18th November 2004 - Pune


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.

A bit 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.
 
In 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 paperwork.

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.

The 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!

Due 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.

Next 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.

The 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 first class.

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.

Hopefully, when we arrive the bikes may be waiting for us. We were told they would be at Bombay Central - our destination station. Some hope!

At 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 supplied.

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 office.

As we were at Bombay station at 8am with our bikes, all options were open. Stay in Bombay, ride out or taxi out.

Staying 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.

David's 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.

Regards,

Dave and Joan Wooldridge