15th February 2005 - Near Mysore

In Pondicherry we stayed at a hotel run by an organisation that follows the Ashram spiritual culture. This did not mean much to us, but it was cheap and clean. Most people said they stayed there for spiritual reasons, whatever that meant, and some meditated on the lawn. Apparently the organisation was founded by a couple who preached simplicity and that individuals should have no personal belongings but just work for the good of the community. The founders had many large houses and expensive cars bought from the proceeds of those that gave up everything.

On the map, the coast road north looked scenic, but was very flat and boring especially as we had a strong headwind for 70 miles before we even saw the sea at Mamallapuram. The town of Mamallopuram was very touristy as we expected, and had been hit by the tsunami. This had caused some damage but most looked fairly superficial and easily repaired. The local people seemed to have done nothing to help themselves as all the damaged walls and scattered debris had been untouched. A crowd of local people sat all day next to a sign appealing for donations for repair and in the midst of piles of rubbish littering the beaches. Nobody attempted to tidy up as the caste system prevents communal action.

Typically, in India, nothing gets done.

As we had not been to Mysore or Bangalore in the central plateau of India the decision was to cycle back inland to find a suitable place to relax before heading back to Madras for the flight home. The road from Madras to Bangalore and on to Mysore was under construction as a dual carriageway to cope with all the expected increase in traffic. Instead of starting at one end, construction has started at seemingly random spots over the 200 mile distance.

Most of the time the new road follows the old road and when it goes through villages the old road has been widened to the requisite width cutting houses and buildings in half as necessary. The result looks as though a 50-yard wide bulldozer has gone through the village.

People were still living in the open halves of houses facing the new road. Worst still, villages had been completely cut in half by a two-lane motorway with a central reservation and barrier. Villagers had of course demolished parts of the barriers for access where necessary. The total result of all this modernisation was a 200 mile corridor of destruction with at present random stretches of completed dual carriageway and most still under construction with diversions over dug up stretches. 

No attempt had been made to go around villages, but larger towns had been by-passed. The affected villages were, we were told, "compensated". It was obvious that their village life was ruined by the huge intrusion, as many had to cross the motorway to get to shops and to sell their wares. It was chaotic with ox-carts and cyclists going the wrong way up the fast lane, as each carriageway was treated as a separate road. Even away from villages on completed stretches of dual carriageway it was very common to see traffic of all sorts, including buses, using the wrong side of the dual carriageway.

Crashes were of course commonplace. Later, in a hotel restaurant, we talked to a local chief of police who introduced himself to us. When we asked about controlling the traffic on dual carriageways, his response was that nothing could be done as the people were ignorant and did not understand traffic rules.

After a couple of stops in very uninspiring towns and hotels we arrived in Bangalore. The traffic was so bad that we decided to cycle through and stay somewhere on the other side. We stopped at a small hotel complex in the middle of nowhere to enquire about rooms. The manager was Indian, but spoke English with a French accent something like those in the television programme "Allo Allo". It was too expensive and we didn't stay there.

Eventually we arrived at Shiringapatnam about 10 miles from Mysore and on the river Cauvery. This river is well known among anglers as it used to contain very large Mahseer up to 200lbs in weight. It is doubtful whether fish of this size exist anymore. Our first choice of hotel on the river was full and we had to stay in a very expensive (10 pounds a night) but nice place just upstream. The area was so pleasant that we decided to stay for a while and maybe get a train back to Madras rather than face the awful roads we came on, especially as it would mean a rather stiff headwind.


Dave and Joan Wooldridge