Malvan to Amboli – 80km
We really liked Malvan. It absolutely fitted what we wanted at exactly the right time – big enough that there were a few things to do and small enough that we didn’t feel we were missing out on anything. So, we had a lovely relaxing time and it was with a bit of sadness that we left. We knew that there were some hills that we needed to cross today, so we were up and on the road by 7:15 as we wanted to do as much as possible in the cooler part of the day. Before we left we said goodbye to what we think is the owner’s dad, who had looked after us really well during our stay and regularly supplied chai free-of-charge whenever we needed it!
As far as the cycling is concerned there’s not much to report for the morning other than the route took us up and away from the coast. There were some early hills, a few small villages, some good and bad surfaces and some roadworks, but we made reasonable time. We stopped at a dhaba for lunch and then pushed on towards Amboli Ghat, a mountain pass similar to Bhor Ghat – the one that killed us on our way to Pune! The final 15km was a hot, sweaty grind up through the hills and over the ghat. When we got to the top the view was unfortunately rather obscured by haze, but we did feel suitably happy with our efforts and felt that our legs were strong after our downtime. We now feel we’re back to full fitness!
Just before the top we stopped at Amboli Ghat waterfall, which at the moment is more of a trickle, but we could definitely see how it would be impressive in the rainy season.
We made it to Amboli at about 3:30 and checked into a cheap, basic, but perfectly good for us, hotel.
Amboli was apparently a ‘hill station’ built by the British to combat the heat of the Indian summer. Basically they constructed small villages that were as high up in the hills as possible where it was a few degrees cooler. Amboli also has the ghat through which cool air from the sea gets funnelled, so it sort of has its own air conditioning!
Just outside our accommodation was a police checkpoint with a barrier into the village and a couple of policemen standing next to it. When we went out to scope out the evening’s eating opportunities a 4×4 thundered through the village at high speed, scattering people as it went – the policemen didn’t even bat an eyelid. This is the 5th police checkpoint we have seen recently and we still have no idea what they are for other than taking pictures with western cyclists!
A few recent observations:
Something that we did see today, which we haven’t really seen since Norway, was groups of big touring motorcycles. At one point near the Ghat there was a group of Harley Davidson bikes with Indian number plates – very unusual!
In both Malvan and Amboli we have seen groups of very well-dressed ladies in vibrant colours. In Malvan we thought that it might be a wedding, but we saw them again in Amboli and asked the hotel owner he said it was for a religious festival.
Our new favourite snack, which sort of takes the place of the cakes we were eating in Europe, is the chikki ball. Just like the chikki bars made from peanuts and sugar, but ball-shaped and perfect for snacking on – very morish!
Amboli to Belgaum – 72km
So, we conquered the big hill yesterday and today was very much rolling hills through some lush scenery. The early hills were quite tough, but as the day wore on they smoothed out somewhat. We were heading towards Belgaum where we have planned to stay with some Couchsurfing hosts. On the way we decided to stop for a chai at the roadside in what can only be described as a shed!
As we were tucking into our chai the chap who owned the stall started talking and using charades and pointing etc he asked about us and we told him we’d come from Delhi. He then asked if we needed food, but as this was just a chai stop for us we politely refused – but he was having have none of it and provided a tasty veg dish and some roti.
He came back more than once with food before we could stop him so it turned into a mini lunch! He also insisted that we have a glass of sugar cane juice to ‘keep us strong’ – of course he couldn’t say this to us but there was lots of muscle flexing action to illustrate his point. He was then going to give it all to us gratis, but we did manage to get him to accept money for it – but he got a load of pictures of us on his phone to show his mates! A really lovely encounter. (He’s the chap on the left of the photo).
The journey into Belgaum was fairly easy and we were at our Couchsurfing hosts by 3:30. Sumant and Beena are a lovely couple who invited us into their house and looked after us so well. First up we got to know each other and talking to them turned out to be very easy. They are both dentists and have travelled extensively to over 80 countries sometimes with their work and sometimes on holiday, so we had a lot to talk about.
One sad conversation developed when they learned that Martina was Irish. Savita Halappanavar, the Indian dentist who died in Galway in 2012 when she was denied an abortion because of complications in her pregnancy, lived in Belgaum and worked for Sumant at his local clinic years earlier. Her death was the catalyst for the referendum to legalise abortion in Ireland, which is now been passed as law. Sumant said he attended her wedding and then her funeral a few years later. Considering India has a population of of 1.3 billion people, what a coincidence to meet someone with a really personal connection to such a high profile and emotive story in Ireland!
Beena gave Martina a Reiki session and when Martina mentioned that she’d recent,y been able to do some yoga with India locals on our travels (rather than at a retreat or resort) that sparked a whole new conversation. They are heavily into spiritualism and with that goes meditation and yoga, so they called a friend of theirs who is a yoga practitioner/teacher to see if we could meet. The answer was yes, so after we had deposited our bikes at their nearby flat where we were staying, and freshened up we went to meet him. Dr Abhay Keste practices Iyengar yoga and was a student of Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, the founder of this type of yoga.
His studio is a room with many unusual benches set up – they rather looked like instruments of torture! After introductions and a talk about our journey Abhay showed us some stretches using the benches, which are there to help students hold their form whilst stretching.
The outcome was that we now know that we’re not as flexible as we should be so Abhay showed us some stretches which should help with our cycling from now on, which we should supposedly do after each ride!
Sumant and Beena then took us for a lovely meal at a restaurant in town. Sumant appears to know everyone around and he mentioned that it’s only a small city so it’s easy to know a few people here…by the way the population of Belgaum is 650,000 – small in India maybe! Our conversation over dinner was mainly about Prime Minister Modi and what he has done for India. Everyone we have talked to likes what he is doing, however, the whole country doesn’t necessarily see it the same way. Elections are coming up in 3 months and the opposition parties have joined together to try to oust him. Mr Modi has been making changes to try to counter corruption which hasn’t gone down well with the old school politicians. The opposition parties are made up of the old school politicians hence why they are trying to get rid of him – apparently it will be a tough election.
The next morning we went back to their house for a home-made breakfast – a tasty rice dish that is a traditional breakfast in Kerala where Beena is from.
They told us a lot about Hinduism but to be honest I still don’t understand it, but it was still very interesting and maybe I’m a bit better-informed. One thing I did understand is that it’s not just a religion as we know it in the West – Hinduism is a way of life and that is very evident wherever we go. Back in Poland we thought that there were a lot of religious shrines at the side of the roads and, what felt like, a church around every corner. Here there are Hindu temples literally everywhere – every small hamlet and village will have a number of them and towns and cities are bursting with them. A typical small village temple is shown below…
They can range from a very small statue or picture of a god at the side of the road right up to what we saw at Poicha a few weeks back. Almost every day we also see van/car/bus loads of people and people walking at the sides of roads, on pilgrimages to different temples. One thing that I do rather like is the connection between Hinduism and banyan trees.
There are lots of banyan trees in India and they grow for a very long time – apparently there is one that is 700 years old, which puts the youngster we saw (a mere 400 years!) to shame and is the world’s largest tree. It’s significance lies in the thought that the Hindu god Lord Vishnu is believed to be the bark, Lord Brahma the roots and Lord Shiva the branches and it has healing powers.
Belgaum to Mammigatti – 68km
We could have sat and talked for ages more with Sumant and Beena, but unfortunately we needed to be back on the road. We were a bit later than normal, but well-fuelled up on our fantastic breakfast. This was good as there were definitely a few more hills than we had expected and a bit of a headwind which didn’t help. We did find some suitable accommodation along the road which also had a restaurant. We ordered a thali each – in hindsight one between the two of us would have been enough…
Note Martina’s crazy white hands from wearing gloves!
We thought that attention around us had started to die down, but over the past couple of dayit has come back again and people are back to staring and laughing at us. But we don’t think that it’s affecting us now as much as it did start the start as we’re a bit more used to it. We have been in India for more than 9 weeks now and we are just starting the journey towards the Bangladesh border.
Mammigatti to Hubballi (pronounced Hooblee) – 33km
We had a bit of a lazy get up as it was only a short cycle into Hubballi – we also managed breakfast of dosas and uttapam (thick pancake with a topping of onion cooked into the batter) in the hotel restaurant, which was a nice start to the day.
There were still a few toughish hills to get over, but we made it to Hubballi by midday and as it was so early we used this opportunity to do some shopping. Martina was in her element again as we found a large supermarket to stock up on essentials! We had a lunchtime snack and did some travel research -we have a couple of deadlines looming, one is for our tiger safari and the other at the border with Bangladesh, so more precise planning is needed.
By 2pm we decided we’d had enough of planning, so headed off to our WarmShowers’ house nearby. After a bit of a navigational faff on my part we made it to be greeted by Surekha, Vivitt’s mum, as he was still at work. She invited us in and we had a lovely conversation until Vivitt arrived about an hour or so after. Vivitt is a super guy and we felt it very easy to talk to him as he is a like-minded person. He’s done a fair amount of cycling himself and also technically supports a friend who races. Unfortunately, after we’d had lunch, he had to go back to work – he runs the family business – but would be back later. We made use of the intervening time to unload the bikes, wash and chill out – I even had the chance to read their local paper and Martina was brought right up-to-date with an Indian soap opera, care of Surekha!
Once Vivitt returned we had a lovely dinner (both lunch and dinner were made by Surekha). He suggested that we head for Koppal the next day, which is on the way to Hampi, our next proper destination. Koppal is over 120km away so we knew it was going to be a long day, so although it would have been easy to stay up much later and chat we did the sensible thing and went to bed reasonably early ….11pm, which was already past our regular bed time, the old fogies that we are!