Following up from Kanpur to Pench Tiger Sanctuary, it was time to turn back. This time around things were different with a possible bad transmission and a hellish 20 km. road stretch going back into the valleys of the Reserve. Predictably inquiries from roadside motels confirmed my guess that they were not budget-oriented. So, I chugged back on my bicycle negotiating the hellish road. On the wayside I did see one or two motorbikes which had simply given up, their owners were clearly panicking as they wanted out of the forest that was teeming with wild animals. Unfortunately, I could be of no help to them.
Just when I was about to give up on finding a reasonable motel, an inquiry at a local bicycle mechanic shop netted me a good roadside Dhaba. The mechanic disputed my version of the blown transmission and advised me to go on, which turned out to be wrong later on. The Dhaba itself was run by a Maharashtrian gentleman and had good facilities. I was given a cot and had a hearty lunch. It was the 23rd of December 2017. We had a leisurely chat and I decided to attend to my MTB.
The beauty at the roadside Dhaba, Pench Tiger Reserve Forest
Servicing and cleaning the MTB confirmed that the transmission was going to blow, and I decided to take it slow while trying to exit the hills and valleys of the Reserve. The local mechanics were not good in my opinion and I rued the fact that I had not brought along the complete kit to change the bicycle chain and gear flywheel.
The night was the same liquor-soaked shouting and loud convos; the local lads and truckers were at it again. It was late night when I could sleep and then took off very early in the morning. I stopped for a quick snack at a roadside sweet shop and then started negotiating the uphills. The settlements were at the bottom of the hills while the hilly forests seldom had any human presence. As it turned out the gear flywheel was wobbling bad and I had to keep stopping in between to keep the transmission floating.
In the middle of the hilly forests, I saw deer crossing the highway in a panicked hurry and my heart skipped a beat. Very soon, I heard a tiger roar from the valley below and that gave me wings, my MTB rocketing away from the scene. The predator was herding the deer and would have crossed the highway in their pursuit soon after I left. The speeding stint wrecked the flywheel a bit more and soon I was making regular stops along the way. Tiger or no tiger there was no way out of this. Trucking traffic was zooming up and down intermittently.
The transmission gave up as soon as I crossed the Reserve area with the gear flywheel spitting out shiny steel ball bearings. There was no option but to head to Seoni, the nearest town, and replace the gear flywheel. Somehow the MTB hobbled on about 40 km. to Seoni and I was directed to a small but able bicycle repair shop.
In case you didn’t know, the above is a geared flywheel that screws on to the back wheel hub of a bicycle, the chain wraps around the various sprockets of the flywheel with the help of a derailleur ( not shown in the pic ). It’s from my other roadie bike.
I had a spare chain and gear flywheel but not the flywheel unscrewing tool, the repair shop people replaced the transmission ( flywheel and chain ); and handed me a spare tool all on a nominal charge. I was offered lunch which I had to decline because this repair had cost me precious time. The repair shop owner also gifted me with a nice diary and some fancy stuff. India is full of nice people! I took off in the afternoon and doubled my speed but had to make small stops to fine-tune the gear system.
Again, it was some tough uphills and an inquisitive gentleman on a moped caught up with me as I was huffing and puffing up the slopes. He guided me to an outhouse maintained by a local Dhaba. The funny thing is that the outhouse was guarded by about half a dozen Pomeranian mutts. They were smallish but acted aggressively by feigning a charge. It was enough to scare any local who tried to venture near the outhouse! The nights were cold and I managed to sleep a bit, taking off early the next morning.
The outhouse where I stayed for the night.
I crossed into the Lakhnadon region and made good speed stopping only for tea-samosa and lunch. Stopped to take in some breathtaking scenic views too.
Nearly dry lake/river bed. Near Lakhnadon.
This river bed was completely dry. But, it was hauntingly beautiful.
Stopped at a roadside hotel, about 120 km. from my previous location, it was on the North-South corridor. There was a scenic pilgrimage site before the hills leveled out, called Barman on the banks of the Narmada river. Made a halt there to soak in all the beauty and record it on my mobile cam too! The hilly region gave away to plains a bit further on, it was smoother cycling and I stopped for a quick food break.
Barman pilgrimage site on the banks of river Narmada.
Started again early morning and made good speed to cross into Damoh district, encountering gradual uphills along the way; stopping just 20 km. short of Damoh town, again in a Dhaba. My bottom was too sore at this point to care for any more smartphone pics and there were just towns/settlements and zooming traffic to see. More importantly, I was beyond Damoh town and the surrounding small settlements as quickly as possible. The hilly forests of interior Damoh district restored my spirits somewhat although it was quite hot. There was an incident of my chain wrapping itself all over the gear flywheel which took about an hour to restore.
Yours Truly with the world-famous MTB, at a chai-samosa stall in hilly forests of Damoh. The white garment is called a ‘safa’ and is standard wear amongst these parts.
My clothing was deliberately chosen to make myself appear as local as possible. It’s best to blend in rather than stick out when traveling alone. The run was now getting enjoyable and I was tending more to slow down and soak in more of the greenery and forests. Made a halt at a known Dhaba near Batiyagarh and started the next morning, making a stop shortly after seeing a couple of foxes foraging around in dense forests.
Dense forests near Batiyagarh, with the beast aka MTB in the background.
The forests around Batiyagarh had a good population of wild monkeys and foxes, locals told me that there were bears and leopards in the interior parts of the forest. The ubiquitous road repairs further down the hills had the same irritating results plastering me and the bike with dust. After this, I managed to make good speed and crossed Chhatarpur, M.P., and kept on going until I reached the outskirts of Mahoba, U.P., where I lodged up in a roadside motel. It was the 26th of December, 2017.
The route back to Kanpur, on the 27th of December, 2017, was quite familiar, Mahoba-Kabrai-Hamirpur-Kanpur, and I remember lazing around Hamirpur, trying to take in all the greenery and fresh air before entering the stale, toxic air of Kanpur. Heavy trucking traffic starts about 60 km. from Kanpur after evening hours and it becomes very difficult to cycle through it all. This is also true for most highway traffic in India. I made it to my residence in Kanpur at about 8 pm.
Evening and night cycling should be avoided at all costs since there is negligible traffic rule enforcement on our highways. Truckers regularly stock up on booze and sleep on their steering wheels while driving in the night. Road driving in India is on average extremely rash and risky, with the highway roadsides littered with carcasses of smashed vehicles. Most heavy vehicles use high beams while driving on highways and make sparing use of dippers, this can disorient cyclists. Another aspect to be remembered is that there is an abundance of debris on the highway lanes used by cyclists. I had encountered numerous instances of glass debris, making sure that I avoided them as best as I could to save me from a tire puncture. Overtaking buses and trucks give out a special horn signal here and one has to be very alert to heed the call and leave the road or be knocked down since there is no lane discipline here. The overtaking vehicles mostly hog the whole road, in which case the only option is to hit the dirt track next to the road. A rearview mirror is a must.
The whole journey was unimaginably rewarding to me, as I could for once escape the toxic aired concrete jungle that my city had become. Viewing all that greenery and wildlife gave me hope that some parts of my country are still untouched by the so-called development here. Although vehicular traffic and blaring horns followed me up the forests too, I did negotiate patches where there was fresh air available. It was good to be out there. I think my MTB would agree to this!
P.S.:- Have edited the Barman pilgrimage part, as I had mixed up its location as post-Damoh earlier while posting, whereas it is much before Damoh district by a good distance. Made some additions in the Damoh part too. Apologies for the Barman mixup.