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 !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 !

 

 

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.