Sambalpur to Redhakhol – 75km
As we have already mentioned, we are on our way to the Bangladesh border, so our cycling over the next week-or-so is very much functional; we’re not planning to stop to sightsee unless it happens by accident! One thing we have noticed recently as we have transited east is that temperatures have gone down to 31-33 degrees in comparison to 35-38 degrees, but humidity has gone up quite a bit – so it makes for more sweaty cycling!
Sambalpur is an industrial town and so ‘trucker-ville’, where we stayed last night, was spread pretty much right around the outskirts of town. In fact that was really the story of our ride today – lots of trucks being driven in their usual erratic way. At one point I ‘faced down’ a truck in a David and Goliath kind of way. It was overtaking another truck and heading straight towards me and as there was foot-and-a-half drop at the side of the road I had nowhere to go, so I just stopped and waited for him to pull in . He didn’t so much as bat an eyelid, went around me and carried on! That was a one-off as this doesn’t normally happen…they tend to just keep coming. A little later on I came a cropper though – hit a pothole and fell off. Luckily no damage done to me or my bike, but it goes to show we can’t be complacent.
On a lighter note, while having a chai stop, this unusually dressed pilgrim and two of his colleagues walked by. The large thing that looks like a ‘fan’ in his hand is actually a sun screen…
We got to Redhakhol, our destination for the day, just as a political demonstration was getting started. It’s a really small place and our research had shown only one guest house, so we’d asked Ram, back in Nanded, to ring ahead to book a room for us. However, the rather gruff chap at the guesthouse denied knowledge of the call and the place was booked out. There was a lot of humming and haa-ing on his part whilst he tried to think of somewhere we could stay. In the meantime we tried to turn on the charm by interacting with a baby, who we think was his grandson. We were almost considering moving on, which would have been a bit of a nightmare as we hadn’t seen any other accommodation for quite some distance around the area, but at this point he disappeared on his scooter to return 10 minutes later saying “follow me”. So we did – and he took us to what we think is a government-run guest house (for government officials). The boss man there found us a reasonably decent room (though our standards are fairly low at the moment), organised people to assist with our bags and made sure we were okay – result! Plus we were still early enough to have a snooze as per our current daily routine.
We found a suitable tiffin shop for dinner where we had 3 dosas (two for me as I was starving), a veg manchurian each and a bottle of water for a total cost of about £1.30, which we think is probably the cheapest dinner we’ve had yet – as well as probably the best dosas we have had in India! As we were wandering back we noticed a small truck with a massive sound system on the back parked just outside our digs. As we were settling in for the night it started up blaring music out at high volume – could be an earplug night we thought, but as it was wasn’t too late we went for a look.
Turns out it was the start of a wedding celebration that in addition to the sound system, also included this very entertaining marching drum band.
They were just getting warmed up before setting off with the groom and some other men who were following the procession in a very decorated car – although none of the people in the car seemed particularly happy. One of them was even wearing headphones!
According to one of the other onlookers it’s wedding season here, which means that it’s obviously done at a different time of year in the state of Orissa than it is up north. Luckily for us at this point they all started marching off to the wedding venue and we had a peaceful night. But it was definitely well worth a look.
Redhakhol to Angul – 94km
The truck-a-thon continued all day today and there has been no let-up with the more and more erratic driving. To be honest it was probably one of the worst cycling experiences we’ve had to date outside of a city. This majority of this particular stretch of road was two single lanes of traffic and lots of roadworks, which we found out is to upgrade the whole road between Sambalpur to Cuttack, where we are heading tomorrow. Great – more of the same! We also saw what we think were lots of tribal villages on the very edge of the roadworks, so got the feeling that the new/widened road cuts through their villages, which is a shame.
It’s very difficult to explain just how stupid the drivers are though – and not just the truck drivers, though there are a huge amount of them on this particular road. We have come to the conclusion that Indians have no appreciation of danger or risk or else they wouldn’t drive/ride the way that they do. To us it is fairly simple that you don’t overtake when you can’t see what is coming along the road ahead. Today, almost continually, we saw traffic coming towards us on the wrong side of the road or traffic on our side overtaking in unbelievably dangerous/stupid places. All the while they use their horn in the belief that this will protect them from other vehicles. The ensuing chaos is difficult to describe.Why we haven’t seen more accidents I have no idea.
Speaking of which, there was one accident and it involved me. A truck overtook me and then completely cut me up when he pulled in. I had nowhere to go and ended up in a sprawling heap on the floor – two days on the trot and I landed on the same side and impact points as yesterday, ouch! A few locals stopped to help scoop me up, but the truck in question just continued on his way. Luckily I’m okay, but unfortunately this time one of the hanger clips on a front pannier got broken. The only solution I’ve come up with so far is to zip-tie the bag to the bike permanently. Not ideal, but I can’t think of any other way to do it at the moment.
Anyway, the remaining 65km of the cycling today was much the same, but we managed to stay out of trouble. My fall and the erratic driving did put us both in a pretty bad mood and we liberally threw expletives at all of the drivers we felt needed it – not that they understood but it made us feel slightly better! Our digs were fairly basic and once again the hotel was staffed by a collection of twenty-something male giggling idiots – now you can probably see what kind of mood I’m in? The first comment by the guy in charge as we arrived was ‘selfie time’ and I can tell you we made it VERY clear that this was not going to be the case. He also tried to tell me that we couldn’t put our bikes in our room…but I was having none of it!
We have come to the conclusion that perhaps we have had enough of India and it would have been nice to be a bit closer to the border than we are. I’m sure that Bangladesh, Myanmar and the rest of our journey will have difficult parts, but now we want to move on and need a change.
Angul to Cuttack – 111km
We were going to Cuttack today because we have been in touch with Bapu, a Couchsurfing host there, who has agreed to look after for the night and he lives nicely on our route. To be honest after yesterday’s ride on the ‘road to hell’ and being a wee bit cheesed off with it all, we weren’t looking forwards to more of the same. However, a little bit of extra research last night revealed a slightly different route to Cuttack, which would take us off the main National Highway 15, the source of most of our woes. We had no idea what to expect from the new road, but it couldn’t possibly be worse than NH15. What we also hadn’t expected, when we got up at the crack of dawn, was thick mist. So, with lights on, we headed off …and boy were we glad we changed our route. The new one was a few kilometres longer but it was positively pleasant in comparison to yesterday. The scenery, when we could see it through the mist, was quite nice too, and we made really good time, completing 90km before midday. One rather nice interruption was seeing these domestic water buffaloes wallowing in water, as their name suggests…
We got into Cuttack in time for lunch which we found in the form of yet another brilliant thali. One thing that we have found great about India is that the type of food changes from state-to-state, sometimes even more regularly. This means that the menu keeps changing and this includes thalis, which could be likened to the ‘menu of the day’ in Europe. Thalis are therefore never the same from place-to-place, which keeps them interesting.
They also take the thinking out of choosing for us and they are the cheapest thing on the menu because the restaurant/dhabas make bucket-loads of each of the dishes and nearly all the customers have them. They have become our go-to dish! Also worth noting that food in the state of Orissa, where we currently are, is our favourite so far.
Bapu came to meet us on his Harley Davison motorcycle and guided us to his family home. What was amusing was that in the U.K. most people would have been staring at him and his bike, but here everyone was still gawping at us on our bicycles! Bapu’s two uncles have built up an extensive business empire in the area which includes liquor stores, distribution for Nestle and an information technology and communications (ITC) business among others. Bapu is a young businessman who helps to run much of the business.
We made it to his house and were greeted by his wife Mama, and three of his cousins, with whom we had a nice little chat before getting unloaded and settled. One thing that we have noticed is that the Indian middle classes that we have stayed with generally have big houses and Bapu and his family are no exception – their house was enormous! His extended family live in the local area and, after a wash and short rest (we had just covered 111km after all!), we were ferried from house-to-house on the back of scooters, to be introduced to just about all of them and of course have our photo taken!
The family dynamic is similar to that which we saw in Nanded with Mohit’s family – uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, etc all live together in shared houses. We were also invited to another wedding, invite number four on our India leg though we did turn one down in Nirmal. We said yes and so at about 7:30 we all headed out, which this time was the pre-marriage party for one of Bapu’s cousins. Picture of us suitably dressed, though I was wary of going too near any naked flames and the synthetic fibre made me sweat considerably…!
There were lots of friends and family there dancing, eating and generally having a great time. We were shown around and made welcome and given henna tattoos, as is their custom – a close-up. I reckon I got the short straw…..
…and we were dragged up to throw some shapes on the dance floor – Bollywood style of course! Personally I think we did England and Ireland proud!
One nugget of information we found out over the evening was that the area we cycled through today is wild elephant country! I did see a sign which said wildlife crossing with a picture of an elephant on it, but paid it little attention. Apparently it can be dangerous to travel that road after dark, but it’s generally safe during the day. I wonder if the elephants know that though?!