Pics and Videos from Panna-Khajuraho Tour

This section is a detailed pic and video part of the tour, also my rave/rant section. The tour was enjoyable and scenic with isolated forest sections being the best.

One of my favorite stopovers en route from Kanpur to Banda, near Bindki town is a small shack selling snacks. It has a tree nearby that houses dozens of owls. The old-timer farmer who runs it is an affable old man who appreciates the rigors of long haul cycling.

IMG_8577One of my favorite haunts about 5km. from Bindki and about 55 km. from Kanpur with the owl nest tree in the background

The above pic was taken on my scouting trips to check out the Banda route.

IMG_8589Rajpoot Dhaba (roadside food shack) 5 km. away from Ajaigarh en route to Panna

IMG_8591Hill climb route to Panna, the climb is lung sapping and the road is not good in some stretches

Panna hill road runs through dense forests having abundant wildlife, its advisable to negotiate it before sunset. There were signboards warning local villagers against killing leopards and deer. Tip to cyclists negotiating big cat infested forests: look for cattle, human tracks, if you find none try not to stop in those stretches.

IMG_8617Beniasagar Lake, Panna city

IMG_8619On the way to Khajuraho a few km. out of Panna

IMG_8620Bike battering road construction dirt diversion on the way to Khajuraho — often means bouncing on rocks and pebbles eating dust from passing vehicles. If you find a couple of these it could mean your freewheel and transmission lose a considerable portion of their life.

IMG_8625A signboard which will set the pulse rate of solo cyclists pacing, seen on isolated stretches of Panna Tiger Reserve

The Youtube video link below shows a steep downhill road section through Panna Tiger Reserve forests:

Panna to Khajuraho downhill Video Clip

IMG_8631Entry Gate to Pandav Water Fall

IMG_8638Narrow bridges spanning water streams with occasional heavy traffic, through Panna Tiger Reserve

Something that has always bugged me is the lack of traffic discipline on our state highways. Heavy trucks, SUV’s and fast cars try to overtake each other in single lane/double lane stretches often hogging the entire opposite side of the highways. This means that cyclists and two-wheeler riders are often at great risk. There are no speed restrictions even though speed limit signboards are there on the highways. What’s the point of putting up speed limit signboards if no one even notices them?

The entire Panna Tiger Reserve road stretch had speed limit signs of 20 or 30 kmph., but cars and trucks were zipping by at 60-80 kmph., oblivious of the dangers to wildlife. I did spot deer next to the road.

IMG_8640The Ken river boundary of Panna Tiger Reserve, beyond this are abundant human settlements

IMG_8642The ONLY cycle mechanic who can service/install gears and handle modern bike mechs in Khajuraho city, just ask around for Bindra and you will be guided to his shack. Khajuraho is a small place

IMG_8657The hidden jewel of Khajuraho — Jain temples, the pillars, and sculptures are ancient but the superstructure is modern

IMG_8661Speed kills — this is an old wreck which I have seen on my past several biking visits, about 11 km. from Mahoba; carcasses of broken up vehicles, broken glass line up our highways as people are intent on not observing safety while driving; according to locals an entire family was wiped out in this accident

IMG_8671Bridge on Betwa river, one enters Hamirpur town via this bridge, the bridge is narrow and has occasional traffic snarls

Youtube video link below of the Betwa river bridge entrance:

Betwa River Bridge Entrance Video Clip

 

IMG_8668Cold and foggy morning on the way to Kanpur, starting from Bharua Sumerpur, I had put on my safety lights and reflective jacket for the same

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Panna-Khajuraho tour

I had been planning a trip into interior Bundelkhand for some time. Bundelkhand is a rural, hilly forest region that encompasses the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The region is dry and there is the issue of water scarcity. However, it has mesmerizing ancient forts and temples including scenic forests and hills. The region had a dicey reputation till a few years back with dacoits and armed robbers ruling the roost, but all this has changed now.

My plan was to kick off the tour from Kanpur, on to Banda — Ajaigarh — Panna and Khajuraho, then back from the same route. The load was about 25 Kg., including winter wear and clothing, bicycle spares and water. It gets cold in Bundelkhand around this time with temperatures hovering around 5 degrees Celcius. I had already done some previous scouting on my MTB up till Bindki which is almost midway between Banda and Kanpur. However, I had to change the return plan due to a bad road stretch between Naraini and Panna. The total tour distance was about 600 km.

Route Map Kanpur-Panna-Kanpur

The tour started on 19th December 2019, around 6:30 am from Kanpur and it was only by 7:30 pm that I could manage to reach Banda. The reason was a constant play in my left pedal arm which I discovered was due to the screw fastening the pedal arm to the Bottom Bracket turning loose. I had to constantly dismount and tighten it. Due to this, I decided to stay in Banda for one more day and work on the issue, also tuning my rear derailleur in the process. Banda is quite similar to dusty, congested towns in North India with poor traffic management. I would like to point out that traffic in my own city of Kanpur is quite bad too. Gear assembly/tuning bicycle mechanics are not available in Banda so make sure that you carry your own spares and stuff.

IMG_8580                            On the way to Banda, after crossing Bindki town

IMG_8581                                The Yamuna bridge on the way to Banda

Beyond the Yamuna river lies the ‘real’ Bundelkhand and one gets that feel while cycling towards Banda as green vegetation gives way to thorny bushes and brambles. Cyclists need to be careful not to stray too close to the road edges as dry twigs with big thorns lie scattered around the edges. Another disconcerting thing that I did notice in interior Bundelkhand was dead cattle lying by the roadside, this is often due to severe cold and the lack of fodder in the dry belt.

My onward leg from Banda started on the 21st of December, 5:00 am and I rode my MTB in pitch darkness with occasional heavy truck traffic towards Naraini. I deliberately chose not to use my bike safety lights, since this was a backwater rural road segment and I did not want to stick out like a sore thumb. This is also the reason that I do not use a helmet. The entire 35 km. stretch does not have street lighting. The ride was uneventful except for a lonely stretch where I was chased on the roadside by a skulk of foxes. That event was surreal, I never knew that foxes could be so aggressive. It was sunlight by about 6:00 am and I took it easy from thereon.

IMG_8585                              Tea break at about 7:00 am., 20 km. from Naraini

Proceeding from Naraini to Ajaigarh on the way to Panna, my bike’s left pedal arm gave away entirely, and I had to spend some time fixing it back. This and the fact that the road to Ajaigarh was single lane and rough, cut down my speed considerably. I took frequent stops and was seriously contemplating ditching the entire tour by loading my bike on a bus back to Banda. The pedal arm held on but I had issues with my front derailleur while tacking the steep and strenuous climb to Panna, gaining an elevation of almost 1500 feet in 30 km., the hill road was very bad in certain segments and I had to dismount to negotiate these.

IMG_8587                                           On the way to Ajaigarh

Arriving in Panna by about 5 pm. I went straight to Ashish Lodge next to the Panna bus stand and was given a cozy room to stretch out in.

IMG_8615                                            Room in Ashish Lodge, Panna

Panna is a nice hilltop town with Panna Tiger Reserve being the main attraction. The road to Khajuraho leads through the Reserve area. Panna does have a decent bicycle repair shop where I bought a new Bottom Bracket set in case mine gave away.

Extending my stay in Panna, I worked on my front derailleur and cleaned up the clogged transmission, moving out on the 23rd morning by about 7 am towards Khajuraho, 46 km. away. The trip was mostly downhill and I was constantly braking negotiating the hairpin turns, passing Pandava falls and Mandla gate of the Tiger Reserve. The entire stretch has warning signboards about big cats and wildlife. The road is an absolute no go after 8:30 pm till 4:30 am.

IMG_8627            Through the Tiger Reserve with a Tiger Signboard about 50 feet away

IMG_8633Feeding wild monkeys is a punishable offense but the monkeys do line up roadsides implying that people have been doing otherwise.

I did stop to enquire about booking a seat on a jeep safari into Panna Tiger Reserve and was pleasantly surprised to find a fellow biker from Kanpur on a family car tour to Panna. We had a nice chat before parting ways, I reached Khajuraho about 4 pm, this being my second bike trip to the city. The next day I took off to Pandava Falls about 35 km. from Panna again in the Reserve area. The falls are scenic and have a heavy tourist footfall. But, it was more about the bike trip through the Reserve that appealed to me. The 24th morning was cold and rainy.

IMG_8643                  Cold and rainy starting off from Khajuraho to Pandava Falls

IMG_8645                                               On the way to the Falls

 

IMG_8648                                                 Pandava Falls, Panna

Extending my stay in Khajuraho, I took up lodging on the outskirts of Khajuraho just to soak in the village air. As luck would have it, I did manage to sort out all my bike front and rear derailleur issues and front disc alignment taking off on the 26th December early morning at 6:00 am. for Mahoba. Unfortunately, it was a solar eclipse and a dense fog shrouded the whole region with the mist so thick that my gear and myself were soaking in it.

IMG_8660                       On the way to Mahoba via Chhatarpur, visibility about 50 feet

Lodging up in Mahoba for the night, I took off for Bharua Sumerpur early morning and lodged up there for the night, reaching my residence in Kanpur on the 28th December 2019, by about 6 pm.

More pics and video about this tour in another post as I feel it would have unnecessarily lengthened this post. DO visit the detailed pic/video section of this tour too. Happy riding !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aarey Forest vs The Metro

The battle for green cover is on globally. There are no neat divisions between opposing parties, but by and large religious conservatives have been anti-green against the rest of the pack. Events such as large scale forest fires in Siberia and Amazonia have managed to convince ‘green’ people that there is a concerted effort to kill forests, a sort of land grab.

My country faces such a dilemma which is accentuated by an exploding population and wide economic disparities. Disparities have meant that rural parts of my country have little economic opportunities with people migrating to cities for betterment. This results in a huge burden on the infrastructure of metropolitan (metro for short) cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkatta. The migration takes place on a smaller scale to lesser metros in other states.

Another aspect of this is the unbearable dust and air pollution in big cities. Most of this is due to vehicular emissions; which is offset partially by the green cover in cities and in promotion of battery as well as electric powered vehicles. Air pollution is so bad in cities like New Delhi that they have schemes like odd-even^ to check the number of vehicles plying on city roads. My city of Kanpur^^ also faces a severe air pollution issue. As a biker who is sensitive to air pollution, I am a die-hard green forest cover fan.

Metro cities in India are categorized as A, B and C* based on government census reports. Overcrowding is rampant for example, my city of Kanpur, an A-class metro is miniscule compared to Chicago (area-wise) but has more people crowding it**.

The Aarey Forest^*^ case in Mumbai points to all the ills besetting our cities. The forest has about 2500 trees and provides a green cover to the increasingly polluted city. A network of suburban passenger trains is currently the main lifeline of transport. Road transport is almost choking to the brim. So, city politicians and bureaucrats came up with a metro rail project^* to relieve the burden on the suburban passenger train system.

Mumbai is the financial capital of India and also the state capital of Maharashtra. Rural folks from underdeveloped regions of the state like Vidarbha and Marathwada migrate annually into the city. Adding to this is the country’s regional labour migration from underdeveloped parts of India into Mumbai. As a consequence Mumbai is packed to capacity with people and buildings. There is no space for new large scale projects in populated urban localities of the city.

Inevitably the politicians and government bureaucrats chose the path of least resistance and zeroed in on Aarey forest to set up a metro car shed in Line 3 of the Metro. The news soon leaked out and Mumbaikars were up in arms. They have seen the sad state of city governance time and again and it’s difficult to convince people there that this wasn’t another attempt at some sort of land grab. There is a huge trust deficit. On the other hand authorities would not like to venture into the dense urban areas for setting up large metro car sheds. This would likely invite a rush of court cases which would take years to wind up and cost the city exchequer a tidy sum of money. Like I said governments opt for the path of least resistance.

Court cases were filed in Mumbai against the felling of trees in Aarey Forest area. As of today, courts have quashed cases against the felling of 2500 trees in Aarey Forest to make way for the car shed but people are still trying to resist^^. The same old story as anywhere else globally. The bigger issue is that unless people and the government here wake up to the effects of skewed development priorities and rapid population growth, this story is likely to be repeated again in many parts of my country. Expand this at the macro level and you have a global template for most developing nations.

What can be the solution? For starters, accountability of government officials accompanied with foresight and planning, taking into account the stakeholders can mitigate such a crisis. Corruption in large contracts is a real thing and this skews large projects involving a lot of money. Citizens also need to be pro-active in creating lobby and pressure groups to counter projects that impact large ecosystems. They also need to present viable alternatives for plans that destroy ecosystems. Simply protesting against projects will not suffice. At the state/national policy level, efforts to create employment in rural areas will lessen the burden on metro cities. Coming to population control, it is a complex issue, but increasing awareness can reap dividends in the long run.

Meanwhile Aarey Forest vs The Metro drags on for now …..

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^https://www.ecotech.com/odd-even-policy-delhi-explained

^^http://www.urbanemissions.info/india-apna/kanpur-india/

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classification_of_Indian_cities

**http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/chicago-population/, http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/kanpur-population/

^*^https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/why-is-the-aarey-forest-land-in-mumbai-in-the-news/article21822979.ece

^*https://www.mmrcl.com/

^^https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/bombay-hc-refuses-to-declare-mumbai-s-aarey-colony-forest-area-also-declines-to-quash-approval-to-cut-trees-for-metro-car-shed/story-8oudEbPrD0mO6SgtA3GKaO.html

 

 

 

In the Works

Apologies for not writing anything here. I have been very busy trying to set up a new 29″ MTB for mountain travel, but it seems that it’s too late for the Manali-Upshi or Manali-Leh trip. Winter has set in at the high altitude Manali-Leh road and most of the tented accommodation on the high passes will probably be winding up.

The new 29″ looked good for starters but as I started using it, there were probably dozens of tweaks and modifications required for a high altitude trek. First off, the rear hub was changed and a 9 gear cassette installed, then the triple chainwheel front gear system. A rear pannier was installed. It turned out that the handlebar had to be elevated for a comfortable ride, this was one by installing an adapter. It took me nearly 2 months to order all the parts and modify the bike. Everything else seems OK but transportation remains a major issue and I am not confident of boxing the bike and re-assembling it in Manali. Hence, I dropped that plan for now. Working on alternatives.

All-in-all, I will probably head for the Rishikesh-Gangotri section rather than Manali-Leh, as the road, there is open till October 27, 2019. The Manali-Leh road will close up by October 15, 2019 ( probable date ). Temperatures in the high passes on the Manali-Leh road are already below zero and will drop further, with rains on the lower segment. Most people have advised me to drop the Manali-Leh trek plan, and that is what I am probably going to do. If a good opportunity for hassle-free bike transfer to Manali does open up, with someone tagging along ( both seem impossible now ), I will reconsider my decision to drop the Manali-Leh route.

The Rishikesh-Gangotri road is OK after Chamba, and I am planning to take it up from Chamba with my bike. It will be quite cold but not anywhere near the cold in high passes of Manali-Leh road. On further inquiry, it turns out that the Uttarkashi-Gangotri stretch is under heavy repair/construction work. The stretch from Chamba to Uttarkashi via Mussourie road is in better shape.

I will be posting a pic of the modified 29’er soon.

Added Later: Here is my new beauty:

The bike is meant to carry weights up to 15 kg., and is geared for faster runs in mountains. It is a hardtail, has one shocker in the front. The tires are 29×2.1 which will hopefully tackle grit and dirt tracks on mountains too.

Update on 08/10/2019: Heavy snowfall (6 inches) reported in Rohtang Pass on 06/10/19 night and 07/10/19 morning which means the link between Manali and Keylong is broken. Snowfall was also reported in Marhi, Gramphu, and Darcha. HRTC has decided to suspend bus services between Manali and Keylong. Rescue operations to evacuate tourists trapped in Rohtang pass are on.

Update on 18/10/2019: Manali-Leh road has been officially closed as on 15/10/2019. Government picket at Darcha has been removed, the one in Sarchu had been removed earlier. Tourists can still travel on the road but at own risk.

Update on 05/11/2019: Air pollution levels in North India have reached unhealthy/hazardous levels and it doesn’t help to see the cavalier attitude of people in India, mainly the authorities, who are unable to stop this situation year-after-year. My city Kanpur is registering very unhealthy/hazardous levels for the past two-three weeks now. This is also taking a toll on my health as I am quite sensitive to air pollution. Trying to recover and escape this disaster by making a cycling trip somewhere else, as soon as I can.

Stay in touch!

 

 

An Unsustainable Lifestyle

My recent bike trip to the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, just north of my own state Uttar Pradesh was supposed to provide relief from a blistering heat wave afflicting my state. The Himalayas were always a getaway locale for people looking for religious enlightenment, meditation, and seclusion in my state.

However, this time it was like all hell breaking loose in Uttarakhand, starting from Haridwar, the gateway to the Himalayas, all the way up to Chamba and Tehri. The reason? About 100,000 people zooming into the mountains in their four-wheel drives, and in air-conditioned buses every single day. I could scarcely spot a single cyclist or walker, except for the roadside hawkers and vendors. The vehicular pollution and heat blast from these vehicles was something to experience besides the 5-7 km. long traffic jams.

At the recieving end were the hundreds of policemen trying to manage the traffic. Kudos to them and the the fact that they kept their cool despite all the odds stacked against them. The local people were also well behaved and took it all in with a hint of polite resignation. To top it all there were frequent power cuts. I am not blaming the power companies for this. The surge in power demand from the combined might of air conditioners, cooling cabinets and other devices in the hotels and inns would be impossible to meet.

The result? It was as hot and unbearable as the plains of my own state right up and into the mountains at an altitude of nearly 9000 feet. The concrete structures and paved roads were acting as sort of heat reflectors adding to the misery of the bicycle ride. This is clearly affecting the local environment is a very negative way. I had experienced the same at Leh in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir ) at an altitude of 10,000 feet, a few years back.

The point is that the western lifestyle adopted by our citizens is unsustainable. I could feel the mountains groaning under this attack. There are simply no scenic and pristine mountain getaways available including the high altitude scenic Manali-Leh highway. For cyclists, this is a huge challenge. The lung sapping, muscle straining steep mountain rides are spiked with dangerous driving of high-speed SUV’s, trucks and buses. Negotiating traffic jams in steep mountain roads on a bicycle is no easy task too. I had to wear an anti-pollution mask even at the mountain tops. I shudder to think of the impact of all this pollution on local wildlife and forests.

This year has also been a bad one as regards forest fires in Uttarakhand. A chat with local farmers in the mountains also confirmed my fears that agricultural livelihood is now being shunned by the locals due to multiple reasons like water availablity and wild animals straying into step mountain farmland. Hordes of wild monkeys wreck local agro produce because their own forests are now bare of fruit. But, the madness continues unabated.

At the time of writing this article my own city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, is teetering on the brink of an acute water crisis. This is on top of the usual heat wave conditions and severe air pollution. It’s pointless blaming the government for everything, how about trying to look at our own lifestyles first?