Week Thirty-Three: Hotels Aren’t Hotels

15/11/18-21/11/18

Country: India
State: Gujarat

Distance cycled: 350km / 217mi
Elevation cycled: 601m / 1,972ft

Observations continued:

  • We’re never too far from the remnants of a crash. Or a fresh one.

  • We’re never too far from roadkill either. And I’m not talking about birds or hedgehogs. I’m talking cats, dogs and cows. We’d like to see what’s annihilating a cow on the road. Seriously. 

  • To stop people undertaking, trucks usually have the word ‘stop’ written on the left side of their vehicle at eye-level. Simple but effective. Trucks in London could do with that.

  • That consideration is worthless on highways, however, as trucks tend to ignorantly stick in the right lane while doing a fraction of the speed limit, forcing other drivers to undertake.

  • Highways are crazy.

  • Let me elaborate on the above. We watched a rickshaw driver drive the wrong way down the highway in the middle of the lanes. We watched two motorbike riders drive the wrong way down the highway in the right lane. We watched a family walk four abreast in the left lane of a highway, like they were strolling through the park. We watched a guy, 100m ahead of us, realise he’d missed his turning, make a drastic u-turn while nearly taking out a moped, before driving the wrong way down the highway to take his exit. We watched a car crash into a parked moped. We watched many-a-driver swerve out of the way of cows while going, I’d say, 80km/h. A few moped drivers filmed us while cruising one-handed at insane speeds. A few moped drivers sat like they were watching the soaps on the sofa. 

Darwin Award worthy, for sure.

Darwin Award worthy, for sure.

  • Just to point out that all of the above was witnessed in one day, on the same highway. 

  • 72km on a highway is not fun.

  • Cows have no concept of danger or death. They will literally walk out into oncoming traffic. 

  • All street dogs look like they want to die. 

  • The word ‘hotel’ does not mean what you’d think it means. More on that in a sec.

  • Our gesture for ‘no’, i.e. shaking the head, is similar to the Indian gesture for ‘yes’. Things have gotten very confusing on several occasions. 

  • Even if you manage to say ‘no more chapatis’ when you’re eating a refillable thali, you will get at least one more chapati. Come to think about it, maybe it’s got something to do with our gesture for ‘no’.

Project ‘Avoid The Sun’s Hottest Hours So We Don’t Get Ill Again’ got underway this week (we really need a better name). The plan is to be up and cycling at 6am, before the sunrises at 6.30am. That gives us seven-hours to pedal in the cooler hours, before it becomes unbearably hot at 1pm. Then we’d just call it a day. The sun sets again at 6pm, so it’s pointless going much further when it gets cool around 4pm. You won’t be surprised to learn that our perfect plan had some teething problems during the first week…

One morning Dan hit snooze without either of us realising, meaning we didn’t wake up until the sun had risen, never mind start cycling before then. Another morning we woke up all spritely with our 5.30am alarm to discover that Dan had forgot to turn the tap off on his last midnight wee. The sink was in the bedroom (weirdly) and the room was flooded. Thankfully it was tiled so we (he) could just mop it up. Another time we had to loop back 7km to a restaurant I’d left my Nalgene water bottle at. Embarrassingly, this is the third time we’ve had to do that.

Dan mopping up his flood at 5.30am. I was crying laughing at him. He wasn’t a happy bunny.

Dan mopping up his flood at 5.30am. I was crying laughing at him. He wasn’t a happy bunny.

The main setback, however, came when we arrived in Muli. We’d planned to stop there after a 66km ride and had saved three hotels on the map. Although when we turned up to them, they each told us that they didn’t have any rooms. Now this isn’t the first time a hotel has said they don’t have rooms, but there’s always been another option, so we’ve never really give it a second thought. There was no other option in Muli, so we started to wonder if ‘hotel’ actually means something else in India. We consulted the master of the universe: Google. 

Would you believe, ‘hotel’ is actually a colloquial term for restaurant. Restaurant. It makes no sense. One theory as to why is that hotels were somewhere families would go to enjoy a meal together, so they became associated with eating rather than sleeping. If a restaurant has rooms, the sign would usually say ‘hotel and lodge’. 

We were told by many locals — always get a third, fourth, even fifth opinion if there’s a language barrier — that there was literally no accommodation in Muli. We considered wild camping, but chickened out after further consultation from Google. We ended up spending the hotter hours drinking chai in the shade, before hopping back on the bikes around 4pm and doing another 18km. Again being turned away from two ‘hotels’, before finally finding one that actually had rooms. 

Talk about bastardising a word. Knowing you can eat at all hotels, but you can’t sleep at all hotels has made our life just that little bit harder. I think we were better off having not given it a second thought. 

On our rest day in Rajkot we visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir at sunset.

On our rest day in Rajkot we visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir at sunset.

It’s a Hindu temple built in 1999 using pink stone and marble. We were told by a lovely medical student we met there that the stone is the same type that was used to build the city Jaipur, nicknamed the PInk City.

It’s a Hindu temple built in 1999 using pink stone and marble. We were told by a lovely medical student we met there that the stone is the same type that was used to build the city Jaipur, nicknamed the PInk City.

This temple was built by BAPS, a Hindu religious and social organisation.

This temple was built by BAPS, a Hindu religious and social organisation.

BAPS have also built Swaminarayan Mandir, a beautiful marble temple in Neasden in northwest London. Built entirely using traditional methods and materials, this temple has been described as being Britain's first authentic Hindu temple.

BAPS have also built Swaminarayan Mandir, a beautiful marble temple in Neasden in northwest London. Built entirely using traditional methods and materials, this temple has been described as being Britain's first authentic Hindu temple.

Coincidently, Dan and I visited Swaminarayan Mandir a few years ago back in London.

Coincidently, Dan and I visited Swaminarayan Mandir a few years ago back in London.

Since it’s been somewhat quiet on the cycling front this week, let’s quickly talk about money.  

When we were planning the next half of the trip recently, we also assessed our money pot. How much was left and how long can we make it last? To stretch it out as long as possible, we decided to live even more frugally. Our daily budget is now £15 per day, which includes food, accommodation, toiletries and attractions. We have a separate pot calculated for flights, trains, visas etc, and a contingency pot. 

Now we have all of our flights booked for the remainder of the trip, as we couldn’t afford them to go up, we have to stick to the budget. There’ll be no ‘oh we’ve ran out of money two-months early, let’s just fly to New Zealand’. We literally need to make the money last until we land in New Zealand in June. 

Side note about flights, actually. As we’ll finish up east Africa on Zanzibar, we were looking for flights from Zanzibar to Auckland. They were extortionate. The cheapest was £1,900 for two and that was doing something crazy like three transfers. To make it cheaper we got super flexible. 

While researching how to beat the system, Dan stumbled across Momondo. This site allows you to book multi-leg journeys, not necessarily back-to-back. We put in two solid eight-hour shifts finding the best combination of flights from Zanzibar to Auckland and it paid off. Not only did it save us £800, we managed to swindle a week in Sydney, too. Of course Momondo wouldn’t be feasible for a family holiday, but for travelling, it’s cracking. Just make sure you fly to countries where it’s visa-free for your country to keep the cost down. We fly to Malaysia and Australia before we land in New Zealand. Both free-visa for Brits. 

Back to the budget. So how has living frugally changed our daily spending habits? Well for a start, we are back to eating overnight oats for breakfast, which we did in Europe. One-kilo of oats costs £1.95 in India and lasts about a week. Also, for the first time during the trip, we’re filtering most of our water (the odd cold bottle being the exception). Filtering ten-litres a day, for example, saves us £2.17. We’re hand-washing our own clothes, which is an...eye-opener. In Nepal a load would cost between £2.50-£4 (it’s based on weight). We’re also opting for the most basic accommodation, which has cost so far between £4-7. There’s no AC or WiFi at these basic lodges and sometimes not even a shower. In it’s place there’s a bucket, small stool and low-fitted tap — a bucket shower, if you will. I actually quite like them; Dan is not a fan. 

Indian thalis have helped keep the cost down at mealtimes. They just keep refilling the pots and bread when you’re finished. They’re just like the Nepali dal bhat, but you get better curries. The left one is a Punjabi thali and the right one is a Gujarati thali. Gujarati thali usually costs around £1.30.  Bottomless curry for £1.30.

Indian thalis have helped keep the cost down at mealtimes. They just keep refilling the pots and bread when you’re finished. They’re just like the Nepali dal bhat, but you get better curries. The left one is a Punjabi thali and the right one is a Gujarati thali. Gujarati thali usually costs around £1.30. Bottomless curry for £1.30.

The bucket shower is where we wash our clothes.

The bucket shower is where we wash our clothes.

Let’s not end on a bucket of dirty clothes. How about some coconuts instead? A sign that we’re gradually getting further south and closer to sea. The next seven-days is jam-packed with amazing Gujarati sights along the coast. And a little birdie told us that you can buy beer on the island we’re heading to, as it’s not actually in the state of Gujarat. We. Can’t. Wait. Beer, beer, beer. 

A quick coconut stop. So quick, Dan didn’t even get off his bike.

A quick coconut stop. So quick, Dan didn’t even get off his bike.

First you get the milk, then the seller chops the coconut up for you so you can eat the flesh. All for 20p.

First you get the milk, then the seller chops the coconut up for you so you can eat the flesh. All for 20p.