cows

Big(ish) Miles in the Big Dust

So… back in India again.  How’s it working out?

Well, to be honest, it’s much the same as the first time.  But with better roads.  Long, flat miles, unchanging scenery, sweat and dust.  A few interesting temples and imperial relics (and kite flyers, below) in town centres.  A third (so far, but I suppose you never know) non-activated SIM.  Oh, and headwinds, for a ‘nice’ change.

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The main roads which I’m following have the great merit of being flat and smooth.  If you were looking to set round-the-world cycling records, heading along here (with the wind, rather than against it) would be a good way to get your 200+ kms a day.

I’m not, of course, trying to set any records.  So for me, it’s more a case of trying not to lose concentration.  Because the second the long, straight road lulls me into relaxation, a piece of Indian driving insanity is likely to cause me significant amount of grief.

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It’s a bit like that famous definition of war; long periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

I think I’ve sorted out the ‘rules’ of the road here, now.  Which is helpful, if not exactly encouraging.  Essentially, it’s all about the horn.  And I haven’t got a horn on the bike.

If you hit the horn, you are in the right.  It doesn’t matter which level of motoring insanity you’ve just descended to.  It doesn’t matter if you’re doing things (like driving a car the wrong way down the fast lane of a dual carriageway) which would get you imprisoned in most countries.

If your hand is on the horn, you can do exactly what you want, and expect everyone else to get out of the way.  Or die.  And, best of all, you get to stare aggressively at people who have the temerity to remain on their own side of the road, minding their own business, while you try your best to kill them and yourself.

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For the last few days, the trick to keeping myself alert (and therefore alive) has been cows.  Uttar Pradesh, which is the region I’ve been traversing since crossing the border from Nepal on Friday, seems to have a lot more of them than the other parts of India I’ve been.

Yesterday, I had the privilege to witness a lengthy tug-of-war between cow and man at a large roadside cattle market (above).  But I’ve also seen cows in vans, small cows in rickshaws, and cows wandering across the highway (relying on bells, rather than their horns, strangely).

And, of course, there’s that classic Indian ‘cows lounging in the middle of the street in the city centre’ thing going on, too:

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I’m in Lucknow at the moment, which is the biggest city around here by a margin.  It’s a major centre in northern India, home to about a million colleges, a large Muslim population, and stacks of historic buildings, running right through from the Mughal Empire to the British Raj.  It’s actually a really interesting town to stroll around (once you’ve reminded yourself that you’re not a pedestrian in Nepal any more).

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From here, the road should remain flat and smooth all the way to Delhi.  Hopefully, the headwinds will give it a rest for a day or two.  No doubt the driving clowns will still be out in abundance, but there’s another possible cloud on the horizon.  There’s a lot of civil unrest just to the north of Delhi at the moment, which The Times of India says has spread around the country a bit.

The main road to Agra (which I’ll be taking) was blocked for a few hours yesterday.  And most of the highways to the north of Delhi – towards Amritsar, which is my final target in India – have been disrupted by protests too.  Apparently, the water supply to Delhi’s been interrupted, too; it’s clearly all kicking off.

This is one situation where being on a bike may work to my advantage.  There are still a few days before I get to Agra, and another few from there to Delhi.  So there’s a chance that things will have calmed down up there by the time I get that far north.

I’ll just have to wait and see whether this ends up affecting things or not.  With a bit of luck, a change of plan won’t be required, but I’m not going to know for a while.

In the meantime, it’s back on those crazy, dusty roads tomorrow (Tuesday).  Wish me luck!

Bulls, Cows and Wind

Things took an unexpectedly bovine turn on the way to Wellington.

Having hit my antipodal point (so no more geographical gibbering in that particular vein), I got lucky with the weather.  A bit of drizzle, but a lovely cross-tailwind pushing me fairly effortlessly down the coastal highway toward the capital at over 100km a day.

As I think I might have mentioned before, highway riding can be a bit tedious (between the occasional, traffic-related moments of panic).  And as my mind wandered a little, I began to notice the slogans on signs.  You know the sort of thing.  Where a town or a company pays an ad agency to come up with a few snappy words to capture the essence of what the town or company is about.

These are usually either rubbish, or entirely incomprehensible.  Or both.  American towns seem to specialise in the ‘the best little town until the next little town’, or ‘the home of someone you’ve never heard of’ type of thing.  In the UK, it would be even more mundane; ‘Fourth in the County Best In Bloom Competition, 1983’.  Companies tend to go for the corporate nonsense approach; ‘Your Innovative Lavatorial Solutioneers’, and that sort of guff.

The Kiwis seem to have taken a conscious decision to undermine the whole idea of these slogans.  And good on them.

There are two approaches that I’ve noticed.  The first is the ‘entirely true and obvious’ slogan, which must make marketing companies cry.  My favourite of these is NZ Bridges, who have come up with the magnificent slogan ‘We Build Bridges’.  That’s a company which has clearly decided that the whole thing is far more trouble than it’s worth.

And then there’s the town of Bulls.  Nothing unusual about the place, apart from a name that’s clearly begging for merciless teasing.  But they decided to get there first, and to take on the slogan war with lashings of self-deprecation.  This is likely to remain my favourite town name sign for quite a while:

20141110RTWThat’s right.  Not one, but two cattle-related puns on one sign.  And the town slogan; ‘A Town Like No Udder’.  Absolute genius.

I was still chuckling to myself about Bulls when I ran into cows.  The highway went up onto a long, very narrow bridge over some marshy land, and the local authorities had, kindly and unusually, built a cycle track across the fields to bypass it.  There was a sign at the start of the track which said ‘Open’.  I told you I was getting a bit observant with signs that day.  Anyway, it wasn’t.  Open, that is.  It was firmly closed, as a forty-five minute stream of cows blithered their brainless way from one field to another.  That’s a lot of cows on a chilly day, I can tell you.  But I did manage to freeze a few in mid-gallop as they panicked about my red jacket and shades.  They seem to run just like very fat horses.  Maybe there’s another new sport in there…

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After so much close-quarters bovine stupidity, it was a relief to roll into Wellington on Tuesday evening, knowing that the North Island was now pretty much behind me, and looking forward to seeing the supposedly gorgeous South.  I was given a bed, a feed and a quick night-time tour by Jos, Rocky and family, who very kindly looked after me despite the girls being in the middle of exam season at school.  Thanks again, all!

Wellington certainly lived up to its reputation for wind.  It was still blowing a hoolie after ten at night; everywhere else in NZ, the wind seems to die down after dark.  And it was still blustery (though surprisingly sunny) when The Beast and I hopped on the ferry south yesterday lunchtime (Wednesday).

The sun lasted until the ferry’s final approach to Picton, when the heavens opened, and a good old Kiwi shower lashed down.  It didn’t really spoil the view:

IMG_0379I decided to take it easy today, just to get used to the roads in the South, and to work out what a reasonable daily mileage is.  The downside of the beautiful hills, bays and roads is that progress is not especially fast.  And there are rather a lot of cafes around too.  Repeated doses of cake, coffee and beautiful views are not the most efficient cycling combo.  But they are all very, very nice.

20141113RTW_2There are, of course, harder days ahead.  I’ll be pushing across the hills for a while until things settle down a bit on the west coast.  The South Island looks stunning already, so I just need to adjust my riding to suit, hope the showers ease up, and relax and enjoy the ride.  It promises to be a good one.