Chiara and I couldn't have been more wrong about the who, what, and why's of India. Granted we had been getting accounts of cyclists that had mostly traversed the north central parts of the country and we had based the majority of our knowledge of the country from Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom, but so what, this vast subcontinent can't be that diverse, right? Team assumption strikes again, however this time the surprises could not be more pleasant or welcome.
After our short hiatus for my birthday we got back on the bikes and left Bangalore early. It took 2+ hrs of cycling in pretty heavy traffic to escape the sprawl that has become the Indian IT headquarters. Once out, however, the roads quickly became some of the nicest that we have ridden this far in the tour, surprise number one. The traffic rapidly subsides once you are out of any inhabited areas to consist of an occasional bus, a few cars (usually full of families traveling and who are excited to slow down and wave or take your photo, the occasional tractor or ox drawn wagon. In fact the largest obstacles are the almost endless number of lounging, complainant cows that dot the roads , the ubiquitous Hindu Holy Cow. Our first day ended in a wonderful surprise. We were headed toward Mysore, where we had been told we would find a more peaceful and spiritual India full of yogis and palaces. Not that we didn't eventually find this well know destination but we first had, what has become the type of experience that this tour has enabled us. We were waved down along the highway in the afternoon by a car who's inhabitants subsequently invited us to come and stay at there organic farm. Tilak and his family at Nanda Organic Farm could not have been a more amazing oasis for us. A serene, peaceful place surrounded by small hills and open space. Presently consisting of mostly chickens and banana trees, the farm was far from a bustling enterprise. It was the venture of a family that was tired of the busy city life and was making a transition. As well, Tilak and his father were regular practitioners of the ancient practices of yoga and we were welcomed to join him to learn about Pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation. We relished this opportunity and spent 2 nights with the family sharing amazing home cooked local cuisine, wandering the lands, discussing the subtleties of India, learning the practice of organic farming and practicing meditation. We can't thank the family enough this opportunity to share and learn from them and can only hope (as we have reiterated so many times on this journey) that we get the opportunity to repay them at some time in the future.
A lovely mosque on the way out of Bangalore,calm traffic-free roads
Sunset with the cattle herds next to crocodile-infested waters, our wonderful hosts at Nanda farms
We found Mysore mildly anticlimactic aft this experience and in fact if it weren't for our wonderfully warm and welcoming Warmshower hosts we may have not stayed more than the night. But as it turned out our enthusiastic and open hosts made our time more about present day interpersonal relationship then any ancient practices. We enjoyed 2 nights with Myuk and his housemates. We wandered and Mysore but as is usual in the cities, even the small ones, traffic made moving around a challenge and the heat had started making itself a factor.
Entrance to Mysore palace, hosts and a lovely couch surfer we stayed with in Mysore
I guess this as good a place as any to start describing those aspects of India that have surprised us most. For starters the weather. Though we understand that India's size and location give it distinct climatic zones and ranging from frigid mountains to tropical lowlands our prevailing bias led us to expect our time being more akin to the weather we experienced in SE Asia. However the hot, sticky humid air is only a subset of ever changing microclimates that cover the country. We, based on our travel regions have been in much more arid regions, generally hot in the day and but pleasantly cool in the evenings. Great for sleeping and enjoying early morning rides. Next, the food and water have been clean, simple dishes both prevailant, inexpensive, and without the GI upset we were all but promised prior to our arrival. In fact, we both had much worse troubles in our time spent in Nepal the we have had in India thus far. Not to say that there are no possibilities for concern and that precautions should not be or are not taken (seeing us use our Steripen to clean the water after filling our bottles often leads to some of the most obscure looks) but we both have felt at ease with the general cleanliness of the south of India. The roads have also been a welcome surprise. We have finally found some solace in the cycling here as most roads, outside the cities, are relatively quiet and even the passing vehicles seem patient and willing to pass without the need to blare their horns or feel the need to run us off the road. Finally the people have not presented as the mass swarms we expected or experienced briefly in Nepal. They are inquisitive, no doubt, and often can't help themselves from ringing our bells or touching the leather saddles but nowhere have they yet inundated us enmasse and their polite questioning about our land of origin and our professions (we are not certain if these ar of extreme interest or simply the English that they feel most comfortably asking) have been enjoyable to answer and often led to pleasant conversation at a roadside tea stall.
Back to the tour we left Mysore behind and started heading in a meandering path to the west to visit a site called the Golden Temple. This village is the largest established Tibetan Buddhist enclaves in India. They were granted the one by India when they became refugees escaping persecution by the Chinese government. The site was beautifully peaceful and the visitors ranged from local Indians (mostly Hindu) to westerner travelers (mostly Christian one would guess), to local and foreign Muslims some dressed in full burka. The juxtaposition of these groups with the robed Buddhist monks made for a beautiful amalgamation. It was the picture of hope that all these groups can and should be present and coexisting in close proximity, sharing in each other's culture and knowledge and not persecuting and looking to harm the other. Maybe...
Buddhist monks marching to worship in the courtyard at the golden temple, a diverse crowd at the temple
We then road south to another Warmshower host in the village of Kutta. This hill village was squarely placed amongst thousands of acres of coffee and tea plantations. Our hosts were a local doctor and his brother, Arjun and Nakul. The ride in in the area was peaceful and the sweetness of the coffee blossoms filled the fresh air with a magnificent aroma that we wish could follow us all the way back home. Though offered to stay another day we realized our time was growing short to make it to our port of exit, so we headed out for our next stop, the wildlife sanctuary of Bandipur.
Riding through the coffee plantations in Coorg on our way to Bandipur