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November 26, 2006

Ellora Caves & Arrival Bombay!

Click on image to play video (high speed connection advised).

LOCATION: Bombay, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles from Singapore: 6334 (10,134 kms)

Both Moksha and I have arrived safely in Bombay to a fabulous reception and media event organized by Schenker Logistics (who kindly shipped Moksha here from Singapore) and hosted by the very prestigious Royal Bombay Yacht Club. My feet haven't quite hit the ground yet as there's been a welcome barrage of press and media interest that will hopefully be translated into finding sponsors to underwrite the next leg.

Just prior to arrival I had an afternoon in hand to visit the ancient caves at the UNESCO World Heritage Ellora Caves. Carved out of the living rock between 600-1000 A.D. the 34 'caves' are comprised of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples, including the impressive Kailasa temple which is the world's largest single monolithic structure involving the removal of over 200,000 tons of rock by hand.

So a big thanks to ALL of you who sponsored vlogs and otherwise helped to make the SE Asia leg happen! Also Aberdeen Asset Managment Asia who contributed financially. The plan is now to ready Moksha for an early January departure across to Djibouti in NE Africa; a, 1,800 nautical mile crossing that will take around 7-weeks to pedal. More in the next vlog on these preparations and other planned activities in and around Bombay with our educational programs and local youth groups.


TOTAL NEEDED to be RAISED for Arabian Sea xing - $8,230.00

Enormous thanks to the following for recent wishlist pledges to make the next leg a reality -

> Tim Murfitt - Yellow Fever Vaccine - $85
> Gretchin Lair - Dividers (for navigation) - $62
> Greg Kolodziejzyk - Paint job for Moksha - $300
> Nathalie Lauwerier - PC laptop for updating journal page on Arabian Sea xing - $400 (in-kind)

Priority wishlist items needing to be pledged -

> MALARIA TREATMENT (Malarone x 12 tabs) - $120
> VISA for DJIBOUTI - $75

Pledge by paypal or credit card via link at the bottom of the wishlist page.


Posted at 9:35 PM | Comments (2)

November 15, 2006

Tim Harvey back in Vancouver - Congratulations!

LOCATION: Malegaon, India
Longitude: N: 20.54°
Latitude: E: 074.52°
Miles from Singapore: 6138.75
Miles from Mumbai: 150

A big congratulations to Tim Harvey of the Vancouver to Vancouver expedition for completing his circle of the northern hemisphere using zero [carbon] emissions. 894 days in the making...

On another note, does anyone out there have an older model PC laptop that we might borrow/buy for the next leg across the Arabian Sea to Djibouti? The current setup of the Bgan and Mac is unlikely to work because of the need for a marine antenna (that no one makes apparently), so it'll be back to the old Iridium system that only works with a PC.

The machine doesn't need to be fast and definitely not the latest and greatest. Something running Windows 2000 would be fine. If it gets damaged during the crossed we'd reimburse of course.

And is there anyone reading this with skills in Flash who could help out on one of the webpages? For someone who knows what they're doing it probably wouldn't be a big deal. Ideally you'd have Dreamweaver installed also.


Thanks all. Next entry from Mumbai...


Posted at 3:20 PM

November 9, 2006

Mowgli's Land

Click on image to play video (high speed connection advised).

LOCATION: Nagpur, Central India
Longitude: N: 21.15°
Latitude: E: 079.09°
Miles from Singapore: 5770

Animal lovers will be relieved to hear that no 4-foots were harmed in the making of this vlog! In fact the monkeys you see in the video weren't the least bit phased when I unsheathed the khukuri knife. It was only when I picked up a rock to hurl that they eventually scarpered; so they're obviously used to having stones thrown at them by the locals. Quite an unnerving experience though, as over 30,000 people die each year in India from rabies, and the shots are very difficult to get ahold of apparently. It would have meant abandoning the bike for a bus or train to get to Mumbai pronto where I could hopefully find treatment. Out in the sticks they use a homeopathic treatment that has a limited success rate.

With only a thousand kilometres to Mumbai I feel like I'm into the final furlong of this current leg. I'm trying not to think about what awaits in Mumbai though: a few days off before the usual stressful preparation of Moksha for a sea crossing, then many more thousands of miles of pedaling before it all ends in Greenwich next summer. It still seems so very far yet to go! Will the light at the end of the tunnel ever get bigger?

The important thing of course is to focus on what's happening right here right now. After leaving Varanasi this north/south highway that I'm following (that is claimed to be the main artery for all of India but sometimes dissolves into a farm track - see photo below) gradually climbed out of the Ganges river basin and onto a high plateau that I've been riding for the past week. The result has been cooler nights and fewer people in general which has made for a less stressful and hectic riding experience, and more interesting surroundings with rolling hills and brief stretches of forest that sometimes extend for several miles without another human in sight. These last remaining islands of natural habitat are often dominated however by hordes of aggressive monkeys that line the roadside and wait to ambush unsuspecting cyclists! (see vlog).


The punishing pace is taking it's toll on both bike and rider though. The bearing assembly inside the BOB trailer wheel is very much in need of being replaced, but I think will last to Mumbai. And for some bizarre reason I am breaking on average a spoke a day on the new rear rim purchased in Kathmandu. It has been happening so routinely, and with no apparent pattern to its cause, that I've given up replacing them and just let the wheel wobble slightly. It seems to be doing fine like this, although I've had to disengage the rear brake (which cause a minor fender bender today with a moped coming the opposite direction, being unable to stop quite as fast). The chain also broke yesterday for the first time on the entire journey, but fortunately I still had the spare links that Gary from Cyclon Cycle on Pulau Pinang, Malaysia supplied me with back in June.

And for myself - I've put myself on antibiotics after having consistent diahorrea and a respiratory infection since crossing into India. A few days ago I couldn't go for more than half a kilometre without diving into a bush, so something had to be done if I was to get to Mumbai before Christmas. India is a very hard place to keep healthy it seems, particularly if one is relying on roadside food-stands for sustenance.

Mechanical and health challenges have however been compensated by the highlight of passing through 'Mowgli's Land' these past few days. Rudyard Kipling's famous 'Jungle Book' recounts the absorbing tale of a young boy raised by wolves that has raised questions of what prompted the story and where was it set. The idea for Mowgli probably comes from a case recorded in 1831 by William Henry Sleeman of a 'wolf-boy' being captured in Seoni district. 'Seonee Hills', 'Waingunga River gorge' where Shere Khan met his end, and 'Kanhiwara village' are all actual locations in Pench National Park that I took a detour to visit for 24 hours. Once part of a huge jungle belt stretching several thousand square kilometres and home to several thousand tigers, rapid deforestation of the valuable teak trees over the past 150 years has reduced the forest to just a few hundred square kilometres and tigers respectively. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have sighted not just one tiger during my short visit but a family of four! And one in classic tiger pose draped over a rock, just as in my childhood imagination reading the Jungle Book.

The tiger is truly is one of the most beautiful animals I have every set eyes on. The King of the Jungle indeed. Mum, as soon as I finish this trip we'll come back, OK?!


Posted at 1:11 PM | Comments (3)

November 2, 2006

Into India

Click on image to play video (high speed connection advised).

LOCATION: Varanasi, India
Longitude: N: 25.34°
Latitude: E: 082.98°
Miles from Singapore: 5261

At the Nepal immigration office, just before crossing over into India, I met a middle aged Brit on a 'visa run' from India to Nepal. Seeing as he'd lived in India for several years I took him up on an offer of advice for my intended route to Mumbai. When I asked him what his take was on Indian people, he replied, "Oh, they're are 99.9% the same as the Nepalese". I should have taken note of the raised eyebrows of the nearby Nepalese immigration officer who overhead this remark, but at the time I didn't attach much significance to it. It was only later the same day after nearly getting mugged that I realized what a load of nonsense the Brit had told me.

India is about as full-on as it gets. The road I'm currently using to cut south west across the country has a good surface, and the traffic, though chaotic in the big towns, is tolerable elsewhere. But it's the people that I'm experiencing the biggest learning curve with. While an solicited smile and an offer of assistance in Nepal would be no strings attached, in India there is nearly always a hidden agenda. If I ask where a place to stay is for example I instantly have a 'new best friend' who will attach himself to me like glue and personally 'escort' me to somewhere I would have found quite easily myself given just the information as requested. The upshot of this involuntary liaison is a demand for a hefty commission and constant badgering until some rupees are handed over. Sometimes its actually worth it to have the assistance of one of these middle men just to get something done. In the Post Office here in Varanasi I spent what seemed like the entire morning trying to get information from the clerks behind the counter as to the process for sending a parcel to Mumbai. After 30-minutes I gave up and turning in desperation to the tout who had first offered his services when I'd first walked in (and I'd vehemently refused at the time). For 100 rupees (around $2.50 USD) he simply marched straight through the 'No Entry' door leading to the restricted area behind the counters and planted my box (all 12 kgs of it!) in the lap of a clerk who was in the middle of serving someone else at the time. But within 3-minutes the process was completed and I was able to escape and get on with the rest of my day.

Another thing I'm learning is that unlike in the rest of SE Asia the availability of small, cheap guesthouses and hotels in the smaller towns is non existent. Such accommodation options are limited to the larger towns and cities often located several hundred kilometres apart. This wouldn't be a problem if it were possible to camp, but as I found out on my first night this is a no-no also...

I was stuck between two towns towards the end of the day so I decided to ride until dark so no one could see me camp. Just as the last light was fading I veer off into a stand of trees a few hundred metres from the road - a perfect camping spot in normal circumstances. But as I start to take the panniers off the bike some movement catches my eye in the rice field to the right and sure enough a guy stands up and saunters over. Before too long two more appear from nowhere and wander over for a gawp at the gear. With this sudden unplanned company I decide on reflection to abandon the idea to camp here and head on down the road instead.

As I prepare to leave one of the guys asked for cigarette. Alarm bells instantly start ringing as this is classic international speak for, 'don't bother answering as you're about to get robbed anyway'. I start walking back towards the road. They follow. One of them then asks for a pen, but I again I don't reply and get on the bike so I can get away from them faster. They start running after me and begin shouting. Realizing that they'll overtake me before the safety of the road and other witnesses I stop and turn to face my pursuers. Fortunately my recently acquired Nepalese 'Khukuri' knife is near to hand and the simple action of unsheathing and holding this very formidable blade high above my head and yelling blue murder at them does the trick of stopping them in their tracks. Wide eyed in surprise they back off and vanish into the night.

This one bad experience was followed rather quickly by another attempted robbery the following evening outside the hotel I intended staying at. So while I have met some friendly individuals along the way who have even offered assistance if I get into trouble, the combination of these early negative encounters along with being immersed at ground level into the general melee of human struggle that is India has rocked me back on my heels somewhat. Today is therefore a rest day here in the city of 'Varanasi' to regain my composure behind the securit of the walled compound of a hotel and reattach smile-clips that have temporarily been dislodged. Tomorrow I start a fairly grueling schedule of 160+km days to reach Mumbai by the 16th.

Varanasi, the city of 'Shiva' dates back to 1400BC and as such is one of the oldest living cities in the world. It is also one of the holiest cities in India. Hindu pilgrims come to wash away all their sins in the ''Ganges'' river and many to die here, since expiring here offers ''Moksha'' - liberation from the cycle of birth and death. However the river is so polluted from the corpses that are throw into it as well as it being used as a sewage outlet for the 240 million people who live on its banks that it's a wonder that anyone walks away from it alive. Perhaps it's an auspicious place to die whether you like it or not.


Posted at 6:18 AM | Comments (1)