Vadodara to Vasai (Mumbai outskirts)

5 January 2019

It was always likely that one or both of us would get sick during our tour and the first bout goes to me! In the week leading up to Christmas I really didn’t want to be more than a few steps from a  toilet and after 5 days I was feeling pretty jaded as it was waking me up in the small hours. Being on a bike whilst negotiating some tough hills was a challenge when I was unsure if my seals would hold! Luckily for me Santa thoughtfully put some antibiotics in our first aid kit so I started a course over 2 days and what a wonder they were! Within 24 hours I was feeling much better and after I’d finished the 2-day course, all was well again with my pipes. Martina actually got the pills from her NHS doctor and I would thoroughly recommend having some antibiotics for this purpose for anyone is travelling to somewhere like India.

Vadodara to Poicha – 73km

As we’d had a late night over New Year celebrations (1am is definitely a late one for us these days!) we were a bit tired the next morning. Martina did, however, manage to get up to do some yoga with Agita and one of the neighbours and I packed the bikes whilst they were away. We then had a lovely breakfast of homemade methi (fenugreek) parathas and different chutneys with Agita while she shared a nice cycling route along the Arabian Sea coast south of Mumbai which we hope to take. After one last photo call with Agita and the neighbours we were off again. We couldn’t have asked for a better New Years celebration – so thank you Agita and friends!

The journey through Vadodara was very slow and as we were away late it seemed to take ages to finally get out of the city. We also managed to momentarily lose each other for the second time in two days! No harm done in the end and the rest of the day was fairly uneventful as far as cycling was concerned. We’d planned to get to Rajpipla, about 85km away, but the late start and our tiredness made us decide to stop a bit early. Accommodation is this area was a bit scarce and as we were tired we didn’t want to go further without having a place to aim for. We saw signs to a hotel resort 8km away so headed for it. The last km or so was down a stony track and once there the place looked closed, though there was a motorcycle parked outside. Martina phoned the numbers shown on a board and managed to get through, but the conversation was difficult to say the least. We were in the process of looking at alternatives when a guy appeared. Again the conversation was difficult but he did show us a room which was okay. He then phoned one of the numbers on the board and we had a very confusing conversation with him and the person Martina had spoken to earlier. With a communications stalemate in place we decided we’d wasted enough time so pushed on. Agita had mentioned that there is a large temple in this area, the Nikanthdham Swarminarayan Temple that had accommodation,  Thinking that this would be like a calm gurudwara experience we thought it sounded okay, but how wrong we were! It’s an enormous site and the car park was full of coaches, cars and motorcycles. We found the accommodation office booked a room and then had a quick power nap as we were both completely knackered! Once we’d recharged we went for a look around and to be perfectly honest we’re not too sure what to make of it as we’ve never seen anything quite like it.

It’s like no other religious sites we’ve ever been to and can only describe it as being very colourful, bright and quite loud ..almost in a theme park way. We don’t want to be disparaging but it didn’t feel very religious and certainly wasn’t serene.

There were brightly colour gods and idols inside the temple which we went to have a look at.

Martina even got to pull the rope to rock one of Jain gods backwards and forwards (though back in Rankapur we’d been told that the Jain’s didn’t have gods but worshipped a power – confused? We are!), though we’re not entirely sure why a god would be on a swinging chair. We had a good look around which just added to our confusion and we have come away with far more questions than answers!

We cycled in the dark back out to the main road to a dhaba for dinner and tried to update our blog. We’re finding this increasingly difficult in more rural areas as we can’t find WiFi (not many of the budget hotels and other accommodation we’re using offer this) and if we do get a signal it’s often 3G only – remember that? We’ve tried linking our iPad via Bluetooth to our phones on 3G and it just doesn’t work. We’re making sure we can remember everything by typing it all into ‘notes’ because we forget what we have done and seen very quickly…..probably an age thing!

Poicha to Rajpipla and the Statue of Unity – 66km

We were woken at 5am to the sound of chanting and music over loudspeakers from the temple – we then dozed until it was time to get up. We had our own breakfast in the room and were on the road by 8:45. We decided to go straight into Rajpipla and find a room for that night so that we could be free for the rest of the day.  This wasn’t a problem and we soon found a cheap hotel in the centre of town. We ditched our bags and headed east on naked bikes to the Statue of Unity.

At 182m high this is the tallest statue in the world and it is truly enormous. We could easily see it from about 5km away and up close it’s even more epic! We bought tickets to look around the statue but not to the viewing gallery inside the statues’s chest, as it was really hazy and we didn’t think the view of the surrounding countryside would be that good. Picture below is me next to his toes!

So, who warrants such a massive statue? The statue is in honour of Sadar (Leader) Vallabhbhai Patel who was a freedom fighter and chief supporter of Mahatma Gandhi during the non-violent Indian Independence Movement. He became the first deputy prime minister of India and united the 562 old states of India to form the single large Union of India without bloodshed. The museum there was very good and there’s lots more to him than just that, but specifically the statue itself has been placed here to help rejuvenate local tribal areas – it’s a bit in the middle of nowhere to be honest and there has been quite a lot of controversy around how much it cost to build. We rather like him calmly staring off into the distance and would definitely recommend this as a place to visit.

We returned to our accommodation in Rajpipa and had a chat with a fellow western guest Kennet – a Swedish travelling artist, who paints murals for anyone who will buy him paint and give him a wall to paint on! He pointed us to a very good restaurant which wins the value-for-money award for food so far – the picture shows the two thalis we ordered and with 3 large bottles of water cost the equivalent of about £2.80!

Unfortunately we were joined by a very annoying family of dad, mum and 6 year-old child – the very first thing that mum did was to whip out her phone and take a selfie whilst trying to get us in it without asking – one of our pet hates. Dad was chewing tobacco and had to keep going outside to hawk up and spit out the juices – another gross habit. There’s a lot of tobacco chewing in India by men and they are constantly gobbing everywhere – even off the back of motorcycle, cars and tuk tuks!!

Rajpipla to Udhyam – 183km over 2 days

Sweaty, noisy, grimy, gritty, loud, honking, sandy, hot, dusty, sunny, smelly, hazy, smoggy, polluted, tiring, gravelly, potholey, dazzling sun, chaotic, bonkers, crazy, are all good words to describe the past couple of days!

Note the colour of Martina’s no-longer-hi-vis jacket covered in grime from just being on the road!

The run towards Mumbai was always going to be a bit of a means to an end though we are hoping to see the sea sometime soon. We did find a great spot to stop on one of the nights which had a (very cold) swimming pool but we did have it all to ourselves!

Udhyam to Bordi – 89km

For the first hour and a half  today we were back on the dusty, stinking highway 48 – the main road between Delhi and Mumbai. As we’d experienced over the past couple of days it was pretty busy and we will have to use it again as we get nearer Mumbai. We managed to get onto some smaller roads out towards the coast, which gave us a reprieve from the traffic. We’d hoped to see the sea, but all we really got to see was the odd bit of swampy estuary.

The road was quite remote, which threw up a problem in that there were none of the usual roadside dhabas. We kept going past lunchtime and only found a snack place where we had bel puri and sev puri, which are sweet crispy snacks. We got to our accommodation, which was very disappointing considering it was at the top end of what we’d usually pay. We’ll write something about accommodation and it’s random nature in a later blog but suffice it to say this one was very basic – though it was at least clean! Their restaurant only sold Chinese non-veg (how they refer to meat here as most restaurants are veg only or “pure veg”), but we did manage to get them to make some veg noodles and rice as we don’t really want to eat meat if we can help it.

Bordi to Vasai – 107km

We were up a bit earlier than usual and had a very pleasant ride along the coast for the first 15km, though it was all rather marred by the rubbish strewn everywhere – not just a problem here but all over India from what we have seen.

We then had to head back to route 48 which took us up some hills and we were pleasantly surprised  to find that there wasn’t the intensity of traffic that we’d experienced over the past couple of days. In fact we’d go so far as to say that it was pleasant and the scenery was quite nice too!

Note strange shaped mountain below, which Martina said looked like a turd – I’ll leave that one open for discussion…

There’s not much to mention about the last part of getting to Vasai, on the outskirts of Mumbai other than the road was definitely busier as we get closer to the city! And as we had no Indian food all day yesterday, we really missed it. so we made up for it today – and a few beers now that we are out of the dry state of Gujarat!

Random picture of the day was taken with some firemen who gave us a thumbs up when they passed us. We then caught up with them in a cafe when we stopped for a chai. Worringly the synthetic shirts they are wearing look very flammable!

A few notes on cycling in India:

We have mentioned that there are no obvious rules on the roads so we don’t ask whether we can cycle on any particular road. This means that anyone can use the road no matter how big or how many lanes. On major multi-lane trunk roads we often see tuk tuks, tractors, other cyclists, people pushing carts, ox pulling carts and even herds of cows and goats.

Where there are junctions people will use the hard shoulder to travel in the wrong direction to get to where they want to go to rather than taking the longer way around on the correct side. So, it is very common to see motorcycles and cars coming towards us and we regularly see trucks and even buses doing the same.

The reason for such “lawless” driving is that there doesn’t appear to be any traffic police on the highways. In towns and cities we have seen them ineffectually trying to direct traffic with a lot of whistle-blowing, but for some reason they don’t venture onto the open highways.

Where there are three or more lanes there are signs to show that slow vehicles stay in the left lane and faster vehicle can overtake by using the outer lanes – similar to how it’s is in the U.K.  The way it actually works however is that the slowest lorries occupy the outer lane and faster vehicles undertake to go around them. Naturally we stay left so end up near some of the faster traffic….sounds bad but actually the left hand lane mainly has scooters and motorcycles so doesn’t usually prove to be an issue.

Bridges crossing canals and rivers have their measurements posted on signs at each end. Were not too sure why anyone needs to know how long each and every single bridge (especially bridges that are only 10m long) is and what’s more confusing is that the measurements are in meters and down to 3 decimal places!

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