaching goa was cool. 5 days we are relaxing and the wonderful beaches in candolim and calangute. eat delicious - not spicy! - food and a lot of cocktails. the only difficulties in goa: drinking the white russian at 3 o clock in the morning before the ice cubes in the glass are melting. and not to transparet while drinking cold 'kinghfisher'-beer and watching english premier league.

because we do not want to cycle all the way back, we take a bus which brings us to pune. and therefore to the route we initially planned to cycle. northeast through india to varanasi and then further to nepal. without the nice goa-intermezzo.

it is april and may, which are the hottest month in india. blue sky and 45 degree every day. and the landscape isnt that exciting, or spoken in other words, the landscape is quite boring. cultivated land everywhere, villages, towns and people EVERYWHERE. these are two simple but momentous facts. this 2 facts makes it for bine, but especially for, me very difficult. and often let us forget about the nice and beautiful things in india.

after 250 km i am totally exhausted in aurangabad. no apettite, even no thirst. we visit the 'small edition' of taj mahal, a nice tomb which looks like the famous big brother in agra. but in the night i vomit and after going to hospital, the diagnosis is easy: dehydration! we change to a more expensive but good A\/C hotel and i try to drink, drink and drink. and watching TV! after 9 months without TV a nice change. during these days of recovering a newspaper article about our tour is published in 'sakal'. our first article during the tour. we cannot read a word because it is written in maharti, but bine and i are a little bit proud of.

it takes 5 days to feel fit enough to cycle on. we then get up at about 5 o clock in the morning or even earlier to leave on our bikes at about 6 o clock. and try to finish the route, which is about 70 to 90 km a day, at about 11 or 12 o clock. it is going better, but on many evenings we are really 'finished'.

the caves of ajanta are great! the 26 caves, whixh are in facht temple digged in rocks. with beautiful paintings. and the setting is also unique: a narrow gorge, which makes at the area where the caves are situated a 160 degree 'horseshoe'-turnaround. stunning.

then it is bines turn - her right hand hurts. and after x-ray in jalgaon we have our second diagnosis: not broken! but inflammated. we are releaved, and spent another 4 days to rest. it works and the hand is going to heal.

even if you are used to traffic in africa or other parts of asia, india is also different in this case. they are really driving crazy. they brake for noone. i often have to think about my friend and globebiker franz karl from vienne, who had a bad accident on his bikeworldtrip about one year ago in india. a jeep crashed into franz. he got bad injuries and was forced to quit his trip. when a mad jeep driver is approaching towards me, i think: 'please, not me!'

then we are leaving the district of maharastra and entered madhya pradesh. and the roads turn from good to bad. in addition to the enormous heat (record is 35 degree at 3 o clock in the morning in our hotelroom, and 47 degree during day yet) we are forced to fight also against the road-surface. very good and welcomed are the juice-stalls. in every small village i can drink some of those excellent pineapple-, mango- or mosumbijuices for just a few cents. very good.

during the night we put water on the skin to cool the body down. but it lasts just for a few seconds. to make life more easier, we change to take more often the more expensive A\/C-rooms. but then we are able to sleep and recover proper. to fight against the heat on the following day.

khandwa. another 2 days rest. typical in all villages in india we pass through: many people mare shitting, not only in public, but in groups! just beside their huts, just beside the road. when we saw a lot of droppings at the beaches of the arabian sea, on the way down to goa, we first thought about the many dogs, which were out there the whole day. but when we spotted 6 indians cowering at the beach (with the needed water to wash just beside), we knew better...

another typical behaviour in groups: staring. i am counting about 70 to 80 indians gathering around us and doing nothing. less questions. no help. just staring.

in hoshangabad we are published in two more newspapers. pratik, a teacher who helps us a lot in his hometown, calls a journalist and brings him in our hotelroom. the 'interview' is developing in a kind of defence and apology of bine and me. later on, one headline is like this: 'the german couple loves hoshangabad'. well, it is what i have expected.

what we experience just everywhere: power cuts. often for hours. there are regular, scheduled power cuts. and there are many 'unplanned' breakdowns due to lack of energy. i read about violent demonstration in madhya pradesh against electricity companies because the suffer under power cuts of 12 hours (!) on a daily basis. without electricity there is no fan which is the worst. and of course no A\/C, no TV, no light, no internet... every mail i write, i do it in an editor. saving every minute. nobody knows what happens next...

the last cycling day to bhopal brings a lot of good things. we visit the bambethka hills. an area which is occupied by more than 1.000 caves from the stoneage-period. the paintings are fascinating. animals and hunting-scenes are dominating. in colours of white, red or yellow.

on this day it is very hot. and because of the visit of the bambethka caves, we are forced to cycle during the afternoon.

suddenly - beside the road. a snake! i get off the bike and take the camera. i am approaching the animal carefully. in fact - a cobra. from about 2 meter distance i take a picture. but i am keen on taking also a photo from the front. i walk around the poison snake, go down to my knees and from about 1 1\/2 meter distance, the cobra is staring directly in the camera. 2. shot! sweat is running down my face. what a beautiful animal. and what a pity that it is dead.

bhopal is the capital of madhya pradesh state. and because it is situated on two artificial lakes, the locals call it also 'city of lakes'. we more enjoy the possibilities of good food and shopping. and relaxing of course. bhopal became famous in a very tragedic way. in the 80ies, a poisonous gas, from a fabctory nearby (the american company union carbide), spread over the city during the night. till today over 16.000 people died and over half a million people have irreversible health damage.

next destinations are the bandavghar national park, in which we hope to see some tigers, and the most indian cities of india: varanasi. then on to nepal. always with an eye on and the headlines concering SARS. we really hope that we have to cancel our route a second time. the way to tibet seems to be very difficult at the moment.
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