Leaving Khajuraho I was due another series of hard days as I worked my way southwards. This time I was aiming for just over 500km in three days as I tried to reach Nagpur.
The first day did not start well as the thunderstorm I had seen forecast for the evening broke about twelve hours early…my weather reports in India have not been the most reliable! There was a lot of thunder and a lot lightning all of which seems more dramatic when you are exposed to the elements on a bicycle. I must remember to check if riding a bike is advised when there is lightning. For the second time in my life I got to see horizontal strikes as well.
Along with the thunder came rain – bucket loads. So I decided to find shelter as rain in India tends to do terrible things to my bike when it mixes up with the grit and the mud. Luckily a small village was just ahead and I hid from the rain here. A family even invited me to sit inside the front of their home as the rain was so heavy it was splashing me where I was hid under an awning. While there they started pressing some clothes with a huge iron that was heated by putting coals in and lighting them.
After the rain relented I rode on and into the Panna tiger reserve. I didn’t see any tigers of course but the road wound through some beautiful countryside. This would be a feature of most of the day as I took more back roads through to the town of Katni. Surprisingly, even though I was on back roads, the surface was good and new and I was able to keep on schedule. The next day I knew I would be hitting National Highway 7 and I hoped the road would get even better.
Sadly this was not the case and by the end of the day I was asking myself why on earth the terrible road I had ridden on had in any way deserved to be associated with the word highway. It was either full of potholes, or when it wasn’t potholed it was covered in mud, when it wasn’t covered in mud it was just mud covered in rocks. I ended up having to grind along it for ten and a half hours to reach the town of Lakhnadon, which was my target.
I arrived in the town covered in mud splashes from trucks and feeling exhausted and hoping there was a hotel, preferably a niceish one.
I was directed to one and the front suggested I wasn’t going to particularly like what I found. I didn’t – it was not the worst hotel I had stayed in but it was probably in the top five. Someone had kindly left some used razor blades in the sink though just in case I needed a shave. I just about Managed to clean all the mud off using the Indian washing technique of a bucket and tap and felt a bit more human. The guys in the restaurant part of the hotel were kind and I managed to stock up on food and energy for the next day. They also lit a mosquito coil in the room which I could tell I was going to need! Luckily the coil coupled with the repellent I had meant I didn’t get eaten alive in the night and I slept well.
The next day I woke up at 5am so I could be ready just as dawn was breaking. I was worried I would have another tough day on tough roads to get to Nagpur where I wanted to make a rest stop. I rode up and out of the town on the same bad surface and wasn’t feeling overly optimistic. Then all of a sudden a couple of kilometres out of town the road changed and split into beautiful smooth four lane highway. I almost got off my bike and kissed it.
What was more I was starting to descend a bit as well and compared to yesterday I was flying along. It was a much more enjoyable ride that day and I rode though the beautiful countryside of Pench Tiger Reserve where Rudyard Kipling had set the Jungle book. There was lush almost jungle to either side providing wonderful shade as I rode. Which was much preferable to the heat of the highway.
It did of course come to an end and eventually I was back on exposed baking roads for the tough remainder of the ride to Nagpur. I knew I would have a rest day there though so I was happy to struggle on.
In Nagpur there wasn’t much to see and I spent most of the time eating and getting my bike serviced.
I was also lucky enough to have dinner with KT, a ranger from the Tiger reserve. He had spotted me as I was riding into Nagpur and we had agreed to meet up when I reached the city. KT was kind enough to show me a few of the amazing photos he has taken in the national park, some of which you can see on his page: Photosynthesis.
I managed to recharge my batteries and to get my bike serviced really well in Nagpur – I’d been having trouble with the gearing for a while and the bike shop I had it serviced at did a good job of smoothing it out.
So off I went from Nagpur again to try another 500km in three days; something I was not particularly looking forward to in view of how hot it had been getting in the afternoon.
The first day out went pretty well and I reached the city of Adilabad as I had planned. Here I stayed in a nicer hotel than normal which included luxuries like hot water, a shower and sheets.
The only problem in the day had been what I thought was my first puncture since Switzerland, ending 11,000 puncture free kilometres. It wasn’t a massive problem and I changed the inner tube out and just put another one on figuring I had plenty of spares. Changing the inner wasn’t the most fun in the heat but I was able to get it done relatively quickly – learning it is a good idea to know exactly where your spare inners are in your panniers.
As I said the first day out of Nagpur everything went much to plan apart from the puncture. On the second day it went catastrophically wrong. About 70km out of Adilabad I got another puncture, which seemed like bad luck and quite annoying. No punctures for 11,000km and now two in two days… I started to worry about my tyres. I changed the inner out again, a bit quicker than before and hoped that it wasn’t the heat causing my tires to be more susceptible to foreign objects.
I rode on for another 10 or so kilometres when all of a sudden I got another puncture – now I was very worried as I had no idea what was causing this as I didn’t seem to be riding over anything and the highway was pretty nice and smooth. Due to a mixture of my inexperience and the heat I just put another inner on assuming they were normal punctures and carried on riding again.
I made it a little bit further and then all of a sudden I was flat again. “WHAT IS GOING ON???” I screamed in my head as I dragged my bike back to a bus stop I’d just passed to change the inner in the shade.
Here I attracted a lot of attention as there was a police checkpoint and a few houses nearby. With the heat and the punctures I was definitely not in the mood for conversation or for people touching my bike while I was trying to fix it so I may have been a little shorter than I would be normally; even the police finally realised it was probably best to leave me to it!
The tube I was putting on now was my last spare and I knew if this went then I would be in trouble and would probably have to get a bus. I was naively still working on the basis that I was just unlucky and that the heat was maybe making it happen. As I was in the middle of nowhere I wanted to make for the next town of Amoor and try and work out what was happening there. Sadly this was not to happen and I fell 20 agonising kilometres short.
Luckily as this flat happened a couple of English speaking guys were trying to engage me in conversation from their moped so they were able to help me flag down a tuk tuk, load my bike in it with my luggage and explain to the driver I wanted to be driven to a hotel in Amoor.
Here I wanted to see if I could figure out what was going on and patch up my inners and hopefully carry onto Hyderbad the next day.
The tuk tuk driver did as requested and dropped me at a lodge where I could sleep, though again washing with a tap and a bucket is something I am still getting used to…
While here I tried to figure out what was wrong – I looked on the internet for causes of multiple punctures and came across something about rim tape. When I think about a puncture I think about a nail, glass or something else sharp going into my tyre, through it and piercing my inner tube. I do not think about the possibility of an enemy within and I certainly don’t think about tape. Still it appeared that this was the problem – my rim tape, which is quite a tough plasticy type had curled up and was cutting into the inners. This was both good and bad news.
On the plus side – I knew what the problem was and my tyres were OK and all I needed to do to fix the rim tape issue was take it off and put some new duct tape over the spoke holes (I hope anyway). Schwalbe marathon mondial tyres are thus highly recommended, no punctures yet in India.
On the minus side I now had five inner tubes that were cut rather than pierced. I tried fixing the first one to go on the basis it might be the least badly cut. I patched up one hole and put the tyre on and inflated it. It seemed to hold. For about five seconds and then there was a hiss of escaping air and down it went again. I took it off to see if it was the patch I’d put on that had failed. Sadly it wasn’t, there was another hole that had opened up. I tried patching that up and put the wheel on again and inflated it. Minutes passed and there was no sound off escaping air, so I risked an internal high five and went for some dinner.
So I was pretty miffed when I got back to a flat tyre. At this point I knew the inners were not for fixing and that I was going to have to take a bus to the next city where I would be able to buy some: Hyderabad. This was 187km away.
Disappointment was very much in the air. I had been riding really hard over the past few days and pushing myself quite a lot physically. Since I had left Chandigarh I had been riding over 100 miles a day for almost two weeks in some pretty intense heat and I hadn’t been flagging. So to have some curling tape pull me up short was pretty gutting. Thought if I am honest it was more my inexperience in bicycle maintenance – if I had known to check the tape after the first or even the second puncture I would have saved myself a lot of trouble!
As it was I would be taking a bus the next morning to Hyderabad where I would have to hope I could get some replacement inner tubes.
So as morning came I wheeled my bike over carefully, with its flat back tyre, to try and catch the 7am bus into Hyderabad. It felt very strange preparing to do this. I hadn’t taken public transport with my bike like this before. I’d rolled onto three ferries, been extracted from two deserts by vehicles and packed everything up for a plane. All of which had felt very different from preparing to just get up and go and catch a bus – especially when it was something I had been forced into planning to do and wasn’t something I wanted to do.
Anyway the bus came and I had fun trying to get my six bags on the bus and load my bike on the roof. The roof loading I wasn’t allowed to do on my own as there is apparently an Indian bus loading union whose work I was encroaching on. I definitely wasn’t going to leave them alone to secure my bike up there and I am glad I didn’t as I’m pretty sure the one piece of mangy twine they had wrapped around the front wheel wouldn’t have held it! Luckily I had a couple of proper luggage ties I was able to strap it down with and I was relatively confident it would still be on the roof when we arrived, if not in one piece from the shaking!
It was a public holiday that day for Holi: the festival of colours, which is why I assume there wasn’t a load of other stuff loaded on the roof making securing it relatively easy.
The journey was OK but got progressively more uncomfortable. I started out sharing a bench with one other guy, at the first stop this became two other guys. At the third stop one of the guys left and changed out for another huge guy – I was worried what would happen at the fourth stop. Thankfully it was nothing and I was left wedged up against the big guy. Thankfully I was on the end of the row – the guy on the inside needed peeling off the window.
In Hyderabad I had more fun loading my bike into a city tuk tuk. When I had put it in the tuk tuk to Amoor the tuk tuk had apparently been a larger one built for outside the city and the bike had gone in fairly comfortably. This was not the case with the city one and it took quite a lot of manoeuvring to wedge it and my luggage in the back. I had to perch up front with the driver.
We then had even more japes together trying to find the hotel I had picked out – its Trip Advisor pin was in the wrong place and no one seemed to know where it was. I also got colour bombed by some people celebrating Holi which I had hoped to avoid given the fact I don’t actually have that many clothing options with me…all in good fun though.
Eventually finding the hotel I offloaded my bike got cleaned up and headed off to see a few of the sights of Hyderabad. I couldn’t seek inner tubes as most of the shops were shut.
I managed to see the Charminar, where I played the favourite Indian game of how many people can you fit in an enclosed space: this time in a minaret.
I also saw the Chowmalla Palace the seat of the Nizam family who had ruled Hyderabad before the Indian Republic. This was pretty incredible with some very interesting exhibits. Including this Rolls Royce:
The next day I was determined to get some inner tubes so that I could continue my journey. Again India’s Firefox bike stations came through for me and I was able to get some good replacements and some actual rim tape which I would put on if the duct tape I had used started to fail. This was the fourth city if used them in and every time they had what I needed. Admittedly nothing in India is ever easy and it did take two visits to the same bike shop and then a tuk tuk ride to another shop across town but I did manage to get the inners and to then install one successfully on my back wheel. Whether or not it lasts the 600km remaining to Chennai will be a subject for the next blog post!