4,789 km of cycling - as part of a bicycle world trip - from Bangalore southwards across Tamil Nadu, westwards to Kerala at the Indian west coast, northwards along the coast to Goa and to Mumbai, crossing Great Thar Desert to Rajasthan, eastwards via Jaisalmer and Pushkar to Jaipur and Agra with famous Taj Mahal, to Varanasi at the Ganges River and then northwards to the Nepali border.
19 February - 24 April 2007 / 65 days
18,573 metres in altitude
Highest cycled point: 2,490 m
Arrival at 1:15 a.m. at night in Bangalore. Half an hour of negotiating the fare for the taxi to bring my bike box and me to the hostel with supposed 24-hour reception. 3:30 a.m. eventually we found the hostel, of course in total darkness and everything closed. I called the 24-hour reception, ages later a sleepy answer and again ages later I finally got access. I fell down on my bed for about 1.50 US dollar per night and finally, finally it was quiet. I had arrived in India!
There wouldn't be that much more silence for the rest of my time in India, as well as there wouldn't be anymore temperatures below 30 degrees. Furthermore there wouldn't be any picture anymore taken with my wide angle lens, as it unfortunately decided to take his terminal breath. Since even the recently in Australia newly bought telephoto zoom lens didn't work properly anymore and hence already the third lens didn't survive the bumpy roads on this trip, and as I had been tired of wasting a lot of money for digital SLR lenses, I eventually bought a new compact digi-cam in Bangalore. Furthermore I got myself a meningitis vaccination and four days later I reckoned I got used to the incredible noisy and chaotic traffic, the best food since months and the most times ridiculously low prices, and finally got started.
In the afternoon I arrived at Mysore and found myself extraordinarily lucky to meet in fact even two other cyclists: Hugo from Belgium and Douglas from England. Hugo unfortunately went on heading north, while Douglas and I stayed a day longer to be present when the Maharaja's Palace got illuminated by heaps of bulbs, supposedly 97,000. Together with Douglas, experienced India cyclist for many years, I kept on going south, passing through Banduri National Park, before cycling uphill into the Nilgiri Hills to Udhagamandalam (Ooty) Hill Station at 2,300 m above sea level, where the cooler climate was a welcome relief from the hot plains, particularly for Douglas. For me it couldn't be hot enough after the cold times in Patagonia, although I supposedly would change my mind quite soon...
Three days later, while passing extensive tea plantations, a long descent brought us down, back to the hot plains. Somehow we lost each other, but in the evening we shared again the same room, because in this fairly big city Douglas, for any magical reason, choosed the same hotel to stay, in which I had just started having a shower and in which he got a warm welcome with the surprising information, that his friend had already arrived. That was the weird way things happened sometimes in India...
Nevertheless unfortunately I had to say goodbye to Douglas, as he was going to go further east before flying to Sikkim in the Himalayas, but we were hoping to meet up again in Nepal in a couple of weeks. I started cycling westwards, left the State of Tamil Nadu and reached the coast of the Arabian Sea in Kerala, where I turned north. Still 600 km to Goa!
Former Portuguese enclave, palm-fringed beaches and famous for its psychedelic trance open air parties, Goa was the origin of this amazing Goa music hippie movement. Before heading to the main party locations at Anjuna and Vagator further north, I stayed a couple of days in lovely and laid-back Palolem Beach with its picture-perfect white sand beach in Goa's south. I settled in a bamboo stilt house under coconut palms right in front of the beach with awesome sea views. I was just about to transfer the newly bought Goa CDs to my MP3 player, when it suddenly began to glow and apparently decided to end its life. No, of course, this USB hub doesn't work, I was told, although I had asked three times exactly this less than three minutes ago. Shrugging shoulders, what to do, that was India...
In Goa's capital after hours of shopping around I eventually found a new one which apparently didn't seem to be a cheap plagiat. Having spent some lazy days under palms with live music at the beach and the sunlight waking me up in the morning when shining through my bamboo hut, I went on further north. I gave the mainly by package tourists filled up beaches in Colva, Benaulim, Calangute and Baga just a short visit, before finally ending up in Anjuna and Vagator, the places to be!
What to say? I went to parties right at the beach and at spectacular open air locations on the cliffs overlooking the sea, I strolled around the famous weekly flea market at Anjuna Beach and together with Vikash and Isaiah from the US I gave Paradiso a visit. Goa's biggest club, the ultimate temple to trance, tumbled down to the beach in several impressive open air dance floors and bar terraces. And, as it had to be, the dance floor still was packed, when the morning sun hit the palms... Oh yeah, no need to say that, I'd be back!
A couple of days later I arrived in Bombay (Mumbai) and here my life could have changed. With Dennis from Holland I just strolled through downtown Bombay, when we got casted for a Bollywood movie, with the offer to get paid and food. Shooting would have taken place the whole night in one of the studios of India's huge Hindi language film industry in northern Bombay. But we refused as I got once again a conjuntivitis in one of my eyes and actually Dennis didn't want to as well.
Therefore it had been rather the visit to one of Asia's most renowned eye clinics than the missed movie career that could have changed my life. Cause actually I went there to get an examination of my eyes, but I ended up with an appointment for a laser surgery with a laser with new technology, recently bought in Germany, which, for the very first time, would have made a surgery possible for me. All this, of course, for far less then the price in Germany. But after one hour of internet research with the result of terribly frightening stories of people being rather blind than having got any eyesight's improvements, I skipped the appointment and instead got myself a painfully expensive booster of my Japanese encephalitis vaccination.
I went for sunset to Chowpatty Beach, gave the more than 5,000 men a visit, who washed thousands of kilograms of Bombay's soiled clothes at Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat each day, explored a couple of temples and markets, before heading further north to Rajasthan.
The following days were filled with nothing but cycling in incredible heat and, well, let's say as everywhere in India, people staring at me as if I was a little green extraterrestrial creature. The temperatures were rising above 40 degrees before noon, in Great Thar Desert up to 46 degrees in the shade, though I of course never got the chance to cycle in any shade! Therefore the green creature used to stop from time to time at simple restaurants along the road, dropped on one of the chairs underneath a fan anywhere in the shade and ordered an Indian tea or a meal. When the green creature then started to drink the normal drinkable well water, even gallons of it, instead of buying the bottled mineral water like all other green creatures used to do, the crowds surrounding the green creature regularly became even bigger. "Where are you from?" unsurprisingly was mostly the first asked question. Ah, from Germany! This was the country that threw the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, one proudly presents his historic knowledge with a self-confident smile. The green creature looked quite shocked and tried to figure out how to present a basic history lesson in a way that the Indian history expert wouldn't lose face. In the end the green creature just shook his head, whispered something like "no no, the United States..." and tried to talk about anything different. When finally the green creature's body temperature had decreased to normal 37 degrees and all the other usual questions about number of children, going to where, coming from where, travelling for how long and the price of the bicycle were more or less honestly answered (my personal children record had been seven, which had been obviously appreciated), the green creature started cycling again, after having dipped his shirt in the water to have at least a slight refreshment for the next couple of hundred meters.
Eight days later I arrived at breathtaking Jaisalmer in the Great Thar Desert close to the border to Pakistan. Together with a couple of other guys I strolled around in the giant gleaming golden sandstone fort above the city and head for sunset to Sam Sand Dunes outside town in Great Thar Desert.
I went on to Jodhpur with its sky-blue old town surrounding a huge fort at the edge of Great Thar Desert. But apart from these magically coloured houses, the old town consisted of the typical and terrible Indian mix of narrow lanes, packed with noisy taxi-rickshaws and motorbikes, cows, awful stink, crowds, dust and rubbish. Furthermore a dubious fruit juice from one of the street stalls knocked me down with stomach cramps for one day.
Therefore I was fairly happy when eventually leaving town for heading further east to Pushkar, a tranquil oasis at the edge of Great Thar Desert, with more than 400 temples surrounding a holy lake and with a somehow decent mix of pilgrims and travellers.
With a more or less genuine priest at the holy lake I did the hindu prayer for the happiness of each member of my family, dead or alive. I got a ribbon around my wrist and with offering the last remaining lotus flowers I got one wish for myself. It lost a bit of its authentic spirit when the priest's cellular phone rang three times and we therefore interrupted the procedure for the extensive calls. But it was present again very soon, when a crying woman, whose husband recently had died and who came here to say goodbye to him, asked for the priest's aid. (Not without, as I had done as well, giving some money to the priest as compensation for his assistance...)
In Jaipur in eastern Rajasthan I met up again with Isaiah and Vikash, who I had met before in Goa. Together with a dozen of American students, who were studying in town, we went for a birthday dinner of one of them and afterwards shopped around in town to find a still opened club or bar. But eventually we ended up having a couple of drinks in our hotel rooms.
Some days later I gave the ghost town Fatehpur Sikri and its fort a visit, before heading to Agra, the location of India's tourist emblem and most famous building, the Taj Mahal. Built by heartbroken emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial and mausoleum for his second wife Mumtaz Mahal, who had died giving birth to their fourteenth child, it was undoubtly the world's most extravagant monument ever built for love. A simply magical and gorgeous place like in a fairy tale, as long as you get managed to ignore the crowds that wandered around it everyday from sunrise to sunset...
Further east in Varanasi at holy Ganges River, I spent hours with strolling around the bathing ghats. In a long string they line the Ganges' bank. I watched the people, who came here mostly from far away, bathing and praying in the holy waters and visited burning ghats where about 250 bodies were cremated in public each day, as it was one's greatest imaginable honour to get offered his own ashes into the Ganges River. But as additionally everything else got discharged into the river as well (the water contained 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml. In water that was safe for bathing this figure should be less than 500!), buffaloes got a wash in there and as it simply was heavily polluted, I went without a bath despite the terrible heat. A couple of days later I went a further 100 km to the east, before turning north, heading for the Himalayas! Still 250 km to go to the Nepali border!
It had been two incredible months in India and I could write a book just about this time. What is written here had been just a very small part of what I had been able to experience in this country. India had been shocking with its incredible poverty. The crowds who had been continuously surrounding me, could have been, let's say, a sensory overload. The traffic had been probably the worst a bicycle traveller could get on earth, and the terrible heat before the monsoon's arrival had been hardly bearable. Since more than two months I hadn't measured any nightly room temperatures below 30 degrees, mostly they had been between 33 to 36 degrees! Sleeping had been possible only with mosquito coils because of malaria, which had been present in parts of the country, and with a fully powered fan. I enjoyed myself when there had been a power cut at night...
But on the other hand India had made me deeply lucky and happy, the mostly vegetarian food alone had been worth the challenge to cycle this country, particularly the southern India's food. And there had been the people who make India so unique, when talking and laughing with children or having a quite useless but so amazing conversation with old men without understanding even a simple word. India had been inspiring, frustrating, thrilling and it had made me happy, all at once.
I crossed the border to Nepal and was deeply looking forward to mountains, remarkably less traffic, bearable temperatures and, most of all, ... a tiny little bit of silence!