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.
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.
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.
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!
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 – www.youtube.com/tccchallenge
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!
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!
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”
“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!