Pune, Maharashtra. Tuesday 14th Febuary 2023.
The first thing I did on arrival in Pune was to find the workshop that Dilip had told me about. Run by a guy named Amit, it was where people went for metalwork, bodywork and so on. Although I have plenty of metal in my limbs these days, it was the bike that needed fixing. A relatively straightforward job for a place with the skills they had. My bike has a couple of steel pannier frames at the back. As well as a vertical side they also have small platforms on which the panniers rest. One of these had fallen off a few weeks previously and I needed a replacement. Amit would make a new ones and, while he was at it, would extend their size.
Dilip was out of town but Jay came round to see me. He brought beer and I organised a chicken curry. Beer, food and conversation with a friend. Excellent. His new job is going well and the Managing Director, to whom he reports, was very pleased with him. I was very glad to hear it.
When I went out to breakfast next morning I immediately noticed something odd with the bike. I’d left it in the street last night so had covered it up. But the cover had been torn apart, with rips along all sides of it. I remembered that I hadn’t bothered to do up the strap that goes underneath it and I assume the wind got underneath it. There was a pack of dogs that hung around nearby and it was clear that they’d attacked it, probably frightened by the wind blowing it about. It was ruined. I knew of a shop that sold them but it was way across the city so I decided to go there next morning when it would be cooler and the traffic would be lighter. Amit sent me a photo of the new pannier supports and said they’d be ready tomorrow, so I’d collect those while I was out.
Next morning I rode to the shop, picking up some rush hour jams on the way. They had a suitable cover but the only problem with it was that it was much heavier than the old one. But it would do the job and that was the main thing. At Amit’s workshop we fitted the new supports. He’d done a great job and they gave the panniers much more support. He’d had them powder coated and they looked fantastic. It was a shame they’ll spend their time completely hidden by the panniers. The cost? £30! I was very happy.
Time to leave Pune and head south and to the coast. I wanted to visit Suvarna Durg, an island fort which sits off the coast between Mumbai and Goa. Those of you who are regular readers will remember that I tried to do this in April last year, but failed. This time I intended to succeed. Why was this important to me? To recap. In April 1755 this fort was captured by Commodore Sir William James, on behalf of the British East India Company. It was then handed over to local rulers as part of a trading arrangement.
The Commodore died late in the 18th C and his family built a folly in his memory, called Serverndroog Castle (the Anglicised version of Suvarna Durg). Why do I care about this? Because it sits in Castle Woods, on the southern slopes of Shooters Hill in South East London, where I was brought up. I knew all about the folly but I wanted to visit its namesake.
It was a very hot day when I rode down to Harnai, next to the Arabian Sea. Up to 46 C at one point. But the roads were very nice. Rural and well surfaced – just what I like. But things didn’t go so well with the bike. It started cutting out. It would misfire then surge. Then run OK for a while. Then do it again. I put it down to the heat causing fuel to evaporate and as I had used two thirds of the tank I filled up. Problem solved! Nice cool petrol in the tank now, all was well.
At Harnai I found a guest house close to where the fishing boats left from, and was very glad to be able to remove my hot and sweaty riding gear. I knew from my previous visit that I would have to go down to a jetty near to the lighthouse and find someone to take me out to the island. I asked the young guy at the guest house if he could take me down there, my main thought being that he could interpret for me while I negotiated. But unfortunately his bike wouldn’t start.
I rode mine down to the jetty and saw there was a tourist type boat just loading up with people whom I guessed were going out to the fort. I thought about asking if I could join them but held back because they looked like a family group and they seemed to have filled all the seats anyway. That was probably a mistake because there didn’t seem to be any other boats available. I spoke to some guys who were hanging around. One said I needed to go down to the port proper – which I knew to be wrong. Another said that six people were needed to be able to make the trip. So I gave it up for the day.
Next morning I went down to the jetty again. There were some tourist boats there but no passengers waiting. I hung around for a while until I finally negotiated with one of the boatmen to take me out there. He wanted Rs1,200 but I knocked him down to Rs1,000. The sum of Rs200 had been mentioned to me before and this now made sense. Six seats, Rs200 each, Rs1,200 for the boatman. For £10 I was happy to be able to achieve my objective.
It didn’t take long to get to the fort. I had to scramble over some rocks to get to the entrance, which was the one part of it that was pretty much intact. The fort covered the whole of the island, although it wasn’t very big. The walls dropped straight down into the sea, mostly among rocks. It must have been very difficult to attack, apart from at the front gate. In the end it was taken by vitue of a siege. That story is here.
I walked around inside. There weren’t many buildings left intact but the walls and ramparts were in pretty good condition and I could walk along them most of the way round. I took lots of photos and then got the boat back. Mission accomplished.
Riding away from Harnai the bike started playing up again. Cutting out, like before. It was hot again too. The cure was to stop and open the fuel cap to allow air into the tank. Once again, problem solved, but only temporarily. Well, that problem was solved but then another threw itself my way. Just as I was powering up a hill the chain broke. “What now!” I thought. For most of the last couple of days the chain had been clunking a bit. I’d had a look at it but couldn’t see a problem so had carried on.
Now it became “a right old carry on” as I settled down to do a roadside repair. The split link had broken and I always carry a spare. The chain went back on easily enough but it became clear that as it came off it had damaged the inside of the side casing. Oh what fun. More repairs to get done. The chain was still slightly noisy so I knew that it would need replacing too.
I needed an Enfield dealer but there wasn’t one in Gorkana, where I was headed to. I was meeting my Aussie/Irish friend Michael and we had plans to drink beer and chill out. Just one inconsequential overnight stop before I got there.
Gokarna was a busy town. It took me several tries to get through all the road closures and people. I only succeeded because I ignored a road closure and forced my way through the crowds. As you do. Michael had been here before and had booked us into a hotel a little way above the town. He’d negotiated a good price too. A far more luxurious room than I’m used to. It had a kettle! Michael arrived later and we went out for beer, food and conversation at a local restaurant.
Next morning we went down to a beach that Michael knew of and had a couple of pleasant hours in the sea. Not doing much, just standing in the water chatting. His attitude to the travelling is more chilled out than mine. He goes less distance in a day, rides a bit slower and is generally more relaxed. I often feel that I’m pushing myself a bit too hard so I need to take a leaf out of Michael’s book and chill out a bit more.
Later, we went down into the town as there was a festival going on. That may well have accounted for the crowds yesterday. We’d seen a highly decorated chariot down near the temple but it had moved. We followed the crowd along the street and saw it coming back towards us. I won’t bother describing it, the photos will do that far more effectively. They’re known as Temple Chariots and are used on festival days. This occasion is connected to the new year celebration of Gudi Padwa. That relates to Samvatsara, which is the start of a sixty year cycle based on the Lunar-Solar calendar.
As the chariot came back along the street the crowd was being held back behind a rope by police. But even so the pressure of people posed a real risk to everybody. The wheels of the chariot were very big and had iron rims. Not very toe friendly. People were trying to throw bananas into the higher part of it, with the people inside trying to catch them. It all looked significant and also good fun. A walk around the town and down to the main beach was all we wanted of town life before heading back.
One of the things we talked about was what bike I should buy next. The Himalayan is far too heavy to risk taking to Africa, where I can envisage having to pick it up out of the sand quite a lot. I’ve pretty much decided it will be the Honda CRF300 Rally, which in many ways is the modern version of Doris, my Suzuki DR350. It’s a pleasurable pastime; looking at specifications and potential modifications to make to the bike to improve it.
The other thing we did was to pin point some places on the map for me to visit, as recommended by Michael. He’d already visited the area I was heading towards, so it was very handy information. Looking ahead a bit, I marked Google maps with some places to visit in Pakistan.
So a pleasant and productive few days, spent in great company. Michael needed to get going northwards, so he left. I stayed another day before heading east.
I had a very strange day, following what I dubbed “The Pink Route”, so called because I’d used a pink symbol to mark Michael’s suggestions on Google maps. The first place was Joga Falls. Not spectacular really, but I could see how good they’d be after the monsoon. After some brunch the next place was a bit of a fail. Google showed it to be a lake and a weir but Maps just took me down a lane to a farm. Hmm. Then I went to Nagodi Post Office but I couldn’t remember what was supposed to be special about it. Nothing appeared to be notable. This day was turning out to be very surreal.
When I left Joga Falls I should have looked for fuel, but I forgot. I was now riding through real backwoods country, up in the Western Ghats, and it was only when the bike started misbehaving, and lifting and replacing the fuel cap made no difference, that I realised it was lack of fuel. But villages where I might be able to get some ‘black’ petrol were thin on the ground. But after some gentle riding, and lots of sweating, I found a place and I bought a litre. At Nagodi PO I had to buy another litre, having learned that the nearest filling station was 25 kilometres away. I made it to there OK. Finally I headed to a guest house that Michael had marked on the map but couldn’t find it. Like I said, a very surreal day.
Next stop on the Pink Route was Nagara, a historic village with many of its original features still intact. The ride was among green hills, on quiet roads, on a sunny day, with good music playing in my earphones. Not surprisingly, I was feeling good.
The village has an ancient bridge, still intact and in use. Some old houses too, and a fort, in ruins. It was up on a rise but it’s hard to say what it was defending, or from whom. But a bit of research found that in the early 16th C Nagara was a local capital city and was a defence against the Mysore Kingdom. Not a very effective one because they eventually captured it. It includes several features common to such places, such as a Darbar Hall and a couple of water tanks. But worth a visit anyway. Unlike most forts I’d seen, it had an air of loneliness, almost pointlessness, through not being surrounded by a big town or city.
As I continued along the Pink Route I entered a national park. I had to stop at a checkpoint and was given a chitty. I was asked where I was going and when I said to the waterfalls at Kerekette he told me to keep that ticket, along with the one he gave me, because I would exceed the permitted 1.5 hours I was allowed to stay in the park. Puzzled, I carried on to the waterfall and parked the bike. The guy at the top of the steps asked me for Rs400 and told me there was 300 steps down to the falls. That, of course means 300 steps back up. The puzzle was now solved. Going down there would have taken me over the timeallowed. I declined his kind offer and carried on. 600 steps, heavy bike boots and riding gear? No thanks.
A bit further on I came to a small bridge, with a small waterfall on the left side. Having not gone to the big one I felt that stopping at the small one was the right thing to do. So did a family of monkeys, who came over to say hello and sat on the bridge parapet looking at me. These were cute little fellas, unlike the temple monkeys, who are mostly out to steal from you. Photos were taken.
I was now in a tea and coffee growing area and was quite taken by a small temple in among the rows of tea bushes. Michael had said that people often spread coffee beans out in their front yards to dry them out, so I was on the lookout for that. When I spotted some I stopped to do a U-turn and the bike promptly stalled. No electrics. Something had clearly shorted out. I fished around down near the ignition switch but to no effect. I checked the fuses and found that one of them had blown. Replacing it got me moving again.
Further along the route I spotted a Walls ice cream fridge in a shop. I needed to do another U-turn and, of course, the fuse blew again! I replaced it, only to find that the fridge wasn’t working. That will teach me to give in to temptation.
As I rode along I had a funny feeling, as if I wasn’t all there in my head. I hadn’t been drinking; I hadn’t drunk too much coffee (hardly any, in fact); I hadn’t been drinking too much tea (there is no such thing). Then I worked it out. The position of the sun, and its colour, said it was getting late but the clock said it was still quite early in the afternoon. Of course, the clock had reset itself when the fuse blew.
So I found a hotel in the next town, run by a funny little woman who had stunted growth. I asked for a towel and soap – no soap. I fixed the bike. There was a bare wire near to the frame which was shorting out. I rerouted and re-insulated it and all was well.
It had been a nice riding day, with lots of different things to see, and through very pleasant terrain. These hills are just right for growing tea and coffee. Well done Michael.
While I was in the town of Somwarpet I wanted to see the Rajahs’ Tombs and the Rajahs’ Seat. The tombs were contained in a couple of buildings, each like the other, surrounded by nice gardens. They contained the remains of various royal personages from the 18th C onwards. To be honest, they didn’t excite me much.
The Rajahs’ Seat, on the hand, I did find well worth visiting. It’s set on the top of the hill, overlooking the valley below, and although it’s only a small pavilion, its surroundings are wonderful. Beautiful gardens, laid out in sections, with a whole variety of different plants. Roses, Dhalias, Pointsettas and so on. Small box hedges divided the flower beds from the paths and the whole area looked lovely. One part was obviously aimed at kids. There were model dinosaurs and things to play on. I resisted the temptation.
I headed for the town of Belur. More pleasant country riding, coffee plantations and so on. Once in Belur, having found a hotel, I went to look at Sri Chennakashava Temple. Dating from the 12th C, it has five buildings inside the compound, most of them with incredibly detailed carvings. As Michael had said, well worth the visit. I was slowly getting the feeling that I was covering more temples than I was kilometres.
When I left Belur, around 11 a.m., I found the streets very busy with processions, and as I headed out of town I saw knots of people and vehicles gathered at the side of the road. It’s the Festival of Chariots and in the name of inclusivity it starts with a reading from the Koran. Somebody out to tell Prime Minister Modi how it’s done in these parts. He could learn something.
I wasn’t going far, just to the town of Halebeedu. There was a collection of temples in and around the town, which Michael had said were covered in the most detailed and well preserved carvings he’d ever seen. They were built in the same era as the one at Belur, so were 800 years old. Quite amazing. Each area tended to have several temples on the same site. They were: Sri Vijayi Parshwanaatha Basadi – Jain; Sri Kedaareshwara Gudi – Hindhu; Halebide Archaelogical Site – Hindhu. The last one contained a very helpful and interesting interpretation centre. Fascinating.
There was nowhere to stay in this town so I moved on further along the Pink Route, to Shravanbela Gola, to have a look at a big statue. For once Michaels hotel recommendation worked out, so I settled in and went looking for the statue. It sat high on the top of a hill but Google Maps simply couldn’t manage to get me there. I could see it so I adopted the simple method of riding round the hill, with the statue on my left, until I found the entrance. I was informed that there were 617 steps goingt up to it, a task I didn’t fancy in my heavy riding gear. It was getting late too, so I decided it was best left for the morning.
It gets hot early around here, especially with some physical activity in the offing. So I was up and out by 8 a.m. The Gommatshewara Statue sits on top of a rocky hill and there are 653 steps to be climbed, as counted by me. It’s only five minutes from the hotel so once there I parked the bike and parked my shoes as well. 653 steps in bare feet. Nothing to do but get on with it.
I tried to count the steps on the way up but my concentration was disturbed by some pretty young girls chatting to me. What a tragedy! I took a breather every 100 steps and finally made it up to the temple. It was a fairly nondescript place but also proved to be a false peak. There were another 100 or so steps to go.
The area where the statue stands is in the form of a square, with some temple type buildings around the sides. There were devotees sitting and standing there, listening to a guy chanting to the music of a drum and saxophone. The statue itself is impressive. It’s eighteen metres high and carved from a solid piece of granite, is naked and is erect. Clearly a fertility symbol. It has an ant hill either side of it and ferns wrapped around each leg. The temple is Jain and the figure represents one of their saints. I couldn’t help but compare it to the Cerne Abbas Giant, down in Dorset, England. He is 55 metres tall and appropriately bigger all round. But I suppose it is much easier to carve a giant into grass than out of granite.
I counted the steps on the way back down, with no disturbances this time. I regained my shoes and then found some breakfast. Back to the hotel to pack then onto the bike for the ride to Bengalaru. Michael’s Pink Route had been a success. He’d found some nice places to visit, some of them nicely off the beaten track, and with the final one being very spectacular.
Bengalaru was just a staging point for my trip to Sri Lanka. I’d got the visa and bought the ticket, so I just needed to get to the airport. But before doing that I needed to get the bike sorted out. Michael rides a BMW and had found a place that does repairs on them. I’d been in touch with the owner, Mahi, to talk about some work on my Himalayan, especially to replace the side cover that had been damaged when the chain broke. The very useful thing was that he could keep the bike in his workshop while I was away. Perfect. I took the bike up there and left it with him.
The only thing left to do was to get myself to the airport for my flight. And that, folks, is a whole other story.