Breaking news ...

In an effort to display his leadership credentials, the newly installed opposition party leader Tony Abbott (Liberal) has controversially stated his desire to see Australia disband from the British Commonwealth. An outline of his ambitious plans for the nation suggest that he views Australia as an emerging superpower and so he wishes to form closer ties with China. While attending the launch of the new Victorian Bitter-sweet range at the VB brewery he stated the obvious; ‘Britain is an ale-ing power’. His plan is to turn the whole of Australia into one gigantic mine so that the Queen can’t lay claim to the land as there is no longer any top-soil to call land. Naturally the rewards of all this mining will be sold to the Chinese in their quest for world domination. He is hopeful that the English will support this move as it is their only chance of winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal in Delhi in 2010. Under his breath he was heard asking; ‘Why the hell is the Union Jack on our flag anyway?’ Indeed his proposals also include a new Australian flag (see tri-colour below). 


H2 ... oh!

Water has been a recurring theme on this trip. Nepal was positively gushing with the stuff. If the investment case for H2O as the new oil holds any water, then Nepal will soon be minted. The topography of the country suggests that the poor Nepali Sherpa will soon be replaced by a rich Nepali Sheik. In India, I had to be wary of drinking the water. I relied on Coca-Cola and Pepsi bottled-water, which I was assured was reverse-osmosified and filtered multiple times. Of course, in India rivers such as the Ganges are sacred. As for Australia, well it’s undergoing its worst drought ever. Melbourne has suffered drought for the last thirteen years, something that is difficult to fathom considering it has the world’s most imperfect weather system. Everywhere in Australia water-restrictions are in place and there are signs requesting me to cut down on my usage, such as the one reminding me to keep my shower to less than 4 minutes. They are having a laugh, right? I think they mean 40. Australia must have had plenty of water at some point as there is a creek sign-posted every few miles. In Victoria all the creeks I passed had plenty of water but around the corner in New South Wales some creeks have been dry for the last four and a half months. Not good if you like panning for gold. I have yet to come across Jacob’s Creek but if this particular creek is also dry then I’ll be massively disappointed.


Ups and Downs

The hills have proven to be the biggest difference between what was the ‘Wilderness Coast’ in Victoria and what is now the ‘Sapphire Coast’ in New South Wales. In Victoria I didn’t listen to anyone warning of hills as they rarely pitched more than 5% (5ms vertical for every 100ms travelled). I can recall one big hill on the way from Apollo Bay to Port Campbell on the Great Ocean Road, it wasn’t too steep but it was about 10k long climbing 500ms vertical. This hill did earn me a pancake-stop at the top but in general I’d be almost over them before I really felt them. So when I was warned in Victoria of the hills on this part of the coast I just thought; ‘whatever’. 

Well, they were right. Today has been my hardest ride in Australia just pipping my 150k ride through seven hours of rain to Cann River. That ride was longer than planned as I didn’t fancy camping in the rain at Cape Conran. Today’s ride, however, was simply a roller-coaster. The rolling hills around Blessington Lakes just don’t compare. I must have hit at least twenty up-hill sections of between 500ms and 2kms long. That’s hard enough but most of them were pitching at anything between 7 and 13 percent. The worst one took me up a wall that pitched to 17% at its steepest section (see photo). Tour of Flanders, eat your heart out!  As I couldn’t find a topographical map of Australia in Borders every day is a surprise in terms of terrain. Today was a bit of a shock but it was also the most stunning scenery of the Australian trip so far. It would be a classic ride for my racing bike and it wasn’t at all busy at it took me along Tourist Routes 11, 9, 8 and 6 off the highway. The weather was compliant with blue skies and temperatures in the early thirties too. A stop for some incredible homemade ice-cream in Bermagui also yielded me some free smoked trout and prawns from the cheerful Californian who was selling fresh catch out the back of his van. It turns out that he used to do bike tours all over the world in 4 month blocks and so we got talking. He was in Singapore trying to decide whether he would ride through India or China only for his bike to go into ICU. While waiting for his bike to be repaired he met an Australian girl, forgot about his pending bike trip, moved to Australia and hasn’t been on a bike since.

The 17% wallAnyhow, what goes up must come down. I don’t work the descents preferring to coast instead. This is because the turning circle of a loaded bike isn’t the sharpest and also because my bike is about as aerodynamic as a truck ... what’s the point? However, now that the hills are steeper I have managed to eclipse my previous maximum speed coming down them. My new top speed for this bike is 71.4kph. The previous record of 61.5kph was unbelievably achieved on the flat Indian plains. I managed this as I took to riding the bumpers of trucks when the breeze was stiff and I had a lot of kilometres to cover. This is a skill that most bike-racers acquire riding back up to the bunch through the cavalcade following a puncture in a race. Naturally, I was selective about my trucks making sure that they were not overloaded, did not have rods that could shoot out the back and were not driven by kids. The rest was simple, when traffic was slowing through a town or approaching road-works you could get into the truck’s draft as it accelerated out of the town. They are so noisy that you hear every movement that the driver makes and so can anticipate everything. Of course, I would have a shorter stopping distance than a loaded truck and so there wasn’t much to worry about. In fact, I reckoned it was safer as all the risk when biking in India was in being overtaken by trucks when there wasn’t room to. A high tail made it easy to see the road in front and so it was up to me to enjoy the free ride. In one instance the guy kept accelerating and so I ran out of gears at 61.5kph. I couldn’t get over what I was seeing on my bike computer; I never would have thought it possible to whip a loaded mountain-bike up to such speeds on the flat. It made me laugh.

Take care



Progress Report

I am now in New South Wales with just under 350 highway kilometres  to ride until Sydney. I hope to get off the road Friday or Saturday of next week before the holiday traffic hits. Christmas is not that big a deal over here but they all seem to go on holidays for it. This is the opposite of Ireland where Christmas is a massive deal and everybody travels home for it.

By all accounts I have trucked it the last 925 kilometres. Victoria is really beautiful but its weather system is far from perfect. It is practically Irish but for the fact that the sun does have the capacity to shine. The weather when I was there was particularly bad and was making records. You get what you wish for I guess as nobody wants to see the bush fires of last summer again. The showers were really heavy and of course, I had posted my rain-gear up to Sydney reckoning that even if it rained it would be too warm to wear it. I just about got away with it but a seven hour cycle through non-stop rain where temperatures touched 12 degrees did mess my legs up a bit. I don’t complain about the weather because I know that people at home are getting it far worse. The silver lining to the Irish cloud is that the weather has forced them to quarantine the hippies and langers in Cork at last. Of course I’m joking – you should know by now that there are only two things I hate in this world: i) people who are intolerant of other races and ii) the Dutch.

 Thus, I trucked it a little in the hope of getting into a better weather system. It was a good decision as I have had three settled days of blue skies and temperatures in the low thirties. Being Irish you can imagine how good the sun is for my morale. The appropriately named town of Eden was the first town I arrived into in NSW. The beach where I camped was beautiful and I was amazed that there was no-one on it. I soon realised that the reason for this is that they have their pick of great beaches. Each coastal town I pass is on an incredible beach and then there are even more remote beaches in the National Parks I pass between the towns. This is the part of the world people from Canberra and Melbourne holiday in. It is the closest piece of coast to Canberra and it is the closest piece of reliable weather to Melbourne. For those who like maps or are familiar with this part of the world I am writing this in lovely Narooma. I will ride the truck-free coastal route to Bateman’s Bay. From there I may do a big day to Jervis Bay. I am thinking about spending two days in Seven Mile Beach national park. Apparently this is a great beach to learn to surf on. Ironically, I need the weather to turn bad so that the ocean is not too flat for surfing. Wollongong is the next logical stop but it gets a little built-up once I leave Seven Mile Beach and so I won’t expect much the last 130kms of the ride in. It’s an 80km hop from Wollongong to Sydney although I will stretch this out by going along the beach roads and through the Royal National Park. This should be a class week once the hills don’t beat me up too much. Still, I look forward to exploring Sydney to see which side of the great Melbourne or Sydney divide I fall on.

Some pics of Victoria are in the gallery.

Have fun





Today His Holiness the Dalai Lama visits Melbourne. This is the second time I have missed him much to my regret. The first time was when I knocked into his gaf in Lhasa (palatial to say the least!) for a cup of butter-tea. Of course, the empirical nature of the Chinese meant that he was not in at the time. This reminds me that I never posted any thoughts on Tibet. I will address this at some point - a classic case of so little to do, so much time to do it.

For those not aware, the words Dalai and Lama roughly translate as Ocean and Teacher. Thus, the spiritual leader of Tibet is seen to have knowledge as wide and deep as the ocean. The incumbent Tenzin Gyatso is revered not just by Tibetans but universally due to his serenity and charming nature. Upon his discovery as a reincarnation he spent a great deal of time studying and learning from teachers. His natural inquisitiveness helped broaden his knowledge greatly. Often Dalai Lamas can be puppets with their teachers pulling the strings, however, in the case of the incumbent he is very much his own man. He has proved to be a leader of great wisdom and a very likeable diplomat, much to the annoyance of the Chinese.

I was sitting on Ninety Mile Beach - I doubt very much it is ninety miles as the Australians have a penchant for hyper-bull-e, which I find supermagnificantabulously exasperating. Anyhow, as I sat on the beach I was reminded that the horizon is not actually a straight-line; at least not unless you are a member of the Flat Earth Society. I have biked through a reasonable chunk of the world’s scenery at this stage and it is amazing to note that not a single straight line exists in nature. Trees may grow tall but they do not grow straight. I find this incredible because man seems to be wired such that he has a preference for straight lines and smooth edges. Design is a huge industry in the developed world and infiltrates all aspects of our lives, be it interior design, industrial design or even just the aisles in a supermarket and the lines of a copy-book. When design is of an aesthetic as opposed to functional nature, there is a large focus on making things less cluttered and pleasing to the eye. The exacting lines and angles of geometry play a large role. Of course, we subconsciously use symmetry when it comes to choosing a mate ... well, most of us anyway! This obsession with straight-lines is funny considering we couldn’t draw one to save our lives. I’m guessing the lesson in this is that we need to take our cue from nature and be aware that perfection is not that important and maybe even unobtainable. Leonard Cohen says it best in his song ‘Anthem’. The lyric “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” reminds us that we become enlightened through our own imperfections.

While I’m no ocean of wisdom, the arrival of the Dalai Lama in Australia prompted this deep post. This is rich coming from someone who has spent over three weeks in Australia and has yet to plunge more than his feet into the depths of the Southern Ocean.

Best regards

Dalai Marka

Ps – if anyone knows of a straight line in nature please enlighten me via a comment. The freezing-over of a pond is the best I can come up with.


The Wheels on the Bike

This one goes out to all the beautiful children in the audience:


The wheels on the bike go round and round,

Round and round, round and round,

The wheels on the bike go round and round,

All day long.


The pedals on the bike go whirr, whirr, whirr,

Whirr, whirr, whirr,

Whirr, whirr, whirr,

The pedals on the bike go whirr, whirr, whirr,

All day long.


The (freakin') flies on Mark's back go buzz, buzz, buzz,

Buzz, buzz, buzz,

Buzz, buzz, buzz,

The flies on Mark's back go buzz, buzz, buzz,

All day long.


The cyclist on the bike says G'day, g'day, g'day

G'day, g'day, g'day,

G'day, g'day, g'day

The cyclist on the bike says g'day, g'day, g'day,

All day long.


C'mon kids ... let's all sing along ... together now, before you grow old and bitter:

The wheels on the bike go round and round, 

Round and round ...



On the Road Again

I am now making my way up to Sydney along the coast. I decided to exit Melbourne via the Mornington Peninsula. This was the least busy and most scenic route out of town. From Stony Point I took the ferry to Cowes on Philip Island where the MotoGP and F1 track is located. Indeed, there is more than just little penguins on the island, there is a chocolate factory too so I had to take the tour on my way out. If you are particularly bored and want to check google maps you will see that I am making my way along the South Gippsland Highway, although 32k of the route today was a really nice rail-trail to the town of Foster. Old railway trails, which are covered with crushed gravel, to allow for biking and walking are reasonably common here. They are pretty much put together by volunteers. It's always pleasant to find such trails. Yesterday I had a 10k trail through the Perregrine reserve, which is effectively wetlands. This meant that I was riding over wetlands on a boardwalk, not exactly something I'll do too often. Tomorrow I'll be in Sale and the day after I'll be at Lakes Entrance where I may take a day-off to explore. There is an option of getting off the road further on and biking on dirt-track to Point Hicks. Apparently the largest sand dunes in the world are here but I'm a bit loath to believe any hype after the deception of last night's 'world famous' penguin parade. I can't believe I let mass euphoria get the better of my cynicism but hopefully that's the last time I waste four hours of my life. Of course, the crowd of morons proved far more interesting than the penguins (as you promised Sulli). At least the ride back in the pitch black was good fun ... and yes, I had my lights mom!

In any case I spent the day agonising over whether I would go into Wilson's Promontory or not. This is a beautiful headland off the coast of Victoria that weekenders flock too. It's really difficult to get accommodation in high season (even with a tent) and there are loads of scenic walks. It's a place that needs more than a couple of days to soak up and of course it's an extra 100k of biking out and back from here, so I thought it best to leave until I'm in Melbourne again at some point (yes, I like the place). In any case, the scenery has been really good and the roads are very calm so far. If it keeps up like this I won't regret the decision.

Enough of me rambling. I just logged on to post my picture-book of Melbourne. If you check the gallery you will see it alongside the recently posted Fixed Gear gallery (if you havn't already checked). I know you are all closet New York hipsters and so I don't have to explain the fixed gear scene. Melbourne is Fixer heaven by all accounts.

Happy weekend


Get Your Bearings

Clearly I am lost in the world of after-thought if I’m still writing about India. Of course, it is simply because I am playing catch-up; the urge to explore is mightier than the pen sometimes. I thought it might be useful to give you some bearings as most of you are far more familiar with Australia than I am. Some place-names may stir a few memories and likely some welcome day-dreams in the middle of a working-day.

I arrived into Melbourne where I spent a week, a fantastic city as you already know. I stayed in and explored the CBD before feeling the need to build-up my bike to broaden my boundaries. On one afternoon, I managed to cruise most of the suburban precincts being Brunswick Street, Smith Street, Richmond, Chapel Street and St Kilda. While St Kilda is a really clean and well set-up beach area, the edgier alternative vibe and cafes of Brunswick Street made it my favourite part of town. I grew eager for some biking so I cast my net further adrift on another day and biked all the way through 50 kilos of suburbia to arrive at Lysterfield Lake Park. This is a dedicated mountain-bike park and has a really nice mix of trails. The Blair-witch trail through the tall slender beech trees was fantastic as was the Commonwealth Games mountain-bike course. It was a great spin and a good excuse to explore the city-limits.

The beach in Anglesea where I campedWhile Melbourne is far from claustrophobic the call of nature is never too far away for me. I loaded my bike up once more and took the train to Geelong (80k of Freeway away) to cycle out the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool.  This allowed me to enjoy both ‘The Surf Coast’ and ‘The Ship-wreck Coast’. I passed through the town of Torquay where all the big surf brands are head-quartered although I did not manage to make it down to Danger Bay or Bells Beach. I was in fact chasing day-light and so set-up camp just off the beach in Anglesea where I could hear the waves. This was my first proper night under the Australian stars and I am guessing that the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ was composed in the southern hemisphere. Truly spectacular. I made my way through the beautiful town of Lorne before stopping for the night in Apollo Bay. By this stage the weather had turned sour. I continued along coastline and through Otway Forest Park to Port Campbell passing the iconic Twelve Apostles National Park. The final stretch to Warrnambool wasn’t so interesting but I managed to make the train back to Geelong so that I could bike to the western tip of the bay that Melbourne sits on and stay the night in Queenscliff. In the morning I  took the ferry across the bay to Sorrento so I could bike the 100k up the Mornington Peninsula back to the city for Saturday night. The day started brilliantly and I hooked up with Greg via a guy I met in Kathmandu. Greg took the brunt of the breeze for me as we biked along some really scenic coastline. The name Sorrento should give Dubliners the idea. Once around Mount Martha it was possible to make out the Melbourne skyline 60 clicks around the bay. Greg showed me a great little route and generously cooked me some lunch before guiding me towards the city-limits. I could have used his cheerful company all the way in as a stiff breeze and some rain-delay scuppered plans of Saturday night out. I know, I really have to get my priorities straight ... but getting drowned for the second Saturday running in St Kilda wasn’t exactly the plan.

So now you have an idea of what I have been up to for the last while. I rode 650k over the last seven days and so I’m looking forward to a few rest days in Melbourne. The distance was not actually that big a deal but the going was tough as the bearings in my hubs and bottom-bracket were shot and so there was a great deal of friction to deal with. It’s tough to deal with bike-maintenance after a day in the saddle when the weather has been as bad as it has. In addition, not being an early riser and having a propensity to faff means that the morning is not the ideal time to do bike maintenance either. Days off are best for such things. Clearly the Indian heat and the load have been harder-wearing on the bike than I imagined. So now that you have gotten your bearings, I have to go get some for the bike. Once I get the itch I’ll begin the next leg up to Sydney along the coast.

I will post my impressions in time.


The 12 Apostles


Marco-Indo Relations

To be fair, I did a great disservice to my Indian hosts by turning up earlier than expected. In addition, I had neither a word of Hindi nor a guide-book (a good definition of the word  tome and thus, too heavy to transport). Of course, it would be moronic of me to expect to pass unnoticed through a country such as India aboard my UFO (the ‘F’ being the height of my conceit). I’m never one for being the centre of attention but I am perfectly comfortable shining the spot-light on my bike instead. Bizarrely my simple cyclo-computer is what fascinated most. This in a country where a lot of young men’s ‘dream’ (their word not mine) is to work in the West as a computer-programmer. Indeed, there is a huge amount of ‘Institutes of Technology’ being constructed in the middle of the countryside. The scale of these developments is impressive and all these initiatives are private as opposed to public and so are commercially oriented. I would be amazed if there were that many young people with the means and commitment to commute to the middle of the countryside to all these grand colleges but such is private enterprise’s ability to pedal ‘dreams’ to the young.  I digress. One final point I should make is that I biked through one state plus India’s capital territory of Delhi. There are twenty-eight states in India and I would be surprised if an Indian would consider Uttar Pradesh the best of them. So the reality is that a fraction of the country is responsible for my brief but somewhat informative experience of India.

The truth is that I made life difficult for myself. While I was aware that biking through India would be stressful in terms of the traffic and the friendly/inquisitive nature of the people, I had to overlay this with  the stresses that a tourist faces in the country regardless of their mode of transport. As I was not cocooning myself on a comfortable train journey along-side the Indian middle-class my stress-o-meter was already in the red on arrival into a town (low blood-sugars were naturally a factor).This is not the case for the regular back-packer who has just spent the last few hours on the train blissfully lost in a book. What’s more, I was travelling alone and so did not have anyone for support, something that I would recommend for people considering India as a travel destination. Having said all that, it is a little perplexing why a mill of people would crowd around me to watch me slug some water. You get used to such things but it’s odd when the crowd is still there and growing as one goes about some bike maintenance on the side of the road twenty minutes later. I found it unnerving but perhaps there is a TV show to be made if that many Indian people find allen–tools so entertaining. What really got my goat was being run off the road fifty times a day by buses overtaking in the opposite direction to me. I was never going to win in a game of chicken as the bus had now nowhere to go. The coaches in India are mind-bogglingly dangerous. Of course, when flicking through the papers it is not uncommon to read about bus crashes and the number of deaths involved. Go figure! This is one of my biggest issues with India; life is way too cheap. There is a big difference between fate and being fatalistic, certainly where other people’s lives are concerned. In the West we use wing-mirrors much like a cat uses whiskers, in India they fold them over permanently so they can get through gaps that they shouldn’t be considering in the first place. You can imagine my frustration to see them braking for a cow but not for me, they would happily run me off the road without a thought. It’s a little hard for me to fathom how a cow’s life is more sacred than a human’s. Indeed, religion gets in the way again when one considers the terrible water pollution that occurs. Being a sacred river the Ganges is full of human ashes, dead animals and floating corpses of humans too poor or too untouchable to have a proper funeral. The towns downstream from Varanasi are full of really sick people and have a very high mortality rate as people are imbibing this water. Even Gandhi in his draft constitution (he was assassinated the day he finished it) urged Indians to educate themselves in the ways of sanitation and hygiene such that it does not spread disease and ill-health. I have no issue with people’s beliefs ... everyone is free to think how they wish. However, I would argue that human intuition should over-rule creed. Religion is a man-made phenomenon whereas man’s environment is God-given (assuming you are a believer). Man, animals and nature existed prior to religion and so I find it hard when man chooses to so obviously disrupt the harmony of his or someone else’s habitat. Do Gods really want us to worship them at the price of human lives? Of course, I realise that the West is guilty of more sinister practices in bowing to our God prophet ... er, I mean profit. I had similar thoughts when I considered the plight of cows roaming the streets. While we have managed to urbanise/domesticate certain animals I do not believe that the cow is one of them. It can’t be healthy or good for a cow’s yield to be grazing on rubbish. Litter pollution is commonplace but it did not really bother me. On the whole, the average Indian consumes far less packaging than the average westerner because they don’t rely on supermarkets. While it isn’t pretty to see piles of rubbish everywhere, at least they don’t sweep it under the carpet like we do. Our policy of out of sight and therefore out of mind is not exactly sustainable. Another thing that didn’t particularly bother me was the propensity of sober grown men to relieve themselves in the middle of the day on the street. Dublin on a Saturday night is just as bad after all. I would make the point however, that it wasn’t only me that preferred to walk on the road as opposed to the latrine-like pavement. Again, human instinct suggests that we don’t like walking in our own business. It is interesting that Indians find such practice socially acceptable in the city when they too don’t wish to traipse through it. The consequence of this is that everyone walks on the road and we have already established that the road is not the safest place to be

Indians are perfectly friendly and in the main well-intentioned. However, it is a bit much when I’m 30kms from the next town and I have Maverick riding shotgun on his motor-bike doing his best to escort me the whole 30k to the next town. Seriously, I can handle all the mobile phone cameras in the world but it’s tricky enough riding on the road without two of us biking slowly. Sometimes you just have to be rude. Unfortunately my lack of Hindi was a barrier to interpreting their good intentions. Now and again somebody with decent English would come along and I was perfectly sociable. Forgive my arrogance but I was surprised at how poor their English was. Nepal was so much better on that score. In the cities it was better, however, the people with the best English were the touts. I always give people the benefit of the doubt but in cities I learned the hard way; just ignore anyone speaking English altogether. The unfortunate problem with this is that the well-intentioned person suffers my ignorance. However, in Dublin you don’t force a conversation upon somebody unless they are looking for one. So when somebody does this in India I have to be suspicious. Clearly this person wants to sell me something or is a total weirdo, either  way I have no interest in talking to them. Invariably it is always the former and annoyingly these people are immune to the evil eye. While there are signs requesting tourists to ignore touts and not to encourage begging the reality is that such stated policy is not enforced. Poverty is on such a grand scale that the compassionate thing for the Indian to do is to turn a blind eye and let the tourist suffer the consequences.

It’s a shame to say it but India is a place where a white person needs a survival guide. There are so many things to be wary of that you really need to be wise to the place. I will say that westerners should spend their money freely there because it is cheap and the reason for all the aggravation is because so many people are struggling to earn a crust. However, more needs to be done to protect the tourist or there will be fewer of them. Certainly, if one has a stressful life in the West then one would be crazy to go to India on a two-weeker.  Perhaps the beaches near Goa, the hippy vibe in the presence of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala or some supposedly spiritual camp consisting of four hours yoga a day, hours of silence, nature walks and a lot of other nonsense would have been easier going; I’m not sure. If contemplating such I would definitely employ the use of a guide. If I had had an Indian to chaperone me then I would have had a much easier time of it. Ironically, it would have made me ‘untouchable’.

Perhaps if I knew my cricket and could wax lyrical about Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting then I might have seen a different side to them. I loved their passion for the sport and one of my best memories was watching a game of cricket on one of the most beat-up creases ever. Another passion seems to be kiting. It was amazing to watch them let a tiny hand-built kite off the reins hundreds of metres into the sky. Both boys and men could really make their kites dance. It was funny to see grown-up bats-men kiting while waiting for their innings. One other hugely impressive thing is the red of the setting sun in India; it is absolutely stunning.

While I would clash with them in terms of their beliefs this was not the issue. All of us are delusional in some regard and so it is our beliefs that make us really interesting. Clearly my relations with them turned sour but ultimately it is not that I dislike India or the people, it is simply that I did not like the person I became when there. I felt I gave them every opportunity but they wound me up so much that I was rude, stressed and suspicious. This is supposed to be the land of ‘passive resistance’ but honestly I felt like a thump would be the only communication that some of them would understand. These are not my normal qualities but my karma changed totally for the worse while there. For the record, I’m not a white supremist but it is easier to travel in a country you can relate to. Lots of people love India but I think part of the reason for this is that it is relatively cheap. You could travel very comfortably on 500 euro a month and so it is an easy destination for people to get lost in with only a few months savings from a high-income country. If this idea appeals just be sure not to take your bike!

My affection for the Indians is much like Obelix’s fondness towards the Romans ; “These Romans are crazy!” he would exclaim. Often I would be asked the reason for my journey. The appropriate answer would be to say that I was on a pilgrimage of sorts, however, I preferred to reply that I had no reason at all. They just couldn’t comprehend this. Indeed I took great pride in the fact that so many Indians considered me the crazy one.

Mind how you go


p.s. – Feel free to contribute a comment if you can offer some insight.


A Day at the Office

Biking allows one to get under the skin of a country. I have already mentioned how great it is to cruise cities on a bike; you blend in more and you can cover a lot of ground quite quickly. Cycling through the countryside, while slower, enables one to taste the air, smell the flora and see a country as it is not supposed to be seen by the tourist.

Assuming one isn’t staring blankly at the tarmac during a slog of a day, there is plenty of time to look around, take in the scenery and observe the locals. It was never the plan to do such long days on the last leg from Kathmandu to Delhi but it is good to know that I can handle eight hours in the saddle if need be. Indeed, a typical day on the road in India was not much fun. There were two days when I really enjoyed the scenery but they were the two days that I was on less busy roads and so I could relax somewhat. Secondary roads were not really an option elsewhere on the route and so the ride was fairly stressful.

What the hotel owner sees when I arrive - I was just trying my best to blend in.India presented several challenges: the heat, the dust, the noise, the crazy driving, poor sanitation, scarce accommodation and malaria. Thankfully the heat was the least of my worries. While it did reach 41 degrees on one day there was plenty of breeze such that I did not really feel it. India is pretty dry post monsoon season and so the dust was a serious issue. Perhaps a snorkel and goggles would have saved me hoovering up so much dirt with my gaping mouth. What’s more, developing countries have no concept of pollution, noise and litter pollution is everywhere and so your senses are bombarded.  In terms of their road manners, they drove me mad. In addition the poor sanitation made food-stops tricky and so I would try to eat breakfast and dinners at the hotel where possible. Also, I would ask them to make me a few sandwiches that I could eat later for lunch. While the road-side has plenty of open-air cafes the utensils can be washed in the muddy streams behind the huts. As I don’t have the stomach for Indian food in the West, I certainly wasn’t going to have the tummy for it in India. Thus, it made sense to dodge all seemingly unsafe establishments full-stop. This limited my food options dramatically; however, I was determined to pass though India without getting sick even if I ended up getting sick of the place. The most eventful part of my day was arriving at the hotel. In Nepal every town had some sort of tea-house accommodation and you could reasonably expect to find a mid-size town every 30kms. I had assumed that there would be some sort of travelling business-class in India (being more developed than Nepal) and so accommodation would not be an issue. It was in fact my biggest problem. Hotels were pretty hard to come by in the countryside and so I had to ride the big days just to make big towns where there would be some sort of accommodation. Camping was not an option as I needed hotel food and a bit of space to myself. I’d arrive into a town pretty beat up after the ride and quiz the locals about my options for a hotel. The worst hotel experience in India was in a small one-hotel town. I was low on sugar so inevitably ratty. I had no choice but to take what I was given, which was in fact the best room at the hotel. I sat down for half an hour in the dark waiting for them to turn on the electricity and listening to the hum of definitely more than one mosquito. Eventually the lights allowed me to see the torrid state of the place. It had an en-suite and shower but there was no running water so my shower was of the baby-wipes kind. They kept coming into my room without so much of a knock and so I didn’t really have much privacy. It was just one of those days where I had to lie down on the bed praying for sleep or at least a good day-dream to escape the horrid reality of the next twelve hours of my life. You can imagine my delight the next day when I arrived at what was a luxury hotel in comparison. I was so happy it was beyond words. With regards to privacy, it simply does not exist in India. Once the hotel owner walked unashamedly into the bathroom to hand me the bill ... could it not wait until I check-out chief? You have my bike; you know I’m not going anywhere. Of course, once washed and fed there were the mossies to take care of. We had great fun together playing a game I like to call ‘Tom & Jerry’. A quick look at the map before I hit the hay and that was pretty much it. Not exactly the exciting part of the trip but all part of the experience. Australia and New Zealand should provide the picture-perfect bike-touring experience that I had in my head in the first place; beautiful scenery, relaxed 80k days and only the heat (or the Victorian rain to worry about).