A very comfortable nights stay at Thaali Residence at the foot of the mountain in Tiruvannamalai. It was a shame we didn’t have more time to explore in what is obviously a very important religious site and as we rolled through the town in the morning we saw lots if orange robed pilgrims lining the streets, looking unkempt and road weary…we kind of knew how they felt!
We were soon back into the country again with sugar cane and bananas growing now, but still the ubiquitous palm trees. The sugar canes is pressed fresh on the side of the road with slightly alarming belt driven machines but we’ve yet to be brave enough to try it.
We got peckish a few hours in a picked the most upmarket hotel/restaurant we could find. It all looked clean and everything was being cooked fresh but the look on Stevie’s face when it was all served on a banana leaf was priceless!! We had idli and puri but the Stevie got talked into a dosa as well which were the massive paper dosas about a foot and a half long! We left feeling rather stuffed…
A steady ride down towards the coast and we opted to take the more coastal highway in hope of some sea views and breezes. It was massively humid and we were both sweltering again, apart from the estuaries we only got a couple of glimpses of the Bay of Bengal.
We’d found a nice looking hotel on Google maps but when we got there the gate was firmly shut and there was just a phone number. As we dithered whether to push on or not some locals made the call for us and the hotel manager appeared in a tuk tuk before we opted to leave. He got out a pen a wrote a figure on his hand, which was a moderate price for a room. He only spoke tamil (which through our ignorance we understand none of) so just kept repeating himself in the hope we would understand. He showed us the first room which we turned down after Laura spotted rat droppings on the table. The second room appeared cleaner and we felt we had little choice- it would have probably been a nice place in high season, but it was unkempt with a swimming pool full of green algae.
The hotel manager didn’t seem best pleased with our custom so we went out to the local pizza place for a junk food dinner. These people we much friendlier and we ate our fill, just missing a downpour on the way back.
A breakfast of bananas, bread rolls and dairy milk in the hotel room was a good start but it all got a bit odd when the hotel manager started hovering over us loading up the bicycle. As we went to leave he chattered at us again blocking the bike from leaving and the gate was firmly shut. Eventually he came out with “cleaning” and we were confused as the room had been left pretty clean…and the out came the pen and he wrote another figure on his hand. Even though it was a small amount we still felt like we were being held hostage to wring more cash out if us and left with a rather bitter taste about the whole experience.
Some lovely morning views over the estuaries cheered us up though, and breakfast got us 20 miles down the road before Stevie’s head started turning at every cafe we passed.
We has to order twice as I think the cafe owner didn’t quite believe we each wanted a bread omlette and a grilled sandwich each!
We turned away from the coast to avoid Chennai central and the heat just kept rising. We stopped again for more liquid and salty chips to keep us going as by this point we were both covered in a dusting of salt crystals.
Making the other side of Chennai we were tracked down by Dinesh who builds tandems and had a spare tyre for us to replace the one that blew. Not only were we massively grateful to him for coming out and saving us a trip into Chennai but he also came with ice cold water, melon juice and cake!!
What a superstar!!
After we pushed on into the furnace to much nicer hotel and were very pleased with our performance on a tough day in the saddle.
Was another hot one!
Our decision to have breakfast at the nice hotel unfortunately resulted in excess faffage, despite being told we could have it and check out early so we lost a valuable cooler hour on the road.
But having filled up on puri and noodles we had calories to burn and made a strong start, just stopping at a petrol station to get cold drinks (which seems an option in these parts!)
Selfies and ” what country? Where are you going? Where did you come from?” was out in force today and at one point I seemed to be answering the same questions half a dozen times in a row.
The heat probably affected our patience levels but when we pulled in at the peak of the heat of the day desperate for drinks and a cool down we were not impressed to have a lady pounce on us immediately for “photo! photo!” Pleading a minute to at least sit down she was straight back again, shoved her children in front of our table and proceeded to take photos. No questions, no interest in us, just wanted a photo with her kids in it.
It’s these encounters we find the hardest- what is the point? It’s not like she can even tell anyone anything about the weird looking people she took photos of!
Our faith was restored somewhat at the next break when a very polite man came over and said he’d been slowly following us for miles as he wanted to speak to us but didn’t want to interrupt our ride. We don’t always tell people the whole story, sometimes just that we’re cycling around India but it’s nice at least to have some interaction.
After such a sweltering day we bailed to the hot early, determined for an early start tomorrow.
The hotel we chose was reasonably, except the floor we were on didn’t have working wifi but the major plus point was a woodfired pizza oven! It says something about how absolutely exhausted by the heat we were that Laura wasn’t doing cartwheels at this news (and in fact hadn’t even noticed when she picked the hotel). Her obsession with pizza is legendary and this was certainly the best pizza we’d had in India. We ordered 2 soups, 2 juices, 2 pizzas and a plate if chips…only for the waiter to ask “are you sure that’s not too much food sir?” He’s obviously never cycled 200km in the blistering heat before! We had 3 slices of pizza left (a good effort I think) and ordered extra garlic bread for breakfast so we could get away early.
The pizza went down a treat for breakfast and we rolled out of the hotel relatively early, but not before we couldn’t avoid a selfie with a local teacher who got tips from his students on how to angle the camera.
Much welcome cloud cover soon evaporated and when we stopped for second breakfast Laura was already too hot to eat (and guess who ate the most pizza…) and we accidentally doubled ordered on puri so Stevie wolfed down 4. After being queried last night a dinner we suspect we’re creating a bit of a stir with our portions.
It was heads down then, the road too noisy and both too hot to talk much. Salt encrusted our skin making it sore and tingling and we drank litre upon litre of water the temperature of tea. Laura plugged into a few podcasts while Stevie kept his focus on the road.
We managed to find Western food for lunch and had veggie burgers and deliciously salty chips before getting our heads down again.
Delightfully the route and wind turned at the end of the day giving Ste a break from bring pummelled from the side by crosswinds but then the clouds gathered. We raced to our hotel in Guntur, finally cool enough to put some effort in. Making it just in time to avoid the storm we struggled at first to get checked in but then got some help from a friendly bunch of English speaking men and even got a room upgrade.
We had just settled into our new room when there was a flash of lightning followed immediately by one of the biggest claps of thunder we’ve heard. So the storm was overhead and we gave it a few minutes before venturing out. There was a coffee shop just across the road/River so we paddled over and had pizza (surprise…surprise…) and pasta; which was a real treat! Also getting in the sandwiches for the next day we were well-stocked.
Was a pretty standard day.. we’re in the rhythm now, but it starts to feel like groundhog day every morning.
6am alarm. Laura gets up, checks socials. Stevie snoozes. Unplug things charging. Pack panniers. Fill water bottles. Take vitamins/prebiotics/anti malarial. Put on kit hanging drying last night. Eat something. Drink something. Load up tandem. Start garmin and GPS watch. Start peddling. Get hungry 20-30miles in. Stop to eat, refill water. Peddle. Get hungry 60-70miles in. Stop to eat, refill water. Peddle. Try not to count down miles. Lose patience with peopel juar wanting selfies. Count every miles in last 10 if not busy trying to find hotel. Find hotel after usually some rubbish roads. Negotiate where tandem is safe. Unload bags, Stevie checks bike, Laura checks in. Investigate room for wifi, hot water, clean sheets, number towel coat hangers. Unpack. Get everythingon charge. Laura showers and washes cycling kit. Stevie showers and washes cycling kit while Laura does socials and strava. Both roll kit in towels and hang to dry. Go fond food. Come back checks route and hotel for next day. Pass out 9-10pm.
Today’s points of interest were that it actually was cooler but did rain all day. Stevie thought he spotted a KFC sign, Laura thought he was hallucinating and that it said A/C… Stevie was right!! We got overtaken (briefly) by another cyclists. Stevie’s sandal broke.
We have MUCH posher hotel tonight…most expensive so far in India. There was even a bar, with weirdly low lightning and not quite the relaxed feel we’re used to in the UK but we enjoyed a beer before dinner.
Waking up to big views over the massive river estuary took it a bit easier to pack up.
After eating as we could from the rather good hotel buffet breakfast we actually felt ready to plunge into the melee outside to get out of town.
The wind was behind us, it wasn’t raining and wasn’t too hot either and we made great progress…keen to hit a major milestone: 4500 miles, a quarter of the way around the World!
Spurred on by this achievement (and the wind) the miles flew by. Stevie stoked up on biryani for lunch and we finally felt like we were getting to grips with India and really enjoying it. The views over forested hills and mountains helped and the paddy fields are back with palm oil plantations too, while look a bit dark and oppressive compared to the vibrancy everywhere else.
We hit Anakapalle just in time for the school rush and lots of grinning faces from the back of tuktuks.
Finishing a bit earlier today gives us the chance to consider what we have achieved so far, and the challenges we have to come!
After the excitement of yesterday it was also time for SteLa the Tandem to celebrate by swapping her belt and chain. We’re on the third chain now and needed to mesh the second chain to the cassette so made for a slightly later start. It’s a massive benefit to have onsite bike mechanic in the form of Stevie though to save time finding bike shops for servicing.
The roads were horrendous for the first 20miles and we had only just made low 30s before stopping for lunch.
We found a rather nice restaurant for curry bit were slightly taken aback when a you girl plonked herself next to Stevie. At first we thought it was another selfie taking incident but it turned out she’d been sent in as place saver to get the table after we left. She sat very meekly next to Stevie as he finished his naan bread and then her sister came to join Laura. They still wanted selfies but we got our own back by taking selfies too!
It was heads down for the rest of the day then along gently rolling roads past more paddy fields and banana plantations. The scenery here is some of the best so far with misty green rolling hills…they just don’t seem to show up on photos well.
Making our planned stop at Tekkali just at dusk we were relieved to find a basic yet comfortable hotel. We ventured out in search of pizza but quickly gave up after we ended up down an unlit side street. A scooter pulled up and a cheerful young software engineer asked where we were from/going and gave us his number in case we needed any help in India. We made it back to the hotel and ordered our typical array of veg and egg curries to eat in bed …and possibly for breakfast!
Mileage: 771.62 miles
Total mileage: 4688 miles
Punctures: 0 😁