घुम्मक्कड़ी साईकल

साईकल की कला समझने के बाद मानो मुझे पर लग गये थे। ऐसा लगता था की अब तो बस ब्रम्हाण ही मेरी मुट्ठी मे समा गया हो। मैने हर हफ्ते १-२ लम्बी दूरी की साईकल यात्राएँ आरम्भ कर दीं। अब मै अपनी मस्त चाल मे देहात की अपेक्षाकृत स्वच्छ वायु का आनन्द ले सकता था। २०१७ मे शीत काल के आते-आते कई सौ किलोमीटर की दूरी पूरी कर चुका था। आरम्भ मे तो आस पास के छोटे कस्बो मे मेरी लम्बी दूरी की साईकल यात्रा को देख कर लोगों को बड़ा कौतूहल होता था, लेकिन अब मेरी सवारी को लगभग कानपुर के आस पास सभी ढ़ाबे और साईकल वाले पहचानने लगे हैं। 

सवाल भी बड़े हास्यास्पद होते हैं। ‘आपको क्या सरकार साईकल पर घूमने का पैसा देती है ?’ ‘यह क्या कोई नई कम्पनी की साईकल का प्रदर्शन है ?’ ‘तुम क्या साईकल किसी संदेश का प्रचार करने को चलाते हो ?’ शहरों और कस्बों मे जब जवान बच्चों को मै बताता हूँ की मै १००-२०० कि.मी. बिना किसी विशेष कष्ट के साईकल भ्रमण कर सकता हूँ तो उनके चहरे पर अविश्वास की झलक रहती है। यह एक चिंता का विषय भी है। शहरी समाज अब मोटापे, मधुमेह और अन्य रोगों की चपेट मे पूरी तरह आ चुका है। साईकल चलाना अब स्टेटस के विरुद्ध है। देहात मे मेरी साईकल यात्रा को लोग आज भी समझते हैं। मध्य-प्रदेश के दमोह ज़िले के देहात मे एक सज्जन ने सटीक बात कही थी — ‘यह एक यात्रा है।’ भारत मे यात्रा का विशेष महत्व रहा है, लोग अपना घर बार बेच कर तीर्थ अथवा अन्य किसी लक्ष्य से यात्रा पर निकलते थे और कई एक बरस के बाद वापिस लौटते थे। आधुनिक भारत के काले अंग्रेज़ अब यह सब भूल चुके हैं, लेकिन देहातों मे अभी भी लोग इस परंपरा को मानते हैं।

२०१७ अक्तूबर तक मै कानपुर-प्रयागराज और वापिसी की यात्रा ( लगभग ४०० कि.मी. ) पूरी करने के पशचात ५०० कि.मी. की यात्रा का प्रोग्राम बनाने लगा। बुन्देलखंड के बीहड़ों का सौंदर्य के विषय मे मै यह कह सकता हूँ कि उत्तर-प्रदेश मे अगर कोई वन संपदा बची है तो इसमे बुन्देलखंड के बीहड़ एक बड़ा भाग हैं। मैने खजुराहो जाने का मन बनाया, जो कानपुर से लगभग ५०० कि.मी. की दूरी पर है। यह पूरी यात्रा बुन्देलखंड के बीहड़ों मे से होकर जाती है। कानपुर से हमीरपुर-महोबा-छ्तरपुर और फिर खजुराहो।

दिसम्बर, २०१७ तक मैने अपनी खजुराहो एवं पेंच की यात्राएँ पूरी कर ली थीं। दोनों यात्राएँ अलग हैं, खजुराहो की यात्रा से लौटने के कुछ समय बाद मैने पेंच की यात्रा आरम्भ की थी। 

खजुराहो और उसके भी आगे पेंच वन्यजीव अभ्यारण ( जो मध्य-प्रदेश और महाराष्ट्र की सीमा पर है ) की यात्राओं के पूरे लेख अभी लिखने बाकि हैं, परन्तु उनसे सम्बन्धित कुछ वीडियो और फोटो आपकी सेवा मे इस लेख मे डाल रहा हूँ। पेंच वन्यजीव अभ्यारण पहुँचने का रस्ता कानपुर से छतरपुर और फिर आगे दमोह, नरसिंघपुर और सिवनी जिला तक है। पेंच अभ्यारण सिवनी जिला, मध्य-प्रदेश मे ही है। कानपुर से पेंच के तुरिया गेट तक ७०० कि.मी. है, आना-जाना १४०० कि.मी पड़ेगा।

नीचे के फोटो व वीडियो कानपुर-खजुराहो मार्ग के हैं:

IMG_20171008_093201

हमीरपुर का यमुना पुल।

IMG_20171009_153741

 छतरपुर-खजुराहो मार्ग।

खजुराहो के पास रानेह झरना जो रानेह वन्य अभ्यारण क्षेत्र मे आता है।

आगे के फोटो कानपुर-पेंच मार्ग के हैं:

IMG_20171225_164736

बतियागढ़, दमोह के पहिले एक पहाढ़ी क्षेत्र है, यहाँ के एक ढ़ाबे मे पड़ाव डाला था।

IMG_20171223_114023

लखनादौन, सिवनी जिले के पास वन्य खेत्र मे सूखा नाला, इस खेत्र मे सूखे की मार का आभास हुआ।

IMG_20171222_080021

पेंच वन्य अभ्यारण मे एक सरकारी चेतावनी पटल। इसमे लिखा है कि बंदरों को खाना देना एक दंडनीय अपराध है।

cropped-img_20171226_0712471.jpg

बतियागढ़ के वन खेत्र मे मेरी रेंजर साईकल।

 

मेरा साईकल प्रेम

कुछ वर्ष पूर्व रोग और मोटापे से जूझते जूझते आयुर्वेद का सहारा मिला और गुणवान आयुर्वेदाचार्यों के मार्गदर्शन से मेरा जीवन पूर्णत: प्रभावित हो गया है। इस संदर्भ मे मैं कानपुर के त्रिपाठी औषधालय, परमठ, कानपुर का विशेष तौर से आभारी हूँ। एक समय ऐसा भी था जब मेरा निज भार ११० किलो के ऊपर था, हर एक कदम पर साँस फूलता था और हर दिन दवा और सूई के सहारे पार पाता था। आज मै एक ऐसा नौजवान हूँ, जो कई सौ किलोमीटर साईकल चलाने पर भी नहीं थकता और २०-३० किलोमीटर की दौड़ मे भाग लेता हूँ। मेरी आयु ४८ वर्ष है और भार लगभग ७५ किलो और मेरा निवास खास कानपुर शहर मे है।

आयुर्वेदाचार्यों के मार्गदर्शन से यह ज्ञान प्राप्त हुआ की एक भिक्षूक समान सादगी से भरा जीवन ही स्वस्थता का मूल मंत्र है। भोजन जितना सादा हो, उतना ही पाचन योग्य होता है और पाचन ही जीवन है। कूलर, ए.सी. एवं फ्रिज स्वास्थ के लिये ठीक नहीं हैं, और फ़ास्ट फूड तो अतयन्त हानिकारक होता है। २०१५ मे मैने आयुर्वेद को अपनाया, आयुर्वेद एक जीवन शैली है, और कुल ६-८ महीने के अंदर ही मै ११० किलो से ८० किलो पहुंच गया, मैने दौड़ना और साईकल चलाना भी इसी वक्त आरम्भ किया। दौड़ने से कुछ चोट आई जिसके उपरान्त मैने साईकल पर विशेष ध्यान दिया।

साईकल का किस्सा बड़ा हास्यास्पद है। जब मैने साईकल लेने का मन बनाया तो घर वालों और रिश्ते-नातेदारों को जैसे सांप सूंघ गया, हमारे शहरी समाज मे साईकल पर चलना स्टेटस को नीचे करने के जैसा है। परन्तु मै नही माना और लगभग पांच हज़ार रुपय की रेंजर साईकल खरीद ली। यह बात २०१६ की है, तब मै साईकल का क,ख,ग, नही जानता था और बड़ा साहस करके १०-२० किलोमीटर का सफर तय कर पाता था। ऐसे मे मैने अपनी रेंजर मे गीयर भी लगवा लिये परन्तु इनका सही उपयोग सीखने मे ४-६ महीने का कठिन परिश्रम करना पड़ा। बीच-बीच मे गीयर टूट भी जाते थे और बनवाने का १२००/- रुपल्ली लगता था, धीरे-धीरे मैने यू-ट्यूब और अन्य मध्यमो की सहायता से स्वयं ही गीयर ठीक करना जान लिया। 

देसी गीयर के पूरे सामान का मूल्य ५००/- से १०००/- रुपये था, जापानी शिमानो अथवा विदेशी गीयर का पूरा सामान १०,००० /- से लेकर १,००,०००/- रुपये तक का होता था। ऐसे मे मै देशी और विदेशी गीयर के सामान को मिश्रित करके अपनी साईकल को चलाने लगा। यह सब काम जानने के बाद मुझे साईकल से ऐसा प्रेम हो गया की जिसका वर्णन करना कठिन है। अपनी साईकल से न तो विषाक्त धूएं का उत्सर्जन होता है और न ही वो तीव्र गति जिससे सड़क हादसे होते रहते हैं, मोटापा भी दूर भागने लगता है। अब और क्या कहूँ ? धीरे-धीरे टायर पंचर बनाना भी सीख गया और पुरी साईकल खोल कर उसके एक-एक अंजर-पंजर को बदलना या तेल-ग्रीस डालना और सफाई करने की कला मे भी निपुण हो गया। इस कार्य मे पास ही के देसी साईकल मिस्त्रीयों का भी कुछ सहयोग मिला।

IMG_20180401_173004

मेरी रेंजर गाड़ी जिसका पूरी तरह रूपान्तरण हो चुका है।

अब मेरे सफर ४०-८० कि.मी. तक होने लगे थे, अधिक्तम गति भी ३०-४० कि.मी. प्रति घँटे की होने लगी। गति बढ़ाने के लिये मैने एक और हल्की रेसिंग साईकल लगभग ५०००/- रुपये मे ले ली। इसमे भी आरम्भ मे ६ और फिर २१ गीयर लगवा लिये। अब मै १००-२०० कि.मी. की दूरी एक ही दिन मे करने लगा, और मेरी अधिकतम गति भी ४०-४५ कि.मी. प्रति घँटा हो गयी थी। ऐसे मे २०१७ के आते आते मैने कानपुर के आस पास के शहरो मे साईकल से जाना आरम्भ किया। इस श्रेणी मे मैने लखनऊ, कन्नौज और फतेहपुर को अपनी साईकलों की पहुँच मे लिया, फिर दायरा और बढ़ाया और प्रयागराज, हमीरपुर और आगे के गाँव और कसबों तक जाने लगा। बुँदेलखण्ड से मेरा विशेष लगाव रहा था और मैने अपना पहली बड़ी यात्रा मे मध्य-प्रदेश के खजुराहो जाने का प्रोग्राम बनाया। यह कोई संयोग नही था कि खजुराहो तक पहुँचने के लिये मुझे बुँदेलखण्ड के मध्य से जाना था। 

खजुराहो और उससे भी आगे महाराष्ट्र तक के साईकल सफर के किस्से मेरे अन्य लेखों मे पढ़ें।

 

The Mother Tour — Return Leg

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.

IMG_20171221_165505

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. 

IMG_20180407_091755

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.

IMG_20171223_061523

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.

IMG_20171223_090801

Nearly dry lake/river bed. Near Lakhnadon.

IMG_20171223_114023

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.

IMG_20171225_114517

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.

IMG_20171226_071247

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.

The Mother Tour — Onward Leg

This one has a special ring to it. I mean I never knew that I or my MTB could do it. The to and fro journey was to be over a whopping 1400 km.* and over all kind of terrain, including hills and valleys. There would be dirt tracks and granite blasted towns like Kabrai in Uttar Pradesh ( U.P. ). To top it all there would be forests all long the way, including the famous Pench Tiger Reserve bordering Maharashtra. 

* kilometres

I had already been to Khajuraho and that would be the same road to take down to Pench Tiger Reserve, in Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh (M.P.), Central India. The time to start would obviously be in the winters. My plan included strapping in all the spares I could muster for the MTB, some woollen clothing and the usual clothing requirements. The stay would have to be mostly in roadside dhabas or if none could be found lodges and hotels. 

Dhaba :- A unique Indian roadside night halt motel, usually catering to truckers. The food is good and you get a cot to sleep under some kind of shelter. Bedding may or may not be provided. They don’t charge for lodging as most guests depart the next morning.

The idea was to avoid town noise and pollution; and soak in the forest/country side aura. On the plus side dhabas don’t charge any money for stay, but you have to keep up with the din created by liquor soaked raucous truck/lorry drivers in the evenings and nights. This was not the case about a decade back, but successive State governments in India have caved in to the liquor lobby and most roadside dhabas are now like roadside bars. Besides lodging, the cycling itself would be restricted to daylight hours, with evenings and nights being rest hours. After daylight traffic becomes dangerously rash in the highways here, and it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Kanpur to Pench National Park Google Map

My journey started on the 15th December 2017 and my first dhaba stoppage was near Kabrai, the nights were unusually cold around 2-5° C. Cycled fast through the granite town of Kabrai next morning but had to stop to clean the bicycle again. The road was brutal as there were repairs being carried out on it, with diversions going through some very rough tracks. Zoomed on beyond Chhatarpur to reach a roadside dhaba 20 km. after crossing Chhatarpur. I was offered a cot and had a wholesome dinner, but there was that familiar whole night liquor soaked din, was too tired to care and slept through it.  Next morning I had chai ( tea ) samosa at a roadside shack. 

IMG_20171216_085342

Sorry about the picture quality, my smartphone isn’t actually world class. Roadside chai samosa shop with the owner’s son and his help bending to clean the utensil.

 I had a nice chat with the shack owner, and am posting the pic cause I do fondly remember our convo. The trip onward had some pretty steep hilly tracks and irritably there were the familiar road repairs; I was completely plastered in red sand that was all over the roads being repaired, spitting it out as it seemed to fill my innards. To make matters worse there were wild monkeys at the roadside baring their fangs if I strayed too close. The hills were full of dense forests. Gradient of roads was around 50-60° in some parts. This stretch is not for the novice cyclist. Finally, I did make a stop at a roadside dhaba just ahead of Batiyagarh, a hill top town.

IMG_20171225_164736 

My beauty aka MTB resting in the roadside dhaba near Batiyagarh. 

Next morning, the road from Batiyagarh branched off into forest hills of Damoh district, M. P.. The journey was more relaxing as there were no wild animals to be seen throughout the hilly forest stretch of Damoh. Which in retrospect was a bit of a mystery ?

IMG_20171217_091332

 Roadside chai samosa shack in Damoh, it seems to be on a plateau.

I had to climb somewhat after this but it was nothing compared to what I had gone through, and on this leg there were some pretty steep down hills, with one particular section where I went like 60-80 kmph.* using the brakes intermittently. All in all, this was a good leg. There is a lot of mining and quarry work in this district but I found little traces of pollution spilling on the roads. Damoh has a big industrial cement plant which goes by the name MyCem. 

* kilometres per hour

IMG_20171217_142016

Ore being carried in suspended containers, they make some noise as they move. They go into the cement plant of MyCem. Damoh district, M.P.

The town of Damoh itself turned out to be a disappointment, as it was the same dusty smoke filled traffic chaos as any other town I had gone through, I crossed it in the afternoon and stopped at a roadside dhaba about 20 km. from Damoh town. Experienced the same din and noise but slept through most of it. Took off next morning and then hit the North-South Corridor also known as the Srinagar-Kanyakumari highway, one of the longest highways in my country. I lodged up in a roadside motel on the highway. Started off early, the next morning.

IMG_20171219_143059

This is the hilly shrub forest track near Lakhnadon town, in Seoni district, M.P. , it’s a dry region but roadside dhabas have enough beverages and food to last one by.

Here, it is hotter than the previous route and I had to take off my woollens to make myself comfortable. There are some pretty steep downhills on the way. You can easily clock 60-80 kmph on your bicycle, with intermittent braking. It’s not advisable to reach 100+ kmph if the bike is loaded down with luggage and you are clipped to the pedals.

However, the downhills didn’t last long and had to labour up hilly inclines again. The area was not safe for late evening travel, as there were hardly any villages or lodgings in sight, and I decided to take up lodging in a dhaba, 20 km. from Lakhnadon town.

IMG_20171220_114018

Talabs or lakes near Lakhnadon.

IMG_20171219_164136

Dhaba near Lakhnadon where I lodged up for the night.

This area had a dicey reputation and the dhaba was full of some very loud and very drunk locals as well as truckers even in late night. I didn’t get a good sleep and was relieved to get up early and leave by 5 am next morning. It was the 20th of December, 2017. Incidentally, the whole area is a forest reserve, but I could hardly spot any wild life. 

The route was marred by road construction even on steep hilly inclines and the heat made it somewhat tough. I huffed and puffed on to reach outskirts of Seoni town, did a quick reservation using the internet on my smartphone, zeroing in on a budget hotel in Seoni. The town is small and chaotic, as usual. However, the traffic police there was trying to enforce some discipline which was encouraging to see. People in my country keep criticising the police for being ineffective but they themselves are quite unruly when it comes to keeping traffic discipline.

Seoni town also hosts the Chief Conservator office of Pench Tiger Reserve, the Reserve  is 50 km. on towards the Maharashtra border. If anyone needs special permits to tour the reserve they can get it from this office. Hotels and lodges in Seoni offer tour services to Pench Tiger Reserve but they are quite expensive in my view. I had been to Kaziranga Wild life sanctuary in Assam, a North East state of my country and the rates there were reasonable. The Pench Tiger Reserve suffers from exorbitant lodging rates, offered by private hoteliers and operators; and an off-the-track location. Locals told me that not many tourists come to visit Pench. The most popular tiger reserve in M.P. is Kanha Wildlife Sanctuary.

 This was good news to me, any part that was not buzzing with camera wielding tourists was going to be a relief as I would not have to worry about dodging crazy SUV drivers on my bicycle, once inside the reserve.

IMG_20171221_074400

A prominent road sign about 40 km. from the Pench Forest Reserve. This highway goes all the way to the last town in the Indian peninsula i.e. Kanyakumari, 1761 km. from this spot.

The Reserve itself was breathtaking and teeming with wild life. Roadsides were packed with wild monkeys. You can meet deer, wild monkeys, foxes and bison on the road itself. There were warning signs against feeding wild monkeys but truckers would do it anyway and hordes of wild monkeys sat by the roadside. Further up, there were road signs that warned of big cats straying on the highway which starts snaking through some steep valleys. Traffic was minimal and there were no cyclists on this road, except for the occasional crazy ones from Kanpur.

Pench Forest Reserve in the morning. The lower parts have some tribal villages. Higher up the hills, it’s all valleys and forests.

IMG_20171221_094127

Lower part of a hilly incline. Notice that the forest is denser here.

The superb highway soon gave way to a hellish scenario, as I entered the Maharashtra border checkpost. The road became so bad that it was almost non negotiable for cyclists. This 20 km. stretch till the Turiya Gate of Pench was a killer and to top it all, it was a busy segment with trucks, motorbikes and wild monkeys snapping at my heels. The language spoken in these parts was a mix of Hindi and Marathi. I could make out that my chain had gone for good on this bad stretch and it was in turn screwing up my gear flywheel.

Stopped for breakfast in a roadside stall and learned that the Reserve has a good tiger population which often spills into adjoining villages and towns. There was also a tussle going on between the Forest authorities and the Highway ones. The Forest Department did not want the road repaired as they claimed that  the traffic often kills stray wild life. Hence, the hellish road. This was all bad news to me as I could make out that my entire transmission could blow up taking heavy punishment on this road. Learning that there were bicycle mechanics just next to the Turiya gate of Pench gave me some hope. The outlook for a budget lodging in or near Pench also looked bleak, there were just a few hotels and they were quite expensive. 

IMG_20171221_133504

Pench Tiger Reserve, Turiya Gate, you have to keep travelling about 10 km. inside the gate to reach the core area of the Reserve.

There was a buzzing bazaar next to the gate. I did show my MTB to a bicycle mechanic but he did not have the tools to open and service the gear flywheel. He told me the chain was OK, which was doubtful to me.

IMG_20171221_133507

Inside the Reserve, expensive hotels and most importantly NO ENTRY for cyclists. Had to turn back.

The return leg of this journey will be posted in another blog, Mother Tour — Return Leg. Do check it out !

 

 

Long Distance Cycling Tips

This is for cyclists like me who travel on a self-support basis, as lone wolves. Cyclists travelling in groups have a different profile. It is best to travel in buddy pairs but not always possible. The idea is to get from point A to point B, as comfortably as possible. The fact that we have to cycle all the way means that we need to have a certain level of fitness and the proper equipment.

If we plan on covering something like 500 kilometres (km.) and above, then we need to cover at least 110-130 km. daily. This may vary according to terrain, steep hills can restrict the cyclist to 70-80 km. ; and it is important not to over stretch oneself, injuries can mean ditching the bicycle altogether and making it back using some other transport.

Carry along stuff should include a first aid kit, our clothes specially undergarments. A few chords just in case we need to extra strap our luggage. Our smartphone ( ahem ! ) and the charger. Moving on, we would definitely need bicycle spares like an extra tube, puncture kit, lubricant and bicycle cleaning stuff. On longer journeys, an extra chain and gear freewheel, along with brake and gear wires would definitely help. Spare rear and front derailleurs could make life easier.

We would also need a toolkit with wrenches, spanners and tools to open the gear flywheel or other stuff. A spoke tension tool would also help. An odometer helps to set our pace. Lastly, a strap on air pump is a must. The air pressure in the tyres must be on the higher side to avoid punctures, throughout the journey. I have never had a puncture on any of my long trips because of this.

Did I miss something ? Yes ! A helmet, rear view mirror, warning tail lights and a front light, are a must to go along with a loud cycle bell here. Battery operated lights are more convenient. Hydration is another issue and bottle holders/hydration bags are always welcome but there is a limit to what one may carry. 

My region has a lot of vehicular pollution, so I wear anti-pollution masks and good cycling eye wear to protect against flying debris. Padded cycling shorts will make our life bearable as our behinds are rubbed raw after hundreds of kilometres. There is the issue of toe clamps or cleats to bind our feet to the pedal. People swear by it but other cyclists do not like it. Personally, I wear shoes that lock in to pedal cleats. However, one must be very careful with this. A mistake can mean a good fall.

This isn’t an exhaustive check list by any means and I may keep adding to this, just so that everyone knows this is going to help me too !

HAPPY CYCLING !!