(from now, I'm going to try to post something for each day's cycling - this is the first)
Day 315, 21/06/2012 - Rishikesh, Joli Grant, Dehra Dun, Rajpur, Mussourie: 52.44 miles, 6:37:10, 28.1 mph max, 9057.0 miles total
This was my third visit to Rishikesh, and the more I saw of it, the more I liked it. The first time I was there, I was still new to India and overwhelmed by the frenetic activity of the place, as I'd been led to expect a peaceful riverside enclave. It's as mad and tacky as ever, still full of fake sages and ear-cleaning salesmen, still awash with tourists seeking enlightenment or oblivion. But unlike a lot of Indian cities, it has individuality, an atmosphere not quite like anywhere else I've visited in India. And above all, it still has that magnificent setting, perched in the gorge where the Ganga leaves behind the mountains.
I spent a couple more days there than I'd planned to, but I did stick to my plan of starting cycling just before dawn, to avoid the midday scorching. For reasons too tedious to list, I was awake at ten pm, and spent the night packing and drinking coffee until there was enough light in the sky at about 4.30. Rishikesh centre was bustling, even then.
I like the road from Rishikesh to Joli Grant Airport, which I rode in the other direction in April. It's wide and smooth and quiet, passing through light jungle above a dry monsoon river bed. I was half-hoping to see elephants at the early morning, as the road is lined with signs such as "Beware Wild Elephants" and "Elephants Have Right of Way", but they must have been asleep in their hammocks in the tree canopy by then. There were packs of monkeys, though, which I rode through warily as they watched me pass.
The road went gently up, then gave a gentle descent towards Dehra Dun, state capital of Uttararkhand. I had no particular urge to visit it, and followed the bypass towards Mussourie, a former British hill station. It's now a popular holiday destination for Indians to escape the sweltering heat of the plains - that road was busy.
It was also very very up. Mussourie is atop a ridge at 2000 metres ASL, and Dehra Dun is about 650 metres ASL. Most of the climbing was compressed into the last 15 miles, especially once I'd passed Rajpur. A smiling, bespectacled old Indian gent in Rajpur saw me, stopped, lowered his umbrella and gave me an amused look, much more focussed than your average blank Indian stare.
I smiled back and offered a hello.
"Going to be tough," he said.
He wasn't wrong, though. I'd forgotten to eat since my second breakfast at 7.30 am (that Indian classic, butter toast), and when my legs came over all wobbly at about 1500 metres ASL, I had to stop and guzzle some Pringles. I did stop frequently at the many tea stands, but that was mainly to take on liquid. The heat smothered my appetite.
It was, however, getting cooler as I climbed higher. A breeze was coming up the Dehra Dun valley, and I carried on through the heat of the day.
I'd only planned to get to Mussourie as this was my first significant ride for nearly a month, and I wanted to ease my way back in gently. Also, with the amount of climbing in the heat I expected, I was never going to manage my usual 60-70 miles for a day.
Anyway, what with the lack of miles in my legs, the heat (it was a relatively balmy 35 degrees in Mussourie when I arrived) and lack of fuel, I was knackered. Not to mention a sharp pain down the side of my right leg when I pedalled, which I thought might be related to saddle height; I've swapped my pedals for flat pedals, so I raised my seat to compensate, which didn't help much.
I asked at a couple of hotels, but they were so expensive, as you'd expect at high season, but I balked at paying 1500 rupees just to camp. The youth hostel (I quite enjoyed having a look around this place, in many ways it was your classic British youth hostel, but also distinctly Indian in character) was full. I checked into a dingy, over-priced hotel when I couldn't be bothered to go any further, and slept away twelve hours.