Rajasthan – Kumbhalgarh to Ranakpur
After usual breakfast briefing and packing up – there are always many attentive uniformed deferential people who carry your cases and it is great that the tour guides have an ongoing process for tipping i.e. give bulk tips which lets us off the hook – the faint hearted stayed in the van because of the 15 km of steep ups and downs and we joined the pelaton (!!) to enjoy the undulating but mostly down hill final leg of this trip. Greg appears to be king of the mountain giving his nearest rival a run for his money, but beating him in the end. I even had enough energy for a sprint however the condition of the road poses a risk if one goes too fast – potholes, sand, rocks can be undetected especially in shade. At one point two buses came upon each other and there was no room for them to pass so we had to back to find a part of the road wide enough for them to pass. This part of the road reminds me of the Nepali roads with concrete structures to prevent careless or speeding motorists from going over the edge.
4 of the group are going on to do the second trip in Kerala, while most in the group are quite happy to farewell their faithful bikes and us and contemplate a return to ? snow in their Canadian and in one case Californian towns.
This hotel – the Maharani Bagh – is a series of small 2 clay brick and tile units with quaint little stone paths with small bridges (waiting for the monsoon rain perhaps?) weaving their way between the trees. We remain alert to sight tigers, rhinos, cheetahs…..not, but that is the kind of countryside here.
After ‘hanging out for another temple’, on the recommendation of everyone, we visited a very impressive marble Jain temple with 1444 perfect pillars except one because we all have flaws!) all different and built over 60+ years 500 years ago. Today’s random fact – the Jains ( who are a minority religious group but still numbering in the several millions) will never knowingly hurt a living creature and their monks sweep the path in front of them when they walk in case they inadvertently step on an ant or small creature. There is probably some flaw in their logic but it makes a good story which the very earnest guide tells. One can’t wear anything leather and girls had to cover up when in the temple and menstruating women are not supposed to enter – although there appears to be a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy about that!
The weather has been superb – cloudless skies, virtually no wind, certainly no suggestion of rain, bloody hot in the middle of the day – probably early 30’s, but cooling down to a nice temperature after glorious pollution enhanced sunsets.
Rajasthan – Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh – distance 50+k but I bailed at 35 because of the heat and it is great to be able to do that – I would rather ride the whole way but have to be realistic and actually enjoy it! Out of the 16 of us only one girl has ridden all the way.
It is hard to get out of the guides an accurate assessment of the ride and
advice as to what to miss and we would prefer to avoid the midday sun as at home. We rode through villages, with slightly better roads today, one even had a white centre line! The people in this area appeared more hostile as we were warned. Some asked for money and a couple of naughty kids put a branch with thorns across the road and I had to get off and shift it much to their delight -the toads.
This is a resort area with hotels perched on the side of the hills.
We missed a rendez-vous for a visit to the Moghul fort and had to be taxied there and then catch up with the group who by that time had reached the highest level – after huffing and puffing we were pleased to have closer look at the inside of the fort including the toilet – a small room with 3 or 4 squatty holes which would have rained unmentionable things to unsuspecting people many metres below – big birds? The inside areas were dark and cool with low head banging doorways.We needed sweatshirts here with the change in altitude and are a little worried about disease carrying mosquitoes although Greg says this is not the time and place for there to be any real risk – I look at my bitten legs and think doh! I should have remembered our high powered Deet repellent.
When we took an alternative route back to our room via the swimming pool, a local Indian family group struck up with their instruments and we beat a hasty retreat lest we have to sit and listen and of course then pay! As always our beds were most welcome even though the room smelt very musty – may not have been used for a while.
Rajasthan – Udaipur
Today’s ride was a 50+ loop from Udaipur. I did only part of it and making the decision to go in the van and my bike in the truck after some km was the right thing to do in this heat. Greg did the whole distance (of course) but there were some mean hills. Lunch was at a lakeside resort with the opportunity to have a swim in the pool and then we returned to base at Udaipur in the van. Came upon a very sobering scene – a car and a motorcycle had collided head on with the driver dead on the side of the road and the pillion with a broken leg awaiting the ambulance. We have an emergency medicine specialist in our group but there was nothing he could have done. The car had sped off.The driver of the people mover just in front of us was the first on the scene and gave a witness statement but probably nothing will happen from here.
A touch of the d’s and v’s for Greg and me but nothing heinous that a little loperamide couldn’t fix.
We enjoyed some quiet and blog time while the rest of the group went to a dance show, and we had an early dinner and turned into pumpkins shortly thereafter. We think probably that the hotel isn’t all that old, but built in the ornate style of old palaces.
Udaipur is a pleasant bustling noisy city on the edge of a lake. It would be a nice destination for a holiday. The scenery has varied from dry soil with scrubby patchy vegetation, to more lush with trees and vegetable patches.
Animals we have seen: camels, one cat, dogs – one 2 dimensional on the road, chipmunks, monkeys, donkeys, tortoises, goats, cows, buffalos, one or two sheep – we think the so called mutton tarkari is goat, cows pulling ploughs although mostly tractors are used, buffalos also go round in circles attached to a wheel which pumps water, but water is frequently pumped by hand and by women.
Other things we have seen:
houses: mud brick or flattened stone about the size of our kitchen and dining room combined – this is a limestone area and many walls have been built using this ubiquitous material. The richer people’s houses are bigger and usually made of concrete, square with flat roofs (sp?)
crops: sugar cane, corn is being cut down now, vegetables – no padis and no terraces on the hills like Nepal
people – women in brightly coloured (high viz for walking along the main road) saris which they wear even when working in the fields, the women do most of the work and seeing a man labouring is noteworthy and restricted to the poorest villages and the outfit of choice is shirt, dhoti and turban. Quite often the men watch the women work. A couple of nights ago we watched a chap putting his turban on – it was several metres long. Many men just seem to hang out together, wearing western clothes and riding motorbikes with no helmets. Observed a line of women cutting long grass with scythes – a bit like the police doing a grid search.
Rajasthan – Bijaipur to Udaipur via Chittaughar
Have lost count as to what day we are up to.
32k ride – sounds a doddle but in the hot temperatures and rutty, dusty, narrow roads, it was quite challenging enough. We are getting dhal bhat twice a day and have enjoyed curried vegetables of every variety and they always serve us soup first. Why? Always delicious and we do not miss meat at all. Alas no desserts to speak of…..and no peanut butter toast!
Chittaughar has the most amazing fort – as we approached it we could see it stretched along the skyline – it is the largest fort in Asia – today’s random fact! We were taken up in open top jeep and a Ford truck, and we spent the next couple of hours as we were taken around by a guide, dodging from shady spot to the next shady spot quite often intentionally missing the guide’s patter as he told stories of the beautiful maharani who in the face of certain defeat of the 70,000 inhabitants of the fort, threw herself onto the fire along with 30,000 of her women subjects. Similar histrionics have occurred twice more – when next? Monkey families in abundance but we kept them at arm’s length despite having had rabies shots.
Travelled the rest of the way to Udaipur in the van including some time on a tolled motorway – the fact it is a motorway does not stop the somewhat random buffalos, cows, motorcycles, herds of goats, tuk tuks, a tractor, a bullock cart, and a small boy on a large bike travelling on the roadside and some were travelling the wrong way!
The palaces seem to be getting bigger and more impressive as we go. This is the Udai Khoti hotel – marble everywhere including a huge bath in our room big enough to fit the whole family, rooftop restaurant, quaint turrets floodlit, wonderful old George Court style lift with metal expanding door. We arrived pooped, grubby and ready to eat and turn in. Tomorrow’s ride looks daunting and I may choose to miss the anticipated hills from hell.
Yesterday’s’ quote for the day by very droll nz’er – a 72 year old retired merchant seaman and house painter – “I was just hanging out for another temple!” He has entertained all of us with his one liners snd incredible tales about NZ which are all true but which keep the rest of the group guessing as to whether they are true or not.
Walk to village and then to a boarding school for poor girls as an example of affirmative action. Took photos which will speak for themselves.
Again horribly hot but only 16 km return journey to ‘resort’ by lake owned by the maharaja who owns this castle and provides a variety of experiences for rich tourists including horse trekking, tramping, and massages. The roads are truly atrocious in places and so far about 4 of us have hit he road from swerving to avoid rocks or not clipping out quickly enough or pulling over to allow a fast truck or bus through – we are glad to have chosen non clip in pedals. Going through these villages the sights are incredible – this is truly heartland India . People outside Delhi have been universally friendly smiling, waving and the comment by one boy standing by his motorcycle trying out his English, which is not widely spoken was “Cycling is very funny, cycling is very funny!” = cycling is a crazy way of getting around or cycling is fun? Both interpretations are apt. Dinner was outside by the pool with a fireworks display put on for our benefit.
Kota to Bijaipur
Picked up at the station and taken by tuk tuk at breakneck speed to Umed Bhawan Palace, a large somewhat tired reminder of colonial days – huge bedroom with ensuite probably equivalent in floor area to our house! Very ornate building marble everywhere and liveried, deferential staff to fulfil our every need. European dinner was disappointing but we are sticking to our temporary vegetarianism. On this occasion the chefs should do what they are best at – local fare. Met our fellow cyclists.
Early start the next morning as were introduced, at last to our bikes. Our convoy comprises 2 vans, a people mover and a truck for the luggage and bikes. There are about 16 of us’clients’ and there are assorted drivers, a NZ Pedaltour guide and an Indian guide who organises, negotiates, instructs and generally oils the wheels for the trip.
We travelled some of the distance today by van – the drivers are enormously skilled negotiating the sometimes atrocious roads and weaving in and out of herds of goats, motorcycles many with women in saris riding side saddle, Tata buses and trucks, buffalos, very friendly children who call out “bye bye” or “tata”, tractors and herds of cows which have the right of way every time. Sometimes it is nerve wracking when one observes how close one gets to the oncoming traffic – it is almost as if the driver is playing chicken.
We encountered the same once we got on the road. The weather is hotter than we have experienced cycling and we drink copious amounts of water and even coke to keep the sugar and caffeine levels up.
The somewhat demanding day saw us riding 70 km, having lunch in a large old villa overlooking the river – dahl bhat +++ at last, and getting off the bikes when it was too dark to see all the ruts in the road. Our destination was Bijaipur, another relic of the past, an enormous castle converted to a hotel. Such buildings do not always convert successfully to their modern use, but they are delightful nevertheless – even a cold shower was welcome as we arrived sweating, tired hungry and covered in dust. We were regaled with beating of drums and leis as we arrived – an Indian powhiri! Dinner was at tables set up by the pool, again with very attentive staff.
Our allocated guide did not materialise and the driver had to ensure that we got on the train to Kota with not a lot of spare time. It was a 6 hour train trip – my seat was next to the dirtiest train window in the world so I saw very little. I had to content myself with reading, sleeping, drinking chai from a train vendor, observing a party of 25 English tourists who got on to our first class carriage, and then fortunately got off again! The English abroad are a phenomenon – glad we are a staunch energetic group and NOT tourists. Met the rest of our 16 strong cycling party who got on the train 2 hours into the journey after seeing the Taj – we are reassured it has not changed since we saw it 30 years ago – they are mainly Canadians who when the crunch comes we are expecting to be just like kiwis!