Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Day 217 - Delhi

I hope you all had a good Christmas. The weather has warmed up somewhat, so it has felt even less like the festive season.
My original plan had been to leave Amritsar and cover the 470k in 4 days ending with a 170k ride into Delhi on Christmas Day as there were apparently no hotels on that stretch. In the end I couldn't face the thought of that so I opted to cover it in 3 days, that way they were all roughly the same length and the last day wouldn't seem so daunting. Well, I made it in 3 days and to be honest it was all pretty straight forward as it was a main road bash, so little route finding involved, though I was 45k out of Amritsar before I saw a sign that confirmed I was on the right road. I did ask a few people at a main road in Amritsar if it was the Delhi road, but nobody could understand Delhi, or at least my pronounciation of it. At last it dawned on one of them and they told me which way to go, but I had already decided to trust my compass and go the opposite way to his suggested direction. Thankfully the compass paid dividends again. The route was dead flat the whole way with the only hills being bridges over the railway. There was nothing of touristic interest either, so I was happy to push on each day. I did take "taxi" rides when ever I could though. No, I am not getting soft and scrounging lifts, its just that there are often tactors with large trailers passing and when they are going at a good speed I sprint (as much as I can with a 50kg bike) into their slipstream and get an effortless tow for a while. The ideal speed is 28k with about 31kph being as fast as I can maintain for any period of time, but its all a bit of fun and makes boring kilometres slip by quickly, though it can only really be done on a good surface as hitting unseen potholes at speed donesn't appeal that much. The first night I stopped at Ludhiana which has an elevated road going through the centre, very frustrating when you can see all the hotels, but you no way of getting to them.

On the final day into Delhi I opted for a 7am start, it was cold and the fog was very thick with a visibility of no more than 50m. Going at 20kph on a bike was plenty fast enough and I expected to se plenty of accidents with their terrible driving, but amazingly enough they slowed right down and drove with a little sense, if you exclude those with no lights on at all. Fog lights dont seem to have been invented here as hazard warning lights are the preferred option, not that it's a problem, they don't use them to indicate with anyway. The last 20k into the centre took an age as the traffic was solid. Normally thats not a problem on a bike as you can weave through, but here there are so many bikes that every last gap gets filled and when things get moving again it also takes an age as they all have to unravel themselves from each other. Still, I got here on Christmas Eve, that's the main thing.

I had intended to try and get a Bangladesh visa as soon as possible but I was told that Christmas Day was a holiday so they would be shut, so I had to have a lie in, a liesurely breakfast, then a pootle around New Delhi on the bike, it's a tough life. The masses seemed to converge on India Gate, not that anything seemed to be going on. I had a chat with some soldiers outside the President's Palace and they were the only people to wish me a Happy Christmas. OK, so there is a 2ft Santa in the hotel, but that's as far as their celebrations seem go. And that reminds me, I left a dirty old sock at the end of the bed for Santa and when I got up there was sod all in it, not even an orange, not even a poxy nut! The guy is a fraud.

I am staying in Paharganj area of Delhi, there is a bustle about the place and it has far more life and atmosphere than in New Delhi. You can get any type of food you like, even "Authentic Italian food, with an Indian touch". How can that be authentic then? Today I have been suffering the queues and hassles of the Bangladesh Consulate. After queueing for ages at the visa section I was sent inside and once there I was pretty much alone with a French guy who also wanted a tourist visa. We were both questioned about why we wanted to go there, especially as we didn't know anybody there, so we would have nowhere to stay. The French guy seemed to get more of a grilling than I did and they seemed very reluctant to give us visas, which somewhat contradicted the posters on the wall that said "Visit Bangladesh, before the tourists arrive". Still, mine got sorted and I should be able to pick it up tomorrow, far quicker than I expected. Once back I cut my hair and went to a barber to get the back of my neck shaved. He also did the long bits that I had missed, but at 15p I will think twice before indulging in such luxuries again. It only took him 10 minutes, what is the world coming to? Guess what I have got lined up for the rest of the day. Well having had the stress of a Consulate during the morning, I am going to chill out in front of the television this evening as there are 3 consecutive live Premiership football matches. Actually, I probably wont see any of them as I suspect I will fall asleep.

This will be my last post for about 10 days as I will be on holiday. The bike is going into Hotel storage tomorrow and I will be travelling back to Agra and Jaipur by public transport. I hope to see the New Year in at the Taj Mahal.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Day 212 - Amritsar

Well I was packed and ready to leave Mcleod Ganj and sat having breakfast will Dan. I didn't really want to move on, so I didn't, I unpacked and stayed another day. The Dalai Lama was due to arrive that day and I asked at the hotel if they knew the route he took, but they suggested going down to the temple. I wandered down there and as I approached there seemed to be a lot of people about and in fact they were lining the streets, so I picked what I thought was a good spot on a sharp steep uphill bend. The crowd kept growing, but it was always calm and strangely quiet, then after about 30 minutes there was a sudden and very noticable rise in the excitement of the crowd and a few seconds later the vehicles came up the road and there in the second one was the Dalai Lama, wearing the wonderful smile that he seems to have in all of his pictures. I only saw him for a few seconds but there is an aura about the man and it has still left me feeling good, even a few days later. I walked down the steep hill to the library and a complex that even has the `Tibetan Parliament - In Exile` along with a number of other official departments. Next stop was the Tibetan museum, but I needed a coffee and a bite first so I went into the cafe at the temple. The tables were all in use, so I was told to sit at a table where a woman sat on her own. She was a German called Suzanni, a really lovely person, and very courageous. She had been in Mcleod Ganj for 2 1/2 months, seeing a doctors that had been recommended to her. I don't know what her illness was but she has a tough life. She lacks the energy to do anything and is affected by most foods so has to do all of her own cooking. As we talked and I learnt more about her I mentioned a quote I had seen from the Dalai Lama about never giving up, no matter what happens. I little later I noticed that she had that very quote on the book mark she was using. I have seen a number of excellent quotes from the Dalai Lama including `Paradox of Our Age` (See photo, you will need to left click unless you have very good eyes). Time slipped by to the extent that I only got to the museum as it was about to close. I once again had dinner with Dan and Anthony, all very sociable.

I saw Dan again at breakfast the following morning, but this time I really had to move on. He is staying until the weekend and attending a teaching given by the Dalai Lama and I wish I was too. The route was down, down, down out of the mountains, but pretty slow due to the rough roads and constant twists and turns. It felt a real anti-climax to be leaving when I didn't want to and to lose the scenery too as the high mountains were behind me. I soon realised that I wasn't going to get to Gurdaspur for the night as the signposts suggested it was much further than I expected. Just before Pathankot the road bridge over a river was closed due to `Damage`, which in reality meant a large chunk of it was missing! I had been warned about it and that the detour added 12k of track on to the route. I didn't fancy that or the walk across the rail bridge as it was also very long. That left me with a wade through the river, which wasn't that deep but was fast. It reached the front panniers so I had to lift the front of the bike which made progress even more of a hazard, but at least I made it and gave my sandals a clean into the bargain. It then became clear that the map was wrong and it wasn't so far to Gurdaspur afterall and I made it there in good time.

That meant I only had to ride 75k to Amritsar giving me the day and a half there I had hoped for. Once I found the Golden Temple I showed them my letter of reservation to which they pointed out I was a day late, but they gave me a room none the less, right next to the temple and for just 100 rupees. The Temple complex is big in everyway. You have to leave you shoes at the entrance, but the storage area was so big that I decided to leave mine in my room and walk in bare feet from there. I have always wanted to come here and I wasn't disappointed. It is the centre of the Sikh religion and all around the outside the buildings are white, enclosing a small lake in the centre of which, accessed by a narrow bridge, is the Golden Temple. It is a pretty good name for it as it gleems gold like nothing I have seen before. There were queues all the way across the bridge so I decided to leave the actual temple until later. Instead I went to Jallilian Bagh, a park surrounded by tall buildings with one access point. It is the park that on April 13th 1919 was the scene of a peaceful demonstration against the British occupancy of India. The British army moved in and opened fire on innocent people that had nowhere to go. Around 380 died including children and another 1500 were injured. There is a large well there which people jumped into it to get out of the way of the bullets and around 120 bodies were removed from it. I sat there quietly ashamed of what the British have done in the past and of the mistakes that we continue to make today. I went back to the temple for dinner. There are massive kitchens and dining areas there and they feed around 30,000 people a day. I just did as the person in front of me did and collected a trays with sections on it, a bowl and a spoon, then walked into the dining hall and sat on the floor in the next line that was being formed. There were prayers as the food was being served, well slopped really. We were given 2 vegetable dishes, chapatis and rice pudding and they kept coming around to give you more if you wanted. It was all a very slick operation and tasted good too, so long as you weren't to bothered that you were served from a galvanised bucket. A unique culinary experience. Once you had finished you carried you dishes out where they were stacked and given to a huge team of dish washers, and all this was for free and they serve you any time you turn up, 24hrs a day. After dinner I took another walk around the Golden Temple that looks so different when lit up after dark.

I took breakfast at the temple too, but it was the same as the evening meal without the rice. The queues for the temple were small so I went in. 3 men were playing music which is broadcast around the whole area, they play 24 hours a day, well, not the same 3 men I assume. The lower part of the exterior is inlaid marble like the Taj Mahal, the top being golden of course. Inside there was more inlay and beautiful paintings. I stayed there a while mesmerised by the wonderful surrounding and the live music. There were areas where people sat but they seemed to be enclosed and nobody was moving, the rest of the people passed through in a bit f a crush. I sat again just outside and people watched for a while, all very colourful. In the afternoon a took a trip to the Pakistan border. Now I am not the type to go to a border just for the sake of it, but this was no ordinary border. Every day when the close the border there is a ceremony acted out with their Pakistani counterparts, which consists of much stamping of the feet, in fact one guy lifted his leg so high I am sure it cant have been attached to him, alot of shouting and a bit of nose to nose eyeballing of their neighbours. All this is done in front of an excited crowd of about 4,000 in specially built grandstands and really has the feel of a football match, a great atmosphere with lots of chanting and roars of joy as the border guards stomp towards each other at great speed. Then the flags are lowered and soon after the ceremony is over and crowds rush down to have their photos taken with the police. Heading back to town was also very similar to leaving a football match.

So tomorrow I head off back towards Delhi, something I dont relish as it is a main road bash the whole way with nothing of interest to see, oh joy!

Well before I go I must wish you all the very best for a good Christmas as this will be my last post before then. Strangely enough it hasn't seemed the slightest bit like Christmas to me apart from the fact that the temperature has dropped somewhat dramatically.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Day 208 - Mcleod Ganj

What a difference a few days make.

Getting out of Chandigarh was far easier than getting in though I needed to go east and the grid went diagonally. I think I just got lucky. Whilst in Chandigarh I went to the Rock Garden, made of all sorts of unwanted things. There were lots of figures made mainly of crockery, but some were made from broken bangles, all a bit whacky, but fun. There I met some nice people, Narinder Singh, the Gaurdian Angel of Tourists according to the article he gave me, though he talked so much that I never got beyond the title. I also met Anthony from Australia and two other tourists whose names I didnt get that were also entrapped by the GA, but it was all very friendly and he took us to an office and gave us tea and biscuits whilst he faxed a letter to Amritsar to organise a room for me to stay in at the Golden Temple. The night was spent at Rupnager, another uninviting place, but at least it was small. I was getting over the slight illness, but the rich food I had for dinner made me feel sick again.

I woke during the night to thunder storms and alot of rain and it was still raining as I was ready to leave so I gave it a while and it stopped. The rain itself was not a problem, it's the mucky roads that are! About 20k out the road turned to gravel and in places covered from side to side with water, a complete mudbath. If going through it wasn't bad enough the other passing vehicles plastered me from head to foot in mud as they bounced through the potholes. Bike and bags are now brown. After 30k the road went up into the mountains with an 800m climb. By the looks of it the scenery was excellent but visibility was very low. After I arrived at the hotel there was another thunderstorm right overhead so at least I was lucky to miss that one.

The following day started with thick fog and it was cold too. I started with a climb and before long I was above the clouds which were over the rivers and lakes, blue sky was above me and the mountains looked just great. The road kept rising up gently and before long the sun cleared the fog giving a wonderful day with just wonderful scenery. I passed through little villages which were pretty clean and friendly people greeted me as I passed, it felt great to be alive and passing through this fantastic vista, what a difference a couple of days makes. Having passed through all that filth and flat lands its hard to believe that these wonderful mountains are in the same country, let alone just being a handful of kilometres away. I ended up in Mandi, a nice little town with a sunken garden and market in the middle, and mountains and rivers all around.

The following day started off foggy again, but also started with a climb and again I was soon under blue skies above the clouds in the valleys. It was cold, 6 degrees, but I can't really complain about it as I passed a school where they were being taught outside in the sunshine. The scenery was just amazing and got better as the day went on as I approached the high snow covered mountains. I am sure there is better scenery around in Northern India, but coming so soon after those bad days, this was just pure joy, I think I rode with a smile on my face all day. I ended up in Baijnath and even found a really good hotel at a very reasonable price. After a hot shower that included washing all the mud off the bags from a couple of days ago I sat on the balcony with a great view of the mountains, what more could I ask for. I even watched 2 live Premiership matches in the evening.

I left Baijnath on a beautiful clear day, but the riding wasn't up to the standard of the previous day. At one point I seemed to be heading away from the high mountains so stopped to ask the way to check. I was told I had missed a turning and needed to retrace 10km. I asked another for confirmation who said I could continue and turn right. I continued, but there was no right turn. Further questioning gave me answers of both directions, all a bit confusing, so I just continued and eventually found a signpost. From there it was 25km to Mcleod Ganj (3rd photo), uphill all the way, steep for the first 12k, then a gentle climb for the rest. On arrival I met Anthony who I had seen in Chandigarh and I also met Dan from Oxford who knows Combe very well through playing cricket there. A small world indeed.

Breakfast was taken with Anthony and Dan and today has been spent at the temples and monasties of Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama and a little bit of Tibet in India. It certainly doesn't feel like India, almost everybody is Tibetan and they look very different to the Indians. There are still beggars here, but some are better dressed than me, not that that is saying much.
So I feel much better than at the time of the last posting, but I have always said that when travelling alone the highs are higher and the lows lower.

It's good to hear from you John and that another reader is on board, and welcome back Harpo, I thought you had forgotten all about me. In answer to your question about the roads Aaldrik and Sonya, yes they were the yellow roads. They seem to be the most obvious to take to the Nepalese boarder, but they are not much fun. Hopefully I will see you in Nepal, you never know. It would be good to ride together for a few days.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Day 202 - Chandigarh

Thanks for all you comments, they are good to read and I will try to answer a few in a mo.

Well I managed to choose a really bad route from Agra to Chandigarh and I think I saw all that is bad about about India compressed into 4 days. There are supposed to be a billion people in this country and I think I have seen most of them in the last few days!
I left Agra with Judith and Andre heading north. Soon the road surface was terrible and the traffic heavy. We had to weave about the road just to select the smallest holes to cycle through, whereas in some of the villages they were just rough tracks. It made the going very slow and far from ideal for anybody with a bad back, so if you read this Sonya, take note. Also you couldn't look at the surroundings as you had to concentrate on the 'road' the whole time, far from enjoyable. We split up at Hathras as J & A were heading for Nepal, I felt sorry to be leaving them for the last time, they have been good fun and company over the last 3 months, friends for life I am sure. At the junction there was a level crossing closed for a train, but being India there is no waiting in an orderly fashion so the traffic was stacked up the whole way across on both sides. I suspect it would have taken an age to clear so I just went underneath the barriers before the train arrived and made a get away. I stopped the night in Aligarh, a dump. The first 4 or 5 hotels I tried were full or at least they didnt want me to stay there for some reason. In one a fat slob lying on a grimey sofa asked "A/C or non A/C". "Non A/C" I said to which he answered " We are completely full, no rooms available at all". They charge substantially more for air con room so I suspect he couldn't be bothered to move his fat arse for anything less.

The next couple of days were more of the same, just worse, passing through filthy villages and polluted rivers (Photos). The weather was cool and overcast which probably made it feel worse. I stopped in Saharanpur which was really chaotic and walking along the street was like playing some sort of computer game as I constantly had to leap out of the way of motorcycles as they came at you from all angles, and that was just walking along the street not even trying to cross it. The Hotel a chose was a very bad choice. They had a power failure when I looked at the room but when it was restored I could see just how bad it was, dirty sheets, distgusting dirty carpet and a bathroom that I really didnt want to go in, let alone use. I asked them to change the sheets but I just got a different dirty set.

The following day was as bad as it gets from beginning to end. During the night I was constantly bugged by mosquitos so that every hour or so I had a swatting session. I ended up leaving the light on as I thought that might attract them, then the power went and the noisey generator was outside the window, not that the light came back on. At 5am there was a knock at the door which I ignored, then they kept pressing the buzzer so I told them to go away, but they persisted. I eventually opened the door and 2 staff tried to walk in without so much as a word until I stood in their way. "There is a leak in the bathroom" they said, "If there is I suspect it has been there for the last 6 months" I said "You can sort it out at 8:30 when I have left" at which I shut the door. They persisted with the buzzer but when I answered they got the full force of my angry voice, not often heard, and a very loudly slammed door. I didn't hear from them again. As I packed my bike in the morning, they stood there and watched me, so where had the urgency gone? It was an easy route out of town but after 30k I passed through Yamunanager, the dirtiest, most polluted, shitty town I have seen so far in a country full of filthy towns. This is supposed to be an emerging nation, a developing nation, but not from what I have seen. It might be in cities like Mumbia and Bangalore, but for the rest of it it will take generations and a completely different mind set and to be honest I cant see it happening. It took me an age to get through the place due to the congestion not help by yet another toppled overladen vehicle. At last I was on smaller roads but I started the day not feeling too well and by now I was going downhill and I still had no idea how far I had to go. I was heading for Chadigarh, built from scratch in the 1950's and supposedly the greenest cleanest city in the country, not that that is saying much. Route finding was difficult as there were no signs in English so at every junction I had to stop and ask the way, then stop again and ask somebody else for comfirmation. Before long I hit a completely blocked road, but thankfully I could walk my bike around it all. I never did see what was the real cause but I guess it was a couple of broken down lorries. In true Indian fashion vehicles in each direction filled both carriageways and the verges and with their organisation skills I could see it taking hours to sort out as vehicles were still queue jumping when I left. To make it worse the plonkers had completely blocked a level crossing as well, so a train was stuck too. A good example of the Indian stupidity and ignorance that I see every day. Oh dear, this isn't sounding good is it? As I eventually neared Chandigarh the road was closed and a diversion was in place which I took and soon saw signs for different sectors, part of the 1950's town planning. So I followed them with the only thought on my mind of getting to a hotel and going to bed, I felt bad. I couldn't make the sectors fit in with the map at all so I kept asking for sector 22 which was never signposted. I gave up trying to find 22 and asked a policeman where the hotels were and he told me there were none. "There are loads marked on my map in sector 22" I said. "Yes" he said "but they are in Chandigarh, this is Panchkule". Oh shit! That was the last thing I needed but at least it explained why I was lost! It was another 10k to Chandigarh, oh joy, and to make things even worse it was getting dark and there were no signposts. The place was a massive grid with roundabouts, a sort of Milton Keynes without signposts. It took an age but at last I found some shops and things, I even found the bus station and a hotel that was marked on the map. I still couldnt understand the map though and later realised the hotel was marked in the wrong place. I tried one or two hotels but they were very expensive. I almost took one as I felt so rough, but I carried on cycling around in circles until I found another which was still expensive but much cheaper than the others I had been to. Had had ridden 153k feeling bad for the last 100k, and not seen another hotel before this place. I turned off my cycle computer and the screen went blank. It's not supposed to do that, so a fitting end to the day. I got to my room having carried all my stuff up a long flight of stairs at 18:15 and didn't leave it until 13:00 today.

I feel a bit better today but still not great so I spent the day here. It is very different to anything else in India, no cows, pigs, or monkeys, more jeans than saris and only a few people urinating in public. A badly decaying Milton Keynes should paint a pretty good picture.

Ok, now to answer a few comments. Its good to hear from you Richard and that and your colleagues you are still reading this stuff. Punctures are a bit of a sore point. I had expected no more than 3 or 4 on the entire trip but I guess I have had about 15. I cant say that anything has gone through the tyres, most of them have been caused by poor components. The rim tape on the back wheel came adrift way back in France and that caused 4 before I could get it replaced. Then I had a series of slow punctures on the rear caused by a faulty seam on the tire, but it took an age before I could get the sharp bit out. That's all cured now. Then the rim tape came unstuck on the front and has been replaced, but then I had problems with innertubes. I assume they were affected by the heat as they were "falling apart". In Yazd I had 2 punctures in a day and didnt even ride the bike! Later I cut the tube open to see what was happening and it had a split that just kept getting bigger. I bought new tubes in Dubai and since then I have been trouble free, but I shouldn't really say that.

Tony, I haven't read "Blue Remembered Hills", but I need more books to read and I will look out for it here, though I suspect you are being far too complimentary. Thanks anyway.

Pete, I am surprised to hear that you are still reading this, but that's good too. Glad to hear all is going well. It sounds as though we are all enjoying our different routes since we have left Cap, but reality will hit me when I return, I am sure. I have always thought of your rocks and had been collecting them, I even slipped a few into Judith's and Andre's bags to slow them down. Now they have left it just too heavy, so I have ditched the lot, sorry.

Thanks for your kindly comments too Nick. I am not that tight really, but going into the Taj twice at 10 pounds a throw seems a bit extravegant to me, especially as that is much more than I spend mosts days here.

Crikey, I have wriiten alot. Thats what you get for me stopping in a day in a boring town and not wanting to do anything too physical.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Day 197 - Agra

Well we have been in Agra for 4 days now so there is little to report as to be honest we have not done a lot. I have only visited one sight, a tomb that I cant remember the name of but is know as the Baby Taj as there are striking similarities, so no I have even been in to the Taj as it is too expensive in my opinion. Having said that I plan to return here at the end of the year so I will go in then.

The days have passed quickly and sociably. We have enjoyed the company of Sonya and Aaldrik, the two cyclists from Holland who are also staying in our hotel, and yesterday we met Geoff from Australia, who is a another cyclist and also going to Australia. So that makes 6 cyclists that we know of in Agra at the moment.

Tomorrow we go in different directions. Sonya and Aaldrik will be here a little longer, Geoff heads off in the direction of Jaipur, Judith and Andrea towards Nepal and I will be heading north to Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dali Lama and then on to Amritsa. It is in totally the wrong direction, so for the next 10 days or so I will be heading towards home, but I have always wanted to go to Amritsa and I feel if I dont go there this time, I will never go there. Then I plan to be cycling into Delhi on Christmas Day, now that is bad planning as I cant think of anything I would rather do less!

The temperature here has dropped dramatically over the last week and it will not be long before I start to wear shoes for the first time since day one. In Jaipur I put the washing up to dry and it was almost ready after one hour, here it has taken two days.

See, I told you there wasnt much to report.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Day 194 - Agra

Boy it is flat around here!

We left Jaipur for Bharatpur and the bird sanctuary. The route was a busyish road and once again lots of roadworks. They are making it dual carriageway and bits are finished, but traffic seems to go in both directions on both carriageways, very confusing. We chose the smoothest road, but every now and then we notice that everybody has gone back to using it correctly and we are in fact cycling down the outside lane in the wrong direction. On one occasion we did that for 7km, but nobody bats an eyelid as there seem to be few rules of the road. We passed big groups of about 50 camels, probably heading back from the camel fair, where we saw none. Between the towns it is very rural and cow poo is used for fuel and left out to dry, pancakes as Judith calls them, poocakes as I call them. There are also alot of monkeys, they seem to be picking things out of the fields and must be a real nucance. We needed to break the journey up, but had to go a little bit further than we wanted to to find the worst hotel I have stayed in. The shower was useless. If you waved your arm under it for long enough you could just about feel it getting wet. The promised hot water was very cold. The restuarant was terrible, in fact they took our order and went of into the village and bought it off the streets. We could have done that for about a tenth of the price. The naan was so small I was convinced it was a chapati and refused to pay for it.

We were glad to leave the following morning, but the ride to Bharatpur was uninspiring. We booked in at a nice little Guest House with a nice lawn and garden, so much better than the previous night.

We then visited the bird sanctuary, it was a bit like the camel fair with no camels as it was a sanctuary with no birds. They visit the wetlands here each year, but with two very poor monsoons there is precious little here. We did see a few birds (photo), but not many. We also saw turtles, deer, antelope and alot of jackals.

We then rode to Agra via Fatehpur Sikri, that was really good, but really busy. It is a deserted palace built in about 1550 and very much intact and well maintained. There are wonderful building carved inside and out, large courtyards (photo), one with a pool, and a five story building, each supported by a decreasing number of columns, 84 at the bottom. Next door to the palace is a mosque that is still in use, but boy do you get a lot of hassle there. Everybody wants to sell you something or offer a service, postcards, jewelry, wooden games, guides, people to look after your shoes to name a few. As we were going out a different way we carried out shoes and Andre was stopped from going into the tombs as he was carrying them. He wasnt best pleased especially as the man stopping he was spitting on the floor, so it is ok to spit in the tomb, but you cant carry your shoes. Spitting here seems to be a national problem, most people chew a red tobacco and spit long squirts of spit out, its disgusting and I fully expect to get a direct hit from a passing bus at some stage. But it is not just saved for outside. Inside some buildings you see the lower part of the wall covered in the red stuff dribbling down the walls. Going to the toilet anywhere also is a problem. Today was passed a man peeing outside of a toilet block and clearly he wasnt the only one. Inside it looked quite clean.

So we have arrived in Agra and have a room in a quiet hotel with a shady garden on a street where traffic was barrred. We stopped outside the Taj Mahal to get out bearings but were moved on by aggitated guards, then I remembered that a little over a week ago there were bombs in three towns in the state of Uttar Predesh, the same state we are in now, killing about 9 people. They had all been bike bombs and judging from the amount of baggage we are carrying we had the potential to do even worse, well it would do if everybody pees outside.

We have met another couple of cyclists from Holland at the hotel. They have been here for a month as Sonia has had a trapped nerve and couldnt even walk for 2 weeks. It is impossible to walk about the town without constant hassle, but it is nowhere near as bad as when I was last here.

Last night it rained for the first time in months, not that we saw it, though yesterday was overcast and threatening all day and dropped to a wintry 22 degrees, but thankfully it is warmer today. How do you all survive at home, its winter there you know.

I have managed to loose 3 things since Dubai. I left my mits at the port, a pair of underpants in Udaipur, the worst of it was that I had just washed them, and last night I discovered that I left my head torch in the grotty hotel of a couple of nights back. It has really pissed me off and I am not sure why. May be it is because I know I will not get another one out here and I need it to camp as the nights are long, but may be it is because my daily outgoings are very low here and in contrast it now seems even more expensive. But dont worry, I will get over it

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Day 189 - Jaipur

We have now been in Jaipur for three days, the first was Andre`s turn to be ill, so we didn't exactly do alot. I took a little walk in the afternoon and recognised the hotel that I stayed in when I was last here about 13 years ago.

Yesterday we took the bus out to Amber Fort about 11k away. The bus was packed but at each stop more people were squeezed in so it was not exactly a comfortable ride. The fort was busy too and the elephant were kept busy carrying idle tourists up to the entrance. The only thing I remembered about Amber Fort from my last visit was the agressive monkeys, but there were none here at all now. It is a pretty big fort with other walls and fortifications on the surrounding hills making it quite scene. After a couple of hours there Andre was feeling in need of a rest so we returned. He was stood up on the bus on the way back but thankfully somebody kindly gave him a seat as they could see he was having problems. I spent the afternoon trying to get my cash card sorted out as I have 2 that don't work anymore. My bank card has been cancelled due to unsual activity i.e. being used in different countries, so in their wisdom they have sent me a new one to my home address, very useful. My visa card as also stopped working and having found a phone number on the internet I rang it and it didn't work, great.

Today we have been on a walk around the city giving plenty of time for taking photos of people, though some demand money for their `service`.

So tomorrow we move on, in a couple of days we will be in Bharatpur where there is National Park and bird sanctuary, then after another days riding we will be in Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Day 186 - Jaipur

Well, as you might have seen in the comments, by complete surprise, Erik and Tjeerd who I cycled with in Iran, were in Udaipur at the same time as me. I knew they were in the south of India heading north, but not having a map I didnt know exactly where they were. So I asked around for the Mona Lisa Hotel and soon found them in their room and like me were leaving the following morning and heading for Ajmer.

So the following morning they came over to my Guest House and we had breakfast overlooking the lake before setting off. The good thing about riding with others is that you can all get lost together. We set of on a small main road heading for a big temple at Ranakpur, but there were lots of roadworks and diversions. We kept checking with people that we were going the right way but after 65k I knew we were wrong and a passing motorcyclist confirmed it. We had overshot the turning onto a little road, but couldn't understand where. We retraced and went on a diversion we had missed by taking the nice new road instead and at last we found it. It was well worth the effort as the road was excellent, very small and nice and scenic ending in a wonderful descent along the side of a steep valley to Ranakpur. We reached there just before dark and found accommodation at the temple, a 7 x 7 cell with flagstones and white washed walks and that was it, not even a bed, but it was just right for us.

The following morning we had the place to ourselves, probably because you couldn't go in untill 12, so we had to make do with the 3 smaller temples by the big one. We then set off and the next 70k were still on tiny single track roads through little villages full of colourful people, women in their saris and the men with big turbans. I was never quite sure if the road would just end as there was little traffic as it climbed into the mountains and changed from tarmac to gravel and back. Eventually we reached the main road, then we had a 50k bash to Bhim and a basic hotel infested with mosquitos.

The next day we went for the easy life and went straight along the main road into Ajmer. Most of the hotels were full and we spent about 1 1/2 hours looking for a room which was a bad place to have a problem as Erik was ill and needed to go to bed. Once we had sorted out the room it was time for me to go and meet Judith and Andre at the clock tower and for once our meeting arrangements were spot on. They joined us in our hotel which meant a reunion of the 5 cyclists.
The following day we went to the nearby Pushkar Camel festival, but for me it was a real let down. There were supposed to be about 50,000 camels there, but most had gone home, but there were at least 50,000 people and the place was packed. People come from miles around and it was at least full of colour and people full of character, oh and a cow with 5 legs! I think I would rather have seen it under normal circumstances (photo).

Erik, Tjeerd and I had breakfast at a little food stall near the hotel. As I sat on a bench with my back to the wall I felt something touching my back. I moved to see what it was and a rat went scurrying off, much to the ammusement of the locals. We decided that 5 cyclists together in the busy traffic wasnt a good idea so we split up and I cycled with Judith and Andre and we all met up again in Dudu, a shortish ride so a good sociable evening. Being a Saturday there were weddings in the town, which once again means making as much noise as possible with terrible sounding bands, firecrackers and fireworks. As we went in search of something to eat in the evening we passed one of the weddings and were immediately latched onto by the kids and teenagers who followed us around town in hysterical fashion. Erik and Tjeerd taught us a nice simple dice game with a really original name....Dice. Much to my annoyance Judith one the first 2 games and really let me know about it.

Today we made our way along the main road again in Jaipur where we will spend a few days, not an exciting route in, but it still amazes me to see lorries coming towards us on a 3 lane dual carriageway.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Day 179 - Udaipur (India)

Well the flight was nice and straight forward. As I queued at checkin with my bike an official asked 'Can I help you`, 'no' I replied', 'What are you doing here' he said, so I told him `checking in`, `With a bike?` came the reply. Did he think I had got into the wrong queue at the traffic lights or something. Soon after it hurt to see them forcing my bike through on a conveyor belt, but when I got it back it was fine.
At customs in India they asked what value in dollars all my stuff was worth, approximately 2500 I said, then they tried to charge me tax as the most I could bring in was 1500. 'It's not dutiable I said', they said it was. 'Let me think I said' then after a few seconds I said 'It's only worth 1499 dollars, not 2500`, 'You are changing your story' they said', 'I know, 2500 was only approximate and know I have done a quick calculation'. They laughed and liked my reply and let me off without any charges and even drew me a map of how to get to the city and wrote of the list of things I should see in Ahmedabad. I got no sleep overnight and by the time I left the airport it was 8am so I went in search of a hotel, but they were all full and I had to go right into the city centre. The changes were noticable straight away, there were no end of dogs on the street, people and motorbikes and rickshaws everywhere and the noise from car horns, trains and buses was constant. The population of the city is about 4.5 million about twice as much as the whole of Oman. It felt VERY strange riding on the left again after 6 months and as I was half asleep there were near misses at every corner, you need to be switched on here and right now I was switched off. I couldnt get my head round the concept of going around a roundabout the 'wrong' way. I eventually found a place with a secure spot for the bike and went to sleep at 10am. At 3pm I went for a walk and was relieved to get money out of a cash machine, then crossed the river, got totally lost and couldn't even find the river again, and its not exactly small! So in the end I got an auto-rickshaw to take me back, so I had dinner and had an early night hoping I would be more with it in the morning. After Muscat that is so pristine, Ahmedabad is at the other extreme, a real dump.

So the following morning I was glad to be on the move, but before I left I visited Gandhi's Ashram where he lived from 1915-1930 and from where he started his salt march to the coast to extract salt from the sea to avoid the tax of the Brits. They are humble dwellings and a shivver ran through me to think that I was standing in the place where the great man lived for 15 years. But I had no intention of staying that long and was away and soon on the main road heading north. I was really surprised by it too, not as much traffic as expected and not as dangerous as I had expected either. If you took away all the traffic going the wrong way down the dual carriageway it would have all seemed quite normal, even though it still feels very odd to be back on the left. I stopped for a break and a truckers hotel. There have an open side facing the road and serve food. I was about the only person there but it soon filled up and I was joined by a family. I was fascinated by gran sat opposite me as she struggled to open a tin taken from her handbag, but I soon wished I hadn't shown quite so much interest as she soon revealed a fine set of dentures! I ended up at Himatnager, another dump of a place and stayed in a tatty hotel at the top of a block, but the floors in between had never been completed and were just open concrete.

The next day I headed for Dungapur and the last 25k were on a little road and by heck it was bumpy, but it was really nice to be on a little road and life was all around as people used cattle to plough fields and for threshing, and there were little villages to pass through. Once there I checked into yet another rough old hotel, this one didnt even have a shower and had a strange looking loo that you could either sit or stand on, very hygenic. It is set beside a lake and I went to the fort at the top of a small hill for great views and then went to a really posh hotel built into part of an old palace. I obviously looked out of place as I was soon thrown out. On the way back there was a very colourful gather by the steps to the lake. It was the festival of the sun and women fast for 48 hrs with no food or water. I was befriended by a student and his family who told me what it was all about and it gave me a good opportunity for some people photos. As the sun went down a large flock of crows flew over the lake from behind us, then I realised they weren't crows but bats, the biggest bats I have ever seen, about the size of a crow funily enough. There were hundreds of them and I was mesmerised, sod the festival! I soon had a crowd around me and after a while the student said it was time to go and I then discovered that the festival had gone and I was the only source of attention. I was then shown around a temple with strange doll like figures, an odd thing to worship.

I joined the family at 7am back at the lake. The fast was now over and the baskets of fruit that they had with them the previous day were disributed amongst the people and I seemed to be given more than most, so much I was then given a bag and people still put more fruit in. I decided I should leave, then it was another 30 odd k back to the main road for a hillyish ride to Udaipur. This is the first major attraction that I have arrived at and it is full of tourists. there are hotels everywhere but I still succeeded in finding a grotty one, but after the room had been tidied and the bed made it looked ok, but the view from the restaurant over the lake and the palace in the middle are just great. In Udiapur you can watch the film Octopussy in a different hotel every night at 7pm for a month, it apparently has scenes filimed here at the palaces. I found a pharmacy and at last got some decent malaria pills, similar to malarone that we can get at home and so much cheaper. I was a bit surprised to read the storage instructions and found it said 'Store in a well', then I remember that when you get to the end of a line you start on the one underneath, which said 'sealed container'. I ate at the highest rooftop restuarant for the views but the mossies still got me, time to take those pills, I hope its not too late. When I got back to my room the mossies were out in full strength so I experimented by sleeping with the fan on full and the gale force wind blasted them away, the only problem was it kept blowing my hair into my face!
Today has been spent wandering around Udaipur. It was always going to be a place I liked as it is beside a lake. The Palace (top building in photo) was wonderful with lots of rooms and fine courtyards, though a little to packed for my liking but they were pretty well all Indians. As the sun was going down I went around to the other side of the lake for a fantastic view of the town and the palace, but sadly photos don't do the place justice. I sat on one of the ghats where men, women and children were doing thier washing, followed by washing themselves. 3 children took a shine to me for some reason and each time other tourists arrived they said they didn't like them. I think they liked me as my skin was darker than theirs, but they were amazed when they saw my feet and tops of arms and were fascinated by my white hands.
Well, despite an bad start in Ahmedabad I have settled in well to life in India and I am thoroughly enjoying it and the prospect of so many good thing to see in the weeks ahead is quite exciting. From what I remember of my last visit India hasn't change that much, but it is much cleaner and so far I have had no hassle at all. Also the cars on the road are all newish whereas before they were all very old designs. The times are changing, but slowly.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Day 174 - Muscat

Yesterday I tried to cycle onlong the coast again, but it was hard work as I kept returning to the main road so after a while I gave up and stayed on the main road into Muscat. It was horrible! Lots of flyovers with one or two lanes going off right to a roundabout underneath, where there was so much traffic coming around I had to take risks to get across, I didn't enjoy it at all. To make things worse I have to go back for 50k along the same road to the airport this evening, what joy. Muscat the capital is a funny little place though and a far cry from the main road coming in. It is nestled between little mountains and is very small and really just an administrative centre, but it is immaculate, not a blade of grass out of place (photo). Stangely for a capital there are no shops or hotels, in fact it is only about 500m across, blink and you have missed it. So to stop the night I returned to Muttyah which has food and things along a nice harbour front (photo). Also I am not the only tourist here, that came as a surprise. There are lots, mainly Germans, but I hear some speaking English. I met a German motorcyclist, Christopher, and he recommended a hotel as he had been here 10 days ago. We went out together to eat in the evening and he took me to a restuarant which he said was very good. The only good things about it were the seats outside and the fresh juices, the rest of the menu was fast food rubbish and it was full or tourists. Consequently I spent over twice as much as the previous night and ate less.

This morning I have had a lie in and breakfast with Christopher at the hotel overlooking the harbour. I have had a wander around town and the souk, but it is very much aimed at the tourist so feels a bit plastic. So tonight I head for the airport and tomorrow I will be cycling in India. It seems odd to take a flight and to still be cycling at the other end, normally the holiday would be over and I would be heading home, not that this is a holiday of course. I have had emails from Judith and Andre and I think we will meet up again in Ajmer in about a week, so long as I miss out Jodphur, where they head for tomorrow. It's a shame as I wanted to go there. When I get to India I will have no guide book or map. I have a photo on my camera of a map, so if the batteries run out, so does the map.

That's about it really, not much to report, but I thought I would take the opportunity to get the photos up to date. There are very few of UAE as my camera was in for repair most of the time.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Day 172 - Birka (Oman)

Well at last I have left Dubia and it seemed strange to be cycling again.

The road out of Dubia was basically a motorway and very busy at times which once again made crossing junctions tricky. Once away from the city the road was through sandy desert, with dunes on both side, but it was partially obscured by trees that are watered and I still can't work out where they get all there water from. It was hot, hotter than Iran, most of the afternoon was between 35 and 40c but thankfully there were garages and rest areas on the way so plenty of opportunities to stop for water. My intended stop was at Al Ain, a big city that isnt even on my basic map. Once in the city I asked around for hotels but they were very expensive and thankfully full. On the way to one of the hotels I passed a nice park, so I went for a bite to eat and returned at about 21:30 to set up my tent, but I was amazed, the place was packed with people having picnics, don't they have homes to go to? Still, I set up the tent and people passed constantly, even after I had gone to bed.

Thursday was a bad day, right from the start. I was awoken at 2am by people telling me to get out of the tent. I woke very disorientated and wondered why I couldn't hear Andre through all the noise, then I remembered I was on my own. I opened the tent to face 3 men, thankfully one was a security guard, but they told me I had to leave. I informed them that their colleague had told me I could camp there but I suspect he hadn't understand my question and just said yes, anyway I refused to leave as I had nowhere else to go. They said they would call the Police and I said go ahead and soon I was talking to them on the phone. After another phone call the Security Boss Man Chief Thingy said I could stay until the morning, then 2 Police cars turned up and they said I had to go. I explained the situation to them but they still said I had to move so I told them I would go and find a bench to sleep on, but they didn't like that either. In the end they said I could stay until 7:30 as I had nowhere else to go. Come 7:30 I was off and I was amazed at the amount of litter left by the crowds and a team of men were already cleaning up, a far bigger problem than me camping for the night. I soon passed into Buriami or whatever it is called. They were a couple of guys on the border post and they waved me through. It is effectively one town split in 2 by the border. It wasn't as plush as the U.A.E. side and they didn't water everything, but other than that it was similar. The road soon went through the desert and to the mountains and it was a steady climb up to a lowish pass and after 45k I arrived at the Oman border post. Bad news lay ahead as they wouldn't let me in as I had no exit stamp from U.A.E. even though I was just waved through. They insisted I had to get one before I could enter Oman. I told them where I had come from and then found out the the border crossing is only for locals and I had to go back to a different border and get my passport stamped, but they couldn't show me on my basic map where it was so it was all a bit hit and miss and it is safe to say I wasn't best pleased. Thankfully I found the border crossing easily enough, but then I had to explain that despite coming from Oman direction I was actually leaving U.A.E. not entering it. By the time I got back to the Oman border post I had wasted 3 hrs and done a round trip of 50km, but at last I could get through. Consequently I didn't get as far as I hoped and camped out in the desert, but at least I had a good nights sleep.

The following morning a guy from a nearby new date plantation showed me around whilst he worked, then asked me back to his house, but I declined as I could see another day of not getting anywhere. I had opted for the coast road rather than the desert route after doing some research on my last night in Dubai. I soon reached the main road but it was a few kilometres inland so I cut through on little roads down to the sea and was able to cycle on the sea front through houses and fishing boats. The gap in the wealth here is very visible and basic little scruffy houses are alongside big fancy houses painted in bright colours. Some of the little fishing boats were made of rush though most had fallen into disrepair. I wanted to camp with a sea view but as light went down there were again a long string of houses, but I found a little spot at the top of the beach where the sand wasn't so soft and right opposite a mosque. There were lots of people about but it didn't really bother me but as expected I had lots of visitors. One said he would return at midnight, so I said I would be asleep, no problem he said, I will be back at 5am! Dinner was tuna, very appropriate and just to make it more authentic it was full of sand!

I can confirm that if you spend the night with a Cricket in the tent you don't get much sleep. I spent ages trying to find the little bastard and decided it was between the inner and the outer as it would shut up for about 10 minutes if I shook the tent vilently. I found it in the morning as I was taking everything out of the tent. Thankfully I didn't get my early morning wake up call from the locals, it came from the mosque instead. Today has been back and forth between the coast and the main road, sometimes resulting in a dead end and retracing. I had wanted to get a bit further than Birka and camp along the coast but I heard there was a hotel here and as I am desperate for a shower after 3 nights of rough camping and my clothes are filthy I checked into the comfortable hotel on the edge of town, enjoyed a nice hot shower and did my washing. Oh it's good to feel clean again. There is also a travel agent here so I popped in to see about a flight to India and they had a direct flight to Ahmedabad for only 49 pounds, too good to be true, so I have booked to fly there on Tuesday night. I had dinner in a restaurant where the fan was so strong that it kept blowing my plastic cup of water off the table. Food here is generally very cheap as like UAE there is no tax. I noticed I was the only one who was given a spoon and fork, the rest ate with there fingers. I make enough mess with rice as it is. Blimey, the sauce was hot!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Day 168 - Dubai

Well I am still here, a day longer than expected but I definately leave tomorrow!

To me there is a strange feel about Dubai. It's growing fast, very fast. Just 6 years ago it was a small city, now is big and getting bigger. There are 700,000 construction workers in the city and in reality it is little more than a very big building site. Only 4% of the population originate from here and water consumption in nearby Abu Dahbi is 500 litres per person per day. That is hardly surprising as they are changing the desert into lush green grass and beds of flowers. Dubai has a 7 star hotel, the most expensive in the world (first photo) and some 35 indoor shopping malls, all air-conditioned, as is the case with every building we have been in. One of the malls we visited even has a ski slope. The place reminds me of the computer game Sim City as a futuristic city is being built and in 15 years or so it will be an amazing place. In some of the malls there are large models of areas of the city that are currently under construction. They are seriously impressive with no expense spared with islands linked together by bridges carrying 6 laned road and metro trains. There are a number of islands being constructed in the sea, one the shape of a palm tree, another in the shape of a map of the world. The oil funding it all will run out in 20 years times and the idea is to have it finished by then and use the place as a commercial centre and for tourism. It's a spend spend spend economy as there is no tax here, but apparently people are not well off and spending is all on credit. Frankly I will be glad to leave the place.

Today I have been to the dentist and had a broken tooth repaired so I am giving it 24hrs before I move on. I think it will only take me a day to cross the Emirates and on Friday I will be in Oman, where I get the impression that things are a little more traditional. The population of Oman is only slightly more than the population of Dubai alone.
Tonight will be my 7th night at the Youth Hostel and it has been a sociable time with a mixed bag of people young and old, backpackers, people looking for jobs, others in full time education etc etc. There has been a mixed bag in our room of 5 too, Germans, An Aussie, a Pakistani and an Egyptian who we have named Russell for his ability to come in late every night from shopping and make an incredible noise with plastic bags. Last night it was 2am, the lights went on full and the rustling started and he quickly woke all of us. I complained to him and there was instantly silence. This afternoon while I was in the room hae came back and rustled non stop for 1 1/4 hrs whilst he kept apologising for last night.
The bird life here has been good and varied and the Hoopoo (photo) came and joined us in the city centre and wasn't the slightest bit bothered as we followed it around with a camera, sometimes no more than 3 feet away.
Judith and Andre left for Sharjar airport this afternoon and a flight to Ahmadabad in India. My latest plan it to cycle to Muscat in Oman, about 600km along the desert road, then take a flight to Ahmadabad, then hopefully catch up with J & A in about 3 weeks time as they will spend more time in the towns and the National Parks than I will. Of course they may take the opportunity to put as much distance as possible between them and me. I had intended to head up the east side of Pakistan, but that doesnt seem a good idea any more given the current crisis that is going on there.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Day 163 - Dubia (United Arab Emirates)

Iran and the United Arab Emirates are about 150km away from each other, but they are a world apart.

After we had had breakfast with the family in Bandar Abbas we dashed across the city in rush our to make it to the ticket office for the ferry, but it was shut. I was told to go around the back and then directed to a guys office who seemed to imply that I could have a ticket. Before long he had a bank ticket in his hand but everybody just stood around chatting and they kept telling me there was no rush, but with 1 hour to go and still not knowing where the ferry went from I disputed that. Eventually I was told to follow them in their car to the port and at about 10:30 I had a ticket. In 15 minutes we had checked in for the 11:00 departure of a very slow hi-speed ferry that left an hour late. Once on our way we discovered the 4 hr crossing would take 8 hrs. We eventually got off the ferry at about 22:00 and there 3 other travellers that had diverted to avoid Beluchestan including Jean who is from Montreal (photo, as he was about to leave out campsite) and was walking around the world. He was 7 years through a 12 year trip, which makes my plans look a bit pathetic. His buggy along with our bikes and a Dutchmans motorcycle had to be cleared by customs and we all had to be questioned first. We were then told we could not get out vehicles back until the following day but the guy who questioned us was very helpful and managed to clear the bikes and the buggy but the motorcycle had to wait. By now it was about 23:45 and we made our way a short distance to the city. Even in the dark we could see the place oozedmoney, fast cars were everywhere and skyscrapers were brightly lit. There are apparently over 500 4 start hotels in Dubia and we found a lovely piece of grass tocamp on and we were soon joined by Jean who had walked over. Beside us was a cricket match being played by Indians, then a football match being played by Iranians. Another cricket match started in the car park and fast cars were spinning wheels whilst at a standstill to burn the rubber and by now it was 1am. Players came over for a chat but by 2am they had all gone and the only noise was from the busy road a few yards away.
The following morning we woke to a view of the tallest building in the world. We made our way to the Indian colsulate and spent until 14:30 fighting beurocracy again. Nothng was straight forward as we were sent from one room and queue to another as each section was completed. Once we had paid we were told to return next Monday for collection. We then made our way to the Youth Hostel, our home for the next few days, but we all preferred the grass. 20 odd years ago this place used to be the desert and now the grass everywhere is fantastic, kept short and watered daily. There is a campsite for every day of the year. When we camped last night we thought the grass was 4 star but now we have seen the grass everywhere is the same.

The last couple of days have been doing odd jobs and a little sightseeing. We went into a huge mall and to start with we felt like kids at Christmas, it all felt so strange after Iran, but within an hour it was driving me crazy and I just wanted to get out and cycle peacefully through the desert again.

Dubai on the surface looks very modern and hi-tech, there are huge islands created in the sea for luxury residences and 7 star hotels, you can even go skiing, but dig a little deeper and really they are still way behind. Internet cafes are slow and any useful site is blocked. Cash machine dont work and computers are there but rarely used as paper is the preferred method. At the Youth Hostel we had made a reservation but wanted to extend it for another couple of nights, but you cant do it at the reception you have to send them a fax. Email is no good as they rarely use it. It's just one example of the frustration we seem to face every time we need anything.

I feel a little trapped here too. There is no way I can leave as I have to collect my passport, my camera has gone in for repair and wont be ready for 4 days, I need to visit a dentist and my bike is unridable as my last innertude has split beyond repair. I am so relieved that happened in Dubai and not as I was heading through the desert to Bandar Abbas.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Day 159 - Bandar Abbas

Well my night in Darab was ok, but that is about as far as it goes. It was a posh hotel, but there service was terrible. To be honest it felt a bit strange being there. It was at the end of a long drive and the whole experience seemed to be a far cry from what Iran is really like and to that end the following 2 night, and the previous 2, were much more to my liking, but very basic.

The ride from Darab was straight forward enough. I expected a quickish ride so had a lie in as long as possible but I was still up at 7:15. The only tough bit of the ride came almost at the end. The road had been going gently up for a while then started to climb steeply up to a pass, but the descent was even better and longer, through the mountains and through three short tunnels, two of which were linked by a bridge over the valley. I dropped down into the valley below and arrived at Furk, probably the only likely place to spend the night. There was a garage and a restaurant close together so I stopped at the restaurant and looked for a place to camp. There was nowhere suitable so I carried on through the village but returned as there was nothing better. I located one small piece of land large enough to put a tent on, that wasnt either rocky or had plants growing on it. I went to get permission to camp there but they wouldnt have it but said I could sleep in the outside tea area. That was good enough for me but they soon said I could sleep in a large glass fronted room that wasnt used. Within a couple of minutes they brought me a carpet to sleep on and I made myself at home. Later as I had dinner one of the workers came and sat at the end of the table and just stared at me. I dont mind people looking at me but staring is not comfortable so I stared him in the eyes back and it was quite a while before he got the message and looked else where, but he stared again as soon as I looked away and the process was repeated a number of times. Later the chef brought a book over and showed me an advert for the place. As I read the book the manager came a read over my shoulder, turning the pages when he was ready. When we got to the advert for his place I pointed it out but he swore blind it wasnt, took the book off me and looked for the advert which he couldnt find. He called the chef who found it for him, the one I had just shown him, then he passed it back to me as pleased as punch with himself. The night in glass room was really hot and I just had the silk sleeping bag liner over me and I still sweated away.

The following morning I was up before everybody else so helped myself to breakfast. I also asked for some bread for lunch and then I was off. The road continued its downward trend and I dipped below 1000m for the first time since I left the Black Sea coast almost 2 months ago. Down on the plain below I saw the biggest roadkill I have ever seen, I even stopped to take a photo of it. A fully grown camel was on it side with no sign of blood. Hitting that wouldnt do your car any good! The road had been quiet for the last couple of days but once I reached the main road and turned south to Bandar Abbas things changed dramatically. It was narrow with lots of trucks that didnt particularly want to slow down for a mear cyclist, so some ran far too close for comfort. After 110k the road climb steeply for about 10km, I could see it way above me with apparently nowhere to go, so I guessed right and it went through a tunnel. It was terrible, narrow, dark, very hot and very fumey. As the trucks passed the heat from the exhausts was really hot on my legs. I had no idea how long the tunnel was and worked out what I would do if I was overcome with fumes, but thankfully it was only 800m long and I was mighty glad to be out in fresh air again. I was also at the top of the pass and heading downhill fast. It would soon be time to find a camp site and as usual during the morning I could have camped almost anywhere as the ground had been flat and soft, but now I was in a steep valley and there was nothing but rocks. Way ahead I could see palm trees and that usually means a village and soon I arrived at Qotb Abad where I saw a policeman getting into his car at the police station, so I asked him if there was anywhere I could camp. He suggested the mosque and I lad on a bike took me there. It was ideal with a large courtyard at the back with running water and a loo, so I made myself at home and got a brew going. For the next hour or so I had continual visits from the boys of the village as word obviously spread that there was a strange cyclist staying at the mosque. The the mosque opened up for evening prayers and I was visited by the adults as they left, then I was left on my own. It was a lovely warm evening so I didnt bother putting up the tent and slept under the stars, feeling very happy, safe and content. It was blissful. Allah was looking after me.

Today I was up at about 5:45 as it was well light and I was on the road by about 7:15 having had breakfast and plenty of coffee. The road was terrible for the first 30k, too much traffic, mainly trucks, and again they didnt want to slow down, so it was far from enjoyable. But the end of the day was at sea level so at times it was fast and furious and further on there was a new dual carriageway with a great surface and the pace was quick, though it seemed to take an age to get from the outskirts to the centre. Once there I found an internet cafe, checked my mails and found that Judith and Andre were staying with a family and had given me the address, near the bus station, which wasnt on my map. 3 guys on a motor cycle started to show me the way but disappeared down an alleyway very quickly as a police car pulled up alongside me. The police then put me on the right road and went their separate way and every kilometre or so I would stopped and asked the way, having little confidence that I would ever find the place. Then another 2 on a motorcycle offered to show me but they wanted me to go faster and faster, but as they were the first ones that seemed to know exactly where is was I didnt want to lose them. Sure enough they got me there, 10km from the internet cafe, and I met up with J & A and their hosts, a man, his aunt, grandmother and a friend, all very confusing as first, but lovely people and very welcoming and a meal was soon served up after I had a nice warm shower.

So tomorrow we are off to U.A.E. and Dubai, assuming I can get a ticket as J & A already have theirs. So what will I miss about Iran? Well I will miss the people and their hospitality. I said after my 1999 visit that they are the most welcoming and friendly people of all the places I have visited and this trip has strongly confirmed that, they are wonderful and put politics aside and make everybody welcome in their homes. I will also miss the carrot jam, but I wont miss the jubs, the big wide, deep and dangerous water channels at the side of every road on towns. What I am looking forward to? The only things really are a change of scenery and the excitement of new experiences in new places that I know very little about.

We will be in Dubai for a few days as we want to sort out our Indian visas, then I would like to see a little of U.A.E. before going into Oman and trying to get a boat somewhere from Muscat, the capital. Time will tell if all that happens.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Day 156 - Darab

Well I have said my farewells to Andre and Judith again, so I am alone once more.

Leaving Shiraz was a breeze, flat and fast, but nothing much to see other that a salt lake. The road hugged the shore for about 30km and by the end of it the novelty had worn off. I guess at times it is full of water as there were boats at various points along the shore, but little sign of water when I was there. I arrived at Sarvestan, my intended destination, at about 14:30 and it seemed way to early to stop, but I did my best to. There were no hotels and as it was a bigish town no suitable places to camp so I went to the far end of town. There was a pretol station and a garage but still nowhere suitable to camp the only good place being a cemetry where I would have loved to have camped but there were 3 men working there with a bulldozer so I decided better of it. By now the wind had got up making it was hard work, but I continued to the next village where I found a really nice little spot by the a stream. Once I had set up the tent the goat herds came past returning for the night to the village and the herdsman stopped for a chat. A lad came over and said I would be cold and invited me back to eat and spend the night in his house, but it was already dark so I decided to stay put. It was a wonderful moonlit evening and a slept really well.

The following day was a short one to Fasa where I expected to find a hotel. Sure enough I did but it was a tourist hotel, with no tourists and very expensive. They gave me directions to the Islami Hotel but when I got there I couldnt see it. On route I was going around a roundabout when a car cut across the front of me, hit another car and instantly stopped leaving me with nowhere to go and I hit it on the side. What seemed like an age later a motorcycle also hit it in the side. The was no damage on my part, even less than when I was hit by a car in Shiraz whilst I was on foot. That left me with a sore wrist for a couple of hours. I seem to be riding my luck at the moment, I feel like a cat with nine lives. I asked around and a motorcyclist offered to lead me there, but we seemed to be heading out of town so I thanked him and returned. Another motorcyclist made the same offer and took me back to the tourist hotel and insisted it was the Islami despite the wrong name on the outside. This scenario continued for over an hour by which time my patience was waring thin. This time I asked a shop keeper and he pointed to it, but I still had time to get a puncture. My half day and relaxed afternoon were fast disappearing. At last I found the hotel but there was nothing in English to suggest it was a hotel and it didnt look like one. I had been there about 3 times and even those I had asked when right outside didnt know about it. Once inside I still had the puncture and the owner insisted on wheeling the bike, but I just wanted to be left alone to do my own thing. Before long the puncture was fixed and after a hot shower on loose floor tiles that squelched when walked on I felt much better. The hotel was a dive, the worst I have stayed in and by far the cheapest as I refused to pay his asking price. Before long I was brought a pot of tea soon followed by a box of dates and wafer biscuits. I was invited into the owners house which was next door and introduced to his wife. I was somewhat surprised that she didnt have a scarf on and there was cleavage on view, very un-Iranian. She put a scarf on and brought more tea and a bowl of fruit. She asked if I was angry and I explained that I had been a bit wound up, but over the evening she kept asking if I was angry, then I realised that she was asking if I was hungry. I was invited by them to a wedding party that evening but I told them I had nothing suitable to wear but Ardalan offered me his clothes but I still turned down the offer saying I was too fat. At 6pm some of the family returned and I was introduced to them all and photos were taken and little movies shot, I must be better looking than I thought! They wouldnt let me go out on my own as in their opinion it was too dangerous, so I was taken by taxi to and from the internet cafe, all paid for by them and given dinner on my return. By the end of the evening I felt terrible that I had negotiated such a low price for the room.

This morning was more of the same. I had breakfast with Ardalan and his wife Maryem, whilst their little daughter still slept. When I went to leave they wanted to show me around Maryem`s mothers house and I was given apples, and prayer beads. I took a couple of photos before I left but their daughter Melica did not want to be photographed, so gave a doll to be in the picture instead. Ardalan showed me the route out as I followed him on his motorcycle. When we said our goodbyes Ardalan was in floods of tears, but I didnt find it embarassing and gave him a hug. He insisted on giving me his sunglasses as I left so I gave him mine in return and he was delighted. They are a wonderful family and once again the hospitality is just fantastic, they just want to give so much.

Today has been an easy ride to Darab, but it was deja vu all over again as I found a tourist hotel in the same chain as yesterdays and struggled to find anything else and once again motorcyclists led me on a merry dance. One hotel I did find was terrible and made yesterdays look really good. It was full of young men and I had to share a room and they all surrounded me. I felt I needed some space tonight so reluctantly went back to the tourist hotel. I have too much money left anyway and it cant be changed back so I thought I might as well use it rather than spend the night in a real dump.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Day 153 - Shiraz

The ride from Yazd to Shiraz has been some of the best scenery in Iran and came as a real surprise to us.

We said our farewell to Erik and Tjeerd in Yadz and who knows, we might meet up again in the future as our paths are likely to cross. The day out of Shiraz was reasonable, but after a few days rest and a nice hotel, none of us really wanted to be cycling. Added to that it was uphill all day and it was 2885 calories before we went downhill at all and that was only into the village of Ali Abad where we decided to stop the night. We bought some food for the night and asked if there was anywhere suitable to camp and we were taken around to the mosque. I loved the idea of spending a night ina mosque but sadly nobody could find a key. I went to look for somewhere to camp but when I had returned we had been offered a place for the night. It was in an empty house with the only things in the rooms being walnuts laid out to dry. We were up at 2250m so as the sun went down it became cold. We hadnt even unpacked before a proccession of gifts arrived. First we were given some bread, then a guy arrived with more bread and a third with yesterdays dry bread! Next they brought us a carpet, blankets and pillows and it was beginning to look pretty snug. Salad and cheese soon arrived and our hosts stayed whilst we ate so there was no need to cook despite them providing us with a portable gas stove.

At 7 there was a knock at the door and I leapt out of bed put, some trousers on but forgot the shirt in my rush. The old lady was at the door and didnt know what to say or where to look, so I made a quick exit...oops! Within 15 mins she was back with breakfast along with others carrying more food. The hospitality in Iran is wonderful and it is done without a second thought. As we set off we climbed through trees and it was hard to believe we were in Iran, but they soon disappeared revealing a bit more climbing to do before we reached the pass at 2555m, then followed a long descent, then it was gradually downhill for the rest of the day. The mountains gave way to desert as the vegetation rapidly thinned out leaving nothing but sand and stones. We arrived at Abarkuh where we decided to call it a day as there was a hotel here. It had `Tourist` in its name, never a good sign, but they obviously were not used to tourists or even any type of guest come to that. They wanted 320,000 for a single room to start with but we managed to get the price down to 110,000 but it took about 20 mins. It was a big hotel but not as big as my room number 4017 would suggest. We were the only people staying there and clearly it was too much effort for them. The restaurant was large though there was a distinct lack of food. We eventually went of `Spa Getti` as they wouldnt give us ricew with anything as it would apparently keep us awake all night.

Breakfast the following morning was just as bad. There was an early rush as all 3 guests arrived at breakfast at the same time. They only brought breakfast for one and looked totally blank when we tried to explain that there were 3 of us, but things were alot easier when Andre went into the kitchen and sorted it out. The day turned out to be another day of climbing. We chose a village on the map to stop at but we managed to pass through it without even noticing it. There was little ahead that we could reach during the last hour of light so we called in at a works unit to ask for water. We also asked if we could camp there and were told we could, but very soon after were told we couldnt. It was a bit confusing as it turned out that the reason we couldnt camp was because it would be too cold at night and they wanted us to stay as their guests in the accommodation block. The works unit was for a railway that is being built from Shiraz to Esfahan. We didnt need to be asked a second time and we were soon shown to a couple of rooms in a prefab building with showers and the heaters on, bliss. Tea arrived soon to be followed by dinner for 2...Andre and Judith. I was invited into the engineers block for dinner and even had a table to sit at with the 6 other men. Lots of questions were asked and when I told them how old I was some of them clapped. I didnt think I was that old! Later in the evening they said they had a DVD of The Queen. It turned out to be the film which thankfully they became bored with after about 15 minutes. I was invited to sleep in their block and the beds were as hard as a butchers slab but I slept remarkably well.

When I woke at 6:30 the other 3 beds were empty and I could here them having breakfast. By the time I got up the place was empty so I went back to the room where Judith and Andre were and waited outside. The cleaner from my block saw me and offered me breakfast and I went to the dining area where the remains of breakfast hadnt been cleared away. I helped myself to a tea and the cleaner gave me the remainder of the manky bread and a bowl of half eaten something, it looked remarkably like cat food, complete with used spoon...yum yum! When he left I made a quick exit and had breakfast with Judith and Andre. It was another short climb to the top of another pass at 2536m then it rolled along nicely but enough downhill to make progress good. We passed a petrol station that was a bit like one of our motorway service stations and it looked very well kept with cut grass on raised flower beds and there were also places to eat and 2 well stocked stores. We had wanted to go a bit further but it seemed too good to pass by so we got permission to camp and made ourselves at home, the raised beds making very good kitchen tops.

The night was cold and dropped to 4 degrees so the eggs for breakfast the following morning went down very well. The days riding was excellent and weaved through the mountains in a valley that had vegetables growing and at times was remarkably green. We bowled along at a very good speed and the kilometres passed unnoticed, the scenery was that good. We were heading for Persepolis but first called in at the Royal Tombs (photo). We stopped there about 30 minutes but it was too hot to hang around in the sun. It was just a short ride to Persepolis, one of the hightlights of Iran. They are very well preserved ruins and the stone reliefs are just amazing (other photos), although to Andre they were just old stones. I asked at the ticket office if there was anywhere to camp and was told very agressively there was nowhere here to camp, so I asked if there was anywhere nearby and he pointed to a grassed area right in front of the old stones. The contradiction confused me somewhat so I asked the same question in as many ways as I could think of and he always pointed to the grassed area, excellent. We were told we couldnt camp until the place shut at 17:00. When we went in a family layed a rug down and invited us to drink tea with them and they soon invited us back to stay at their house, but our marvelous campsite was too good to miss so we declined the offer.

We had packed camp by 8 the following morning and as entry to Persepolis was so cheap we went in for a second visit, but it wasnt long before tour buses were arriving. We left at about 9:30 for Shiraz and it turned out to be the only bad bit of the journey from Yazd as the road was busy and the fumes on the climbs gave me a headache. We arrived early in Shiraz and looked at about 5 hotels before settling for on which only had a name in Farsi but had a very friendly manager and good clean rooms.
After a lie in today we have done a bit of sightseeing and completed a few chores. I only have one day here as I need to get to Bandar Abbas in 6 days as the ferry to Dubai only goes once a week. J & A have decided to chill out a bit and take the bus there, so I have a few days on my own again. Judging by the map I think I have 2 night in hotels and 3 camping, spend one night in Bandar Abbas and take the ferry next Tuesday to Dubai.

I still forget that J & A`a English is not as good as mine and every now and then I say something and they look at each other and say `uh?`. Andres forgets some words so my mini water boiler has bem come as the `hot maker` and a towel is a `drying machine`.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Day 145 - Yazd

Is Ramadan over? I cant really tell the difference!

Well 5 of us set off from Esfahan together as we were joined by the Dutchmen Erik and Tjeerd. Heading out was straight forward, if a little boring. We were heading through desert so there is no shade anywhere so we stopped for lunch behind a little hill just to be a bit away from the road. A motorcyclists pulled up and asked us to lunch. He said he was from Toudeshk, the village we were heading for so we asked if he knew Mohammed Jalaly. He said he was his brother and that we would see him later on. Tjeerd volunteered to take Andre's trailer for the afternoon and not surprisingly Andre was only to pleased to let him have a go. What Tjeerd didn't realise is that it would be gently uphill all afternoon. Near Toudeshk another motorcylist pulled up and this time it was Mohammed and he guided us to his house which we would never have found on our own. Another car pulled up for a chat and the driver turned out to be another brother. How big is this family? The village was contructed from mud and straw walls and Mohammed's house was a large one (photo). Once we arrived we left our bikes in the courtyard and were invited in to the lounge which had a fire going and we were immediately made very welcome. I struggled a bit to work out who was who as his father and brothers were there, some friends, women and a whole host of children, mainly girls. Mohammed's sister in law slaved away in the kitchen all evening and produced a tasty meal for us and an endless supply of tea and all the men sat and ate together. I never did see the women eat. The lounge had no seats in but there were cushions all around the walls which made it easy to move around and chat to somebody else It made for a great evening. On one side of the lounge was a carpet that was being made and we were given a demonstation of the process. Hours of work had gone into it and everybody knew what to do, even the smallest of the girls. At about 22:00 we were asked if we wanted a shower. Confusion followed due to communication problems as Mohammed said we would all go together, but it turned out that the house had no bathroom, so the communal village shower was used. Once back we were given 2 rooms, whilst the rest of the family slept in the lounge. As with all the other houses we have been in, nobody sleeps on beds, just blankets on the floor.

Thursday started as Wednesday had finished with wonderful hospitality from Mohammed and his family. Once the communal breakfast on the floor was finished we were taken for a guided tour of the village. Mohammed seems to know everybody so we were introduced to them all. To be honest it got a bit frustrating as we had a long way to go and the morning was fast disappearing. In the end I said we had to go but Mohammed still managed to provide us with 7 bottles of mineral water, a pile of bread and a Volvo baseball cap to replace my old manky red one. The hospitality was just fantastic. They have a great desire to host cyclists and motorcyclists that pass through the village and prove to people that Iran and Iranians are not what the press makes them out to be. They would accept nothing and said we would not be guests if they accepted anything from us. The others managed to find some things to give the children the previous evening, but sadly I was a let down. Once on the road it continued to climb. We reached the top at 2327m, then enjoyed the long gradual descent to Na'in, where the mosque we wanted to see was closed. We bought food for the evenings camping and set off through the desert. There was absolutely nothing about so we decided to camp at the first decent campground we could find. Some large building came into view and as we only had about an hours daylight left we went to investigate. It was an old caravanseri, behind which was a small area where vegetables were growing and in front was a sandy area. We were given permission to camp there then went to look inside the old fortified walls next to us. Inside were about 15 camels that were being kept for their meat. We cooked up dinner in the dark, well Andre did anyway, then had a really good evening sat there looking up at the fantastic display of stars. Due to the late start we only managed 80k which left us 140k to get to Yazd.

Friday was my birthday and thanks for all you comments to acknowledge it. Judith, Andre and Erik sang happy birthday to me then J and A gave me a present beautifully wrapped in an old Iran Today and black insulation tape. It was a baseball cap exactly the same colour and make as my old one, they must have searched for ages to find one the same so were somewhat disappointed to see that I was given a new one the previous day. Tjeerd arrived, then he and Erik sang happy birthday, or the equivalent in Dutch. I hate people singing to me so twice in one hour was bad news. They gave me a present too, a little air horn to go on the bike that is really effective. They had some spare to give to children so we all fixed them to our bikes and as people called out to us we returned with 5 airhorns going all at once. Needless to say the whole day we were like a bunch of kids but we had great fun. Thankfully the route was flat so we made good progress. Lunch was great as Tjeerd had bought some eggs that we had boiled, we had a brew of coffee along with a 7.5kg water melon that Erik had been carrying which went down really well in the heat of the day. We arrived at Yazd at about 17:30 just as it was getting dark. The first hotel we tried didn't appeal so we made our way to the Silk Road Hotel. This was much nicer, but full, even the dorms. They had space on the roof, part of which had a carpet and a nomad type covering, so all 5 of us slept there, which was great, even better than camping, but a long walk to the loo during the night. Once we had showered we ate at the hotel and had a 3 course meal, the main course being camel meat stew which tasted rather like beef. The Hotel was a home from home as there were a number of people we had met at the hostel in Esfahan.

The following day we were back to just 3 of us as Erik and Tjeerd were heading of for Shiraz by bus. They had ridden all the way here from the Netherlands but were opting to fly over Pakistan. It seems as though I am the only one that wants to cycle and no, I dont have to prove anything to anybody Nick, it's just want I want to do, thats all.

The last couple of days have been a mixture of chores and sightseeing, or seesiding as Judith called it once. She knew it was wrong but couldnt work out why. We will be here tomorrow too as Judith and Andre have taken there passports in for a visa extensions which they wont get back until tomorrow midday. Yadz has some good things to see (photo) but the old city is what it is famous for. It is the oldest habitated city in Iran and mainly mud brick built. There are wind towers everywhere, which are used for cooling water below ground as well as an ancient and efficient form of airconditioning. We were walking down a quiet but wide street when a taxi ploughed into the bak of a parked car pushing it into the drainage ditch beside the road. The driver just reversed and drove off which I suspect is not the done thing even in Iran. I made me think of the same thing happening as we cycle along as driving standard here are somewhat poor. We are continuing to sleep on the roof even though the Hotel is much emptier now. Last night we were filmed playing backgammon up there as there is some sort of documentary being made at the hotel.

So reluctantly I have made my decision and on Wednesday I will set off with Judith and Andre to Shiraz and from there we will go to Bandar Abbas and get a ferry across to Dubai (United Arab Emerites) where we hope to find a dow heading for Bombay (Mumbai). If as expected that fails we will cycle to Oman and try to do the same from there. If we succeed it will be great fun and a really good experience, but I am being a bit of a pessimist, so I dont think we will be able to, which will mean getting a flight to somewhere. The good thing about this routre is that I can speed more time with Judith and Andre as we all get on very well together. They look after me far too well, they must think I am an old man. Oh I am!

Whilst I have been in Iran I have been trying to find out as much information about Buluchestan as possible. Its an area the covers part of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and has major problem with drug trafficing. I havent heard any good news from the area other than that you can get a police escort. That would mean about 400k in Iran and 600k in Pakistan through an area where there is very little habitation and therefore little food and water. The police escorts are switched at district borders and involves a lot of waiting around and according to drivers coming the other way is far from enjoyable. The crossing for me would be over a week and involve camping in the middle of nowhere. At best I assumed I would be robbed. Going by bus is also said to be very dangerous and I have heard reports that a Japanese motorist was kidnapped last Monday although I can find nothing on the internet to confirm it.

So the trip will be taking a very large diversion and as stated above could be really good. If I have to fly I will rethink things over again, but it is far too early to make plans yet as it is still about 3 weeks before we reach Dubai.

It will be another week before the next post as I expect it to take 5 days to reach Shiraz and there is little in between here and there and very unlikey to be an internet cafe. For those interested in the photos there as been a whole host of them uploaded.

Thanks again for all your comments and I hope the above puts you minds to rest. Its good to hear from you Gary. After riding The Dean 300 I had a feeling that you would end up riding Paris-Brest-Paris despite you saying it would be your only 300. You had that enthusiasm that suggest you would go on to complete much greater distances. Well done.