Leaving Bangalore was never gonna be easy, a city of 8 million people sprawled in all directions from the city centre, a city in perpetual motion as people commute to and from work, deliver goods and go about their daily business. The ring road to the city limits stretched 30km in front of us, a day of battling the traffic and dust and madness, but it was time to move on towards Hampi over the next week and then on to Hyderabad where we will cheat a little and take a train north. It’s not our preferred mode of travel, but we are under pressure to get out of India by mid March to sort out our visas and decide where the road will take us from here.
Our intention to cycle 90km on our first day of leaving the big smoke was marred by the fact that we were gridlocked for most of the morning. It was compounded by the fact that every day just seems to be getting hotter and dryer, making the afternoons almost unbearable to cycle in with the blinding sunshine and dusty roads. The day was of little note and we found ourselves settling in a small hotel for the night at a dusty crossroads with little to offer except somewhere to lay our heads. We had cycled 50 kilometres and after cooking dinner in our hotel we slept well with the intention of leaving Nelamangala early in the morning.
We did get up early the next day and hit the road while the day was still cool and the traffic relatively quiet. But our intentions to make a fair distance never materialised. Sam seemed to be down with a stomach bug again and by midday, it was pretty apparent that we would need to stop if he wasn’t going to run himself into the ground. We ended up in a small town called Tumukuru, like so many others we have passed, it is a dusty place that seems to have been built in the last 20 years or so. Fortunately, we were able to find all we needed there; a pharmacy to stock up on antibiotics again and a domino’s pizza where we could buy some bland and hopefully germ free food to ease the tummy trouble. Our hotel was a small affair and when we checked in we were warned not to open the windows for fear the monkies would invade and usurp the remote control and any electronic devices that they could get their little monkey mitts on! Despite this, we couldn’t actually close the windows fully as there was a plethora of cables coming into the room via their openings. We hadn’t been there long when a sinister looking furry arm stretched into the room, fingers wiggling menacingly at us. I quickly jumped away from the glass, pastry in hand as beady eyes watched me move back and forth, full of hope that I might part with my snack.
With fever and severe stomach cramps wiping Sam out for the remainder of the afternoon, we decided it was best to stay put for another day, hoping that the rest day would help him shake the chills, aching limbs and tiredness that was plaguing him. By our fourth day out of Bangalore, he was feeling at least fit enough to cycle again. Besides, we were happy to move on; we had a near constant monkey audience outside our window and about 5 or 6 times a day, the whole hotel building would shake inexplicably as if there was an earthquake. Also, I had my suspicions that Sam was getting cabin fever what with being trapped in a room and in a fit of role reversal had an entire gallery of monkies watching him through the window bars as if he was an incarcerated animal.
Day four saw us zipping along the highway, granted a featureless and monotonous cycle, but without the heavy traffic and plentiful junctions of the smaller roads, our momentum and pace saw us completing 90km instead of our intended 40km and we arrived in Hiriyar by 2pm. Finding a decent, well-priced, monkey free hotel, we concentrated on filing our bellies for some much needed energy and sustenance. Surveying our route ahead, we decided that we would do our utmost to get to Hampi within two days, planning to stop at Chitradurga the folowing day and finishing with a brutal 140km cycle to finish. Although this wasn’t ideal, we were both getting heartily sick of spending our days on dusty roads without very much to look at and keep us entertained. Besides, the condition of the roads had conducive to making good distance and so we decided to make the most of it and do the best we can.
And so, the next day, we followed the highway, which remained good and lightly trafficked, to Chitradurga, a fort town. It was a short cycle and we were in the town by noon, but finding suitable accommodation proved elusive fo a while. Eventually, we settled on a pretty dusty lodge, it won’t be winning any awards any time soon, but it was both the best of a bad lot and also the cheapest place we checked. We were even able to have a hot water bucket shower, which is actually a lot nicer than it sounds and quite a rarity for hotels in this neck of the woods. Although the weather is ridicuously hot, showering in cold water, although refreshing, just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to getting rid of the day’s dirt! Once we were scrubbed up, we decided to visit the city’s fort.
Chitradurga fort is a sprawling defensive complex overlooking the city. Once we had paid our entrance fee, we entered through the impressive gates, staggered to prevent would-be intruders breaking down the front door with a battering ram. As we came around the first corner, we were greeted by an Indian family, who asked us where we were from. Tired of the cat calls and yelling that comes our way on a constant basis and not much in the moodfor being stared at, Sam decided to announce that he came from Ecuador which instantly back fired as the patriarch of the family began to chat away to him in Spanish! He couldn’t have foreseen that they would be a fairly rich and well travelled family from Bangalore with a pretty good knowledge of South America. As I stood chatting to them for a few minutes, Sam stood intermittently nodding and uttering a sage “Si!” as his contribution to the conversation in an effort not to have his white lie uncovered and he fielded the questions that were fired at him about the Galapagos Islands in a Speedy Gonzales-like accent.
I woke up the next day feeling anxious. The heat had been building steadily since we had left Bangalore and even with an early start, 140km of distance to cover was likely to see us cycling well into the afternoon to get to Hampi. There was no doubt about it, to complete our longest day’s cycling to date, we were going to have a tough day ahead of us. The previously fantastic highway had now dwindled down to a narrow road with plenty of potholes and seemed to be carrying all the trucks travelling to the north of India along it. It wasn’t long before our patience wore thin and we spent most of the day hurling abuse at truckers that passed us within a hair’s breadth and drivers that thought nothing of forcing us off the road so that they could overake one another. I seem to have blocked most of the memories of this day from my mind like a PTSD sufferer and when I think back on it, can only recall a mess of oppressive heat, jaw-dropping appalling driving, a number of sense of humour failures on both our behalves and a great flood of relief on reaching Hampi. By the time we reached the village, it was approaching dusk and we had cycled over 145km. A pretty good achievement in normal conditions with a fully loaded bike, not to mind in 35 degree heat on bad roads while sharing the surface with suicidal truckers!
And so we made it to Hampi, a long and dusty cycle with plenty of challenges. As the Summer hastens towards us, I am glad of the thought that we’re heading north soon, hopefully bringing us some challenging hills but with that, some cooler weather. For now, we wil take a few days to sit back and relax in Hampi amongst the boulders and the temples and recuperate before we hit the road again. The last few days may not sound like a picnic, and indeed they weren’t but it’s all part of the experience of travelling by bicycle. It can be amazing and beautiful and adventurous, and occassionally frustrating and dangerous and difficult but it’s all part of an experience with it’s own stories to share.
Some photos to click through!