Derrekasa to Rajnandgaon. 75 km. 2 March.
After a breakfast of poha and chai we got a tribal farewell from Ushakiran and her sister.
We were sad to leave them and their lovely peaceful way of life – and they wanted to know when we would be back, so they obviously didn’t mind having us!
Harshit and Pragati lead the way on motorbike for the first 25 km until we got to the main road, stopping to take what is the only photo we have of both of us together on our bikes.
We then parted ways as they were travelling further than us, but the plan was to meet them on Sunday in Raipur.
Fairly uneventful cycling as we were back on the highway for the rest of the day and we reached our hotel in Rajnandgaon around 3pm.
As we have been 90 days in the country, we have reached the maximum time that foreigners are allowed to have a SIM card here, so both our phones stopped working this morning. In Europe this wasn’t a problem as WiFi was generally available, but that’s not the case in India and it’s not as easily accessible. Being without a connection makes things a bit more challenging for us and personally I feel a bit more vulnerable even though I know so many people who have travelled before the internet. So we decided to use our afternoons in Rajnandgaon to see if we could get new SIMs sorted. When we got our original ones at Delhi airport we just showed our passports and the address of our accommodation and hey presto it was done. Not so when you are outside an international airport and every shop we went to insisted that we needed a local ID. We guessed this would be the case but wanted to try in case there was someone willing to bend the rules – but no such luck. So after a couple of hours we had to admit defeat, so we had dinner and an early night.
Rajnandgaon to Raipur. 85 km. 3 March.
We were woken this morning by sounds that we hadn’t heard in what seems like a very long time…thunder, lightning and heavy rain. As well as not relishing the thought of heading into the storm, it had caused a pawer cut at the hotel so we had no access to the WiFi, which meant we couldn’t contact Harshit to organise where to meet him later….all the reasons we needed for a bit of a lie in! When the electricity eventually came back on we made contact and we headed off in the rain, which had eased off lightly. But not for long….about an hour into our journey we had to pull into a Dhaba to put on our rain gear and for the next couple of hours the rain poured. If we thought Indian drivers were already chaotic on the roads, the rain made them a lot more so. It was mayhem, especially passing through some of the larger towns along the route. Thankfully it was Sunday morning so it was relatively quite but it was still pretty miserable cycling. We shouldn’t grumble too much as this is the first rain we have had since Istanbul.
We passed a big supermarket complex along the highway so stopped there for a reprieve as well as some grocery retail therapy – and from there we continued straight on to Raipur with a quick lunch stop along the way when we had 2 young kids come to shake our hands and welcome us to India : )
Harshit and Pragati were staying with a friend in Raichur so we were heading there….but it really wasn’t the easiest place to find as a lot of the roads weren’t on google maps. We pulled up outside what we thought was where we should be, but with no phone or WiFi we couldn’t get in touch with Harshit. While we were debating what to do, a girl called out to us asking if we needed help. Within minutes we had her WiFi code and were ensconced in her lounge with her sister and father while her mother made us tea – how brilliant! And we were literally 2 minutes away from where we should have been, so Harshit and his friend Ramesh came to meet us, and all was well.
We booked a nearby hotel and once we freshened up there we all headed out to dinner….me on a scooter and Nigel on a motorbike – which is NEARLY as much fun as being on a bicycle! (Spot Nigel on the bike in front!)
We were joined by one of Ramesh’s colleagues who wanted to meet us, and Ramesh very kindly treated us all to dinner!
Harshit knew of our phone issue so after dinner he and Pragati made it their mission to get us sorted …! I won’t go into the detail of it all other then it meant hours of their time making and receiving phone calls, waiting around and then driving around on a Sunday evening to get it sorted – and even then when they left our hotel at 10.30pm we still didn’t have working phones so they came back at 7am the next morning to check the overnight status. Our phones still weren’t connected and we thought about staying another day to get things sorted but they told us to go ahead as planned and they would take care of things. True to their word by the time we reached destination on Monday we both had working phones with internet connection. Having Harshit and Pragati willing to give up so much time to help us, who they had just met 2 days prior is incredible and we will be forever grateful – what impressive young people they are for 26 and 27 years old (and for anyone interested in seeing the great photos and the work they do with the tribals in central India you can visit http://www.fb/humansgondwana
We will never be able to repay them for how much they helped us, but we hope that we can learn from their hospitality and pay it forward by helping others on our travels or at some other time in years to come.
Raipur to Pithora. 101km. 4 March.
A bit of a non-descript cycling day on flat terrain in warm muggy weather. It must have been a Hindu religious festival day as all along the route temples were blasting our music and chanting. We got to our digs in the one-horse town of Pithora in the early afternoon and as there really was nothing to do, we had a snooze despite the sauna-like temperatures of our non-air conditioned room. There was a temple directly opposite our lodge and around 5pm the music and chanting started …and continued for the entire evening – the same set of chants over and over and over and over again…which meant closed windows and earplugs for the night.
Pithora to Bargarh. 125km. 5 March – My 47th birthday!
A 5.30am get up as we had a long distance to cover and we wanted to do as much of it as possible in the coolest part of the day. Although the temperature hasn’t gone up by much, the humidity in the last few days has and after just packing the bikes we were already sweating. When we think back to how we travelled in Europe, cycling until late evening in really hot conditions, we realise now how ludicrous that was. It’s amazing what a bit of experience can teach you!
Even though it was early, the locals were still out doing their daily sweeping routine, which usually involves rising dust and very little else!
We had a tail wind pushing us along flat roads all morning, so by midday we had covered 99km, and that included a breakfast stop! We made it to our destination of Bargarh around 2pm, having covered 125km – our biggest cycling day in India…not a bad way to celebrate turning 47 really! We had booked a “luxury air-conditioned room” here, but the welcoming committee of mosquitoes meant it didn’t feel very luxurious. However it was directly opposite a wine and beer store so once we did the obligatory bucket wash/shower and afternoon snooze we acquired a few alcoholic beverages. They don’t really do bars in India, and where they do, the ones outside the cities are really not places for women..so we had our pre-dinner birthday drinks in our “luxury” room, drinking from our camping mugs as the hygiene of the drinking glasses in the room were below even our current low standards! (Spot the Christmas socks in the photo!)
For dinner Nigel treated me to my second curry of the day, and as the generally don’t serve beer in restaurants it was washed down with water….probably not a bad thing as the beer we had been drinking was between 5-8%! Back for a final beer before bed and as Nigel would say in his RAF days it was “wheels up and lights out” by 11pm, having spent the evening just chatting about our learnings and experiences of the last 11 months on the road. A very enjoyable birthday indeed!
Bargarh to Sambalpur. 6 March. 45 km.
We didn’t feel too shabby heading off today after our evening of strong beers and as we had a short day we even had a lie-in and left at 8am! There was a bit of a head-wind early on in our journey, but we were still at base before midday. I had made a bit of a boo-boo with the accommodation today as for some reason I didn’t check the exact location when booking it. It was a bit outside the town of Sambalpur, which was a shame as we had a half day to spare, and also right in the middle of trucker central with loads of garages and parked up trucks. Bur never fear…we had planning to do as we only have about 10 days before we cross into Bangladesh, so we used our time wisely. And it wasn’t all bad as although it was basic, our room had air-conditioning, was mosquito-free and there was a very helpful guy working there who looked after us well.
We even ventured to a truckers’ cafe for dinner. They had women working there so it didn’t feel too intimidating, and like all good truck stops the food was excellent and very cheap…2 meals and a bottle of water cost us a total of £1.30!
A few random factoids about India that we thought were interesting/worth mentioning.
- Cost of living. Although food is cheap almost everywhere, as is petrol, the general cost of living for Indians is more expensive than we would have thought before coming here. We have been told that a “good” salary is around 35,000-40,000 rupees per month (£400 approx) although banking and civil service job are probably more. However, in cities apartments cost in the region of £100-£250,000, with cities like Mumbai and Delhi costing considerably more. We thought these prices are on par with the U.K. (excluding London of course), which surprised us to be honest.
- Apparently a lot of Indian men dye their hair black….a hairdresser/beautician told us that, which might explain what we don’t see that many grey-haired older men!
- A1 and A2 Milk. This milk “categorisation” doesn’t exist in Europe as far as we know, but exists in India as well as in Australia and New Zealand. The first time we heard of it was when we stayed with a family in Nanded and they had 3 different milkmen deliver milk every day! Logically we would have assumed that A1 is the more superior one, but it’s not! A2 is the more superior one because it doesn’t contain more harmful proteins that are present in A1 – and it’s all down to the breed of cows that the milk comes from. In practical terms it meant that the family drank A2 milk pure, used the A1 milk in tea….and we aren’t sure what the other milk type was!
- Apparently Canada is known as the second Punjab as so many Indians emigrate there.
- Mutton is goat meat here, rather than sheep as we would have back home…not that it matters to us as we are still quite happily enjoying our vegetarian diet!
- Touching an old person’s feet when you meet them is a sign of respect. We obviously fit into the old person category as one of the sons of a tribal lady that we visited recently, touched our feet when he met us!
- In Ireland we don’t have postcodes as part of our addresses, which I can imagine can make a postman’s job quite a challenge. Not quite the case in India if the addresss for this restaurant is anything to go by…