Pune to Bhor. 63km. 20 Jan.
So after 8 days of being spoiled by the Vakharia family, we were 2 sad lifecyclers leaving Pune on Sunday morning. We had extended our stay with them by 5 days as we both fought of colds and were feeling pretty rough…and we think we left Jatin with Nigel’s head-cold as he had come down with exactly the same symptoms as Nigel had had earlier in the week. Sorry Jatin! Despite not feeling 100%, we still had a great experience in Pune – I did yoga 4 times (which I loved!), we visited a local museum that housed historical artefacts from all over India and we ate lots of new foods for the first time, which came recommended by Margo and Jatin …all of which were amazing. There was also lots of cricket playing, guitar playing, song writing and movie-watching, but Mina, aged 8, summed it up best when she said her favourite part of the week was “just chilling out with you, talking and doing nothing. I couldn’t have put it better myself!
(Look at how shiny and clean our cycling gear is in the photo!)
Dinesh from the Indo Cycling Club, who we had met a week earlier, came to meet us on Sunday morning for what we thought was to be just a goodbye. However he came to guide us out of the city and ended up cycling the first 32km of the day with us – which considering he had been up since 5am and had cycled 70km at a cycling event earlier that morning, was an incredible gesture. The city wasn’t too horrendous to get out of and it wasn’t long before we were on the highway. As it was Sunday it wasn’t too busy but the terrain was a gradual ascent, which considering we didn’t feel in 100% health, felt a bit hard-going at times, especially in the heat. At one stage we went through a tunnel for 1.5km but after that the road flattened out.
We stopped for a chai after midday and said our farewells to Dinesh – and then is was back to Martina and Nigel on the road alone again.
Shortly after lunch we turned off the highway onto a smaller road, thinking it would be quieter. Oh how wrong we were!! It was mayhem – and as Nigel correctly pointed out, on the highways the crazy driving doesn’t freak us out too much as there is plenty of room for vehicles to move between lanes. But on single-lane roads, they drive just as chaotically, which makes us much more vulnerable as there is nowhere to go if there is a 4X4 coming towards us on the wrong side of the road! Thankfully no incidents to report and the landscape was really nice with lots of greenery and rivers – unfortunately still partially obscured with haze.
Our planned destination was Bhor and when we reached the outskirts we saw a lodge house where we decided to stay for the night. Very basic (our ensuite had a squat toilet – which is a first for us in our accommodation so far) but good enough for us, so after unloading the bikes it was and time for a tepid bucket wash and an afternoon snooze, followed by dinner in the restaurant next door. The traffic was still really heavy, which baffled us considering we were on a minor road, but over dinner it became clearer. There is a temple nearby and during the day we noticed loads of trucks were carrying lots of people in the back, so we reckon they were pilgrims on their way to visit the temple. We heard fireworks go off and after that the singing and music started – much the same as what we had experienced at the temple near Rajpipla. Hoping it wouldn’t last past 10pm, we put in our earplugs and settled down for an early night…deprived of our next episode of Breaking Bad because the Chief Entertainment Officer (ie ME) accidentally missed it out of the sequence when downloading the next batch. Doh!!
Bhor to Mahad. 76km. 21 Jan.
Unfortunately the temple music went on all night until some sort of malfunction with the sound system granted us some a mini-reprieve around 3am. That and the fact that the bed was as hard as nails (even with our camping mats on top!) meant that neither of us had a great night’s sleep. The owner of our accommodation told us that there was a religious festival going on which explained the noise – but it was little consolation for us 2 bleary-eyed cyclists on a Monday morning. But we were still up and on our way by 8am as we had an idea that it would be a fairly tough day involving a few hills.
The first 3 hours were excruciatingly slow….we averaged 10km an hour as the road was so bad – and it was an uphill climb for most of the way. Even when the road went slightly downhill we were still very slow because there were more potholes than actual road! (Photo doesn’t quite capture how bad the road was).
On the plus side, the scenery was fantastic and we were in on a very remote and rural route so there weren’t many cars or trucks. The route took us around a reservoir and into some stunning lush hills – and for the time in India the view wasn’t blocked by haze or smog. Really stunning!
We passed some workers (men, women, youths and children) by the side of the road breaking rocks by hand for road building – and they seem to live as there as well as work as we saw lots of tents set up nearby. A real contrast to the stunning landscape all around.
Lunch was in a shack at the side of the road that only served snacks….nothing unusual in that, except that the young guy serving us was very strange and gave us both the heebie-geebies by how he acted and spoke to us – and he took a bit of a hump when we said no to a selfie while we were eating!! Assuming we are dumb westerners he definitely overcharged us for our meal, but without a menu and price list, how do you go about saying that? But we paid (it still only amounted to £2) and were just glad to get out of there
Lunch was soon forgotten as we came across the most spectacular part of the route with fantastic rock formations.
At this stage we had completed most of the climb so about 30 minutes later we were on the downhill …and as if by magic the road turned into smooth tarmac that we could just glide along. After the pain and suffering we had endured earlier it was just what we needed – and there was also a nice cooling breeze on the way down.
A fairly flat road for the rest of the journey and on the outskirts of Mahad we stopped for chai and a phone check to look for accommodation. We found a decent-ish place a couple of kilometres further on, so our day was complete around 5pm. We still had to have a tepid bucket wash but at least we had a proper toilet in this hotel! Dinner was pretty good..
..and as they had WiFi we downloaded our missing Breaking Bad episode and had an early night – pretty knackered from 9 hours in the saddle, but very content having experienced our favourite cycling day in India since we arrived.
Mahad to Velas. 78km. 22 Jan
Our new travel strategy is to get on the road in the coolest part of the day so we were up, breakfasted on dosas and we were on the road just after 8am. It was really misty so it was difficult to see much of the scenery for the first couple of hours, but thankfully the roads were much better than yesterday so we could travel at a decent speed.
When the mist eventually lifted we were in the hills, which slowed us down a bit, but like yesterday there was spectacular scenery in a very rural environment with not much around.
We did pass through one little village with lots of schools kids that literally started screaming with excitement when they saw us…we kept cycling for fear of being attacked – to then be stopped at a police checkpoint to ask us where we were going. All seemed very official until the phones came out for selfies and photos…!
The scenery got more tropical as we climbed higher but unfortunately the state of the roads had deteriorated a lot so it was hard work – and very hot!
But with nothing else on the road except us it was quite magical with only the sound of birds and monkeys for company – not forgetting our puffing and panting of course! Being so rural there were no tea stalls or dhabas on the route and we were starting to get very low on water which worried us in the heat. But after climbing what was definitely the hardest and longest hill of the day we came across a little kiosk with bottled water. What a relief! We sat in the shade guzzling water to hydrate and had a couple of packets of salted peanuts, which would be our lunch…but actually protein and salt was just what we needed so it was perfect. This was also another police checkpoint but these 2 policemen were too busy relaxing to actually do much, so we just chilled out with them…
…before heading off towards a ferry, which was 18km away. After another hill climb were stopped again by police – and again these 3 police met were just being nosey rather than doing anything official. The road from here to the ferry was pretty horrendous – not quite on the same scale as yesterday morning but pretty hard work on both the ups and downs.
We turned a corner and got our first sea view on our Goa route – and fantastic timing as the ferry was just coming in as we reached the port. We haven’t been on a ferry for a while so it was a nice treat and an excuse to refuel with a snack before embarking on the last part of our day.
Our destination was a home stay in Velas which was about 6-7 km along the coast on another sh*te road, and even harder because we were pretty pooped at this stage. Another random police-stop by the side of this road and when we were told it was OK to go the policeman blew his whistle and started shouting at me. I went back and he told me my flag was wrong….he had confused the Irish flag on my bike with the Indian flag which has the same colours but their stripes are horizontal. All a bit confusing when we had just told them we were English – and it’s the first time the Irish flag has ever gotten me into trouble! Also worth noting that today is the first time on our trip that we have been stopped by police…and then 4 times in one day.
We reached Velas around 3.30…
and as we had no phone signal all day we had no idea where our accommodation was; thinking we would have signal at some point in the day I hadn’t bothered to take a screenshot of the location on Google maps before we left in the morning. Lesson learned! Despite it being a small village we spent about 30minutes asking various people where it was – but with no English on their part and no local language on ours it was difficult. But a nice guy phoned them and we were met by a lady who walked us to the house where we would be staying. Although we have stayed with WarmShowers and Couchsurfing hosts we have some experience of home life on India, but this was a completely different experience, The hosts are very nice but are a pretty poor rural family, whereas all the others have been well-educated and multi-lingual. Our sleeping arrangements were mattresses on a floor in a private room, but there was no ceiling, so we may as well be in their living room.
The main roof of the house was mainly wood and tarpaulin, which does make we wonder how the electrics survive the rainy season! Water for our wash was boiled in a big cauldron on an open fire outside the back door so at least we could have a hot wash. The hostess was very sweet and tried her best with us despite having no English, and it really was the authentic rural experience that I have wanted here.
All in all a good but tiring day. I have not suffered any sores on the trip so far (Nigel has had a few) but the bumpy roads and heat have finally taken their toll and we are both in a bit of pain tonight with blisters in places that I never thought was possible – excruciating!