25th November 2004 - Kolhapur

We found a hotel on the other side of Panvel with the usual grotty rooms, but a nice garden and open air restaurant. Every time we ordered beer, one pound a pint, it came with a plate of peanuts. From Panvel it was all uphill, 2000ft, to Lonawala not surprisingly called a hill resort. The last few miles were on the Indian equivalent of a motorway, but we were ok because according to the signs, pedestrians, ox-carts and three wheelers were not permitted.

Lonavala was packed with Indians taking the last day of the Divali holiday and mostly packing up to go home to Bombay. On the road in, we met about 30 lads who were walking from Bombay to Poona, a distance of about 200k. We never found out why. On to Poona (or Pune as it is now called). We managed to find a very basic room but with a courtyard which always makes it more pleasant and settled down for two days.

Remember that we said "no Delhi belly yet". Well, David got Poona belly after a posh restaurant meal in Poona. As well as his cold, he now had sickness and d...(can't spell it) to cope with. This laid him out for a whole day and made him very weak for another two. So far Joan has been ok and acted as nurse to David. Food poisoning always seems to happen when we eat in the posher places!

A bit about clothing. Shorts are definitely not worn in the North. We have been told it is thought offensive (except in uniform!) and can lead to us being spat at or stoned in rural areas. So far rolled up under the knee cotton trousers has been the cycling gear. Perhaps it will be better tolerated in the South.

David's illness kept us longer than we wanted in Pune and we caught a bus out to a local hill station called Mahabaleshwar, where we found a hotel room with a view overlooking a valley.

The room was enormous and also had a separate front room with sitting area. Joan knocked them down from 1000 to 600 rupees a night. The town was at 3000ft and the climate just right, but a bit cool in the evening. It was so pleasant that we stayed three nights.

A two-day course of Amoxycillin brought from home finally cured David who now feels better than he has since arriving in India. Cycling in the South is much more pleasant than the North. The scenery gets better every day, the poverty appears to be less and the roads are less busy and the traffic more organised (more or less!).

It is now unusual for every motorcyclist to ride alongside and say, "How are You?" "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" We now don't attract huge crowds and get cut-up by every cyclist we pass when they suddenly turn right without looking. We still get the occasional motorcyclist with his wife riding pillion who rides slowly alongside so his wife can get a good look at us.

Now, we ride the same as they do and hold our line playing chicken as pedestrians and cyclists come towards us or attempt to cut in. The road out of the hill station was mostly downhill with terrific views and it was nice to be able to stop to admire the view without being viewed ourselves.

Satara at only 30 miles was enough for us for one day and we settled in to a medium hotel at 425 rupees. It was ok but a bit grubby with unreliable power supply. David evicted a few cockroaches. Not as bad as the rat a few nights before!

Just across the road stood the "Hotel Maharaja Regency", a large marble and glass modern building with entrance to match. As a treat, we would try to eat in their restaurant, as we obviously could not afford to stay there. As we walked in, we asked if we could eat in their very sumptuous restaurant. "Of course" they said, and we plonked ourselves down in solitary splendour. The menu arrived and we chose from what was priced at no more than we had previously paid in a restaurant. "Sorry" said the waiter "snacks only, the chefs not here". 

So we chose again. A few moments later the waiter re-appeared with a very smartly dressed woman who said that we could have anything on the menu as she had called the chef in for us. She was the hotel manager'ess and chatted to us in perfect English. She insisted on showing us around the hotel and showing us into the presidential suite and a normal double room such as we would occupy. Both were sumptuous and sparkling clean with veranda's and views. The big surprise was that a normal double room would cost us only 650 rupees compared to the 450 rupees for a rather basic grubby room we normally stay in. Thats only another couple of quid to go from mediocre to luxury. The presidential suite was 1700 rupees (about 20pounds) We left with her recommendation for two other hotels on route and her signature as authority.

Something of interest for Paul and Adam, our engineering sons. All of the motor repairs and workshops are extremely crude with hardly any decent tools. Arc welding in the street is carried out with no eye protection at all and sheet metal cutting is done mostly with a hammer and chisel using a length of railway line as anvil. Rebar is cut the same way. Even with this, the quality of work is surprisingly good, only in the large cities are better facilities found.

Overnight at Karad and on to Kohlapur. The hotel recommended by the woman in Satara said they were full. After some persistence we found that they had expensive rooms at 750 rupees, but still didn't seem to be keen and so we gave up and went elsewhere. We visited the Maharaja of Kohlapurs Palace which is a splendid building part of which is a museum open to visitors. It is full of stuffed animals, particularly tigers, and has some chowdahs (seats that go on top of elephants) made of solid silver.


Dave and Joan Wooldridge