And that’s a wrap..

Posted by on 22, Apr 2024 in 2024 - An Indian Winter, Asia, India, Tilly the Tandem

And that’s a wrap..

After our lovely night in 5 star luxury we had another two ferries that may or may not run but also had the offer of croissants and muffins for brekky, something you never see here.  We’d usually be on the road before sunrise,  but with this on offer delayed our departure for a fill up.

We hadn’t booked any further accommodation due to the uncertainty of the ferries, but the first ran on time and it was a lovely peaceful cycle along the beach and river to get to it.

We crossed the peninsula and the 2nd ferry at the top of it has naturally been withdrawn when they started to build the bridge. Fortunately for us the bridge was finished enough to get 2 wheelers and pedestrians over but not cars and we navigated the seemingly abandoned roadworks up to the bridge and carried on northward towards Goa.

Each night we leave Tilly locked and alarmed and usually in the underground car park.  There’s often a guard (who obviously sleeps at night) but we feel Tilly is very safe.  The alarm does go off multiple times though as the staff at the hotels all go and have a look at Tilly press the buttons, wiggle the handlebars etc and get the crap scared out of them when the alarm goes off.

So as the alarm went off just as I got in the lift at one hotel, I nipped down to the basement to see what was going on. Sure enough two very sheepish guys were standing next to Tilly. One pointed to the other, dropping his colleague in the crap and laughing at the same time and we all chuckled and I went back upstairs.

In many places throughout India there is mountains of rubbish, in others it’s pretty much like the west.  We’ve not really figured out why but one things Indians have in common across the land is their love of plastic wrapping on new electrical items. They like it so much that you frequently see the TV’s and air con units in hotels still with their protective plastic coverings on. Often the TV’s have the advertising stickers still on the screen and the air con units have the little blue plastic tabs that you should remove when unpacking. I’m not sure why they leave all this on, perhaps it’s to show the item is new. Who knows, but as we don’t usually watch TV it doesn’t matter to us.

The other thing India excels at is seeing what you can actually carry on a moped. Obviously you can get 5 or 6 people on a moped no trouble, kid stands in front of dad who’s steering, another bigger child behind, holding a baby, mum on the back holding another baby…Job done.

They also act as a mobile shops, with 7 or 8 large Chinese laundry bags of goods tied all over the bike.  Then there’s what the workmen cram on.  We’ve seen two people on a moped and the rear guy can carry anything from his boxed power tools, to window panes, doors, full sized ladders, gas canisters, spades and even pipework.

And the farmers don’t miss out either. Labradors happily sit in front of the driver and we’ve even seen cows on a moped. There really needs to be an eye spy book to tick off!

We rolled into Goa and were immediately struck by the houses.  The rest of India has a fire and forget policy to buildings.  Many look like they haven’t been painted since the British left, but Goa was full of brightly painted Portuguese style houses, all nestled between palm trees and off licences.  None of that restrictive alcohol sales here!

It’s also a lot more touristy and we headed to a beach hotel for a night in one of the ubiquitous cabins that line the beaches here.  The beach was clean, golden and also the last place I saw my glasses as when I went for a paddle I forgot to take them off and got walloped by a wave and they went off to spend time with the fishes… Oh well, didn’t like that pair much anyway.  Good job I brought a spare pair, which I promptly found were in fact my old old pair and not my current spare pair.  Should have checked them properly when packing! 

We had a lovely candlelit dinner on the beach watching the sunset and would have liked to have left the cabin door open to listen to the waves over night but it’s still too hot to do that so settled for a distant rumble of the waves crashing over the air con.

We’d planned to stop at the beach here as there was a 220m hill adjacent to it which we needed to ascend the next morning and wanted to do that at 6am when’s it’s 24C and the coolest it was going to get.

There was a lot of pushing involved as I’m places it was over 17% and we were both shattered by the time we got to the top.  Everytime we stopped for a rest a small puddle appeared around us as we dripped on the ground.  Our clothes were completely soaked through and I’ve no idea how anything ever gets done here in this heat.

But the roll down was fun!  We then stuck to the main road into Panjim, the capital of Goa as it was relatively flat and, had we gone on all the back roads,  would have had to come back to it anyway for all the bridges we needed to cross. There’s a gorgeous new bridge as you come into the city and as we cruised along we got lots of thumbs up from the many mopeds.

Panjim itself was our final destination of our main cycle. From her the road gets much hillier and the inclines are often silly steep, and with my knee still not being good and our hillphobic natures and the date of our return flight looming we opted for a couple of nights in Panjim and then a taxi to about 120km south of Mumbai.

Panjim has a wonderful old Portuguese area which was in places being done up and in others quite dilapidated, but we managed to find a nice Portuguese bar and sat and enjoyed the European feel of the place.  It’s was quite odd after having been here for 3 months to suddenly be transported back to Portugal and be surrounded by European tourists.

Getting a taxi that Tilly can fit into is never easy, but after the hotel (a very posh 5 star affair) couldn’t find one, I found one on my first search.  I wonder if we were lowering the tone rolling up on a tandem and then dripping on their marble floor!  Anyway, the driver rolled up at the assigned time and we set off on our 9 hour ride to Mangaon. Cycling here is easy, and once you’re used to the driving you feel quite safe. The taxi however wasn’t fun.  There are two positions for the feet for drivers here… Both are foot flat to the floor either on the brake or accelerator. So, in a series of speed bumps, you excilerate like mad for 20m, slam the brakes on, bump over and repeat. It’s ridiculous.

And they all drive like this so in order to stop them flying over the edge of cliffs, at bends they have to put in a series of speed bumps to slow thw drivers down first.  They then have rumble strips around the bend to try to keep them slow, but all this does is mean you bounce sideways round the bend as your driver floors it, ignoring the rumble strips and making you hope they don’t continue for long enough to bounce you over the edge.

We had to tell our driver to slow down on bends…Repeatedly. In the end he did slow down but thought we meant all the time and as we didn’t want to risk ending up speeding around bends again we let him crawl along on the straight bits too.

Would you believe he then drove back to Panjim that night? 18 hour drive half in the dark. Crazy!

We reassembled Tilly that night and set off the next morning to be confronted by it feeling exceptionally chilly!  It was 6am and 19C but with hardly any humidty as we were inland.. I think we’re going to suffer when we get home! But it slowly warmed up and we had a gorgeous cycle to the coast and our last hotel but one.

The hotel was brand new and about 250m from the beach so we wandered down for sunset and found a very nice beach full of quad bikes, camels and bicycles all touring for hire to the masses congregated on the beach waiting for the sunset. There were even some tandems!

The sunset was beautiful and ironically the first one we’ve seen dip into the sea as they usually slide behind clouds.

And so for our final ride we took a coastal track to get to the ferry to Mumbai and ended up at a dead end in a cluster of houses.  One of the residents then told us we couldn’t get through and that we needed to go back to the main roads, which we had been trying to avoid.  I showed him on a map the route we were trying to take and he told us it was  not for bikes.. not big enough, but after about 5 minutes of chat, he hopped on his bike and cycled us along the exact track with us that I had marked as our route to avoid the main road!

You get this a lot cycle touring, not just in India either.  People often direct us like they would a car and we’ve found over the years to just be patient, thank them and then go our planned route unless they can tell us the road is blocked or bridge is out.

The track was hard work and we ended up getting to the ferry quite late partly due to stopping to chat to a group of cricketers setting up a marquee and incredibly loud sound system for their game later in the day.  Our road actually went over the pitch and had I been more on the ball, we could have caught one of the batman out when the ball landed a couple of meters away from us. Perhaps cycle helmets are a good idea after all…

The ferry is the first roro ferry in India and has an online booking system that we couldn’t get to work with our UK bank card. So we rolled up at the booth and the staff sorted it all out for us just as the ferry was about to pull away.  In true Reed fashion, we were still sorting the bike out onboard as the ferry started to depart.

The 1 hour crossing is a bit like heading into Manhatten on the Staten island ferry. The huge skyline of Mumbai is full of skyscrapers and stretches as far as the eye can see despite the haze of heat or pollution. 21 milliom people live here and it is vast.

The ferry docked and we waited for all the cars to go before heading off for a cycle in Mumbai.  We’ve always felt quite safe in cities here as there are bazillions of mopeds and tuktuks but Mumbai has banned the tuktuk and replaced them with corgi toy taxis which  are like someone took a ford fiesta and washed it on extra hot and shrank it, then got a hammer and bashed it about a bit, and lastly rubbed all the tread off the tyres. So the roads were much less fun to cycle on.

We’ve also got used to the hooting, but a Mumbai took it to a new level. It’s not so much no stop hooting anymore, it’s just one continuous hoot that you have no idea where it’s coming from or what it means.

We stopped at the gate of India a Roman Triumphal Arch style monument built to celebrate some British royals visit and were surrounded by Indians wanting to say hello. We could hardly move for people but in the end managed to cycle off and tour some of the highlights of Mumbai’s Colonial past and the UNESCO Marine parade with it’s art deco buildings.

We reached our hotel which wasn’t keen on having a tandem at the front door as that was reserved for the Mercs and other posh cars but we ignored them and rolled up anyway.  Once we’d unloaded Tilly they then found us a safe parking spot out of site of the landed gentry and we were ushered to our room by the receptionist which was really helpful and nice. She told us she works 12 hour shifts with a 2 hour commute each way daily for 6 days a week. The hotel wasn’t cheap by Indian standards and the restaurant was more expensive than London which was a real shock, but the food was some of the best we’ve had.  It did have a happy hour in the bar with a TV for us to sit and watch the IPL with a drink or two each evening.

Getting Tilly ready to fly involved locating bike boxes and bubble wrap. That’s not as simple here as you’d think.  The hotel found a tiny stall at a market for us to get bubble wrap and sent a driver with us to collect it. If you’ve ever wondered what medieval Britain or even Roman Britain was like then I’d hazard a guess that the markets here bare more than a  passing resemblance to them.  The place smells, and not in a good way. It’s hard to describe really, but you are surrounded by noise, food, meat being chopped up, flies, rubbish and people. The stalls are tiny, almost bathroom sized shop fronts in the buildings piled high with goods, portable stalls sit outside selling foods and tea. It’s lively and a great place to experience but the smell is overpowering.

We managed to get bike boxes in Decathlon as nearly all the bike shops here are little more than a shed size shop so have no boxes. They didn’t want any money for them – hello Naples who wanted €80 a pop for theirs and they also wouldn’t even accept any cash for a cup of tea. 

Anyway, we got all our stuff, wrapped Tilly up  tucked away out of site of the posh guests in the yard behind the hotel and packed our bags ready to fly.  When we flew out to India  we had one bag and the bike box weighing about 30kgs each. For the return we’ve got one bag (22kg) and the bike box (27kg).  I’m not quite sure how our bags have lost so much weight on this trip, but we certainly haven’t.  We’ve not done our usual cycle tour operating style of cycle cake, cycle lunch, cycle, ice cream, dinner, drinks, bed and yet we feel like we are the same weight as when we arrived.  Clearly the moral of this story is eat cake.

So, with Tilly boxed and our luggage packed we then found out our return stopover location, Dubai, had just flooded….

Our route covered just over 2500 Kms.

5 Comments

  1. It’s been wonderful to have your tales to read. How long until the next tour so there’s more tales 😉

  2. Fabulous trip.
    Fabulous account of it.
    A joy to read and be part of.
    Can’t wait for next expedition!
    Safe home.

  3. A very intrepid trip with evocative descriptions. I feel like I joined you on some days. Did you get diverted to the military/freight airport which was reported in The Times?

    • Thanks Leon! No, we didn’t get diverted and saw absolutely no evidence of any flooding, mud etc whilst in Dubai. The arrivals hall was bedlam though with unclaimed and lost baggage.

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