|Gretchen--ready to ride!, Mysore, India|
Leaving Mysore by bicycle meant diving headlong into some of the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen. Actually, I loved the thrill of it. But I didn’t mind reaching quiet roads meandering through villages and farmlands.
We attracted curious attention whenever we stopped for
a (frequent) water or tea break. Our guide said that Indians assume only
impecunious eccentric foreigners ride bicycles rather than travel by car or
|Goat herd traffic jam|
Along the way we stopped at a madrasa, a school where Muslim boys study the Koran. We also visited a few ancient Hindu temples.
The Muslim Mughal Empire which spread over most of India in the 17th
century destroyed many Hindu temples in the north. But the empire never reached
the far south of the country, and so the ancient compounds, covered in
beautiful elaborate relief sculpture have been preserved.
|Hindu temple sculptures|
|Monkeys in the trees|
We cycled to Bandipur National Park where an evening van safari met no tigers, just monkeys and birds. But a walk next morning just across from our lodge took us a mere 100 yards away from a mother and baby elephant foraging for food. We skirted around them, but I got only fuzzy photos.
A 13km bicycle climb (36 hairpin bends) attracted only five of our group. I joined a few others to walk up the steep slope through villages and woods. A break for tea and coconut cake at the top revived us all and we cycled on to Ooty, a former British hill station.
|Serenade by girls on the bus|
In the afternoon we were joined on a steam train (from the British era) by a most entertaining group of student nurses who serenaded us with Bollywood and Indian pop songs.
|Tea pickers, Kerala|
Next day we descended through the hills of the Western Ghats through lush tropical forest and tea plantations to the state of Kerala and the southwestern coast of India. More on that next week.
Cycling distances on this trip varied from 12-55 miles/day, averaging about 30 miles/day. Road conditions were good, most rides were on quiet back roads. Van support was always available for those who chose not to cycle. See www.exodustravels.com for more information on this and other tours.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. This 1997 Booker-prizewinning novel takes place in Kerala.
The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young by Somini Sengupta. A New York Times reporter, born in India and raised in the U.S., spent several years researching this 2016 book about India today.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Story of a street orphan and Tibetan lama in 1890s India: a spy thriller, social commentary, and poignant coming of age story. One of my favorite classics.