Nov 3,4, – Panjim, Goa
It is a luxury for us, after six days on the move early every morning, to read the paper and dawdle over breakfast. But we still have the early morning habit and so we were out with the morning traffic to cycle the 10 km to Old Goa. We had to make our way back around the complicated traffic circles at the end of the large bridge that brought us into town and then down a narrow two lane road right along the bay. The traffic was thick, which as always means there are at least three sometimes four lanes of vehicles, using the two lanes, so I couldn’t watch to see that Rich was following. I stopped about half way to Old Goa at the first old church, but he didn’t turn up. I waited again when I got to the large square in the middle of Old Goa where the main churches are. I figured he had stopped to look at something and would turn up sometime. At any rate we are independent here.
Tiny Goa, the smallest province in India, was established by the Portuguese some 500 years ago and was only brought into India in 1947. One result is that it is heavily Christian and the attractions in Goa are all relics of early Christianity, built in Portuguese times.
I visited the massive Cathedral Se, two almost equally large churches and a number of small museums. I tire of old religious art pretty quickly, but the architecture, old cemeteries and plaques showing those buried in the churches are interesting for me. St Francis Xavier came to Goa, ostensibly to clean up debauchery, died here and his burial coffin is on display here.
I bumped into Rich, as we both wandered around this site. Apparently he had missed the turn to the road along the bay and done a somewhat longer run in.
Old Goa was abandoned as the capital of Goa a few hundred years ago, I understand because of the Malaria problems or something. Hence Panjim, only 10 km away, but is not as marshy I expect. I spent the afternoon having a leisurely lunch while watching divers picking shell fish from the river bottom and looking around hoping to find an internet site. Panjim is not overly tourist oriented as most Goan tourists head for the beaches north or south of Panjim.
The next day I did another ride around town, looking at the old beach area and searching for old interesting houses. Of interest was an ornate ashram, if that is the right thing to call it, that sits above town. I made my way up there, but other than a young guy doing his homework while watching over the place I never saw anyone doing anything. Coming to India, I expected to see a more active involvement with these extreme religious sects, but other than periodic buildings where I guess people come and involve themselves, I don’t think these things figure in the everyday life of India at all, mind you normal Hindu activities are mystifying enough to me.
I struck out completely on the Internet thing here, in part because our second day was Sunday. Rich had taken a cab out to the beach area north of town and found all sorts of activity there, including an internet cafe.
Rich also told me that his plan, for our last three weeks and some, is to leave his bike in Goa and get to a number of places by bus or train. He will then pick his bike up on the way back to Delhi. The traffic has begun to wear on him, and I think he would just prefer not to spend his time biking when he could be visiting sites, important for him to see. For me, the sites are less important than the travel between them, and I guess the prime thing I wanted to do when coming to India is to cycle in the Nilgiri Hills, which is still to come. No doubt when I get there and am struggling up the umpteenth steep hill I might question that desire, but I really don’t want to give up that opportunity when I am so close.
We went out for our best meal yet on this trip, a Gujurat vegetarian thali at the nicest hotel in town. This meal was so much better than anything we have had that I wonder how we could be missing finding more like it.
I cycled 50 km looking around Goa
Nov 5 – Palolem Beach
Rich and I had our final breakfast together and I headed off alone. He is going to hang around Panjim to get some more information before deciding where to head next. I am cycling south towards Mangalore, about 400 km away. From there I will get a bus to Mysore and begin my cycle into the Western Ghats and the Nilgiri Hills.
But first I have to get safely out of Panjim, which turned out to be a challenge as I hit the heaviest traffic yet. For fifty km, through Margoa, on two lane and four lane roads, over hills across big and small bridges, I was cheek to jowl with trucks, buses, cars and motorcycles weaving their way through the pedestrians, cows and dogs. I am fairly comfortable doing this, but when it is this heavy you can not let your attention stray for a second; it gets taxing. In this situation I push harder, in part to keep up as best as I can with the speed of the traffic and in part to just get it over with. This might be one of the reasons Rich is worn out, he tends to be more careful and slows down in these situations. At any rate I was down the road, and out of the heavy traffic pretty fast. As the traffic thinned, I began to enjoy the ride. The continuous hills and thick trees that we had been in all the way from Mumbai returned and I had a lot of shade that helped some, as the sun that we had escaped the last two days on our ride into Goa, had returned.
My initial plans, based on travelling with Rich, had been to cycle to the south end of Goa and spend the night at a beach that had been described in my Lonely Planet. As noon approached, and I needed a break and a meal, I came to the turnoff to Palolem Beach. It is about 3 km off the road, about the maximum I would let myself stray from the way. Once there I checked out a guesthouse advertising wifi. It is run by an expat who took one look at me and ran and got me a large drink of water. Sweat was dripping off of me and I was probably the colour of an old beet. They didn’t have food and so I went on around the corner and was accosted by people selling their guesthouses. I left my bike at one and walked around to the beach, which was crowded by mostly young westerners in skimpy swim wear. I was looking for a place to eat and stumbled into the swankiest place on the beach and ordered their lunch special, but not before ordering a beer. I had decided to stay, do my internet catch up and have a half day at the beach, about my limit.
My little guesthouse was away from the beach, but it has internet and all the facilities that I need, and was pretty cheap. I ate well, had lots of beer and got some blog updates done. I even walked the beach three times.
I cycled 75 km getting to Palolem
Nov 6 – Kumta, Karnataka
I read a book, while at Palolem, which cost me much of a night’s sleep, but I guess I needed to sooth that need. Still I was underway, at 7:00, significantly less energetic than yesterday. The hills began immediately, but the traffic was light and the road good, so all was fine. I found a nice place for breakfast at about 8:30; breakfast being a bottle of juice, a samosa and some warm Goan bread (buns). I hesitated for a bit at a turnoff to a game sanctuary, but continued on when my map indicated that it could be 20 km away, with no guarantee of a place to stay or eat. Even though I had not slept enough I was enjoying the day and making reasonable progress, although with the hills average speeds are not much.
I finally ran into a calf this morning. An incredible experience, travelling Indian roads, is the slaloming you do through the cows that wander at will, lie down to sleep or, as calves do play. No matter how busy the traffic is the cows serenely occupy the roads as they will. Two calves were jousting and I slowed down to pass them when one jumped in front of me. I was only going about 7-8 kph when I hit him, and so he bounded away, showing no ill effects. More importantly to me is my bike is ok as well; I hope I didn’t anger any Hindu gods in the process.
At my extended lunch break, extended to wait for the heat of the day to abate, I actually dropped off to sleep for a while. As I continued the road began to break up in parts, never for long, but it was worrying anyway. On other sections it would begin this way and then get worse. As the day was getting on, I was looking for a place to stay. Rich and I had been lucky, except for one night, to find an upscale hotel along the way, but I had not seen any all day, until I was pulling into the little town I was not going to go past. Right at the end of where I was going to ride before looking for a less than desirable place I found a perfect place, and checked in.
I had a long long shower to try to cool off and drifted off to sleep for an hour, making up a bit for my sleepless night. I awoke to a terrible thirst and staggered out to buy some beer, the hotel was vegetarian which also means sans-alcohol, to begin the re-hydration process. During the ride, I drink the 1.5 l of water I carry, stop 2-3 times for 1 and usually 2 bottles of soft drink or juice. At lunch more juice or soft drink and at least a litre of water. By the time I stop riding for the day, more of this sort of drinking is not very palatable, but beer is and so, I need my beer. Needless to say I was also looking forward to a full night’s sleep, but I did catch the start of the US election on the tube.
I cycled 110 km today
Nov 7 – Mysore
Having scrutinized my maps at each of my stops along the way, I had noticed a major intersection near Kumta that headed in the direction of Mysore. I was never that keen on cycling into Mangalore, yet another big Indian city, just to catch a bus to Mysore so, when I saw the bus depot a few minutes after leaving my hotel, in I went. Sure enough there was a direct bus to Mysore leaving in an hour. It was a local bus, which meant hundreds of stops along the way, but it would get there today. The issue is always about the bike, can they, will they load it on the bus.
The appointed bus pulled up and it was pretty full, people got off and more got on. I was standing back a bit but the driver and attendant indicated I should take my bike on the bus. I grabbed a seat and carried my bags on while the attendant was passing my bike in through the doors. We threaded my bike down the narrow passage right to the front of the bus beside the driver, where my battered up old Dahon sat, looking out the front window all day long. The best seat in the house. On all other rides he had been thrown into baggage cars or strapped to a roof top, usually getting somewhat mangled in the process.
At the first stop many got off and I moved into a front seat where I can see all things and which I had to myself all day. I got to observe, over a twelve hour period one of the best drivers I have seen. Manoeuvring this big bus through all of the obstructions that I deal with on my bike, but with dramatically less space to do it in, and never faltering, although he must be exhausted by the day’s end. Rich had commented that I was sometimes 4 inches from vehicles as they passed me, I think this driver is capable of using 2 inches as his margin of error, and it left me a bit more confident that things will continue to go well.
We started by climbing about 700 m into the hills on a hairpin, winding often one lane road. We passed India’s highest water fall, although I only got a brief look. Once up, we stayed up the rest of the day. We stopped to let off and pick up new passengers continually. I only dozed once for an hour or so and really enjoyed the day. At 8:00 pm, as we trundled along in the dark close to Mysore, I got a scheduled call from Rich and we each talked about our progress and scheduled our next call. It looks like we might connect again in 4 days in Ooty.
I checked into the Parklane hotel and will spend the day in Mysore, visiting and getting more information about the route into the Nilgiri. Before bed I was able to get some updates on Obama’s win in the US. I am so pleased that at least a slim majority of Americans are still with the rest of us in the world.
My bus ride was about 300 km and took almost 12 hours
Nov 8 – Mysore
I was up, after a good long sleep, and had a leisurely breakfast before heading out to see the attractions. I have become inured to the attractions is large Indian cities, but Mysore held some mystique for me, and I do like the people watching in small doses. In Mysore the prime tourist attraction is the Maharaja’s Palace. Built beginning in 1897 after the original burned down. Mysore was the former seat of the Wodeyar maharajas for 500 years. The new palace is considered one of the premier palace structures in India. Designed by a Brit, it incorporates aspects of Mughal, British Raj and Indian in a style called Indo-Saracenic. It utilizes heavily steel and concrete, ornately painted, to guard against fire. But, there is some beautiful wood work in the doors and ceilings. As the building was not compleed until 1912 electricity was build in and it even has an elevator. And loads of stained glass. Too bad you can’t take photos, I thought the whole thing quite incredible.
I rode my bike around a bit, but soon saw all I needed, including more buildings from the Raj days. This is a real tourist town, my hotel is expensive, but to make up there are lots of good English speakers and it is easy to get all sorts of food.
But tomorrow I will head for the hills.