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. 

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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.

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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 ?

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 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

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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.

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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.

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Talabs or lakes near Lakhnadon.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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 !!

Khajuraho

Khajuraho is an ancient temple site in the state of Madhya Pradesh (M.P.), Central India, bordering my own state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) in the north. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and gets a healthy amount of national/international tourist traffic. More details about Khajuraho can be checked online. It’s definitely deserves the world heritage site tag and is worth visiting at least once.

As a college student, I had visited it along with my college mates, way back in 1988. This time around I wanted to check it as it was super budget friendly and had some good adventure trails. I based this off my own travel as a college student and the internet. 

I started the journey in October, 2017, when it’s autumn here. The distance was 250 km. approx., one way and then back. I plotted the track on Google map and then set off. It was the same Kanpur-Hamirpur-Maudaha route which then goes on to the city of Mahoba; crosses the M.P. border and then into Chattarpur from where the track branches into Khajuraho.

Kanpur-Khajuraho road map

Except for the granite blasting quarries of Kabrai, a town preceding Mahoba, the route is scenic and enjoyable. Kabrai must be what they call Dante’s Hell. By the time I crossed it I was plastered in granite dust and looked like a ghost from the Evil Dead. My MTB was having issues too as the dust had settled on the gears and chain, which meant that I had to take a night halt in Mahoba, the last town of U.P.. The morning started off bad as some kids in the hotel had played around with the bike gears in the night, which meant that I had to spend precious time trying to fine tune them. 

Our towns are notoriously overcrowded and the traffic is chaotic, hence long distance cyclists like me try to cross them as early as possible, but I started late from Mahoba and consequently went headlong into the peak hour, chaotic traffic of Chhatarpur, the next town. Anyway, I did take a stop or two along the way to fiddle with the gear system.

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Small hillocks on the road to Chhatarpur above, it’s also unbearably hot even in October. I felt it was close to 38° C in the afternoon.

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Roadside eatery about 20 km. before Chhatarpur town. I have stopped here often on my other trips too. The owner thinks I am crazy going around India on my MTB.

It takes an effort to negotiate the chaotic town traffic even for a normal cyclist, but if you have about 130 km. under your belt; and your bums have rubbed raw on the saddle, the chaos can become a nightmare. Added to that was my own 10 kg. backpack on the mtb carrier. It took me about 2 hours to cross Chhatarpur, about 15 km. from one end to another.

Once I was on the Khajuraho highway, everything settled down except for the blaring of bus and truck horns, which often means that you climb down the road and hit the dirt track, to avoid them knock you off the road.

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Road to Khajuraho, all clear except for the occasional crazy traffic. 

All along the way it was the usual inquisitive people on mobikes and the occasional tea-samosa break. Khajuraho itself was uneventful and it was getting dark when I arrived there. I checked into my hotel and then slept like a log. Next day I was up and took off to Raneh Waterfalls about 20 km. from Khajuraho town. It is also a wildlife sanctuary. 

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Raneh wild life sanctuary, inside the gates.

It has wild boars, deer, leopards and bears. The display board says tigers too, but the forester rangers told me that there were no tigers in Raneh Waterfall Forest Reserve.

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The Waterfall itself, it’s a raging roaring thing in the monsoon season. 

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Pools created by the Raneh Waterfall.

Went back to Khajuraho and took a few snaps of the Temple Complex. Khajuraho has several temple complexes, so if you do visit, make sure you look up all of them.

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The architecture and wall sculptures are breathtaking, this is just one of the several temples in the main temple complex.

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Another temple in the complex, notice the sculpted stairs, although a lot has been lost.

That’s it ! It took me 4 days to and fro from my city to Khajuraho and 2 days in Khajuraho itself. Nice memories. 

My Wanderings

Let’s see, I started with 20-40 km. runs then started on 50-100 km. ( abbrev. for kilometres ) runs on my MTB. The roadie came somewhat later and was also single gear, now modified with 21 gears. The first long run i.e. 200 km. was on the roadie, will be posting it’s pic soon as it is now being serviced by yours truly; courtesy broken spokes in the back wheel.

The journey was from Kanpur to Allahabad, now called Prayagraj and then back after meeting with friends lasting 2-3 days. It was about 210 km. one way. The return leg was marred by a broken back wheel hub and I had it repaired at 11 pm in the night, thanks to a local mechanic. Thereafter I decided not to use the roadie for journeys exceeding 150-200 km.

Kanpur – Prayagraj Google Map

That set me up for my long outreaches. I started on another route i.e. Kanpur-Hamirpur-Maudaha and further into Bundelkhand, hitting around 200 km. to and fro., same day runs, both on my MTB and then on the roadie. This route is scenic after Hamirpur as the population thins out.

Kanpur-Maudaha Google Map

A few pics of Hamirpur city, which lies in the middle of two rivers, Yamuna and Betwa.

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This was December 2017, Hamirpur Betwa bridge ( I often get confused between the two rivers, apologies if I got it wrong here ).

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Hamirpur, Yamuna bridge. It’s about a 100 feet down there on the bridge.

Check my other blogs for the super journeys exceeding 200 km.

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P.S.: km. stands for kilometres. We follow the metric system here. Am not using kms. cause its also a short for ‘kill myself’ in chat language.

Small Beginnings

My cycling odyssey started in 2016. I was just coming out of obesity and illness that had dogged me for several years. In my enthusiasm to cut down on obesity I started on long distance running, which resulted in a few injuries and that made me to switch to cycling.

Went to the local cycling shops here and purchased a 26″ MTB, in case you are wondering about 29’ers, well …. we are in the backwoods here and that’s all I could get. It was only 5000/- rupees and that is where it all begins.

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The above is what it is now ! The wheels have been replaced by alloy rims rather than the heavy aluminium ones; it was single gear, but it’s now a 7 gear freewheel, with a thumb index shifter too, there is a new handlebar and a triathlon arm rest. The seat pipe has been replaced along with the seat and seat cover. The front fork has also been replaced to add a disc brake, and another at the back too ! The new stand is lighter and sturdier than the earlier one.

Is that all ? No ! The pedals are Shimano clipless SPD type to along with bike shoes that can lock in to these. I could go on and on, but enough of this. This is what I use to travel over 150 kilometres.