Posts Tagged ‘harnai’

Day 6: Harnai to Jaigad (7-1-12) 96km

Friday, January 27th, 2012

After a farewell coffee with Mr & Mrs Ashok, with Mrs Ashok assuring me there was a ferry at Dabhol, there I was back on the road at 7.30 in the morning spinning along the flat coastal road with great views out to sea and once again the cloudless blue skies. My legs were feeling good after their rest day, which was just as well as they were soon put to the test with a 10km grind from sea level up to Dapoli, 192m above the level of the sea. As I enter the town along a road shaded by tall trees I am treated to the dazzling display of the early morning sunlight streaming through them. This small town is seen as being the home of Indian Independence as it was the birthplace in 1856 of Lokmanya Keshav Gangadhar Tilak, one of the first and perhaps strongest advocates of ‘swaraj’ or self-rule. He was also the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement, which led to the colonial Brits derogatorily named him ‘Father of the Indian unrest’. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was also born here in 1891, a revolutionary and one of the founding fathers of independent India. As an ‘untouchable’ the lowest of the low in the Indian caste system he overcame all odds to become a leading Indian scholar and politician and spent his entire life fighting against social discrimination and the Hindu caste system. Today Dapoli is better known for having one of the finest agricultural universities in India.

Beautiful sight rolling into Dapoli...

As I leave Dapoli I enjoy a wonderful 5km downhill on a great road all the way back down to sea level, however I am a tad bit wary as at the back of my mind is my front tyre bodge job repair, I really wouldn’t fancy a ‘blow-out’ at speed, but it holds up well. From my experience of the past few days I have a feeling that it will not be long before I am climbing once again, and sure enough almost before I have stopped coasting the next 140m high climb begins. Once again I enjoy a steep downhill but once again it is followed by a steep climb upto 150m, my poor legs are getting a real workout. The following downhill is sublime, gradual and sweeping it allows me to take in the views of the sea to the east and the tree covered hills rolling off into the distance to the west, and a few hairpin bends thrown in just to spice it up a little. I coast into the small town of Dabhol and turn left at the remains of an old, tall defensive wall and roll into the ferry port. As I wait for the ferry to arrive I look over to the headland on the other side of the River Vashistri estuary and see it topped by the large, looming industrial complex of the controversial and ill-fated Dabhol Power Station. The plant was constructed by Enron and General Electric and began in 1992, however in 1995 with a change in government hundreds of protesting villagers swarmed over the site and a riot broke out, with the Maharashtra government finally ordering the project to be halted due to ‘lack of transparency, alleged padded costs, and environmental hazards’. Differences were eventually ironed out and Phase 1 went online in 1999, almost 2 years behind schedule. However soon after the Maharashtra State Electricity Board reneged on its agreement and refused to pay the contractual rate for the power generated and Enron, after investing $900 million, halted power generation despite Maharashtra state not having enough electricity to meet demand. Enron was declared bankrupt in 2001 thus the plant sat silent for 7 years until it was taken over by Ratnagiri Gas and Power Ltd. and operations recommenced in 2006. Yet it has still not been plain sailing with occasional shutdowns due to a lack of naphtha and problems associated with the non-availability of operational insurance. The couple of days I was in Harnai only 40km away there were sporadic power outages…

Downhill into Dabhol - yes that is the sea in the distance!

The ferry lands us close to the industrial port that is full of pipes, tanks and conveyors that support the Dabhol Power Station, I cycle past this array of rusting metal and begin the leg-burning climb up onto the windswept headland plateau which undulates past the large power plant complex and its associated employees accommodation compounds. Soon enough another sweeping downhill is enjoyed taking me down through shady mango plantations and delivering me into the pleasant, dappled town of Guhagar. The economy of this small town was given a boost in the early 1990s with the construction of the Dabhol Power Station, hotels sprung up and locals were given well-paid jobs. It is Saturday and there are quite a few glamed-up city slickers milling around town, young ladies sporting make-up and dressed in tight jeans and tighter t-shirts with large black rimmed shades in stark contrast to the un-shaded local young ladies attired in the traditional and much more conservative shalwar kameez and the only makeup if any being the red forehead bindi ‘dot’. Guhagar is increasingly becoming a weekend get-a-way for Mumbai and Pune’s middle classes and around town there are various billboards advertising various ‘luxury’ cliff top sea view bungalow complexes which are under construction, so it appears that this small town is still on the up.

My original plan was to stop in Guhagar for the night, but it is now just gone midday and I have completed only 60km, I feel there is another 20km in me so decide to push on. After a very well presented and large serving of a tasty vegetable biryani in a restaurant that was playing Spanish music (?) I depart Guhagar on what I think is the coast road looking for the towns ‘virginal’ beach I have heard about. Suddenly the lane I am following abruptly ends and turns into a very steep dirt track with a liberal coating of loose gravel and fist sized rocks. Not to be daunted “Onward and upward!” I shout to myself as motivation and dropping quickly down through the gears I begin to climb… After about 40 metres I have to admit defeat as the rear wheel loses traction and my momentum disappears. Get off and push it is, which in itself is no easy task, pushing a weight of nearly 50kgs uphill with my feet slipping and sliding beneath me! After one and a half kilometres, a height gain of 100 metres and a combination of riding, pushing, riding, pushing I finally make it to the top, sweating profusely. As I take a much welcomed drink and enjoy the cooling breeze I turn around and my jaw drops, down below is a beautiful crescent shaped white sandy beach with the surf crashing onto it and not a soul in sight – deserted. “Wow! That must be Guhagar beach” I murmur to myself, “But there’s no way you’re going back down that trail only to have to come back up again afterwards” I command myself. I also notice just 30 metres from me a leaning, buckled sign partially hidden in the undergrowth advertising, ‘Proposed Residential Development’, “Pah!” I laugh sarcastically “a decent access road would be a good start!”. The following downhill starts gradually on a decent dirt track through the surrounding scrubland but all of a sudden it becomes steep and gnarly, all my old mountain bike skills are called up as I try to make it easy on Dhanya. Eventually we get spat out all shaken and stirred onto yet another glorious deserted beach! Nice surprises like this make all the hard work of pushing Dhanya uphill worth it… I sit down on the gravelly track and take a short rest enjoying the wonderful view, “This is what it is all about Mark” I comment, before my eyes rest on the wooded headland at the south of the beach and I realise I am going to have to climb over that. With a sigh of resignation I haul myself up off the floor, throw my leg over Dhanya and spin along the length of the beach.

Wonderful and empty Guhagar Beach

Sure enough, another 4km, 120 metre height gain climb follows on a patchy tarmac surface and once again the breeze of the plateau is much welcomed. Yet again I drop more or less to sea level and my cycle computer clocks up 80km. My plan is if at 80km there is no obvious place to stay then buy some veggies from a village stall and find a beach to camp on. The small fishing hamlet I am now cycling through does not appear to have any veggies on sale, so I decide to press on to the next settlement. 3km further on and after another steep climb I arrive at the next hamlet, but same story… Another 3km further on, another steep climb, another hamlet, same story… I am now getting hungry and tired and all these steep climbs are definitely taking it out of me. I had passed a few ferry signs nailed to trees so I guessed the ferry must be close by and I got to thinking that if there is a ferry there must be a small community, there must be a market, and if I am really lucky there may be somewhere to stay. I attempt to ask some locals how far it is to the ferry but their lack of English only helps me to establish that yes there is a ferry but not how far away it is. I give myself a good talking to and push on again. Just before yet another steep climb I arrive at a bridge across a river which has a bunch of lanky, bushy eye-browed, black faced, grey langur monkeys sat on the concrete side barriers as if they are some form of sentries. As I approach I get their interest and they start getting all excited and call to each other and run and jump along the barrier with their long tails flailing behind them and their eyes fixed on me. I’m a little bit nervous as you do hear stories of monkeys attacking humans, yet the closer I get most of them run towards the far bank, jump off and disappear, only those more brave souls remain seated as I pass. As I concentrate on the next downhill I follow the bend in the road and there it is! I see the river down below, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I cry and enjoy the downhill that much more. As I coast into the ferry landing with a big smile on my face it gets even bigger when I see a large sign advertising the ‘Jaigad Resort’, “Result!” I think to myself. I chat with the ticket seller sat in his little booth and with his limited English he confirms that yes the ‘Jaigad Resort’ is over the river, pointing to the small higgled-e-piggledy settlement of Jaigad clinging to the cliff at the mouth of the estuary. It has just turned 4pm and I have completed 90km, I sit back in the shade of the ticket booth with a cool refreshing Sprite and await the ferry feeling all very content…

Monkeys guarding the bridge

As the ferry closes in on Jaigad I look for a ‘Jaigad Resort’ sign on any of the buildings snuggling against the cliff side above the small fishing port but cannot see one, “Ummmmm! Strange” I think to myself “Ah, it must be down some side street…”. Whilst pushing Dhanya off the ferry I see a couple of auto-rickshaw drivers and ask them if they know the ‘Jaigad Resort’. There isn’t an immediate look of recognition on their faces and after they confer with one another they gesture that it is along a bit and to the right. I follow their directions along a bumpy narrow lane lined by grubby looking shop houses and it soon becomes clear there is no ‘resort’ along here. I decide to take the next ‘right’ further up the hill, but the same story… It has now turned 5pm and I am beginning to get a little concerned. I see another auto-rickshaw driver and he gestures towards the top of the hill, “This is all I need, another climb!”. The short but steep climb levels out slightly as I near the top of the plateau and I am presented with the industrial complex of the JSW Energy coal powered power plant which only completed phase 1 in 2010, as such there is quite a lot of construction activity still going on. As the road undulates across the plateau ahead of me and all I can see is the industrial complex and supporting buildings I begin to lose hope and the sun is getting very low in the sky, I begin to seriously consider the very real possibility that I may have to tent it on the plateau with no food to satiate my now raging hunger. A couple of klicks further on I see what appears to be a makeshift restaurant sign to the left of the road, and as I roll up to it I see a small set-up about 30 metres back from the road, “Yes, at least this will solve one of my problems!”. I wander up to the tables and a woman glances up from cleaning plates and calls out to someone. I hear a grunting and a shuffling and look over in that direction to see a very dishevelled, vest wearing man appear from beneath a blanket laid across two large orange ice boxes. Through bleary eyes he gestures with shrugging shoulders and upturned palms, “You have any food?” I ask moving my hands towards my mouth. “Ah, lunch finish” as he spits on to the floor “Daal only”. He’s not doing his best to make me feel too comfortable about eating here, but heh, beggars cannot be choosers… “OK, that is fine, and a Coke”. He nods, shuffles past me whilst mumbling to the woman and she stands and walks to what I presume is the kitchen. They continue an exchange whilst he is wiping my Coke bottle with a cloth and comments, “We have fish fry also, and fish curry, you want?”, “Yes please!” I do not need to be asked twice. I also notice he sells snacks and I reach out and take a pack of ‘Parle G Original Gluco Biscuits’, they look just like the Fox’s Malted Milk biscuits I loved as a kid.

Arun and I continue to chat in his broken English as I scoff down the fairly decent sized meal presented to me. Of course the conversation includes where am I going and I explain that I cannot find anywhere to sleep. Then looking around this shack-cum-restaurant I decide it is worth a try, “I have a tent, is it OK to put my tent over there?” pointing to a bare patch of ground amongst the surrounding scrubland, “Yes, yes of course. Ah no, you not need tent, you sleep here, I have a mat” he replies whilst gesturing towards the concrete floor underneath the restaurants corrugated steel roof. “What about your customers?” I query, “From 7 to 9, after that they all go, no problem, and I cook you more food later”. This seems to be the best offer I’m going to get so I thank him and begin off-loading Dhanya. As I am doing this and the final light of the day has all but disappeared three young guys sharing the one motorbike pull up, sit down and order chai. They are all wearing hard hats and bright orange vests over their clean shirts so I assume they are engineers of some description from the power plant. After a short time one of then begins asking me the usual questions in fairly decent English. As I explain my sleeping predicament Suneil comments, “So the Jog Residency is full then?”, “Pardon” I reply with peaked interest. “The Jog Residency, you try there?”, “No, where is it?” I ask with a hint of excitement, “About 2km that way” he states pointing back down the road I had come along. Surprised I did not see it I question, “On the main road?”, “Yes, a big place at a junction, only 2km very close”. Arun and Suneil chat away in Hindi and it transpires that when I explained I could not find anywhere to stay Arun had assumed I had tried the Jog Residency but it was full, we all chuckle about this misunderstanding. As I am reloading Dhanya and just about to leave Arun calls over, “Mark, Mark if the Jog Residency is full remember you can come back here”, “Thanks very much!” I call out over my right shoulder as I re-join the road. I cycle along in the now more or less dark with the occasional rumbling truck lighting up the way with their powerful headlights wondering, “How the hell did I miss a big hotel when I was positively searching for one??”. Sure enough, and with great relief, after about 5 minutes up ahead to the right I see the bright neon lights announcing the presence of the Jog Residency. As I approach the junction the road falls apart and I suddenly remember, when I passed this way earlier there was a big tangle of construction trucks all jockeying for position on the crap road surface and I was too busy focusing on not getting squished by one of them or falling down a pothole rather than looking at the buildings I was passing. I roll up outside the relatively decent looking hotel and with fingers crossed I walk up to reception and enquire about room availability to the suit wearing receptionist, “Yes we have sir, 800 rupees”. “Yes, yes, yes!” I think to myself, a bit more than I want to pay but taking into account the day I’ve had, that it’s now gone 7pm and the other option available to me I am happy to pay it.

With Dhanya safely stowed in the foyer and after having showered and eaten I lie on the bed watching TV reflecting upon where I could have been sleeping tonight and the fact that once again today the roads I followed had been more or less traffic free, for times I really did have the road to myself – bliss…

Day 5: Harnai Rest Day (6-1-12)

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

My first rest day, a little earlier than I had planned due to having to try and come up with a more lasting solution to the small tear I found in my rear tyre yesterday that resulted in two punctures. However I, and certainly my legs, are not complaining, after 322 tough kilometres it is a great excuse and I must admit the first few days of cycling have been much harder than I expected, the crappy state of the roads was quite a surprise as were the repetitive steep climbs.

Ashok’s wife prepares me a tasty little breakfast of a vegetable omelette and bread roll accompanied by a very sweet coffee. It is then into their small courtyard garden with Dhanya where I tweak a few things that after 4 days of cycling I had noted could be changed for the better. I also give her chain a good clean, one of the ‘luxuries’ I brought with me was a small lightweight chain cleaning machine, I find that they just make cleaning a chain so much easier and are probably more effective. Also having the Rohloff hub makes cleaning so much easier as you only have one chain ring at the front and one sprocket at the rear to worry about, you don’t have to dig out all that greasy grime that builds up between the cluster of sprockets and on the jockey wheels of a derailleur system. An added bonus, as I am carrying a small Primus stove I also have a fuel container with kerosene in it, a great grime removing agent! In no time Dhanya has a freshly oiled sparkling drive system, and it is onto the more pressing matter of how to accomplish a more semi-permanent bodge job on the tear in the tyre. I have heard that there is a good ‘professional’ bike shop in Goa, thus the tyre needs to last about another 500km!!

Ashok leads the way along the main street of Harnai, waving and singing morning salutations to fellow villagers as he limps along, and then takes a right up a small dirt track where there is a cluster of small wooden shacks. We stop outside one of these and Ashok introduces me to Deepak, the oil smudged village puncture and bicycle repair man. Not surprisingly he does not sell the type of tyre I am looking for but I do hand over my punctured inner tube and he gets to work fixing it. He pumps up the inner tube and places it in a tub of greyish water, whilst he is checking for bubbles, roughing, sticking, inflating, re-checking, once again I am racking my brains as to what sort of bodge job I can come up with, “C’mon Mark you have read enough bike magazines in your time where readers write in with their on-trail temporary repairs…”.

Back in Ashok’s small courtyard sat under a shady mango tree on a rough patch of grass the bodge job comes to life… Initially I stick a rectangle of duct tape on the inside of the tyre where the tear is, I then carefully cut an oval from a plastic Sprite bottle about the size of a thumb print and with the aid of duct tape stick that on the inside of the tyre in the appropriate location, then I take a strip of rubber (part of an old inner tube) I have in my tool kit and stick that over the plastic and then just for good measure add a couple more layers of duct tape, and the final piece in the jigsaw was to change the tyre from the rear wheel to the front wheel as there would be a lot less weight bearing down on it and less pressure directly from the drive system, and voila! I insert the inner tube and inflate… All looks good, only time will tell if it will last the distance to Goa…

Me and Harnai Beach

In the afternoon I take it easy and just do a few other ‘housekeeping’ chores such as washing a few clothes, downloading photos onto the laptop and labelling them etc. all very essential but quite boring. As late afternoon approaches and the light becomes softer and takes on that magical golden glow I go for a stroll along the white sands of Harnai beach towards the lighthouse topped headland in the distance. I gaze out westwards into the setting sun through squinting eyes at a small fleet of fishing boats moored off shore, and as the wind rises and falls the mysterious sound of a distant adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) wafts in and out of my ears mixing with the sound of the lapping waves – enchanting. As I wander with no urgency at all I notice that the stretch of beach I am on is more or less deserted, yet up at the northern end there seems to be quite a bit of activity, “What’s all that about?” I wonder and quicken my pace to go and investigate. As I get closer I am amazed and delighted to see that the hustle and bustle of an informal looking fish market is in full swing right here on the beach. Small colourful wooden boats are shuttling back and forth from the bigger wooden fishing boats moored a couple of hundred metres or so out to sea, ferrying the prized catch ashore. Short wearing sinewy men are splashing from the beach to these small wooden boats and hurriedly returning with baskets laden with fish, squid and prawns, even wooden ox-carts are being driven into the shallows to be loaded up with the much heavier large plastic containers. Once on shore the baskets are deposited on the sand and there is a kaleidoscopic flurry of saris as the women take over, noisy haggling ensues as these weather-worn women clad in gold bracelets, beaded necklaces and chunky gold earrings get down to business, picking up handfuls of the catch for closer inspection. Stern, concentrating faces turn to smiles as the deal is struck, cash handed over and the basket lifted onto a waiting woman ‘porters’ head as she follows the buyer. All this is happening repeatedly along the beach appearing to the casual observer very much like organised chaos! As I shuffle myself through all of this colourful activity I arrive at where the large orange, blue and red plastic containers are being off loaded from the ox-carts and stacked, nearby rows of refrigerated trucks are standing by. I see men balancing on these stacks shouting and gesturing to the gathered crowds below and I suddenly realise this is an auction, this is where the ‘big boys’ are. The smaller quantity baskets must be for local restaurants and markets, yet this area must be the large wholesalers buying big quantities for transportation further afield.

Fisherman bringing in the squid...

A fisher woman shouting out her wares...

Some hard bargaining going on...

A pondering fisher woman...

After spending an incredible hour or so watching this frenzied activity I return to the guesthouse for yet another delicious seafood dinner, Ashok’s wife had also been down at the fish market, I find it hard to imagine this gentle shy woman being involved in all of that mayhem. As I eat Ashok’s son, Muresh, wanders in and we start chatting. He wants to be Harnai’s tycoon, it transpires that Ashok along with his brothers already have their bony old fingers in various local pies, a few guesthouses, a construction business and the town’s only computer training centre and internet spot to name but a few. Muresh has big plans for Harnai, he wants to develop it as Maharashtra’s answer to the beach hot spots of Goa, “I want to introduce water sports, jet-skis, scuba diving, kite surfing, I want to arrange monthly big beach parties, I think it can work”. He stops to catch breath and then adds “Tomorrow we have an office group of 18 coming down from Mumbai, at the moment they come her for the fish and seafood, Harnai is famous for this, but slowly I want to introduce new things, I want people to be curious about what is new in Harnai, this way they will keep coming back”. As I listen to him talk excitedly about his plans I consider they could work with the right level of investment and infrastructure development such as, a tarmac road through the village, a reliable electricity supply, higher standards of accommodation, some beach cafés, much better waste management, more professional looking restaurants and removing all the stray dogs from the beach for a start. After all Harnai would make for a much closer weekend party place for the growing number of Mumbai and Pune’s club goers and party people. Whether I would like to see quaint, tranquil Harnai go down that route is not for me to say… Muresh went on to explain, “Harnai is the number one fishing port in Maharashtra. Before refrigerated trucks we only supplied locally and Mumbai, but now we transport all over India, Kolkata, Bangalore, Kochi…”, “Kochi” I interrupt, “But that is on the coast why do they need your fish?”. “Ah yes, but Kochi port has a license to export so they export most of their fish and seafood” he clarifies. “You know what? We have two fish markets a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, every day the amount of transactions at the Harnai fish market totals 1 to 1.5 crore… every day!!” A crore is the Indian term for 10 million, thus in this case Muresh was referring to 10 to 15 million rupees a day, approx. $200 – $300,000 a day. I guessed Muresh to be about 28 or 29 years old, I was very surprised when he informed me he was only 19, with his vision and enthusiasm perhaps he just will one day become the Mr Big of Harnai…

As we continue to chat as a family the mother begins to come out of her shell and she asks me a couple of questions in fairly good English, up until then I did not think she could speak any! As time was getting on and I had an early start the following morning I begin to make my excuses about going to bed but Muresh urges, “Ah no, stay just a little bit longer” he then speaks to his mother in Marathi and Ashok joins in and speaks to his wife in English, “Ah yes, very good idea my dear”. Leaning towards me Ashok whispers “My wife is going to sing for you”. Mother clears her throat and for about 3 minutes in the low light of their front room she sings this wonderful, haunting melody. “My grandmother used to sing this song” she explains to me afterwards, “It is an old fisher wives folk song about a wife not wanting her husband to go to sea in case he does not return”. A wonderful experience – I did not want to leave…

Day 4: Veshavi to Harnai (5-1-12) 53km

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Last night Nilesh insisted on driving me the few kilometres to nearby Bankot Fort, ''First it is not in the direction you will be going, and secondly the road is very steep!''. Whilst Nilesh got himself ready his father and I watch the coverage of the third day of the second Test Match between India and Australia in Sydney and applaud as Michael Clarke scores his 300th run. With a shaking head his father laments “Now India not good at Test cricket, now they win the One Day World Cup they not care about anything else, this is the wrong attitude…”.

As we near Bankot Fort the crumbling road suddenly becomes cliff like and I can understand Nilesh’s insistence as he looks over to me and smiles whilst changing into first gear, “You think you can cycle up this?” my reply is a resigned laugh. As we wander around the dilapidated ramparts of the fort looking out of the confluence of the river and sea Nilesh explains that this was the first residency of the British Raj in Southern Konkan, “It is a shame the local government do not spend any money restoring and caring for it” he sighs. Indeed it has had a turbulent history, no one is exactly sure when it was built but it was captured by the Portuguese in 1548, it was then later captured by the local Angres and renamed Himmatgad. There was a rivalry between the Angres and the Peshwas who with British assistance defeated the Angres and it was renamed Fort Victoria. At the eastern edge of the fort Nilesh waves his arm out in the direction of the nearby tree covered hills, “They want to build a power plant here, but we locals are against it, now we have clean air, we do not want any pollution. The company claims there will not be any, but we do not believe them…”. We continue wandering and chatting when suddenly “Ah yes Mark, I must show you this” he leans over the inner edge of the ramparts and points to a small arched opening at ground level, “I do not know if it is true but people say that this leads to a tunnel under the sea over to Harihareshwar, an escape route”. I am sceptical, we are about 100m above sea level so that is a long way to dig down through rock just to get to sea level, let alone the few kilometres they then have to dig below the sea floor – but heh, stranger things have happened…

As we drive back to his home along the narrow winding lane Nilesh explains that he may not be in Veshavi for much longer as he has been offered a World Bank job working on water sanitation which is based in Mumbai, “The money is good and my brother lives in Mumbai. My wife will also be happy as closer to her parents who live in Pune”. Over breakfast of pancakes I explain my plan for the day and Nilesh just laughs, “Do not even think of trying to get to Guhagar today, the roads are bad and steep, it takes 5 to 6 hours in a car! I suggest you stop a Harnai, it is about 50km and it is a nice place next to the beach”. As it is already 10:30am I agree that sounds like a good plan. I load up Dhanya and after paying the bill, 350 rupees (less than 7 bucks all in!), bidding our farewells and being given initial directions I climb the dirt bumpy road out of the village, passing the police station on the way.

It doesn’t take long at all to understand Nilesh’s laughter at my plan of reaching Guhagar (about 100km), today’s first 10km included 6km of steady uphill from more or less sea level to 170m above on a fairly shoddy road which I achieved at a blistering pace of 13kph! However, the reward for the climbing is the views and every now and then I would catch glimpses through the shady trees of the glistening blue River Savitri below and the tree covered hills off in the distance. As I was sweating up this prolonged climb a guy on a Honda Hero motorbike who had passed me a couple of times asks me to stop. “Not here” I pant, “At the top of the hill”. He pootles along side me and asks the usual questions, “Where you go?”, “Where you from?” etc. At the top of the climb with sweat pouring off my brow, as I dismount Dhanya the guy says, “I need your help. Excuse my English but I want you to help me”, “What help you need” I enquire. “I need to study in your country”, “OK, so how can I help”, “Anything”, “Such as…”, “Money”. “Oh yer!” I laugh, “Why I give you money, I don’t know you!”. Looking him up and down I go on, “Look you have nice clothes, a good haircut, and nice new motorbike, why I give you money?!”. As I remount Dhanya my parting shot with much sarcasm is “You a very good person heh, you stop me just because you want my money – very good!!!”.

The River Savitri and rolling hills above Veshavi

The following 3km downhill was bliss as I drop into another valley and switchback my way down to the river below with views of fading ridgelines off into the distance and the greens of market gardening on the valley floor. The ride following the river down to the sea was a delight despite the constant rolling up and downs, including a few short but steep climbs. I pass through a number of charming shady hamlets with mainly single story homes topped with terracotta tiles huddled closely together, seeing laughing women slapping and scrunching the laundry in the river, and uniformed school kids wandering and playing. I arrive in Kelshi and take a small detour to the pristine wide sandy beach where I sit and relax staring out to sea for a while. I am shaken out of my trance by a couple of barefoot young lads shouting “Hello!” as the run past clutching a cricket bat and three stumps, off to the firmer sand nearer the sea for a knock-about. I leave Kelshi via a different route and the route I chose would not have been out of place on a mountain bike course!! With much relief after a few kilometres I re-find the tarmac and the short ups and downs continue as I follow the coastline. About 8km from Anjarle the single lane road smoothes out and literally hugs the deserted beach – excellent!!

Dhanya and I on the deserted Kelshi Beach

I coast into Anjarle and as one of the restaurants I am involved with in Cambodia is named Anjali, of course I have to stop for a quick spot of lunch and refreshments sat on the step outside a drink store. No sooner had I sat down than Dhanya and I attract the attention of a bunch of inquisitive school boys all clad in matching khaki shorts and white shirts – none of whom spoke any English so it made for some interesting communication. Although I think they were more interested in Dhanya than me… I pootle through the shady twisting lanes of Anjarle taking in the rustic architecture when suddenly the rear tyre feels a bit squidgy. Sure enough I have a slow puncture!! It is still sufficiently ‘full’ so I cycle around and find the village bike shop which is an old wooden barn and shares its premises with a mooing cow. Outside the courtyard is beautifully shady so I sit back and let the vest wearing bike man get to work… However, it appears I have chosen the only cycle repairman in the whole of India who does not have a pump!! He mounts his own rusty, squeaky Hercules cycle which has a badly buckled rear wheel (not a great advert) and disappears for 5 minutes, returning firmly grasping a pump and wearing a big smile.

All done, I hand over the 10 rupees (20 cents), re-load Dhanya and re-connect the Rohloff hub and I am off, yet all too soon confronted with an incredibly steep little climb out of the village. Just as I am enjoying the smooth downhill on the other side pppssssssssshhhhhhhhh – rapid pressure lose in the rear tyre!!! I pull over underneath the shade of a roadside tree cursing the Anjarle puncture repair man! Once again I un-load Dhanya, unclip the V-brakes, disconnect the Rohloff hub, turn her over and remove the rear wheel and get to work on changing the inner tube. Checking the inner tube I have just removed I notice that Mr Anjarle’s repair patch is actually still intact, however there is a new hole nearby, I curse him once again for not checking whether the sharp object was still in the tyre or not. As I check the tyre for the said sharp object I have to guiltily take back all my curses – there is a small 4mm tear in the tyre!! “Ummmmm, this is going to be interesting to fix” I think to myself. Racking my brain I try to think of all the cycle magazines I have read in the past where people write in with their ‘on-trail’ bodge job repairs and it suddenly comes to me. Looking around I find a discarded ‘foil’ crisp packet and fold this over a few times and place it between the new inner tube and the inside of the tyre covering the hole, hoping this bodge job will last the 10km to Harnai… Whilst I am doing all this a young closely shaven Muslim chap attired in a topis and a pristine white thobe had pulled over and stood watching me. Seeing the effort it was taking to pump up the rear tyre with my small ‘Pocket Rocket’ pump Fahim very kindly offered to help. With his assistance I was soon back on the road, my heart missing a beat each time I went over a bump.

Me with my Pocket Rocket pump!

There was one final sting in the tail before reaching Harnai, a climb up over a headland which included 7 back to back switchbacks! An old red school bus passed me on its way down with the school kids waving their arms out of the glassless windows and screaming with delight as the lumbering old thing swung round each hairpin – guess it’s the closest thing these kids get to a rollercoaster. My prize being an exciting switchback downhill on a great smooth surface all the way into the small fishing town of Harnai, thankful that my bodge job tyre had survived! There didn’t appear to be a great deal of accommodation on offer as I cycled along the narrow and bumpy main street so I opted for the Bhavani Residency above a couple of shophouses selling clothing and hardware goods. After checking in the owner, bespectacled Ashok with thinning silver hair and matching moustache which turned up at the ends, asked if I would like to have dinner prepared, “What’s on offer?” I ask, “Fried fish, pomfret and curry, my wife make, cheaper and much better than the restaurants in town. It will be ready about 8 o’ clock” he sang, Ashok spoke in a very sing-songy manner with a constant smile, “OK, but I need a lot, I cycle a long way today and I am very hungry” I add, “No problem, no problem!” I was to realise that this was his catchphrase. I take a look at my watch, 5:30pm just in time for sunset and then a couple of Kingfishers in a small bar I had spotted earlier.

The wonderful sunset out over Harnai Beach

The tiny dimly lit bar was a busy little spot with people coming and going mainly for take-outs wrapped in newspaper. One old soak who spoke no English came and sat opposite me with a small bottle of the local ‘hooch’ which was the most popular beverage being wrapped and insisted on me trying some. Expecting the worst it wasn’t actually that bad, for sure it was strong yet it had a tinge of pineapple to it and I guess at 35 rupees (70 cents) for 250ml it does the job. A curly haired, beer bellied bloke on the table opposite spoke some English and we struck up a conversation, he was a truck driver delivering fish to places as far away as Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, “Sometimes I drive 2,000km in one day, that is why I need to drink” he says pointing to his small bottle of cheap Bagpiper whisky, “Yes, I cycle from Mumbai that’s why I need to drink” I reply pointing to my bottle of Kingfisher as we both laugh.

Back at the Bhavani Residency Ashok invites me into his front room where dinner will be served. I take in my surroundings, the walls are a pale shade of green with peeling patches of paint here and there, a couple of curl-edged pictures of Lakshmi the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity standing in a pink lotus flower are haphazardly stuck to the wall with pieces of black electricians tape, and like so many front rooms around the world the TV takes center stage. After finishing the final touches Ashok’s sari wearing, shyly smiling wife brings out dinner on the now expected large silver tray with various accompaniments in separate small silver bowls. I was treated to silver pomfret fried in various spices, a piece of fried bangra (mackerel), a prawn curry, a small side salad and chapattis and rice, it was quite a feast and a delicious one at that!