I’ve been in India now for three weeks. My last entry was written in the Surat Thani airport in Thailand. These last few weeks in India have been so packed with activities that Thailand feels like months ago now so get ready for my jam packed memories of the past three weeks.
I flew from Surat Thani to Bangkok. The flight was beautiful. We flew over the ocean as the sun went down, for the first hour I just watched the clouds change colors and once it got dark I could look down and see the green lights of all the squid boats across the sea.
We touched down at 7 and I collected my bag half an hour later. I went to a desk to ask where my bike was and the lady gave me directions for a few minutes and sent me off on a wild goose chase for my bike. After talking to a few more people I was told to wait by a random unmarked gray door in a hallway. From there someone else picked me up and took me to my bike which was waiting in front of the original desk where I asked the woman for advice.
An hour after I got my bag I got my bike. I only had a few about $7 left in cash for transportation to and from the airport and to pay for my hostel, so I went out with my bike in my box and my bags on my back and I caught the bus.
The bus took me about 1km away from my hostel and from there I had to walk with all my stuff, my 5 bike bags and my bike. All in my arms and on my back. A few minutes in someone pulled over on a motorcycle and asked if I needed a ride. I pointed at my massive box with my bike in it and he insisted we’d be able to do it. So I hopped on, picture this: me and another grown man on a scooter with my bike sideways between us on the seat and my huge heavy bag on my back. But we succeeded against the odds.
I made it back to Tropical Summer and reconnected with Francis and met a crazy group of friends from Brighton, England. I hung out with those 5 until 4am. I can say with confidence that I have not seen that much drama in a traveller friend group in my whole life. It was very entertaining but I could only understand about 50% of what they got upset about because it was very very strange. I had a fun time with them regardless and have kept in contact with some of them.
The next day was the last day in Thailand. As much as I loved Thailand, it was definitely time for the next chapter of my journey to begin.
I arrived in India after a day of airplanes and an 8hour layover in the middle of the night.
When I finally got to Kochi, India, where I was meeting my Dad for his visit, I had a bit of a panic because my bike wasn’t coming out where they said it would, long after the belt finished sending out checked bags. After 45 minutes it finally came out and after reuniting with my dad I made a hit of a joke saying I thought it wasn’t coming. That’s when he told me that he had the same situation but his bike never showed up. Thus began week one of India: Finding Dad’s Bike
India Part 1: The Missing Ogre
We got a cab back to our stay at the North Centre Hotel in the city center of Kochi. I was very tired because I hadn’t slept in 40 hours with the Brighton crew keeping me up until 4am before my flight and then a lot of airplanes, regardless we went out on the town. I got an energy boost from the reality of seeing my dad after 7 months away.
We went to Fort Kochi for our first activity. Fort Kochi is the old town of Kochi, to get there we had to walk about an hour and then take a ferry across a bay. During the walk we got dragged into a political rally for the upcoming election we don’t know which side they brought us to, but judging by the Che Guevara flags we figured we were in the communist side. The rally was tons of drums, flag waving, dancing and blue smoke. It was the perfect welcome to show us the craziness of India that we had ahead of us.
Another thing we learned while on this walk was that Indians are very intrigued by seeing westerners. They ask for lots of selfies and have lots of questions for you which can be fun at times and overwhelming at others.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking Fort Kochi before going back to the hotel.
That night we decided to go to a rooftop restaurant we saw close by. We got very good fish from the Arabian Sea, my dad said it was the best fish he’d ever had. After we finished our meal and our beers we followed the sound of live music to the floor below us. All the tables were full so we sad down with a group of Indian law students. We sat and talked with them for a few hours and they drove us to the airport to watch planes land. We got home at 2am and finally got some much needed sleep.
We spent the next few days exploring Kochi with the hope his bike would come. For 4 days, Air India told us that his bike would be coming “tomorrow” everyday we’d lose a bit of hope, especially when we found out it was still in Chicago. So we decided to take advantage of the trains and go to a beach town called Varkala a few hundred miles south.
We checked into our hostel around 7PM and got dinner at a restaurant on the cliffs above the beach. Because we were so next these tall cliffs the city had banned alcohol in that strip. When we ordered beers unknowingly the restaurant gave them to us in disguised mugs.
The next day we explored the city in the morning then went for a swim in the Arabian Sea. We went to the Black Sand Beach. We spent a few hours body surfing the waves with an Indian friend we met there. Some of the waves were too big for body surfing and sent us crashing and tumbling into the sand under us. Because of all the crashing and tumbling, we had saltwater in our sinuses and every once in a while we’d be walking and have to stop because our noses would leak water, it was the weirdest thing.
When we returned to our hostel we met a man who strongly recommended us to go to Munroe Island in the backwaters of Kerala. We hired a taxi to take us there and he brought us to Vajeesh’s home stay.
We stayed with Vajeesh for one night before going back to Kochi. He took us on a beautiful 10km morning canoe trip for sunrise in the backwaters.
When we got back to Kochi we had confirmation from Air India that the bike would arrive that night. It was 2 hours later than they said but it did in fact arrive. Finally we found his bike, the Surly Ogre. By now we had cut into a week of our riding time so my dad was trying to get his flight changed to a week later so we’d still be able to ride for two weeks, but they said it’d cost him $1700, so we couldn’t do it. But at least now the bike had arrived.
India Part 2: Kochi to Mysore
We finally left Kochi at 7am and started riding with our end goal being Mysore, about 500km away. About 20km out of Kochi I had my first flat in 7 months on the road. I had swapped out my tires the day before for some better tread and I must’ve pumped it up too much because the tire completely blew off the rim. We managed to get it fixed in about 10 min but we were scared we’d have to go buy a new tire for me.
We made it to the foothills of the Western Ghats on the first day. We were told we had to talk to the police to find a place to stay for the night.
When we got to the police station I stayed outside with the bikes and my dad went in to talk to the police. He told me they started by basically interrogating him about our visas and purpose in India and then we’re super friendly afterwards.
We learned we have to leave at 7 at the latest because the heat and sun get unbearable in the afternoon. So we left at 7 again and started making our walk to the Western Ghat Mountains. By the afternoon we made it to the mountains and started the 30 km ascent up the mountains into the Tea Plantations of Tamil Nadu.
The mountains we were on were covered by elephant trails and monkeys which was very different, especially for my dad having come from Minnesota winter.
Half way up the mountain we were joined by two teenagers who were also biking up the mountain. They rode with us the rest of the way up and invited us to their home at the top. Their mom and grandma made us some amazing tea from their garden and took some photos with us.
We noticed rain was coming soon so we got back on our bikes and made our way to the hotel called Misty Grove. With the tigers, elephants, heat and overpopulation of India it is pretty hard to find good camping so we decided to stick to hotels since they’re cheap anyways.
We were talking to the manager of the hotel and he told us that there was going to be a temple festival the next day so we decided to stay tomorrow to go to the festival.
We had a chill evening with dinner and a walk around town before bed. As we were falling asleep all of the sudden we heard loud music and fireworks, so I went outside to see what was going on and had the most bizarre experience of my life.
I walked outside of the hotel grounds and was immediately pulled into a parade of Indians doing tribal like dances to drums. They all locked arms in a circle around me and told me to dance. For the next 5 minutes I was doing my best to copy the movements I had seen them doing before.
Eventually I escaped the circle and walked the edge of the parade to see what was going on. It took me 10 minutes to go from one end to the other. I no think it would normally take about 2 min but the amount of people who asked for selfies and for me to hold there babies extended that time significantly.
We woke up the next morning ready for the festival. I wasn’t sure how the festival could be any crazy than what I had experienced the night before so I was eager to see what we had in store.
We decided to take a tour around the local nature park in the morning. We spent a few hours having a ranger show us the plants around the area he had tons of information on every little detail of the park, so our brains are now packed full of information about random Indian flora. My dad was very annoying bringing up facts about the plants for the next few days and incorporating it into his fatherly advice.
After the ranger showed us all the plants, we hopped into a safari jeep and started driving into the jungle. Keep in mind, no one is allowed to just go into the jungle by themselves, especially at night, because the animals can be so dangerous. On the drive we saw some deer and we saw a tiger print from a tiger who was walking the road the night before. We ended up at a beautiful waterfall deep in the jungle and had lunch there between swimming.
Our feet were tired from walking around the park for six hours, so we went back to our room for a quick nap before the festivities.
The festival was the exact same as the previous night. A parade of people dancing in the street and pounding drums, but tonight there were a few hundred more people so it was just that much more intense.
As soon as we walked into the parade we were pulled into another circle of arms and everyone watched us dance as best we could for 5 minutes until we got too tired. We seemed to be the special guests, because people were fighting over who got to dance at us. I think dancing “at” us is a bit better of a description than dancing with us. People would run up to us then start thrust dancing at us and leave. Very bizarre, but it was a really fun experience for us both. Lots of selfies too.
The next day we made our way to our first WarmShowers host in India. Between the festival town and the WarmShowers we rode in a tiger reserve for about 30km. In the reserve we saw 5 wild elephants, countless monkey and deer and two wild peacocks. We were in awe that we had even seen one wild elephant, but FIVE!!! Crazy. Sadly they were too far away for photos and we weren’t allowed to stop in the reserve. Lots of signs saying “remain in your vehicles” because it was dangerous to be outside, but we were on bikes…
We spent the rest of the day riding along a beautiful, blue reservoir until we arrived at our WarmShowers’ house. Our host was named Munar, but he was out for business the night we arrived so we only briefly met him in the morning. He had lots of interesting stories as a fellow cyclist, we even found out he cycled Cuba at the same time as us.
Because he wasn’t there in the evening, we were hosted by his niece . She showed us around the he grounds of their farm and brought us to see the sunset at her favorite spot. In the evening we taught her all our card games, it took her a while to catch on but by the end she was winning. Best substitute host we could’ve asked for.
After leaving the WarmShowers, we started our last day on the road together. Riding to Mysore. The road to Mysore was pretty busy so the day wasn’t too eventful, but we switched my dads DaBrim hat from his helmet to mine. Completing my look as a worldwide cyclist.
At one point we stopped below a shaded tree to book an Airbnb in Mysore for our last night together. It was nice and peaceful until a man came up and started staring at us and licking his lips and walking in circles around us. Eventually he took of his shirt and laid down, all while licking his lips and staring. We thought he was either a really weird guy, or we accidentally stopped at a rendezvous point.
We arrived in Mysore completely filthy from riding dirt and sweating in the sun all day. We thought our Airbnb was a one one room place in someone’s home stay, but it turned out we had booked a two bedtime apartment that looked like the setting of a New York sitcom. And it was only $15!
For our last day and night together in India we walked around exploring Mysore. We visited the famous Mysore Palace and went to some great rooftop bars and restaurants.
At 8 o’clock that night we went to the train station and I sent my dad off back to the U.S. and I was back on my own. It was so fun seeing him again and having him be able to ride with me for 2 weeks in an extremely foreign country for us both. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Even with the missing bike we made do. Now I just have to wait for a visit from my mom in a few months in who knows what country.
India Part 3: Flying Solo
I left Mysore the morning after my dad started his journey back home. My next goal was Hampi, an ancient temple city 250 miles away. Hampi is a popular tourist destination for Indian tourists that is just littered with ancient temples and ruins. In 1500AD, Hampi was the second largest city in the world. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site and it takes weeks to be able to really explore all the ruins.
Between Mysore and Hampi was mostly flat plains. I spent the first few days riding the dirt roads through farm country which was so peaceful. For the first time in weeks I was riding quiet roads with no honking vehicles. I was just riding city to city in these quiet regions for a few days with afternoon siestas to avoid the heat. One of the days I saw a tree that looked looked like the perfect place to sit in the shade. When I got there I climbed up it and set up my hammock between the branches. I laid in my hammock for a good hour listening to music and drinking water until I got rained out and had to make my final push to the town I was staying in.
I arrived in Hampi after four days of riding and checked into Vicky’s Homestay. I spent the first day riding my bike around exploring ruins and was equally amazed by the ruins and by the extremely rich Indians I was seeing all around me. My dad and I had spent weeks riding rural india which is a very poor area and all of the sudden I was seeing rich Indians who were wearing tons of fancy clothes. I doubt it sounds very significant to you readers, but to me it was very strange, for the first time I was staring back at the Indians I passed by.
It was shocking to me to see the contrast between classes first hand. Everyone always talks about how very poor and very rich India is, but it doesn’t really click unless you see it. The difference between rural country Indian life VS rich city Indian tourist life is just so drastic that I couldn’t help but stare.
Hampi was an amazing city to explore for a few days. My daily routine was Dosa for breakfast at the restaurant next store, ride my bike and explore ruins in early morning, hang out in the shade for an hour when the temps reached 100°F/40°C with the intention of not doing anything, go climb boulders with a jug of water and sweat profusely, sit in a shaded boulder cave and watch the city move below me, enjoy sunset on the roof of the homestay, have dinner, walk the town in the cool night air, sleep, repeat. With the ocasional swim or long bike ride mixed in
My only complaint about Hampi was the intense heat. It was hard to even sleep at night, I would wake up every night around 3am and be overheating and sweating. Then I’d have to go to the roof and lay on the cool tiles for 15 minutes or so before returning to my hot room to fall asleep. I drank so much water in Hampi and never seemed to be hydrated. Even with the heat though, it was one of the prettiest cities I’ve visited so far.
Since the area around Hampi got insanely hot while I was there and didn’t show any signs of cooking down, I decided it would be smarter to take the train out instead of biking through the heat. So after 4 days in Hampi I made my way to the Hospet train station and got tickets to Bangalore. Now I’m staying in Bangalore for a few days as my 30 day visa gets closer to expiration.
On April 7 I’m flying to Kathmandu, Nepal where I’ll spend almost a week at an Airbnb with my friends Tai and Kaili from Thailnd before they fly back home to Canada and I begin the next chapter of the trip into Nepal.
Overall, India has been one of my favorite countries I’ve ridden on this trip, if not the favorite. The people have been so nice throughout the country, with a few crazies as always. The landscape has changed so much since began in Kochi and it never fails to disappoint whether it’s riding the sea in a Kerala or the tea plantations in Tamil Nadu or the quiet roads in Karnataka. I even managed to get used to the insane, lawless traffic of india, which I thought would be impossible. I felt like PeeWee Herman taking a photo of stoplights because I only saw 4 in the entire 1000+km I cycled. And Oh my god, the food is amazing. Hands down the best food I’ve had on the trip and it’s always so cheap for a meal.
Another reminder, if you want to start your own cycle trip and you want to help fund my trip, you can purchase your panniers with this link that gives me 10% of the sale on the panniers you purchase. These are the same ones I use and highly recommend so if you’re looking to buy panniers, check these ones out.
Or you can simply donate here if you’d like.
3 thoughts on “March 10 – March 31”
Adam: Your descriptions are phenomenal — so well written and fascinating with insights into India’s culture and current circumstances. I’m including Jean Shedd with this reply. I know she’ll enjoy and share our fascination more so since she’s been to India many times, though not in the region where you and your dad crossed. Please keep these Posts coming. Thank You. Paul (& Larry)
Sent from my iPhone
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You will not remember me, but we are long-time clients of your dad. You helped Team Swanson paint the exterior of our house in Edina two summers ago.
Just wanted to tell you we are following your adventures with great interest. What an experience! Thanks for sharing with all of us so we can ride along vicariously. 🙂
Godspeed & best from Minnesota!
Kim Boisvert and Family
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Great riding and writing Adam! It was fun to see your dad wrapped up in some of your recent adventures. If I could give you any life advice I’d tell you to take a couple of years and bike around the world. 😉 I listened to your podcast interview too, excellent. Hope you are well! Thanks for sharing your adventures.
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