Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Is This the Way to Allahabad?

dossing out of the sun

The day into Allahabad to briefly cross paths with Phileas Fogg was marked by a series of minor catastrophes. The hostel tried to skank me out of fifty rupees, I had a puncture after only 3 miles and had to fix it in the blazing sun before yet another goggle-eyed audience, bellowing questions into my face while I was trying to find the hole, then I lost my iPhone when the road - National Highway 76 - turned into a rutted track of loose hardcore and four-inch stones. I rode that section twice, quartering the ground for my phone.


I was accosted by a holy man in the village, who insisted on daubing green dye on my forehead. I don't count that as a catastrophe - it cheered me up a bit, and I rode on, saying farewell to my phone. I was probably more annoyed at having to do a double turn along the awful surface, which snapped the cable tie repair on my rear pannier, which I had to fix again, and above all it cost me time which I didn't have as I wanted to get to Allahabad that evening. I'd been riding mostly long days since Bundi to get to Varanasi for Holi and have a couple of days off, and consecutive days of 85, 95, 75 and 80 miles had taken it out of me, especially in the heat. I had to take long breaks in the afternoons to get out of the sun, and as anyone who knows me can testify, I'm not good at getting up in the mornings, so I usually failed to take advantage of the cool dawn air.

National Highway 76

The road surface improved, and I was making good time at last, until the next setback, when I had a rear wheel puncture. And I had to replace the cable ties on my pannier again. Then I couldn't repair the tube, as it was split at the valve, so I hoyed it. This left me with only one spare tube; I'd had to throw the other two out as they'd been chewed up by a rat which bit its way into my drybag at a ratbag hotel in Shivpuri, also perforating my sleeping mat and condemning me to an uncomfortable night's sleep on the stony ground when I camped up.

rats ate my innertube!

I fitted my last tube. Then, riding into a village, the road turned to cobbles, and I noticed that the rear tyre was deflating again. I rode on. The cable ties on my pannier couldn't cope with the cobbles, so the pannier landed in the dust.

It was getting dark, and I'd had enough. In the heat and humidity and with a huge crowd, I fixed the puncture and re-attached the pannier. Then, I opened one of the beers I'd bought and drank it. That was my best move of the day. I was having a grand old time chatting with the crowd which had developed, and for once they had to tell me to clear off, as it was getting dark and I needed to get to Allahabad.

yet-another-road-accident in India

Night riding in India is insane. I always try to avoid it, but on a couple of occasions I haven't had a choice. The sheer heedlessness seems to go up a few notches, as drivers have their headlights on full beam (those who bother switching them on) and drive down the middle of the road. A few times, I simply couldn't see where I was going in the dazzle of headlights. The roadsigns to Allahabad petered out, but a few locals pointed me in the right direction, onto the huge suspension bridge which crosses the Ganga. At night, when the mist was rising from the river, it was an eerie experience, and I was completely worn out. I fell off a little bit in traffic -I clipped my front pannier on a bit of corrugated iron which jutted out into the road and which I hadn't seen in the dark. I dropped the bike, but unclipped and stayed on my feet, and the tuk-tuk driver behind me had good enough reflexes to stop before smacking into me. I smiled an apology - he seemed more amused than anything else.

suspension bridge at night, Allahabad

Yes, I was feeling sorry for myself. I had a near-meltdown at a hotel where, after I'd said I didn't have enough cash and specified that I'd have to pay by credit card, they made me go through the whole rigmarole of looking at the room and trooping up and down the stairs before they told me that the machine wasn't working so I'd have to pay cash. I left in a ranting fury and found a different hotel, a much nicer hotel than I'd stayed in since Jonathan went back to the UK, as this was no time to go hunting for the budget option. A comfy bed, pleasant staff, a shower, TV and a lie-in were on the cards. It had been a very long day - 13 hours and 92 miles, which was at least 10 miles further than I needed to travel.

I made it to Varanasi the next day, in contrast riding the 85 miles in about 8 hours. I picked up yet another puncture, and the skewer on my rear wheel has snapped, which will require major surgery to my bicycle and probably the use of a machine shop to get me back to Delhi. Every other bike I've seen has solid axles, and Delhi's the only place I can get a replacement quick release.

India is tough. But, I alwas knew it would be, and if there's anywhere in the world where you'll get loads of help when things go wrong, it's mega-populous Uttar Pradesh. OK, the help isn't always very helpful, but the warmth and the desire to be useful is heartwarming. There are bike shops and puncture-wallahs every couple of miles. I'll ride back to Delhi somehow, even if I have to bodge a single speed wheel into my frame and strap the old wheel to the back. Dammit, this isn't going to beat me. It's a test, everything's a test.

But it can wait until tomorrow. Now, I'm off to negotiate some beer.


  1. Bloody hell. Things aren't getting any easier for you, are they? Makes the time I was there look positively trouble free. Take care. Jonathan.

  2. That portrait shot is excellent, it'll provide a surefire way to scare your grandkids in years to come. Just tell them - if they don't eat up their vegetables, they could end up looking almost as haggard as that!