Udaipur —-> Barothi. 107km. 28 December.
So we woke up in much better form today and after a breakfast of omlette and potato parathas we headed off early, with no definitive destination in mind other than the general direction of Ahmedabad, which we reckon will take us 3 days. Ahmedabad is the place of Ghandi’s Ashram, which was one of his many residences when he was not travelling across India or in jail, so a place we were interested in visiting.
Getting out of Udaipur wasn’t as bad as we feared and before long we were on highway 48. It was relatively quiet with some hills and loads of roadworks, but nothing too challenging. At times it went into single-lane traffic which is always a bit daunting with the manic bus and truck drivers, but the day was fairly uneventful to be honest.
We had rung ahead to book a roadside hotel, which when we arrived involved the usual process of asking them to change the sheets, provide towels etc. But it wasn’t too bad, they had a decent-looking restaurant and we could keep our bikes right outside our room so nothing much to complain about. Our last night in the state of Rajasthan and up until now we have done well with the level of spice on our food, generally going for “medium” when they ask. Today they didn’t ask and we ordered 2 different vegetarian thalis (a selection of different curries with rice) so that we had different things to try. Every single dish blew our bloody heads off…if we were characters in a cartoon we would have those red faces and steam coming out of our ears! We guzzled water and still our lips and mouths were completely on fire. Ouch!!
One thing we haven’t mentioned yet is how we manage our money here. Overall India has been a bit challenging on the money front for a couple of reasons.
1. Not every bank or hotel takes international MasterCard, so a lot of ATMs have refused my card. At first I thought it was blocked, rang the U.K. about both my credit card and our pre-paid currency card, but the issue is here…sometimes the chip in the card just isn’t compatible for whatever reason. But through trial and error we have found 3 banks that we know work for us so when we go to a city we generally get enough cash to last until the next city.
2. The next challenge is that the ATMs only issue big notes ie 2000 rupees (about £20). This is fine in a city or for paying a hotel bill, but in roadside eateries or stalls where we just want a bottle of water for 20 rupees it’s difficult, so we have to make sure to break all our big notes before we go into the countryside.
And also for tipping staff….All the hotels that we have stayed at have a little armies of young boys waiting tables and cleaning up. We have seen boys as young as 7-8 years old cleaning rooms – which might explain why we always check the state of the bedclothes when we look at a room! But these boys are always really helpful with our luggage as well as attentive when we are eating so we generally tip each one 10-20 rupees (the equivalent of 10p-20p). I’m guessing Indian tourists don’t tip much because the reaction we get is generally shock, refusal at first or else a big smile. And considering a snickers bar is 35 rupees it’s not as if it will get them much. But it’s getting that balance between thanking them for their help without looking like rich westerners. And in the restaurants we go to it’s nice to see that the owner/boss always gives us a nod of appreciation when we make a point of seeking out our particular waiter to give him his tip. Maybe The boss thinks he is off the hook for paying him properly that night?!
Barothi —-> Chandrala. 113 km. 29 Dec.
Surprisingly neither of us had any repercussions from the super spicy food last night so after a breakfast of dosa (a crispy filled Indian Crepe) and paratha we were just about to head off when eagle-eyed Nigel spotted that my back tyre was flat….not surprising really considering how much glass there is on the roads. So it was everything off the bike and puncture repair kit out.
An hour later we were finally on the move, hoping for a flat road to make up the lost time. We were lucky and it was relatively flat with quiet roads…similar to yesterday in that there were roadworks and some single track roads.
We crossed into the state of Gujarat, which actually had a state border crossing…but being on bikes we had no paperwork to show or tolls to pay so it was hassle free. Like going into a completely new country, the landscape changed from the dry desert-like features of Rajasthan to more lush green forest and hills, which was a nice change.
We have heard really nice things about the Gujarati food and people so hoping that means for a less intense cult-following. It’s also a ‘dry’ state and mostly vegetarian, neither of which are a problem for us. Coincidentally we did notice that there were more “English wine and beer” shops than normal along the road, so people obviously stock up before they cross over the state border!
Lunch was in a roadside Dhaba…and a very basic one that didn’t provide a menu. Our food experiences vary in terms of our ability to communicate. Sometimes there are no menus at all so we have to make it up and just ask for the dishes that we know by name (aloo gobi, aloo jeera, paneer, dal and roti) and generally something from this list is available. That’s also what we have to resort to when we have a Hindi-only menu…unless there are pictures and we we can point. But our favourite is when we get an English menu…and then we generally choose something we have not heard of. And as we are still doing the vegetarian thing we have had no issues – and 99% of the time it has been fantastic. But there was was no menu today but we still managed another great lunch..we are getting quite good at this!
Back on the bikes and continued along highway 48, which got much busier later in the afternoon.
We had an idea of where we wanted to stay so after 113km in hot sunshine we arrived to find a much nicer hotel than expected. Unloaded the bikes, checked in and watched the hotel staff playing cricket out the back of the hotel, which they all seemed to be enjoying until I gave them stage fright by taking photos!
An English menu meant we could try some new dishes for dinner. Both lunch and dinner have been about 25% more expensive that we have had in Rajasthan, which is interesting because Gujarat is supposedly not a state that gets lots of tourists…but it’s still only pennies for a great meal, so not an issue.
Chandrala —-> Ahmedabad. 72 km. 30 December.
Today our destination was Ahmedabad to stay with a WarmShowers host. In our correspondence he had suggested we visit a large Banyan tree on our way to him, which although was a 20km detour it looked interesting enough for us to want to do it. So we got up slightly earlier than normal, had breakfast in our room and off we went. And it was well worth the detour…the tree is huge with hanging roots that looked like something out of a fairytale. It even has a temple inside it – really magical!
As it was early we had a nice 20 minutes there with no one bothering us much, and then back on the bikes to get into Ahmedabad to visit Mahatma Ghandi’s Ashram. When we got there we felt it was OK to leave our loaded bikes as there was a security guard sitting nearby and as we were locking them a guy came over to us and said “Martina?” It was Bharat our host for the night who had come there with 2 other cyclists who were staying with him! Introductions to Emilie (French) and Millán (Spanish) and we all set off into the Ashram to explore.
The Ashram is set along the river and has a museum that tells Ghandi’s life story in text and photos, where he actually lived and slept when he was there (his actual bedroom in the photo – can’t vouch for the bed being genuine!)…
We spent a nice couple of hours wandering around and after a quick lunch stop across the road we set off for Bharat’s house which was on the other side of town.
Traffic was pretty nightmarish as we had to go right into the centre with tuk-tuks driving like boy racers on a go-kart track. Nigel reckons all the cities have been like this, but this definitely felt like the worst to me. Hardly surprising when it’s a city of 5.7 million people! At one stage we got separated on a roundabout and I lost sight of Nigel so had to stop and wait for him to come back for me rather than risk going further in the wrong direction. We also stopped at a hyper-market to stock up on essentials, but it was absolute jammed with mad shoppers buying food as if a famine had been declared. That got too much for me so I had to get out of there. To be fair I wouldn’t go to Sainsbury’s in Camden on the Sunday afternoon before New Year, so why I thought it would be any different I don’t know…! At this point I would like to point out how our style of cycling has changed since being in India – especially Nigel’s. Usually a very law-abiding citizen he is now quite comfortably jumping red lights, going the wrong way around roundabouts as well as going down roads on the wrong side…when in India we may as well be authentic travellers!
Eventually we made it to base to find that as Emilie and Millan were staying, Bharat had decided to book us into a nearby hotel, but we would join them for dinner and breakfast. The hotel was literally round the corner although on a very busy road, but it had hot water (not always a given!), which meant we could comfortably scrape off the grime of the day before dinner.
There was a religious event going on next to Bharat’s house and we were all invited to join them for the evening meal. The food was excellent and everyone was really nice. Even better for us was other western companions to share the experience and take the focus off us being the only foreigners. We got on like a house on fire with Emilie and Millán who had flown from Oman the previous night, which is where their cycling travels had taken them so it was a lovely evening of sharing stories and just chilling out.A later night than normal for us as we didn’t get back to our hotel until around 11.30.
And so much for Gujarat being a “dry state” – the reality is that booze is available on the black market; it’s just more expensive than in the other states…and you don’t want to get caught by the police! Bharat offered us whisky but we refrained as we knew we had a fairly long day ahead of us the next day.
Ahmedabad—-> Vadodara. 102 Km. 31 December.
A breakfast of fresh chilli Bhajis made by Bharat’s wife …
…and we were off, heading to another WarmShowers host in Vadodara. Getting out of Ahmedabad was actually quite easy as we were on the right side of town. Most of our journey for the day was on a minor road, which although is quieter than a highway does mean more single-lane traffic, which can get a bit hairy with the trucks and buses trundling by. Coming into Vadodara we had to go through an industrial site…something we haven’t done for a while! We reached our host Ajita’s house around 4.30 and as we came into the street we heard a child shouting out “Welcome to India”. Ajita’s neighbour gives after-school lessons to a mixed age group of abut 15 children and they had seen us arrive on our bikes. Within minutes Ajita got a phonecall and were duly invited to meet the children and have some masala chai. We were told to sit at the front and talk to the children…which was a bit daunting I can tell you, with 18 pairs of eyes just looking at us! Initially we were all a bit shy and after introducing ourselves Ajita broke the ice by telling them they could ask questions in Hindi and within 5 minutes it had progressed to them all fighting to ask questions in English…one of which was “What is the national bird in your country?”, which stumped me. Honestly how many Irish people know that the national bird of Ireland is the lapwing?!
Ajita is a cyclist and mountaineer and a tax officer by day, and was so warm and welcoming we immediately felt like we had known her for a long time. She and her husband Baburaj had decided to invite some neighbours and friends around for a little party to meet us and to ring in the new year, so we went back to her house to get washed and make ourselves as presentable as 2 cyclists can with limited party wear! Everyone starting arriving from 9pm and they were all really chatty with perfect English and a mix of ages, so it was a really relaxed and fun atmosphere.
Again the alcohol in the “dry” state miraculously appeared, as well as meat and fish in the supposed state of vegetariasim! New Year celebrations on 31 December are a relatively new thing in India ….each state has a different date for their new year that is attached to the lunar calendar, so in recent years and especially among the younger generation, in order to have a common new year to celebrate they have unofficially and gradually adopted the western New Year celebrations – although 1 Jan is still a working day for them. At midnight they let off a huge firework and we met the other neighbours who were celebrating and dancing in the square and then returned to the house to have some New Year’s cake. At this stage we were both wilting as we had cycled over 100km that day, but gradually everyone went home and we were in bed before 1am. Despite missing home a bit, what a great way to ring in the New Year in a completely different continent – and how lucky were we to get hosted by Anjit and Babaruj!