At last! Here we are in Pune, which is currently the central location of India’s swine flu hype, and I finally have time (and internet access) to write! My apologies, CEMS followers, for the delay and well… lack of bloggage about the Mumbai Xpress. We don’t call it a “challenge” for nothing! But I digress… Here’s what’s happening!
Since we’re in Pune, we’ll start with that. We had an incredibly beautiful drive from Mahabaleshwar today into Pune. It was a short drive, on decently-paved roads with a downhill slope, and a good part of the route overlooked a beautiful, lush, green valley that we’ve only seen in the state of Maharashtra. As the fog cleared this morning, the most amazing shades of green emerged. It was a relief from our eerie, foggy night in Mahabaleshwar, the highest point along the route (over 4,000 feet in elevation). On the way to Pune, a crowd of press caught up with a few of the convoying participants. Rather than asking the usual questions about why a bunch of foreigners were driving
autorickshaws through India, the group of participants was asked about what they were doing about swine flu and if they were taking it seriously. When asked what her preventative measures against swine flu were, Jocelyn of Mystery Machine said, “Washing my hands.” Upon arrival in Pune, Andrew of team Crud Bug demonstrated his swine flu preventative measures. Truth be told, he blended in with the local population rather well.
Mahabaleshwar itself was quite interesting. Because of the monsoon season and its elevation of 1,438 meters (4,718 feet), the city was covered in a cloud of fog, mist, and rain. Our hotel was basically the only hotel open in town and only a few restaurants had their welcome signs on. It was quite eerie, but participants made the most of it by playing games in the lounge until the early hours of the morning.
The road to eerie Mahabaleshwar from Ratnagiri was a
climb through the misty, rainy, cloudy, green countryside of India. It was certainly a change from the coastal towns we were beginning to get used to. Ratnagiri, a small coastal town, had a fantastic view of the sea. Following our break in Panaji, it was a great place to sit out on the balcony and share stories over Kingfishers. The breeze was cool, the company was fantastic, and the view was incredibly green.
Between Murudeshwar and Ratnagiri, we had a break in Panaji, where we stayed at the Vivanta Hotel by Taj. It was absolutely wonderful and offered a much welcome break from the daily autorickshaw driving. Participants spent their time sleeping, doing laundry, taking 45-minute showers, eating fresh seafood, shopping, and having cold alcoholic beverages in the wonderful Goan city.
For me, Murudeshwar (where we were before Panaji) stands out the most. It was the next stop after our rest day in Panaji and it was breathtaking. The RNS Residency, our hotel, overlooked the Arabian Sea, the massive temple of Murudeshwar, and the temple of Lord Shiva.
It was on our way to Murudeshwar from Mangalore that the luggage bus tire blew out. This was the bus that I was on for most of the trip and the tire blow out caused a two hour delay. Thankfully, there was a chai hut nearby, so Aaron, Rajeev, and I are partook in a lovely cup of chai while the driver took an auto into the nearest town to buy a new tire.
After we had fixed team Poos-N-Roos earlier in the morning, we didn’t receive another call for most of the rest of the day, including during our chai stop. It turned out to be a welcome break from the road.
That takes us to Mangalore, where the roads are horrendous and proved to be the most challenging along the route so far. Highways were a continuous work in progress, causing all vehicles to switch sides of the road numerous times to keep on the smoothest parts of the generally bumpy ride. Needless to say, the biggest request for mechanical repairs in Mangalore was suspension. Perhaps this sign provided an indication of the level of caution that was required for the drive into Mangalore (Kannada speakers, your assistance is appreciated):
We arrived into Mangalore from Mysore, a town we all miss already. It was a quiet, clean part of India (and I think the place where the mechanical work finally got caught up on). Before Mysore, we were in Bangalore, and before that, Vellore, where I last posted.
Bangalore was notorious for its confusing roads, directions, and inaccurate maps (such as those with a non-existent highway printed on them). We will always remember Bangalore, though, for the Round Table School that we got the opportunity to tour. Here are a few pics of our experiences before flag off:
And now we get a good night’s sleep before trekking on to Alibag tomorrow, the last stop before Mumbai. On our last night, we will partake in the luxuries of the five-star J.W. Marriott of Mumbai, a moment we’re all anxiously waiting for. Thank you for your patience, CEMS followers. It’s been an adventure so far… here’s to a successful finish! -CKot