Monthly Archives: November 2015

Somanathapura and Srirangapatna 


Once again, and avoiding main roads, I worked my way West and towards the 13th Century Keshava temple at Somanathapura. Unfortunately I had left it a little late. The weather wasn’t that great either. Arriving at the temple complex I was told to be fairly quick by the attendants. This was a bit of a shame as the detailed carvings deserve a lot of attention. But I had the best part if an hour to wander around before dozens of school children arrived to fill the site.  The star shaped ‘Hoysala’ style temple which houses three stone statues including Keshava is intricately carved. Much has been attributed to just a few prominent local artists. The beautifully turned internal pillars are, in themselves, quite impressive. The temple is situated in a quad with sixty four cells facing inwards. 

Here is a selection of shots taken. The 100R Archeological Survey of India ticket also provides access to a large range of sites in the region. 


With the sun setting I decided to ‘stick to the plan’and press on to Mysore rather than make camp. It seemed to take forever to complete the last 35km in the dark. The thought of a cosy hotel bed spurred me on. Finally I wheeled in to the Lonely Planet’s hotly tipped Parklane Hotel just around the corner from Mysore palace. It isn’t a bad place. But of course I have to pay a supplement and take a double room. It was a kitsch  looking ‘luxury double suite’ with AC for just over 2000R (£20). I did wonder if they had used ‘luxury’ sellotape to keep the light switch on the wall in the shower room and was missing some working ‘luxury’ light bulbs. The stains on the wall were an unexpected luxury  but the hotel do provide a toiletry welcome pack. It was okay and a 3rd floor room reduced the sound of the poor flute and tabla playing assaulting the diners in the restaurant below. I certainly recommend the hotel for its position, backpacker vibe, hot water and working wifi. 
To the North of Mysore on an island at Srirangapatna lies Sultan Tipu’s  18th Century teak built Summer palace. It is within the remains of a walled fortress next to the Cauvery river. I hit the main road up on my bike to take a look. It is a 40k round trip. As I cycled beyond the city boundary I realised I had forgotten to pack any spares for the bike. Silly! It could be a long walk back if I got a puncture. Oh the bravado! Pfft. 

Before the palace I visited a few temples. Shree Venugopala Krishnaswamy temple on the approach to the island was quite fun. People engage in an immersion ritual. 

I crossed onto the island via the old stone railway bridge alongside which is a lengthy new shiny steel girder version. This brought me up behind the imposing Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. Somehow I found myself in a shuffling queue of people entering the temple. This wound in and around the inner sanctum past huge single stone carved pillars. The queue, which was kept in line by railings, went on and on and on with no apparent end in sight.  ‘Govida govida!’ The men shouted.  When I finally did reach the central shrine it was a bit of an anticlimax, at least in comparison to the wild enthusiasm of everyone visiting.      

The Sultan’s Summer palace is not terribly grand by modern standards although the well maintained flower beds must look great in the spring. Inside the lavishly decorated 18th century teak framed Summer house are extensive murals depicting Tipu’s armies victories over imperial invaders. Most of the paintings and drawings of the Sultan Tipu and his Fort (some needing renovation) are by English artists.  The English victory involved both the kidnapping of the Sultan’s sons and his eventual death in 1799  during the siege by the attacking army. The fortifications were purposely dismantled by the victors and very little of it remains today. Things didn’t work out too well for Sultan Tipu really. 

You can get a good cup of tea from a quiet kiosk in one corner of the gardens. The elderly man inside showed me the stick he uses to keep the monkeys off the chocolate bars.


  I set off back in the rain and tried to find a good route cross country avoiding the main road that I had used earlier. Small tracks past villages turned to muddy paths slongside fields and streams. GPS mapping on the phone is damn handy.  Eventually I found my way back to Mysore and another cup of tea at a stand by Saint Philomena’s church. 


Out of Bangalore



 A glossy brochure from an ‘adventure’ travel company landed on the mat. It detailed group cycling holidays. One particular trip caught my eye:’Cycling Tropical Kerala and it’s Backwaters’. Oh my. I had hoped to cover some of that ground after cycling Sri Lanka but the lack of ferry services had put paid to that idea. It was unfinished business. It all looked very tempting although less so at the prices quoted by the travel company!  A quick check revealed that flights to Southern India with ‘cycle friendly’ British Airways were pretty reasonable. Irresistibly priced. Add in that Indian immigration services now provide a tourist visa on line (24 hour turnaround). I figured a ride from Karnataka over the Western Ghats and down into Kerala would do the job very nicely. Besides.. my tent had a new floor, I had replaced my thermarest and serviced my stove with a new wick. The bike had a new chain, chain rings, jockey wheels and cassette. It all was waiting to be used.

 Bangalore or Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka, is slap bang in the middle of Southern India. It boasts of being the software factory of the subcontinent and has earned the moniker of ‘silicon city’. The flight with no frills British Do-not-really-care-ways took around 10 hours. The newly revamped Kempegowda airport at Bangalore is pretty impressive. However it is almost 40km north of the city and escaping it involves some major congested roads. I grabbed a smallish taxi  with folding rear seat to take me and the bike to a friends home in the city. The young driver drove like an absolute maniac. I truly feared for my safety. I am used to people taking risks but this guy had a death wish. He narrowly squeezed the car in between other road users both big and small. He did not stop for any traffic lights. He had been working all night and my fare would be his last before returning home South of Bangalore. I feared it would be a last trip for both of us. He became lost and I guided him (courtesy of google) up and over the hills of the city. 

Prashanth warmly greeted me outside his family home. I had a self contained cosy room perched somewhat neatly on the roof terrace of his house. He and his family spoilt me rotten. Good food and great company; it became the perfect start to my somewhat randomly arranged trip. I was lucky to arrive during Diwali too. Bangalore loves fireworks! 

The following morning we cycled together out beyond the outskirts of the city and had coffee before parting ways. Thanks for the hospitality  Prashanth! 



Kanakapura Road provides a longer, more relaxing ride West towards Mysore as opposed to the busy highway 85. 


It didn’t take too long to reach a turning which would lead, in time, to the waterfalls at Shivanasamudra. I loved the little lanes that led me past picturesque villages and rural scenes. It had turned into a great ride through a rural India which took me back to my experience of cycling in Sri Lanka. It is fresh, green and subtropical. With the light fading I found a  discreet spot to camp close to an open wood and small roadside shrine. 

There were few sealed roads as such but mostly dirt tracks which took me past local villages. I had to backtrack a little at one point but then could not believe my luck. A canal works its way Westwards in the direction of the fabled waterfalls. Alongside it was a sealed service road. It is ‘closed’ to traffic and guarded at each end.  But it is used by local people for cattle, cycling and scooters. I was waved through. Great!


 Finally I arrived at the visitors  viewing point overlooking  Shivanamudra waterfalls. It is pretty impressive and, quite understandably, one of  the most popular spots for visitors from Bangalore and Mysore. Monkeys too. 




The  dusty road from the Laos -Viet Nam border at Na Phao drops quickly and winds down into a valley. It was hot and dry and I was low on supplies. Most importantly I had not been able to change any money. So when I did finally find a shop my cash was worthless. I hungrily pressed on in the heat. Eventually I came across a woman selling water melons by the road. To my absolute delight she accepted a US dollar for one. I sat on an old rotten tree trunk and enjoyed that melon like no other before being stung by huge red ants. I moved off that log pretty quickly. The road (AH131) was pretty good with little traffic. I passed through a few small villages consisting mostly of stilted houses. But then came to the town of Nakai which not only had a BCel ATM but also a Laos Telecom office where I was able to get a sim for my phone. The day was starting to work out nicely. The scenery was great with karst-like hills all around.



Following the AH131 towards the provincial capital of Thakhek I stopped for lunch at a market.  The range of local food was very different!  Snakes, frogs and variety of small mammals were for sale. But I was perfectly happy with noodles for lunch..




As I rode towards Thakhek I saw a lorry stopped in the shade that was piled high with crates of Lao beer. It was quite a lovely sight for someone that had just cycled through a desert valley. I smiled at one of the guys in the cab and happily pointed at the beer. He smiled too, scrambled out and up onto the back of the lorry, and passed me a bottle of beer. GREAT! Thank you, thank you, thank you! The bottle was warm and slipped it into one of my front panniers. I thought to save it as a special treat for later and continued towards Thahkek.  Soon I came upon a  roadside shop. They had chilled beer in a cabinet so I asked and was able to swop my warm bottle for a chilled one. I stopped at a cafe and shelter next a river. I sat with a woman who was scraping the fur off of what appeared to be several large rats before popping them into a cooking pot. A man appeared who was waiting for visitors. A number of Western tourists turned up on motorcycles and he took them to their sleeping quarters in a building in the field behind the cafe. I drank the beer and set off over the bridge. I wondered how the tourists might have enjoyed their meal that evening. IMG_4244


On the approach into the regional capital I gave my last few remaining balloons to the children of women selling melons by the roadside. I was offered (but refused) a free watermelon but did buy an ice cream from a vendor.

img_4252   I looked for, but failed to find, a well recommended backpackers guest house that was  detailed in the guidebooks. It is a little climb in to Thaheck before reaching a roundabout from which the road either heads south parallel to the Mekong river or runs straight to the river promenade. Fountain square represents the old centre and has a French colonial feel about it.

IMG_4258.jpgThe Inthira Thakhek hotel on the square looks rather plush and I tried to negotiate a better room rate than that offered. I did get the price down but had a ground floor room directly behind the reception. Apparently the first floor rooms with balconies overlooking the square are the ones to have. However I was able to keep my bike next to my room. It was all quite luxurious and a far cry from my usual choice of cheapie hostel accommodation.
I am not sure the management would have approved had they realised that i was using their beautiful shower to do my washing and string it all up on a line across the room.
A short walk across the square revealed the wide Mekong river and Thailand on the opposite bank.