India Challenge

Call it Mumbai or Bombay; it’s a city that has no time to sleep. A massive mega city, some was planned and built, but the rest just evolved, sprawling over about 70km of islands and mangrove swamp. It has a population of 22 million but was only built to sustain a population of about 4 million. Its expansion has been so rapid, that it has been impossible for the building of the infrastructure to keep up. If you want to get anywhere in the day you have to leave by 7:30 in the morning as by 10 the city has hit near gridlock and to travel a mere 30km could take 4 hours. A city with mega slums which have been built in layers, one community above the other. These are home to some of India’s poorest people, but they are also neighbours to some of the richest. There is also a population of street people who have no home, but live from morning to night on the street, eating, sleeping and foraging off it. There is also a unique population of cattle who have never in their lives grazed in an open field, but live of the streets, fed by the inhabitants of the city.

This is India’s equivalent of Mauritius except there's no French influence; this area has the architectural and culinary tastes of Portugal. A small province nestled in palm groves, interleaved with rice paddies and rolling hills of natural jungle. Small bays are fed by massive river estuaries. Little fishing villages are dotted all along the coastline. Goa has a vibe that is found nowhere else in India. Rave and dance are a huge part of the culture here as well as the birth of the new rave/dance craze that is about to hit the rest of the globe, “Sunburn” the newest thing in high tech party.

There was about 10km to go, and we were about to call it a day, as we had to drive back to Mumbai for our few days of media interviews. Nick and Ramveer, the driver, were looking for a place that we could leave our steel trunks of gear that were always on the roof of the van, as they always cause problems with officials at check points. I was giving the last few kilometers a real push with Andrew, we were running under 5 minutes a kilometre as we knew it was now a good rest period that lay ahead.

I have been watching the cow with much interest over the past few months. I must admit I still do have a few unanswered questions, but there is one thing that does stand out with this sacred beast. It is so chilled. There is absolutely nothing that manages to fluster a cow. From quietly walking through the manic traffic of Bombay or crossing an intergalactic 6 lane freeway with trucks and busses flying past hooters blaring the chilled beast will still just wall along the freeway grazing on the odd plastic bag or carton. There are even those down south who just walk into shops, especially bakeries and just help themselves to a bread roll as the shop keeper goes ballistic trying to chase the cow out. No, not until he has had his roll, he stands firm.

I had run into this little coastal town about 100km below Bangalore. My hip was really giving me hell so we decided to call a rest day and let me just rest up and see what we could do to get the problem sorted for the final push to the southern tip. Finding a place to stay, the next was the most important, food. I can never get enough to eat. It was getting late so we did not have any real chance to find anything specific it was the first sigh of food and we pulled in.

For once it was an earlier day; there were a few hours of sunlight that I could spend relaxing in instead of the normal rush. Arrive in camp, a quick bucket wash. Catch up on my posts and pictures. Help with dinner and then collapse in my tent. This time we were also camped next to a river, but more importantly a clean river which meant a swim was in order. There is nothing better than to dive into an ice cold river.

All I could hear was the distant spluttering  of the diesel engine of the life boat as it slowly glided away into the distance. I turned and looked up at the hills ahead of me; all I could see was a carpet of different shades of green interwoven with the contours of the hills. The spur of the lake that I had been dropped in just had a trickle of water running down this muddy brown claw that was extended out under the green carpet of the jungle. On the edge of the river there was a faint game track that became bigger the closer it got to the forests. I followed this path, this was the only way that I could make any progress through this terrain that lay ahead.

There was only one way that I was able to cross this massive expanse of water, that was to hire a local skipper with a boat to ferry me across. After a bit of searching Nick and I came across a guy who had an old ocean going life boat that was being used as a water taxi, powered by an old Lister diesel engine. After a bit of the normal haggling we set a time and price for the next morning. An early start just as the sun came up was essential as I had a lot of really rugged terrain to cover on the other side of the lake.

There is so much said about India and this seems to come from various corners, let it be politics, business and socially a lot also seems to be from a negative perspective .I know as an individual, if you are constantly being portrayed in a negative light, eventually one starts to feel and think that way. You tend to think; wait maybe there is something wrong with me. I am not capable of doing this or will I be able to compete with those around me. In the end it tends to stifle the very creative and energetic drive that you need to be competitive, it eats away at the core that drives one, that simple thing called self-belief.

Finally I had come off the freeways and back onto the smaller rural roads. Once again there was the pleasure of heading back into the mountains. From the city of Pune it had been a slow climb up and up onto the Deacon plateau, as with every up, eventually there must be the down. The mountains in this area are really rugged but covered with this beautiful soft green coating of dense forest. From a distance they looked like rolling hills carpeted with wash of vibrant soft greens, but once you are in it, it’s a dense entangled mass of trees, creepers and thorny undergrowth. Steep acsents and decent dropping and rising hundreds of meters over rugged rock that look like graduals of instant coffee.

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