Sunday, January 20, 2008

Total weight lost

Anywhere from 5.5 to 6kgs. When I started off on the tour, I tipped
the scales at 82.6 kgs or so. Now, I'm at 76.6kg.

Weight loss is generally a good measure of either how unfit I was at
the beginning of the tour or how strenuous the tour was. During my
first trip - South India in 2003, I lost 4kgs in 12 days, and that was
a raw measure of the strain due to the ride - 140km/day! I looked
emaciated at 72kgs at the end. Chennai to Kolkata, in 2004, saw me
lose nothing. I had been in top shape the whole year, and that showed.
Mangalore to Ahmedabad, 2005, I lost 5kgs again. I had started off at
an unhealthy 85 and ended at 80, courtesy 110km/day. The most relaxed
of my trips, North East in 2006/7, still made me loose 5kgs, again
from 85 to 80.

So does all this mean that this trip was the most difficult? Nope.
That title definitely goes to my first trip - 1752km in 12 days: All
the way from Mysore to Kanyakumari and then onto Chennai.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Back in Bangalore

Raghav reminded me that I hadn't updated my latest position :-)

I reached back yesterday. The Indian flight left Ahmedabad at 7:10,
and reached Bangalore at 10:45 or so. Of course, by the time I had
collected my bike and bags and pushed them out, my watch had moved on
to 11:15. I wanted to ride in style to office, so I quickly found a
convenient place to assemble my bike. First phone call - KP calls from
Singapore. I hadn't tightened the headset properly, and had lost one
tightening nut! The thread on the bolt that was keeping the seat post
in position was gone for a six too! So visited Raja Cycle Mart in an
auto, holding the bike! Guys there didn't realize I was coming
straight off the plane. The problems were fixed/worked around soon. A
puncture was fixed too, and I have no clue why that had happened. All
fixed by 2, and I started off towards office. Near MG Road, one more
puncture. Fixed near the ulsoor lake. 10 minutes of riding later, one
more puncture. This was it - I had had enough of this business. So
caught an auto to office, finally eaching at 4 to the gang of

My bike is still lying in the parking lot! I'll change the tube on monday.

Now, how does it feel to be back? I've clearly lost considerable
weight. How much I'm not sure. Major losses in the legs, waist down by
2 inches. Need to find a weighing machine before I start putting on
weight again :-) I'm also feeling somewhat weary at times. This is one
aspect that doesn't cease to amaze me every year: how is it that just
the next day after the end of a trip i feel so weary? The weariness
goes off in a few days. I've noticed that I am improving over the
years. All good reasons to be happy. Quite some time spent retelling
the stories to colleagues and friends! I've even cut a welcome cake,
courtesy Harsha, Priya and Manohar! Started distributing some goodies

Lastly, what about the pictures, you ask? Too many I've shot, and
choosing needs time. One of my uncles expired, so I am out of station
this weekend. Next weekend, hopefully!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

REACHED Ahmedabad!

Yes! My ride has come to an end. I reached Ahmedabad more than three hours ago.

3800kms of riding, 37 days of fun have come to an end.

More than half the shops are closed here, but the ones that matter to
me are open: cycle shops and hotels :-) One cycle shop owner was
helpful enough to give me a box, and I have packed my cycle already.

Last day of riding generally turns out to be boring, and today was no
different. But reaching the end is always special. And this has been a
really long and rewarding journey.

Before I sign off, thanks for all your wishes and comments. Without
you, this blog wouldn't exist. Sometimes I do think if it is a good
idea to blog at all. Some contend that not forcing oneself to write
most days has its benefits, e.g. Like allowing for more time for
thoughts to stabilize. I had tried to write once a day to acheive some
sort of balance between writing everything at the end of the trip and
writing everything as it happens. Live blogging is no easy task, and
can be distracting at times. One fine day, who knows, it might become
possible to broadcast everything non-intrusively. But watching the
stream will take as much time as generating it! That's the charm of a
summary. Enough said about blogging. I hope you had as much fun
reading as I had writing the stories.

I have many more people to thank, but I'd be failing duty if I didn't
thank at least two people. First, KP. Right from getting the
components for the bike to reserving my return flight ticket, KP has
been my biggest help. Second, Raghava. Raghava made all this blogging
and the website possible. The mobile I'm carrying is his fantastic
E-70. It has this keyboard which makes typing a cakewalk.

I'll write a summary, detailed maps and pictures once I reach back. My
return flight to Bangalore is at 7:10 tomorrow morning, and after that
will be work as usual. But now is the time to relax in the hotel room
and remember the glorious moments of the trip...

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Jan 15: Just 99km away from Ahmedabad

I'm writing this from Sevaliya after riding 185km or so. Ahmedabad is
just 99km away.

Honestly, there isn't much to write about today. Gujaratis of all ages
celebrated Makara Sankranti in style by flying kites. And I celebrated
by riding on the superb roads of Gujarat. The bad roads ended in
Madhya Pradesh, and riding after that has been a breeze. I've ridden
at speeds in excess of 20km/hr without too much effort.

One welcome change in Gujarat is the availability of buttermilk. It's
quite hot here at daytime, and buttermilk tastes superb in those

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Happy Sankranti folks!

If you are from South India, you are probably wondering: isn't he a
day off? Not so. Today is Sankranti in North India. And I am just past
Dahod in Gujarat. The kids here are having their time of the year
flying kites. There are so many kites flying over Dahod city that it
seems a spectacle at times. Unfortunately, I'm taking the bypass.

90km more to go before I can rest. And that will be past Godhra.

@faiq: :-) next time I'm in MP, I'll check with you first!

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Less than two days to go!

I'm writing this from Rajgadh in Madhya Pradesh, 282km away from
Ahmedabad. I have to reach ahmedabad tomorrow sometime in the
afternoon. That means a 180km ride today.

The road after this is supposed to be dangerous for a while. I'm at an
altitude of 500m or so. The road climbs down after this, a ghat. And
that's the danger area! No vehicles move after this place at night for
fear of the robbers, who do everthing from throwing stones to jumping
on top of moving vehicles!

I had been advised to start late in the morning, after vehicle
movement starts. I seem to have taken this advice rather seriously -
having slept all the way till 6:30. I hope to start by 9.

Meanwhile, I've written the story till day-before-yesterday, so you
have something to read for the moment!

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 1 of 8)

I'm changing my writing style here. Instead of writing a daily story,
I'm giving a bunch update. Why? Sometimes, I believe this makes more
sense. For instance if nothing interesting happened or seen. Many a
time, reading a daily story(and writing it too!) becomes a boring
exercise. So here goes...

Left Khajuraho early in the morning on Jan 8. On the road from
Khajuraho to Bhopal, the one significant place to see is Sanchi. For
this day, my goal was to travel as farther as possible while riding as
less as possible. In case you are wondering how that is possible, the
answer is : taking shortcuts. Shortcuts make for long delays, goes the
saying. And so it happened. The off-beat roads turned out to range
from slightly worse to extremely bad. The hills of Madhya Pradesh had
started too. The hills are gentle and no big climbs anywhere, but
undulating road surfaces do take time. But there was a hidden reward
behind the shortcut: watching the hills at leisure and getting a
better look at rural life. I ended the day at Shahgadh at evening. The
road after this passes through jungles with reduced human activity, so
local advice prevailed. I had to sleep outside the local hotel on a
bench, since the IB was full.

The people in MP have a different way of treating travellers like me.
' chai peeke jaaiye' (come have tea), somebody will call out. 99% of
the time I oblige. Why 99%? I haven't got 100 free teas yet, but I
haven't left any, except yesterday! I've received considerable help in
terms of arranging for overnight stay.

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 2 of 8)

The dacoits of MP around these areas seem to have banded together
around one fellow(whose name escapes me). In case he asks, in Gabbar
Singh's style 'kitna inaam rakhi hai re sarkaar ham par', then he will
end up receiving a not-so-flattering reply 'huzoor, poore teen lakh'.
Minor change, if you consider that these guys got a ransom of 8 lakh
in exchange for the son of a local rich man. These robbers seem to be
a fairly sophisticated lot. Not for them small jobs like looting

The area I've crossed today is supposed to mark the end of the
territory of operation of these dacoits. But people here in Shahgadh,
especially the important people, carry around large rifles visibly.
Some protection is provided to people building roads, for reasons that
eascape me.

The new Sulabh Shouchalaya complex turned out to be my best friend in
the morning. But the road after that till Sagar wasn't in the best of
shape. Two gentle 1km climbs along the road here, called 'ghats' by
the locals! And they have a hard time believing that I can climb these
'ghats' sitting on my bicycle. Not much to see in terms of scenary,
with a few distant hills and wheat, mustard, channa fields for
company. So I struggle on the road at 10km/hr to reach Sagar(district
HQ) by 2:00 PM. Sagar turns out to be a sizeable city, starting with
about 4km to go to the city center. A change in the menu for the
better, with curd showing up in the menu: kadhi chawal.

After Sagar, the next town of significance is Rahatgadh, 40km away.
Madhya Pradesh is one place which, it is safe to say, overflows with
forts. If the name of any place ends in 'gadh', then it is safe to
assume that it does have a fort with a few bits and pieces in good
shape atleast. Not all of them may be interesting to visit, but who
knows what you may find. I'm actually tempted to do a full scale ride
of complete Madhya Pradesh some day, but who knows when I'll get the
time for it at all.

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 3 of 8)

I manage to reach Rahatgadh in two-and-a-half hours, but it's close to
evening by then. Staying in a hotel/lodge in Rahatgadh seems to be one
option. But I'm more interested in a rural stop. That means I need to
continue on the road. Locals inform me that there is a jungle till a
distance of about 7 kms, and it's best to find a village after that to

Two travellers meet: After about 3km or so, I see this foreigner with
a hat pushing a trolley in the opposite direction. It doesn't take us
both more than a few seconds to recognize the traveller in each other
and start talking. This French-Canadian gentleman, Jean, has been
walking for 8 years around the world! He walks 'for the children'. And
no, you can't help his cause by contributing to any charity. His is a
philosophical cause! He started in 2000 and intends to stop in 2012,
after covering 70000kms across 70 countries. His trolley has what he
needs – his clothes, tent, some medicines and food. At 52 years of
age, he is a grandpa, going strong and has seen a fair part of the
world! Please read more about him at

The incident of our meeting also makes way for the opportunity for
rural stay. I want a photo with Jean, and try stopping a local
cyclist. He doesn't stop, and instead, rides on, looking afraid. It is
close to dark by this time. Next I try stopping a motorcyle. From
afar, the terrified cyclist is crying hoarse : 'rokna mat' (don't
stop). I'm both surprised and amused at this. Next attempt gives me
success, with a local cyclist obliging us. The local also invites us
to stay at his village. Smiling inside myself, I agree to this. Jean
continues on the way – he intended to stop in Rahatgadh.

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 4 of 8)

This lad, Manmohan Lal Patel, and me ride in the dark to his village.
This village, Daabri is 3kms away from the highway. Turning away from
the highway is good. The highway is under construction, which means
that it is a mass of stones. This makes riding hell, and turning away
to the rural mud roads provides the sore butt some relief.

We soon reach his house. They are Khushwahas, which seems to indicate
that their job is growing vegetables, pulses, and farming in general.
Manmohan's father is a small farmer and owns about 5-6 acres of land.
The big house(hut) is shared by four families – they are all his
brothers. He grows wheat, channa, mooli, sugarcane, potatoes, brinjal,
chillies, etc. He is a simple man, and leads a simple life, right from
brushing his teeth using neem twigs to eating food at night after a
prayer. He keeps abreast of what goes on in the outside world by means
of the small black and white TV. He has two sons and a daughter, and
he is making it a point to educate his kids. This is heartening to see
in Daabri village, where only 5 kids goto school out of a 100 or so

Our meal at night is simple, but filling: wheat chappaties, tomato and
brinjal curry and papad. I love the mango pickle! The papad is extra
due to the presence of me as the guest. He calls this 'gareeb ka
kaccha khana'. I had observed that a hotel in Sagar had advertised
'kaccha aur pakka khana milta hai' and had wondered what 'kaccha
khana' meant! Turns out that 'kaccha khana' means the regular means
without anything fancy! 'pakka khana' is the goodies like samosa,
kachori, jilebis, etc. I sleep in my sleeping bag on the mat, not
wanting to trouble these guys. They seem to have extra blankets, but
why trouble them to wash it ?

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 5 of 8)

Getting up at 6 AM is not a problem at all – beacuse everybody else is
up before me. The source of water is the well. Fields are irrigated
using small electric pumps. Electricity supply is from 8 PM to 5 AM,
and anything else is a bonus. They've built a new toilet (at the cost
of 25 thousand rupees), but it's not operational yet! So, an early
morning visit to the fields for daily ablutions.

It's hard to be timely while leaving anything other than a lodge.
Taking snaps, and extended observation generally ends up taking more
time. Also contributing to the delay is the fact that you can't do
anything become the light of the sun takes over. Exchanging addresses,
saying no to breakfast also takes time.

I'm finally out of the village by 9. Getting back to the highway turns
out to be a matter of asking all people 'where is aeran?', where aeran
is the village on the highway. The highway is good for about 16km or
so. After that comes 35km of pure offroading pleasure, that takes all
the time till 3:30 to be done with. Next 20km of good road leads me to

I am not fast enough, and reach Vidisha only by 5:15 or so! Reach out
for my 'guide book', the Lonely Planet 'India' book, and find that
Udaigiri Caves are 5km away. Somehow, I wasn't particularly
interested in either the caves or the heliodorous pillar. So off to
Sanchi, 10kms away. It's too late to see the Stupa at Sanchi. So
reaching Sanchi means rest at Jaiswal Lodge,and sightseeing tomorrow.
A clean room for a good 110 bucks.

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 6 of 8)

Sanchi is a small town by the highway, plus a few dozen shops
clustered around the bus stand.

The Stupa is the above the hill close-by. Walking distance from the
hotel, and turns out to be open from Sunrise to Sunset. All it needs
is a 10 rupee ticket and a walk to the top of the hill to sight the
Stupa. Metal Detector at the entrance! I am the first to enter the
stupa on this day, so no crowds to disturb.

I take a guide to help me understand the story behind the stupa. The
most important monument is the Great Stupa. It supposedly contains
Gautham Buddha's ashes, and was initially built by Ashoka. Later kings
added the railing-like wall surrounding it, and the pillars which are
the 'identifying mark' of this monument. There are other stupas in the
same complex as well, plus a monastery, and a broken temple. No fun
describing these monuments without pictures, see, so let me defer this
job till I return. Next Stop: Bhopal.

Meanwhile, I have been in telephone contact with my childhood buddy
Ananth Swagath. We had seen each other when we finished class 7, and
hadn't been in touch till Orkut put us in touch through another
classmate. I had figured that my visit to Bhopal would be the best
chance to meet this long-lost buddy. I used to be a regular visitor to
his house in class 7, and his parents also remembered me. Swagath was
away in Indore, but said that he would be back at night. So a stay in
his house made imminent sense.

This stop at Bhopal meant that I couldn't ride further than Bhopal,
about 50km away. So I start from Sanchi after seeing the Stupas at a
leisurely 10, and reach Swagath's house after after asking directions
from a lot of people at 4 PM.

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 7 of 8)

The breakfast scene is changing slightly. Added to the menu now is
'poha' (beaten rice/avalakki). Poha is kept hot all day by keeping a
vessel with hot water right underneath the vessel containing poha. The
water is heated as needed. Also, masale-kadle (read that in kannada.
It's masala coated peanuts) has made an appearence is stores. People
like to munch on papad all day, it looks like. Large rice papads sell
for 1 rupee. Also on the menu is a longish variant of the papad, the
papdi. Papdi is also slightly thicker. Most of the time, the hotels in
the small towns don't serve anything other than snacks. So for
lunch/dinner, the only option is to visit a dhaba outside any town.

Coming back, I've had a gala time at Swagath's house. Feasting on
proper south indian food, you see! Washed all clothes too. Lots of
chit chat. All along, I had been ignorant of the fact that they belong
to the same community as me. Wondering why caste/community should
matter to an atheist ? Our community, the Havyaka Brahmins, speaks
another dialect of kannada called 'havyaka'. There are actually two
variants of Havyaka, with one being spoken in Uttara Kannada district
of Karnataka, and the other used by people in the Dakshina Kannada
district of Karnataka(my father's place) and Kasaragod district of
Kerala (my mother's place). So, us belonging to the same community
means only one thing: one more language to talk in!

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Jan 8-12: The story till 12th! (part 8 of 8)

Swagath returns home after midnight, and I am fast asleep by that
time. I get to speak to him the next morning(12th). We hit of very
well straight away, continuing from 7th :-) You see, this guy was a
very close friend of mine. His was the first portrait I ever drew,
with a ball-point pen, sitting in class 7. We'd sit together in the
same class, play, wander around, exchange matchbox covers, play
pranks. All the bygone days came flooding back. Swagath remembered
much more than me, often lighting up corridors of my dimly lit
childhood. We had a long animated conversation. We discussed
everything from our own doings all these years, to former classmates
and teachers. It was 9:30 by the time I figured I had to continue with
my journey, so had to stop. Swagath showed me the way out of Bhopal on
his motorbike. Breezy ride, but it took 45 minutes. It was 11 by the
time I had said goodbye.

Next milestone on the way: Indore, 185kms or so away. And I had
started riding at 11 AM! I really wanted to reach Indore tonite, so I
rode fast, averaging more than 20km/hr till 6 PM. By then, I had
reduced the distance to 80km. A flat tyre forced me to stop at a town.
I had noticed a few days ago that my back tyre had worn off quite a
bit. The front tyre was relatively in much better shape. This is only
natural, and one trick is to swap the two tyres. This reduces the risk
of puncture and distributes the wear and tear equally on both tyres.
One of the tubes gets punctured after fixing, which I find strange.
This leads to more time waste. One hour and fourty minutes gone to
repair this! That leads to me restricting my ride to Dewas, 35km away
from Indore. I ride painfully slow till Dewas, finally making it at
midnight! Lodges in Dewas are open full day, and I quickly settle in a
room for 50 rupees. Very clean room. Best value for money.

Ending the day at Dewas has dealt a blow to my plans of visiting
Mandu. I have to drop Mandu since it involves a deviation of 40km or
so from the road to Ahmedabad.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Replies to comments, current position

@ramesh: some technical problems are to be blamed. I wrote a really
long story combining multiple days, and the mobile phone just refuses
to open the document!

Rest assured, I'm doing fine. Since my last update, I've stayed in one
more village, met a world-wide walker, and visited the great stupa at
Sanchi. Best of all, I met my childhood buddy Anant Swagath in

I am a bit behind schedule, 460km to go with less than 3 days to go.
I'm 35km away from Indore, but not much to do in terms of sight-seeing
for the remainder of the trip. I need to skip Mandu as it is way too
much off course, and I don't have the luxury of time any longer...

Will try to do something for the story part using my laptop; the file
opens on the laptop, but not on the mobile. Interestingly, the file
was generated on the mobile!

@faiq: yes, roads are bad. But many roads are in good condition
courtesy the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna. People are very
friendly. The only cynical comment I heard was 'idhar pehle raja
maharaja the, ab bikhari ban gaye hain'.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Jan 7: In and around Khajuraho (part 1 of 3)

Yesterday night I had figured that I would leave this
village(Bariarpur) a bit late. Too many people were pressing me to
leave late, and I was in every mood to oblige. Besides, riding the
remaining 25km or so to Khajuraho and then spending the rest of the
day watching the temples made perfect sense. This would give my legs
some time to rest too before the last leg of the ride.

So things worked to plan. Almost. I was out of the village at 10:30. I
was escorted to the river by a couple of villagers - such was the
friendship that was developing between us. There is a mini dam across
the Ken river here. Two canals run out from here - one for water
supply to MP and the other for UP. Naturally, there is an outstanding
water dispute between the two states, and it seems to be making the
headlines in the morning papers.

The first dent in the execution of the plan was caused by a puncture.
More delay was caused by the bad roads, and the third dent was caused
by an unexpected detour to the Raneh Falls. There was no water
falling, as expected. The fantastic formations of the volcanic rocks
of varying hues more than made up for the lack of water. This is the
same place where the movie 'kamasutra' was shot. It's hard to describe
the rock formations, so wait for the pictures.

So it transpired that it was close to 3 by the time I reached
Khajuraho. I didn't waste any time checking into a hotel. I was soon
on the way to the Western Group of temples, the 'most important
temples', as described by a local!

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Jan 7: In and around Khajuraho (part 2 of 3)

10 rupees gives you access to one of the most fantastic examples of
architecture you will find in India. The ASI board claims that this is
the finest in India, but that's a false claim. In my opinion, the
crown goes to Halebid(or is it Belur?) temples just on the basis of
their fine stone carvings! (one Spaniard I met completely agreed with
this observation)

There are more than 12 temples inside the complex. One better than the
other, but I am surely not competent to make this distinction. There
are many things a tourist can do here. Just sitting around watching
all the temples, both from inside and outside is bound to keep one
occupied for more than a couple of hours. Taking a close look at all
the temples is bound to take a whole day, I'm sure. A half drunk,
ill-mannered tourist from Jabalpur is trying to trying to strke a
friendship with one of the foreign ladies(they heavily outnumber the
desis here). But what to do? His broken english seems to confuse this
korean, whose english is equally suspect. So he seeks help from me!
I'm not in a mood to oblige - afterall, I'm here to watch the temples.
This displeases him. It needed a stern threat from me to report his
behaviour to the guards to shut him up for good.

Ah, reminds me - I haven't described the temples. Khajuraho is rather
well known for the erotic sculptures. Going by this, if you expect to
see entire temples dedicated to kamadeva, then you are likely to be
disappointed! They are there, yes, and found mostly on the outside of
the temple. The rest of the carvings are of the popular gods. Of
particular interest to me are the circular carvings on the shikharas.

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Jan 7: In and around Khajuraho (part 3 of 3)

Khajuraho town is one place that is exceedingly tuned to the needs of
the foreign tourist. Restaurants advertise such things as 'italian
chef', 'european supervision', 'dutch supervisor', etc. I've had pasta
at Bella Italia(italian chef), and I'd be surprised even if the cook's
great great grandfather had anything to do with italy at all. South
indian edli and dossa (no spelling mistakes by me here!) are available
too! Bicycles are available for rent here too, both the doodhwala and
the unisex types. Also prominently visible are the internet cafes.
Some hotels have these in-house as well.

There is a light-and-sound show near the temples which I decide to
skip. Rest is more important :-)

The hotel Surya, where I am staying here, is very good.

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Jan 6: Best Day so far! (part 1 of 5)

Reached a place called Naraini after 15kms or so. I was planning to stop here yesterday evening, but hadn't by the advice of a shopkeeper, who had said there was no place to stay. Moment I entered the small town, I knew that there would be a place to stay there. Local enquiries only confirmed my thinking. I've been riding on broken roads till here, and expect the rest of the day to go the same way unless a miracle happens. So more than an hour wasted in the day. Moral of the story: local advice need not be perfect, always cross-check!

Kalinjar was still 20km away. Kept riding at the same pace - about 13km/hr. Had a full breakfast at Kalinjar before moving on to climb towards the fort. The road climbs to an altitude of 380m or so from 120m or so in 3km. Not a great climb, considering Teesta in Darjeeling. But my legs are now more than 2700km old! The first minute or so of pedalling turns out to be rather painful. But smooth after that, till the top.

The Kalinjar fort covers a great area over the solitary hill and is surrounded by plains to a good distance. Hence an ideal place to build a fort. It's a historic fort, and has far more tourist attractions than the number of visitors it attracts suggests. No great views of the fort from outside, but the interior is a completely different story altogether.

Jan 6: Best Day so far! (part 2 of 5)

Right at the entrance, I observe that my camera is not focussing on distant objects. I've had this problem before. Now that I'm half a mechanic, I'm tempted to look at the problem. Expensive mistake - I remove the filter with the lens facing down. And out falls one piece of glass from my expensive 18-200 lens, and two metal rings. I pick up the glass and it had chipped off a bit. PANIC! All of sudden, I'm up with the possibility of no photography for the rest of the trip. I gather my wits quickly and get the filter cleaner cloth and blower from my bag. I hastily put the fallen pieces back in place and screw them in a bit. And try focussing again. Crash - the glass piece is out and down again. This time I replace it with extra care and things start working. Hooray! My camera is up and running. The chipped piece of the glass has seemingly no affect on the picture(as seen from the LCD screen). I hope to get it checked once I reach back. I'm not sure how the piece came loose. Could this have been due to the fact that I kept the camera in the panniers? I had kept it protected at most times, but not all. Nothing to lose sleep about at the moment.

The fort has seven entrances. One of them was where Sher Shah Suri tragically lost his life just after conquering the fort! The fort is supposed to have been a difficult-to-conquer fort in the bygone days.

I spent more than two an a half hours roaming around the fort, with a guide showing me around. 'mrugadhara' is where a clear stream of water comes out of rock. Apparently, the opening was the mouth of a deer shaped rock, hence the name. The deer shaped rocks remains no longer, but the name remains. Jakeera Mahal is the house built for the vaishya called Jakeera. And the impressive Rang mahal is where she would dance. The Rang Mahal, as many other buildings around, is built of a mix of limestone powder, jaggery and many other ingredients. This is supposed to last much longer than a few hundred years, compared to c

Jan 6: Best Day so far! (part 3 of 5)

On the eastern edge of the fort sits the showpiece for the visitors, the Neelkanth Temple. The temple complex is carved out of a single rock, and has a vast, almost circular interior chamber. The temple entrance has eight pillars set in an octagonal shape, with beams on top. Umpteen carvings dominate the rocks everywhere. Particularly impressive is the 18 foot high statue of Kalabhairava. So too is a carved-in-the-rocks water tank. Ice-cold pure water!

There are other attractions in the fort too, including a few that need a trek close to the base of the fort. But that would take time, which is in short supply. So I make an early exit at 1:15.

Back at Kalinajar town, my estimates are proved right - not less than 80km to Khajuraho. Some night riding, I murmur to myself. Fortunately, the roads for the next 27km turn out to be very good, courtesy the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna. Good chance for me to make up some lost time. Meanwhile, I've been looking at quite a few types of birds ever since I left the highways. Lots of parrots, some white, some brown, some blue birds. I am not a bird watcher, so don't expect names from me :-) These are hard to photograph; the momement you stop, they decide to take off. Other than the road, one sees tall brown jowar plants, just-planted-wheat and the not-so-distant hills. The odd mustard field also. Huts by the roadside in small settlements. Kids playing and having a splash in the streams. I end up skipping lunch today - again to save time. I'm running on apples, water, tea and jilebis sold at the chai shop at 2 Rs/50 grams.

Jan 6: Best Day so far! (part 4 of 5)

After Singapur, the road fairy tale ends. From here there are two paths to Khajuraho - one roundabout main road over Panna(diamond mines here), and another direct road through the villages and jungles. The latter road is my choice. The next 4 kms is purely offroading, about a km or so uphill. Soon Ajaigadh comes up. 'Gadh' means 'fort', and this place has a fort. The locals have described it as a high fort, with a few idols and canyons. Nothing much to see, and equally, who has the time?

Next stop : Bariarpur 25kms away. The road is a mixed bag. It's 5:20 by the time I reach this sizable village, and 25 kms more to Khajuraho. Local advice: halt and rest. The owner of Janata Hotel offers a cot to rest. I've been thinking of stopping at a village all day and everything seems to have fallen in place. So I decide to rest at the village. I'm satisfied with my 100km ride for the day.

The bike is obviously a big attraction in the village. Once I take off the bags from the bike, it's test ride time for everyone. We play a prank on the hotel owner. I set him up on the hardest-to-pedal gears. He is huffing and puffing by the time he is back, but muttering 'bahut speed bhagat hai'.

There are some dacoits around the jungles here. Mostly they seem to target the wealthy outsiders by stopping vehicles and robbing them of cash and valuables. The police seem to be doing a good job of controlling the dacoits, having eliminated a couple of them a week ago. An estimated 50-100 dacoits are still at large, but an equal number are apparently behind the bars. There is a path which goes directly from here to Khajuraho, and that passes through jungles all the way. There has been an instance of a foreign biker being robbed after being betrayed by some local chap of another village. Need to be a bit careful to choose the right path here too, but that's for tomorrow.

Jan 6: Best Day so far! (part 5 of 5)

At the village I'm having a gala time. Chatting around with the villages, sometimes on serious topics. Many people are sitting around the hotel's wooden oven to warm up their hands and feet. Villagers are having their evening chit-chat. One old man claims that Faris is the most beautiful city in the world, and of course in India! I'm on mute and enjoying the whole talk.

After dinner the proceedings become more interesting. There is a local singer who is cajoled to sing by the locals and me. Gulab jamoon is being prepared, and singing is just the right thing to pep up the boring activity. Soon, I join in too. We sing all the way from 8:30 to 10:00. The setting reminds me of the time we used to spend at the trekking campfires, except that this is with people who were strangers a few hours ago. Soon, it's time to sleep.

So where am I now?

I haven't been able to push out updates for the past three days. In
fact, I'm hoping that I'll be lucky enough to publish this!

I'm having a great time here in Madhya Pradesh. I've seen the Kalinjar
Fort, stayed at a village(great experience), seen the best of what
Khajuraho has to offer, and ridden in some fascinating jungles.

Currently I'm at a town called Shahgadh. I reached here this evening,
and after this town some ghats start. So need to stop here. This town
has one government resthouse which is full. Courtesy the kind local
hotel owner, I have another opprtunity to use my sleeping bag :-)

With 30 days gone, I have done about 2950km or so. Another 800km
remains to be covered, and that's quite a bit to ride, considering
that I have 6.5 days left AND Sanchi plus Mandu and Bhimbhetka to see.
One of these days I'll have to ride a 200km and some crazy ideas are
cooking in my head, with the most radical one being doing a 24hr ride
at the end of the tour! Which of my ideas I end up executing, time
will tell - or more likely, the terrain will decide!

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Best of luck, Bala...

Gentle reminder folks: Bala is starting off today on his
ride-for-a-cause around South India. Please read more about it and
encourage him at . Best of luck,

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Jan 6: Moving towards Khajuraho

Intend to end today at Khajuraho - it's still 120km or so to go. I'll
be taking some deviations to watch a couple of large forts.

I was sleepy while writing yesterday's story(see below), so missed out
some important items.

First: food at Chitrakoot temple. The police guard at the main temple
in Chitrakoot was insistent that I take prasad after darshan - I was
receiving some good treatment for riding my bike all the way. I was
acting like a devotee to save myself some trouble (the people here
don't seem to take kindly to atheists), but landed in more trouble.
The 'prasad' turned out to be dry coconut copra and meals. A few dozen
devotees from the local villages were sitting around were eagerly
waiting for their meal. Rice, roti and daal. Can't help commenting
that the south indian temples probably serve much better food in much
hygenic conditions! The food reminded me of my 4 years spent in an
orphanage, where the food was much better too. And this is Chitrakoot,
where Rama spent 12 years! I somehow feel this place is not that
popular, but is being promoted...

Second: the language in Uttar pradesh(UP). It's a difficult-to-speak
dialect of hindi. I'm told it has no name. I can understand most of
the language, though. Many a time I have been in situations where the
other person knows only the local dialect, and we've understood each
other most of the time. In contrast, Bihar speaks bhojpuri, which is
fairly easy to imitate.

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Jan 5: To Chitrakoot and beyond

I was up fairly early. Since I was staying at a dhaba, the toilet was
all the land right across the road. The food that I eat everyday
doesn't seem to be suiting me very well, and I feel it every morning.

I'm off a bit late at 6:45. I was chatting with the dhaba folks, and
didn't realize the lighting conditions had changed drastically. I was
busy showing them the GPS receiver and the camera. Now that the night
was past, showing these didn't seem like a problem. The local
electrician had some gadgets himself, including a video player with
512 MB memory card. These guys may lag somewhat in terms of
technology, but there is no saying what could happen if the economics
work out right. Case in point: mobile phones.

Chitrakoot, my intended place of tourism, was more than 80km away. I
hoped to reach there by 1 PM. That meant faster riding than yesterday.
I kept up the pace and reached at about 1:15 or so.

Unheralded, the hills have slowly started. So have bad roads. I did
many slow inclines and descents today. More is in store, if my reading
of the maps is correct.

Chitrakoot itself is set among hills, but not completely surrounded by
them. Honestly, I didn't find anything interesting. Many temples, all
of them new(as in 'not ancient'). No ASI boards anywhere in sight. I
was expecting to see some historical evidence related to Rama, but
didn't see any. If you think I missed something, do let me know.

Stopped for the day at Attara, a sizeable bazaar on NH76. I had
intended to stop at a place called Narayni, but decided against it
once the locals told me that there is no place to stay there.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Replies to comments

@santosh: :-) wish I got some enlightenment, then all my luggage would
go away ;-)

@gaurav: thanks, it indeed is an experience to savour.

@kk: will be back soon. Eager to hear about your conference too. And
agreed the thai folks make the best looking structures.

@avinash: i will try to follow your suggestions in Khajuraho. Couldn't
follow them much in Varanasi...

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Jan 4: Unusual stop in Dhaba(part 1 of 2)

Disaster - got up at 7! Should have been 15kms away by this time. Out
of the hotel by 8, slow again - this sets the pace for the rest of the

Wasn't in any mood to ride the cycle today, and this directly
translated to a slackened pace. So much so that I had crossed
Allahabad, a distance of about 65km, well past 1:30.

On the outskirts of Allahabad flows the Ganga - or should I say
'dries'? There's a really long bridge - easily 2km long. On the sandy
river bed, they have laid makeshift electric poles, and tents! A local
tells me it hasn't rained properly for 3 years, and so the river is
not full. This is surprising, since the source of these (so-called)
perennial rivers is in the ice-bergs way up in the himalayas! Such is
the state of Ganga-maiya. So I decide to skip the visit to Sangam, the
meeting point of Ganga and yamuna - afterall, I reckon there is surely
no point looking at two dry rivers meeting, is there?

The outskirts of Allahabad is where I bid audieu to NH-2 and turn left
to NH-26. This NH boasts a grand beginning with a cable stayed bridge
over Yamuna, four lanes for traffic and two for 'slow traffic', plus
iron girders at the extreme ends! As expected, the glory fades away in
a few km, and exposes a typical highway with enough space for two
lorries and a cycle to pass.

The map mentions a fort at a place Bhita, off Ghoorpur, 15km from
Allahabad. This turns out to be a disappointment, as using the words
'ruins' is an overstatement for it. An appropriate description is 'a
few bricks over a fenced hill'. There is a buddhist site close-by,
which is the better one, villagers tell me later in the evening.

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Jan 4: Unusual stop in Dhaba(part 2 of 2)

I end the day at a small town called Murka. It has a dhaba, which is
where I am staying. I intended to stop at a place called Mau, but
villagers here advised me to stop here. They tell me that there are
jungles from here till Mau. I've anyway been riding since morning with
little joy, so stoppimg is logical. This is the first time I have
stopped at a dhaba ever, and it's an experience. Folks here are
rather surprised that I am single, inspite of being close to 30 -
here, marriage happens much before 20. I had seen many young school
going girls with sindhoor on the parting of their heads and figured
out the same, but here is confirmation. There surely is a good
relation between general level of education and age of marriage. That
said, I am happy to see lines of school bound children in Uttar
Pradesh. It's a sight I sorely missed in Bihar. We've also been
discussing other things like the caste system, women's education and
many other things under the sky. Talking to people over a fire,
umpteen chais and idle chit chat make for an interesting way to end
the day.

One aspect of staying at an open place like a dhaba is the safety of
the bike, bag and the expensive contents. One needs to be a bit
discreet about what one has. I've used my mobile and made sure
everyone knows it's in my pocket. I've lent my cycle pump to a local
to fill some much needed air in his tyres. Not taken out my camera,
neither my GPS receiver. The less the locals see, the better it is for
everyone. I'm very comfortable with the people around me, but people
come and leave at night - and it's them who shouldn't get to know
about the gadgets, so...

I am lying down on this bare charpoy and going to make use of my
sleeping bag in a little while from now.

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Varanasi - some impressions (part 1 of 2)

I've been out in Benaras, roaming around since 5:45 in the morning.
Coming out so early in the morning can be a bit scary, as the hotels
are generally inside a maze of narrow gullies. Getting out to the road
that leads to the bathing ghats on the banks of the Ganga river is
where the fun starts.

A popular tourist activity(especially with foreign tourists) is the
early morning boat ride on the ghat. I don't find anybody to share a
boat, so negotiate for 150 bucks for a 1 hour 15 minute ride. Well
worth the money. There is no great sunrise view here, but the serene
views of the ghats in the minimally foggy morning are excellent. The
boy gives some helpful explanations about the ghats. Corpses are burnt
at harishchandra ghat, using what looks like very less amount of wood.
There's apparently an electric crematorium as well.

Returning back from the ghats, I reach the entrance of the Vishwanath
temple. No mobiles, no cameras allowed inside. I keep my belongings at
a locker provided by a close-by shop. He refuses to accept money, but
insists I buy prasad. Being an atheist, I am equally determined not to
buy prasad. Finally I have to return. For the devout, Varanasi, has
many temples to spend the whole day on. There's a fort near Ramnagar
too, but that's easy to skip :-)

Very close to the hotel, an old man is making khichdi in a very large
cauldron. The thought of eating local khichdi instead of the regular
puri, samosa crosses my mind, and I promptly ask him what time the
khichdi will be ready. His reply is not coherent, but I get the
impression that he is displeased. Later, the hotel manager tells me
that the khichdi is made by 'khichdi baba', using donations to feed
the beggars at the ghats!

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Varanasi - some impressions (part 2 of 2)

I've checked out of the hotel by 8:45, so that I can reach the cycle
shop at 9. Turns out that all shops open at 10. Grr - why did this
mechanic tell me to come at 9? This local mechanic is not able to
remove my 9 speed casette from the hub(i've been carrying these in my
bag). So I buy a new 6 speed gear. It is 1:15 by the time this guy
finishes. All the assurance he displayed yesterday has vanished in a
puff of smoke :-(

With not much time left for end-of-day, I settle to stop at Gopiganj,
about 60km away. I don't feel like riding today at all, but need to
keep going anyway. It's 6:30 by the time I reached Hotel New Rajput, 2
kms after Gopiganj(it doesn't have a hotel). 75 bucks for the room.
Basic, but that's what I need to just sleep off the night...

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Jan 2: Ride to Sarnath, Stop in Varanasi(part 1 of 3)

Started at 6:15 from hotel Rain Basera in Kudra. My idea of using the
middle chainring had seemingly ended all chain problems. A shorter
gear in front means more pedalling is needed. And I wanted to reach
Varanasi early to have some hope of getting my bike repaired. At the
minimum, I intended to buy a chain suitable for a gear cycle.

After 50km of riding at a fast clip, I was out of Bihar and in Uttar
Pradesh. Celebrated that with breakfast at a place called Naubatpur!

By 12:30, I was inside Varanasi. I realized I had taken the wrong road
- I would have been in a better position if I had gone to Sarnath
first over Mughalsarai. I had blindly followed the national highway,
and that had me do an extra 10km extra. The highways being built now
bypass the towns and cities, so I need to be careful in the future.
It's very useful to look at the GPS receiver's map at times - it shows
the older version of the highways, which are now local roads, and
hence shortcuts.

For today, I had two activities in mind - visiting Sarnath and getting
my bike fixed. It made sense to visit Sarnath first, since bike repair
had the potential of eating up as much time I had. So, off to Sarnath
- 13km away from a place called Lanka in Varanasi. It wasn't hard to
find the road as the locals were quick to point out the road.

Reached Sarnath at 2. The biggest problem in all tourist places is
finding a place to park the bike, and making sure that the bags are
not touched. I first reached the ruins of Sarnath. I ate at a roadside
stall in a bid to get some parking consideration, but bad luck, he
wouldn't take the bike in his care. There was parking for motor
vehicles, and the caretaker was willing to let me park the bike. But
he absolutely refused any responsibility of the bags. He said
'bhaaisaab, ye choron ka shehar hai, bach ke rahiye'(this is a city of
thieves, be careful).And I had thought Bihar was the only place to
worry about! However, he pointed me towards a place which had bike
parking. For rupees 3, both my bike and bag got parking.

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Jan 2: Ride to Sarnath, Stop at Varanasi(part 2 of 3)

Immediately, I was approached by a local, saying he will guide me
around for cheaper, 30 rupees to be precise. Most people seem to think
I'm not well off, just by seeing my cycle. That's why I make it a
point never to take out my camera till I strike a deal :-) In this
case, it turned out to be a bad deal. Sarnath, like Bodhgaya, has
temples constructed by other countries. This 'guide' showed me to the
Tibetan and Japanese temples, and the local saree weaving factory, got
me back, and said 'apni seva khatam'(my service is over).

The Japanese temple has a sandalwood idol of Buddha in the sleeping
sideways pose (that's supposed to be the way he left this world). The
tibetan temple has more prominent protests against China!

Varanasi/Benaras/Kashi (yes, they are all the same place) has a
special attraction for ladies - it's well known silk sarees. Earlier,
the zari work on the sarees used to be made of pure gold. Cheaper
substitues are used now-a-days. It apparently takes 7 days to make one
saree on the loom. The shops around Sarnath claim to sell sarees at
25-35% less compared to Benaras.

Coming to the real attractions. The ruins comprise a few monastaries,
temples and a huge stupa. All made mostly of brick. The temples have
bases made of engraved stone. There is a pillar with inscriptions too,
but it seems broken.

The real attractions are stashed away in the beautifully maintained
ASI museum. No photography and no mobile phones allowed. The
showpiece, the national emblem, the 'lion seal' is taller than me,
made of rock hard stone and is very well polished. It's in very fine
shape. Only one of the four lions has a disfigured face. Particularly
impressive are the assembled broken pieces of one large broken wheel
(looks like the wheel of a rath) - again taller than me. There are
also, obviously, umpteen Buddha and related statues. Sarnath's claim
to fame is that Buddha gave his first sermon after enlightenment here.

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Jan 2: Ride to Sarnath, Stop at Varanasi(part 3 of 3)

The ASI has also attempted to establish that Hinduism flourished in
Sarnath too, by showcasing idols of 'brahminical' dieties like Vishnu,
Ganesha, etc. At this point, I am getting to wonder why there are no
ancient Indian temples depicting Rama and Krishna as gods. Anybody has

Another beautiful temple to visit, albeit modern, is the Mulagandha
Kutty Vihara, a few steps away. The Thai temple again gets some
brownie points in terms of stylish construction. But that's about it
in Sarnath, other than shopping for Silk Sarees of course! I wanted to
buy a replica of the emblem, but it's out of stock.

Coming back to Varanasi, I head to Piplani Katra, the road having the
most bike shops. Purchased a gear cycle chain at Piplani brothers and
sent off to the bike mechanic a few steps ahead - Naseer mestri.
Naseer sees the casette and hub in my bag, and non-chalantly says he
will fix it, but tomorrow. It's dark at this time, so I can't blame
him. There is something about this mechanic that instills confidence,
so I will be at his shop at nine tomorrow.

After this, time to find a hotel. This time I wanted to try a lonely
planet recommended hotel, 'Hotel Alka', close to Meer Ghat. Varanasi
has 18 ghats on the holy river Ganga! Bad luck, hotel full. Goto hotel
Puja, that's full too, except for one room costing 1200. It's
seemingly difficult to get a room, courtesy foreign tourists visiting
'after celebrating new year at Goa'. Finding a hotel in the narrow,
confusing gullies here is tricky business. Luckily, courtesy a few
local boys, I get a room at Laxmi hotel, near Manmandir Ghat. 400
rupees - very nice room, hot water for bath, good food. Hotels here
ask for identity cards (in the light of the recent bomb attacks) and
there is some amount of police presence. But other than that, things
look peaceful enough...

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Jan 1: Still in Bihar amid chain woes

I'm writing this entry from Kudra in Bihar. Yes I'm still here, having
ridden only 72km today. This place is 93km shy of Varanasi, my
destination for tomorrow.

Nothing much happened after my 1 PM update. I just needed to keep
riding to reach Kudra. The highway is still being constructed as a
bypass to Sasaram and is bad in some places. Other than that, it's 4
lane all the way. I've done 72km today. I stopped riding at 5 PM with
another place called Mohania 22kk away. Must admit I was tempted to
ride till there, but why risk? Locals advice against riding in the

Got basic accomodation - reasonably clean room for 105 bucks. Spent
some time calling friends/relatives and wishing them. Surprisingly,
none of the SMSes I try to send are going out! Patchy GPRS too.

Spending time reading the lonely planet guide and studying the maps.
Looks like I have enough time from now to reach Ahmedabad. 13.5 days
from tomorrow ought to be enough to take some deviations from my
straight route and land in Ahmedabad on the afternoon of the 15th.
That should leave me with enough time to pack my cycle and bags, and
fly back to Bangalore on the 16th...

For tomorrow, the plan is : ride fast to Varanasi, get the bike fixed,
check bags into hotel, visit Sarnath(8km away) and come back to
Varanasi. Day-after-tomorrow morning I can do a bit of sightseeing
around Varanasi and then head towards Khajuraho. That's about as far
as I am willing to plan today, for, who knows how my bike will behave

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New year wishes & more bike woes...

Happy new year everybody! May you have an excellent 2008.

I was able to get my chain fixed a short while ago, courtesy a local
mechanic. I must admit I'm not completely comfortable with the
solution, but it seems to work. More important is how long it lasts

Obviously I can't reach Varanasi, since it is 160km away. Will settle
for anything in the range of a 100. Bags packed. Starting off in 10

Update@1PM: I've had more chain problems. I got the chain changed at
Aurangabad, but it came off after 25km of riding. I think the local
chains need perfect alignment; they do not take kindly to gearing
arrangements. So I got the chain shifted again to the front chainring.
That makes me a slow cyclist again, but hey, atleast I can move ahead

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