Archive for January, 2010

22nd to 29th January

Friday, January 29th, 2010

29th January
After 3 continents, 9 countries and 5,000 miles, we have finally found roads worse than Italy! We were kind of expecting it, although we were struggling to see the bottom of some craters! Ronnie and Reggie Ridgeback were being pounded today. But for every bit of poor road (and there was an awful lot), the scenery was worth it. After a sweaty climb we passed through Badrama Wild Life Sanctuary home to Elephant, Tiger, Gour, Sambar, Black Panther, Deer, Wild Boar and many other species. The animals didn’t fancy coming too close to the national highway- don’t blame them with the twattish bus and lorry drivers- but we certainly got a feel for it, cycling through lush tropical jungle/ rainforest, hearing all kinds of birds and other animals, with butterflies darting around our handlebars, we just had to soak it all in. Holly would have loved it especially the signs all over the place of quotes from famous people; one from Leonardo De Vinci read “there will come a time when a man who murders an animal will receive the same punishment as a man who murders another man.”
Reggie’s gears were playing up, but after quick Dom’s diagnostics, we identified a lose handlebar bag which was blocking Jon from changing up. All sorted and we were on our way. The road meandered through large flat rice fields, and then we hit the most amazing village. So many bright clothes, this lively place had a big noisy market, and most women were carrying stuff they were either selling or buying on their heads. I was pleased as we got some gold video footage, Jon still snapping away like a possessed Japanese tourist!
On arrival in Deogarh, things looked bleak, and the only accommodation on offer would have struggled to pass as a stable. But the newly refurbed Hotel Manta Palace came to the rescue with another bargain £10 a night rate.

28th January
Lots of people turned up at 7.30 this morning to see us off, including the electrical store owner and one of the cops from last night. Even the mayor turned up! And everyone wanted more photos! Today we were heading for Sambalpur, but as the Italians had been road surfacing some Indian bridges, our progress was slowed up.
This is real India, with lush forest lining the road, monkeys bouncing over the tarmac, lots of hillside temples, and loads of rice fields. And the friendliness continues – we even got a keyring from a petrol station, despite handing him a bag full of our rubbish!

27th January
Not a good start – Kalyan very kindly guided us out of the city, but after leaving him we realised we had left the map behind at his house. At least it is one road (national highway 6) to Kolkata so we should be alright.
First stop was Arang (about 40km), where Kalyan’s brother lived. He is a doctor and we met at his pharmacy. The celebrity status continued with people crowding round, recognising us from the paper, and the first person diagnosed with cancer in the town even popped in to say hello. We had a quick veggie lunch at his place, and then off we went, with 6 hours to cover 72 miles to Sarai Puri before sunset.
Around 5pm and still with 14 miles to go, a police Jeep pulled alongside, with the chief asking where we were going. We pulled over and it transpired that he had seen us on TV being given our honour by the Cultural Minister and wanted to help. What a touch – he was in charge of Sarai Puri and we said we were looking for the resthouse. Our understanding was that he would go on ahead and show where to go when we reached the town.
3km to go, and a shout from a roadside restaurant (shack), and the police chief and his officer were waiting for us. This celebrity status is really growing on me. On his instruction people gathered around giving us tea, biscuits and water while we told him about our travels. We thought this was the guesthouse, and were preparing for a war with Vijay and his mosquito mates, but they said we still had 3km to go. On with the bike lights, the police put their lights on and we had our very own escort.

We pulled up the driveway to a crowd of 10 helpers – the chief wanted his photo first, so we all sat on the Jeep’s bonnet. (last time I tried to do that on a police car I almost got arrested!) You see, this guesthouse is for government officials and ministers. It was like our own private house. Then we were asked what we like to drink (alcohol), Jon opted for whisky, me for beer, and off one of the helpers went. Platters of fruit were laid out, and another helper took our dinner order. Chief and his officer were loving it, looking after us, seeing all the photos of our travels, and at dinner were especially interested in our Garmin calorie counter. It turned out that chief was into his fitness, and despite a rounded belly bursting through his rollneck jumper, was very pleased with himself doing 8km of powerwalking a day. He demonstrated this by marching round the table like an Indian Benny Hill. I say blame the iphone, which regularly appears at the dinner table, for what happened next. Jon’s latest ‘app’ is a health calculator, and chief wanted to see how fit he actually was. Plugging in his height and weight, Jon already knew that the result wasn’t going to be pretty. “Too Fat” was its verdict for chief, and the whole dinner table burst out laughing! Possibly the funniest reaction I’ve seen on a persons face for a long time, chief was well put out, and before deciding we should all call it a night, did another 10 laps of power walking around the dinner table, trying in earnest to suck his belly in.

26th January
Today was India Republic day, the anniversary of the date where India officially achieved its independence. Kalyan rocked up at our hotel with an abundance of newspapers under his arm, we took our breakfast and went through the articles following the press conference. We managed to get coverage in every major media publication in Chhattisgarh – in total 22 newspapers and 7 TV channels including local, national and international. We were soon recognised by people who had read the articles and either wanted a photo or an autograph- very weird.
The days schedule was much less frantic than yesterday and we took some time to visit a cultural site before the evening event. Kalyan had arranged for us to receive an honour from the Chief Minister in front of 50,000 people; BONKERS doesn’t quite sum it up. Kalyan had briefed me in that I should explain the link between him and I, I had asked Ruhan if he knew anyone in Raipur and he put me in touch with Kalyan, a music director who had worked with Lata Mangueska (India’s most famous signer), I was given a few names to memorise and we had been learning a Chhattisgarhi phrase to say so my head was full to bursting.
We were given seats near the front and when I heard ‘cycle’ mentioned I knew we’d be up. Kalyan got on the mic and said a few words in Chhattisgarhi then invited us up onto the stage. I used to get so nervous speaking publicly even to small rooms of 10 people and before this challenge I would have crumbled for sure but I did my thing told them the message we are sending out is that if you feel something is out of the ordinary, not quite right or you’ve noticed something strange then speak to a medical professional, early detection is vital. You should also speak to family, friends, colleagues anyone you trust, the worst thing you can do is try to fight cancer alone and the most important thing is positivity no matter what your situation positivity is the secret. Dom also said a few words then we said the one phrase we had learned ‘Sable Baria Chhattisgarhi’ which means Chhattisgarh is number one! The audience applauded and cheered and we were shown back to our seats but the crazyness just got more extreme. Soon after we sat down an entire class of public school children came up to us and touched our feet (a sign of respect to elders) and gave us more flowers to wear round our necks. We watched a bit of the show, some children had arranged a dance routine telling the story of Indian independence, and then left. With the show still going on in full swing when we stood up every man and his dog wanted their photo taken with us- we tried to please everyone but after a dozen or so photos we headed past the stage to where the car was parked. Funnily enough the car had been boxed in which left us like sitting ducks to the rapidly expanding crowds, neither of us minded though, it was our moment.  One lady came up and congratulated us on a ‘wonderful thing’ that we are doing and said how proud of ourselves we should be and another teenage boy had bought all the newspapers we were in and stood and starred in admiration. Despite our heads inflating bigger than the elephant man it really makes it all worthwhile when people can see and respect that you’re doing a good thing and that they understand your message. The most random thing though had to be when a girl asked us to sign her hand!
Over dinner Kalyan and Krishna talked about how they would like to make an album with Holly and Ruhan to raise further awareness in India- definitely something to look into once the cycling is finished. I’ve been blown over by India and am really keen to come back to do some charity work (but not without Holly next time).

25th January
Kalyan had planned the whole days schedule precisely, not even enough time to scratch our arse. Ruhan had told him that we needed maximum awareness in the media and boy did Kalyan come through with some magic. The day started with a live news program where we were connected to a studio in New Delhi- even though the anchor was translating everything I was saying into Hindi without any problems Dom annoyingly kept tapping my leg telling me to slow down which knocked my concentration, fortunately I didn’t trip over my words and the piece came across well. From there it was onto Raipur’s cancer hospital; Mekahara Government Medical Institute where we met some of the cancer patients and spoke to Dr Choudhary; if you think your job is hectic then think again, this guy sees 300 cancer patients everyday!
The biggest cancer problem in India is mouth cancer from people chewing tobacco, but Dr Choudhary also pointed out that there is a need for sanitation awareness as women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer has often stemmed from sexual transmitted diseases from poor hygiene.
After the hospital it was off to press club for our news conference. We received another honour, as well as the traditional bouquet we were each given a trophy, and I was also presented with a fantastic art piece. (see gallery)
Next it was a visit to the India National Congress Party, for yet another honour. Kalyan has been telling everyone that Holly is a famous pop singer in the UK, as big as Michael Jackson! Congress wanted to hear some of her music which captured their full attention – Holly would have loved it. I was also asked to play one of Holly’s tracks on TV talkshow interview later that day. We really need to do some Indian homework – Dom was caught out by Bollywood, and we both know diddily squat about cricket.
Another random one was the evening function we attended – a kids painting competition. Again we were invited up on stage to receive…wait for it…yet another honour – this time from the Cultural Minister. So a brilliant day of publicity for the Tropic of Cancer for Cancer Challenge, and full credit to Mr Kalyan Sen for his coordination. The poor guy was shattered after running around with us all day, and having to translate everything.
24th January
Woke up by the world’s noisiest chef literally throwing pans around the kitchen next to our room!. At least we only had a 45 mile morning cycle to Raipur where we had arranged to stay with one of Ruhan Kapoor’s friends, Kalyan Sen. We later found out that Ruhan had asked Kalyan to arrange lots of publicity for us – little did we know…
Trying to understand the directions from Kalyan, we managed to negotiate the tight bustling streets lined with jewellery shops, and meet with him outside the local police station. He was a big friendly greying Indian, with a very relaxed attitude. He had recovered from throat cancer two years ago, and showed us this massive scar on his neck, and with both his parents sadly passing away from cancer, our challenge was very close to his heart. He lived in a large music academy which his father had set up in the 1950s, and after being shown around (also had an auditorium for 1,500 people attached), time for a quick cup of tea and biscuits and then it was off on our press schedule!
First stop was a folk music festival at the school his late father set up. The performers had to contend with two dirty cyclists rocking up and distracting the whole audience. We saw three children perform traditional songs, and when they finished, we had to sign autographs and their school books with our words of wisdom – weird!
We did a quick TV and press interview there, and then lunch was brought in for us – we had to hide away to have a break from the autographs! Kalyan then took us to a pan stall – this is like an Indian mouthwash (weird stones with a brown leaf cover which you are meant to chew), which is very popular – no surprise with the amount of spicy food they eat. Well you should have seen what it did to the pan seller – he would have been less stained if he had tipped a tin of Ronseal wood stain over his head! Needless to say my one went straight in the rubbish bucket, but Jon was happy munching away on old stained leaves for a good 5 minutes.

Then the most random press we have done on the challenge so far. We headed down to the Raipur Flower Show, where we were going to meet the Raipur Mayor and receive an award. We sat at the back, but spent 10 minutes splatting Vijay’s mates, and then over the mic “will Mr Jon and Mr Dom please come up to the stage”. Talk about embarrassing, we sat up on stage with the Mayor and four other judges, while about 100 people came up to collect different awards and trophies for their flower displays. We felt like a couple of prize lemon plants, and then we were invited to say a few words to the audience of around 400! Jon volunteered me, so I reluctantly took the mic, and then had to make up how proud everyone should be of their work, my first impressions of Raipur, and how much my mother would like the plants and flowers on display! Certainly not a highlight of my public speaking career, the interpreter had a bit of a job translating that lot!
We rounded off one manic day with a lovely vegetarian meal (can’t wait until we can eat some red meat again!)  

23rd January
4am and shouting kids, tearing up and down the corridors. Brilliant, nothing like a bit of Indian parental control! So that’s where the packed tutuk of people stayed last night. We counted at least 20 people in one room, and I’m sure that is one funky town bathroom!
The hotel was all locked up, so we got our own back as we wanted to leave at 7am, waking up all the staff to unlock the shutters. Cycling off into the morning mist, the scene was stunning, with the sun rising ahead. Lots of cycling through forest today, so we needed eyes for any threatening wildlife as well as those w**ker bus drivers!
We found a cheap hotel just before Raj Nandgaon, but the owner took it upon himself to befriend us, and when he saw the screensaver on Jon’s phone (Holly in a couple of small bits of fabric), he wanted to talk about her. Jon was not amused and in the end, we had to tell him to do one, so we could get some peace and quiet!

22nd January
Short cycle to Bhandara today, managed to find an uber cheap hotel next to an internet cafe on the national highway 6 (the road we’re following all the way to Kolkata). As I was checking in I noticed two western guys with a laptop, Dom started talking to them and it turned out Franz and William were travelling across India on motorbikes promoting womens football. Franz had been in India for a couple of years teaching kids in villages how to play football. Their masterplan was  arranging 20 womens matches across India, and then take this key development case to FIFAs head office in May before the World Cup. Ironically they had travelled along the national highway 6 in the other direction so we were able to swap some advice on what lies ahead.
In the evening we were just chilling in our stable, when a knock at the door led to 6 policemen inviting them into our room. They wanted to know what we were doing, and then proceeded to go through our bags. One bloke tried to look like he knew how to use a computer in front of his captain, but just about succeeded to open up my documents. Actually, it turned out that they were local political people, nervous of four westerners arriving in their small town.

13th to 21st January

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

21st January
An early 3am start today, but well excited about the safari which Dad very kindly gave to us for our xmas present, and we headed off to Pench, in a battered taxi. Any chance of some more sleep, quickly evaporated when we hit the first pothole 10 meters down the road. I think Ronnie and Reggie have more suspension than this car!
We arrived in good time, but it was freezing and we had granny blankets wrapped round us in the open top jeep, trying to keep slightly warmer. It was a bit like a treasure hunt – I thought these safaris would be quite straight forward to see the main prize, the Indian Tiger. However the guide informed us that it is only a small chance, as they are so elusive. Lots of phone calls between all the jeeps in the parks, and some fresh tiger footprints was about it, until around 8.30am. We had parked up for a toilet break (as I was about to burst), and suddenly our driver and guide came running back to the jeep where we were waiting, leaping over the bonnet Dukes of Hazard style! A tiger had just been seen, and three jeeps raced off in hot pursuit. One Indian family had clearly got their money’s worth on the jeep hire, packing in 3 or 4 generations into the back, but they lost out when speed was of the essence.
In the trees a female tiger gracefully made her way into the forest and we had prime view. This made it for me – a wild tiger in its natural habitat – it really doesn’t get much better. We saw deer, monkeys, tracker elephants, tortoises, kingfishers and even a racy mongoose. On the exit of the park, we somehow found ourselves being interviewed by New Delhi TV, who were making a tiger documentary. Again the press coverage we are getting is so exciting and far exceeding what we thought we would achieve from the Tropic of Cancer for Cancer Challenge.

20th January
Today was a much welcomed rest day and a much needed clothes washing day, we spent the day in our pants drafting emails while our clothes were being washed. At one point I had to go downstairs to send an important email (much to Dom’s amusement) in my thermal cycle shorts as that was the only clothing I had. Hard to sleep in the evening due to political rallies, a generator outside our room, a night club below us and a dodgy live PA in the restaurant nearby.

19th January
Woke up bright and early in preparation for a long cycle to Nagpur, I was a little nervous setting out to do 100 miles in the heat and with the poor quality of roads (not to mention the super dangerous truck and bus drivers slowing us down) but we were able to leave promptly just after 7am so we made good ground before lunch. Despite Dom nervously ordering some takeaway lunch at the hotel (we weren’t convinced that they understood Dom’s nut allergy and our limited Hindi to ask for nuts in our food) the veg biriyani we ordered went down a treat and fortunately contained no nuts (excuse the pun!). We had a speedy lunch because we very quickly attracted another crowd of mopeds, lorry drivers and rik shaws. One girl got off her moped and kept asking where we were going, Dom’s chat got her so excited she nearly wet herself, he had to let her down gently when she invited him to meet her parents; ‘whoa that’s jumping the gun a little bit’ but I think Dom’s saving himself for a certain lady in Dubai.
Actually made it to Nagpur in good time and a friendly Indian old chap who bared a striking resemblance to Mr Mnuaggi from Karate Kid guided us through the traffic chaos to our hotel, another £10 delight and another dilemma of pouring a jug of hot water over your head for any kind of warmth in the shower but good to have reached central India.

18th January
So off we left the hotel in Akola but it wasn’t without another several hundred photos with various staff members while we tried to eat breakfast and while we packed up our bikes. They enjoyed trying on our shades and helmets and taking more photos which we found good fun and have got some photos too for your amusement.
The hotel made us some veg sarnies for lunch but we had to dig half of it out as it contained salad; cucumber and lettuce. Not that we’re salad dodgers but you need to stay away from salad, dairy, only eat peelable fruit such as bananas and definitely avoid meat. The trouble is india is prone to many power cuts so you can’t guarantee meat and dairy has been stored properly, the last thing we want is to have to hold up for a week in a dodgy one star hotel like the one in Khangaon and nurse a round of Delhi belly, some foods are best avoided.
We found a good spot in the shade under a tree for lunch being careful not to tread on any snakes- another thing we certainly don’t want is a nasty snake bite miles away from any medical care. It was nice to find some shade, the heat has picked up since UAE and it’s now consistently 32oC + during the day. It doesn’t feel so bad when you’re riding but it hits you like a train when you stop. As we are now pretty much heading due east the sun stays on one side of us all day, as if we don’t look stupid enough already with our cycle jersey tan lines now we look like a strawberry and cream as well. One side of Dom’s face is really red and his sunglasses marks make him look like a teenage mutant ninja turtle, the fingerless gloves have left an interesting two tone on his hands too! I can’t talk I’m equally as bad, I wish I would have had more hair cut off in Bombay, the wings of my mullet are now so bad when my helmet pushes my hair down at the back it looks like I’ve got bunches!
One sight which did make me feel sad was a dead monkey on the road, it must have just been hit by a lorry minutes earlier because there was fresh blood pouring the monkey’s head. A posse of monkies was gathered round looking on from nearby trees obviously grieving for the loss of their friend.
As we approached Amravati two students on a moped pulled alongside Dom and started chatting away, they took a couple of photos of us and even asked for our autographs, we obliged and in return they escorted us to our hotel which we’d never have found without them- touch
It was my turn for the hotel blag and successfully negotiated a 25% discount- kind of feel like you’re robbing them when it’s only £10 a night but hey it means more for charity so what the hell. When I came back out to tell Dom it was fine he was crowded round by about 20 people, being offered cups of tea and all sorts, Dom’s definitely the more in demand of the two of us on the potential fame front- perhaps Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was big in India a few years back!

17th January
We thought we had an cunning plan by returning to the hotel restaurant from last night for breakfast. The muppets at our hotel had safely locked our bikes in a room, but couldn’t find the key which annoyed Jon immensely! Anyway all the other hotel could offer was bread and jam – toast and tea was well out of the question due to a powercut. The manager was screaming at a porter and making a real scene – comedy moment! At least we had a short ride today to Akola. We arrived at our recommended hotel at lunchtime, after being mobbed 3 times asking for directions, and I simply went in to do my usual hotel blag/ negotiation. Next thing we know it is bedlam.
We had a crowd of 25 people surrounding us, with all the hotel staff wanting photos of us on their phones. A local TV station came down to film us, and the wedding photographer from the party next door even wanted some snaps! Eventually we got some peace and quiet in our hotel room, but not for long. Chilling out over a curry in a restaurant, the waiters suddenly turned up the TV, and there we were being interviewed and me talking very very slowly! See the video here –  

16th January
Starting at 7am, we had some bread and honey in the room, and tried to cover 25 miles before stopping for an early brunch. Pulling into the roadside café, we soon had a village of people all wanting photos with Ronnie and Reggie (not us!) and asking how much they cost. We have the universal answer now of “they were free”, which avoids too much envy. Getting used to the Indians saying yes to everything, we ordered a substantial amount of food, and 10 minutes later we got a lovely starter. We said same again, but that was that on their menu front! Crisps, biscuits and bread rolls kept us going on the 82 mile ride today.
Pulling into Khangaon, we arrived at a hotel for a princely sum of £8 a night. Yes, it was that bad. Kim and Aggie would have struggled with the bathroom, and power shower round 2 was cold water in a glass. We found a restaurant for dinner at the hotel we should have gone to – far more presentable and only £2 more!
We crashed out at 9pm as no wall sockets worked, but our eyes were streaming from the three mosquito coils we had burning – Abdul the mossie’s Indian cousin, Vijay didn’t know what had hit him, although he did get his own back on our feet the next morning!

15th January
A better night sleep after the rough camping, this roadside hotel even made us lunch – well tomato splattered something! We headed for Jalgaon, but as the good roads left us, we had to cycle along single carriageway, tree lined roads with more trucks than the M1. They were slowing down for no-one especially two sunburnt Englishmen, so we kept having to jump off the road and onto the littered gravel verge. But it is the bus drivers which are the worst – they think they are in sports cars and the buses are treated accordingly! We both saw a good sign which made us think – “there are those who are destined to succeed and most who are determined to succeed” – Jon and I would say we are the latter, although with some of the remarkable things which have happened to us so far, maybe there is also something in the former.
Heading into Jalgaon, we experienced how hectic an Indian city is on bikes. Luckily we had a hotel recommended near the railway station, so weaved through the sea of tutuks trying not to be mobbed by all the onlookers, and avoiding the odd cow and goat walking themselves to market. We settled on Bombay Palace for our curry, and while waiting for the food wondered if we had made the right decision. As coming from the toilet was the sound similar to ripping cardboard and whooping cough, this man had nearly brought up his lung lining. I think he had a few too many chillis, so we emphasized “Tikki Nahi” to the waiter (not spicy!) A couple of 8% Kingfishers for 50p each helped keep everything flowing smoothly!
On the way back to the hotel we tried to track down an internet café. I tried to ask at a few places but with no luck, so Jon popped into a restaurant, and did a keyboard impression on the table. The manager then said “of course sir. We have nann, roti or chipatis!” Funny!

14th January
About 85 miles to cycle today to Dhule, but unfortunately we were cycling a bit blind without sat nav. The scenery was amazing, with the road climbing over arid, rocky hills and then weaving down into the valley below. Not making the same mistake as yesterday, we parked up at the most presentable restaurant we could find (Little Chef it wasn’t, this place barely had walls). Ordering curries at lunchtime for some afternoon cycling isn’t a great idea, but this is our staple diet for the next 20 days!
More comedy on the roads, and it wasn’t the meandering cows that had us laughing today. It was how/ what Indian people use their mopeds for. A family of four with their two young kids at the front, acting as airbags for their parents, driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway! There were two farmers carrying a very wriggly goat, a granddad with his zimmer frame on the back, and to top it off, a family of 3 using their moped to tow a fully grown reluctant bull – he didn’t look particularly happy with the situation!
And the road safety signs are classic – “be smooth on my curves”, “shortcuts cut life short” and “slow is a four letter word, so is life”

13th January
“Just a short ride today bro to Nashrik”, Famous last words! Still getting used to the quality of Indian hotels, we headed for Ginger resort (Ruhan’s suggestion), about 35km away. Turning our noses up at all the hotels along the way, we realised at about 55km that we must have gone past it. Rubbish.
We were also getting used to road safety (or lack of!). Firstly a driving school jeep packed full of about 15 driving students swerved out in front of Jon. Then a lorry overtaking literally ran us off the road causing Jon to brake suddenly, causing me to crash into the back of him and fall off into its path, the back wheels skimming my cycle helmet!
A bit shaken up and kicking ourselves for skipping lunch and not taking an earlier hotel, we saw Renaissance Wines bar and family restaurant, which looked welcoming and 10 times more presentable than the other roadside shacks. We had lunch (4pm) while we pondered our next move, as the sun started to set. Jon cheekily suggested that we could pitch the tent in the restaurant grounds. Not such a stupid idea and 1 hour later the son of the restaurant owner (AB) confirmed it was ok, just at our own risk because of the snakes about! Brilliant – I really do love camping!

10th to 12th January

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

12th January
We needed two cars to take our bikes to where we were going to start our India adventure. The Kapoors live right in the centre of Mumbai, and it wouldn’t be our most cleverest idea to try and start cycling from there! It was a good way to see some other parts of Mumbai without fearing for our lives – plenty more time for that. 30 minutes later and a £1.50 taxi fare (UK taxis take note!) we pulled off the motorway and into a layby.
Getting used to cycling on the correct side of the road again, we headed off towards Nashrik. The Indians seem a bit more reserved and inquisitive than other countries, but they were soon wobbling their joyful heads from side to side from the overflowing buses and fairground style trucks with the best horns yet – some played a whole tune!
We were hoping to find a hotel around 40-50 miles, but despite the new signs, most of them along the highway would have struggled to pass as a garden shed! And I didn’t fancy being a mosquito feast! The landscape was lush and green, but it was very humid compared to the dry desert heat of our previous weeks. We ended up having to climb to nearly 2,000 feet and cycle for an hour in the dark (not what we wanted to be doing in a new country) before we found a hotel. Well I thought it was a hotel, as I charged up the steps and into the reception. It wasn’t. It was a temple and the people there were less than impressed that I still had my dirty cycle shoes and socks on. Luckily we did find one further down and Jon even managed to get a 40% discount.
So end of my first day in India. Obviously so different to the western culture, the class divide is really highlighted not only by the servants of the more privileged, but the daily struggle with life. It’s difficult to understand a life where there are very few aspirations, ambitions or dreams. Living life is a challenge in itself. Sometimes it feels like us cycling!

11th January
After a bit of a lie in and a little bit of Internet work it was off to get a haircut before meeting Jankidas Mehras sons and to have a photoshoot at a remembrance plaque in his honour. It was great to meet the sons of another great Indian legend and inspiring to read some of the newspapers cuttings, the man had met Ghandi who asked him to raise the Indian flag in the Zurich games during the British occupation, despite sparking controversy he was hailed a hero and played a key role in securing Indian independence.
The rest of the day we relaxed, listened to some of Sidhants music and sent out a few emails.

10th January
We arrived in Mumbai at 4am. We hadn’t slept since Thursday 3 days again so we were shattered. We had a job making sure our bikes came off the plane safely; our baggage belt was mixed with 3 other flights so it was an absolute market. We had to fight our way to the entrance onto the belt as the supervisor was adamant they would come through on the belt rather than being bought through as fragile items (like the stickers read which were plastered all over the boxes). I was less than impressed when one of the baggage handlers plonked one of the bike boxes on the belt then realised that it actually wasn’t the most sensible thing to do and had to leap to grab it to stop it toppling off the side.
It was funny navigating through the busy airport terminal with a wide load of 2 huge bike boxes, we managed to upset a few people including Dom himself when he stubbed his toe on the trolley losing a toe nail in the process-ouch! Despite persistently being told not to, a tip seeker insisted he push my trolley with all our bags only to somehow crash spilling the bags all over the road- what a doughnut! No tips for you then pal.
We got to our friends Ruhan (and family’s) place around 7am. Holly and I met Ruhan last summer when we got engaged in India, he is the son of a very famous Bollywood composer, Mahendra Kapoor, and Ruhan himself has played the lead role in successful Bollywood box office films, he also sings, composes and performs with his son Sidhant who has an amazing gift of being able to compose and produce he is even in his final year of an animation course father and son make an awesome team! The talent doesn’t stop there though, his beautiful daughter Rishika studied to become a chocolatier and now hand makes and wraps delicious chocolates from home and has been working to build up her business for the last 5 months. Ruhans wife, Witty is a fashion designer- Indian dresses are amazingly colourful and sparkly really pleasing to the eye, holly will vouch for that. They also live with Ruhans mother who has endless fascinating stories about life on the road and her travels with her late husband, the house is filled with trophies ranging from golden jubilee (50 weeks at the box office) to lifetime achievement awards to Indian equivalent of Grammys. I found in really inspiring as we too are trying to achieve something although on a very different scale, I still found it motivating and encouraging.
We caught up for a few hours battling heavy eyelids but soon crashed out for a couple of hours. Once we got up Ruhan helped us find a map of India and he and his son helped us plan our route to Kolkota. I mentioned to him that I’d read about Jankidas Mehra the legendary Indian freedom fighter and cyclist an ironically it turns out Ruhan knows his sons, between them they managed to get some interest from mainstream publications for the following day.
Later Ruhan took us on a small tour of Mumbai and then it was back to his place for a delicious home cooked curry something Dom and I had been dreaming of since we left the UK. He also arranged for a massage for me which was awesome, Dom foolishly declined.

30th to 9th January

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

30th December to 7th January
Our first cycle for 8 days, we had 65 miles to travel to Dubai. It was amazing approaching the towering city, although the roads weren’t exactly bike friendly.
Holly had arrived a couple of hours ahead of us and was on the private beach at Ash’s place on The Palm. We wondered down Dom catching another emotional reunion on film (yes with little violins playing away), the first thing she said to me was “you look awful” thanks baby. She did have a point though; I had grown my facial hair since Rome (7 weeks), had just cycled 70 miles and looked like I’d just been wrestling with Dom in a sand pit. I couldn’t wait to lose the face fungus (as my Gran calls it) but I wanted to give Holly a flavour of what it would be like to be engaged to a Hobo. We all went up to Ash’s place for some coronas and wine and for a good old catch up, the evening spilled onto a bar and then we somehow managed to blag our way onto a huge yacht party. Suspicion soon grasped us when we noticed the boat was full of overweight middle aged men and a group of 7 young girls who can’t have been older than 19 all huddled together. We quickly left, fortunately the boat hadn’t set off otherwise we’d have been in trouble and maybe even featured in some dodgy blue movie somewhere.

The following morning we met the City Seasons media manager, Loka. She was in the process of arranging a press conference for us at the Hotel and wanted to hear more so she could prepare a press release. We also had a chance to meet Thomas Tapken the hotel group General Manager as well as Issam Nizam, the hotel manager. Thomas is a wonderful person and I am in awe of the great charity work he does for childrens charities. He has set up a Bangkok night time run, built villages in Thailand and cycled from Thailand to Dubai in aid of Little Wings Foundation who helps African children get medical help in Dubai. Thomas recognised the great cause we are cycling for an instantly picked up the phone to speak to all his media contacts, this is where the Dubai media whirlwind began, minutes we had a radio interview and within hours we had TV as well as the region’s biggest newspapers confirmed.

The New Year celebrations were amazing. Not only did I get to spend it with my soul mate, a good friend, brother and other good company but I was in Dubai, wearing jeans and shoes and did not think about cycling all night. We went to another friends place for a house party and some cocktails before seeing in the New Year at Media One hotel, unfortunately for us no-one told us it was a white party and we were the only ones in non white outfits!! We had a great view of the fireworks at Atlantis at midnight and Dom got a cheeky New Year kiss with a stunning girl called Amie. Cupid was sitting on his shoulder that evening!

New Years day was a right off; we chilled out watching movies and nursing sore heads, a good time to relax especially as it chucked it down outside.

We used Saturday to do some filming – we needed some takes of Jon’s story ready for our friend Adam to help with editing. It was tough for Jon talking about it with a crowd watching, and wasn’t helped that he can’t concentrate with no food – must be his caveman hair!

Our first round of media started on Sunday morning with Jon being interviewed on Dubai92, followed in the afternoon with Abu Dhabi TV filming interviews and lots of cycling round car parks! We managed to fit in a cinema trip to see the 3D film, Avatar and we were totally blown away!

Dad arrived in the hotel lobby at 8am (the hotel arranged a pick-up), and if he thought it was going to be a nice rest, he was very much mistaken! It was so nice to see him after waving goodbye over two months ago in Beavais, France. After breakfast we rushed off to Wolfi’s bike shop to get the bikes serviced, and then I had lunch with Amie, while the others chilled at the hotel. So embarrassing though as I couldn’t get any money out of the ATM, so she had to pay! At least it was a good excuse to try to see her again before I leave Dubai. Jon and Dad tried to do some video editing with Adam, but with all the files in wrong format, Adam arranged for a professional studio edit on Wednesday.

Our Tuesday morning press conference was amazing (like a footballer signing), with over 20 people from TV, radio and press publications all wanting to interview us, take photos and film us on the bikes. A proud Dad even got interviewed by a flirty Filipino! Dad paid for us to have an afternoon off on a desert safari, including dune bashing, sand boarding and camel riding. I was keen to get back to the city as quickly as possible as we were meeting Ash, Jodie and of course Amie for some goodbye drinks. By calling the driver Schumacher, that was all the incentive he needed to hit 140 on the highway! Dad came with us (so second date with Amie involved me bringing my Dad!), but it was nice for him to see another area of Dubai and meet with everyone. As Holly, Jon and Dad headed back to the hotel, Ash, Jodie, Amie and I thought a rerun of wii bowling would be a good idea (no of us could remember the last series on NYE!), but finishing another wine bottle at 3am probably wasn’t! At least I got to spend some more time with Amie. She is an amazingly gorgeous girl and I hope we continue to stay in touch while we finish our challenge.

Probably not what I wanted to be doing with a hangover, we spent most of Wednesday in the edit studio doing the promotional video which Jon wants to send out to TV companies to try and get a documentary commissioned. At least “The Colonel” came to the rescue with a Zinger Tower! The studio also happened to be next to PHD’s office, so it was cool to pop in and see everyone who worked there. Trying to fit everything else in today was a struggle, and Jon didn’t get back to the hotel with the final edit until 11pm, but it was brilliant and fingers crossed that someone might be interested.

7th January
So off we go. Lots of mincing around this morning meant we didn’t leave Dubai until about 11.30am, and navigating the 6 lane (each way!) motorways was interesting. It didn’t help seeing “no cycling” signs and getting two punctures on the hard shoulder as we headed for Hatta. We had tried to keep fit by swimming in the hotel pool, but quite frankly that was never going to cut it! With a headwind, slight incline and the heat of the day we struggled along route 44, and made the 55 mile journey to the holiday hotel just before sunset over the jagged hills. My first UAE hotel negotiation saved us about £20, and our last mixed grill platter was a £10 bargain!

8th January
Probably the most civilised border crossing in the world, entering Oman couldn’t have been easier. We left at 7am, so saw the most amazing sunrise over the continuing hills from yesterday. A blue mist hung over the valley, and soon we were blasting down the race track smooth roads towards Muscat. With a 95 mile cycle today, we were all set for ‘roughing it’ on the side of the road. We found a suitable area about 4pm, and set up camp, before completing all the equipment videos to upload to youtube at our next web point.

9th January
Our first 24 hours in Oman have been impressive. Apart from trying to sleep in a sweaty tent, next to a motorway, with boy racers getting firecrackers out of their car exhausts, a mosque giving it large at 5am, we were ready for another 95 mile monster day. I love camping so much!
Back to the people of Oman – they are so warm and polite. Even a supermarket assistant wanted a chat! Another steaming day, it went up to about 27 degrees, so our cycle tans are coming on a treat!
As we approached Muscat, our achievement so far dawned on us. After 98 days and 4,300 miles we had reached the Tropic of Cancer. We filmed (badly) a iphone video as the light was fading, before arriving at the airport. It must be said that we weren’t smelling of roses after 190 miles and no shower! Dad had managed to source us a bike shop where we could get a couple of boxes, which meant no dodgy Egyptian packing in sight! I went to collect them as Jon waited at the airport, which was well funny as I proceeded to take the taxi driver’s car apart to try and get them in. In the end they were hanging out of the boot, and the 20 minute drive back to the airport was filled with an annoying “your trunk is open” warning voice! A two for one blag into the business lounge meant we got a shower and buffet dinner, before hearing the final call to Mumbai.

28th to 29th December

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

29th December
Today’ main aim was a trip to the Indian embassy to sort out of visas, this proved to be a touch simpler than the Saudi process. Within two hours we had arranged for our visas to be couriered to Dubai in 5 days time. This left the afternoon free to relax, we discovered that our hotel partnered with the Radisson next door, so we went off to enjoy a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi-lush! The area was filled with relaxing aromatherapy oils and the music was so calming, a million miles away from the busy stressful Cairo we left the day before.
In the evening some great news came through – the hospitality in Dubai for 8 days was confirmed by City Seasons hotel. We couldn’t wait!

28th December
Finally left the hotel in Cairo after a week and a great cost failing to get our Saudi visas. Our friend (who we thought was our friend) presented us with a list of things we owed him money for – like scotch tape, and EGP25 a metre for micky mouse cardboard packaging, that wouldn’t even be suitable for a cereal packet. I’d had enough of Cairo and Egypt, I was really looking forward to leaving, but it wasn’t going to be the end. At the airport, every Egyptian man and his dog wanted tips from fetching trolleys to pointing where to go. I eventually lost it with one cheeky f@*ker and told him in no uncertain terms to “do one!”.
This actually broke the ice with some other English fellas who were travelling to India and asking all sorts of questions about our challenge.
It was so nice to arrive in Abu Dhabi – a civilised, clean society, although I was still in Egypt mode as I tried to negotiate the price of a fixed price taxi. The cheapest 3* hotel we could find (more like an Egyptian 25* hotel!) was situated in a stunning position overlooking the F1 race track in Yas Marina, and even then we still managed to drive the price down further.