From South to North, Spices, Beaches, Tigers and Trains

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I woke up this morning  in Delhi…again.  In the last week I have contacted 8 customs brokers in Kyrgystan, visited 4 foreign embassies in person and called several more, met with two shipping companies, completely disassembled Bala (rebuilding the entire engine), and visited more motorcycle parts stores than I can count…the Logistics & Planning Phase  of  THE PLAN  has kicked into high gear, a westward departure anxiously looms on the horizon.  But what have I been up to between Sri Lanka and New Delhi?

I acquired a passenger…and so “I” has become “we”.  One who has proven to be a true intrepid traveler, and who was ready to sign on for the big trip, Central Asia to Central Europe.  You have met her before… Magdalena

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Click on map to see it in GoogleMaps

We traveled by moto from Madurai to Arambol almost 1,250 miles (2000k)  This was our route:

We visited 5 mechanics in two weeks time (luckily no major problems)

We drove through spice plantations that never seemed to end.  Beautiful mountain roads draped on each side by rows and rows of cardamom, black pepper, coffee, cinnamon and other fragrant plants and trees.

We passed through little towns and cities that never see westerners.  While suiting up to get back on Bala after stopping for a cup of chai and a samosa we would sometimes be surrounded by 30 pairs of curious eyes.

We visited 1000 year old Hindu temples with carved sexual scenes from the Kama Sutra and wondered how the Hindu culture today has come to be so conservative.

I loved the food up north, then discovered South India food and fell in love all over again.  Dosas, uttapam, parrota, coconut chutney, and “meals” served on banana leaves.

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We bought fresh red snapper from a fish market in Goa and made Mexican style ceviche in the bathroom of our guesthouse.

In the state of Karnataka, West Coast of India, we spent several days in a hut with mud floors and no electricity on a beach that could only be reached by hiking through a jungle.

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We spent more than a week driving through the Western Ghats, the second largest mountain range in India.  And we survived

We spent a few nights in a small mountain town where 4 miles (7k) away….just two weeks earlier, a man eating tiger that had killed 4 people was shot.

We visited the cashew capital of India, ate lots of cashews and bought some of the local liquor, made from…yep, cashew fruit.

We drank too much rum and suffered the next day.

We took a 41 hour train ride (With Bala as our baggage) from Goa to Delhi.

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We visited a sacred temple of the Jain religion.  The Jains do believe in a strict code of not causing unnecessary harm to any animal.  They don’t use leather, are strict vegans, and they don’t even eat potatoes, carrots, or other roots because harvesting them it may harm insects that live in the earth.

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We stumbled upon a cattle market in a small town where DEFINITELY no other westerns have stopped before.  We stole the spotlight from the cows for the 15 minutes or so that we walked around the market.   We got some strange looks from a lot of people, but also a few big smiles from guys like this

In Arambol, Goa we met a dear old friend of mine, Safira, who is a recurring character in my cast of travel partners (she was with me for two weeks in the days of Coco back in Brazil and I spent Halloween with her in Amsterdam couple years ago).

Sometimes in a single day we would pass through lush high mountain climate zones with COLD weather covered in greenery and tea plantations, then into dry and rocky mountains, then flat and hot acacia covered desert “à la” Africa, only to end up back in the mountains putting on our sweaters.

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We celebrated Holi, the festival of colors.  Anyone who walks outside on that day will end up looking like they got pooped on by a rainbow.  We did.

We saw the second largest waterfall in India, Jog Falls, whose torrents, once attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year, have recently been stifled by the building of a big dam upriver L

We tried relentlessly to spot a GIANT flying squirrel (the image I had created in my mind of what this super-animal might look like was fantastical), native to the mountain area we were in, but we failed L

We did see crocodile though…big ones.

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We walked 8 miles (15k) along some railroad tracks to reach some waterfall…to get back we took the advice of the station master in a tiny rural station and jumped onto a moving cargo train.  We ended up chatting with the brakeman at the rear of the train and then jumped off it when it reached the town where Bala was waiting for us.

We spent some days in Panjim the capital of Goa which, until just 60 years ago, was a Portuguese colony.  It was amazing how European it seemed in its architecture, food, and cultural differences.  We celebrated Carnival, drank beer in the streets, and ate beef in public.

What’s next?  Nepal for some weeks, a stopover in Varanasi, then return to Delhi where the journey West will begin.  Unfortunately we could not get access to Pakistan (in February a Spanish cyclist and his armed military escort of 12 people were ambushed by Taliban, 6 of his escort were killed…so the government clamped down on people crossing the country with private transport).  So unfortunately the only other way to do this (aside from paying $6000 in permits to go through Tibet) is to airfreight Bala to Kyrgyzstan and to begin from there.

PLEASE don’t forget about my fundraising mission.  If you like readings about this journey, and seeing the pictures, please consider donating to one of the charities I am supporting.  Here is a link to the fundraiser (Donate in a friend’s name and I’ll send them a postcard from some faraway place!) CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE OR TO DONATE

To see many more photos and read some more commentary from the last 6 weeks CLICK HERE.

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