Most Inspirational Moment
This trip was so good I had four! Without a doubt the first and foremost was seeing both a leopard and a tiger on our jeep trip in the Bandipur National Park; we were able to watch each of them for over 15 minutes and whilst the leopard was close, the tiger was only a few metres away. The second was - with apologies to anyone yet to attempt it - reaching the top of the Kalhatty Killer (the climb up to Otacamund) which was definitely the hardest bit of cycling I have ever done since I first sat on a bike 60 years ago. The third was eating a Sadhya - a traditional Keralan meal served on a banana leaf - and learning from Shibu, one of the team members, how to eat politely and neatly with my fingers. Finally - swimming in the Arabian Sea at Cherai Beach: huge waves in what felt like bath water with an air temperature to match.
Thoughts on Group Leader
Safi was outstanding. As he has so many qualities, it's difficult to know where to start, but let's kick off with the fact that he is a really nice, friendly, modest person. Then, he couples a great sense of fun with an even greater sense of safety, something which is essential on Indian roads. His attitude was, "Let's really enjoy the cycling, but let's also all get to the end in one piece", an attitude which he backed up with, when necessary, lengthy but clear explanations of the risks associated with each upcoming stretch of road and how to mitigate them, whilst not losing the adrenaline hit of, for example, the descent from Ootacamund. He would deny this next attribute (as he frequently did on the trip), but he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Southern India, its economy, politics, customs and religions. He has been working on this trip for well over a decade and in that time has accumulated a huge red book of places to eat, drink and shop (even down to each of the morning tea shops), matched only by his relationships with the proprietors of these establishments. Finally, he knows and loves the food of his homeland: it was entirely due to him that we ate so well.
Advice for Potential Travellers
1. Do the recommended training programme. I am a regular and energetic road cyclist and, living in the South Downs, I am used to hill climbing, but I seriously doubt that I would have managed Kalhatty if I had not done the training. 2. If you are a road cyclist, take a pair of half-and-half pedals (one side platform, the other cleated). Cycling in Indian traffic cleated-in would be a nightmare, but on the open road and up climbs you can have the riding action you are used to. If you are an off-roader like most of the people on our trip though, you won't understand what the fuss is about! 3. Take a bike rucksack or handlebar bag, as panniers are not provided on this trip but it is useful to carry a waterproof on days when rain is threatened: although the van is right behind, the ferocity of some of the rain showers means you could get very wet very quickly. 4. Do the cookery class in Fort Kochi if you are offered it. Whilst I have been cooking Indian-style food for decades, this introduced me to the theory of using spices in cookery and was a real eye-opener.
We were very fortunate to have two other team members supporting us: Shibu the assistant and mechanic and Franklin the driver. These two had as great a sense of fun as Safi and were outstanding in their own ways: Shibu with his conversation on the road and in the restaurants and his unswerving ability to stay at the back of the group both on the roads and on foot so as not to lose anyone; Franklin who always seemed to know what you needed before you knew it yourself and who provided some great snack stops in the most unpromising locations. The three of them worked really well together as a team to provide us with what seemed to me to be a seamless experience. I can't thank them enough! Finally, the food on this trip is fantastic. South Indian food is very different from food in the north (and nothing like anything you would get in an "Indian" restaurant in the UK); I had hoped to try a huge range of unfamiliar dishes and I was not disappointed.