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by Per J Andersson
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 Kovallam Monday December 22. 


Today we have been on a bike trip!

When we arrived here on Saturday we were invited by two Europeans, Henk from Holland and John from the UK. Both are regularly staying in popular Kovallam for long periods. Henk is about fifty years old and John in his sixties. They are pleasant and hospitable people and also dedicated and capable cyclists, very familiar with the surroundings after numerous cycling tours in the area.

Today they brought us on a fantastic ride, up and down on winding roads along the coast. The trip went through idyllic small fishing communities along lush banana plantations, paddy fields and flourishing palm-jungles. It continued down through a green valley, which Henk and John have named "Happy Valley" (a farming area with a palette of tropical flowers in an outstanding mix of colours, framed by an equally magical as unusual silence). As a contrast it also offered a loud visit to the "Bang-Bang-temple", a small, worn temple situated along the highway-thoroughfare in Balarampuram.  For every rupee donated, the temple in return creates a diabolically loud crack.

Henk threw in a ten-rupee, and in response ten intensive echoing explosions appeared. Since the temple is in the centre of the city close to the busy highway and since passers-by usually throw in a few rupees resulting in a continuous noise.

We also visited some minor businesses, among them a plant where aluminium containers and buckets were produced. There was also a small dark locality where they pressed oil out of coconuts and another plant produced fine wooden sticks for matches.  


Furthermore, we have had a few lazy days in this tourist trap. You know, taking a refreshing bath in the lukewarm crystal clear Indian Ocean, zipping icy neon-coloured refreshing drinks with small decorative umbrellas, resting in the shadow of a parasol or a palm-tree, and in the pleasantly cool evening eating fresh swordfish or squid in one of the many restaurants along the 800-meter-long beach.

Most of the restaurants have typical Indian names such as "The Rock Café, Café Swiss, The German Bakery" or "Ocean View Restaurant" or how about "Vodka Resturent" (note the spelling!)

The last night, one of those magical tropical evenings, John and Henk invited us to a nearby small village where we had a nice Indian meal at a nice outdoor-restaurant overlooking the sea.

Outside the entrance to the restaurant a police-jeep was parked and for that reason we could not get any beers or any kind of alcohol; Restaurant-owners here in Kerala need to buy a license to be allowed to serve any kind of alcohol. Most owners don’t because the license is said to be very expensive.

-Those guys are here to collect their bribe, says one of the waiters and nod in the direction of the police jeep.

After a while the policemen quickly jump into their vehicle skidding away in a cloud of dust and suddenly our beers appear, wrapped in sheets of newspaper, and we are advised to keep the bottles under the table.


We had planned to stay in Kovallam entire Christmas, but decided to leave on Boxing Day.  We left our room at Hotel Patrick Villa, where we had spent almost a week.

Our plan was to choose Nat. Highway 47 towards Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), the capital of Kerala, and continue on an exit road, we had found on our map, along the coast to Varkala. Already in Attingal village however we met a smaller road, which was not on the map, but taking us conveniently to Varkala.


Bicycle Facts for December 26, Kovallam – Varkala

Distance: 62 kilometres, Runtime: 3 h 19 min, Average speed: 18.5 km/h, Max speed 40 km/h.

TOTAL DISTANCE: 1156 km (including two cycle trips in Kovallam 70km + 50km.)  

Varkala Saturday December 27 


India is teeming with holy places, so-called ashrams.  Besides being a traditional tourist resort Varkala Beach is an ashram, a holy place.

In Varkala town also Janardhana Swamy Temple is considered sacred to Hindus.

Varkala's main beach is called Papanasam Beach, which means "destroyer of sins" and is divided into two parts. A southern part, where Hindus come to perform the last rites when close relatives have died, and a tourist part located further north, at the bottom of a high cliff.

Each morning a large number of Indians arrive to the southern part of the long sandy beach. They arrive in every possible kind of vehicle or on foot. From the town centre of Varkala they follows the narrow, meandering road down to the beach.

At the beach, "holy men", a kind of Hindu funeral contractors are waiting at their small spots equipped with mobile altars decorated with flowers and fruits, and various religious attributes.

One of the servants at our hotel, told me that most of the people get here either to say goodbye to a relative by spreading his/her ashes in the Indian Ocean or to celebrate the anniversary of a relative whose ashes previously has been spread just at this ashram.

(I suppose the text above demonstrates my ignorance concerning Hinduism and its rituals.)

We will probably not stay here in Varkala over New Year’s Eve. Possibly we are heading north to Kollam on Monday taking the boat through what is called the Kerala Backwaters up to Allapuhza, where we plan to stay overnight and the following day continue up to Kochi.


Allapuzha / Allepey Tuesday December 30 


When the nationalist Hindu party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) became the influential party in a coalition which reigned in India between 1998-2004 it had its most significant impact by stirring up temporarily buried tensions between the country's largest religious groups - Hindus and Muslims. They also succeeded in creating confusion by changing all the geographical names with colonial ties to the national counterparts (That's one reason that I occasionally use different names, Mumbai/Bombay, Chennai/Madras, Trivandrum/Thiruvananthapuram e.g.)


Yesterday we cycled from Varkala to Kollam/Quilon. When we on several occasions asked for the direction to Kollam (the new national name) the people we asked didn’t understand what we were talking about. However, most people understood when we used the old name, Quilon (pronounced kwailon.).

Anyway, it became a long day's travel into the night.

Up at dawn and arrived after the sun gone down.

Early morning, quick dress on the cycling clothes, pack the bikes and full speed ahead on small roads along the coast arriving in Kollam/Quilon before half past ten; departure time for the boat to Allapuzha/Allepey.

When cycling to Kollam, we met both the best and worst roads, so far!

The first 5-6 kilometres of the road was very curvy before we reached a new fantastic road. Apart from a fresh layer of asphalt, the scenery was stunning. On the left hand, the beach with its eternal roaring waves and whispering palm-trees, on the other side small gleaming ponds and lakes and what forms the beginning of famous Kerala Backwaters.

The whole landscape was dyed in the glowing sunrise! Magical!

Yes, it was magical until we reached a small, tired town called Paravoor, from where the road became terribly bad.

Despite the bad road during the final 15-20 kilometres, we arrived to Kollam/Quilon in time for catching the boat that would take us to Allapuzha/Allapey and just was about to sail.

We paid 400 rupees per person and the same amount for the bikes.


The Kerala backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Malabar Coast. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers. The labyrinthine system forms by more than 900 km of waterways and has become a popular tourist destination.

As we are following the National Waterway No. 3 in the midst of this landscape we also pass a number of towns and villages, which serve as the starting and end points of backwater cruises. Here the people transport themselves mainly in small boats, and we pass fishermen and houseboats with tourists and honeymooners.

In the villages there are many characteristic small bridges leading to the dry privy above the waterside. Nothing strange as of the country's population 60% have no access to toilet.

(Such a toilet played an important role in the popular movie Slumdog Millionaire.)


The boat is a worn wooden double-decker with a name as taken from an Astrid Lindgren book; it is called the Kurumadikuttan. We are about one hundred tourists and the major part is sitting on upper deck on plastic chairs while the boat is cutting through the calm water in a slow pace, through lakes and canals.

Eight hours later Kurumadikuttan drifts quietly in the sunset and lands at a berth close to a large bridge in central Allapuzha, where in the dusk the evening traffic is noisy, dusty and bustling as usual.


Bicycle Facts December 29 Varkala - Kollam/Quilon

Distance 35.5 kilometers, Runtime 2 h 20 min, Average speed: 16 km/hr

Total distance: 1192 km

Kollam / Quilon - Allapuzha / Allepey by boat 8 hour!

Appaluzha Tuesday December 30 


Appaluzha has just 300 000 inhabitants and the centre is divided in a northern and a southern part by a canal and the city has launched itself as a centre for boat trips on Kerala Backwaters. This is the main attraction for tourists here.

Two buildings, large as cathedrals, dominate the cityscape. Two jewellery shops!

Moreover the city centre is occupied by a giant street trading. Here the vegetable vendors and costermongers reign, but here are lots of other knick-knacks for sale; cheap plastic toys, fanciful watches and other fad electronics that blink, beep, screech and crack ... or all that at once. Here you can also find colourful hats and caps with "odd" texts like "Harley Davidson", "Britney Spears", "Hip Hop" or something similar.

We went out to the beach. It is long and seems desolate this Tuesday morning in late December. We met only a few lost disoriented tourists and a bunch of Russians, eight, ten people, who came cycling. They were on their way towards Ghatts Mountains, to cycle over the Decca plateau and further to Madurai. However, it was a little "lost in translation" as they could not speak very much English and neither Janne nor I know Russian.

Fort Kochi Wednesday January 31 2008 


Today was more transport than cycling. Smooth riding, pleasant wind and a good asphalted National Highway 47 made us sneak in here in Fort Kochi already in the morning.

65 kilometres within three and half hours and at an average of almost 19.5 km/h.

We checked several hotels in the centre, but most of them were fully booked for New Year.

-Everything is fully booked, said an informant, a taxi driver!

Fort Kochi is popular among tourists and many had obviously decided to celebrate New Years Eve here. If we had looked around we would probably have found another accommodation, but with a little "help" from the taxi driver we ended up at a hotel of the more luxurious kind, Guesthouse Four Roses á 2000 Rs/night


Bicycle Facts December 31 Appaluza - Fort Kochi.

Distance 65 km, Runtime. 3 h 25 min, Average speed: 19.2 km/hr. Maxsp. 28 km/hr.

TOTAL: 1256 km.


Guruvayur Friday, January 2 2009


Already a quarter past six in the morning we reluctantly left our luxury accommodation in Fort Kochi. In the pale dawn light we cycled to the ferry terminal where the ship was at the quay rocking in the morning breeze. The small open wooden ferry would take some fifty “early birds”, and us to Ernakulam and the mainland.

We planned to cycle along National Highway 17, aiming for a small town we had found on our map, called Pappinivatti, a funny name we thought and the right cycling distance i.e. approximately 70 km. We were most concerned that such a small place might not be able to offer any accommodation. There was no need to worry!

Pappinivatti existed on our map, but not in reality!

In any case we didn't find it and people we asked hadn't even heard of it. So instead we had to hang on for about 30 kilometres more to reach Guruvayur, a fairly large city. There is a popular temple attracting thousands of pilgrims and hotels could be found in every street corner. But as a consequence of the significant religious element, there was only one (1) restaurant, which was non-vegetarian, among several hundred vegetarian restaurants. We chose a Masala Dosa for the evening meal. (Dosa is basically a crepe made from rice and black lentils. It is a typical South Indian dish, eaten for breakfast or dinner, and is rich in carbohydrates and protein.)

Bicycle Facts 2 January, Fort Kochi - Guruvayur

Distance 93 km, Runtime: 5tim 12min, Average speed: 18.3 km/h,


Tirur Saturday, January 3 


We overslept this morning. Woke up at seven instead of six, which we had planned. The hotel owner tipped us namely last night that there will be a parade of 50 elephants not far from the city at half past six this morning. Well, we missed the elephants, but realized that they had passed as the road was covered with elephant dung!

 Shortly after two this afternoon we stopped in a town called Tirur off the beaten track. It resembles most Indian cities, i.e. it is dusty, noisy and has an interesting blend of odours of sweet jasmine, sandalwood, diesel-exhaust and rubbish dump!


Bicycle Facts Jan 3, Guruvayur - Tirur

Distance 61 km, km, Runtime 3 h 35 min, Average speed: 17.3 km/hr,


Sunday, January 4


Tirur is located behind a high crest in the east and lies in a deep valley along which the road winds up to the highway. The grey mist dancing over the green paddy fields and growing groves and it is initially chilly in the mild headwind and in the shadow under the avenue of palm trees.

Otherwise, today's stage was much of a Sunday cycling, although there were a lot of small hills.

We reached Kozhikode/Calicut at about midday and the closer we got the denser became the traffic, though it was Sunday.

It is obvious that the Muslims constitute a significant minority here on India's west coast along the Arabian Gulf at the Malabar Coast. Along the road we passed plenty of children on their way to the Muslim school and here and there the Muslim (green) flags were flying. In most villages you could find mosque towers rising above the other buildings.


We read in a book that Kozhikode/Calicut has about 500 000 inhabitants. Probably the correct number is higher, because the figures tend to be a bit old and the urbanisation in India is significant. The city was known as a trade centre already when Vasco da Gama stepped ashore here in the late 1400's. At that time Kozhikode/Calicut was also dubbed as the "City of Spices" being the major commercial centre for eastern spices.

Nowadays s Kozhikode/Calicut above all exports cheap labour to the Arab states on the other side of the Arab Gulf.


Bicycle Facts January 4, Tirur - Calicut.

Distance 65 km, Runtime 3 h 51 min, Average speed: 17.2 km/hr,


Kannur Tuesday January 6


It was slightly longer than we calculated. The map was somewhat misleading and the distance was almost 100 kilometres, instead of expected 70-80 km.

In the morning we passed Mahé, which is part of the former French enclave of Pondicherry Union Territory, whose major part is located on the other side of the continent in Tamil Nadu that we visited in early December.

The policemen here wear a kepi on the head like the police in France. And in opposite to the police in France, who are armed to the teeth, the cops here are only armed with a bamboo stick!


The Highway passes right through town. The road is however a narrow alley and very hilly. Every shop seems to be a liquor store or as it is called here a "Foreign liquor shop", probably due to local regulations. (Most states here in southern India are quite dry when it comes to alcohol, likely due to the religion.)

Here on the west coast villages and towns usually are situated so close that you feel as if you were cycling through a long uninterrupted urban environment. Now and then you caught a glimpse of the rural idyll. It could be a few dilapidated shacks, green farmland mixed with cinnamon brown from sun-cremated fields or rice paddies.

Unfortunately the rural idyll is concealed and contaminated by numerous of giant advertising hoardings.


Bicycle Facts January 6 Calicut - Kannur

Distance 97 km, Runtime 5 hr 22 min, Average speed: 18.5 km /hr



Pallakuna Wednesday, January 7



Janne was a little out of sorts this morning. He has had trouble with an irritating cough a few days. We therefore primarily try to reach Kanhangod, which is nearly 80 km away. Unless we get pretty far today the stage to Mangalore tomorrow will be unnecessarily long. It is rather easy cycling, although the road is rough and very uneven. It seems as if the asphalt had been spread out with a muckrake!


Janne is fighting on despite the cough, and when we get to Kanhangod, Janne decides to continue a bit longer. Bekal, 15 km further north, seems to be a good alternative. At the spot, there are only two possibilities for accommodation, a so-called home-stay and a luxurious beach-resort. We consider the price irresponsibly high for a single night and "Much Ado About Nothing", so we continue a few kilometres and land in the small village of Pallakuna where we find a newly built hotel called Five Points with a post-modern architecture but empty and desolate.

We do not give Five Points five points, because one of us has to sleep on a mattress on the floor!


Bicycle Facts January 7 Kannur - Pallakuna

Distance 90.5 km, Runtime 5 hr 20 min Average speed: 17.1 km /hr


Mangalore Thursday, January 8 


Apart from the rugged asphalt that appeared everywhere, we had a rather pleasant cycling to Mangalore.  We now left the State of Kerala and entered Karnataka, originally known as the State of Mysore but it was renamed in 1973. The capital of Karnetaka is Bangalore located on the Deccan Plateau and India's third most populous city.


Janne felt better, but decided to seek medical help in Mangalore to overcome his cough.

We arrived at noon and checked in a centrally located hotel. After a quick shower Janne headed for a nearby hospital.

He later told me that he had promptly been shown into a young doctor, who immediately checked his medical status and prescribed an appropriate medication. The consultation including the medicine was only some hundred rupees!

BICYCLE FACTS January 8 Pallakuna - Mangalore

Distance 64.5 km, Runtime 3 h 56 min, Average speed: 16.9 km /hr

TOTAL DISTANCE: 1725 kilometres 

Udipi, Saturday evening, January 10 



It is a full moon over Udipi tonight. It starts to darken already at around six o’clock in the evening and at nine most smaller towns and villages in southern India are dark and desolated. The same applies most likely also for Udipi where we arrived today after a pleasant ride.

Tomorrow we aim for Kundapura and eventually to Maravanthe.


Bicycle Facts January 10 Mangalore - Udipi

Distance 62.3 km, Runtime 3 h 35 min, Average speed: 17.7 km/hr


Baindura Sunday, January 11. 


We came fairly quickly and easily from Udipi. Initially we aimed to reach a place called Kundapura, but because cycling was easy and we got there already before midday, we instead decided to continue to Maravanthe, a seaside resort, and some ten kilometres further north.

On the road we passed a traffic accident between a car and a truck loaded with gravel. (We come across traffic accidents almost every day) The car was totally wrecked and the lorry had slid down a steep embankment and had hit a large gravel bank that framed a water-flooded paddy field. The heavy gravel load in the cab probably squeezed the driver and there were obviously problems to get him out.

We continued however further towards Maravanthe without awaiting the outcome of the rescue operation.

At Maravathe the highway meets the sea and runs along a huge and completely deserted white sand-beach. We did not find a single soul, only a few small beach hotels scattered among the sandbanks. We were not so attracted by the loneliness and went on hoping to find something in Baindura - which was alleged to be a so-called Spa Resort, you know where you can get the whole kit, housing, food and ayruvedic massage therapy.

We chose, however, a small newly built family hotel "AK Residency" where we stayed overnight.

Otherwise Baindura was a likeable small village containing two streets and roughly 1,500 inhabitants, a few shops, a bar (!) a small temple and a few cows gently and randomly roaming.


Bicycle Facts January 11 Udipi - Baindura

Distance 74 km, Runtime 4 h, Average speed: 18.5 km/hr


Honavar Monday January 12


According to information picked up from the Internet this part of North Karnataka and Southern Goa should be difficult to cycle. There should be many steep and long slopes.

We experienced nothing of that! Sure there were hills, some long others steep and some both, but may still be described as very modest.

The goal for the day’s cycling was Honavar, where we arrived at 12 o'clock after a very pleasant ride through rural India and with only light traffic.


Bicycle Facts January 12 Baindura - Honavar

Distance 62 km, Runime 3 h 33 min, Average speed: 18 km/h



Karwe Tuesday January 13


Today we challenged North Karnataka Hills. Despite claims to the contrary, the hills and slopes are still fairly easy, although quite many. It goes up and down most all the time. 30 km before Karwe, which was the aim for today, Jannes gearshift broke down.

(Probably due to an incorrect assembly.) We puzzled it together temporarily with tape, and Janne had to continuer with only three usable gears. Despite this limitation, he easily defeated the "hills", as the North Karnataka Hills.

(Today we passed 2000 kilometres!)


Bicycle Facts January 13 Honavar - Karwe

Distance 95 km, Runtime 5 hours, Average speed: 18.7 km /hr


Palolem Beach Wednesday, January 14.  


Since we cycled so hard yesterday, we had a short ride up to Palolem Beach in South Goa today. For that reason we leave Premium Hotel in Karwe later than we normally do this morning.

Early in the morning out in the countryside you will see women who drag huge bundles dry branches and sticks or giant burden of dry leaves on their heads. Later in the morning all the schoolchildren appear along the roads and as Lonely Planet so aptly describes the situation for tourists travelling in rural India: "You are likely to be an object of considerable curiosity."

The same applied very much to us.

We attracted much attention and people in all ages and a lot of children gathered around us whenever we stopped.

It might seem outmost surprising that people show so much interest for a couple of bikes and two elderly cyclists in a country where they have just sent up a rocket to the moon!

After arriving at Palolem we have rented a bungalow, a tree house close to the beach and here we plan to stay for a while.


Bicycle Facts January 14 Karwe - Palolem Beach

Distance 43 km, Runtime 2 h 30 min, Average speed: 17.7 km/hr


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