Janne along with the owner and repairman of Sri Ganesh Cycle Shop in Madurai

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Pilgrims in Kanyakamari

Kovallam Beach

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Janne at a local bicycle-dealer

Janne checking the map in the small room in Mannaparai

The hearse with the dead woman.

Tamil Nadu map
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FRONT PAGE             PART 1           PART 2         PART 3        PART 4         PART 5


Tuesday, December 09, 2008


A rainy day in Trichy!

We couldn’t leave this morning as planned. The laundry wasn’t dry!?

We left our clothes for washing yesterday morning, early.

A service-boy came and picked them up and assured that we would get the clothes back that same evening.

-Eight o'clock tonight absolutely, he said and went

It was just before midnight when I called room service the last time. A quarter of an hour later I got a re-call and a sonorous phone-voice promised that we should get the clothes within a short while. Very short!

We got them about half past nine this morning!

We considered by then that it was somewhat late to continue to Dindigul about 100 kilometres away.

It didn't matter because it has been a rainy day. Not a heavy rippling rain, just an annoying light drizzle; that kind of 100 percent humidity making the air seem like a damp sponge.

We have been strolling around in the bazaar-like district close to the Rockfort Temple.

The Temple is a spectacular monument perched on a massive rock rising abruptly from the plain to tower over the old city.

The street-life here is an eternal buzzing and bustle, a mix of colours and smells accompanied by an peerless cacophony - a mixture of howling klaxon, jabber vendors, hindi "music" that streams out from small prayer-temples; flutes and clarinets and other old fashioned wind-instrument which beeps and screams to a breaking point, falsetto song and resounding drums, Indian popular songs and American pop music in an indescribable mixture.

Here is silence scarce and congestion taxes would be big business!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


We did not come further than Mannaparai today. Just barely 50 km. We happened to pedal into a tropical downpour a few kilometres just after we passed Mannaparai.

Otherwise, it started well this morning. Before 7 o’clock the staff at hotel Femina in Trichy had gathered to witness our departure.

Pretty soon, or rather promptly, it appeared that the bolt holding the rack and fenders on Janne's bike had become detached. Under the supervision and with comments in Tamil by the hotel staff, waiters, receptionists and entrance-guards the repair was examined with great interest. (It is notable that a couple of bicycles could attract so much attention in a country where they just have sent up a rocket to the moon!)

We started ten minutes to seven and ploughed our way through the quagmire around the bus-terminal and soon found the exit towards Dindigul.

It was grey and very humid, but the weather outlook appeared good - at least in the Hindi Times, which promised pleasant weather, possibly a few light showers.

We cycled with an average speed of 20-22 km / hr.

Just outside Mannaparai it started raining. First as a light drizzle but pretty soon as a tropical downpour. It became difficult to visualize the road and deep treacherous potholes on the road became filled with water that made it difficult and hazardous to go on.

At that time we had maybe 65 km left to Dindigul.

We decided to turn around and cycle back to Mannaparai and with a little help from the locals we finally found a hotel, a rather simple accommodation. Very simple!

We got a miserable room that looked very much like a small, short corridor where the beds were standing on file. The paint on the wall was peeling and it was dirty.

The toilet of the Indian type is contained in the room, only shielded by a carelessly built chest high door.

We hope that we tomorrow will reach Dindigul and the day after tomorrow Mandurai, a city with almost a million inhabitants.

Bicycle Facts for December 10 Trichy - Manaparai

Distance: 51.5 kilometres, Runtime: 2 h 44 min, Average speed: 18.2 kilometres per hour, Maximum speed 29 km / hr.


Thursday, December 11, 2008


After the compact grey skies and pouring rain yesterday, sunshine came back this morning. That rain is falling in late November or as now in beginning of December is not unique. We are at the end of the so-called “retreated“ monsoon period, which occurs here in southeastern part of the continent from October till the beginning of December.

We woke up in our poor corridor-room already before six in the morning and managed to get away from Manaparai without mishaps just as the sun penetrated the horizon in the east.

It has been a rattling day for bicycling; with light tailwind and the rising sun in larboard we sailed south in good speed along State Highway 45.

After flat and smooth cycling right from the start in Chennai, it was slightly more hilly terrain today. Well, nothing dramatic, only a few percent up or down. (Those who have the experience know that it has to be up to 8-10 per cent before it gets really hard.)

In the west rises high hills and mountains. It is the Ghats Mountains that enclose South Indian high plateau, Deccan or the Decca Plateau, which divides the east from the west of southern India.

We pass the compulsory paddy fields. The rising sun is glowing in the mirror of water and the farm workers are doing their morning toilet. A lime-white mist sweeps closely above the ground.

After a couple of hours, grey cloud-veils gather and we suspect that it is time for a rain-shower, but as the sun warms the landscape, the menacing grey clouds dissipate and we arrive to Dindigul in full sunshine.

Dindigul is a dusty provincial city with a number of one hundred thousand inhabitants. Messy, chaotic and blatant, as most Indian cities.

We are told that Dindigul has been a centre of tobacco-industry. Especially at the time of British rule. Winston Churchill’s favourite-cigar called, “the Light of Asia”, was produced here.

We choose a hotel situated next to a big, busy and noisy bus-terminal. Once a magnificent hotel complex, now well worn and shabby and the lift-shaft is converted into storage for cleaning stuff, so we have to climb the five floors with our luggage.

The room is clean but simple. We pay 200 rupees, which well corresponds to almost 40 dollars. (Compared with the housing we had last night in Mannaparai, this room is pure luxury.)

Bicycle Facts December 11 Mannaparai - Dindigul:

Distance 64.1 kilometres, Runtime 3 h 30 min, average speed 18 km / h (a few kilometres before Dindigul, we had an average of almost 20 km / h, but the chronic traffic chaos devalued quickly an ambitious speed.) Maximum speed 34 km / hr.


Friday, December 12, 2008


Everything was up for a perfect day of cycling. The stage from Dindigul southbound to Madurai was less than 70 kilometres and the weather forecast was promising. We mounted our bikes enthusiastically in the morning-glow just after six o'clock. A decent tailwind gave a good speed. We logged about 40 km/h on certain sections.

The morning sunshine painted a red mist over paddy fields and wetlands. The air became cool and fresh in the morning breeze. The roads were mostly good, alternating between fresh asphalt and shorter sections that were gravel.

Normally, we should have arrived a least an hour before midday.

But we were not that lucky. A number of mishaps transformed it into a really freakish day.

A detailed report on this tomorrow.

Bicycle Facts for December 12, Dindigul – Madurai:

Distance: 67.5 kilometres, Runtime: 3 hrs 20 min, Average speed: 19.6 kilometres per hour, Maximum speed 38 km / hr.


Saturday, December 13, 2008


As I previously reported the prerequisites for a pleasant ride down here to Madurai were almost perfect.

But already after 15-20 km Janne got a puncture on his rear wheel. No problem, it may seem, as because we have been anticipating by buying a brand new robust tube from a local bicycle dealer earlier in the journey. (Henceforth referred to as the "Indian" tube.)

Now it appeared that the nipple of metal, through which you pump the air into the tube, was too rough to get through the hole in the rim!  So, the "Indian" hose was more or less useless.

As a reserve we now only had the 28-inch hose, which we had previously forced into Janne's front tire. We chose to take that tube and put it in the rear wheel, by folding it into the tyre.

The nipple on the “Indian” tube was possible to squeeze in through the hole in the front rim. That hose, however, was too large for the tyre, but we took a desperate chance that it would work. It did not!

After a while the entire front tyre burst and out crept the "Indian" hose. We repaired it provisionally by wrapping up both tire and rim with heavy-duty all-weather duct tape.

Some 20 kilometres later while passing a village, and where the traffic was intense and the road bad, Janne "disappeared" from my rear view mirror.

I stopped and took a look back to see what had happened. I could then discern Janne's blue-yellow bike shirt standing out in the middle of a group of people. Another puncture, I thought.

But no, Janne had been pushed off the road by a bus and run into a hole and fallen over!

When I arrived he bled profusely from a wound on his forehead just above the nose. Moreover, he had had some minor scratches on the hands and legs.

We dabbed the open wounds with iodine, and could soon continue to Madurai, where we rather quickly and with a bit of luck found our way through the traffic to a predetermined hotel - Residence Madurai, a semi-luxury hotel in the centre of city-core.

Madurai, called the "city of nectar", is the oldest and second largest city of Tamil Nadu and located on the banks of Vaigai River; Today a bustling and hectic town and a popular destination for many pilgrims and tourists.

Yesterday afternoon, we checked the bicycle-shops trying to obtain appropriate tubes and tyres to Janne's bike.

It did not appear to be quite easy. One bicycle-dealer explained that Indian bicycles are equipped with just that thick tubing which we had previously purchased. He thought it should be almost hopeless to find the kind of Continental-tube, which we brought with us as an example. (A closer look proved the tube to be "Made in India"!)

The next morning we brought Janne's bike to Sri Ganesh Cycle, a bicycle dealer close to the large temple-area in Madurai, and a few hours later the bicycle was equipped with a new black-yellow Indian tyre, new tube and a pair of new pedals, since one of them broke in the fall.

Thus were we prepared to continue the journey?

Monday, December 15, 2008


Virudunagar Monday, December 15

Today, it has been a pleasant cycling along the highway 7 to Virindunagar.

It was a bit complicated to find the way out of Madurai; we asked three different people about the direction and got three different but equally wrong answers.

One of those we asked was a middle-aged, slightly corpulent, gentleman who just got his elegant little car served at a service station.

He had a purple, freshly ironed shirt in a glossy material. The sleeves were folded to half of the arm. His skin was dark and he had black hair. A gigantic watch (in gold?) at the size of a small pendulum clock reinforced the impression of successful businessman.

Apart from the fact he showed us the wrong way, he asked:

-Are you going by bike?


-Bicycle, pedalling with your legs?

-Yes, we are!


(Well, what should be the answer?)

We biked around at random in the morning-rush before we found a policeman, who was standing in the middle of the traffic-chaos and desperately tried to get it in some kind of order.

He knew, however, how to find the road out of Madurai towards the south.

So after spinning around half an hour we were finally on the right track.

And we are not talking about just any road in general. If in the past the quality of roads has been both hope but mostly despair it was now full speed ahead on a new (almost finished) four-lane expressway; Probably all the way south to Cape Comorin on a road that cut nail-straight through the landscape.

And away we went pretty fast in the tailwind, even if we had to stop for rain a couple of times.

We arrived in Viridunagar already at half past ten.

If the weather is okay tomorrow and the wind is blowing in our direction, the slightly more than 100 kilometres down to Tirunelveli will become an easy task.

Bicycle Facts December 15, Madurai – Virudunagar:

Distance 51 km, Runtime 2 h 22 min, average 21.3 km/h,

TOTAL 669 km.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Tirunelveli Tuesday December 16

No problem, we cycled the 116 kilometres down here to Tirunelveli today. The weather, with a cloud-veil that covered a burning sun, a comfortable temperature and a pleasant tailwind, made today's cycling agreeable.

Bicycle Facts December 16, Virindunagar - Tirunelveli

Distance 116 km, Runtime 5 hr 14 min, aver.speed: 21.5 km/h, Max. 35 km / h

TOTAL: 785 km.



The yellow hand-drawn hearse is decorated with floral festoons and bananas. It is a simple carriage and the mourners are just a few. The little group walks discretely and unconstrained through the messy traffic in the centre of Tiruneveli. 

After writing a short report from Tiruenveli, I run into this hearse and its mortal remains outside the Internet café. I take a few pictures of the hearse and then shadow the little group of mourners the few kilometres down to the river Tambraparni where the body is to be burned.

The dead body, which is covered with flowers, is the remains of a woman in her early sixties who had died from a diabetes-related complication, I was told later.  

She had been a large and somewhat stout woman in her heyday. 

Well down at the spot on the riverbank the man who is entitled to burn corpses - the "corpse burner" - takes over the scene. He is slim and energetic and only wears a loincloth. The voluminous corpse is placed on a concrete platform and he packs it carefully in a thick layer of straw and clay, with a few openings like chimneys. Like a charcoal-stack quite simply. 

The small funeral entourage consists of those who had driven the little yellow hearse some elderly gentlemen, one of them probably a kind of undertaker, and the deceased woman's three sons.

The sons have had one to many and are quite stoned, and their sorrow fluctuates between euphoria and sentimentality. 

When the stack has been prepared and the fire lit a very tremble handed ”corpse burner" runs into the sons with a razor-knife! It seems daring when they get all hair shaved off their bodies, which probably is a Hindu religious tradition.

According to the  "corpse burner" the burning should take at least all night.

I return to town together with the men driving their hearse back to town and we take a cup of tea together.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Kanyakumari /Cape Comorin December 18

When we started at dawn from Tiruniveli the flat marshy landscape along National Highway 7 was wrapped in a damp concrete-grey haze.

Cycling in general down here in the South is not much to speak of; good roads and favourable winds made the journey pleasant, and gave an average speed of more than 20 km/hr.

After passing the town of Valloor (Vadakku), you travel tens after tens of kilometres through a dense forest of wind-turbines. Mainly in the village of Muppandal that had been selected as the showcase for India's $2 billion clean energy program.

A vast propeller-landscapes with the Agastya Malai Mountains as a dark background in the west.

(Janne says he has read that this is the world's largest wind farm privately operated.)


The tip of Indian peninsula was earlier known as Cape Comorin is today rechristened Kanyakumari, after the temple of virgin Goddess that stands on the shore washed by the waters of Indian ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea.

Kanyakumari seems to be a small prosperous place and one of the most popular spots for pilgrimage for Hindu pilgrims in India. They arrive daily in thousands; a caravan of buses, mini-buses, taxis, cars, yes all kind of vehicles struggle continuously to squeeze into the small city centre, where street vendors and knickknack-shops already are fighting for space.

The Pilgrims are mainly visiting two small rocky islands about half a kilometre off the coast. On one of the rocks is a temple "Vivekananda Rock Memorial," dedicated to the "Wandering monk" Swami Vivekananda who, according to Lonely Planet, "has developed a synthesis between the Tenet of Hinduism and concepts of social justice."

It is said that he swam to this rock and meditated about the past, present and future of India. It is also said that he attained enlightenment on the rock, and henceforth became a reformer and philosopher.

On the other rock is a huge statue, the Thiruvalluvar Statue, a 40.5 m tall stone sculpture of the Tamil poet and saint Tiruvalluvar. They say it took 5000 sculptors to create the statue.

The diesel engines roar in the barge-like boats when they are struggling the choppy sea between the mainland and the holy islands. There are constantly long queues at the departure-pier despite of their shuttling from early morning to late at night

In addition to all the Pilgrims the Christian element in the city seems to be significant.

In the village there is for example a giant meringue-coloured catholic church, or rather a cathedral, glaring in the sun. It rises high above the surroundings and a bunch of guys is dangling on the walls while giving it a new round of white lime.

Bicycle Facts for December 18 Tiruenveli - Kanyakumari:

Distance 88.2 km, Runtime 4 h 13 min, Average speed: 20.2 km per/h, Max speed: 38 km/hr. TOTAL: 873 km.

Kanyakumari Friday 19/12

Today we walked around and took some photos of the fishermen when they checked their nets after the night's and this morning's fishing. The pilgrims are numerous and they are mostly men dressed in black dhotis, a traditional Indian men's wear.

Since we live in a hotel where we have an outstanding sea view I went up at dawn to take some footage with my video camera of the famous sunrise. I went up before the time of the sunrise, but was met by a thick compact mist as most mornings recently.

At the southern point hundreds of black dhoti-clad Indians were bathing in the (probably holy) waters that swirl around the southern point. The pilgrims look like a flock of black Coromant-birds when they dry their dhotis in the strong wind.

Now at noon at the time of writing, the sun is lit from an unclouded intensively blue sky and the wind blows hard gale and the ferries in the strait swing violently in the choppy sea.

We will leave the “wind-hole” Kanyakamari early tomorrow morning with a hope to reach Kovallam in Kerala, where we expect to be celebrating Christmas.

(If you want to read more about Kanyakumari an interesting page can be found here!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Kanyakamori - Kovallam.

We had planned a comfortable trip in an easy pace; three, four hours of relaxed cycling before arriving in the tourist resort of Kovallam, 70-75 km west of Kanyakamari.

But the plan collapsed already at the start. We chose a wrong way and ended up in another Kovallam just 3 km from Kanyakamari and in a completely wrong direction.

Back again and the expected slow pace and three four-hour easy stress free pedalling became instead a tough ride in a burning sun and intense traffic during almost six hours!

We also supposed to find the small coastal road that follows the idyllic coast all the way to Kovallam. We never found the junction, despite the fact that we asked for the road every five hundred meters.

Later we cycled the coastal road together with Henk and John, two friends of European origin who during periods live in the Kovallam area. We then discovered that the road is very interesting, so those who intend to bike this route, should strive to find it. Via Porvar (a poor ghetto-like coastal community with a huge Catholic church) and Vizhinjam (where they build a huge Mosque), the road finally reaches the great beaches in the popular Kovallam.

Bicycle Facts December 20, Kanyakamari- Kovallam:

Distance 103.5 kilometres, Time 5 hr 57 min, Average speed 17 km / h,

TOTAL DISTANCE: 976 miles.

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From Kovallam to Goa 
Part 4 of South India 08/09 CLICK HERE!

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Hindi ritual in Tiruenveli

Traffic chaos

One of the sons at the stack

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