Monday, December 31, 2007

Dec 31: Bodhgaya, and Chain woes(part 1 of 2)

Got up lazily at 6. I was told that the places of interest in Bodhgaya
open at 8. Bodhgaya was just 13 km away, so no point getting up early.
Updating the website took some time, but I was out of the hotel by 8.
Reached Bodhgaya by 9:15. A cloth shop owner was kind enough to keep
my bags in his keeping while I visited the temple.

Bodhgaya is the most important place of piligrimage for any buddhist.
The chief attraction there is the Mahabodhi temple. An old bodhi tree
is in the main temple complex - but I've read that it is not the same
under which Buddha got enlightenment. Somehow the tree doesn't look
very very old to me: unfortunately cutting the tree and counting the
number of rings is not an option! So I better believe them. The
existing temple is obviously not ancient, having been renovated time
and again, the last being by the Indian Government. Around the
Vajrasana(built by Ashoka) and the Bodhi tree congregate groups of
buddhists from various countries. The tibetan community is by far the
largest and most visible. Then there are the japanese, korean, burmese
and the few westeners.

In Bodhgaya, other countries where buddhism is practised have built
their style of temples. I've had a look at the burmese and the thai,
but decide to skip the rest. When I visit these countries, I should
have something to see, right?

So time to move on. It takes me more than an hour to reach Dobhi, 20km
away. Dobhi is on the historic Grand Trunk Road, built first by Sher
Shah Suri. No evidence of history is visible, which is both good and
bad. Good because it's a 4 lane highway and reasonably flat. If not
for the headwind, one could ride much faster. My fat tyres and shocks
are obviously a waste here. Bad because Sher Shah had trees planted on
either side of the road so tiring cyclists could relax - and these are
nowhere to be seen. Some places there are attempts to plant new trees,
but that's about it.

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Dec 31: Bodhgaya, and Chain woes(part 2 of 2)

All morning I had been riding with my fixed chain on the middle
chainring, and that had slowed me down. I'm a medium cadence rider, so
got the chain fixed to the largest chainring at Dohi and road
uninterrupted till Aurangabad, 60km away.

Reached Aurangabad just before sunset, but not before I had pushed the
bike for the last kilometer or so. Why? The chain had mysteriously
developed a tendency to slip off the rear cog.

Had no problem getting a room at hotel Sona. Clean and inexpensive(120
rupees). Then set about repairing the bike. The chain was too loose
and so slipping off. So I pushed the rear axle back. Perfect tension
in the chain. Then I started riding it - khat khat sound. Bad bad -
three chain links had broken off. I tried repairing the chain myself,
but ran into more bad luck - my chain tool's thread wore off,
rendering it useless.

At this point, a local enthusiastic kid took over. With a hammer, a
pin, a nut and an iron block he put the chain back in shape. The last
link was a bit tight and the crank wouldn't turn freely. But the kid
was eager to ride! So that broke one more link - all time spent on
this wasted by haste. I have run out of spare links. So now only
option is to wait for the shops to open tomorrow :-( that also means I
can't reach Varanasi, 160km away, tomorrow evening. Ah! These

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Replies to comments

First off, thanks for your concerns. I am not worried at this time and
feel considerably safe.

@KK: hehe, now I'll be telling you stories about 'how I eascaped being
robbed completely' :-)

@manju: they will spare me, as long as I give them all my money :-)

@deep3d: yes - I am more careful now about the roads. But what
happened was on the NH31 itself, in the evening.

@gautham: checkout the meaning of 'bihar', as described by the locals, below!

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Dec 31: Off towards Bodhgaya

In thirty minutes, i'll be out of my hotel on the way to bodhgaya.
Places of interest open at 8, hence the late start. Later, I proceed
towards Varanasi.

Of course, I'll be riding the 'blunder' (read below for details of rim
breakdown) :-)

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Dec 30: Rajgir & Bike Breakdown(part 1 of 2)

The chief tourist attractions in Rajgir open at 8, so I had a very
good nights sleep. And relief in the morning - got to eat poori-subji,
not litti. The people here have a small twist on poorie-subji: extra

I decide to go to one tourist attraction - the cable car that leads to
the top of a hill called Ratnagiri. Atop Ratnagiri is the Japanese
Shanti Stupa, which is a fairly recent construction. The return ride
on the cable car is more rewarding compared to the onward ride, since
one gets to see the aurrounding hills.

There are other historic ruins in Rajgir too, including Bimbisar's
jail, at which I had a look, and decided to skip the rest. None of
these ruins have a roof at all. Same was the case with Nalanda. I
wonder why...

So I proceeded on the road to Gaya. A few kilometers later, my bike
started acting funny - the back wheel was rubbing the frame. I got
down to have a look. The rim had a horizontal crack and had opened up
due to the pressure in the tube. Bad bad!

The local villager urged me to sell the bike to me at 500 rupees! I
could buy a new one, he said. I did no more than smile at him. The
other villagers asked me to transport it till a nearby place, so that
it would be easy to push it atop the bus(I wanted to take it to Gaya).
I took this advice, and went on a cycle rickshaw. The bike was hauled
to the top of a Gaya bound bus, and two hours later I was in Gaya.

After a few km of pushing the bike, I was at the center of the town -
the Chowk. None of the shops make rims - they directed me to
mechanics, one of whom was fortunately around(sunday blues for the
others). I wanted to get just the rims changed. We couldn't get the
gears off the hub, so the entire drive train was changed - the back
hub, spokes, and rim, and a new local chain! What really happened was
complicated, so I am skipping the flow (incluiding phone conversations
with KP). Overall, I now have a fixed speed bike again - with 18 teeth
gear at the back :-( the local mechanic was fairly incompetent, I must
say too!

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Dec 30: Rajgir & Bike breakdown (part 2 of 2)

It was evening by the time the bike got fixed. I'll courier the
removed parts back to my office later.

So, I'll have to ride a fixed speed 'Blunder' for the rest of the
trip! I've already ridden more than 2000km till now, and hope most of
the rest of the trip will not be hilly. My legs have clearly slowed
down also. But I can manage.

Settled at Veez hotel - 135 rupees. Tomorrow, I'll have a look at
Bodhgaya, another buddhist center and be off to Kashi...

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Dec 29: Nalanda(part 1 of 2)

The plan for today presented itself very easily. One look at the map
and I knew I could go no farther than Rajgir, about 90km away. The
road to take was also fixed, given yesterday's experience. I reckoned
I could see Nalanda on the way.

I sticked to the plan, with one difference: I drove very very slow. I
was feeling tired somewhat but not ill. Felt very thirsty for no
particular reason. All good reasons to slow down and take it easy!

All around me were paddy/mustard fields as far as the eye could see -
completely plain area. School classes were being held in the open air,
but students had benches to sit and tables. The highway was flanked by
houses on either side, almost making the highway seem like a street.
After yesterday's experience, I was playing safe. I didn't take out my
camera. My GPS reciever was faithfully recording the track, while
sitting inside the comforts of my gadget bag. I asked people at a
place I stopped, 'what does Bihar mean'. Pat came many answers.
Poverty and unemployment, said one. Floods said another. For the next
10 minutes, I heard tales of woe - right from how the flood destroys
standing crops to how locals don't get employment at factories due to
lack of education.

There is one benefit of talking to people - you worry about the thieves less!

40km or so down the road, NH31 turns left at Bakhtiyarpur(it's close
to noon by this time, that's how slow I had been riding). And so do I.
Next 30kms to Bihar Sharif I ride at the rate of 20km/hr. Lunch
happens at Nalanda, 10km further ahead.

I'm a bit uncomfortable with breakfast in Bihar. Many places you get
this ball like thing called 'litti'. It's crushed and eaten with
aloo-cholay. I don't like this at all - and imagine eating the same
thing for lunch. But no other options available, other than sweets!

The security staff at the entrance to the ruins of the Nalanda
university are very helpful. One of the security guards asks a shop
owner to keep an eye on my bike and lets me in without a ticket.

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Dec 29: Nalanda(part 2 of 2)

The ruins of the Nalanda University consist of many monasteries and
temples spread over a vast area(1 sq km or so). Most of them made of
brick, and dating to 6 AD or earlier. The monks of the time had
sizable rooms! None of the rooms has a preserved roof! One of the
temples is the showpiece(it's the same one you see in
textbooks).Unfortunately, nobody is allowed to take a close look.
Impressive stone carvings and other artefacts are preserved in the
museum close-by. Most of the stone idols are of the Buddha, of course.

Time to move on to Rajgir at 4:30 - I had spent about 2 hours seeings
the ruins. Reached Rajgir in more than ah hour, and settled down in
hotel Ratnagiri. This is the peak season, so am forced to shell out
400 rupees! I also gave a verbal bashing to the hotel manager. The
room he was giving me had a broken commode, so I asked him about it.
He said 'koi aap jaise customer ne tod diya hoga'. To this I couldn't
resist 'are ye bhi koi baat karne ka tareeka hai? Koi aap hee ke aadmi
ne toda hoga - vaise yahan to bahut chor hain'. Silence, both from
them and me closed the chapter. That, surely, was my frustration
coming out. After an umpressive dinner, time to sleep.

I am planning to take it easy tomorrow, I'll look around at Rajgir and
then end in Bodhgaya(85km or so away).

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Dec 28: The day I got robbed! (part 1 of 2)

Bad new first (it's supposed to travel faster than good news anyway):

What many of you said is correct! With a few km to go to Mokameh, my
ending place for today, I got robbed of my fancy sunglasses. Here is
how: I had stopped to take a few snaps on the 1.8km bridge over the
Ganga,Gajendra setu,and one guy running to me and said 'photo
kheenchna mana hai' and a couple of other guys came as well.They
demanded I show them the reel. One elderly man who had joined by then
also shook his head and said the same thing. First I tried to wriggle
out of the situation - I said I hadn't taken any pics. That didn't cut
any ice with them. OK, I said, showed them the pics and deleted them.
Meanwhile, I realized something was wrong - the GPS receiver (I carry
it on the pocket at the back of my jersey) wasn't there. They hadn't
flicked it cleanly! It took me two seconds to ask them where it is! By
then, they were saying 'thana chalo'. So I accompanied them to their
bus. They asked me to sit down. Luckily, other people had gathered. I
told them that these people had taken my item. The folks supported me
- and the guy who had taken my GPS receiver was forced to give it
back. Meanwhile, my sunglass had fallen off(or was it taken and
returned also?), and I stuffed it in my pocket. And rode away in
haste, lest I land in more problems. Halfway through the bridge I
realized my sunglass was missing! I went back, hoping against hope, of
getting my glasses. No use - didn't see then anywhere! By then it had
dawned on me that I had been duped.

I shed a tear or two on the way to the hotel. Why? I had hoped, nay
dreamed, of returning out of Bihar without problems and then sort of
give that as an example to the others to say that Bihar isn't that bad
after all. Just 10 kms before I was robbed, i had got a call from
Bala(BTW, he is starting riding on Jan 6th), and we agreed that 90
percent of the people in Bihar were good, and it's the other 10
percent you wouldn't want to run into. Barely one hour later, this
incident happened. (contd below)

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Dec 28: The day I got robbed! (part 2 of 2)

And look at the unfortunate change in me. In minutes, my outlook
towards Bihar has changed much. Just after I crossed the bridge, I saw
one guy. Nobody else was around. I swerved away from him completely -
i had no intention of giving him any chance. Then I complained to a
well-to-do looking cyclist about the robbery. He listened to me so
sympathetically that I actually apologised to him in a minute; I
really shouldn't be blaming a whole state for the sins of a few now,
should I???

I am also re-evaluating my ride route w.r.t. my new-found ideas of
'safety'. Earlier, I was thinking of riding on the shortcut to Bihar
Sharif over a place called Bar Bigha. This road is supposed to be an
isolated stretch, and would have saved me 30kms of riding. Now I have
decided not to ride that route, and stick to the highway...

Now that I have relieved myself of a bit of pain by writing about it,
let me talk about the good things!

Quite by accident, I met another quirky traveller. I had stopped for
tea at noon, and got talking as usual. His unusual religious duty?
Walking long distances! How long, you are tempted to ask? How about
Lucknow to Guwahati, just to visit the Kamakhya Mandir? Or a short
walk to Vaishno Devi/Gangotri/Kathmandu? Yes, you guessed it - he's
done them all! And I happened to meet him whule he is on his second
walk to Guwahati. He walks and pushes a 'doodhwala' bicycle on his
onward journey, and rides back after his mission is accomplished! Meet
the farmer from Lucknow - Sarvesh Rajput.

Other than these, I've had an average day, covering approx 120km.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Long ride expected today

To compensate for my 'sin' of riding only 90km yesterday, I intend to
ride a whole lot more today: a 170km, to be more specific :-)

Countering the fog outside is going to be difficult, and I am starting
now at 6:00! Aiming to reach Bihar Sharif by evening(hehe before
night).I won't reach, in all probability. But what's the harm in
trying anyway :-) This place is within striking distance of Nalanda,
Rajgir, and Gaya.

Gautaham, I read your ride blog. I'd completely agree with your
statement about losing out on details in a post-ride blog. Case in
point: I had a fall coming down from Darjeeling. It was all downhill,
but I was cautious. Some places the road was wet, and several places
the track of the 'toy-train' criss-crossed the road. In one such
curve, I bent my bike slightly and bang! Both me and my bike were
down. Extremely lucky I was - nothing happened to me, or my bike. Not
a scratch, not a tear - just some mud!

Update: I'm now at Khagaria(10:50) - about 50 odd km down the road.
Feeling & riding much better than yesterday.Considerable head wind and
bad roads...

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Dec 27: Bihar Day 2

Rode a measly 90km today. The morning conditions were extremely foggy.
The sun made an appearence after noon. Nothing to see but fog -
visibility was low till 11 am. I was also very tired, and didn't want
to push the pace.

The 50km mark came up at noon, such was my pace! There was a lot of
head wind as well. I wisely decided to stop at or before 100km. So I
stopped early at Bepur, 90km mark.

I rode some extremely desolate stretches of road today. The poverty in
this par of Bihar is plain to see. During the monsoon most of this
area gets flooded. Unemployment is a major problem, one economics
student tells me. At one tea shop, I asked the shopkeeper 'how much'
after tea. He spread his hands helplessly and said 'do rupya, bas utna
hi'. I couldn't help but shed a tear or two. What I have witnessed
actually makes me wonder what it would take to make the average person
here relatively well off. It does seem unfortunate that so many people
around should be fighting for a few square meals a day, while I
stylishly roam around. I am actually feeling very uncomfortable in my
jersey. Can't help feeling that it alienates me from the people -
makes them feel 'woh rais bahar wala' (many I've talked too seemed to
mind the economic differences too much - to my discomfort). So will be
riding in my yellow shirt from tomorrow, I hope it does make a

All said, the average Bihari is extremely courteous - trying to make
me feel comfortable. There are a few uncouth people around, and that's
the case everywhere. My 'gadgets' are getting a lot of attention,
starting from my bike. I haven't taken out my camera today.

I'm currently staying at Shanti hotel & dhaba, right beside the
highway. The manager here is giving me some royal treatment. The room
is barebones, but I'm getting all I ask for.

One big problem here is the water - which is surprisingly hard. Why
surprise? Well, the ganges flows right next door - a few kms away!
Unfortunately I have a policy of not touching mineral water, which
isn't available, BTW!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gloomy riding today

I'm at Kursela now. Gloomy conditions - so much fog that I'm feeling
very bored indeed! My legs are also refusing to move today. My 175km
effort yesterday seems to have put them off. At twelve o'clock i've
covered only 50km, seen little but fog and am bored to death!

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Replies to Comments

@KP: very good indeed. What's the name of the bike ;-)

@Footloose: Great to hear from you. Yours must have been a fantastic
journey. Sometimes I get the feeling that I should travel with more
budgetary constraints to make things interesting. Next time, maybe! My
panniers are also custom made. I mostly rode in the highways, so most
roads were okay. We did a tour of north-east last year, me & KP, and
we did encounter some really bad roads. I'm curious to know more about
your journey – let's meet after I reach Bangalore back. Do send your
email address offline to me at .

@Gautham: Yeah, a torturous climb it really was. I shouted YES after I
knew that the hardest part of the climb was over! I'll check the video
after I come back, since I can't watch it from my bandwidth strapped
mobile :-) I'll check the ride story, though. Good to know you had an
excellent tour. And, do try live blogging too! All it needs is GPRS on
your mobile phone and some SMSes.

@Harsha: Thanks! Yes, it's not easy. But more difficult than 100
km/day is 110/day, and it gets all the more difficult after that! Have
you posted the ride story somewhere too (bikeszone?). After seeing all
these himalayan mountains, I am dying to do a trek near them!

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Dec 26: Bihar, here I come(part 1 of 2)

Got up lazily, packed up and realized that my gloves are missing (the
one I use to save my hands from cold). Not sure where I left it.

Was off riding on my bike at 6:15. Today's target was Purnea, more
than 160 kms away. A long ride indeed. Today, I'd get my first taste
of Bihar. True, I've been meeting many Biharis all over the
north-east, but being surrounded by Biharis would be much different
compared to meeting the odd Bihari, or so I felt!

Honestly, nothing interesting hapened till about evening. I had
ridden about 140kms by that time
(Siliguri-Islampur-Kishanganj-Dalkhola). The highway passes through
Kishanganj(in Bihar) but then continues back in West Bengal. Across
the highway sits Bihar, so near and yet so far, for more than 40kms!
After Dalkhola, I was well and truly inside Bihar. The highway
worsened all of a sudden, and I told myself, 'surely highway road
repairs have nothing to do with Bihar'. The 4 lane highway gets patchy
in places as it still under construction.

Biharis seem to have a way of being hospitable, without being obvious.
In one case, a Bihari paid for my tea see quietly and discreetly that
I didn't even realize it!

The fun started at 5:30, when it got dark. After my tea, I fixed the
headlight. I still had more than 20kms to ride. This would be an
extreme first day in Bihar – riding in the night. I've been advised
not to do so by Praveen (a Bihari colleague in office), and the West
Bengal police. But here I am, still doing it!

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Dec 26: Bihar, here I come(part 2 of 2)

Some of the riding happened in extremely foggy conditions, so foggy
that I remembered our Tour de Coorg. With 8kms left for Purnea, I
stopped for tea at a hotel. After tea, the hotelwala advised me that
it wouldn't be wise to goto Purnea. He mentioned that 5 kms later the
place was dangerous. Equally dangerous was the place from where I had
passed a kilometer earlier! He advised me to stay in a Dharamshala 2
kms away. He said that these theives would take away anything even
from the local people - starting from 100 rupees to the bicycle. At
this point, the others, who were sitting and warming themselves,
joined into the conversation. One of them objected to the old man
giving me all this information, and said 'aap to Bihar ki Badnami kar
rahe hain. Ye jab ghar vaapas jaayega, to kya kahega. Ke Purnea theek
nahi hai, vahan badmash log hain.' to which the hotelwala promptly
replied 'aur kuch ho gaya to?'. I backed the old man and told the
others that indeed the image of Bihar as a whole is not good in the
outside world. I mentioned it wasn't fair that a whole state gets a
bad name owing to a few places.

With that, I was off for the next 8 kms. 2 kms later I enquired about
the Dharamshala. Here the story was a bit different. The roadside
vendor said, no danger, it's a scary place with too much for, just go.
OK, I said. And I didn't stop till I reached Purnea line bazaar! It
was extremely foggy with a km to goto Purnea, but there were a few
motorcycles ahead of me, and I stuck to their tail.

Settled in a lodge. I'm getting to like the Roti-Subji and Dal tadka
these guys make! I intend to be a bit more watchful from tomorrow and
strictly not ride during the night – getting robbed is not an option,
see :-)

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Dec 25: Descent from Darjeeling, and back to the plains

Got up at 3:30. Reason: sightseeing? Or rather – sunseeing! The
highest peak near Darjeeling is this hill called Tiger Hill. At
2545m, it offers an excellent view of the sunrise. The early morning
rays illuminate the snow-clad peaks, and that is the real attraction.
It is a real joy seeing the peaks change from white and then develop a
slight red tint. Well worth the 100 rupees spent on the shared cab.

I am not charmed too much by Darjeling. True, it has these views of
the city, with the high mountains as the background. But it is teeming
with tourists and just too many of them for my taste.

Darjeeling, of course, is known for it's high quality tea. I shopped a
bit yesterday at a (heavily advertised) shop called Nathmull's Tea
Rooms. They have tea all the way till 12,000 rupees a kilo. Learnt
quite a few things about tea, including the fact that 'green tea' is
drunk for health reasons, and not taste.

I had started out from Darjeeling at about 11:45, making my way
towards Siliguri over Kurseong. Siliguri is about 80 kms away – with
more than 60kms downhill! It was cold riding downhill, inspite of me
wearing my fleece jacket. The road slopes down gently after Ghoom, 8
kms from Darjeeling. The joy ride ends with 10kms left for Siliguri!
There was an option to take a steeper downhill road as well, but I
didn't take it. Reason: Who wants to concentrate on the brakes all
the time? I had a bit of fun riding downhill, with some nice scenary –
but again most obscured by fog.

I had no problems finding accomodation in Siliguri, and visited a
cyber cafe too, to backup my website!

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Dec 24: Climb to Darjeeling(part 1 of 2)

It was 6:15 by the time I got out of the hotel. I was out of Teesta
Bazaar in a jiffy. And then the climb started from an altitude of
234m. First 300m of climbing and I was gasping for breath and wet with
sweat. Very hard climb this one, they call it a 'khadi chadhai', and
that really means that one has to pedal standing to climb!

The first lesson I learnt was : never stop in the middle of the climb.
The climb was so steep that generating enough momentum to start again
was very difficult. With some pressure applied on the pedals, the
front wheel comes up in the air – wheelies are free :-)

Climbing this was hard enough. There were two other annoyances. The
first one: it was a single road, and honking by the vehicles coming
from behind tended to break my concentration – leading to me stopping!
The second annoyance: bad road. It's hard enough climbing the steep
climb. Rocks coming in the way make it that much more harder.

At an altitude of 1200m or so, the row of snow-capped peaks, dominated
by Kanchenjunga pops into view. And stays put for a long time indeed.
Magnificient sight! How I wish it was a bit less foggy.

After climbing a few more 'khadi' chadhaies, I learnt my second
lesson: don't climb standing! Instead, bend forward and climb.
Climbing standing wastes way too much energy heaving the whole body up
and down. This was a valuable technique I figured, and used it to
great advantage for the remaining part of the climb.

Heavy breakfast at Lopchu (1500m?). The locals get their water supply
by running pipes from the hills. Surprisingly, there are no taps (I
noticed this in a public toilet) – and this wastes a lot of water!

The next few kilometers was the steepest part of the climb. The road
had small pebbles and gravel at times – making it close to impossible
to climb at times. The back wheel would just spin and the bike would
stop. So when I stopped, I had to push the bike to a place without
gravel and then start climbing again!

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Dec 24: Climb to Darjeeling(part 2 of 2)

14kms from Teesta, at 1:30, the worst part of the climb was done with.
This included 12kms of climbing and more than 1500m of altitude gain!
Indeed the hardest climb ever in my life! To give you an idea of how
difficult it was, the first 10m downhill segment was at 1910m.

The climb continued in a gentle manner after that all the way till
Jorebungalow(2250m), about 9 km from Darjeeling. After that, there was
a gentle slope to the welcoming arms of the hotel touts in Darjeeling!

Settled in Hotel Chanakya, '24 hours running hot and cold water'. All
fine, except that there is low voltage, and hence no hot water!

43 kms took me the whole day. I'll remember the climb for a long time!

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Dec 23: Teesta, the base to Darjeeling(part 1 of 2)

Wake up a bit earlier than usual. I was hoping to ride to a place
close enough to Darjeeling, but not involving too much climbing.

The ride was through not-so-good roads, and I managed to bypass this
place called Malbazar coutesy a ride through a forest.

Ended up having a long argument with (a suspected) local politician at
a village. He asked me whether the govt sponsors me, and I asked him
'why will the govt do so?'. He started off a debate and somehow went
on tangentailly. So I was forced to say a hasty goodbye.

I reached Oodlabadi at noon after 70kms of riding. Out of the town,
the hills become visible suddenly. However, most of them are hidden in
the fog. I've been riding a slight incline and now the slope picks up
a little. The real hills are supposed to start at Sevoke, 15kms away.

I've been experiencing a slight chain slip since morning, and it
intensified - sure sign of impending chain break. I quickly get down
and find the bad link. It takes me 10mins to find two rocks and beat
the chain to shape.

In an hours time, I see a sloped bridge, and the lovely river teesta
flowing under it. The bridge is called the Coronation bridge. Click
click. One trailer has fallen into the chasm to the side of the road,
and three lorries struggling to pull it up! Road blocked, and even I
have to take my bags out of my bike to pass. Near the bridge, i just
eat whatever is available - who knows what I will get later!

Right turn after the bridge towards Gangtok/Kalimpong. Left turn goes
to Siliguri. There are several roads which lead to Darjeeling. One
from Siliguri that inches in a gentle slope towards Darjeeling over
Kurseong. Second from Rambhi(on the road I am taking) that climbs
uphill. But I will be taking the steepest climb to Darjeeling, and
that starts after Teesta Bazaar.

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Dec 23: Teesta, the base to Darjeeling(part 2 of 2)

The ride to Teesta turned out to be enjoyable. The view of the valley
and the mountain-side was blocked by teak trees in most places, except
where they revealed the breathtaking views of the greenish-blue Teesta
river. Many a time I sighed at the opportunity I had missed in the
Lohit valley. I felt a strange sense of calm; I felt a longing to
linger around. But daylight was in short supply and I hurried towards

The monkeys on the road (right from coronation bridge to about 18kms
or so) were turning out to be a nuisance. There were scores of
monkeys, old and young. They were sort of lining up like beggars
outside a temple - waiting, scheming to snatch some food. A few large
males even tried to try to latch onto my bags - but they didn't

I settled down at Chitray, one km after Teesta bridge. There is only
one place to stay there, a beautiful hotel run by DGHC(District Gorkha
Hill Council). They organize river rafting too(350 rupees). I had a
sumptuous dinner and just dozed off in my cozy room! Very helpful
staff as well. I highly recommend this place...

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Hello from Bihar

Just finished lunch at Kishanganj - 101kms away from Siliguri. This
place is right on the border of West Bengal and Bihar - but officially
belongs to Bihar. So I'm in Bihar now!

Nothing interesting happened today. Been riding on a 4 lane highway
for the last 30km or so - and that's boring. The fragrance of the
mustard flowers reaches till the road. The last of the tea estates was
near Islampur(WB).

For today, I still have 60kms to go; I plan to stop at Purnea. Let's
see what Bihar has to offer!

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas from Darjeeling

I reached Darjeeling yesterday evening - after the hardest climb I
have ever done! I took the steep road from Teesta to Darjeeling. 30km
of continuous climbing, with the first 12km an average gradient of
>12%. I've climbed from 230m to 2250m. The ride took almost the full
day for a mere 42km. Enough said!

Beautuful views of the icy mountains, conical pine trees. Without the
covering mist, I am wondering how beautiful this place must be!

This place is teeming with tourists. Just like every other tourist, I
went to Tiger hill, the highest point (2545m) to watch the sunrise. Or
more accurately, to see the mountains getting lit by the sun. Very
nice view, but again rendered less effective by the fog.

Will be leaving shortly towards Siliguri - and will post remaining
stories from there...

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Dec 22: Hi & Bye Asom, Onward to West Bengal

The ferry ride across the Brahmaputra took somewhat less than 3 hours,
covering 25kms, and ended at 4 PM. So the major part of the day was
already over. The ferry stopped at Dhubri, a large town. So I decided
to stay there.

Settled in the Rainbow lodge, which I feel had all facilities at a
relatively low price. I washed my clothes, and turned on the fan to
dry them. But there was no place to hang the clothes properly so that
they dry by morning. So a quick visit to the bazaar to get some rope.
Problem solved, clothes ready next morning!

There were quite a few onlookers when I was applying lubricant to the
chain, and I was patiently answering there questions. Now, how I wish
I carried around some pamphlets and distribute them whenever people
ask the same questions.

Today morning started off little late. My next target is Darjeeling,
which I can't reach today.

It was misty all morning - with the fog being so dense at times that
visibility dropped to less than 10 meters. I turned on my tail
lights. It wasn't until 10 AM that the sun succeeding in piercing the
veil of the fog.

Just after Boxirhat, West Bengal starts. So in 50kms, I was out of Asom.

I rode 142 km on the Dhubri-Cooch Behar-Falakata-Dhupguri route, and
ended the day at Dhupguri. Not much else to talk about the ride
itself, other than one incident.

'When I became a non-vegetarian': I had stopped for lunch at a
village, and was very hungry. The local hotel had only rotis, and
'pyaaz ki' subji. After 8 rotis, i found a meat piece - chicken
actually! I asked the hotel owner why he gave this, and he asked me
'meat nahi khaate kya?'.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Other tours happening around you

Some of you probably wonder if I am the only crackpot going around
touring on a bicycle. Of course not!

There are other tours happening - much shorter, though!

Harsha, Manohar and one more person are doing a four day tour of
Kodagu district in Karnataka(area around the hill station of

Gautham, Gaurav and another, have probably started on their tour to
conquer the highest peak in Karnataka - Mullaingiri.

AND, Sandeep is starting tomorrow on the road from Mysore to
Kanyakumari. He hopes to visit Rameshwaram too! I have fond memories
of this route, since it was my first major tour!

My very best wishes to all these adventurers! They won't be blogging
like me, but please give them a big hand! And let's hear from them
after they are back :-)

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Dec 21: Out of Meghalaya

I am writing this post sitting on a ferry boat. I am crossing the
mighty Brahmaputra river! It will take three hours on the ferry! (due
to less water in the river, the boat has to travel more. When the
river is full, it takes 2 hours, I am told)

I boarded this boat at this place called Phulbari, 60km from Rongram.
Phulbari is in Meghalaya, and across the river is Assam.

The ride since morning has seen me come from an altitude of 350m or so
to 30m in 60km. Winding road in the R.P Hills, goes up and down all
the time. Breathtaking views of bamboo woods covered in fog!

No success getting any insight into the Garo folk - they remain as
aloof as only they can be!

Meanwhile, I have found what I believe to be the reaon behind the
chain-break. How? The chain broke again! I had stopped at a village
for tea, and noticed that the deraileur had slipped a bit from the
centre of the wheel. The deraileur is fastened to the frame using the
quick release, since the other support mechanisms aren't working with
this frame. Sometimes, due to pressure, the deraileur slips a bit
resulting in chain slack, and immediate chain breakage. I will need to
keep an eye on this from now. Anyway, I fixed the chain and was back
riding in 10minutes - that's how much of a mechanic I have become!
This has filled me with a new sense of confidence. I am feeling like I
can fix any problem now! Quite a sense of freedom, I must say...

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Dec 20: Garo Hills(part 1)

The Garo people have turned out to be a harder nut to crack than the
Khasi. While the Khasi would have a 50 percent chance of asking me
atleast where I am going, the Garo guy is rather content to just
smile. Usae of hindi is way less in the Garo hills, another misfortune
for me. Somehow I get the feeling that the Khasi folks are somewhat
better-off than the Garo. The Garo seem mostly into agriculture,
somewhat into charcoal making too. Just like all other people in the
hilly areas, they too carry the load in the bamboo baskets the
baskets here are somewhat pyramidal in shape (they were conical in
khasi hills). Grouo of stalls selling oranges, pumpkin, vegetables
show up on the road now and then.

The Garo hills also much lower than Khasi hills - maxing out at 750m
or so (on the road atleast).

On the ride part, it was somehat tiring. The road till
Williamnagar(about 35km or so) was mostly bad and dusty. It was a
miserable experience when the groups of lorries passed by me. My
jacket took most of the dust! Post Williamnagar the road was good the
rest of the way, with hill climbs and descents coming at regular
intervals. The forest around me were thick but no spectacular views. I
didn't find proper food, and was dead tired by the time I finished
climbing the 750m high hill. Tura was still 30km away at 4 - some
night riding assured, I thought. I stopped at the first hotel where I
saw the first signs of acceptable food. Emptied most of what he had to
offer - except pork pakoda!

16km away from Tura, at a place called Rongram, I happened to notice
this board which said, 'Phulbari 60'. I knew phulbari was the place
where I could cross the Brahmaputra. Made some enquiries and confirmed
that there wan't anything of note to see in Tura.

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Dec 20: Garo Hills(part 2)

So stayed in the IB at Rongram! Again, the IB room didn't have much on
the bed, so the sleeping bag became useful again. The IB caretaker was
drunk, so had quite a bit of trouble. He insisted that I get a letter
from the police station! The inspector sent along one constable, who
tried to convince the caretaker otherwise, without success. So me and
the caretaker went to the police station. Obviously the inspector was
displeased - he saw this as disobedience of authority. I had to calm
him down a bit, else the drunk caretaker would surely have got a
beating! Later the caretaker went home, leaving the chowkidar in
charge. This chowkidar wasn't giving me the room key - he unlocked the
room, but insisted on keeping the key. Later, he got drunk too & I had
more problems. Finally, I somehow went off for dinner and slept,
before he had a chance to create more problems...

I didn't get anything to celebrate my birthday. Thanks for everbody
for the wishes.

At the end of day, I have covered approximately 1030km in 12 days -
1/3rd of the trip. So what's next? Looking at the map and making some
optimistic estimates, I am making my way to Darjeeling! I hope I'll
have enough time to reach the ends of Gujarat, but who knows? Time
will tell...

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dec 20: Onward to Tura

Had a good night's sleep. Now ready to continue on Garo Hills. Target
for today - Tura, 107km away.

I've already noticed that the Garo language is markedly different from
khasi. Let's see what the day brings...

Christmas celebrations have already started here, with decorations by
the roadside being errected. I gave a small donation to some roadside
kids who stopped me.

If you are asking why I slept in the church yesterday, here's the
answer. There is only an IB here, but no hotel. The IB caretaker was
missing. So, on the CDPO's advice, I went to the church!

I am glad I came down from the hills - the cold here is much more
bearable. But I'll be climbing again - Tura is 1400m or so I think...

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Dec 19: Crossed over to Garo Hills

Rode a 107km to reach Rong Jeng. I am now out of Khasi Hills and in
Garo territory.

My chain broke thrice yesterday. Twice I reduced the chain length-it
is in excess to accomodate the deraileur. I had to use the locally
available tools (rocks) to hammer the chain to shape! Bala had raised
a good point - I still don't know what the reason for the chain
breakage is, but my hunch is that it is something to do with lateral
forces on the chain. Anticipate problems tomorrow also, but much
better prepared now than earlier!

On the riding side, it was fun most parts of the day. The road was
patchy in most places, but that wasn't enough to trouble me. A lot of
riding today was downhill - I have actually descended from 1700m to
300m! As a result the pine trees are far behind, and bamboo and other
trees are the new scenary.

Throughout my whole ride yesterday, there wasn't a single cloud over
my head. That's what Meghalaya seems to mean - you are so high that
consider your home is among the clouds!

My situation w.r.t understanding Khasi traditions, etc has remained
largely unchanged. I ate unpolished locally grown red rice. Red since
it was unpolished. Most people here seem to eat rice all three times.
This actually points to the economic backwardness of the area. Most
Khasi I met today were very friendly. In Umdang village i got a
special tea! Again, some khasi can speak fluent english, while others
blabber. A few were ruffianly - demanding me to stop and speak with
them. Of course, I was in no mood to oblige!

Dividing Khasi and Garo hills is one single bridge with a stream
flowing underneath. I'm told that the khasi and garo traditions are
different. let's see how much I can catch...

For the night I am staying in the church ! The sleeping bag is coming
useful since I have to sleep on the floor!

Some replies to comments:
@neeraj: hope I had known you earlier
@gautham:930km till now.
@kp:agreed about highway part. I'd even go so far to say 'highways are
a great cultural leveller'!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Day 19: Going towards Garo Hills

For a few days, this question has been in my brain: how to reach
Bengal. Two routes - first, go down from the hills and reach the
highway. Second - continue on to Garo hills in Meghalaya and then
cross the Brahmaputra. My yesterday's riding experience has tempted me
to continue in this route. I will be going to Tura in the Garo hills
over Rhong Zheng and Williamnagar. Today's target - Rhong Zheng, 100
odd km away. And I am just starting off after tea - very cold here!

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Dec 18: Reached Rongstoin

Reached at about five thirty in the evening. That seems like a lot of
time to cover 95 odd kms. But with 33kms to go at 1:30, this is what
happens - super leisurely riding, umpteen tea breaks, photo stops!

All my attempts to get talking to these Khasi people have resulted in
nothing. The people here are markedly different than elsewhere.
Anywhere else, I always have a crowd around my parked bicycle. Not so
here. Nobody even seems interested in touching the gear shifters! Max
they will ask on their own are just a few questions.

One funny incident happened in the afternoon. I stopped at a village.
One kid was asking me something which didn't seem like 'where are you
going'. So i stopped and asked him 'kya hai'. The kid then said
something, and many kids who were around started giggling. Maybe they
were saying something about me. I sensed a photo-op, and took out my
camera. The kids started to run away. It wasn't until i had said bye
that they showed their faces.

for food - I am surviving on oranges, chowmein, and 'pulleng'-boiled
egg fried in a bit of oil.

I'd rate this ride the best in the trip so far.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

The charms of Khasi hills

I am currently in Mairang, 46km away towards west of Shillong. I am
off the highway for a change and enjoying this every bit.

The hills here are unlike Shillong, going up and down. This suits me
much better than continuous climbs. I am mostly passing through pine
forests and paddy fields.

Talking with people is very difficult. I don't understand a word of
the Khasi language other than 'kublai' - meaning thanks. The setting
here is rural, and in many villages the biggest building is actually a
church. People here are somwhat shy and prefer keeping to themselves.
Not having a common language is obviously a hurdle. The folk seem
simple here. Houses are made of anything from wood to cement. Some
have bamboo fences.

food is turning out to be a major problem - with most khasi food being
non-veg. Fortunately for me, chowmein has turned out to be a life
saver here...

My chain broke once, but I fixed it quickly. I am beginning to like
the fact that I am the mechanic now :-)

I am moving towards Nonstoing today.

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Dec 17: Sightseeing!

Got into tourist mode today. Rest for my legs after 741kms, and
especially yesterday's climb. Hired a taxi and visited the tourist
attractions surrounding Cherrapunji - 56km away from Shillong. To be
honest, only the Mawsmai Caves were good. Why? The rest were all
waterfalls without water. I am told that the best time to visit is
just after the monsoon.

Coming back to the Mawsmai Caves. These are natural caves. Only one
of them is large enough for people to walk inside for a substantial
distance – less than 150 meters. This cave is also illuminated using
electricity. The other caves (two of them) are small, but worth a
look. The large cave is a fascinating place. Rock formation here
takes weird shapes, some of which are best described as roots of a
tree, while some others look like sculptures a bit. Very few of the
stones have some glitter. The area around Cherrapunjee is mining area
for limestone, and I'm wondering if this cave is also made of
limestone. Nobody around to say for sure!

Cherrapunjee in itself is a small township. There are several British
era buildings, nothing special but. The area around Cherrapunjee has
a few worthy falls, but as I mentioned, these are best viewed after
the monsoon. Cherrapunjee has abundant rocky mountain cliffs, and
water falls are the natural result.

The only water falls I saw worth the mention was Elephant Falls, near
Shillong itself.

The rest of the day was spent loitering around Shillong, shopping for
Khasi shawls and tasting the food at various hotels. I got curious
enought to try even a masala dosa at one of the shops. Not bad
actually,but they could use a bit of help with the chutney and masala!

Surprisingly, I got a phone call from Garo Hills, with an unknown
person wishing me good luck. He's apparently a cyclist himself. I
have unfortunately forgotten the name! (I received the phone call in
the middle of a busy bazaar) Much appreciated...

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Dec 16: Climb to Shillong(part 1)

Guwahati - Shillong is not a long ride on paper. About 100 kms. About
20km away from Guwahati, at a place called Jorabat, the road forks.
One road goes towards Shillong. Guwahati is almost at the border with
Meghalaya, and the fork marks the beginning of the State of Meghalaya
as well.

I reached Jorabat at 8, with 80 more to Shillong. I knew Shillong is
at an altitude of approximately 1500m. Based on my previous western
ghats experience, this led me to believe that the last 20km or so
would be a good climb, while the rest would be relatively flat. I
hadn't understood that Meghalaya had really begun. For the most part
of the next 80kms, I ended up riding uphill. A slow and steady climb
all the way to 1422 meters above sea level. The road wasn't very good,
but it wasn't too bad either. I reached Shillong at about 6 PM, and
had no problems finding acoomodation on P.B.Road (Police Bazaar).

The hills I climbed are called the Khasi hills. Meghalaya consists of
two hill sections - Khasi hills and Garo Hills. A large number of
people inhabiting the Khasi hills are Christian. Inhabitants of Garo
seem to be largely Hindu(or tribal). I heard a lot of loud blaring
western music from many a house, but seriously didn't meet any fluent
english speaking Khasi till I reached Shillong.

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Dec 16: Climb to Shillong(part 2)

As always, got talking with folks over tea. The local language is
called "Khasi". Garo also has a language of it's own. Some amount of
assamese seems to work here too. None of the Meghalaya languages have
a script and surprisingly they(atleast the Khasi people) use English
as the script. This results in a lot of tongue twisting words which
(I am sure) Englishmen would dread to pronounce! Even more, I am sure
that this usage of English could actually result in some sort of
unintended misunderstanding.

Khasi people have their own tribal dress, but it's mostly seen in the
museums now-a-days I guess. Or during festivities. Definitely not on
the highways! Men are mostly found wearing shirts and pants. Women
seem to wear anything from sarees draped manipur-style(I believe this
is traditional) to frocks, obviously getting more adventurous in the
capital city of Shillong.

Shillong (or indeed Meghalaya itself) seems to be quite content and
sleepy. Today is a Sunday, and most shops are closed. The ones that
are open decide it's enough at 8.

One Sardarji I met on the road was telling me that Meghalaya is
reportedly the most corrupt of all North-Eastern States. He cited
instances of the road till Shillong being widened 8 times in the past
10 years, all without moving an inch!

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Dec 15: Guwahati + Bike Repairs

Nothing interesting today - just riding till Guwahati, and toiling to
fix the deraileur.

I have to thank Mrs Phukan at this point (she is my former collegue
Alok's mother in law). KP had couriered my thunder's deraileur, among
other things to her house in Guwahati.

There was some amount of drama before I got the parcel. I started off
in the morning from Nagaon hoping to reach Guwahati in the afternoon.
I imagined this would give me enough time to fix the bike, and proceed
tomorrow. I had also assumed that the parcel has already reached. None
of these turned out to be true. I ended up reaching Guwahati after
sunset, picked up the parcel (which had been delivered by then), and
hurried to the bicycle shop.

The mechanic at the shop turned out to be fairly incompetent. Luckily,
I am something of a mechanic nowadays. With some help from him, basic
things worked. The shocker was him asking for 150 rupees. I had even
fixed the chain myself!

The nearby Lohit Guest house offered excellent room for 300 rupees,
and I settled there. Slept thinking of the climb next day to

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Dec 14: Ride story - Jorhat to Nagaon

Looking at the map, one thing was clear to me - I needed to ride till
Nagaon. 180km or more - no small distance. Long boring ride it turned
out to be.

I passed Kaziranga national park well past noon, and had my first
puncture. Changed the tube(Vodka's idea). Over time, I have learnt
that fast long distance rides and national parks don't mix well. I
didn't enter Kaziranga.

By evening, I was in Jakhalbanda, with 50km more to ride. Then started
the fun - two local racers overtook me and looked back after some
time. Clear signs of racing. My legs were tired, but I was interested
to show the local guys a thing or two. I took the bait. Soon there was
a long sleady uphill climb. I was close on their heels soon. But
didn't have enough to overtake them. Soon they were tired too and we
proceeded together, chatted and reached Misa.

Some distance before the destination, got talking to a couple of
cyclists. The chat ended in me attending Ras Leela at a temple
close-by. Before that I went to Nagaon, somehow got room in one of
the lodges - they all seem to be booked otherwise. The programme was
all about showing Krishna's leelas. A young boy was the dancer,
dressed up as Krishna. No elaborate dresses for Krishna, but there was
a long line of Gopikas waiting outside. These were local Girls dressed
up for the occasion. Something close to a mridangam was the dominant
musical instrument, with cymbals being a bit subdued.There was one
person singing too. The whole setting resmbled a yakshagana
performance. There was good evidence of caste system as well. Inside
the temple only the brahmins were allowed, and the junta had to
satisfy themselves from the view from outside! The whole programme
aparently runs till midnight, but I left after half an hour - I really
needed some rest.

12:10 by the time I reached my lodge and slept. actual distance
ridden on the day - 198km!

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dec 16: Meghalaya beckons

Reached Guwahati yesterday evening. Gears are now working. Well, not
everything. The lower gears are what matter from now, and those work.

I'm off to Shillong - a 100km ride with climbing. Updates will have
wait - i got to sleep yesterday only at 11 PM (after fixing the

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Going towards Guwahati

Will post yesterday's story tomorrow. I had a hectic day, clocking
198km. For today, my target is Guwahati. No sightseeing is planned.
The tea estates are becoming a distant memory.

KP had sent some spares for me by courier to Guwahati. So today's
priority is to get them and fix the gears! Without the gears, climbing
Shillong would be difficult.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Day 4 : Dibrugarh – Jorhat Ride Story (part 1)

[corresponds to December 13, 2007]

PS: There is no part 3 in this post series. By a mistake I jumped to
part 4 after part 2.

I visited the historic town of Sibasagar today. This was the capital
of the Ahom dynasty. I reached Sibasagar just past noon. It is about
86km away from Dibrugar.

The heart of Sibasagar is a big lake – supposedly constructed by one
of the maharanis. Near the lake is a temple complex housing three
temples – the middle one Shivadol, on the left Devidol, and on the
right Vishnudol. 'dol' means temple in assamese. The place being
Sibasagar, naturally, Shivadol is the larger temple.

Inside the Shivadol is a shivaling unlike any I've seen before. The
garbha-gudi has two shivalings. One, man-made, resembles a real
shivaling. The other, real shivaling, is actually a shivaling shaped
inverted hole in a rock (or so the pujari told me!). A small duct
runs from here directly to the tank, resulting in rodents making there
presence inside the sanctum sanctorum! From the outside, the temples
have the regular carvings from historical/mythological (depending on
your perspective!) stories. The carvings are slowly decaying.
Assamese architecture is a bit different compared to anything else
I've seen – wait for the pictures for more.

To visit the temple, I had to park my bike near a shop. The
shopkeeper was joking about me carrying a bomb in the bag. Sibasagar
has a sizeable paramilitary presence, pointing to security issues..

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Day 4 : Dibrugarh – Jorhat Ride Story (part 2)

One things I've observed here is the habit of eating sweets with Tea!
One shopkeeper told me that he has tea but no sweets. I replied, 'all
right, I am not a local'.

Other places I visited in Sibasagar were Rong Mahal (the royal
amphittheatre) and Talat Mahal (ruins of palace of an Ahom King).
Rong Mahal was easily the pick of these two. The walls of the Rong
Mahal are apparently made of a mix of brick powder, lime, mollases,
fish and rice. The ASI fellow there told me that this results in a
tighter mix which lasts longer than cement. The method of
construction is more expensive, though! Very true, the walls have seen
very less decay. If you touch the wall, you do get a trace of mud in
your hand. So the walls have been easy pickings for Indian tourists
who somehow delight in etching their names on all places of historical
importance :-( The Talatal Mahal is a sizeable multistorey building,
but much of it is in ruin.

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Day 4 : Dibrugarh – Jorhat Ride Story (part 4)

After this, time for lunch. Frankly, I'm bored of lunch in the
north-east. Arunachal and Assam have unfailingly served me the same
fare : rice with aloo subji, cauliflower subji, and dal. No variety
in meals!

Post lunch(2:30) I started the final part of my ride to Jorhat, still
48 km away. One elderly man was carrying three pots of curds on his
bike. I asked him what that was for – was he running a shop, or
selling it elsewhere? No, he said, it is for 'shraddha'. I query him
more, what will they make from the curds. With pumpkin, they seem to
make the same 'Majjige-huli' (that's in kannada. Sorry, no translation
to english here).

As expected, I ended up doing about two and a half hours of night
riding – with headlights and tail-lights. Reached Jorhat just past 7.
Ended up getting a room in Hotel Kamal. Weird hotel owner! When I
asked him for a room, he said he didn't have any. When the shopkeeper
downstairs recommended me saying I am a cyclist, he made me share a
double room with another person (he probably thought I am not paying
money). Later he shifted me to a double room on the mention of
payment - what a change in 5 odd minutes! Anyway, this is the best
room till now on this tour, with hot water(yay, bathing after 4
days!). I washed some clothes too. This room has a rope right in the
middle of the room and a fan right under it, so drying clothes is not
a problem.

total distance today : 150km. Total:354km.

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Comments on comments

It's hard to access the blogger interface from a mobile to reply to
comments. So I'm posting them here!

@ollantaytambo: You've raised an good point. Let me try to explain my
style a bit. With the amount of cycling I do everyday, atleast 8 hours
are spent riding alone! In the north-east, at this time of the year, a
day is only 11 hours long. Take out two hours for breakfast, lunch and
tea breaks and I am hardly left with time to talk ;-) There are other
apsects to the cultural equation as well - culture is continuously
changing entity and you really need some time to catch subtle changes.
Coupled with this is the fact that people I meet are likely to ask me
FAQ style questions. Also I have visited Assam earlier and written
about it too. All this doesn't mean that I don't notice the
differences - just wait till I get to Bihar and MP. I probably note
only the significant differences only. Lastly, there is my personal
writing style to consider. I'm used to telling stories with pictures.
Conversely, i'm probably not good at narrating without pics. I have
missed mentioning many things my camera has clearly captured. Maybe my
final album at the end of the trip will reveal something which my
writing wont! I'm tempted to believe my next post would be to your

@bala: true. In any case I hope the gear issue will be fixed in
Guwahati. I am actually waiting to tackle the real problems :-). They
tend to be physical and at times mental...

@gautham: Raghav is looking at the maps part. Pictures will be
uploaded "soon" ;-)

@madhu and everone else: thanks for the wishes !

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Day 3: Off to Sibasagar

Good morning! Today I'll be visiting the historic place in Asom,
Sibasagar. This place has a temple, a lake and some ruins of palaces,
all dating to the time of the Ahom dynasty. About 700-800 years old I
I started off at 6 and have currently done about 30km. Breakfast due
in 10kms more :-) The road till now has been nice and flat. Great
scenes of sunkissed tea estates on either side of the road have kept
me engaged. Small cycle problems too - needed to fill air in the back
tyre and disengage the back brakes.

I plan to end in Jorhat - still about 100 km away(total for today
140), so some night riding is expected. For those worried about my
security, there is no military presence after Tinsukia - so no cause
for worry!

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Day 3: Crossover to Asom (part 1)

My day started early again - 4:30. Courtesy the lack of any
electricity in the room, I fumbled around for more than half an hour
trying to get my things in order. After a cup of chai, I was out of
Namsai at 5;50.

The going was smooth all the way till the arunachal-assam border.
There wasn't much to see - just the rural views. The road was good for
the most part. Military folks were guarding every bridge! Once I was
stopped by a telugu CRPF guy. He pointed me to his kannadiga
collegue.The regular chit chat followed. I was at the border, Dirak,
at 7. Bought some juicy oranges there. Time to say bye to Arunachal.

Some time after entry to Assam, the tea fields started in all glory.
The road was flat but under repair. The same scene continued post a
bad breakfast, till I reached Rupai. After this, for the rest of the
day, I had the railway track for company on the left and the tea
gardens on the right. After 72km of riding, I reached Tinsukia. Only
item on my agenda there was replenishing my purse, which I did at the
SBI ATM. Interestingly, there are other ATMs there too. Extended tea
break here, parly to update my blog. I must be in a position to
live-blog from tomorrow...

Stopped for lunch at Chabua - poories! I was really hungry! Got
talking to one Mr Bhavani - local TVS dealer, mobile tower contractor,
etc. He told me a story about how oil was found in Assam during the
british period. Apparently an elephant got stuck and they had to dig a
wee bit to set it free. That small amount of digging liberated a lot
of oil. Later, wherever they dug, they found more oil. So refineries
were setup!

On Bhavani's advice I set off towards dibrugarh, hoping to stop near a
tea factory for a visit. Turned out that his contact at the tea
factory had gone home, and with it went my chance of seeing a tea
factory from the inside.

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Day 3: Crossover to Asom (part 2)

The last leg now remained to Dibrugarh. Only 10km more! After reaching
Dibrugarh I went to a slow cyber cafe. Posted alink to my blog site
from my homepage, answered comments, and exited. Went to the
Sanjeevini hospital run by Mr P C Gogoi. I had met Mr Gogoi in the
Dibrugarh flight and he had invited me home. After a cup of tea, I
waited at the hospital for more than 90 minutes. Mr Gogoi seemed like
a busy man - afterall he has a hospital to run. So I excused myself
and went to a lodge (helped by his driver).

After that - khana, likhna and sona. Total distance covered today - 120km.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Day 2: Started at last (part 4)

Finally reached Namsai at 4:45 - it was almost dark by this time. Locals told me that the best place to stay is the Circuit house which is about half a km away from the Teenali (meeting point of three roads), the heart of Namsai. Bad luck: some VIPs are coming tomorrow, and the circuit house is out of bounds to commoners! Next try at the forest IB - this one turns to be an isolated place with gates locked. I decide to settle for whatever the lodge has to offer - which I am told is quite bad. Meanwhile, I visit the Theatre close by. Loud music is blaring from the speakers, and interrupted by the frequent announcements. The string of temporary shops selling boiled eggs, channa and some other eatables complete the picture.

Finally, time to head to the only lodge in town - hotel Woishali (!). Dingy rooms without electricity(people tell me that his outstanding power bill was over a lakh rupees and they cut the line!) for 70 bucks. Shared toilets, the state of which I don't even need to describe. Toilet on first floor looks unused, and hence safe to use. Water supply courtesy borewell. Two small candles complimentary!

I have a 15 rupee meal (dal+chawal+two subjies) at a close by hotel - and then do a round of the bazaar. Then do some checks about the distance to Guwahati. KP is going to courier some equipment to me which I intend to fit in Guwahati - I'll need to be able to change gears before I attack Shillong and Darjeeling!

Finally time to write down experiences on the laptop (quickly running out of charge). Will be asleep before nine. Target for tomorrow -Dibrugarh - about 120 km away. Promises to be mindless riding. I have an option to get a new deraileur at Tinsukia - but I am having some fun riding this mono-speed bike, and don't intend to change that till Guwahati.

Day 2: Started at last!(part 3)

At this point my decision to transport the bike till Tezu is starting to look like a good one. There are no cycle shops in the mountains, and I needed the help of a mechanic to get things working properly!

Sometime later, I got a call from Manju. He had put me on the speakerphone so that my other colleagues could listen to me speaking! I described the scene in front of me - the mustard fields on the left, looming mountains in the distance dominated by snow-clad peaks (supposedly these are near to Parsuramkund), and the serene stream on the right. Talking on the phone had caused me to overshoot the boat needed to cross the stream. After coming back and crossing the stream on the boat (10 rupees to the boatman), I quickly reached Chongkham. No lunch at any hotel, so I settled for two Omletts and a couple of chais.

2:45 by the time I started again. I decided to stop at Namsai, about 30km away. The ride to Namsai was fast - courtesy the largely flat road. About 10 km later started an Elephant sanctuary. The peeping sunlight and the bamboo reminded me of the elephant sanctuary near Kushalnagar. As the sanctuary ended, Tea estates started. I stopped for tea at Lathao. Namsai was just 12 km away. Continued swiftly and stopped near a tea estate. I saw leaves inside a wire basket and concluded it must be tea. The leaves were rather large. I had imagined (courtesy the tea advertisements) that the tea leaves were small. The local folks told me that the larger the tea leaf, the better it is. I tried crushing the tea leaf in an obvious attempt to get some smell out of it - no use. The explanation was that the drying and processing in the factory is what makes it Tea!

Before I reached Namsai, I saw a temple saying "Swamy Saranam" in English and Tamil (what else?). Surprisingly, the temple seemed devoted to Lord Radhakrishna. There seems to be a rather large buddhist population around, courtesy the many buddhist temples I saw.

Day 2: Started at last (part 2)

Last year, when me and KP had passed through the same road, we had removed our bags at most crossings. This time, I didn't do it even at one place! A few km later, I decided to take a chance with the middle chain ring. I was rewarded with success - the chain held onto gear#2 on the back. However, the chain looked a bit too tight. This wasn't a problem while riding, but was a general cause of concern.

Just before Alubadi Ghat, I saw a few pitched tents. I said Hi to who looked like the owner. He was Shishir, from Bengal. He told me he was working with the local MLA and trying to promote tourism here. He arranges for bird watching, Elephant rides, canoing, etc. Much needed in Arunachal. I gleefully accepted the black tea that was offered to me! After a short chat, it was time to say bye. By this time, I had realized I couldn't reach Tinsukia today and had lowered my sights to Namsai. This brought a lot of relief to me.

It was about 12:45 when I reached Alubadi Ghat. Everyone needs to get onto the ferry to cross this. Again, memories of last times tour came flooding. Soon after crossing this, I reached Alubadi village. Went to the cycle shop immediately- the current chain setup had resulted in me riding way too slowly. This was fine for the river crossing, but not for plain road that was about to come.

We spent about an hour repairing the bike. We shortened the chain to make the bike faster - gear#2 on front and gear#8 on the back. But we faced a difficult problem - the chain would up shift on the back to gear#7 at the slightest hint of pedal pressure. The chain would then become so tight that it appeared like giving way any instant. This was finally solved by the mechanic by use of a hammer on the teeth on the gears. He also found that two teeth on gear#3 were missing! Finally, I was ready to ride on at 2 PM. I decided to have lunch at Chongkham, about 5 km away.

Day 2: Started at last! (part 1)

Got up at 4:30. The lights were burning brightly - I had forgotten to turn them off at night. So it was that I finally figured the real reason behind the dim lighting for the previous few days: low voltage.

Set to repair the bike at 5:30. I had a fellow lodger assisting me. I quickly figured that it wasn't possible to mount the deraileur in any other fashion - the deraileur hanger really was needed. So I took the only way out - converting the bike to a fixed speed bike. With a non-existent deraileur, this is the only thing anyone can possibly do. For me, the target for today was Tinsukia. I also knew the terrain for the most part is flat, with a few gentle slopes and much rock and rubble to cross the Brahmaputra. I figured that the highest front chain ring and the gear #8 on the back will serve my purpose and allow me to keep a high enough pace to cover the whole distance of about 140km. Carefully, we reduced the length of the chain. But it was 7:40 by the time I had breakfast and had started off from Tezu.

The bike was showing some signs of problem from the beginning. The chain would rattle at times, or would slip. The lazy man in me let me procrastinate. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the sights of the mustard seed fields and the snowcapped mountains at the distance. After 10 km or so, the real reason for the rattle presented itself - I hadn't fixed the chain very well. I quickly fixed the problem, but still the riding experience was less than perfect. The first stream crossing came at 12 km, and the next problem cropped up soon after. This time I figured that the cause of the problem was actually a non-centered wheel, fixed it and rode on. A few hundred meters later, I came to a full halt. The chain got stuck above the highest chain ring and I was forced to dismount. This time, the bad chain link (fixed by me) looked unfixable. With the moral support of a few local lads, I fixed it. And rode on with a less than perfect bike. Soon, I was kept busy with more stream crossings.

Day 1: Started and Stopped

I reached the extreme east point Kibithu on Saturday night 9 PM or so. Courtesy Mr Upadhyay, I didn't have any problem getting accommodation. Took about an hour to fit my bicycle and setting up my bag mounting arrangement.

Biting cold greeted me at 4;30 in the morning. Everytime the cold water touched my hand it actually felt devoid of sensation. Getting the bags ready and adjusting the bike took some time, but I was off by 6:30. Excellent riding with breathtaking pine forest views for a few kms. Then I longed for tea - so stopped and asked at a house - and got it too with bonus biscuits! The house owner was displeased when I tried to offer him money, so I backtracked double quick. I was trying to aim to reach Huyaling (pronounced hai-long by the locals), about 140km away. Fireworks on day 1. Time was running short, so I took leave of my kind hosts and continued down the serene road.

My riding joy was short lived - 8km to be precise. After that my cycle stopped. The deraileur had gone for a short trip towards the rim. To my dismay, the deraileur hanger had broken off. Now, this piece is made of aluminium and getting it welded here was improbable. Meanwhile, the same sumo which brought me to Kibi-thu came along and I hitched a ride till Walong. We tried finding a welder but no luck in either GRF or in the military camp. Some suggested we go till Huyaling (100km away) to the army camp and try something there.

One option was to remove the deraileur entirely, reduce the length of the chain, and ride on a single speed bike. My driver told me there was hope of getting it repaired in Huyaling, I ended up taking the sumo back till Tezu.

So I have missed seeing the few tourist attractions around - the hot water spring near Walong, a grounded plane from World War II, and helmet point. But the bigger thing I have missed is interacting with the people. This area is dominated by the Mismi "tribe" (in double quotes since they are much civilized).

Many of the Mismi I have met have the regular occupations - teachers, govt servants, but one was a farmer. Many of them wear the traditional dress red colour dress made of wool. The climate here is quite cold year long, so that helps. Many have stylish swords too. Some of the women wear excessively large ear ornaments - some of them as large as a small 50ml bottle! Many things grow here - from food grains to bananas, and abundant quantity of oranges (Oranges are sweet, quite cheap too - in one place we got too for a rupee). Some of the Mismi seemed to be simple folk, while others I'll write about later. Their houses are made of either wood or bamboo. Most of the time the hoses are slight above the ground. The dwellings of the poor are made of leftover tar barrel covers!

The biggest joy on the Sumo rides were the magnificent views of the river Lohit. It is WIDE and the view from the viewpoint is magnificent. The view resembles lots of snakes strewn around.

Finding accommodation in Tezu turned out to be a problem, with most rooms booked by some students. I finally was able to get a makeshift room for 120 bucks - I had grains of sand for company. My brain was still heavy with the thought of not having ridden till Tezu - I had missed so much by what I thought was a hasty decision to transport the bike back till Tezu. I reckoned I could ride on a single low fixed gear all the way, and I had clearly not applied myself before I had made the decision to transport. Lots to think about! But I was upbeat about my immediate rides for the simple reason that Assam is mostly flat. Asom (anglicized name is Assam) => A-sam means "uneven". Slept early at 8!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Adventures So Far

Hi All, This is KP here! The events so far as narrated to me by Shree, (Still not able to access internet) so for all the news hungry folks, here goes.

The Journey from Tezu To Kibi-thu and back has been quite eventful. Shree was able to ride only for 8kms from Kibi-thu when the "dérailleur hanger" broke off leaving is drive chain in tatters. ( He has had to transport himself and bike back again to Tezu. He described the Lohit valley as a pretty place with snow capped mountains in the background.

Today morning, he has been able to remove the dérailleur and make himself a fixed gear bike. He rides 160 odd km to Tinsukia. He will cross the Bramhaputra at Alubari Ghat (look at last years blog for more info on this. We crossed this and went to paya last time. River bed with lots of stones roads and at least 2 ferry crossings) and then take the highway.

For those who wonder what next about the gears, It is being shipped to Gawhati, until then Assam will be on either a fixed gear or manual gear (a.k.a gear change by hand). We pray and cross our fingers that this goes event less for the bike and he has no further issues.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I reached Tezu today evening

After two flights to reach Dibrugarh, a taxi ride to Tinsukia, and more than 4 hours in a Sumo, I reached Tezu today evening. Tezu is the headquarters of Lohit district of Arunachal.My cycle is still in the box, since I still have an 8 hour Sumo ride tomorrow till Walong. Walong is 35 kms from Kibi-thu, the eastern-most point of India. I'll start riding from Monday, hopefully! No GPRS here, so posting this through Raghava. Cant wait to start riding.

Thursday, December 6, 2007



I’m Shree Kumar. To my friends, I’m just Shree. I’m a software engineer by profession, but an engineer by disposition.

This sub-blog is all about my current “project” - a bicycle ride across my country, India. Links to my previous rides are on my homepage.

If you have any questions/comments about this ride, do feel free to post a comment in the appropriate place - and hopefully I will respond fast enough.

For queries unrelated to this trip, your best bet is either to send email to [shree dot shree at gmail dot com]. In case you wish to speak to me, then your best bet is +91 94498 35848.


– Shree

The Bag

I’m taking along a lot of things with me on this tour. Wannabe tourists (and curious people) always ask me for this. The following is a comprehensive list of all that I will be carrying!

  1. Bike Tools/Spares
    1. Minitool having allen keys, spanners, chain tool, screw driver(star,flat)
    2. 5/6 Allen Key
    3. Spanners :10/11, 14/15
    4. Spare : chain links, 2 tubes, brake cable, gear cable, disk and V brake shoes
    5. Puncture tools: Lever, Sand Paper, Gum, Sticker
    6. Lubricants : Chain lubricant, Singer oil
    7. Casette Mini Tool and Bottom Bracket tool

  2. Clothes
    1. Riding shirts - 2, pants - 2
    2. 2 pairs of gloves- one for riding and one for cold conditions
    3. Monkey cap
    4. Fleece Jacket
    5. Regular T shirts - 2
    6. Brush, tooth-paste, soap, scissors, shaving kit, etc
    7. Daily use items : towel, socks, undergarments

  3. Electronics
    1. Camera - NikonD80, charger, 2GB SD card+2GB extra, extra battery
    2. Garmin GPS MAP 60CSX GPS receiver
    3. Lots of NiMH batteries, NiMH battery charger
    4. Mobile phone, charger
    5. Cables : USB for mobile, camera
    6. My portable 160GB Hard disk - this trip is going to result in a lot of photos!
    7. Laptop HPdv2117 TX 17″, charger
    8. USB thumb drive - may come in useful
    9. Voice recorder
    10. 2 sets of rechargeable AAA cells for voice recorder

  4. Miscellaneous
    1. Riding glasses with 5 shades - useful in all riding conditions.
    2. Cycling Helmet
    3. Sleeping Bag
    4. Lonely Planet India Guide + Eicher India Map
    5. Documents : Return air ticket from Ahmedabad to Bangalore :-) Driving License, Passport size photographs for permit if needed, ILP (if I get it!)
    6. Sunscreen SPF 40.

The Bike

This page describes the bike that I will be riding during this tour, henceforth referred to as “Wonder” (original suggestion by Abhi of Bikeszone). It’s Indian name is “Deshapremi” (suggestion by KP) :-)

Caution : Page written for bicycle junkies.

Wonder is a mix of components from a whole lot of bikes - as you may see in this picture.

The frame is from my faithful old bike: the Hero Thunder MTB. The front suspension fork, disk brakes, front wheel and handlebar all are from my long dead Firefox Viper. Using the Viper’s suspension fork with the Thunder’s frame would have resulted in a low handlebar position - so a Kalloy angle adjustable stem with quill (AL808) is used. Note the resulting relaxed riding position, it’s perfect for leisurely touring ! The stock shifters have made way for Shimano LX Fire Shifters.

The rear wheel is built around a Shimano Deore FH M-530 S Hub (V-Brake type), with quick release. The rear rim is the double walled rim from the Hercules WOW. A 9 speed casette Deore (11T-32T), along with Deore deraileur is thrown in for good measure. Mounting the deraileur on the frame turned out to be a difficult problem. It is currently solved by using a piece from the Viper’s frame and mounting the deraileur on it. Even with this jugglery, it turned out to be difficult to cleanly adjust the deraileur. So we deraileur assembly is held in place by the quick release itself. As a result, the quick release is no longer “quick”. The 9 speed casette (CS M580) needs the thinner 9 speed chain (HG 93). The rear brakes are V-Brakes, Tektro from the Trek 3700.

The front deraileur is the stock one from the Thunder. The bottom bracket is BBES 30 square tapered, very smooth and maintenance free to boot! Deore chainrings and crankset, alongwith pedals (courtesy Hercules WOW).

We just like the resulting bike. It’s smooth and handles very well. The brakes work well - front Disk, back V seems to be a good compromise for all riding conditions. There is a slight shake in the handlebar area, but we reckon that’s OK.

Credits :
1. KP suggested, and procured all the fancy components. He was graceful enough to share some of the components he had purchased for personal use with me! They do cost a bomb - more than 12k rupees at last count. Imported from US, Belgium and Singapore :-)
2. My cycle mechanic, Lalu from Raja Cycle Mart, did most of the fitting. But I’m quite comfortable with most of the setup now!


I know, I know. You have too many questions to ask ! Please find the answers below. If you have a question which hasn’t been answered earlier, please post the question as a comment and I’ll try to answer it .

Q: What’s the exact route you’ll take during this trip ?

A: There are way too many variables to predict here. Many things can happen in a long trip like this. All I can tell you for now is that the tour will span all the way from Arunachal Pradesh till Gujrat. I will be passing through Assam, Meghalaya (likely), West Bengal, Bihar(yes!), parts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and then Gujarat(hmm - Rann of Kutch if possible too).

Overall, the grand scheme is to ride from Kibi-thu (officially the eastern most point in India) to somewhere on the western coast in Gujarat. I have a plan B too : of riding till Ahmedabad. If I run out of time, plan B is what will happen.

As I write this, I haven’t got an Inner Line Permit to visit Arunachal Pradesh. Permit is needed (even for Indian citizens) to visit Arunachal.

Q: What’s the purpose of the trip ?

A: Nothing in particular. Before you ask me, I’m not pedalling for any cause. Maybe some other day I will. Sometimes I wonder myself what keeps me going. The closest I’ve come to understanding the real reason is “educating myself”. That seems abstract, but that’s the best I have for the moment.

However, if you are interested in contributing to causes, there are atleast a few people doing it. E.g., Balaji Bellary will be setting off soon on a tour of South India. He blogs at . He wants to raise money for education of kids - hopefully you can help !

Q: Which bicycle do you ride ? What do you carry along ?

A: It’s a hybrid bike built by KP and me. Of course, we had the able mechanic Lalu (Raja Cycle Mart, SJP Road, Bangalore) for all assistance. For more details, look at the “The Bike” page.

Q: What about overnight stays ?

A: There are lodges aplenty along the way. This time, I am thinking of trying to stay overnight in a Dhaba atleast once. Every morning, I decide the end point for the day after enquiring about the local conditions.

Q: How do you train for such trips ? How many kilometers a day do you intend to travel on an average ?

A: I ride everyday to office and back - a distance of 26kms. As training, I get up at 4 AM and ride 30-50kms, jog a bit and skip a bit. That’s about it. For this trip, the average will be close to 120 km/day.

Q: Such a long ride - won’t you get tired and bored ?

A: Tired, yes, at times. This will be my longest ride yet(I had done a 2300 km ride in 2005), but I’m sure I can pull this off. I will be carrying a small pack of dates to fire me up just in case I get drained of energy.

In a long tour like this, being bored for a day or two is not unexpected. But all the days of fun will more than compensate for that :-)

Q: What about punctures ?

A: I’m riding on good-as-new tyres. I carry spare tubes and a small puncture kit for emergency. You will also find a comprehensive list of all items in my bag in the same page.

Q: Is this safe ? Going to Bihar alone on a bicycle seems to be a bad idea. And on top of it, why carry the laptop and dSLR ?

A: I am hoping to return without problems. I’m sure most people will consider a lone cyclist harmless. In fact, people routinely mistake me for a student. Some think (especially true in the north-east) I’m from the armed forces and maintain a safe distance. My experience till now has been that things look worse from outside. Anyway, we will know more about this before long.

The laptop is generally in the bag and I take it out only in my room. I keep the dSLR in my sling bag. Every geek needs toys for company, and I am no different ;-)

Q: Any plans to publish a book with your experiences till now?

A: Not yet. Let me accumulate enough material first :-)

Q: Please suggest the best cycle to buy. My budget is under six thousand rupees.

A: Please post this question in a biking forum like


Quick Summary : I’ll start riding in the far North-East and end in Gujarat.