Tuesday, 3 March 2015

01 Mar - Ottapallum to Palakkad Ups and Downs and Re-routing

Day's run 63 km    Total  447kmStart  06:30Saddle Time   05:11Height Gain    533mAverage 12.1 kph 

Not showing the first part of the day - this is after my re-route
Today the plan was to head north along a very minor road through a national park and up to Ooty. The day started off well enough. It was Sunday and lots of young men  were out cruising on their motor bikes.

It happens fifty times a day, I see a motorbike approaching in my rear view mirror........it slows down to have a gander at the bike and I......hangs back practicing the introductions in his head...."What is your name", "Where are you natural/ staying/coming" (either option means what is your nationality)...."where are you going"....."Are you alone" (this normally means are you married but can mean are you in a group). All delivered woodenly as statements rather than questions.....often delivered just to impress pillion passenger(s). 

Then the bike pulls alongside. They stare unblinkingly, I nod and smile. Then, if I'm lucky they will zoom off. If I'm unlucky, the barrage of questions begin. I don't mind, after all I am a spectacle, no more or less than if an Indian were to ride an elephant through a village in the shires (except we, the English have our natural reserve and would never ask such direct questions outright........probably start off with "Hello, turned out fine (for elephant riding). 
Outside the teashop. The leader/spokesman is up front - they look harmless enough
I'm digressing. Today I have three 'sticky` youths. I turn off at a junction, they follow. Probably only for 10 minutes but it seems much longer, they've clearly not got anything better to do on their day off.

 I pull over and have a cuppa at a teashop. I take their photograph. They wait for me. It's starting to get tiresome. Riding so close in traffic takes concentration. My road is limited. I hit pot-holes that I'd normally swerve around.

My route takes me on to a quiet back road, they follow....and then it begins. "Give me money." No, (laughing) you give me money. "Need money for petrol for bike ......Give me money.....50 rupees". So stop following me, you're wasting petrol.........I'm starting to appreciate the vulnerability of my situation, three on one in the middle of nowhere. I have a 6 inch knife in my bar bag (fruit peeling - for the use of) but I really don't want to go there. I remember a tactic used successfully by cycle tourists in Guatamala. " I love you, give me money" Time to play my trump card. I bring the bike to an abrupt stop and in my best angry voice......" Your bothering me, I have your photo.....I'm calling the police!". Head down, I jab pointlessly at my phone screen, pretending to dial and wondering if the ruse will work. In a flash, they've done a U-turn and are off with a not-so-fond "Bastard!" farewell.

I ride on shakily but the day is spoilt. Villagers stare at me blankly, no response to my forced smile or greeting.  The road is awful, 'choppy'. Short saw-tooth ups and downs.....potholed, no teashops, not a lot of anything, claustrophobic. My average speed is about 6 kph. It will take me a day to get somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, that I don't want to be anymore. Time for a rethink.

I decide to head back to a main road, any main road, and head up to Ooty through Coimbatore.....sod the traffic. That's the beauty of Pocket Earth (and a data connection), you can re-route in seconds....from 'current position' to 'tap point on map'  I do a U- turn and back-track to civilisation. My mood lifts as the miles pass and the smiley head-waggling faces reappear.

I'm no fan of the nanny H&S culture but this is amazing.These are exposed 250V cables beneath a transformer, well within reach of any child. No attempt at any fencing.

The whole country is cricket-crazy, like football in Portugal. I've been asked to join in a game but my cricket skills are a little rusty. It would be fun though.......maybe later. I took the photo because I'm impressed by the improvised wicket........a stripped coconut palm frond.

It's rice harvest time, here the harvester disgorging grain

Just before arriving in Palakkad. It's hot and I spy these boys swimming just above the weir (on the right if you zoom in!). I want to join them but I am not comfortable about changing into my bathers and leaving my bike on the bank in front of the inevitable crowd. Shame!

Draconian rules on the gates of a Catholic convent school.........

........to counter this, just outside the school gates. I suspect/hope that you won't see this in a generation. It is after all merely educating those fresh young minds, no?

I decide to stop in Palakkad and push on through Coimbatore (pop circa 2 million) tomorrow. It's been a day of mixed emotions. I've taken most of my cash and credit card cards out of my wallet and dispersed them around the bike. I've vowed not to tell 'dodgy' strangers that I am on my own....."No, I'm in a group, they are following behind, with the guide". I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression, I'm relaxed and happy with 99% of the people I meet....... there's always one bad apple.
I console myself that you and I are far more likely to come to harm travelling in a car.

I completely forgot to mention that I have passed seamlessly into the large state of Tamil Nadu, different language, fertile, hot.

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