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Sunday, 9 February 2014

Hampi to Goa then Mumbai

I left Hampi as early as breakfast was finished and after saying farewell to my friends from Spain. I opted for the direct route through Hubli to Ankola using route 63. Not quite route 66 but that didn't stop me from rewriting the song in my mind with events and people I had been with in Hampi. The route across was wonderful in comparison to other days riding up from Kerala. Mostly empty and in good condition. After Hubli you head down to Yellapur and then the route really hits it's best. Hairpin bends and a steady descent to the coast, all led to an exhillerating experience. By the time I had reached this stage, the air was a bit cool through the wooded hills, but soon warmed up as I reached the coast road.

I skipped Ankola as it meant going South for another 15 kms and instead headed to Karwar. The beach looked a bit littered and I avoided stopping for a closer look as dusk was approaching and I needed to find a lodge. That didn't stop me from pulling over in the town to watch the thrilling end of a game of cricket, along with hundreds of others all sat on their bikes at the side of the pitch roadside. I still had no camera and after a bite to eat found a mobile shop and an internet cafe. I needed to transfer money from my account to my card to buy the phone, but was denied the opportunity by a fraud block on my account. So the following day I left Karwar without a camera or access to my funds.

I headed into Goa and was stopped at the border by the police, who wanted nothing more than to welcome me to Goa and have a nice chat about England. I had a list of beaches that I wanted to visit so headed for the first, I can't remember the name of the first beach I arrived at and can't find reference on google map to refresh my memory, but it was crowded with stalls selling tourist wares and I was not impressed when I was being forced to use a paid car par, so left and headed on to the next which I think was Talpona beach. This was more isolated with a small turning over a river bridge that led down a small, hut lined lane. I stopped had a bathe and a cool beer in the beach bar before moving on.

The next was a surprise. I was riding out over the high part of that coast and saw a sign for beach huts and decided to investigate. The signs led me to a clifftop and a steep stepped path led down to the small Rajbag beach. Midway on the path was a restaurant nestled into the cliff with the huts nestled in alongside. This was solitude and would be a great location for anyone who wants to settle down and read or write a book without interruption or distraction.

I was tempted but it was too early to stop riding so I continued to the central Goa beaches Cavelossim to the west of Margao. I couldn't find accommodation for less than a thousand rupees and with dusk finally approaching headed north to Vasco da Gama. The road takes you past Goa airport and what looked like a large shanty slum town, but I may be mistaken. I entered Vasco da Gama and took the first room offered after haggling with the owner about the standard of the room to the price he wanted. I still ended up paying 600 rupees for a room I considered worth no more than two hundred. The following morning and with no internet I went up above the town to the headland to get bearings and a lay of the land. I realised there was no ferry across the wide river opening and so headed east to cross at the bridge.

I called at the beaches in Central North Goa and it was a nightmare. Trying to make progress was hard work with lots of traffic which included the tourist scooter brigade, some of whom have never ridden a bicycle before and were causing all kinds of problems. I decided this was not for me and headed out to the highway and a quick exit to Maharashtra. I was stopped again at the border by the Mashashtra police who wanted nothing more than a gift of alcohol or some foreign currency. I had neither so after some disgruntled handshakes I entered Maharashtra. The highway was new and empty and I made as much progress as I could before taking a wild shot at hitting the coast again. The road I chose led me in what I felt at time was a spiral as I was heading in all four points of the compass in only 10 minutes riding. I eventually emerged in a small village at the top of a headland. From there I was able to plot a route northwards to somewhere that was signposted only in Hindi. I was riding for some while until the dark came and this forced me to tailgate a bus to this mystery town some 30-30kms away. It turned out to be Ratnagiri, where I found a very nice hotel and above all a western Union agent to get money I had had sent out. It was unfortunate that the agent couldn't process the full amount but he returned on the Sunday morning with the balance of my payment. He also sold mobile phones so out of the balance I bought a phone with a camera and set off to record the beauty of Maharashtra.

I headed out from the town and found another headland from which I got a pretty good view of the coast line ahead, but failed to notice that the next stretch was a blind alley that forced me to return to my starting point.

I eventually found a route behind the inlet that was hidden and was soon making progress along the coast line. This part of the coast has lots of headlands that take you up steep sides and down the other side to stretches of beach that were generally deserted.

It was proving to be pleasurable and with fairly decent road surfaces.

I knew that a ferry crossing lay ahead from previous route searching but wasn't sure at what point or which village it would be. Eventually I came to a power station and a site up on the hill side that proclaimed to be a port. I was sure the road ahead led to the power station and took an alternative approach that led me to a village with no through road. They assured me the road past the power station would lead me to the ferry and they were right.

Looking over my shoulder at the river
It was crowded after loading with wheels of vehicles just about on board the main drck with the ramp still down, We were half way when I was befriended by a really nice guy whos name escapes me at this moment in writing but will come back when I find his card. He was a librarian and told me some history of the area which is a mainly mango growing area. He also offered to guide me to the next ferry on the route and show me a temple with a ten handed idol which is quite rare. He left me on the route with directions and headed to his home near the main highway. It took a while to reach the next crossing point by ferry and I still had to ask directions to be sure. I eventually arrived there after some mis-directions and found a pretty long queue waiting to board. The bikes went last and there was no room to dismount and we had to sit on the bikes at the edge of the ramp across the river.

It was straight north from there and the sunset was appealing. Again I had no inclination as to what the next major town was but did arrive ahead of the dark in Dapoli. I was on the state highway 4 which I had made a mental note of some days earlier. I found a lodge with a bar attached and spent a good evening discussing post Raj British political issues with a couple of great guys, one who wished to show me the local area the next day. I woke and found myself totally exhausted from the three days hard riding and the one too many beers I consumed the previous evening. I went for a chai across the road just on nine anf the time my friend was calling for me. After three teas I realised it was ten and I had given long enough to fulfill my obligation and so I loaded up and left.

I also knew there was a big crossing ahead, so I wanted to waste no time in finding the ferry, half hoping that I might reach Mumbai that evening. After following the coast line with some splendid views I came to a junction that gave me two choices but no direction. I decided the one with the dirt track was a dead end and so took the tarmacced option. I was wrong as the tarmac disappeared and the track that was left took a wild swing southwards. I attempted to get back on track with a couple of left turns which took me on even worse terrain before I eventually arrived back at the junction, I had left. It was like a ride in the Australian outback in the mid day sun with no signs of habitation and I was a bit concerned for myself at one point even though I know you are never far from somebody in India.

Murud Janjiri Fort just off the coast at Rajapuri
I finally arrived at the ferry terminal and was confronted by two windows. I was directed to the left one by the guy in the righthand window, paid my 47 rupee fare, and rode down the quay to the small boat that would take me across a vast river opening. The guy asked where I was going and stupidly said the other side, at which he laughed. Three crew jumped out the boat and lifted it into the hull and I followed and then we were off across this ocean of water. I got concerned when the pulled the tarpaulin down across the open sides and then was even more concerned as the inshore wind driven waves lashed the side of the boat covering a few of us in spray. Then came the surprise when the crew member asked me for my money and I showed him the ticket I had paid for. He just laughed and tore it up. It seems I had paid for another ferry that headed to a different disembarkation point on the opposite bank, They were a great crew with an old skipper sat mid-ship operating the engine. I was never so relieved to reach land as I was on that ferry.

The fort & sunset at Rajanpuri

I then once again ran the gauntlet against the approaching dark due to being delayed by a holy day fair and market. I tagged onto a car that seemed to know every speed bump and crater in the road and followed blindly without knowing my ultimate destination. It was pitch black and we eventually arrived in a town and I pulled up alongside my guide to thank him for delivering me there. It was Roha and I am just looking at my map now to see I had turned full circle and headed southwards, instead of taking the bridge northwards. I'm not sure if that was his intended destination or whether he got lost and took me along with him. It meant that I was 50 kms further south than I could have been.

I found a quality hotel and first thing following morning I dragged myself out for the final assault on Mumbai. I had still 120 kms to travel and the air was already that smog like haze I had left six weeks earlier. It was a slow ride after reaching the highway with major road construction keeping the speed down. I eventually reached my coastal destination of Mumbai and found it the easiest approach to a major city I have experienced. The wide dual carriageway had no lights and only one turn to take me onto the Eastern expressway, which I'm not sure I am allowed to use on two wheels, but I was on and soon arriving in Fort near my beloved Windsor Hotel. The bar beckoned and soon I was meeting all the old friends I had met six weeks ago. I am resting here a week before setting off to the project in Mumbai (the report will be posted before I leave for Australia).

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