After careful scrutiny
of the road map of Agra and asking people in the hotel we confidently
made our way through the traffic chaos towards the Jaipur road. One
hour later and even after checking several times, we found our way onto
the road to Delhi! Half an hour backtracking and we eventually found
the road to Jaipur but not the one we originally wanted. Arriving in
Bharapur on a back road we had to fight our way through to the other
side where our destination, a National Park was located. Finally we
ended up in the best place yet - a hotel with rooms surrounding a
garden. Still very basic but somewhere we could relax.
about checking in: For a hundred miles around Delhi every hotel has a
rigorous check-in system which takes ages. Full name, age, address,
destination, passport details etc.,etc., are filled in a ledger book
and onto sheets of paper. Several signatures later and that's it.
Aligarh, after we were settled in to our room in the evening there was
knocking on the door. Three smart men declared they were working for
the government and asked to see our passports as there were
"irregularities" in the booking-in ledger. They even wanted to take
them away for photocopying. Apparently, Joan had entered our names as
"Wooldridge" and had omitted the Christian names, and two people with
the same name were suspicious! They still wanted to borrow our
passports but David refused saying that he would get them copied for
them if necessary. A walk round to the photocopier a block away and
they finally departed apologising for the trouble. We took more care
filling in details after that and knowing that copies of our passports
are now filed in a government office amongst millions of tons of
We cycled around Keoladeo National Park for three
hours and saw many different birds, deer, and mongoose. They have a one
female tiger on the reserve but we never saw it. Apparently it only
eats deer and hasn't yet bothered any tourists. But as the sun set we
cycled out of the reserve at a brisk pace!
The roads get a bit
less busy and the scenery less boring through Mahra and Dansa on the
road to Jaipur. Most of the local industry is brick making and stone
carving. Wooden carts drawn by oxen or camels are piled high with
several tons of stone and carted along the main road between towns at a
leisurely pace avoiding the lorries and buses.
The hotel at
Dausa was still being built and David bargained them down to 500 rupees
(6 pounds) for a good new room. We were the only ones eating in the
restaurant, but the food was good and cheap. David had the beginnings
of a cold and looked forward to a good nights sleep, but as night fell,
blaring music from and Indian pop-concert next door started up and
lasted until midnight.
We decided not to go to Jaipur but to
head south on minor roads to Sawai Mahopur and a reserve where we could
see tigers. Some crops, but mostly desert due to the lack of recent
rains gave us a change of scenery. Every small town and settlement
seethed with people and it seem like the whole population surrounded us
whenever we stopped for a break. Even an out-of-town on apparently
deserted roads, people and children appeared from nowhere. David found
this particularly wearing especially as his cold was getting worse.
main objective of the ride turned into one of finding a quiet spot in
the shade to stop. After 75 miles we arrived at Sawai and chose a hotel
on the road to the reserve.
David's cold had now got worse. He
had a sore throat and cough. The dust does not help. The decision was
to stay put for a few days and see how the cold developed. After a
whole day of rest we took a trip to the local reserve which purported
to have 40 tigers. A three hour trip cost us 400 rupees each and we did
see a tiger in the last 10 minutes. It was totally unconcerned by our
presence and was obviously quite used to staring tourists. By the way-
it was about 20 feet away and we were sitting in an open top jeep!
For the doubters - no Delhi belly yet!
to David's cold getting to his chest, and our reluctance to continue
cycling in dusty flat conditions in the North, we decided to get a
train to Bombay and head for the hills.
Booking a train ticket -
the saga. First you need a booking form which is filled in with details
of the train, times, date etc. Don't expect the booking clerk to give a
choice as he only gives you what you ask for. Luckily women can go
directly to the front of the queue and so at 9.30 a.m. Joan barged in
front of the men and presented the form to book two first class tickets
for tomorrow. "Tomorrow is full" we were told. "Can we go today then?"
After a long pause "Yes".
So we asked for tickets to go the same day instead-of tomorrow.
came the bikes. We were told that the bikes could not go on the same
train, but must go on another goods train which arrived a day later at
another Bombay station 10 miles away from ours. After much discussion
with several different officials the answer was the same and we
reluctantly had to give in.
Back to the hotel and return to
station at 3.30pm for 4pm train. David decided to have another go at
getting the bikes on but this then turned up another problem. Our
tickets were for tomorrow after all! We were a day early.
stationmaster said that we could cancel our tickets, buy new second
class tickets for today and upgrade to first class on the train. This
would cost us 25 per cent cancellation fees, about ten pounds. The
advantage he said was that in this case the bikes could go on the same
train. Why? It appears that all first class passengers use the first
class luggage car, which does not take bikes. The second class luggage
car does take bikes but they cannot travel second class while we travel
After much thought, the decision was to keep
tomorrows tickets, send our bikes today and stay in Sawai another night
which is much better and cheaper than staying in a Bombay hotel near
the station while our bikes arrive.
In order to send the bikes
we needed to have labels made up from steel sheet about the size of a
car number plates which we obtained by asking at a local car repair
shop. They cut them out and punched holes for the string - all with
hammer and chisel. Cost, about 30 pence.
Details were entered in felt-tip pen and our bikes disappeared into a black hole.
when we arrive the bikes may be waiting for us. We were told they would
be at Bombay Central - our destination station. Some hope!
the station, a small boy of about 10 years old started following us
around, asking for money, which we refused. He started singing Indian
pop-songs and rattling two small pieces of sheet asbestos together as
if playing spoons, and he was rather good at it. While we were sitting
on the platform waiting he continued to pester us and David showed him
various tricks that always amused the children. By this time, quite a
crowd had gathered around us, all interested in David's antics. We gave
the boy an apple, which he ate ravenously. On his foot, he had two open
sores, each about half inch across which attracted flies all the time,
and Joan remembered we had some antibiotic ointment which we smeared on
his wounds and covered up with sticky tape. After this, a cup of tea
turned him from a pitiful beggar into a smiling boy. We left
instructions via an interpreter in the crowd that he should keep the
dressing on a long as possible. Its the least we could do and we wish
we could have done more.
Our train arrived 30 minutes late and
we were ushered into our compartment by two porters eager for tips. It
was air conditioned, had seats, bunks and table and was showing its
age, it was all ours for the 16 hour trip. Bedding, tea and food was
A good night sleep, a cup of tea and the train arrived
on time at 8 am. And yes, our bikes were waiting for us at the parcel
As we were at Bombay station at 8am with our bikes, all options were open. Stay in Bombay, ride out or taxi out.
in Bombay did not appeal as it would be expensive, crowded and not much
to recommend it. We were in the middle of Diwali, the Indian November
holiday and the roads seemed quite reasonable. Traffic in Bombay was
much more orderly than in Delhi and as we cycled north out of the city
the only problem was finding our way again, as all the road signs were
in Hindi. After 20 miles we stopped to ask a taxi driver the way to
Panvel our planned stop and he offered to take us and our bikes the
next 30 miles for 400 rupees - an offer we did not refuse.
cold is still giving him bother. It has gone to his chest and at times
he is rather hoarse, but we hope it will clear up soon. Joan seems to
be ok and is taking everything in her stride as usual.