Grand Tour — Ajmer to Jodhpur

The route to Jodhpur had two options, either the National Highway through Pali or take a shorter one through Bar-Bilara. People recommended that I take the shorter one, wasn’t so sure but opted for the shorter one.

Ajmer to Jodhpur route

This route takes one through NH ( National Highway ) 25. I started off early morning on the 16th of Jan, 2019. The four lane highway made for some good riding and I remember pumping up the speed to gain on time.

IMG_8323At a highway roadside dhaba/restaurant

The route soon took an upward ascent with hilly terrain and here is where I had my first major bike breakdown. That has been mentioned in my blog — ‘Vote of Thanks’.

20190116_130541My first major bike breakdown happened about 200 meters from this spot, just beyond the hill passage

The bike repair and luggage re-strapping took about 2-3 hours, and there were some steep inclines on the way. I left the highway and turned towards Bar, a small and congested town. The sun was setting in and with few options I decided to lodge up in a trucker stop, popularly known as a dhaba here. They offer food and a sleeping cot, you have to make do with whatever bedding or clothes that you have. The night was cold and I started off early in the morning, 17th Jan, heading for Jodhpur.

20190116_181213The dhaba outside Bar, where I had put up for the night

The start was not so good, four lane work was in progress all along the highway, with some rough patches in between. Due to road construction, half of the road was effectively closed off. This meant that I had to negotiate with the high speed two way traffic on roads that were only 10-15 feet wide in some patches.

20190117_074012Four lane construction on the road, the elevated cemented tracks run only for a few hundred meters, trailing into dirt patches as the construction is yet to be completed

The approach to Jodhpur turned out to be tougher with high speed traffic and a lot of heavy vehicle movement. The only incentive in visiting Jodhpur as far as I was concerned was the fact that they were reputed to have a good bicycle market. The city was another level as far as traffic goes. The traffic was very chaotic and hazardous to say the least. My hotel, Marudhar, was right next to the Jodhpur Clock Tower and the bicycle market. The hotel staff were also very cooperative when it came to helping me with tourist landmarks and would carry my bike in to their reception area for the night. I had booked a two night stay in Jodhpur i.e. from 17th to 19th Jan, 2019.

The Jodhpur bike market was congested and not very helpful, as far as repair work goes. But, they did have a chain tool to join chain links and that was the only purchase I made there. The impression that I got was that they had all the goods but did not have experienced mechanics to fine tune or repair bike gears. The next day i.e. 18th of Jan was spent in touring Jodhpur and it’s historical fort.

IMG_8325Early morning breakfast point in Jodhpur, next to the Clock Tower

A view of Jodhpur from the Mehrangarh fort

IMG_8333Canon overlooking Jodhpur, from the Mehrangarh fort ramparts

The fort is a must see for any one visiting Jodhpur. It houses an elaborate museum. The approach to the fort is steep if one walks to it. I spent the rest of the day sampling some culinary delights in Jodhpur and confirmed the route to Jaisalmer from my hotel staff, and then went to sleep early.

Next, the final bike trek from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, the desert border town of Rajasthan. Don’t miss this one !

 

Grand Tour — Sawai Madhopur to Ajmer

The next section of the onward route was a mix of everything, smooth four lane national highways to terrible unpaved, rock and dust filled patches and some bike issues. The Sheopur ride through valleys and hills had induced a yaw in the rear portion of the bike. It turned out that the stress of the rear load had loosened the nut that binds the front and rear portion of the bike. This was promptly tightened up. One other issue that propped up during the hill rides was that the pedal cranks would become loose.

Sawai Madhopur-Chaksu-Phagi-Dudu route

The Sawai Madhopur – Chaksu route started out well with me taking the state highway, and I saw my first camel cart here. I had started out from Sawai Madhopur, early morning on the 13th Jan, 2019. My aim was to reach Chaksu and stay there overnight moving on the next day.

IMG_8288First camel cart sighting in Rajasthan, on the route to Chaksu

The fields next to the highway were bright yellow with the mustard crop flowering, which was a good sight. I was cruising along but things soon turned southwards with me trying to take a shortcut through inner villages to cut my time to Chaksu. To put it simply, it was a nightmare with hostile crowds, very bad stretches of roads and of course the crank issue. At the end of it all me and my bike were plastered with mud and I was barely managing to keep afloat, emerging from the hell on to the highway about 20 km. from Chaksu. Thankfully, there was a highway hotel and I lodged up there for the night.

Again, I spent a lot of time cleaning and servicing my bike which was clearly battered, but had a good sleep. The next route was Chaksu-Phagi-Dudu and was good all the way except for a bad stretch at the near end of the route. The other option was to go on from Chaksu on to Jaipur and then turn South towards Ajmer. But, having experienced the nightmarish traffic of our big cities, I opted for the other option through Phagi. I found an excellent budget hotel on the Ajmer highway, just on the outskirts of Dudu. Here, I hammered in the loose cotter pins of my pedal cranks but had a nagging doubt that it was really the bottom bracket ball bearings that were going bad; and serviced my bike. The hotel was very helpful and allowed me to take the bike all the way to my first floor room, for security reasons.

Next day, I started off around 7:30 am in the morning, for Ajmer. The highway was four lane but there were thorny brambles all along the road sides. The thorns, I learned later were good enough to puncture even the much thicker heavy truck tires. Straying too close to the roadside resulted in my first rear tire puncture and repairing it took me about 2 hours, mainly because I had to remove all my luggage and re-strap it in. Besides that the run was comfortable.

On the way to Ajmer

Prior to the trip, I had decided to bypass Ajmer and head for Jodhpur, but the bike condition meant that I had to enter the city and hunt for a good bicycle repair shop. The decision was almost a waste of time as far as the repair goes but I did manage to find a good bike shop, to buy gear/brake wires and a plush soft saddle seat, along with a rear axle and a QR skewer; and a quality pair of bike gloves. I had put up in a guest house in Saradhana, about 15 km. from Ajmer. The guest house owner recommended that I visit Pushkar and I did just that, taking a day off on the 15th of Jan for the Pushkar visit.

Pushkar turned out to be a steep hilly climb but it was enjoyable; except the traffic flow through some stretches of the road, which was to put simply — hazardous. The 15 feet wide road through steep hilly climbs has two way traffic flowing through it at high speeds, this includes heavy vehicles.

IMG_8300One can see the hills in the background, through which this road snakes upwards, to reach Pushkar

IMG_8314The Clock Tower in Pushkar, this is the entrance to the town

The town itself is far from the temple town that one expects it to be, it was more like a hippie paradise with the ratio of foreigners to Indians being almost equal. Furthermore,the streets through the ancient temple roads were jam packed with tourists. I had to make a quick getaway, since biking through the narrow streets was impossible.

The way back through Pushkar hills

One bike issue that cropped up during the return leg of Pushkar-Ajmer was the chain falling off from the 7th gear into the the chassis. After a few such mishaps I resorted to yanking the chain free and this I suspect led to the gear freewheel being stressed to the point of being damaged.

Coming up — the Ajmer-Bar-Bilara-Jodhpur section of the Grand Tour, do keep visiting !

 

 

 

 

Grand Tour — Kanpur to Jaisalmer Kick off, First Leg

Getting into the meat of the grand tour details here, by breaking it down into several parts/blogs; starting with the onward leg, from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, my residence, to Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary right next to Sawai Madhopur town in Rajasthan state, on the way to Jaisalmer.

Kanpur to Jaisalmer Onward Tour Complete Map

Route Map for Jhansi to Sawai Madhopur

The near-complete Kanpur to Jaisalmer onward journey tour map misses a few longish turns, can’t map them in detail here. I did take an interior Rajasthan short cut to Ajmer from Sawai Madhopur to avoid Jaipur, which is advisable if you know how to break your bike and repair it. The roads were hellish.

The next link, Jhansi to Sawai Madhopur is the breakdown leg — this journey started off on the 7th of Jan, 2019 from Kanpur, and I was at Jhansi on the 8th Jan, evening. If you read my blogs I have done the Kanpur-Jhansi route a few times, so I am going to concentrate on the Jhansi-Shivpuri-Sheopur-Ranthambore part. The route covers three states, Jhansi is in my state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), Shivpuri and Sheopur are in Madhya Pradesh ( M.P. ) while Ranthambore and Sawai Madhopur are in Rajastan state.

I had lodged up in a hotel in Jhansi and started off early morning around 6:30 am, on the 9th  of Jan. The route to Shivpuri was scenic with wilderness and sparse forests starting off from Karera, midway between Jhansi and Shivpuri. Locals later informed me that the forest starts off from Karera and extends all the way up to Sawai Madhopur and Ranthambore.

Hilly forests in Karera on the way to Shivpuri

Further up Karera, the climb became steeper and there was a scenic fresh water lake.

Scenic fresh water lake in Karera

Traffic was sparse and wild rhesus and langur monkeys could be found sitting right next to the roadside in parts of the hill climbs. I also spotted occasional deer. The forests have wild boars, bears, and leopards but these remain in the deeper recesses and only venture out in the nights.

The forest cover became denser with some steep segments as I approached Shivpuri. The town itself was a hectic place with chaotic and often hazardous traffic. I stayed there in a cozy hotel taking off for Sheopur on the 10th Jan, about 6:30 am morning.

IMG_8276A cute and bratty dog at a roadside dhaba in Pohari, Shivpuri-Sheopur route

This doggie kept growling till I tickled his belly. I had a relaxed chat and a breakfast with the couple who ran the dhaba.

Upwards from Pohari, I hit the dense forests of the Palpur-Kuno wildlife sanctuary. The climbs can get very steep here with one section that took me up to an hour of lung-bursting ascent. Traffic was sparse but the road was good. I spotted a lot of wild langur monkeys and local cattle on this route.

I crossed Sheopur town and headed out for Ranthambore, it was already evening and I remember being in a hurry. The traffic out of Sheopur heading into Rajasthan was chaotic near the smaller towns and I did not stop, cycling well into the night till 8 p.m.; at which point I found a quaint and cozy hotel near Pali in Rajasthan, after crossing the Chambal river. Started out the next morning for Ranthambore tiger sanctuary which was just 15 km. away.

One sad part of the Ranthambore approach was the strangely hostile attitude of some of the small town/village folks. However, the excitement of cycling through Ranthambore overcame all that.

IMG_8282Panoramic view of Ranthambore hills from a nearby hamlet

The Ranthambore fort houses about 50 tigers and assorted wildlife. It is right next to Sawai Madhopur town. The road through the sanctuary leading to the town is a nightmare to bike through. It is narrow and there is two-way traffic going through it, with patches of dust, rocks, and pebbles being most of the so-called road. In the middle of this mayhem, is a small stretch of what could be the opening to the fort.

The opening to the fort? Right in the middle of the sanctuary

I had a small chit chat with a villager in a roadside shack right next to the rough patch snaking through the sanctuary and was informed that in the day time, big cats and other predators keep away from the road. But after 10 p.m. or so when the traffic dies down, they prowl about and often cross the ‘road’.

Sawai Madhopur is again the same old Indian town with chaotic traffic in the older parts and swanky malls in the modern, newer part of town. I would like to mention Hotel Jain Residency, Sawai Madhopur where I had lodged up. It’s a budget hotel with excellent rooms and facilities. Most of my time at the hotel was spent in servicing my bike after the hellish run through the sanctuary. I was also feeling a bit feverish after consuming all the dust and grime while biking through but the local med shop gave me some excellent over-the-counter meds and by the time it was morning, I was A-OK.

The next morning i.e. 12th Jan 2019, I was up and away at around 7 am for the Sawai Madhopur-Chaksu-Dudu-Ajmer-Pushkar part of the grand tour, coming up in another blog.

P.S.:- Stayed in a good hotel called Zayka at Shivpuri, it’s right on a crossing that heads out to Sheopur. The hotel offers good budget facilities and has an excellent restaurant too. Recommended for cyclists.

A Vote of Thanks

This blog is dedicated to people who helped me out when the going was impossible during my 2300 km. long touring trip. For starters my gear freewheel disintegrated during the Ajmer-Bar trip heading towards Jodhpur, on the 16th of Jan, 2019.

20190116_132926Replacement of gear flywheel on the highway.

Replacement of the freewheel necessitated unbuckling all my luggage strapped to the bike and placing it by the roadside. Everything was going good till I made the noob decision of changing the chain ( after replacing the freewheel ), without having proper tools to strap in the new chain. As time ticked by and my situation became precarious, an angel appeared out of nowhere.

20190116_141515

Mr. Himanshu ( I hope I got his name right ) who helped me place my luggage in a shop across the road, on his motor bike.

Himanshu stopped his bike on noticing me fidgeting with the chain and all my luggage placed by the roadside. Although I told him that I could manage he insisted on helping me out with the situation.

20190116_151201

Mr. Parashar, who agreed to keep the luggage in his shop till I was able to get the chain replaced by heading to a bicycle repair shop inside a small town nearby. My luggage can be seen strewn across his front desk.

Parashar also tried to get the chain replaced but lacking the tools, had to give up. At that point I headed out to the nearby town and met another angel.

20190116_150013The local bicycle mechanic Sitaram and his shop.

Sitaram got to work immediately and put in the new chain. He had quite a good knowledge of working with bike gears which was a delight to me. Most bike mechanics I had met in Rajasthan did not have proper knowledge on this. I came back a relieved man and was able to continue my journey from here on.

I would also like to mention Mr. Om Bhardwaj, Jaisalmer who runs a small bicycle repair and sale workshop there. He allowed me to use his tools to replace the bottom bracket ball bearings. Jodhpur and Ajmer bike shop owners had refused either to service the bottom bracket or let me use their tools to do the same. During my ride from Dechu to Jaisalmer, the ball bearings gave me all sorts of issues. The ball bearing replacement in Jaisalmer meant that I did not face any more issues regarding the crank movement from there on.

Lastly, I would like to thank the hotel staff of Paradise Continental, Jaipur, for their help in allowing me to literally turn their parking lot into a bike repair workshop. This allowed me to replace a worn out gear freewheel and a rear wheel broken spoke. The hotel has marvelous rooms in a budget range and is centrally located in Jaipur, near Sindhi camp Bus Station.

IMG_8479The staff and myself during my departure from Jaipur towards Bharatpur.

IMG_8471Room view — Paradise Continental, everything was neat and tidy and the stay was most comfortable.

Hotel address:-13, Kanti Nagar, Opposite Polo Victory Cinema, Sindhi Camp, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302006. The same hotel can be booked from most Indian online booking websites.

The world needs more angels like these !!

P.S.: In addition I would like to mention hotels The Culture, Jaisalmer and Marudhar, Jodhpur for accommodating my bike and helping me out wherever possible. These are recommended for solo bikers like myself.

My Grand Tour

After upgrading my old faithful MTB by re-balling the rear axle with professional grade ball bearings, I was looking at the next level of long distance bike touring. The plan ? — To crack the 2000 km. mark. The good news is that I made it to approx. 2300 km. and would have crossed the 3000 km. mark if not for family and other commitments which made me break my journey at Bharatpur, Rajasthan, on the 6th of Feb, 2019.

The journey was fabulous and took me through the forest hills of Bundelkhand region, encompassing Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Finally, I was also able to make it to the Rajasthan border desert city of Jaisalmer and onward to the sand dunes of Khuri, about 50 km. from Jaislamer. This is the Thar desert region of my country.

The journey kicked off on the 7th of Jan, 2019 and concluded on the 6th of Feb, 2019. The route was a bit complex and I am breaking it down into several legs for the interested reader:

Onward Journey

Kanpur-Orai-Jhansi ( U.P. leg ); Jhansi-Shivpuri-Sheopur ( M.P. leg ); Sheopur-Ranthambore-Sawai Madhopur-Chaksu-Ajmer-Pushkar-Jodhpur-Dechu-Jaisalmer-Khuri ( Rajasthan leg ).

Return Journey

Khuri-Jaisalmer-Dechu-Jodhpur-Ajmer-Dudu-Jaipur-Dausa-Bharatpur.

Route map for the Onward Journey:

Onward Journey Route

Return Trip Route map:

Return Leg Route

The good news is that my battered MTB is back with me at Kanpur. I was carrying nearly all my winter clothing and bedding on it, along with an assortment of bike gear and other stuff.

IMG_8265My MTB all decked up with gear, near about the start of the onward leg.

More pics, vids and stuff about this journey about to come ! Stay tuned.