Velas to Ambolgad

27 January 2019

Velas to Harnai – 46km.

Our home stay host provided us with a great breakfast of home-made poa before the obligatory photoshoot prior to us setting out. Martina spoke to her brother on the phone and it turns out that we were her first western guests. And when we looked at the visitors register, her last guests were in April 2018, so she is hardly making a living out of it. In fact although she’d been open as a home stay since 2009 I reckon she’d only had about 50 guests – as is a bit out of the way.

So, off we tootled.  It was a nice clear day for once  (no real fog, smog or haze to speak of), so the initial views were very good, though the enjoyment was hampered somewhat by the monster climb we had out of the village. The road surface continued along yesterday’s bad theme. But that was just the start really – after a couple of kilometres the road turned into a dusty, gritty, stony track with thundering tipper trucks on it.

There was obviously some construction going on – hopefully to build a new road! It was pretty unpleasant riding and very slow, what with the non-existent road surface and having to stop every minute-or-so to let a bunch of trucks pass. Each time this happened we were covered in a fine layer of red dust. Martina also took a tumble on the poor surface, but luckily no major harm done.

At this point I had been thinking that despite the terrible road surface and the trucks it was all still manageable and we were lucky it was dry…and then it got wet! There was water all over the track, stretching off into the distance, turning it into a clay-like quagmire that stuck everywhere; every now and then it went dry again, but the dry dust just stuck to the wet clay!

We went past the truck that was spraying the water, which we assume was to keep the dust down – but it obviously doesn’t work! About 18km and 3 hours into our day we finally came to a proper road. At this point we stopped to clean the gunk off our bikes – mine was in such a state that the clay between the tyres and the mudguards meant I couldn’t even push my bike backwards!!

So, having prised the clay off (which was rapidly setting like cement) we were off again, over a bridge, to get onto the coast. Note Martina’s ‘war paint’ from her tumble…

The road was better for the most part and we made it to Kelshi in time for a well-earned break and some lunch. We found a nice place in the town for a thali – the owner was a bit curt and the service slow, but it was nice enough food. We did feel that we were probably overcharged though we can’t be sure as we couldn’t read the menu. This is likely to be something we should get used and it does seem to be that the more rural we go, the more we seem to be over-charged as we have discovered in the last few days.  We are still in touch with the other cyclists we met in Ahmedabad and they are finding similar issues and also with hotel owners, who when they see a western face, seem to make up a number when giving a price.  Not fair and it’s not a nice feeling, but in a strange way it’s reassuring to know that it’s not just us being ripped off.

We continued on our way and the road alternated from bone-shaking to nice and smooth on a regular basis – and add into that plenty of tough climbs to keep us out of breath! Coastal areas are often like this as where a river flows into the sea we have to drop to sea level and then climb up over headlands to get to the next river – very tiring.

Luckily it was a short day (we are still broadly following Anil’s route) and we made it to Harnai by mid-afternoon. We’d still been in the saddle for 6 hours and only covered 46km, so it was obviously a tough one! We didn’t have accommodation booked so we just wandered through Harnai to see what was available. We decided against the first possibility, but on our way out of town we spotted a suitable guesthouse. Everything was catered for – hot water, clean sheets, towels etc, so we booked in, freshened up and went for a walk along the nearby beach. Really beautiful with only a few people about playing cricket and taking photos of their motorcycles on the sand! I got all ‘arty’ with the photograph…

A nearby resort hotel provided us with an excellent evening meal at at great price, so we felt we’d lucked in after a very testing day.

Harnai to Guhagar – 61km.

We are now definitely getting used to the earlier starts – we were up, packed and off by just gone 8am today and it’s possible that we could even get earlier as the temperature rises. In comparison to yesterday this was, thankfully, a much less eventful day! The roads continued to have the same random quality of the past week or so, but at least it was mainly tarmac. We headed inland early into the day, skirted the town of Diapoli, and then went south to join back onto the coast. Along a quiet stretch we met Martin, a Swedish cyclist, who we stopped to have a chat with. He’d just come from Goa and he wasn’t that impressed – he’d been there 25 years ago and apparently it’s changed quite a bit and in his eyes, not for the good. Interestingly he was cycling a 1970s folding bike with small wheels and only 2 gears – now that’s hard – and he did say that he often has to get off to push!

We managed a lunch stop in Dabhol just before bagging our second ferry-crossing in a couple of days, which took us to Veldur. Getting on and off was rather chaotic and a bit of a squash – Martina and I ended up in different parts of the boat.  In true India style I managed to take a selfie to show how packed it was…

When we got off the ferry, apart from one tough hill we had a reasonably nice ride for 20km to the town of Guhagar where we stayed in a very nice guesthouse – again by the sea. Although we got to base pretty early I needed to do some maintenance on the brakes on both bikes. Neither of my brakes were working particularly well and Martina’s rear brake was playing up. Not really what I wanted to do at this point in the day, but brakes are fairly important apparently – especially where there are a few hills involved!  As ever there was an audience watching me as I worked.  I don’t really mind the attention in instances like this, but I definitely could have done without it this time as our disc brakes are very fiddly. Sometimes they just need a good swearing at  – especially when small springs ping off and the watchers all scurry off to find them and then have a good laugh at my expense! Anyway, brakes hopefully sorted and we’ll find out tomorrow if they work. 

Guhagar to Ranagiri – 68km.

I asked one of the guys that worked at the guesthouse if there was a hill to climb to get over the headland in the direction of our travel. He and the owner assured me that it was pretty flat – not true!  Either they have never been along that road (even though it’s literally right out their door) or they were having another laugh at my expense (He was one of the guys laughing at me fixing the brakes yesterday).  Even though it was reasonably short it was a VERY steep punishing hill! We were definitely puffing at the top and I almost lost my breakfast! The down wasn’t much better either as the road quickly turned into a red, sandy, bumpy track.

Luckily this only lasted 3km, but that was definitely enough thanks!

We stuck to the coast for the majority of the day, which meant lots more ups and downs and the road surface shite-o-meter swung wildly from glassy smooth to potholed nightmare every 100m or so! I’ll stop going on about this now as it’s become the norm….However the scenery was pretty spectacular, so the roads and the hilly terrain were all well worth the effort.  Every time we crested a hill there was a huge pristine empty sandy beach stretching off into the distance. So we saw plenty of this…

Some of this…

And more of this…

We also bagged ferry number 3 in 4 days – a bit like buses really…you don’t see one for ages and then a load of them turn up together!

Our ferry took us to Jaigad and after a chai we were off along more coastal roads. Goa to the south of us is a well-known and developed tourist destination (and from what we have heard here it’s mainly UK and Russians visitors). But where we are now, 250km north of Goa, is reasonably untouched, which we found rather nice. There are a few hotel resorts around and one provided us with an excellent lunch stop – one of the best so far. The last few kilometres to the outskirts of Ratnagiri, our final destination was through nice mangrove swamps.

Tonight was another homestay, but this time it’s run by a guy and his wife who speak excellent English and although the accommodation is basic it’s not as intrusive as the last one – and with lots of nice flowers, unusual chirping birds and whooping monkeys outside. Although it was easier to converse with the owner and his wife we did find him a bit overbearing and rather opinionated, so the conversation that we did have with him was a bit testing at times. It was also a bit awkward as they both stood over us as we ate our dinner, especially as we’re still not that good at the Indian way of eating with our hands!

Speaking of birds, we have seen plenty whilst in India. We see a lot of different types of kingfishers on telegraph wires (they’re not so elusive as our native ones) and couple of days ago we saw one catch a fish right next to us. There’s a load of bright, what we’d call garden/song birds as well as different birds of prey. As we’ve been near the coast the latter have been especially abundant and spectacular. I did try looking them up, but India has so many bird species it all got a bit too difficult, especially when we have other things to be getting on with – cycling, packing, continual planning, etc!

Ratnagiri to Ambolgad – 72km.

26th of January is India Republic Day and we had been warned that there would be a lot of activity – parades etcand so we decided to pre-book our accommodation as we were afraid that this might be an issue because of the celebrations. As we went through Ratnagiri there was definitely more activity than other places we’ve been through on Saturdays and most of the people seemed to be dressed up in their finest. Some brightly dressed women were lined up in the street and started their procession as we passed through.

There also were a load of school children and scouts in uniforms that looked ready to go. But later in the morning we saw children going off to to school as per normal, (Saturday is a school day here) so we’re uncertain whether the ones in town were there for the parades or just going to school. To be honest we didn’t see much in the way of any other celebrations during the day unlike other national days we experienced in Norway and Greece.

Today turned out to be similar to the past few days as far as the coast and roads were concerned. But we did see a colony of enormous bats settling down to roost for the day just outside of Ratnagiri, which was something different…

We also saw a very unusual religious statue of a figure who appeared to be smoking a joint, which is definitely a first on this trip…

We also passed what looked like a semi-official cricket match. I say semi as it looked properly organised and there was a PA system with some match commentary (we even heard cycles mentioned and lots of people looking our way!). However, the teams were dressed rather randomly and the pitch was in a very small field with the wicket up against one wall…

Unfortunately towards the end of the day I made a bit of a navigation error, which cost us an extra 10km. We are staying at an agro-tourism place tonight. This area is famous for its Alphonso mangos apparently and we are staying on a mango farm! The last 5km was a right pain as it was along a very bumpy track and the final 500m up an incredibly steep hill. Luckily for us there were a couple of friendly farm workers on hand to help us push our bikes up the hill. The farm is incredibly quiet and after washing we wandered to the top of the nearby hill to watch the sunset…

And then back to the rooftop terrace for another delicious dinner! 

Health-wise we are both basically back to full fitness. So it’s reassuring to know that my episode in Bhor Ghat where I had very little energy was most likely because I was coming down with the dreaded lurgy and not because we lacked hill fitness. We have conquered some pretty big hills in recent days and although they were tough we were more than capable!

A few recent observations as we have moved south…

We think that the attitude of the locals has definitely changed as we have headed south – though they remain curious about us, they tend not to just stand and stare. They are more likely to have a good look then get on with whatever they were doing, whereas further north they’d have just stared (often silently) until we have moved on.

The driving is slightly less erratic too, which is a nice relief! There is still some very bizarre road behaviour though: one of them being that the horn is used as a threat – not as a ‘look out I’m here’ caution that it would be in the UK. Drivers will use their horns as they overtake on a blind corner/hill and expect anything coming in the opposite direction to get out the way – and in general they do! A flash of the lights is an even stronger threat – not an ‘on you go mate’ as it would be in the UK! So, someone using their horn and flashing their headlights is ‘regardless of what you are doing I’m coming through even if it is absolutely obvious that I’m in the wrong’.  We’ve mentioned before that motorcycles will regularly use the wrong side of the road and come towards oncoming traffic. On these smaller rural roads they will use their horn and if they think it’s necessary flash their light – they are coming through and will expect the law-abiding, oncoming traffic to get out of their way! 

They love a speed bump here! To try to slow traffic down entering and exiting built-up and toll areas there are almost always a number (I’ve counted a maximum of 16 in one place so far) of speed bumps. The are very sharp in general and they need to be handled at very slow speed. Some are marked and some aren’t and the unmarked ones can really catch us out! Just outside of Mumbai, in an industrial area, there was the most enormous speed hump that we actually had to properly ride up and over…I can only assume that this was to slow the large trucks down, but it was like a mini-hill for us cyclists! 

1 comment

  1. Comment by Flo.

    Flo. Reply 28 January 2019 at 5:04 pm

    I so enjoy your blogs,they are so much nicer than reading a travel book. Good effort all round.

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