Cycling the South of India. The ride, the road, the facts.
The South of India: Chennai to Goa around the coast.
South: Background, culture, concepts etc.
There is a constant stream of houses, shops, traffic and people the whole 90 km to Kovalam. On the whole it's not too bad, just slower going and higher attention than the last few day's runs through Tamil Nadu. On the scenic front, the Western Ghats sit in the distance for much of this leg.
Just before you get to Kovalam you will also be leaving Tamil Nadu state and entering Kerala State. There's no passport check, just a sign, so keep on riding.
Kovalam (90 km from Kanyakumari) is one of those fabled beach destinations that old hippies talk about. Unfortunately for them, and us, it aint quite what it used to be. These days its pretty much overcooked, with touts and packaged tourists, and has lost the magic it once apparently had.
On the plus side, it has no traffic, and remains a sanitised haven from the the stark reality of normal of India. If you've come all the way down from Chennai, its a good spot to lay on the beach, unwind and have a grumble about cultural differences. (See The Lady Di Affair! on Leg 1 for a pic of the beach.)
Kollam is the gateway to the backwaters of Kerala, a maze of lagoons, rivers and lakes that fringe the coast. Why not get off the bike, rest those saddle sors, and take a cruise? Mr Pumpy did!
The Kollam-Alappuzha boat cruise (USD $5, 90 km, 8 hours, bike no problem), is an very pleasant trip through the backwaters of Kerala and provides a welcome change to the usual daily cycling slog. Sit back, relax and watch the tropical scenery pass by. Maybe make some new friends.
Kochi (Cochin) is about 60 km from Alappuzha along a dual carriageway, double lane highway that is built up most of the way but has surprisingly little traffic. Unfortunately, although the road runs parallel to the coast, you can't see it, and the run is somewhat boring.
is the most interesting part of Kochi to stay, with it's old Christian
churches and neighboring fishing communities. It's a quiet and pleasant
of the really cheap hotels and also the train station are across the
bay, so if you need to get over there, the best option is to take your
bike onto the ferry, rather than ride around by road.
Mr Pumpy rocks
From here to Mangalore (about 400 km) Mr Pumpy caught the train. This was a pretty straight forward operation, with a ticket for Mr Pumpy and one for the bike, which was loaded into the baggage car. The only problem is that Mr Pumpy's derailleur got mangled somewhere on route, and he had to find a bike shop that could fix it. (See Mr Pumpy rocks Managalore! at right.)
Again, this was no major problem, only that it was a quick fix, and Mr Pumpy had it replaced when he arrived back in Australia.
Udipi is 60 km from Mangalore along a road with an uncomfortably big shoulder drop (the vertical height difference between the tarred road and the dirt shoulder is about 10 to 15 cm). However, the traffic still remains thin and the need to "get off the road quickly" is minimal.
Honavar is 130 km north of Udipi along a first class road, but this section was perhaps the hilliest encountered so far. The hills aren't overly big, but constant, and can be draining if you're not in rhythm or you happen to encounter a lot of traffic. On the plus side it's very rural along this stretch.
However, 70 km out of Honavar, just when you thought it was all under control, Mr Pumpy took some live-action shots of an Indian truck careering out of control around a bend. (See Indian Road Carnage Live! above, left.)
The turn off to Gokarna is about 40 km north of Honavar and the hills along this stretch are constant and quite big. (See The Lady Di Affair! on Leg 1 for a pic of the turn off.)
Gokarna itself is 15 km further on down a bad, potholed road that heads due west to the coast. It's a remarkable town, very small, relatively unspoiled by tourism and with an almost "wild west" flavour. Worth a visit. There's a good beach 10 minutes walk out of town.
70 km away is the town of Margao in the south of Goa. The road into Goa hugs the coast and is well surfaced but hilly. Unfortunately it's a surprisingly barren leg, with no signs or mile posts, which makes the timing of one's run a little difficult.
10 km further on will get you to Benaulim Beach, a nice spot with not too many tourists, plenty of cheap accommodation and good food. It's time to get off the bike, order some seafood and beer and relax. You made it!
You could also ride up to Colva Beach, a couple of kilometres away, but this area services a mainly Indian clientele, and because of this its perhaps not as easy to relax.
If you're hanging out to get wasted and attend an all night beach rave, head on up to North Goa. Mr Pumpy is, however, very against drugs in sport, and advises riding dug free.