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- 15/11/2020 at 21:53 #4463AvinashMember
- City: Kanpur
- Posts 55
Day 0: Aldona to Baga
Nestled in the party state of Goa, is a quiet little serene village, Aldona.
And there began my journey on the 4th of March 2020. But this story started some 170 years before.
My great great grandfather, Manuel Xavier de Noronha, started out from his village of Aldona in the 1850s. He was a photographer, travelling through the country, clicking pictures of the Rajas of the Princely States. Travelling with his 21-bullock cart caravan, he eventually made his way to Kanpur, where the family settled.
170 years is a long time and many things have changed since. The one thing which has remained unchanged in the village is the church, which was built in 1596. He surely would have been in there at some point of time. As such, I started my ride from St. Thomas Church, Aldona. My adventure set to be a pale shadow of his travels, long before the advent of smartphones and internet!
Day 0 of the ride was a symbolic one, from Aldona to my sister’s place in Arpora. Symbols done and dusted; it was time to make music with cymbals!
Macapao!15/11/2020 at 22:16 #4465
Day 1: Baga to Malwan
As it has now become a habit, any attempt at starting on time was immediately thrown out the window!
Starting from Baga Beach, the route was supposed to stick to the coast like a leech. And along the North Goa beaches I rode. Some of the most touristy and therefore undesirable parts of the state!
So much so, that I didn’t bother stopping at all in Goa. It was ride straight through. As I moved closer to Maharashtra, the crass commercialisation continuously decreased.
Plenty of saltpans along the way…
The moment I crossed the bridge and entered Maharashtra my heart rate monitor strap broke. A reminder from the Velo Gods, that touring doesn’t require all this unnecessary data!
Roads were fantastic there, narrow, serpentine, snaking its way through idyllic villages. Asphalt quality is good for the most part, one can easily ride through on their road bikes.
Hopping across from Goa, the first thing that hits you is the lack of tourism. Or any attempt at making the place tourist friendly. It is almost as if the Maharashtrians don’t want tourists. They actually don’t, but more on that later.
A wrong turn led me to Paradise Beach. A picturesque spot, with firm sand which allowed me to ride my bike on it. After frolicking in the sand, it was time for second breakfast. Breakfast in this part of India is very light. You have to eat two breakfasts. One just doesn’t cut it!
At the restaurant where I ate, there was a kid on a cycle. With his head buried in his phone, hanging over his handlebars. I sat there for close to an hour gobbling down hot food and that kid was steadfastly stuck to his screen.
My curiosity got the better of me, and I asked, what was that kid tripping on! The restaurant manager told me that, they were the only place with WiFi in the vicinity and mobile internet was pathetic. So, all the kids came there to use the WiFi!
I laughed at the kid and then wished I had also asked for the WiFi password, while I was whiling away my time there…
A peculiar feature of the land is that there will be a short 1-2 km climb. With the climbs averaging 6% mostly and some of the tighter hairpins going all the way up to 20%. After this short climb, there will be a flat tabletops with golden grass adorning it. Then there will be a descent of similar proportions which ends on a bridge crossing a river. And this up & down song is on loop!
One of the many river crossings…
Pancake flat hill tops for a kilometre
While the numbers might not look impressive, you just need to throw in the heat and humidity of the coast into the mix and you realise why it is quite taxing!
Along the way, in the village of Mhapan, I met fellow cyclist Waman Thakur. We had been in touch over the phone for a few months, and it felt good to finally meet in the real world as well.
We rode together till the under-construction Sindhudurg Airport before he turned back home. Waman told me of the inauguration of the airport, which included the first flight landing there with a Ganpati idol on board. Can’t get any more auspicious than that!
After bidding adieu to Waman, I rode ahead and called it a night in Malwan. A small town. But rather than stay in the actual town, I stayed a little before in a tiny homestay. The grandfather of the house only spoke Marathi, so he called his grandkids to translate.
With Waman in the Golden Grass which covers the land till the eye can see…
The boy and girl were school going age and as is usually the case, the girl was smarter. She was far more conversant and helped me get a room in their homestay. Her brother was…well he was a dumbo in comparison.
I got home cooked food for dinner, which was nice and plain. Welcome grub after a long day in the saddle.
I love catching the sunset on the road and then finding a place to stay!
This is what the elevation profile looks like for the day!
You can check out the full route from Mapusa to Malwan on Strava.23/11/2020 at 22:38 #4478
Day 2: Malwan to Ambolgad
The second day of the ride was from Malwan to Ambolgad along the Western Coast.
As I sat at a shop breakfasting on typical Maharashtrian fare of Misal Pav, something stood out. Not the food, but the people.
Many shops and eateries in the region are run by women alone. Something which we never see in the north. The women in general are more confident and you get the feeling that, women out there are safer and have a better standing in society, as compared to many other parts of the country.
Irrespective of which part of the country you ride in, one common thing is children. Children always wave out to cyclists. Especially children in school uniform. Dreary school is the polar opposite of freedom on a cycle.
On this route, the kids were not alone. Even adults would wave out and shout a hello. The innocence of small-town India is still present along the Konkan coast. More often than not, I would hear someone yell out, “पाय नाही दुखत”. Your ‘legs don’t hurt!’, they would exclaim as they would see me pedalling by.
The backwardness of the area is superb for the traveller, but horrible for the foodie. Konkan cuisine is great, unfortunately the locals have no clue about how economics or tourism works. The moment they realise you aren’t Maharashtrian; they will fleece you. It is best to first ask the price before ordering food. I ended up paying Rs 180/- for fish curry and rice at a roadside dhaba.
Scent of the Sea…
For someone like me who has been visiting Goa from childhood in all seasons, this Konkan route got monotonous soon. It just doesn’t change, up and down all day. Only the mango orchards along the way stood out. A month later and it would have been harvest season. Even then the air had a pleasant scent of mangoes.
Other than mangoes, the only break in monotony was the view of the sea every once in a while. Even though you are riding along the coast, you cannot see the sea always. But whenever you do spot water, it is invigorating. More so considering the heat and humidity in March.
What this route is lacking in beauty, it makes up in being a delight for cycling. The climbs aren’t taxing or frightening. The descents don’t last long. It is easy. Yet at the end of a 100 km ride, you have climbed 1000 metres. A decent amount. For the most part the asphalt is also of good quality. Even the slightly bad sections are easily rideable on a road bike.
The locals are easy to spot from a distance. All of them wear tees with their names printed on the back and village/ club out front. It feels as if everyone belongs to some team or the other. I would love to find out which sport do these teams belong to.
My night halt of Ambolgad was a tiny beach village. It was roughly 7 km off the main highway. The beach was no bigger than the saddle of my bike! A little further up there was a small cliff overlooking the vast expanse of the sea, a perfect spot to watch the sunset.
Watching it all go down at Ambolgad!
Ambolgad once again showed the lack of economic or tourist sense by the locals. Accommodation there was exceptionally steep for basic lodgings. I ended up staying in somebody’s house. The room rent was 3000 for a night. They gave me the hall for 700 rupees. Weirdly the hall was thrice the size of the room. How do the owners work out the math beats me!
On the positive side of things. I got real home cooked Konkan grub. The fish thali was phenomenal and the uncle there asked me if I would like a bottle of beer to wash it all down!
The locals aren’t unfriendly towards outsiders. They just think they need to milk every penny out of people who don’t speak Marathi. A sort of ‘sin tax’ for not speaking the language…
The day changes but the elevation profile looks much the same!
You can check out the full route details on Strava.24/11/2020 at 17:33 #4486
Day 3: Ambolgad to Velneshwar
<p style=”text-align: center;”>Chilling at the beach…</p>
On the way out of Ambolgad there was a tiny nondescript fort. Another common feature in this land. You see many of these crumbling buildings with no maintenance and no care. For an outsider it is still pretty cool to check out, but for the locals it is old hat.
I planned to breakfast at the village on the highway, rather than Ambolgad, because prices at the latter was too steep. The promised food didn’t materialize and I ended up riding for an hour and a half on an empty stomach. Not the perfect way to start the day.
Food in Maharashtra is by and large good for a cyclist. Missal and vada pao are great sources of carbs. You get all the salt, potatoes and wheat you need to keep your legs spinning. At the same time, it is light and you don’t feel weighed down after munching on these snacks.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>One of the many places where you can buy Vada Pao. Perfect cycling snack!</p>
As I moved further north, the golden-brown grassy tabletops reduced and the greenery increased gradually. The roads were super smooth courtesy of there being a massive JSW Steel plant in the region.
Along the way I rode through the picturesque Aarey Waarey beaches. Arguably the most scenic stretch on this route. From the cliff you could see water till the horizon and serene beaches on either side, with verdant green towering hills covering the land mass.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>A protected beach for turtles, this is a protected nesting cage…</p>
Another tourist hotspot along the way is Ganpatipule. I happened to passing through on a weekend and the place was filled with MH 12 cars. The locals told me that the Pune folks are the worst drivers in the world. After encountering them more than a few times on the road, I couldn’t help but agree!
This route is known for its multiple ferry rides. And finally, I got to hop onto my first ferry. Surprisingly not just the passengers, but cycles are also charged a ticket. I had gotten used to Goa, where carrying your cycle along was free. Being green doesn’t come with perks on a Maharashtrian ferry!
<p style=”text-align: center;”>Fishing villages enroute…</p>
The short ferry ride was incredible, as I caught the sun shimmering over the water around sunset. To top it off, I got the sunset for a second time once I climbed the cliff overlooking the ferry point. Two sunsets in one day is more than what I had bargained for!
With the sun having disappeared over the horizon, it was time to ride in the dark. The headlight was in my bag and I was too lazy to take it out. And I continued pedalling under a pitch-black sky.
It was magical.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>The lone fisherman…</p>
Until I took a wrong turn and went down a horrible road to a village in the middle of nowhere. After much head scratching, I found someone to give me directions to the village which I was in search of, Velneshwar.
At Velneshwar I got a shack literally a stone’s throw away from the beach. The sound of crashing waves through the night was exactly what the doctor ordered.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>Beach View</p>
Every signboard in the region is in Marathi and only Maharashtrians seem to visit the place. Most people running the hotels, restaurants and shacks couldn’t speak a word of Hindi or English. That is how little exposure there is to tourism in this part of the world. If you don’t understand Marathi, you can go fly a kite!
The lack of tourist-oriented infrastructure once again showed itself when I ordered dinner. A fish thali was served with a spoonful of rice and extra rice was charged separately. This was the first time I have been charged for extra rice in a rice eating part of the world. Crazy!
<p style=”text-align: center;”>Coastal Life…</p>
<p style=”text-align: center;”>Chomp on a vada pav as you enjoy the scenery…</p>
<p style=”text-align: center;”>Racing boats on the ferry ride!</p>
<p style=”text-align: center;”>The elevation graph has more teeth than your fork!</p>
Check out the full route on Strava.25/11/2020 at 13:36 #4488
Day 4: Velneshwar to Harihareshwar Beach
Lots of greenery was the order of the day…
The fourth day of the ride began at a leisurely pace, with a walk along the Velneshwar Beach. The soothing sound of crashing waves, the feel of damp sand against the bare skin, the scenes of fishermen returning on their boats with their nights catch together provided a stellar experience.
But and there is always a but! At one end of the beach there were a bunch of folks from Pune. Playing loud Bollywood music, yelling even louder and jumping into the sea fully clothed… Even the waves recoiled with horror at the culture shock. Seawater not being habituated to seeing people wearing every stitch of clothing they owned. Beachwear the same as what is worn to office, places of worship and other formal social gatherings!
Pushing the boat back to the parking lot!
A quick breakfast later I was back on the road, climbing from the beach to the highway. Sucking on a Pulse candy. I find this particular brand of toffees very helpful to climb hills. It has helped me climb Khardung La and these smaller Konkan lalas as well.
You can write a book the on the different types of heat experienced along this route. It is always hot, just in different ways. On this particular occasion of climbing, it was the heat of the ghats as you move away from the coast. Just a couple of kilometres from the sea and the temperature soars, while the spirits dip.
The day was filled with ferry rides and empty stomachs.
The first ferry for the day was from Dhopave to Dabhol. There was no food on the Dhopave side and I had to cross the river on an empty stomach. On the Dabhol side, things didn’t get much better. There was just one eatery near the ferry and everyone flocked there.
Since, I avoid crowds like the plague (now COVID), I skipped it and rode ahead. Bad decision! There was nothing to eat after Dabhol other than humble pie. And to top off the hunger, it was a constant climb through thick vegetation. I could eat leaves or grass along the way, but not much else.
So much traffic and crowds on this route!
Till Dapoli, the story of the hungry climber continued. Dapoli is a big town and a major transit point from somewhere to somewhere. I think!
Dapoli had the benefit of a lot of human movement and thus peppered with eateries. I stopped at something which resembled a restaurant more than it did a dhaba. Maharashtrian economics continued to confound. Food prices at this restaurant was cheaper than what I got at dhabas along the way.
And the Misal Pao was splendid. The best I have eaten till date. This after having lived in Bombay for 3 years and having eaten a lot of it!
Delicious food later, it was descending all the way from Dapoli to the coast again at a decently fast clip. Till I hit the roads of Anjarle. Which was a few kilometres long stretch of cobblestones. The teeth chattered and the stomach lurched as I hobbled along the cobble.
Boats all docked because of Holi
Near Kelshi I caught the sunset. This is a debate I have had with many a traveller. Some like to wind up the day before dark and see the sunset from a pre-decided scenic spot. I prefer enjoying it on the road, preferably in the middle of nowhere. And if you’ve never heard of Kelshi before, it is because it is in the middle of nowhere!
After Kelshi, I moved inland along the river, as darkness descended. The land was bathed in inky blackness, with my headlight cutting through like a scythe. Oh yes, this time I was prepared for riding at night and kept the headlight at hand.
The moon rose and gleamed of the river by my side. Sounds emanating from the dark beyond, both spooky and enchanting in equal measure. It was magical to pedal through that lush thick vegetation.
That’s the moon and the night sky!
I was hard charging to Vesvi to catch the last ferry. But in the dark, it is easier to discharge than charge! And I reached the ferry point 10 minutes after it left. I watched the stern of the ferry disappear into the river, with the twinkling lights of the embankment visible far across.
There was not a soul in sight. I thought it was going to be a night sleeping under the stars at the ticket counter. With no mobile phone network, I felt truly alone…and at peace!
As I made myself comfortable, a guy rode up on his scooter bearing gifts. He was the ticket seller. He gave me the wonderful news that there was another ferry for the night. The LAST. But it was an hour later. To while away the time, he gave me a huge chunk of watermelon to gobble. I sat there spitting out watermelon seeds, contemplating life, the universe and everything!
The returning ferry to take me across, with gleaming nights on the opposite shore…
At 10 PM I caught the last ferry, crossed the river and rode in silence towards Harihareshwar Beach.
About a kilometre before, I stopped at a guesthouse. A room was available, but no food. Dinner ended up being a packet of chocolate biscuits and chips. Thanking the watermelon, I drifted off…
The route profile!
See the full route on Strava…26/11/2020 at 20:12 #4492
Day 5: Harihareshwar to Alibag
I woke ravenous. Willing to eat a raven even!
The guy invested more in his flags than his boat!
The uncle of the lodge expected me to be half-dead with hunger and he woke me up with tea and biscuits. 10 minutes later there was more tea, this time accompanied with parathas and a big fat omelette. The home cooked food was mouth wateringly delicious. Properly ‘fed up’ I left for the beach.
Harihareshwar Beach was not much better than Juhu Beach in Bombay. It was teeming with people and icecream carts. I ended up spending less than 5 minutes there. Even the temple was overcrowded.
The place was a bit of a let-down and I ended up leaving earlier than anticipated.
The ride was slow and easy, with not too much of climbing. But the climbing from the previous 4 days had taken a toll and I was struggling.
As a result, I focused more on the pedalling aspect, rather than the travel.
My legs, like this building was in ruins!
I finally reached Dighi. The last ferry of this route. It was a much larger crossing than the previous two places, but ferries were more spaced out. As a result, I didn’t get a ferry and jumped into a tiny boat with my bike.
The boat rocked and rolled, as I held onto my bike for dear life. I was a little afraid.
Then the boatman nonchalantly started pumping out water from the boat, as it filled up. A proper handpump, stuff you see in villages, just to keep you from being swallowed up by the river! I was suitably afraid for my life by then, mentally writing my last Will & Testament.
On the far side of the river lay Agardanda, besides which was Janjira Fort. A fort in the middle of the sea. Which is why I thought that the name, Jaljira would have been more apt!
Jaljira Fort…err, I mean Janjira!
All day it was a nice cool easy ride along the coast. It was pleasant.
The highlight of the day was not the coast, it was biryani. After eating enough pao to last me a lifetime. The missals and the vadas included. I finally got something different to eat in Mazgaon.
The biryani was fantastic. I knocked down a couple of plates before the shopkeeper could blink!
With body, heart and soul satiated I moved on to Alibag to meet my dear friend, Sumit.
But as is the case with Sumit, the meeting is like an Indian Railways train. It is always about to reach, but never arrives.
Sumit was to join me in Goa and ride down to Alibag. Then that plan got cancelled. He was then to join me midway and ride to Alibag. Then that plan got cancelled. He then was to join me 20 km outside Alibag and ride together. And then guess what…that plan got cancelled as well!
Eventually we met a few kilometres outside the town after dark. Spotting each other by our blinking headlights.
Once I met him, I knew what was in store…
Food. Lots and lots of good food!
A relatively flat day of riding…
You can see the full ride data and route on Strava02/12/2020 at 22:27 #4499
Day 6: Alibag
At the Alibag jetty…
Rest Day. At last.
After climbing through the ghats for 5 days, it was nice to take a break. More importantly it was Holi, and I didn’t want to get caught up in somebody’s colour war on the roadside.
The morning was spent studying the difference in mango, betel and coconut trees. Unfortunately I still find it difficult to differentiate between the betel and coconut trees from a distance.
Rest days means hogging on food. And there was incredible mutton to be had. Mutton which had been prepared for a village wedding a couple of days prior. With time for the curry to permeate through the meat, it was a feast fit for a king.
I also tried out Kalwa for the first time. A sort of rock oysters found in this part of the world. Cooked of course in the Konkan style. It was mouth-watering.
All this delicious food was prepared by Sumit’s mom, at whose house I was staying.
The evening was spent with a bevy of cyclists from Alibag Cycling Club as they discussed their upcoming community everesting ride.
Every time I begin to think that the ride I am doing is something special or cool, reality hits. On this occasion in the form of an older lady. This South African cyclist had been cycling for the past 13 years! Anything I had ever done, pales into insignificance…
Day 7: Alibag to Bombay
After taking a break for a day, it was time to hit the road again. Or more like hit the sea. Since the riding part of it was just a handful of kilometres, the majority of it was spent in the ferry.
It was Sumit’s mother’s birthday and we celebrated with superlative jumbo prawns and mutton for lunch!
After which I sleepily pedalled away from Alibag on a full stomach to catch the ferry.
On the Catamaran I had my good friend, Tanvi, for company. She provided me with all the masala stories that were needed for the ride.
But even more masaledar was the Kurkure being fed to seagulls by people in the ferry. The birds had gotten so well trained, that they would swoop down and pick one wafer from the human hand. The humans were so well trained, that they would dutifully go and buy many packets of Kurkure from the Catamaran guy, just so that they could see the seagulls performing those antics.
An unhealthy performance, quite literally. I can’t imagine what would be happening inside the seagull after eating Kurkure!
If the view of the jetty while departing Alibag was great, the one approaching Gateway of India in Bombay was fantastic.
It was already dark and the city was lit up as it always is. And through the dark sea, you crept up suddenly onto a mass of humanity.
In Bombay I met up with another cyclist friend, Hitisha, grabbed dinner at her place before heading out to the Cyclist’s Crib for the night. My break was still far from over…
On the other side of the Alibag-Bombay ferry: Gateway of India
Day 8: Bombay
Bombay was rest and relaxation for me and a service time for the bike. I had bought this pre-owned bike a long time back and it hadn’t been serviced since then. Post Bombay, there was no chance that I would get another opportunity for repair.
The Fuji Touring got some love at Keny’s in Prabhadevi, with the chain and bottom bracket being replaced.
The bike was like fantastic to ride with a new BB. No longer a creaking sound with every pedal stroke.
The day in Bombay was without any highlight, barring dinner.
Dinner was excellent fish thali at a tiny restaurant. Well, to be honest. Everything in Bombay is a tiny cramped up space. Matchbox city it is. Even though the city is expensive, the fish thali was cheaper than what I got along the Konkan Coast. Ironically!
You can check out the ride details on Strava.02/12/2020 at 22:36 #4501
Day 9: Bombay to Vapi
I left Bombay in peak hour morning traffic. Along the Western Express Highway. It was in the west, but there was nothing express or highway like about it. Even though I was going in the opposite direction of rush hour traffic, it was still exceptionally congested.
The only thing nice about the city is exiting it!
Once you enter Gujarat, there is no sign of the ghats…
Near Boisar I met up with my motorcyclist friend Sandeep. Only on this occasion, I was on a cycle and he was in a car!
He was sweet enough to park my cycle at a vegetarian dhaba, pack me up in his car and treat me to lunch at a non-veg dhaba. Now that is what real friends are for…
Post a very long lunch, it was time to hit the road again. Fortunately, I could make up decent time with a strong tailwind till Vapi.
Along the way one thing struck me. Most of the dhabas were run by Muslims and with prominent ‘Vegetarian Only’ signs. Inside the dhabas, there would be multiple places where the tricolour would be placed. The dhabas run by Hindus on the other hand only had religious motifs. What would people’s reaction be if roles were reversed, I wondered?
After floundering in the dark for a bit, I finally found accommodation on the highway. The guy saw me on a cycle and immediately reduced the room rent. Without me even asking. Cycles make other people generous…
Dinner was a spicy chana masala. As I sat there and munched, I realised, in Gujarat, food was going to be the biggest challenge!
You can check out the full day’s ride on Strava.02/12/2020 at 22:43 #4503
Day 10: Vapi to Ankhleshwar
The direction of the wind was not what the Velo Gods ordered…
Gujarat is a dry state. In every sense of the word dry. The climate, the people, the food, the alcohol availability. Everything is bone dry…
Starting with the road. The road is flat and boring. Pedalling on those roads is monotonous and unchanging. After sometime, it gets downright depressing. To make things worse, it was the weekend and crazy amount of traffic was hurtling past me from Bombay.
Food was rather horrible as well. I ordered idli sambhar for breakfast. Because the regular stuff was just dripping with oil. Of course, ordering south Indian food in Gujarat isn’t smart. And the idli was hard as stone. But it was still better than drinking a bucketful of oil!
Amongst the bleak foodscape of the land. I found an oasis. A small roadside cart was selling eggs. The best eggs I have ever eaten. It was thin strands of egg, cooked in the same masala used for bheja fry. Served with buttered pao. Oh, it was heaven on earth.
Barring that, the day was rather uneventful. Except some more irony. A guy crashed on his motorcycle with a lady behind, and no one helped him. Further along the road a cow got hit by a vehicle and there were 20 people assisting. Priorities…
The best eggs I have ever eaten…
Check out the full day’s route on Strava.02/12/2020 at 22:53 #4505
Day 11: Ankhleshwar to Baroda
Did I mention the food in Gujarat was terrible!
Breakfast was allegedly a paratha. Because if the Supreme Court had ruled on it, they would surely have said it was a poori claiming to be a paratha. It was deep fried and crisper than a papad…
After that bowl of oil for breakfast. I stopped for second breakfast, which was egg bhurji. Eggs are succour for the human soul in Gujarat. That’s the ‘best a man can get’ in the state.
Why is this state dry? The people of the state don’t seem to smile. Nobody does. Their lips are as straight as the roads. The straight-faced inhabitants are in stark contrast to the forever smiling faces of Maharashtra.
This might sound like a rant against the state. But it was a state of woe. The traffic was horrendous. Cattle, dogs, two-wheelers, three-wheelers and jeeps would be hurtling down the wrong way on the road. Even the trucks joined the party and would be driving the wrong side with gay abandon.
I couldn’t wait to reach the border of Rajasthan!
Fortunately, every dark cloud has a silver lining. What the state lacked in every other form was made up by meeting of friends.
In Baroda I messaged and eventually met up with Akshay and then later stayed the night in Shardul’s house. Friends once again from my motorcycling days in xBhp.
Shardul, a Konkan native, understood the sorrow of dealing with the food in the state. He sweetly took me out for dinner to eat lots and lots of chicken!
Check out the full route on Strava…
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