14th January 2005 - Cochin

Many locals and tourists had told us about the road to Ooty which only jeeps and small buses could manage. It had 32 hairpin bends and rose 3000ft in 5 miles. There was a longer easier way, but it was about ten times longer and on a major road. We had a choice. Take the long easy road, the short hard one, or catch a jeep. We took the last option and were glad we had as the road was extremely steep and rough. The jeep engine kept boiling over and the driver had to keep filling it with water, but eventually we made it. It didn't help that the filler cap was missing.


Ooty was actually 10 miles away but we left the jeep as soon as the last steep bit was over and cycled the rest. The town had a large greenish-looking lake mostly covered in water hyacinth and said to contain large carp. David obtained a fishing licence from the local fisheries officer and had to pay 5p a day for it. But, true to form he caught no fish. The locals have a special technique, which works for them. A long cane has about 10ft of line tied to the tip and treble hooks tied to the end. A small wooden float is attached about six-foot up. When the float wobbles as a fish touches the line, the hooks are jerked up to catch the fish. Surprisingly, it works well.

As we walked past a hotel, there was a Dawes Galaxy tandem parked outside. Our enquiries at reception revealed as expected that it was an English couple. We talked to the man from Bolton, but his wife stayed in the room with tummy trouble. How they coped on a tandem we will never know. They had 700c tyres which had split and found it impossible to get replacements. When bike touring in these places it is essential to know what spares are available before setting out.


From Ooty it should be all down hill or so we thought. The decision was to take back roads and cut off a long section of major road. Off we went in the right direction guided again by compass and map. Up and down went the road through forests, tea and coffee plantations and many small villages. Every so often we stopped to check our way but none of the names on the map corresponded with any of the village names. We were lost. In a small village, we were approached by a man who spoke excellent English and gave us both a cup of tea. He gave detailed instructions on how to get to our destination and we set off very confident.


Many hilly miles later we ended up at Coonor only 10 miles up the road from where we started. Still, it was a nice ride. The day was not yet over. The town spread upwards from a valley to a high ridge 1000ft up. We were told that the hotel was at the top of the hill and we struggled upwards almost 1000ft to find that we had passed it halfway up.


What a day! We forgot to mention that at the last nature reserve we met a princess. At the lodge where we were staying a very elegantly dressed middle aged lady walked in and we could tell immediately that she was different. It turned out that she was the daughter of a local maharajah and although no longer rich was still comfortably well off.


After all that uphill we deserved the 30-mile downhill the next day. It was the best downhill yet, very scenic and the next 30 miles although flat was still enjoyable until we hit the town of Coimbatore. Like most towns here, finding our way around was a nightmare but we found a hotel eventually. This time, we got a top sheet on the bed, which has been unusual lately. Most hotels seem to supply only the bottom sheet and a top blanket if necessary. The doorman insisted that we put our bikes around the back before we checked in, so David left the bags on and asked him to fetch them afterwards. On the way out, they brought our bikes around to the front so they didn't have to carry the bags so far. The doorman doesn't expect people on bikes to stay at an expensive (6 pounds a night) hotel.


A diversion to a local tourist spot to stay the night was an expected let down. Malampulza was advertised as a wonderful serene scenic place by a reservoir. It was quiet ok but very tatty and run down as most of the places here are. As for the reservoir, all we could see was the huge dam. They seem to make it difficult to get to reservoirs here - probably for security reasons. The many dams around reduce rivers to a dirty polluted trickle where a majestic river once ran.


Thrissur, the last town before the coast was like all the other inland towns, but we had to stay here as it was too far to Cochin in one day. Although we saw no wild elephants during our stay in a reserve, we met many tame elephants walking along the road to Cochin. Apparently there was some religious festival and many elephants were required at the mosque. They caused traffic jams in villages as they held up buses and taxis which would not drive as close to an elephant as they would to each other. The elephant droppings were a hazard to cyclists as well!




Dave and Joan Wooldridge