Wherever you go, there you are.

“First we send your mind. Your body soon follows”

National Geographic nailed it on the head when they ran this line in one of their ads some years ago. The problem is, there are just too many roads but too little time and money to send the body to. The next best thing? Just ride as many roads as I can … while I still can.

If you’re here for the first time, welcome to my humble blog. It is as much a personal journal of my cycle-touring adventures as it is resource for others who may want to ride the same routes as I did. There are no epic year-long adventures within these pages (one day, one day … I keep telling myself), only short 2- to 4-week tours, and mostly solo.

To easily navigate your way through the blog, simply click on ‘The Rides’, on the top menu-bar and all my adventures will be shown. Pick one and the entire contents of that ride will be presented, each blog post opening in a new tab as you click on it.

By the way, the post immediately below is the latest one, which gives you an idea of my latest adventure.

Your comments and thoughts are welcomed, and if you would like to be kept updated of new blog posts, just click on ‘Sign me up’ on the right and subscribe.

Cheers for visiting,

Michael Khor

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South India, Day 5. Exploring old Ponnani.

Ponnani is made up of 2 very distinct districts — the old and the new. The old Ponnani is what you’ll see first if you come in to town using the coastal route 17. The new Ponnani greets you first if you stay on the busier route 62, which then meets route 17 just at the edge of town.

I wasn’t impressed at all by the newer side of Ponnani when I arrived yesterday. It’s chaotic, nosiy, busy and without much character. So, this morning, I decide to ride around the old part of town and see if it’s worth my time. As I head towards the port, the houses and buildings seem to age backward in time.

It’s old, very old, but colourful and full of old-world charm and character. Some of the shops are shuttered and locked, abandoned for the glitzier side of town, but many are still in operation. They’re mostly small businesses; selling anything from bananas to ropes to bamboo. Even the residents seem very much in character. They’re very friendly; even more so when I get up close and personal with my camera. If there’s one thing that lets you make friends instantly, it’s the camera. Must be their innate sense of Bollywood in their DNA.

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Cows, pedestrian, motorcycle and a bus… so who gets right of way? The cows of course. Next in line? Whoever is bigger, louder and faster.

 

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At the end of the sealed road, I find myself riding on a dirt road leading towards the sea. Continuing on, I come upon some huts next to the water, busy with fishing boats and groups of people gathered around some of the boats. The smell of salty air permeated with that of rotting fish, punctuated by the sound of seagulls, crows and egrets cawing and flapping their wings, , completes the whole scene.

I stop to absorb it all. I feel a little overwhelmed, heady even, but I think that is likely from the thousands of rotting fish being dried in the sun.

Some of the fishermen behind the huts are loafing around on the beach, looking at me uninterested. The action seems to be happening around the boats so I ride straight into the thick of it.

Instantly, I become the star attraction.

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Ponnani’s fishing port

 

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Fish being dried in the sun. Once dried, they are bagged in gunny sacks. I don’t think they’re for human consumption

 

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Fresh off the boat

 

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A cycle-tourer does seem to stand out like a sore thumb here.

 

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My presence incited a heated argument among some of the fisherfolk, with this guy seemingly telling the other off for being ignorant about touring bikes (I think…). I just stand there and watch them go at it, amused by it all.

 

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Except for his flip-flops, he looks very much a seasoned tourer.

 

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Me too!

 

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One of the joys of cycle-touring…being welcomed by locals.

 

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Next….. I continue towards Calicut aka Kozhikode. A big city, I expect it to be crazier than Ponnani.

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South India, Day 4. Triprayar to Ponnani

Breakfast is a simple affair at a little stall across the road from Dreamland. 2 pieces of apom, and a cup of Bru coffee, for only 38R. It’s a good enough start for my day. Anyway, I won’t hesitate to stop for a quick snack, and a cup of chai, when I see a tea-shop next. On the road, food is a constant. And it’s cheap.

 

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500 metres down the main road, I see a turn-off. I’m hoping it will lead to the coast. It does.

 

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Off the beaten track that’s off the beaten track… Out of curiosity, I turn off onto a sandy path leading towards the beach meandering between some houses. I decide to follow it. It’s hard going pedalling on fine sand.

 

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I come across a bare-shirted man in front of his house. Surprised to see a cycle-tourer appear out of nowhere, he stops me for a chat. This is actually the norm in India. They are not an inhibited people; not shy talking to strangers, and definitely not camera-shy. The hand-operated pump in front is his only source of water supply.

 

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Soon, his neighbour comes out and join us.

 

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Neighbour’s simple hut.

 

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My new friends from Triprayar; Sunil (in shorts) is a scriptwriter and speaks fluent English. He invites me for tea in his home, but seeing as it’s getting on in the morning, I decide to continue my ride instead. Well, at least I know this will be a good spot to camp if I should come this way again.

 

 

Scenes along the coast ……….

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Man plucking coconuts

 

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Coconut Man comes down. Rewards me with one for watching his performance.

 

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After I finish drinking the water inside, Coconut Man splits the fruit open with a deft chop of his special knife, slices off a piece of the shell which I then proceed to use as a spoon. Nifty…

 

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Nice Coconut Man. The thing sticking out of the crook of his shoulder is his razor sharp sickle-shaped knife.

 

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These coastal roads are some of the most beautiful I have ever ridden.

 

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A village grocer..

 

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Nice beach roads don’t go on forever. Here I’m back on the main road again.

 

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The road has been taken over by a colourful procession

 

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The sharp rapping of their drums is very mesmerising.

 

 

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In India, it’s hard to find anyone who shies away from a camera.

 

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“You’d better take my picture, dude”

 

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My destination today is Ponnani, but I think I’ll detour to Guruvayur for a quick look. It’s a famous temple town; we’ll see if there’s anything interesting.

 

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Guruvayur was disappointing. Nothing much to see. This is one of their biggest temples but I don’t think they’ll allow me to push my bike in.

 

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Lots of sweet tooth devotees in Guruvayur.

 

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Just outside Guruvayur, I met Denny Abraham George and Ajith Varma, on quick 5-day-ride from Mangalore back to Cochin where they live. Gave me a few tips on where to go and what to avoid on the way to Udupi.

 

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Ponnani coming up…

 

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Ponnani is a chaotic little town. Not exactly a tourist spot, and there isn’t much choice when it comes to accommodation. Dreamland this is not. 400R, take it or leave it. I won’t show you the bathroom…

 

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Decided to take a break from puris and prathas when I saw this. They’re franchised from Thailand to China to Malaysia…although I can’t seem to recall ever seeing a Five Star Chicken outlet anywhere back home. Chicken’s pretty good though.

 

Tomorrow, I’ll check out the old part of Ponnani before heading to the big city of Calicut aka Kozhikode.

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Triprayar to Ponnani : 70kms

South India, Day 3. Cochin to Triprayar.

The ferry to Vypin Island is just one of the many ferries connecting the many backwaters that dot the state of Kerala. Like most of the backwater ferries, it’s just a short ride across the water from Fort Cochin. The fare for cyclists is just 3 Rupees. The ticket seller, lodged inside his tiny box with a tiny window, is not a very nice man. Twice, he pushes back the Rupee note that I hand him, saying something which I obviously do not comprehend but my guess is he wants exact change. Seeing this hapless foreigner not getting anywhere, a young man behind me tells me he’ll pay for me instead; “no problem”. Saved yet again by a kind soul.

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On board the ferry to Vypin Island

 

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My ferry-fare saviour

 

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Once on Vypin Island, I point by bike west and soon, I’m pedalling along a sandy, coconut-tree-lined country road running parallel to the sea. It’s a bright, beautiful blue-skies kind of day. And scorchingly hot, too. Well, better than riding in freezing temperatures, I always say. But at least it’s not as humid as I thought it would be.

 

Throughout the day, I wind in and out, alternating between sandy paths and dirt roads; sometimes roads with water on both sides. These are the backwater roads connecting the many houses and villages along the way. Sometimes I hit a dead end while riding along the beach, then I simply head inwards and try to find another entrance to the beach again.

By mid-afternoon, I’m find myself on Cherai Beach, a sliver of land with the sea on both sides of it. A single sealed road runs the entire length of it. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful place, and popular with backpackers who come to Cochin although it’s not crowded with them. I regret not bringing my tent. This is a great camping spot.

 

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The stone wall, about 5-6 ft high, runs along almost the entire coastline, protection against the massive waves that hit during monsoon season.

 

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Could have easily camped in the garden

 

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Off the beaten track, and into someone’s front yard….

 

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where I meet a resident with his home-made bow and arrow shooting small fish

 

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Along Cherai Beach

 

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Joseph and Mary ice factories… How cool!

 

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Wedding, Kerala style, complete with banana trees.

 

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At the end of Cherai beach is Munambam, from where I will take another ferry across Periyar River to Azhikode. Again, I quickly head west after disembarking and find myself riding along quiet village roads. The roads here are surprisingly of very decent quality, and it’s such a joy to ride slowly along and absorb the local colour, smells and sounds that permeate the air.

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Ferry ticket seller was nicer here

 

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Munambam ferry

 

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My stop for the day is the town of Triprayar. Leaving the quiet village roads, I head for route 17, the main thoroughfare that’s typical of a busy Indian road. Honk, honk, honk … cars, trucks, busses, motos … whatever, they never stop honking. Well, at least you know when something’s coming up behind you.

Tripayar seems to be a bustling little town. The main street is busy, noisy and very colourful. I zero in on a hotel I’d read about — Dreamland. Newish looking, it’s located on the main road. The room is 700R, no aircon but it’s big and comfortable. No free wifi — Internet is 50R an hr.

 

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Main street, Triprayar.

 

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Bakery in Triprayar. Entrance is at the back, I think.

 

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Peanut seller, Tripayar. I couldn’t pass up on this cheap treat , of course. His pushcart is parked at a very strategic corner.

 

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A good day’s ride, followed by a great dinner, and I’m off to dreamland…

 

Cochi to Triprayar: 70 kms.