• Cycling from Kent to Kerala to raise money for Friends of the Earth, via the world's classic crags.
  • Tom Lloyd-Smith's blog


    So it's now been a little while since my last update. I spent a nice few days in Goa sharing the beaches with a legion of tattooed European retirees while I sorted out a new wheel. In the campsites of France and Italy I honed my retiree chat to a fine point, and developed quite a soft-spot for the caravan and colostomy-bag brigade; after so long only having conversations only with local people and the occasional other traveller it was rather pleasant to be able to talk to holiday makers of a more traditional variety.

    I managed to sort out a new wheel without too much difficulty; my friends Graham and Amy happened to be getting a flight out to Chennai at the end of January so I was able to get a new wheel built back in the UK (thank you London Fields Cycles) and they kindly brought it out with them. This meant that, with a little logistical manoeuvring, some lengthy train journeys and a stop off to see Mum and Dad who happened to be on holiday in Kerala I found myself with a repaired bike, but in Chennai, which is a little off my originally planned route to say the least. After 10 days cycling im now back in the west of the country in the bouldering Mecca of Hampi.

    The Indian countryside is terrifically beautiful and pedalling across the Deccan traps appeals to the Geologist as well as the cyclist in me, but it's the fantastically bizarre behaviour of the Indians which keeps me entertained the most. They don't get a lot of cycle tourists here and every time I stop for any reason, even to have a quick rest, I get a huge audience and showered with questions "What is your good name? What is your ambition? What is your native place?" and so on. And on. For sure the largest audiences are when I get a puncture. Last time I got a flat there must have been 30 or 40 people jostling for position to watch me change an inner tube while simultaneously offering me advice, competing to be the one to hold my bags, and bringing me cups of tea.

    An audience of school kids for a change of inner tube

    Cycling in India is quite different to anywhere on the trip. It's size and population mean that it's possible to constantly stumble across the bizarre, and chat to incredulous locals without seeing another tourist for days. This means that that i'm usually staying in two horse towns, where the limited availability of accommodation means I often share my sleeping quarters with a menagerie of six legged, blood sucking companions, and jostle for position in the only canteen in town in order to get my hands on a plate food. There is a big contrast between towns like this and the hoards of young back-packers populating the hostels in places like Hampi. Lots of very serious people with silly haircuts and piercings puffing on chillums, talking new-age psychobabble in loud voices, and occasionally leaving their hostel to buy more weed. It makes me chuckle to overhear these folks boasting about their travels in India, as they set fire to a weeks worth of wages for a typical Indian, take a few puffs and pass to the guy on their left, who they just met, but who lives two streets away back home.

    On the way here to Hampi I stayed in the Priyasanthi Nilayam ashram in Puttaparthi, the hometown and abode of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the reincarnation of another Sai Baba who died in 1918, and who's Ashram draws up to 10,000 folks a day. Or rather I tried to - the conversation when I turned up went something like this.

    I pedal up to the gate...

    Fellow at the front gate - "You cannot bring your bicycle in here sir, you must go to the back gate."

    Me - "OK, why cant I bring my bicycle in this gate?"

    Fellow at the front gate - "You cannot bring your bicycle in here sir, you must go to the back gate."


    So, off I go to find the back gate..

    Fellow at the back gate – "You cannot bring your bicycle in here sir you must go to the front gate."

    Me - "OK, the front gate said I should come to this gate..."

    Fellow at the back gate – "You cannot bring your bicycle in here sir you must go to the front gate."


    I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea. After half an hour of trying to reason with these guys I gave up and booked into a guest house. My first impression of the Ashram (other than it being impossible to enter with a bicycle, for some reason) was of a lot of lost and deluded souls, an impression formed on no small part by the large number of overweight, ridiculously attired Americans and Russians draping themselves in beads and sitting about cross legged. However, I realised that this impression wasn't an accurate or fair one when I went to a service (or Darshan) and chatted to some of the Indian congregation, who were much the same as any other religious congregation in the world – just intelligent, working, spiritual folks with an interest in religion. This said, the devotion that Sai Baba's followers show is quite something to behold; the 10,000 capacity auditorium is packed twice daily on the off chance that Sai Baba will appear (he appears only once every few days). He doesn't speak to his audience (he is 86 years old and confined to a wheelchair) but the reverence, excitement and devotion his followers show when he does appear is extraordinary to witness. Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the Ashram!

    Here I Hampi I also met up with Chris to so a bit of sight-seeing and climbing. As always it was terrific to see somebody from back home. We had a great couple of days – some photos below.

    The other big news is that I've decided to fly back to the UK at the end of March. I'm continuing to enjoy the solitude, the physical challenge of the cycling, and spending my days pedalling through the beautiful Indian countryside so i'm definitely going to be quite disappointed when it's all over, and not to achieve my stated goal of cycling all the way to Sydney is going to be a real shame. Nonetheless i'm confident that it's the right thing to do. Jean-Pierre's bike which I bought in Istanbul following the theft of my first one has held up well, but it is a little on the small side, and has some parts which are more to Jean Pierre's taste than to mine. It has also had two fairly major failures occurring in quick succession and I worry a little bit about its ability to hold up over the rest of the trip without another major overhaul soon. *

    I also have a new nephew, Charlie Edmondson, who was born in early December who I have yet to meet, and I'm anxious to spend some time with him, my older nephew Josh and the rest of my family. A brace of my friends are getting hitched this year, and my good friends Dub and Ali, who got engaged just before I met them in Croatia have asked me to act as best man at their wedding; a huge honour and privilege, and an invitation it would be churlish of me to turn down. However, most of all I miss Ginny who has put up with me pedalling off round the world and leaving her to the British winter with the patience and grace that I don't deserve. I miss her too much to be away from her for another six months.

    So there we have it, I should be back in the UK sometime around the end of March.


    An article about me in the local paper.

    Laundry time on the Deccan Plateau.


    A rather camp Chris and a hairy me pedalling the sights of Hampi.


    Cristian Pinchin on an unknown problem. Around V3.


    Me on another unknown problem. Around V2


    Lord Vishnu


    *It should be said that I am certainly not complaining about the quality of the bike. The failures are entirely down to wear and tear over the 5000+km I have ridden on it plus the mileage that Jean-Pierre did previously. Jean-Pierre, I continue to be eternally grateful for you agreeing to sell me the bike at all – you continue to be my first port of call for all bicycle advice!

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    1. Marianne
      Posted February 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Great update, as always, Tom. Lovely to hear you will be home soon, but I’m worried about what I’ll read past March instead of your blog!! Enjoy your last few weeks. xxx

    2. Malcs
      Posted February 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Best update yet Tom! I particularly like the newspaper photo, fame at last… See you in March!

    3. Ginny
      Posted February 16, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      You paint such a vivid picture of India – it sounds incredible. I hope you have a fantastic final few weeks of your adventure. And, needless to say, I’m really excited about you coming home… Yay! xxx

    4. Wayne Roberts
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      Tom, great blog. My sister and her hubby are doing their 2nd world trip on a motorbike and have a similar blog. So if you are heading back to England in March, I guess you will not be coming to Australia and meet up with all your colonial cousins. Your Dad and I have been having quite a lot of email chat about our ancestors. Have fun. Go the Aussies in the Cricket World Cup. Your cuz, Wayne

    5. Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Hi Wayne, great to hear from you, and thanks for the words of support.
      No, it looks like, this time, I unfortunately wont be coming to Oz.

      Currently in Bangalore having witnessed the most extra-ordinary India vs England game yesterday. England vs Australia perhaps to come however in the later stages of the competition…

      I think you guys have now won 31 world cup games on the spin; an intimidating statistic!

      Great to hear from you


      p.s. my commiserations on the Ashes. 😉

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