On following pages you can read about Janne Malmberg´s and my bike ride in South India for about three months between November 2008 and February 2009.

Most of the text is taken from RYDINGSPLANET News Blog and diary notes.

Ghita Metha

Per J. Andersson 
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Part 1: Preparation

November 14, 2008


As shown in the map above, we will take the train from Bombay down to Madras (Chennai) the capital of Tamil Nadu with over 4 million inhabitants.

There are mainly two reasons why we do not start cycling from Bombay southwards towards Goa and Kerala to end in Madras: First, we prefer starting with a relatively easy ride with a lot of smooth-riding, which means that there will be sufficient time to adapt both to the heat and to a different culture, by following the lowland delta along the sacred Cauvery River. The wide delta is called the "garden of southern India” and known to devout Hindus as Daksina Ganga (Ganges of the South).

Second, we will not have such a long ride in a southerly direction. It is usually both tiring and hard to ride with the sun in the face on long hot days.

The train trip from Bombay to Madras takes about 26 hours and the total distance on bicycle will be approximately 3000 km.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Since independence in 1949, development in India is described in many ways from more anthropological descriptions in the 1950s to the social depictions that dominated the 60 and 70's with books like Folke Isakson’s  “Har Indien en chans?”("Does India stand a chance?") from 1969, Gunnar Fredrikssons “Indien – tragedi eller revolution” (India - tragedy or revolution) of the same year and the Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul’s “A country in darkness”, published 1973

During the 80s and today dominates travelogues and tourist guides such as Rolf Grönblom with “Indien i ett nötskal: liten uppslagsbok för resenärer” (India in a Nutshell: Short for travellers) from 2004, and Per J. Anderssons Indien: Elefanten som började dansa (India: The Elephant who began to dance,) published in 2007.

In recent years, an increasing number of books describe the economic development (“the Indian miracle”), often from a neoliberal perspective, like Anna Kinberg Batra´s Indien - från stackare till stormakt (India - from Wretch to Superpower) published by Timbro 2005.

There are no doubts that the economic development as statistically described with an annual growth of almost 10 percent is a reality.

But as Per J. Andersson writes in an article in response to a criticism of one of his books that behind every picture there is a counterpart.

To this statement I will return within short.

(Do not miss Per J. Andersson blog. It is a must for every Indian traveller.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Anna Kinberg Batra´s Indien - från stackare till stormakt (India - from Wretch to Superpower) pilots the reader through a flexible range of claims and citations to the conclusion the book intends to prove, namely that the Indian miracle is the triumph of capitalism, globalisation and “free trade”.

I believe however that the enormous development that India has undergone over the past 60 years should rather be attributed to other causes including the dismantling and the incorporation of the former Princely States, as an expression of the old India, to today's modern and economically growing India.

The author Olle Strandberg wrote in Tigerland och Söderhav (not available in English) on the crumbling feudal India (my translation):

... The White Book, which depicts this process and presented before the Indian Parliament is a fascinating social history revolution.

It is India's farewell to the Thousand and One Nights (aka Arabian Nights, my note), it is the story of the brilliant Maharajas depart.

Before the reform, there were 562 sovereign states, which represented 2/5 of the total area of India and 80 million people, i.e. 1/4 of the country's population. Those states size ranged from giant empires as Hyderabad with a population of almost 15 million to small Lilliputian states a few square miles - (the smallest state in 1945 had 27 inhabitants, but expected a few more).


And the maharajah was the Almighty, he decided over their subjects’ life and death, of freedom and slavery.

It was a strange cavalcade of individuals, who now disappear from their principalities anecdotes: magnificent and cruel despots with raptor profiles, saints and sadists, billionaires and ragamuffin, ascetic and dirty old men. There were Maharajas who claimed to be descended directly from the sun or moon, others were descendants of the god Krishna or the Khalif of Baghdad and some were simply scoundrels, who forcibly annexed a piece of Indian land. Some were specialists in Swedish gymnastics and had high academic merits others could neither read nor write. Their personal fortunes fluctuated between infinity and zero.

There are those who believe that large segments of the population are still subject to a feudal system and still it is largely the fact that people's economy ranges between infinity and zero.

The Indian architect, author and Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy expresses her opinion in an interview concerning, as she expresses as “the so-called free trade":

We have a feudal society whose feudalism has just been reinforced by all of this.

The entire interview can be read here!

I will return shortly to the other expressions to depict the modern India's emergence.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


In 1998 the popular Indian writer Gita Mehta described the development in her book that has become most attention outside India: Klättra och kana - en personlig skildring av det moderna Indien (Snakes and ladders, in English, my note.), under the headline New money she writes:

Anyone who doubts that India is changing should take a quick look at our cities, which is the new and rapidly expanding urban middle class residents.

Entire families of colourful synthetic clothes crowd together on scooters driven by men with hair-pomade, wearing sunglasses and terylene trousers and a sort of pointy suede shoes that were once used to call brothel creepers.

Higher up the food chain, one finds gold watches, German cars, Italian clothing, boats and aircraft, Crystals and Dom Perignon, large families who book a table at the most expensive restaurants and discos Oak. Lots of caviar left untouched and is, and solidifies into a mass-Lalique bowls, enter the new Indian setting. Do you have money so show it.

Sooner would be that those who had money hidden there. We were a poor country, and self-denial was equal to solidarity.

(A Review in Swedish of the book by Tomas Löfström you’ll find here.)

From the ABC News in May 2008:

The middle and upper class in India is now almost as large as the entire population of the United States. They have never been rich and they have never been more demanding about what they want, from bars and clubs to luxury brands like Armani, which is entering India.

Arundhati Roy expresses following in connection with a visit of former president of US, George W Bush in an interview with Amy Goodman from the Democracy Now-movement:

Amy Goodman: President Bush speaking in India. Arundhati Roy, your response?

Arundhati Roy: Well, look, let's not forget that this whole call to the free market started in the late 19th century in India. You know, that was what colonialism was all about. They kept using the words "free market." And we know how free the free market is. Today, India has-I mean, after 15 years of economic liberalization, we have more than half of the world's malnutritioned children. We have an economy where the differences between the rich and the poor, which have always been huge, has increased enormously

Arundhati Roy become highly popular with the novel The God of Small Things  (De små tingens gud) in the early 90s and in 1997 she was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize. She is also presented in Swedish with Den oändliga rättvisans matematik (On infinite justice mathematics), 2003 and together with David Barsamian Författare räknar inte röster (The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile) 2004.

You can read more about Arundhati Roy on Wikipeda.

There is also a long interview with the author in the magazine The Progressive website.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Another way to describe development in India, is to be found on the website of the excellent Swedish journal SYDASIEN (South Asia) which likely used Wikipedia as a source (or vice versa). Under the heading Modern India says for example the following:

Since independence, the country's population has increased by 250%, and the population in cities has increased by 500%. No less than 35% of the population today live below the UN-specified limit of poverty. Approximately 75% live largely outside the cash economy, while a modern middle class, with the opportunity to buy a car, private health care, TV, etc., was estimated in the early 2000s to be around 200 million people. Even in the country's richest city, Mumbai, nearly half the population live in slums. India has just as neighbouring China, no time zones but the same time across the country, 4.5 hours, unlike American Standard.

India has today (2006) an annual growth of around 10%. First it was the rich who 10-15 years ago, saw a strong improvement in their economy. Then came the middle class and now large parts of the lower layers. According to some experts, China and India are to overtake the United States as the leading economies within 30 to 40 years. India plans to send its own space rockets to the Moon (carried out in November -08, my note.) and has already sent up self-manufactured satellites.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Today is Sunday 23rd November twenty past eleven in the morning and we have just checked in at Landvetter Airport, Göteborg. As usual, it was smooth with bikes by Finnair.

You never know when the rules concerning baggage change, and I had an annoying suspicion that we might have to pay; I red last night on Finnairs website on rules concerning sports gear and found that for bicycles the fee is 80 euros to destinations in Asia. I was a little puzzled, as I previously never have had to pay. Then of course the bicycle-box rarely weighs more than the stipulated 20 kg. (It is really only on Spannair I have had to pay.) Most airlines (apart from low-cost airlines) have generous rules concerning transportation of bicycles.

Anyway, the check-in was surprisingly smooth and currently Janne and I are sitting in the departure hall after we’ve been crawled by the Securitas gang.

Within an hour and a half we are supposed to take off for Helsinki and about half past four tomorrow morning (Bombay-time), we’ll be in Bombay.

I hope to come up with a short report from Bombay in the morning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Mumbai, Monday morning.

The journey from Sweden and Landvetter to Helsinki developed rapidly to become an eternal waiting even though check-in went quickly and smoothly.

Already in Gothenburg, we received news that there was chaos in Helsinki and the whole of southern Finland. Snow chaos! And full storm! It was announced that Vanta airport was closed to all traffic. It seemed to be a never-ending waiting.

After a couple of hours waiting, we were informed that the pilots would make an attempt to land in Helsinki. Attempt! Oops!

The landing was a lurch adventure and without any sight in the dense snowfall and a fight against heavy and unpredictable gust, the pilot managed to land the plane.

-Not even a bounce, said a man who would proceed to Bangkok.

Janne and I wondered how we would spend the two hours we had before the flight was suppose take off for Bombay.

-I have audio books with me, Janne comforted himself. I myself have some interesting music in my mp3 player to occupy waiting. Two hours, it should probably go ...

Time passed. The snowstorm roamed outside and the snow was as dense as a whitewashed wall. We began to despair and thought we would have to spend the night in Helsinki. We planned to rebook the hotel in Bombay and speculated what other implications this would have, when suddenly signals were giving for boarding the plane. By then the original two hours finally become six (6)!

So instead of being stuck in Finland and arrive extremely early (04.30 in the morning) we where supposed to arrive in Bombay in the middle of the day.


It is often said that the Inca people could build walls so well suited so there barely got a knife blade between the stones. This also applies to traffic in Bombay. Intense, dense, smokey and noisy. The trip from the airport to the New Bengal Hotel near Victoria station took a couple of hours. Hot hours. The mercury jumped up over 30 degrees.

We chose a so-called pre-paid taxi and paid about 500 rupees for the transport to the hotel. The taxi was a small, worn-out, badly managed, yellow-white thing. The coach was badly dented and thick layers of paint revealed a hard life.

Willing arms helped to load the bikes on the roof and so we went on a trip where cows seemed to appear much holier than the people who fled in all directions when we, together with thousands of other motorists moved as a flash flood towards the city centre and New Bengal Hotel, where we have booked a twin room through Internet

The only advantage of New Bengal Hotel is that it is very close to the Victoria station, (now called Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, in everyday speech CST) from where we’ll take the train to Madras (Chennai) on Thursday.

The hotel is clean and neatly, but simple. Very simple!

This afternoon we will unpack the bikes, and a guy at the hotel has promised to keep our cardboard-boxes, until we come back.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008



Janne and I haven’t done any much since yesterday, except assembled our bikes for the trip to Madras (Chennai) tomorrow. We have also been on CST and checked how we can get our bikes registered for the transportation to Chennai. We realised that there will be some paper-work tomorrow. 

By some unexplainable reason we have to checkout from the hotel already at 8 o'clock tomorrow morning. That is not very practical as the train leaves by 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

I have promised myself not to write about the poverty even if it is present everywhere.

There are others doing that better and with more insight than I have. I do not have any much experience to relate to; I visited northern India - Calcutta and Delhi in 1971 during a couple of weeks.

But I read in the paper today that a major reason for the decline in education is because almost 50% of the kids suffer from malnutrition!


Read the interesting continuation of the bike trip, about the war in Mumbai and how we finally managed to get away from Chennai!

Click here for Part 2:

From Mumbai to Trichy

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