Cycling the hem of Mother India’s sequined spangled sari

8 11 2010

Cycling in India is like visiting Pennsylvania (or Transylvania), staying in a sepia old mansion, being waited on by a wizen old butler with bulging eyes and equally bulging vocal cords that quiver along the full range  to register the maximum amount of ‘impending doom’lyness; sleeping in a four poster bed and receiving nightly visitations from Count Dracula. It’s an impossible stereotype. From the canopies of palm trees that blanket the landscape and lay their cooling shadows on us as we pass; to the rich aromas of sweat, spices and fumes that hang heavy in the air, past the bold orange, red, and pink houses that blast boldly through the undergrowth, through the shoals of dragonflies that nip around our ears, ending raucously in an overwhelming pile of glinting white-toothed smiles that ‘hellohowareyou’ us on a more or less continuous basis, not to mention our daily soak in dosa’s, paratha and tongue tingling curries… so we pedal our way up this technicolor parody of Indian-ness – the Keralan coast.

On our first day, however, the skies cracked buckets, the deep red of the soil seeming to pump up blood into the blur of scooters, autorickshaws, lorries, busses, and bicycles that were kamikazing their way down the main road – we saw two accidents in as many hours.  Our clothes hugged us tightly in a show of wet moral support as we sat, quietly, sipping the sweet milky concoction that masquerades as tea (chai) and tried to conceive of the route ahead. Thankfully, as we are now in India, we have more than one god to call on for moral and mortal support!

And our prayers were answered in the form of googlemaps. To date we have been unable to find a fully detailed map of India or Kerala. Not locally, not in London, not in Dubai. They all fail to record the level of local road-ary needed to cycle with some chance of maintaining bodily unity. Thus our maps have become lined with wobbly pen roads that promise to keep us off the main highway and riding backwater coast roads all the way to Mangalore.

‘Villagers are different’ crooned our American guide at the Matha Amrithanandamayi Ashram – ‘we [westerners] can’t read them.. so it’s hard to know who is a bandit and who is not.. you know?’ – we did not know.  Without local goodwill it would be impossible for us to follow our ink roads – at every junction groups of lungi swathed men, with taught, wiry torsos and dark creased faces strain to understand our poor pronunciations and have worked tirelessly to help guide us in the right direction – as yet we have not come across any banditry. But then we are only on day 6!

In Kerala cycling is easy (if slow) and, so far, we have had a choice range of accommodation at decent intervals (60-70km) , and hope to avoid using our tent at all (too hot, too overcrowded, too many flying syringes!). This coast is a-buzz with ashrams, guest houses, home stays (which are rarely actually in someone’s home?!), basic pilgrims accommodation if there is a notable shrine in the locale, beach resorts etc. The Lonely Planet really doesn’t come close to referencing the sheer variety there is on offer – which is where my ‘husband’ Liz has really worked her research magic. (On a number of occasions it has been assumed that Liz is a man and many curious locals have inquired if I was her wife. She is a bit taller and a bit leaner than me, she is usually first up on the communication front, and she cycles in shorts – clearly a man!). Planning basically consists of scoping out googlemaps (if there is internet access), asking directions, asking where there might be accommodation, and then asking again at almost every junction. Thus we find ourselves sweating up the Keralan hem of Mother India’s sequined spangled sari navigating by the supreme power of the Goddess ASKLOTSCOSWEARECYCLINGONAWINGANDAPRAY (it’s about the right length for the name of a Hindu Goddess 😉

ps – thanks so much to all those who have been following the blog and have sent us comments of support it’s mighty kind of you, it really is very much appreciated x

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9 responses

8 11 2010
Steve

Pennsylvania or Transylvania?
I like either as the notion of Dracula scaring the residents of suburban Philadelphia is an excellent one!
Enjoy India
Love
Steve

8 11 2010
oneproject

we thought so..
🙂

Ps – blame/praise goes to the editor

8 11 2010
John Davey

And I’d just like to add my support! You’re doing a remarkable old thing there. I read all the Iran stuff with a growing sense of the enormity of what you were taking on. Good to find you in the rather gentler climes of Kerala.
Keep up that peddling!
John xxx

10 11 2010
oneproject

Thanks JOhn! … gentler but wetter 🙂

9 11 2010
Karina

Hi ladies, howz those legs of steel getting along?! Very Tintinesque, your adventures! Of course, he was a bit lazy as he never cycled far, perhaps because Snowy didn’t like sitting in a basket? My Kontiki plans are coming along nicely, I’ve decided to add a pedal power option, inspired by your trip, but will need you two to help with the design and testing when you get back… We are very happy and relieved that you have made it thus far all safe and sound and look forward to reading more. Keep on ‘trucking’!
Karina and Sarah x

10 11 2010
oneproject

Yo Mrsesss!

When are you going to join us .. come on come on.. just a few weeks.. maybe in china.. maybe northern india.. maybe vietnam.. yo ucan easily throw your bikes on a plane and only really need one pair of pants and a t-shirt.. COME ON 🙂
🙂

9 11 2010
JaneH

It must be nice to be able to cycle without all those extra clothes on now you’re out of Iran! I’m jealous of all the yummy dosas you’re must be eating as well.

10 11 2010
oneproject

Tasty Dosa’s for 50p any one?? Kastoori eat your heart out!

9 06 2012
Rajiv

I admire your courage, besides everything else, in undertaking such an arduous trip. Also admire your gentle, respectful and understanding attitude. I am glad you could complete it safely, and that you could enjoy it. I hope that what you did has helped change the attitudes of at least a few, and thereby saved / helped at least a few lives.
I am from Kerala, and cycled across Britain (LE-JOG) last summer. That was a walk in the park in comparison to what you have achieved!
Besides raising awareness about terrible problems, such meetings with people from foreign cultures, I feel, will help promote better understanding, and thereby reduce strife in our world.
Best wishes!

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