The bicycles is sewn up

The bicycles ready for the transport

Janne Malmberg

Janne drink freshly brewed french coffee at ”Le Space”



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Thursday, November 27, 2008

WAR IN BOMBAY!


I had not really planned to write much today. I did not expect that anything in particular would happen until we came on board the train to Madras (Chennai) early this afternoon - then full war hit Bombay!


When I come down to the CST (Victoria Station) is  everything that reveals anything about last night's carnage almost gone; A few bullet holes in glass panes on the Fresh Food-service in the east section of the station and at some other places are the only visible evidence. Otherwise it is business as usual.

Furthermore, to the teeth armed military outpost on the strategic sites and down at the ticket office for long-distance traffic the entrance has been blocked off by a thick rope.

CST was among a few other places the terrorists struck in, according to the media, one of the worst terror attacks that have hit the 16-million city in modern times.

The Times of India writes under the headline IT'S WAR ON MUMBAI: Nightmare-Taj, Oberoi (two popular luxury hotel, my note.) CST, Santa Cruz Airport, Colaba (popular tourist district, my note.) and two hospitals are among 8 places attacked by terrorists.


At least 80 peoples are said to have been killed and according to The Times of India nearly 1,000 people are injured.

Some 40 people, including several tourists, have also been taken hostage.

It all seems to have started when a 10-men group armed with automatic rifles, struck in a seemingly well-planned attack on the luxury Oberoi Hotel and Leopold Cafe in the district of Colaba at about ten o’ clock in the evening and later to the CST, where the gunfire lasted until well after midnight. A full-scale war continued at Taj Mahal Hotel.


We live just a few hundred meters from the CST, but went to bed at about eleven o’clock completely unaware of the drama that unfolded in the vicinity.

(Since the attack occurred at prime time in Sweden, you knew more of what happened than we did who were on the spot. We became aware of the incident when mobile phones rang in the morning and a lot of SMS popped in from relatives who wondered whether we had escaped unscathed or not. We probably looked like question marks, as had not even a clue about what had happened.)


I met a gloomy mood when I got out in the morning. Everywhere people were sitting reading newspapers or standing in groups around the Newspaper dealers in vivid discussions.

It is estimated that about 150-200 people got killed in this suicide attack, which most believe has its origin among Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan. The suicide candidates seem to have arrived in various vessels over the Bay of Bengal from Karachi landing in the dark at the shore of Cuffe Parade-area, close to the popular Colaba neighbourhood.


I pulled down to CST where workers were about to pack up water hoses and high-pressure sprayers after removal all signs of the nights bloodshed. When I passed through the station at about 9 o’clock in the morning everything seemed to have reverted to the "normal" again and we expect to take the train at two o’clock this afternoon to Madras, as planned.



While the war continued around besieged the Taj Mahal Hotel, we cycled to the CST to board the train to Madras.


HARD SECURITY CONTROLLER

At first we had problems to get the bikes on the train. Security and military officers at the entrance at CST would under no circumstances let us in at the train station at all. It was a very nervous and tense atmosphere and there was a hostile mood for a while before we finally were allowed to pass.


We went to get the bikes registered, and then came the next cold shower! According to rules and regulations bicycles must be wrapped up to be the subject of transport on Indian Railways. It was without appeal!

After many ifs and buts, we got hold of a guy who sewed up the bikes with sackcloth! A small white piece of cloth that covered a slight part of the frame, enough to satisfy the clerk at the parcel-office. (See picture)


It was a little tricky to sleep on the train. Well, there was air-conditioning but the outlet was at arm's length, blowing me with an outrageously cold wind stream straight in the face.


CHENNAI HIT BY A CYCLONE

When we woke up yesterday morning the rain was pouring down. The train passed through cities and villages wholly or partially flooded.

On the news it was announced this morning that "Operation Black Tornado" was completed. The war in Bombay lasted quite exactly 60 hours until the last terrorist was dismantled. According to Times of India he was shot and seriously injured in a gunfight at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, Mumbai’s pride in the Colaba district near the Gateway of India.


And in the Deccan Chronicle, we could read that the war in Mumbai is called India’s "nine-eleven" and that more than fifty people had died in Chennai and Tamil Nadu in, what was called "rain-related incidents" and continues: "Heavy rain lashed Chennai as the cyclone Nisha was heading towards Tamil Nadu."

Weather outlook does not seem promising!


RAIN CHAOS IN CHENNAI

When we. after 26 pretty hard hours and 1250 kilometers, finally arrived to Chennai the rain was pouring down and we floated with the passenger tide along the half a kilometre long platform, through a compact crowd of people in the station towards the delivery-office to pick up our bicycles.

It was hot and humid as a Turkish sauna and streaming of sweat and soaking wet and tired of lugging all stuff we finally came to a small poorly lit, understaffed and overcrowded office. To get there, we also had to wade through one-foot high water.

Here we realised, after our pink coloured baggage receipt had wandered around among the officials, that we would have to go back all the way to the train and to the last car to get the bicycles.

Full speed back again, across the stream of arriving passengers and all the way along the train platforms in the pouring rain until we reached the last car, "the Parcel coach."

The men who were responsible for the unloading were not willing to disclose anything without receiving a special delivery-receipt-voucher, which would be available from the place we just came from. We gave up and simply took the bicycles with us, in spite of their protests.

But that wasn't enough! We have to get a pass to allow us to take the bikes out of the station!


Back again to the extradition office escorted by a self-appointed official. With the bikes and the luggage through the dense, impermeable passenger-flood.

(Every time we went back and forth we passed a dead body lying on a trolley with a rumpled plastic bag as cover).

In the small office, which was now protected by a moat of water, we got the pass from a nice, stout officer. The pass would enable us to take the bikes out of the station, a kind of passport for bicycles!

As we approached the exit we were caught by a lean military-officer in a forage cap and well-trimmed brush-moustache. He should have the bicycle-passport, and after noting names, passport numbers, departure station and arrival station as well as the transport numbers of the bikes, he made a strict salute and we were finally free to get out of the station - we thought!


At a second exit there were a number of lieutenants, rigid as tin soldiers and nervous as greyhounds. They wanted to have the passport-paper prompt, the very paper we just left to their colleague with the brush-moustache fifty feet away.

No explanations convinced those guys, so it was to trot back and get hold of the officer with the moustache. It took a while before we found him; he shook his head in dejection and discrete showed us out of a back door.


We had planned to pedal to the hotel. According to our map it was situated two kilometres from the station. We immediately realized the hopelessness of that ambition when the water was half high on the streets, the rain still piped down and it also started to become dark.

We caught a taxi.

It took just a little more than half an hour for the taxi driver to find ways that were feasible through the water. It was like to go by car through a swamp. The large quantity of water pressured up wastewater, and it made an interesting mix of smells - spices (curry, ginger and cardamom, probably); exhaust gases, latrine and garbage dump!

Finally, we ended up at Shandra Park Hotel where we sweaty, dirty, soaking wet and with water dripping was received by a colourful doorman with a turban looking like a peacock's head.

This was probably the city’s most expensive hotel!


Weather outlook for the next few days is not a cheerful reading, why we might be stuck here for a few days.




Sunday, November 30, 2008

CHENNAI IN SUNSHINE


Today Janne and I have cycled! Five kilometres, from the city’s more central parts down to the Triplicane area which lies further south along the sea, where we are looking for an accommodation, which makes it easier when we continue further south - hopefully tomorrow.

According to the weather reports, there would be rain today with 80 percent guarantee! It is soon half past four in the afternoon and it has not been a drop, so far. If we had known, it had certainly been our first real bike day today. But tomorrow ...





Monday, December 01, 2008

MAMALLAPURAM HERE WE COME


MAMALLAPURAM Monday, December 1:

I cannot remember that I read about India in the geography lessons in elementary school during the 50’s. However I do remember a picture in a book on Geography from the 70's when I worked as a teacher. There was a picture from India showing four people, two adults and two children, and a cow.

Caption read: "The picture you see is a typical Indian family and a sacred cow. The cow is on the left."


ON THE ROAD-AT LAST

At last, we have started our South India cycling. Despite threats of thunderstorms and rain, we went southwards at half past eight this morning.

The weather was ideal for cycling, light cloud and a cool breeze from the Bay of Bengal and gradually rising temperatures, up to about 30 degrees centigrade.

After about one and half hour fight with the morning traffic, we left the southern suburbs of Chennai/Madras and focused at the aim of today's stage - MAMALLAPURAM or as its called here: Mamalla, which proved to be a tourist magnet, whose main attraction seemed to be a popular and magnificent temple.

Traffic was moderate although large trucks and buses polluted the surroundings with heavy smoke and were puffing like an infantry field-kitchen. Heavy black impermeable smoke.


East Coast Road is a pleasant, wide, asphalt road, with substantial room for both 2, 3 and 4-wheelers.


Just before midday we passed the city limits and accommodated us in a semi-luxury hotel - Hotel Mamalla Heritage.

Sure, it feels that I’m not in the best shape, but the route we have chosen offers the possibility of cycling into shape as it is a smooth and flat riding the first two, three weeks.


Tomorrow, we aim for the old French enclave of Pondicherry, 100 kilometres further south. A long stage it may seem, but we look forward to slurp café 'au lait and crunchy French croissants in the old French colony.


Bicycle Facts for December 1:

Distance: 60 km, Time: 3 hr 5 min, Average speed: 18 km / h





Wednesday, December 03, 2008

AMONG FRENCHMEN IN PONDICHERRY


Pondicherry Wednesday, December 3.

Pondicherry is a former French enclave here on India's southern coast. Obviously seized in battle with other European robber-nations in the 1600s. It was abandoned however in 1954 after pressure from India, at that time liberated from the English.

It is a city split in two halves along a shit-channel in an Indian dominated western part and an eastern part with French influences situated along the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Apart from some French tourists the former colony is not much French anymore. It is like "Mr. Pumpy" writes on his website: "Fifty years of Indianisation has left the Escargots barely recognisable."


We came here after a more than 100 kilometres ride from Mamalla. Actually somewhat too far at the beginning of a journey, when you are not yet in full trim. It was also a first test for Janne M, who is a beginner as a long-distance cyclist. (Janne, however, is experienced as a cyclist and saves emissions by cycling to work every day at home in Gothenburg.)

Yesterday, he certainly had to “show his hand”.

Janne is 53 years old, works as a youth worker in Gothenburg, but has his ankles left in the mould of his childhood in Blekinge a province in the south-eastern part of Sweden.

-I got the idea of long distance cycling in the autumn of 2007 inspired by Leif’s trips to several countries in Asia, that I followed through his mail.


Q: The experiences of yesterday’s long ride?

-It is important to be mindful not only concerning the traffic but also on all the cattle, which is a significant part of the traffic. I counted a total of 103 cows a lot of goats and a snake on the road today, " says Janne.


Q: What was a “pain in the ass?”

- The heat, the heat is tough. In particular, when the sun broke through the clouds around noon. After twelve o’clock it is hellish hot.  The last two hours into Pondicherry was a real challenge. I drank a total of about four, five litres of water and at least five bottles of soda!


Q: Surprises?

"I honestly thought that the roads would be worse, but so far they have been tremendously good.


Q: Traffic?

Rural traffic is not so dense, even if lorries and busses run damn fast. However, it is total chaos in the cities.


FRENCH COFFEE

After yesterday's cycling we woke up today after a long night. We got up first at ten o’clock.

We went to a small cafe ' "Le Space" on Rue Labourdonnais and drank French-brewed coffee, coarse freshly baked baguettes and cheese. (Coffee in India, moreover, is worse than so-called “American coffee” which is popular among Saxons; Thin and tasteless, not seldom intensely sweet.)


We are accommodated at Aljanta Beach Guest House. From here you can gaze out over the Bay of Bengal, if you have windows in an easterly direction. We haven’t!

Moreover, the A/C ran amok tonight and it was really chilly up in the early morning hours. The fan made a noise like a Boeing 727 and had only one mode - MAXIMUM! Sometimes it felt like the ceiling would take away.


Today we prepare for tomorrow's reality when we are cycling to Chidambaram, a tourist freed "burrow" some 75 kilometres south along the coast.



Bicycle Facts for December 2

Distance 104 km, time: 5 h 15 min, Average speed: 19.5 km/h, Max.speed: 29 km/h,

TOTAL: 165 km.



Thursday, December 04, 2008

TEMPLE VISIT IN CHIDAMBARAM


Chidambaram, Thursday, December 4

The trip’s first puncture occurred today. Nothing remarkable may seem, despite it happened to an expensive, “puncture secure” Continental Tire. Partly bad roads, sharp underhand stones, glass and scrap metal along the roadsides. No, it was not at all surprising when Janne's front tyre suddenly became flat with a dull sigh, shortly after Cuddalore this morning.


More remarkable was how he got puncture. Janne is a guard-happy person with both braces and belt (not just in terms of pants), so in addition to equipping the bike with the fantastic Continental Travel Contact tyres with a guarantee puncture protection, he had just in case equipped the tyres with extra puncture protection - a neon green plastic tape which he had applied between the tube and the tyre. Double security you may say, but not!

It was exactly this green misery that gnawed the hole in the tube.


Fast off the bikes in the morning-rush and the belching traffic along the National Highway 45A. Remove the tyre, pick out a spare tube from a brand new not yet open box, a little thin skinny tube for road-racing bicycles! 28 inches in size and thin as a thumb. Not much to put into a 26-inch mtb-wheel with fat touring tyres. (Furthermore, the tube was supplied with the 26 inch-tyre delivered by Wiggle Internet Bike-shop.

We had to return to a classic solution - adhesives and rubber patches!


Otherwise, cycling here to Chidambaram was fantastic. Along the entire 70 km long stage along the Coromandel Coast you pass small towns and villages that never made the cycling monotonous.

The road went along gigantic paddy fields with juicy green rice plants, followed by

water-sick lowland, which confirmed that we were cycling in the extensive delta of

the Cauvery River.

(The south-eastern part of Tamil Nadu was hit hard by the cyclone “Nisha” that I

previously mentioned. Here also the tsunami swept in with great devastation at Christ-

mas time 2004.)



Here and there you will find small ponds in which they breeding shrimps. Kingfisher-birds shimmering in green on tree branches or telephone lines above the ponds look down avidly on the shrimps that spatter and jump at the water surface.


We left Pondicherry when the sun rose just after six o’clock. People were already on their feet and morning traffic was already bustling in the city.

Along Pondicherry "Croisette" - Beach Road – people were trotting or jogging, and in the east the rising sun made the horizon glow.


Light, cool headwind, good roads (mostly) made us easily hold an average of over 20 km / h.

Arrived to Chidambaram, which is known for some grandiose temple-buildings, at midday. Since there are relatively few tourists who spend the night here, it could be tricky to find good places to stay but especially to eat. We have been walking around, mainly feeding ourselves on street-food and dull western (read U.S.) soft drinks. Okay, we have also been drinking several cups of tea.

Time is now just before four o’clock in the afternoon and in a while the gates of the temple area will open and Janne and I will be two of today’s guests!


Bicycle Facts for December 4:

Daily Distance: 77 km, Time: 4 hours, average speed: 18.9 km/h, Max. speed: 27 km / h

TOTAL: 242 km




Friday, December 05, 2008

SMOOTH CYCLING TO MAYILADUTHURAI


MAYILADUTHURAI, Friday December 5.

Today’s stage was something of a simple Sunday-outing. Almost 50 kilometres and less than three hours of cycling. We stayed in almost all villages and cities along the way, and they were quite a few. We chose a short trip today to get the stages down to Trichy to fit better.


Soon after Chidambaram, we turned west from the Coromandel Coast. The road is usually good, with the exception of the passage through towns and villages and in the direct connection to them, where the standard often is really bad.

Mayiladuthurai seems a fairly populous city, a thoroughfare and metropolis for the district buses. For this reason, the city (in all cases the central parts) is in a chronic state of gridlock with continuous traffic infarcts.

And since the asphalt on the road is worn down to the sand and gravel base buses and trucks unravel lots of dust.

Through the dust you can, however, discern lots of small shops, where every second shop, for some reason, seem to be a jewellery shop!


Tomorrow, we are heading for Thanjavur (Tajore) and expect to be in Trichy, located slightly more than 130 km south, the day after tomorrow.



Bicycle Facts for December 5:

Daily Distance: 47 km, Time: 2 h 45 min, average speed: 16.5 km/h,

max. speed: 35 km / h

TOTAL: 289 km




Saturday, December 06, 2008

AMONG DEMONSTRATORS IN THANJAVUR


Thanjavur, Saturday, December 6:

Following the plan, we cycled along kilometre wide paddy fields and sugar cane plantations southwest to Thanjavur today. It is mostly easy cycling on smooth roads along the lowland of the Cauvery River basin.

Nevertheless cycling is never tedious. In India, it is not yet built many highways so the roads still run through small cities and idyllic villages, which lie close together as beads on a rosary.

Newly built, and planned, highways cut or will cut through the cultural landscape and will eventually not pass cities and villages, which is desirable from a long-distance-cyclist point of view.


We approached Thanjavur at good speed in the tailwind at the midday. In addition to an intensive market and some crowded demonstrations the city was blocked up by the intense noon traffic.

It's rushing towards the city’s heart via a bridge, which only has space for vehicles in one direction at a time. The bus just in front of us stops halfway up on the bridge, which meant that the twenty buses already on the bridge in the opposite direction couldn't move, and the bus in front of us couldn't reverse because there were additional twenty buses, some trucks and several hundred two-wheelers behind.

With our slender and flexible bicycles, however, we could get through the chaos and cycled into town at noon. By then, we had logged over 80 kilometres, since the start at 7 o’clock this morning.

The weather was perfect for cycling, light overcast skies and therefore pretty cool. Only an annoying headwind, which later in the day turned into a light tailwind.

We got a room at Lion City Hotel in the city’s southern part. In an open place in front of the hotel Muslims have gathered for a demonstration. Probably as a response to the baiting against them since the terrorist attack in November in Mumbai.


Bicycle Facts for December 6

Distance 81 km, Time: 4 hrs 36 min, Average speed: 17.2 km/h

TOTAL: 370 km.



Sunday, December 07, 2008

TOWARDS TRICHY


Trichy Sunday December 7

Woke up twenty to seven this morning and discovered that I had a puncture on my rear wheel! (We had the bikes in the room overnight.)

Actually, not very surprising because I had, in the latter part of yesterdays stage, discovered that I had slight leakage, but was able to "pump" me all the way to the hotel

Patched directly the almost invisible hole with one of these modern mending flaps, which are adhesive and eliminates the need for adhesives and rubber flaps.

It lasted not overnight, perhaps due to the fact that the hole was located in the middle of a small joint on the hose.

An early half-hour repair and we could finally pack the bikes and via National Highway 67 continue down to Trichy.


NH 67 between Thanjavur and Trichy is likely when this is edited (in July 2009) a four-lane expressway. It is not when I write this in December 7, 2008!

Old NH 67, which is now in use, is likely to have been laid for fallow since the decision to build the new road were taken a number of years ago. When we cycle it is the almost impassable on certain sections. Parts of the new road are completed and therefore you have to switch each and every kilometre between freshly laid asphalt and "newly ploughed muddy land." Furthermore, since it rained in the morning, the fine cinnamon brown dust turned into a viscous clay soup.


The new road will pass-by all the small towns and villages, which unfortunately will make cycling more tedious and monotonous on a seemingly endless road cutting straight through rice paddies, fruit and sugar cane plantations, as I have written before.


As we approach Trichy, which has almost one million inhabitants, the traffic density is getting significant. It has since a few hours stopped raining and the cars and buses and a large number of motorbikes unravel the fine dust that becomes a brownish red dust-cloud that surrounds the city.

Sunday is obviously the big market-day and everyone seems to be heading towards the city centre. Those on the motorbikes have simple cloth masks covering their noses and mouths.

We managed to find a road around the city core to its southern part, which meant that we did not have to run through a totally congested centre.

In the vicinity of the large railway station - Trichy Railway Junction - we find Femina hotel, a luxury hotel with okay prices! We get a large double room for around 1800 rupees a night. We will probably stay until Tuesday.


Bicycle Facts December 7

Distance: 65.6 kilometres, Time: 3 hours 45 min., Average speed: 17.5 km/h,

TOTAL: 435 km.


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