Thursday, December 29, 2011

From Mamallapuram to Erode (yes, that's its name, don't wear it out)

Me with some of our rainy weather friends
The following is largely Colin's ride report since I have been taking a break from writing.  I've added my commentary, but his is again in italics and red type.

The power went out overnight, so no AC and no fan made for a crappy night's sleep.  The power outage likely was due to the huge rainstorms and high wind that went on for most of the night.  When the sun came up, it was still raining.  Since the ride to Vellore was only a hundred miles or so, we decided to give the weather until 9:30 to sort itself out.  The rain stopped during breakfast, so we headed back to the room and loaded the bikes.  We questioned the wisdom of heading out from such a nice place into potentially bad weather but decided to go for it anyway.  While it was not raining when we pulled out of the hotel, it was very dark in every direction, and the cloud deck was solid as far as we could see.  Approximately two miles down the road, it started raining again.  The rain continued on and off (mostly on) for the entire trip, but it did stop once we reached the outskirts of Vellore.  Today's ride was really a tale of two different rides.  The first 50 miles was made up of intermittent, very heavy rain and some of the worst road, if not the worst road, in India.  It took us three hours to make the first 30 miles.  

Typical road conditions, only wetter
During some especially heavy rain, we pulled off the road and under the awning of a small business, where some people were standing, watching the rain, and I assume, waiting for it to stop.  When we pulled in, they all crowded around us and looked over the bikes.  No one spoke more that a couple words of English, but we could tell by their gestures that they wanted to take photos with us.  Nobody in the crowd had a camera, so we used ours, taking photos of Colin surrounded by the men, then me with the men, then with the men and the kids.  I motioned for the women in the group to join in for picture time, but they smiled and refused.  When they were satisfied with the photos, they wanted copies, but without a printer (and without an email address for anyone in the group), we had no way to oblige.  After picture time, more men wandered under the awning to look at the bikes.  One of them was a l0cal mechanic who spoke English well enough to ask specific questions about the bikes, our gear, and our trip.  After about twenty minutes or so, the rain lightened and we said our goodbyes.

For some reason, people here absolutely LOVE to have their photo taken with non-Indians.  Just about everywhere we go, people stop us to ask if we will pose for a picture with them.   And one usually turns into forty-seven or so more.  And it's not just Colin or me, it's both of us, and men, women, and children stop us.   We have discussed making a sign, “picture with a white person, 5 rupees.”  We wouldn't be greedy, just 5 rupees per photo.  There have been days when we could have easily paid for our lunch if only we had a sign!  I asked a local man one time, why?  He said it's just a novelty to people since in much of India, they don't see caucasians often at all.  It's so funny to me that it is acceptable here, when at home, you'd never even think about asking someone to pose for a photo just because he/she was Indian.

The last 50 miles were on 4-lane divided highway with excellent paving and light traffic (and only the occasional rain shower).  Vellore is a strange town.  It's main business is medicine.  The Christian Medical College Hospital and Vellore Fort dominate the city, but fortunately, we were here for the latter.  Our hotel was directly across the street from the hospital, and the streets were filled with patients and their families.  We wandered around the main street and a few back streets, taking in the sights, when we heard drums and firecrackers coming around the corner.  Being a fan of loud noises, we headed toward their source.  We found a procession of drummers and marchers pulling a large, flower covered float, and periodically someone would light a string of firecrackers.  Everyone seemed to be having a grand time.  As the procession passed, the flower covered float made its way in front of us and it was then we noticed the dead man riding in the float.
the Vellore Fort
We left the AC and fan on overnight in order to dry out our boots and gloves, and we were happy to see that they were nearly dry when we got up.  Since we got into Vellore late yesterday, we decided to visit Fort Vellore this morning before riding towards Ooty.  After having some fruit, we walked down to the fort and toured the grounds.  The fort is grandest from the exterior, where the high walls and wide moat are an impressive sight.  The buildings in the interior of the fort have, on the other hand, seen better days.  Like much of colonial-era India, they are returning to nature.  The highlight of the fort was the beautiful Hindu temple within.  The Jalakanteshwara Temple was built in the mid-1500s and is a spectacular example of stone carving.  The wedding hall in particular is made up of a large number of columns, all intricately carved from floor to ceiling.  Another site checked off the list, and we headed back to the hotel.  On the way, we stopped for a breakfast of masala dosa and coffee.  We loaded up the bikes and hit the road by 11:30 am.  The first 120 miles or so was easy riding, and we made good time.  Once again, it was four lane goodness through farmland and rivers, with hazy mountains in the distance.  Since Ooty was nearly 300 miles from Vellore, we knew we would not make it in one day and instead, decided to head for Erode for the night.  My GPS stubbornly insisted that we take the long way, but the sign on the roadside promised that if we turned right off of our four-lane goodness, it would save nearly 20 miles.  While Re and I stopped to discuss our options, a taxi driver assured us that the shortcut was the way to go.  Shortcut, my ass.  Shortly after we turned right, the road fell apart.  The road surface alternated between shitty and nonexistent and our average speed plummeted.  This road also went through dozens of small towns, all with their own set of speedbumps.  Eventually we rode past the nuclear plant (?) and made it to Erode by about 5:30 pm.  Erode wasn't listed in our guidebook, but a quick check of the GPS found a cluster of hotels listed near the bus station.  Re shortly found a decent room for cheap money, but we later discovered that the room was filled with mosquitoes.  We found dinner at an outdoor restaurant set in a nice garden before heading back to the room to make war with the mosquitoes. 

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