Traveling, especially in India, while reading Paul Theroux's semi-autobiographical "My Secret History", is a lethal combination for me. His response to a female benefactor's question: "Is there anything you want?" He replies "Yes, what no one else has, what no one else wants or can even imagine." He continues "people with money bought things to be like everyone else. If I had money, I thought, I would try to be different as possible'".
Leaving the endless beaches of Goa with limitless comforts and stuff that money can buy and what all the tourist seem to want and can have, we took a radical turn as we headed inland. For a week now we have been riding through country I could not have imagined, and because of the perceived hardship of doing it on two wheels, I suspect few would want, and yet the totality of the experience, is as different as possible, which makes it so satisfying.
Our point of departure from the coast was Karwar, a sheltered port, a huge estuary that has been coveted by navies and foreign conquerors for millennia and is now India's largest naval base. Our first stop is in Virje, just a tiny dot only on the Google map, turns out to be the home of a huge hydro and nuclear power project, with residents housed in Soviet style high-rises and a fleet of modern buses shuttling workers between sites. The hotel we stayed at clearly had its moment of grandeur during the construction phase of the projects a few decades ago, and is now vastly oversized and under-utilized, and the deferred maintenance is clearly showing. The arrival of two foreigners, especially cyclists, sends waves through the staff. I decline the super-deluxe suite, all in white marble and cavernous spaces with badly peeling plaster, for the superior room, in much better condition and still huge with the same gleaming marble. The manager personally directs us to the attached restaurant and the staff descends eager to please. Outside the residential compound the locals treat us as dignitaries from a foreign place, which we clearly are.
For our next day's ride we are forewarned that it is for the most part through a State Park and there are no services other than two tiny villages, and that the road is mostly a single lane track, albeit paved. We stock up on local tangerines, bananas, peanuts, water and of course, sweets and pastries, which are ubiquitous in India. What we were not anticipating were the twist and turns and challenging hills, and the near absence of any traffic. The sixty kilometers were demanding but thrilling as the jungle provided a near complete canopy covering, keeping us cool and waterfalls with their rushing sounds adding a novelty to the silence of the jungle, which was constantly punctuated by birds, mostly heard but not seen. But it was the presence of monkeys, individually and sometimes in large troops watching us from the roadside or jumping from tree to tree leaving trails of green leaves and small broken branches on the roadside that provided amusement beyond imagination.
Arriving quite tired in Yellapur, we were further delighted to see a huge billboard advertising Banana County Resort with modern cottages, massage, internet etc. and it was only two kilometers off the main road, admittedly on a poorly maintained dirt track. The place was huge and an inspection of the room showed it to have all the mod cons. At about $50 per night it was expensive, but seemed like a fitting reward for a hard days' days ride. To our surprise, there was no hot water. When I mentioned this obvious deficiency, and that even the bell boy said there was hot water, we were given a stream of explanations. "Yes there is hot water; would will like a bucket of it now, that there was break in the pipes, and the "bellboy does not know anything." On further probing, we are reassured that there is solar powered hot water but is not turned on because there are no guests. Clearly our presence after paying full freight went unnoticed. Later, after an immense struggle, as the internet only works intermittently if one leanes over the front reception desk, I was able to check Tripadvisor and noticed that lots of others complained about not having had hot water. When I mention this to the manager, he said "those were comments by angry and malicious customers who demanded a discount, for no hot water". Exactly!
We had a great dinner in the cavernous but elegant dining room. The next morning, at exactly 6:30 am as promised, there is a knock at the door and a waiter in full uniform, gleaming smile announces: "Good morning SIR! its bed tea". When I ask for a bucket of hot water, he assures me, and indeed the hot water has been turned on! Welcome to the mysterious ways of India. We left clean and well fed, awaiting the mysteries of the roads ahead.