February 11th-20th, 2002
Another quiet and restful day in Mysore. I had most major sights yesterday so today went past a few areas that were rushed yesterday.
First took another walk through the city. This time I found the vegetable market. This had about four rows of crowded narrow paths amidst a huge amount of produce and also some dyes and other goods. All rather colorful. It seemed like the fruit was somewhat sorted, the banana vendors all together, coconuts in another spot and some other vegetables together. However, the banana leaves weren't necessarily next to the bananas.
After this walked over to Mysore Palace to discover it didn't open until 10:30am. Waited for the palace to open and took another more careful walk through. This time much less crowded and so could take some more time to see everything. Also here was small palace museum with household artifacts from the rulers.
In the afternoon I got an auto rickshaw ride up to top of Chamundi Hill. Nice views and wandered through the stalls again. There is a Godly Museum up here though it appeared to be closed. Stood in line and went through the temple. The temple has tall tower with seven levels in front. Otherwise inner shrine and long line of people filing through and past.
From top of the hill I took the footpath downhill to the Nandi (bull) statue and caught the auto rickshaw again. Otherwise walked through town and caught up on the internet as well.
As I've gone through south India, I've found an interesting balance between areas visited by many non-Indians (more amenities but also more hustlers) and those not on tourist routes (less amenities, less English but also much less aggressive street folks). Mysore is a little on the touristy side but still a comfortable place to visit.
0 km today, 27805 km cumulative.
On the road again and heading towards Bangalore. The road was both smoother and busier. A few gentle grades but mostly flat. I went past many rice fields with planting underway. A team of oxen would drag a plow through the mud, followed by a team of people setting individual plants in place. I also saw sugar cane being harvested by scythe. Each stalk cut and placed high in carts to be carried away.
Around one km down the road I noticed my bicycle bell was missing. In Mysore I had locked and parked the bike in the locked garage under the hotel. This after going around with staff several times to bring the bike to my room. Eventually I gave up since the locked garage seemed reasonable and had access for staff but not general public. While I'd taken my water bottles, odometer and pump off the bike, I hadn't unscrewed the bell... so the thief did. Looks like I need to be even more insistent on bringing the bike to my lodging room.
After 15 km came to Srirangapatna where I'd been two days before to see the fort. Shortly after Srirangapatna, I met Karin and Fredrik, two Swedish cyclists (http://www.utsidan.se/cykelresan). They had started in Sweden eight months ago and ridden across Europe, Turkey and then onwards towards India. Wow! They had an interesting comparison of the curious north Indians as being much more likely to crowd, poke, prod and grab at their cycles than the equally curious but more relaxed south Indians. The main road from Hydrabad had been a good road for them with minimal traffic. We had fun trading information from our opposite directions as we stood with our bicycles besides the busy road.
From Srirangapatna a few rough spots but I still made good progress and was in Mandya and 41 km before 11am. There were several accommodation choices and Mandya had been the recommended stop before Bangalore. However it was early enough that I kept going and rode another 19 km to Maddur.
There are two lodges in Maddur and I stopped at the first one. I argued with staff and was able to bring my bicycle into the room. I had lunch with a couple from the Netherlands before walking around the small town. The Mysore-Bangalore road has just a few shops but there is a separate busy main road for the town. A nice variety of stalls: live chickens, slaughtered meat, shoes, vegetables, grains, medicines, sweets, a cool bar, housewares, etc. The largest shoe size is 10. Not far from here is a sanctuary for endangered spot billed pelicans. Otherwise a relaxing time. The hotel was a bit dirty and had rodents, ants and mosquitoes. However staff was friendly and my room had one of my three luxuries.
60 km today, 27865 km cumulative.
Today was one of those days with a definite fixed end goal in mind: HP offices in Bangalore. However first I waited until the restaurant opened and had breakfast. It was otherwise calm and peaceful in early morning in Maddur. The roads continued in excellent condition so was able to make good progress. Around Maddur more woods and less rice fields. Some light east (head) winds and it seemed like there was more uphill than downhill today. Traffic picked up steadily both as the day got later and as I got closer to Bangalore.
At 20 km was Channapatna with busy busy station and more side traffic. I was on my mission however and so barely paused before pushing further to Ramanagaran at 31 km. It seems like there is a local election coming as I've seen more sound trucks and centers of these towns have busy banners. Unfortunately occasionally the road signs are also plastered with posters. Around Ramanagaran were more gentle hills and also some impressive rocks in the distance. My ears kept hearing blaring of horns as trucks kept passing.
Another town later was Bidadi though I also mostly passed through here. It was nice to be getting closer to Bangalore. I was happy to have wide and smooth road as traffic picked up much more after Bidadi. At 75 km was start to an elevated road. Little pictograms indicated no oxen or people powered carts allowed. I wasn't quite clear if bicycles were allowed but did ride past some police without problem. The elevated ride was nice as below looked like a maze of city streets.
Saw a turnoff for KJ Markets and guessed this was "City Markets" on my local Lonely Planet map. I was right. Wow, very congested traffic here. Fortunately the next directions were simple, turn left and head through the congestion towards Palace Road. At one point I found myself in middle of traffic jam with two or three auto-rickshaws to the left, two or three auto-rickshaws to the right and me in middle of this mess. Fortunately curious and helpful people still and after two light cycles I was through and congestion was less. Passed a stately government building and then Cunningham road to the HP offices. Yeah!
Met Subbi, Shyam and several of the HP engineers. Was nice to visit with folks again, though I haven't kept up with work details in the past year. Slowly been getting more to anticipate work and this helps.
82 km today, 27947 km cumulative
A rest day at the HP offices in Bangalore as well as some time looking around Bangalore. Very grateful hospitality for which I am appreciative. Stayed with Subbi, lab manager here. Has been fun as well as interesting to see life here. Thanks!
While the city market area of Bangalore has many crowded narrow streets, rest of the city here seems to have much wider roads, lane markers and reasonable traffic. Sidewalks sometimes have ditches or gaps but otherwise very reasonable as a pedestrian. I walked through Cubbon Park and stopped to see Vidhana Soudha again. Reported to be one of the largest granite buildings in the world, this beautiful building is seat of the state government. Across the road is the high court with another beautiful red stone building housing the state courts.
Cubbon Park has nice paths as well as roads along the way. Stopped briefly at the library building and then walked over to the museums. There is an art gallery, government museum, tech museum and aquarium all close together. Went to the tech museum which has fun hands on displays. For example, airfoils you could strap on your arms in front of fans (though not much lift). Also nice set of displays about India space program.
Lunch with Shaji and some afternoon time at HP as well as updating information on the web. Slowly map out rest of the route as I'm starting to anticipate a bit more end of the trip and return to work.
Today is Valentines Day and newspapers have been reporting some fuss. There is backlash from some quarters against Valentines Day as being culturally foreign (and also local card suppliers asking for assistance to prevent disruption), and then also some backlash against the backlash. Illustrates some of mix of people/culture and pulls from different directions here.
0 km today, 27947 km cumulative.
I enjoyed my restful stay in Bangalore and was grateful for the hospitality. Fun to stay with Subbi and family and see an Indian family home rather than just hotel rooms. Last night we went to downtown area MG Road (MG == Mahatma Gandhi, many cities and towns have an MG Road and/or statue as well) and Brigade Road. Lots of neon and well lit up... reminds me a bit of place like Singapore rather than other pieces of India I've seen.
In morning back to the HP offices where I had locked my bicycle since the 13th (thanks Suresh for arrangements) and across from guards. Loaded my gear and I was off riding again.
First 7 km were back through the city, via MG road and then outbound towards NH 4 on "Old Madras Road". Nice wide streets to start and then a bit more narrow. Around 10 km came across large dusty area where a bridge was being constructed. From here following the roads and past a large modern industrial park area. Here an intersection and heading north. Seemed like I was slightly off, and in hindsight I had followed a smaller road that went parallel to the railroad tracks rather than NH 4. No worries!, as I found my way again after passing through a town with many Sai Baba items and at 27 km back to the main highway.
Came through town of Hoskote as few km later. Otherwise this area seemed to have more open lands and fewer towns again. I saw grapes and other crops. The road continued very smooth and in some areas with brand new asphalt and also road work. Traffic was reasonably heavy with many trucks and buses passing, though the wide road made this all manageable.
At 60 km I saw a sign that said "Woody's" and advertised restaurant and accommodation. Around here the road came past and through some low rocky hills. Not too much later I was at junction of Kolar road and a bypass around the city. I asked about Woody's and was directed to take the bypass and went around the city and even 4 km past. Nice hotel, so stayed there and then took auto rickshaw back into town. Lots of rice being planted and a fairly big and busy town.
Nice to be on the road again and rolling eastwards towards the coast.
75 km today, 28022 km cumulative.
An easy ride today. For the most part smooth roads and I believe more downhills than uphills made for easy riding. I'm now in Andhra Pradesh and thus the fourth Indian state I've ridden in. It seems like huts are once again crowded together into villages with larger open spaces in between. Similar to Tamil Nadu and different from Kerala. At start of the day saw several places making bricks. Otherwise, rice and other crops I can't recognize.
Woody's was a nice place to stay yesterday. The restaurant opened at 6am, though everything I asked for wasn't available until after 7:10am, so waited until then. A few gentle grades as I cycled through country areas. At 30 km the road took a bypass around Mulbagal. At far end was a shop where I stopped for a drink. Looked like there was also an archaeological dig and a small temple and bathing area.
At 45 km was the border. Several gates across the road in this general area, apparently to check agricultural products as well as sales tax. A small village or two later and I was at Palamaner at 69 km. Still some high stone hills and by 72 km, I started heading a bunch more downhill. Road surfaces were mixed in this part. It seemed like it was getting a bit warmer, either from the later time or from being slightly lower. Generally made good progress and was at a turnoff to Chittoor at 105 km.
My map doesn't give good details of local towns, so I bypassed the first turnoff and suddenly found I'd mostly bypassed Chittoor and so approached it from the south. Seemed like I passed through much of the town before reaching a crowded area with bus station and several lodges. Found a nice basic room with one luxury (toilet), though they say "hot water in the morning", I believe in the form of a boy with a bucket. Otherwise I'm right in heart of town with lots of noise, narrow streets and lots of commotion.
110 km today, 28132 km cumulative.
Today started with a typical encounter I have in these non-tourist towns. I bring my first panniers down three . Someone from the hotel comes and helps with the rest and I reassemble gear on the bicycle with a small audience. Off I ride with waves from the staff. Prior to departure I had a meal with poori at nearby restaurant... dosai appear to be unavailable until after certain time.
I cycled out from congested center of Chittoor. Last night I heard plenty of noise, honks from traffic as well as music from nearby temple. Slowly came out of congestion and into more countryside as I cycled along. At potential junctions I would say "Tirupathi" and be directed the proper direction. Reasonably smooth road until 19 km through rural areas.
At 19 km a big change in roads. Two adjectives to describe the next 36 km would be "varied" and "challenging". It started with 4 km of gravel road due to road construction. From here most of the road culverts and ditches were being rebuilt with narrow dirt bypasses. I had almost every type of road surface from gravel so coarse I had to walk to newly layed asphalt that was perfectly smooth. Each km or two it would change and I'd have a new scheme to cope with... wide or narrow, bumpy or bumpier or smooth, gravel or paved, etc.
Along the way stopped at small village for a soft drink and another typical exchange. Determined price and payment and then half a dozen came over to ask the questions: "what is your native place?", "what is your name?", "where are you going?", etc. Fun to have these conversations. Not here, but elsewhere today I was asked three times if I spoke Hindi. Must be a more common universal language here than the Telgulu also spoken here.
Slowly came past larger hills and finally at 55 km the road became consistent and smooth! Yeah! Both yesterday and today I had seen signs for "Tirupati" and now they became even more frequent. At 64 km came a bypass and temporary worsening of the road as I cycled past a college and into heart of Tirupathi.
Tirumala is a very important temple town on the hills above here (see www.tirumala-tirupati.com/tirupati). Supposedly has the most religious pilgrims anywhere, even more than Mecca, Rome or Jerusalem. At base of this hill and 20 km away is Tirupathi. While there is (free) lodging and food for pilgrims at Tirumala and other lodges, there are also many lodges and accommodation in Tirupathi, the service town. I decided to explore Tirupathi today and then take rest day to Tirumala tomorrow. It took me three tries to find a hotel that would allow me to take bicycle in my room, but ended up with a fourth floor penthouse suite with very pretty view of surrounding hills.
Tirupathi also has nice small temple with nearby museum. The museum had a good sequence of exhibits explaining how different aspects of a temple were important, e.g. the location, the preparations, the shape, the architecture, choice and combination of deities, etc. There is also large bathing area and smaller temple area. A large train station, taxi stand and bus stand to get people on their way. Many here have shaved heads and many are carrying suitcases. I didn't see any other non-Indian people. Otherwise nice to walk around this town.
69 km today, 28201 km cumulative.
The Sri Venkateswara temple in Tirumala is one of the most holy Hindu pilgrimage sites and is reported to have more pilgrims than Mecca, Rome, Jerusalem or any other temple (an average of 35,000 per day with peak periods well over 100,000 per day...i.e. averaged out 25 per minute for 24 hours per day). It is also reported to be the wealthiest temple in the world. Today I went to see a little of what those pilgrims experience including walking up the hill, tonsure and most important viewing of Lord Venkateswara at the temple.
After breakfast I took an auto rickshaw to Alipiri at base of the hill. The driver was a maniac with his swerving and honking. I've grown accustomed to this. However, he also yelled and glared at bicycles he passed, which made his passenger not so happy.
Admission and viewing of the god is called "darshan". There is "general darshan" for free... however this might involve at least a twelve hour wait in line. There is also "special darshan" for 40/50/60 Rs (for 1/2/3 laddus == sweet balls), for which you go in a quicker line. There supposedly are even more expensive options for even less waiting. In addition to the payment method, there is also a reservation system. At Alipiri is a ticket booth and I paid 40 Rs for special darshan. They gave me a reservation for 8 pm, so twelve hours wait before I could enter the special darshan queues. I saw later in the day that the gap between tickets and reservations was even larger.
Many pilgrims take the task of walking up the seven hills on way to Tirumala. I also decided to follow this path. From Alipiri it is 9 km long with ~3600 steps to climb. Over half of these steps are in the first 1+ km. After 5.5 km the route follows the road for a while and then the last 2 km climbs up and over the last hill. It was a nice walk with covered awnings and many food and water vendors along the way. Several temples and also many smaller idols. People also appears to have made small stacks of rocks. One spot had a park with deer. It took me about three hours to walk and so arrived at Tirumala about 11 am.
Tirumala is a huge complex with housing for over 5000 pilgrims, huge dining areas with free meals and many private lodges and restaurants. Also here were large covered shade areas and many many small vendors selling everything from food, to travel, to umpteen plastic items, to luggage, to brass, to hats and much more. Tirumala is run by the Tirumala Tirupathi Devastanams (TTD). TTD seems to have done a good job with keeping everything organized and clean. Large maps were at several places, signs posted the maximum prices for food/taxis for their licensees and many signs gave directions.
Tonsure is another task taken by many pilgrims. Tonsure is shaving of the head and offering the hair to the deity. It happens in the mornings and after 4 pm. I decided I'd go for tonsure as well, losing 18 months of at least shoulder length hair otherwise tied back in pony tail. I filed into a long maze and then to the waiting rooms. Several helpful Indians motioned to me in form, "hey tourist... you do realize they will shave your head here..." I smiled and acknowledged that I knew this. Out of the waiting area and into another line where I was given a disposable razor blade and slip that said barber #206. Found my way amongst hundreds of barbers and waited my turn. Now shaved head as well as no mustache and beard. I can't tell if people look at me more this way or before... in total I saw only five non-Indians and none were shaved.
During the waits, I had two south Indian meals at a restaurant. Like other things there seem to be several tiers: free meals for pilgrims, ordinary meals with mandated prices and special meals. I was sent to the dining area with special meals though it still wasn't very expensive. I wandered through the site and past many rows of stalls looking at things.
At 7:30 pm I dropped off my shoes and backpack with camera (neither allowed inside the temple), and went to find the special darshan queue. They already allowed the 8pm slot in, so I followed the maze into the building. This temple is one of few that allows non-Hindus into the inner temple. You sign a declaration with your religion, address, passport details and that you have faith in Lord Venkateshwara. After completing this, I followed the line into a large holding room with ~400 other people. The queuing buildings here seem to have ~20 such large rooms that hold pilgrims until they can file onto end of the line. We were kept in the holding room until almost 10 pm. A bit of a rush getting out and then into another maze of wire cages back and forth. This line took until almost 11 pm to reach the inner temple. Beautiful statues and also lots of gold here. Apparently wealthy pilgrims can offer their weight in gold, silver, or other goods. The lines kept a constant push... seems like the sense of space was much less than I otherwise was accustomed. Finally around the corner and saw the Lord Venkateshwara and made a wish. In this section were people actively pushing and pulling pilgrims through to keep anyone from pausing too long. So all rather quick. After this the push of the crowd lessened and slowly went around and back out the temple.
It was now late, so found a taxi to ride back down the hill. The road to Alipiri is 18 km long and supposedly has 68 hair pin turns. Didn't count but I believe it. Overall was a little past midnight when I was back at the hotel at end of a long but interesting day.
0 km today, 28201 km cumulative.
Mostly smooth and flat roads made for an easy ride today. I crossed back from Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu and thus back in the state I started. Saw drying of hay again. Otherwise saw rice, sugar cane and some other crops. Intermittent small villages.
I wore a sun hat under my helmet to avoid getting a racing stripe tan through gaps in the helmet. Left Tirupathi and onto a wide smooth road. However after 5 km I was suddenly in middle of a village on dirt roads. A small crowd formed and helped get me back on the road again. As I rode off I heard shouts. "uh oh, am I going the wrong direction?"... nope, just a friendly sendoff.
Until 16 km I was on the back shortcut to Chennai. A narrow road with many buses but otherwise quiet countryside with a few villages to pass through. Some gentle grades and at 30 km I reached a bypass around Puttur. Brief stretch of worse road until the main Puttur road came back. Some more gentle climbs and descents and at 52 km I crossed back into Tamil Nadu. Yeah! From here was Tirutani at 60 km where the main Chennai road split off eastwards. The road became a bit worse and also was very congested through both Tirutani and Arakkonam at 70 km.
From Arakkonam it followed the railroad tracks. Mostly smooth but each point a road joined across the tracks would be a brief stretch where it was horribly bumpy. At 90 km saw what looked like a fatal accident. A motorcycle was down on the ground and a person was lying with a short sheet over his chest and face. No other vehicle in sight. Yikes, perhaps one of the trucks or buses that had passed me not so long ago. Rode carefully down and into Kanchipuram. It took a bit to find middle of town, but found an inexpensive place to stay and booked here for two nights. In Kanchipuram are several temples so I'll take my time tomorrow to take a good look.
106 km today, 28307 km cumulative.
Kanchipuram is reported to once have had 1000 temples and with 200 still standing. Today I visited some of the larger ones. Quite interesting, though this town seems to collect its share of hustlers coming after tourists.
Kailasanatha Temple was my first stop. This temple is dedicated to Shiva and is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram. It was built in the 7th century. Beautiful and simple stone carvings on the walls and the temple tower. Unlike some other temples this one hasn't been redone by later dynasties. On my way to the temple I walked through a dusty part of town with grain being laid out to dry.
Next was Sri Ekambaranathar Temple also dedicated to Shiva. This is a very large temple with huge front goparam tower. Inside is a sacred old mango tree, said to have four branches for the four vedas (Hindu texts). Also has a large outer courtyard, bathing pool and an inner Hindu only temple. Otherwise several more nice large towers. There were many hustlers here starting with people selling sandals and silk outside. Next I was greeted by someone selling guide service. Along the pool were ladies pulling people over to feed the fish and then charging them. Inside a watchman came and demanded 10 Rs for watchman service and checked my camera ticket. Along the way many beggars as well.
Kamakshi Temple is dedicated to Parvati. There was a small painted elephant still learning blessings here. What is supposed to happen is you give 1 Rs and the elephant places his trunk on your head with blessing (sometimes frightening small children receiving such blessing). This elephant needed manual assistance in placing the trunk. Inside were two larger elephants that were being washed. Outside was a large bathing pool and courtyard with another inner Hindu-only temple.
Devarajaswami Temple is also dedicated to Shiva and was my fourth stop. Another huge temple with goparam. Many carving that are done very well, particularly considering the intricate work done from a single stone. There was a panel here that showed progression of ten incarnations of Shiva. I was met at the goparam portal by a temple priest who brought me to the camera fee area (5 Rs) and then proceeded to explain things. Before I knew it, I was in middle of an informative guided tour. Only awkward part was having to negotiate the fee afterwards since I prefer to do this up front.
After Devarajaswami Temple the ground was becoming too hot for my feet (also believe many temples are closed from noon until 4 pm). So lunchtime and time to check some of the silks for which Kanchipuram is famous. Nice hand looms and very nice silks. However prices of silks seemed quite high, so didn't bother even bargaining. I also picked up my laundry (2 shirts @ 7 Rs each == 14 Rs) and found a cool internet cafe with reasonable bandwidth.
After it cooled down, I walked over to Vaikunta Perunal Temple. This temple was constructed in late 7th and 8th centuries, though with more recent updates. Not certain if it was officially open, but the caretaker brought me around on a private tour. There were many carved stone panels describing stories of the gods and also included some showing people with Chinese features visiting.
Overall it was interesting to see the variety in some of the large temples (though glad there weren't ten large temples to see!) Otherwise a quiet restful day. I'll probably have a few more of these as I "coast" with some time to spare on into Chennai.
0 km today, 28307 km cumulative.
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