Image Image Image Image Image

India

27

Mar

Diary of the World Record: Day49

  • By Vin Cox

27th Mar. 110.5 miles cycled.

STOP GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS CLOCK @ 14:20 – KOLKATA AIRPORT

This is a nasty airport in a nasty town.

Bike very badly packed at local bike store – hope it’s okay.

Enjoyed seeing paddy fields and banana plantations on the run-in, also a spot of rain! Nice!

Other western travellers [in the airport] have stories of rudeness, illness, and are keen to leave.

110.5mi @ 14.6mph.

East of Durgapur the coal filth faded and vibrant tropical fields dazzled my eyes so used to dryer dusty shades.  The road was slightly raised from the flat alluvial plains of Bengal on which the crops grew.  I enjoyed the view immensely as I rolled the final miles east in India.

Lush rice fields in West Bengal, India.

Lush rice fields in West Bengal, India.


Many times I’d noticed that most Indian roads had curb-stones pained black and white.  I don’t know why they bothered spending time and money doing it, but it was a characteristic I’d gotten used to.  On this day I came across a team of workmen in drab clothes squatting in the open highway painting the curb.  It just reminded me how far from home I was; home where any worker would be in hi-viz, major roads don’t need curb-stones, and the stones we have are left their natural colour while we get on with business.  I pedalled by scanning the horizon for the city that was my finish line for this stage of the journey.

Old Calcutta had become Kolkata in 2001. As with Mumbai / Bombay, it looked like this was just a rebranding of a dirty old city and didn’t even seem to be worth a coat of paint in real life.  The main most rewarding effect was that any visitor literally could not get the name right; whichever name they use could be corrected to the other one by a local. I tried to find a road sign for the suburb of DumDum, because I’d been spicing up the required evidence photos for Guinness World Records, but there was very little signage for anywhere.  Then I suddenly recognised that I was entering an airport – so I got on with that instead.

‘The black hole of Calcutta’ actually refers to a cramped jail cell which became notorious in the eighteenth century, but in looser popular misunderstanding it gives an idea of the dirty, jostling streets of the former capitol of British India.  I had to return to those busy streets once I’d checked into at the airport because I needed to package my bike for flight. In other countries, any bicycle shop will have a box they’ve just taken delivery of a bike in, and be happy to have someone take it away.  I had no such luck in the bike shop I found, but it did get strapped and wrapped up, then stitched it into some old sacks.  The fee was agreed before the packaging work commenced, then they tripled it at the end because three people worked on it… Not a ridiculous price by western standards, but I stood firm to the original negotiation, otherwise why had we bothered?

So as Guinness World Records rules judged it, I finished India with a total of 5079 miles ridden in 45 days 8 hours and 53 minutes, at an average of 111 miles per day.  My flight would be overnight, so I whiled the evening away working such things out, and messaged some ex-pat friends who lived in my next destination: Bangkok, Thailand.

That was my diary from precisely four years ago.  I’m writing up each day on it’s fourth anniversary as a motivation to get this long overdue task done.  These days I’m to be found spending my working days at a brewery, my leisure time cycling, and my family time with my wife and baby daughter.  I hope this entertains, informs, or motivates you.

26

Mar

Diary of the World Record: Day48

  • By Vin Cox

26th Mar. 136 miles cycled.

Hotel check-in included all the usual forms [bureaucratic India] plus one which had “Hotel name:” as question 1…  I left it blank, and the clerk shouted at me. I replied with a smile “It’s your hotel. I don’t know and don’t need to tell you it’s name.” – He was really helpful after that.

I’m in Durgapur. Steel and coal everywhere. Coal dust lines the roadside and covers me.  Now in the state of West Bengal – not all good so far: Truck traffic jam on entry, lots of pollution, nasty town.

Had one beer with dinner. Feel V drunk!

136mi @ 14.7mph.

The town name – Durgapur – and the atmosphere of dangerous industry and filthy poverty reminded me of the puppet comedy film “Team America”. I could imaging the ironically arrogant team of “World Police” smashing the place up as they did in fictional “Durkastan”, never understanding what was actually going on.  Understanding such a place seemed important and interesting to me (which I had taken to be the moral of the film).

Coal was clearly vital to the local economy.  I’d been amongst open topped trucks dominating the highway with clouds of black dust streaming from each.  It was no exaggeration to say I looked like a miner with such a dirty black face.  The trucks were taking coal from the mines to the steel works in Durgapur, the main industry of the town.  The need for coal to be transported to the steel works was so great that some men pushed bicycles loaded with a good tone of it, having first pedalled to the source of the coal.  I joined a group resting in the shade briefly:

Coal carrying cyclists near Durgapur, West Bengal, India.

Coal carrying cyclists near Durgapur, West Bengal, India.

With just 160km left to Kolkata, my Indian adventure was drawing to a close and I was also mentally preparing for the next leg once I’d flown to Bangkok. I tweeted “My average miles per day: EU 144, AFRICA 105, JORDAN 109, INDIA so far 105. Must do better in Asia”. That was getting ahead of myself though – there was plenty to do still in India!

That was my diary from precisely four years ago.  I’m writing up each day on it’s fourth anniversary as a motivation to get this long overdue task done.  These days I’m to be found spending my working days at a brewery, my leisure time cycling, and my family time with my wife and baby daughter.  I hope this entertains, informs, or motivates you.

25

Mar

Diary of the World Record: Day47

  • By Vin Cox

25th Mar. 135.3 miles cycled.

Had to get up in middle of night and ask for money back before A/C suddenly worked! Then found locked in, and the cheeky sod who let me out asked for cash!

Got up to truck speed straight away.

Saw hills at about 30 miles, then climbed a bit at 100 miles.  New state, Jharkhand, is hilly and forested – nice.

Very budget hotel. Samosas at café next door for tea.

135.3mi… Garmin had another error for a few miles, then thought I was doing hundreds of mph for a while.  It reads 133.6mi @ 18.4mph.  I don’t believe anything it says any more.

Vin Cox heading east in Bihar towards Jharkhand on NH2.

Vin Cox heading east in Bihar towards Jharkhand on NH2.

I felt great.  Finally heading into a new state, knowing I was just a couple of days from Kolkata and the end of my Indian adventure, and having good conditions was great.  It was still hot, but only mid 30’s rather than over 40C (around 100F), and I was more use to the heat and the intense glare.  The roads were quiet, the land less populated, and there was more inspiring wilderness around.

Scrubby forest covered small hills which the highway wove between and cut through.  The creations of both Mother Nature and mankind were impressive.  The road was silky and quiet beneath my tyres, and progress was aided by some serious civil engineering isolating the road from the undulations of the land.  In the trees beyond the Armco barriers, birds sang and I imagined Tigers prowled.  Tigers do indeed exist in the area, but like everywhere in India, they are damned rare.  I pondered for many miles whether I would be lucky or unlucky to see a tiger, recognising that if I did see one I’d probably be prey.  Fatalistically, I concluded it was unlikely and irrelevant how I felt about it, but I kept my eyes peeled!

Traffic had died down to almost nothing once I was in the state of Jharkhand (funny, I’d never heard of the entire state until I arrived there!).  When I finally saw another road user, I sped past as it was a pair of oxen pulling a cart.  The road was definitely over-engineered for current usage levels.  The whole area was so undeveloped it was no surprise to find a hotel with everything; dirty linen, shared toilets and shower/bucket, grubby walls, vermin, mosquitoes, etc.  It was all very friendly though, and the street café next door was perfect for me.  I ate endless samosas to send me to an early bed as great preparation for the next day, when would have to get within striking distance of Kolkata because my flight was now booked.

That was my diary from precisely four years ago.  I’m writing up each day on it’s fourth anniversary as a motivation to get this long overdue task done.  These days I’m to be found spending my working days at a brewery, my leisure time cycling, and my family time with my wife and baby daughter.  I hope this entertains, informs, or motivates you.
 

22

Mar

Diary of the World Record: Day44

  • By Vin Cox

22nd Mar.  81.5 miles cycled.

Bad back. Took 1hr stretching before attempting riding.  Need to not lift the bike up stairs for a few days.

Seeing a seriously grumpy lad running a restaurant reminded me what a good idea a smile and a wave is, and the next few miles flew by in friendliness.

The harvest is not quite ready here, everything is greener and damper.

Room comes with free geko and mosquitos to feed it.  In the past I had free mice with the A/C.  There was also the time I had free entertainment with a meal; I watched rats playing in the washing up. [Indian hotels give you so much for free!]

81.5mi @ 15.8mph

Vin Cox's room-mate.  Helping to keep the mosquitoes down a little.

Vin Cox’s room-mate. Helping to keep the mosquitoes down a little.

Getting my bike up the stairs into my hotel room the night before had done my back in really badly.  I was seized solid in the morning and in agony.  I guess I’d lost muscle through illness and riding, and then pulled whatever I’d got left.  It took a long time to be able to stand, and even then I was crooked.  Getting on the bike was torture, but it eased off as I warmed up.  Again I was in the situation of making the most out of bad times, just hoping the good times wouldn’t be long away…

Horns hooting, filthy engines, drivers pulling in before they finish overtaking, people sleeping under their vehicle on the hard shoulder, bricks scattered in the road, and “might is right” driving culture – these things were getting to me.  Sometimes I laughed; like when I saw a road where a lane had been added to widen an existing duel carriageway, but the lampposts hadn’t been moved back.  Sometimes I despaired.  Sometimes, when I felt endangered, I got annoyed.

What I always noticed was that once one bad thing happened to get me angry, other annoying things would quickly follow.  I’d been pondering this before I arrived at the trucker’s rest area for lunch.  Set back from the road by a dirt parking lot, the mud-walled, tin-roofed, open sided shack had a grubby thirty-something cook making chapatti and ladling out runny dhal, a friendly middle aged waiter, and a teenager handling the money.  The teenager and customers all lay or sat cross legged as I did on the bed-like structures under the shelter (without any upholstery, just strapping between rough wooden frames).  Ordering was easy, I wanted food and they only did one sort.  The waiter spoke some English with me before handing over a tin plate of food.  The teenager must have heard that being in charge means shouting at people; he barked orders or criticism at staff constantly, and scowled.  The atmosphere was terrible, and for some reason I just thought “I’m not going along with this”.  I beamed a stupid great grin at the teenager and said “Hello”.  He didn’t speak any English, and scowled all the more.  I resolved to be madly happy from that moment on, indefinitely.

I slipped the waiter a tip and thanked everyone after lunch, then headed out to grin and wave like a looney at every field labourer and passing truck.  Do you know what?  Everyone waved back and smiled, and drivers were more courteous around me.  The religions of this region would recognise what I had just discovered as Karma – I’m not an original thinker.

That was my diary from precisely four years ago.  I’m writing up each day on it’s fourth anniversary as a motivation to get this long overdue task done.  These days I’m to be found spending my working days at a brewery, my leisure time cycling, and my family time with my wife and baby daughter.  I hope this entertains, informs, or motivates you.

21

Mar

Diary of the World Record: Day43

  • By Vin Cox

21st Mar.  121.2 miles cycled.

Almost got in a fight with three guys on a motorbike who hassled me in Friozabad – whole town was mad, but they were worse.  It’s Sunday and there was a fair near town. I think they were drunk and coming down from the excitement of the fair.  It was also 42C! [Cooked their brains maybe?]

Anyway, Agra was quiet and the fort looked lovely, bridge over the river was interesting (see video)!

Tail winds and heavy slow traffic on smooth roads made it a fast and productive day.

Met a nice lawyer running a restaurant and also met a bloke who’s ridden 90,000km so far in 4yr world tour.  We had dinner and swapped stories.

121.2mi @ 14mph

My health had returned!  With it came happiness, much improved progress, and a new phase of my journey through India.  I crossed the state border out of Rajasthan just before Agra and entered Uttar Pradesh.  Uttar Pradesh is massive:  If it were a separate country, it would be the fifth most populated country on Earth.  I turned right, and headed South East joining National Highway 2 for the next 800 miles to Calcutta/Kolkata.

Uttar Pradesh is very poor:  It has more than three times as many people than the UK, but an economy one fortieth of the size.  Average income in the state is less than £1 (UK Pound) a day.  I’d been warned that the lack of cash meant products such as soft drinks would be rare at roadside stores.  Almost every meal would be dhal (curry) and roti (bread) from here on washed down with dubious local water.

Meeting another cycle tourist was surprisingly comforting – I felt he was family although he was from Slovakia. The hotel told me his room number, so just knocked on his door.  We met up a short while later to have dinner together and compare notes.  Brilliantly, he was traveling west and I was going east, so we could tell each other what lay ahead.  His main warning to me was that the town of Varanasi ought to be avoided and known as “VeryNasty”.  I filled him in on what I knew of his route ahead, and he told me of his plans to head for South Africa over the next few months to see the 2010 Football World Cup.

It had been a massive challenge to persuade the hotel staff to let me take my bike to my room, but I had succeeded.  My new friend left the dinner table as soon as I told him this, to bring his bike in from the street.  It was a nice hotel, catering for domestic and international travellers on a budget.  They had en suit toilets built for sitting on or squatting on to suit all guest behaviours:

A special toilet ready for sitting or squatting on.

A special toilet ready for sitting or squatting on.

My new brother in cycle-touring was cruising through India slipstreaming behind trucks.  100 miles could be finished each day by lunch in their slipstreams, but I was worried for his safety, and personally couldn’t stand the noise, filth, and lack of adventure of doing that all the way.

The day was visually impressive and diverse, so as I had improving health and morale I filmed a lot.  The following edit gives another perspective and shows some moments I’ve not mentioned in text:

That was my diary from precisely four years ago.  I’m writing up each day on it’s fourth anniversary as a motivation to get this long overdue task done.  These days I’m to be found spending my working days at a brewery, my leisure time cycling, and my family time with my wife and baby daughter.  I hope this entertains, informs, or motivates you.

20

Mar

Diary of the World Record: Day42

  • By Vin Cox

20th Mar.  63.4 miles cycled.

Did a lot of pooing today [really quite ill].  Good job there was a tail wind!

Wheat harvest being brought in – sickles and hands only! Amazing to see.

Nice hotels early in the day, then as I started to need one they all dried up. Eventually found okay place (including many free mosquitoes) at just over 100km. Forecast tomorrow is 42C – have to get going early no matter how I feel.

A kid threw a stone at me this afternoon – I almost throttled his mate and would have been in trouble if I’d have caught the lad himself.  Glad he got away. I just felt bad and snapped.

Hotel tonight –

Me: “Do you have rooms available?”

Reply: “Yes. A/C or non A/C?”

Me: “A/C please.  How much?”

Reply: “Sorry, no A/C.”

Me: “Ha ha ha…”

63.4mi @ 13.5mph

That conversation pretty much sums up the irony of India to me. “AC” is Air Conditioning by the way.  I’d been offered showers before, which eventually turned out to be broken in every room (so I got one anyway and fixed it because it was just lime scale).  I would also be offered A/C in places with no overnight power supply.  Indians often seemed to have by-the-book, jobsworth or comically literal behaviours which might well be a cultural hangover from the British administration of a hundred years before.  I kept facing issues of not being allowed near nice hotels or restaurants because some security guard had been told to keep cyclists away (cycling in India is a sign you can’t afford a motor bike or car, so some manager would really have meant to tell the guard to keep the riffraff away – hopefully not me!).

I also had an issue whereby educated English speakers (and most schools advertise that they work exclusively in “English Medium”) would try talking to me, but they’d use such strange/archaic English words, and have such a thick accent, I really couldn’t understand them.   Really, the English language in India has been heading in it’s own direction for a hundred years and if the average speaker doesn’t get more international media or travel it will form a new language in it’s own right.

The sun is painfully strong here and has burned me day after day despite my previous month of riding in the deserts of North Africa and Arabia.  An entertaining side effect is that it looks like I’ve been dipping my fingers in a Marmite jar thanks to tan lines from my fingerless gloves!

Vin Cox's hand with extreme tan lines from cycling in the Indian sun.

Vin Cox’s hand with extreme tan lines from cycling in the Indian sun.

You’ll see in this video that I’ve got some strange tan marks on my head too (from my helmet vents) while I explain about my trouble eating and making progress in the heat:

Moving through different climatic regions of India was a fascinating.  Obviously I knew there were deserts, forests, paddy fields etc. in different regions, but what I hadn’t reckoned on was catching up with harvest time as it moved across the country slower than me.  In a way, I was travelling back in growing time by a couple of days every hundred miles.  This must be a rare perspective; harvest in reverse – from stubbly fields one day, threshing for a day or two, then finally to fields of standing wheat and masses of hard manual labour to hack it down.  The manual labour of course was the main bit of time travel, it must be many centuries since UK agriculture was so inefficient; I think the Romans moved us from sickles to scythes!

That was my diary from precisely four years ago.  I’m writing up each day on it’s fourth anniversary as a motivation to get this long overdue task done.  These days I’m to be found spending my working days at a brewery, my leisure time cycling, and my family time with my wife and baby daughter.  I hope this entertains, informs, or motivates you.

19

Mar

Diary of the World Record: Day41

  • By Vin Cox

19th Mar.  47.6 miles cycled.

Poo! Spent too long on the loo last night and this morning.  Shit myself while peeing in the night!

Very late on the road, but a tail wind helped weak old me manage an okay distance to a nice heritage palace hotel.

The hotel is called ‘Umaid Lake Palace’. I was invited to join the staff in meditation (actually equivalent of hymn and prayer) to the goddess wife of Shiva before dinner. A cupboard in their little shop unpacked to become a shrine. Candles were lit and incense burned, ‘ooooommmm’ music was played, and then there was an act of worship familiar to many faiths: Singing a hymn from the heart. At the end, the candle was passed around and it’s flame treated as a holy cleanser – the hands passed over it and then over the face as if splashing water.  From beginning to end one person rang a small bell; to wake the goddess and get her attention.

The meal then was great and I was in bed before 8pm, but my tummy was painfully churning and I didn’t sleep until about 1am when I pooed it all out.

47.6mi @ 12.9mph

I took the opportunity to ride through the city as I left, but I was glad to be out in the open country pretty quickly as I needed to be away from the crowds. This video shows a little of what the traffic and nature of the city was, but it doesn’t include the most impressive buildings:

It’s totally normal for people to defecate at the roadside in most of India.  Natives do it just once a day though, and they chose their spot to maintain some dignity.  I had no dignity at all and stopped a dozen or more times.  Labourers weeding farm fields would suddenly pop their heads up from the crops as I entered what I hoped would be an empty field to squat in – but I had to go anyway.  Dehydration terrified me in the heat with that amount of diarrhoea, and as progress was so interrupted anyway I opted for an early stop.

The hotel was another old palace.  Massive and stately, it seemed deserted, and indeed I was the only guest in a place which could take hundreds.  At sunset a friendly hotel worker

Sunset from a palace roof-top in India.

Sunset from a palace roof-top in India.

explained by showing me from the high roof terrace that the lake for which the palace was named had dried up.  Without a lake there was no wildlife or activities, so no guests.  He pointed to women working on crops growing in the old lake bed, and then ruined the mood by trying to pimp them out to me.

08

Nov

A classic reinventing of the wheel

  • By Vin Cox

I just got an email about a “new” bike designed to load up with all sorts of stuff so you can transport more than just yourself as you pedal.  That is a totally great concept, but it is NOT new, and it’s an odd design solution in my opinion.  In fact, I recon the only reason any designer noticed that some people might need such a thing is because the average Joe in the western world has for generations been sold completely inappropriate bikes.

Donky Bike

The new bike is the Donky Bike http://donkybike.com/ . It has front and rear racks either end of a sturdy hub geared bike with an integral lock – nice.  I wish them luck, but I think they could have saved themselves the design and manufacturing effort if they wanted to really solve this problem the most efficient way possible, and imported bikes from India.

Coal bikes in West Bengal by Vin Cox

Coal bikes in West Bengal by Vin Cox

Bikes in India carry poor people and haul bulky goods everywhere.  The rich and middle classes do NOT cycle, which means that a westerner on a cycle touring holiday in India is a confounding contradiction on wheels.  That presents challenges and interesting situations; I found myself struggling to talk my way into some Indian hotels and restaurants because security guards had literally been told to keep cyclists away!  Back to my point though – these hard working, practical, local manual workers need cheap, simple, strong, reliable, load-carrying bikes; and that’s what they have.  At the very least the Donky designer should have taken more inspiration from the designs refined over the last century for load hauling across the sub-continent…. Oh, and then they shouldn’t have spammed my email ;-)