Week Thirty-Five: Happy Birthday, Bearded One

29/11/18-05/12/18

Country: India
States: Gujarat, Daman & Diu, Maharashtra

Distance cycled: 344km / 214mi
Elevation cycled: 831m / 2,726ft

Bus: 363km / 226mi

Success! We got Dan a birthday beer (or five). It was a close call, mind you. We encountered a few hurdles, but we got there in the end. Here’s what happened…

If you remember we had decided to race for a ferry across the Gulf of Khambhat, despite it being sold out online until December 11, as it was going to cut 300km off exiting Gujarat. Full of determination and hope, we carried on in the direction of the ferry, even after a local told us that it was closed due to a technical fault. We were so sure the Internet and local must be wrong. Nope. They were both right. 

Since the ferry was ruled out, we cycled to the next town and wrestled information out of people at both the train and bus stations, in the hope we could catch something to somewhere. Trains were booked out for the next two-weeks, with waitlists exceeding one-hundred people. That’s insane. I wonder what number in the waitlist it would take for someone to reconsider catching the train all together?

Buses were a strong possibility. Actually, our only possibility. We realise that sounds silly when we have bikes. Yes we could have cycled, but there was method in the laziness. Not only did we want beers for Dan’s birthday, we’re actually meeting someone mid-December in Goa, so we need to get our skates on. We’d much prefer to cycle along the west coast, so bussing now means that we should still have time to do that.

The ferry, which only takes one-hour, would have made life so much easier.

The ferry, which only takes one-hour, would have made life so much easier.

A fella at the bus station told us that buses ran throughout the day to Surat, which is close to the Gujarati border. When we arrived at 7am the following day, however, another guy told us that there was in fact only one bus and it left at 4.45am. You’ve got to be kidding… He said there was no other public bus that day and suggested we tried a private bus.

After hunting out a travel agency, which was a challenge in itself, we booked the next available bus to Surat, which left at 9pm that evening. With a day to kill, we checked back into our hotel for twelve-hours and took the opportunity to nap. 

Speaking of napping, I think I won ‘Worst Bags of The Week’ this week. We’ve got into the swing of things with our 5am starts and 1pm finishes, but it seems my body is still allergic to that alarm clock…

Speaking of napping, I think I won ‘Worst Bags of The Week’ this week. We’ve got into the swing of things with our 5am starts and 1pm finishes, but it seems my body is still allergic to that alarm clock…

9pm. Night bus. Bikes in the boot. Bags around the seat. Sleep. We arrived in Surat at 7am the following day and made a beeline for the border. I say beeline, it took us a further two-days and 170km of cycling. Not to mention the fact that my gear cable snapped and the cable head got stuck in the shifter. Try as we might, we couldn’t get it out and I had to cycle 17km in my penultimate hardest gear to the nearest bike shop. It was like a really hard spin class with the added danger of a six-lane highway. Then we had to pretend to be married to stay at the sixth hotel we had tried to check into one of the nights. We’d cycled over 100km by that point and were absolutely knackered, marriage seemed like the shortest route to sleep. And just to pop the cherry on top, we’d passed through the state of Diu & Daman (where beer is legal) too early to stop and then learned that we were only 2km from the Maharashtra border that night – 2km from a beer, which we desperately needed to calm the wedding jitters... 

We found Avventure Bikes online. We knew Harshil was our guy when we saw that he stocked high-end bikes and products, rather than the usual rusted, one-speed Indian bikes.

We found Avventure Bikes online. We knew Harshil was our guy when we saw that he stocked high-end bikes and products, rather than the usual rusted, one-speed Indian bikes.

He knew exactly what to do. His neighbour, Barbara, was on-hand to help, too.

He knew exactly what to do. His neighbour, Barbara, was on-hand to help, too.

Barbara was a little pocket rocket. She found us wandering on the street looking for Harshil and immediately came to our aid. She introduced herself as an Anglo-Indian Catholic and proceeded to get us all excited about Christmas. She is the first Christian we have met in India. Barbara could talk for England – I just wanted to pack her in my pannier and take her with me.

Barbara was a little pocket rocket. She found us wandering on the street looking for Harshil and immediately came to our aid. She introduced herself as an Anglo-Indian Catholic and proceeded to get us all excited about Christmas. She is the first Christian we have met in India. Barbara could talk for England – I just wanted to pack her in my pannier and take her with me.

On Dan’s birthday, December 4, we said goodbye to Gujarat and found beers on the beach in Maharashtra (told you it was close). What a fantastic month we’ve had there. We squeezed so much in – and we didn’t even get to see everything we wanted. We ran out of time to visit Rann of Kutch, which are salt flats; Porbandar, home of Gandhi; and Bhuj Mandir, which is a white marble temple. 

Gujarat is not on the typical tourist route, which is what makes it so wonderful. People don’t see you as a walking bag of money. We only experienced curiosity, kindness and friendliness from Gujaratis. The ‘no foreigner’ rule at some hotels was annoying, but they said it with a smile at least. The roads were ideal for cycling too: little traffic, all tarmacked, and few potholes. And the  food was so cheap and delicious! We were paying £0.75 for refillable thalis. If you’re planning on heading to India in the future, consider adding Gujarat to your itinerary, you won’t be disappointed.   

We actually didn’t realise how good we’d had it until we crossed into the bordering state, Maharashtra. Everyone immediately wanted more money. At the first banana stand we stopped at for our usual six bananas, which have cost twenty rupees for the last month, the seller’s mate haggled him to charge us forty rupees. Surprisingly, the fruit seller hissed at him and charged us the usual twenty. These price hikes, which we haven’t had to look out for in Gujarat, are now a daily occurrence. Also, thalis and beers have doubled in price. Something to do with tax, apparently. We are not happy bunnies. 

That didn’t stop us having a boatload to celebrate Dan turning twenty-nine though. We found a lovely beachside hotel to spend an evening getting drunk and a day resting on the beach. He may not of had his favourite Mark’s & Sparks Colin the Caterpillar birthday cake, but he certainly enjoyed his birthday (he just nodded his head).

You have to go to a bottle shop to buy beer. In Diu they were £0.80, in Maharashtra they’re £1.70 – and he charged £0.05 per beer to wrap them in paper…

You have to go to a bottle shop to buy beer. In Diu they were £0.80, in Maharashtra they’re £1.70 – and he charged £0.05 per beer to wrap them in paper…

It would have been rude not to try the London Pilsner. Dan gave it 6/10; let’s just say the added corn syrup was not pretty the next morning.

It would have been rude not to try the London Pilsner. Dan gave it 6/10; let’s just say the added corn syrup was not pretty the next morning.

Notice Dan’s glasses are not hanging off his vest top…

Notice Dan’s glasses are not hanging off his vest top…

Dan lost his posh prescription sunglasses while we were walking on the beach. It was dark by the time he realised, so we searched for them by iPhone torchlight… Randomly I managed to find someone else’s – what are the chances? – before Dan found his submerged under the water, where he’d knelt to take a picture (the title picture, actually). He is  so  lucky.

Dan lost his posh prescription sunglasses while we were walking on the beach. It was dark by the time he realised, so we searched for them by iPhone torchlight… Randomly I managed to find someone else’s – what are the chances? – before Dan found his submerged under the water, where he’d knelt to take a picture (the title picture, actually). He is so lucky.

Now we’ll pick up the coast all the way to Goa, where we’re meeting a good friend of Dan’s, who is also an ex-colleague of both of ours (we met at work). Our original route only picked up the coast halfway down, but after speaking with Harshil, he helped us plot a much quieter route which follows the coast the whole, catching five car ferries as we do. Marvellous. That’s why this blog post is a little late, as we’re well on our way and are in total beach mode. It’ll be like this for the next 1,000km…