That’s a mouthful! [Thur 15 Dec 2015]

Shiva, our charming Auto-Rick driver, arranged a car for us, casually undercutting the hotel by around a third. And, at 08.30 the following morning, there was indeed a waiting driver and car with both suspension and AC, albeit by way of the window.

Intrepidly we nose out of the gate and into the fray of the Mysore rush hour. We are on our way to Saravanabelgola, a casual seven syllables that could quite easily be the title of an album by Snuff.

Rather than British punk, once we have driven through the beautiful countryside, via the obligatory children’s roadside bursts of violent reverse peristalsis, we are very much on the other side of the pond with Jane’s Addiction and ‘Jain Says’.

The powerful jolt of seeing a swastika in real life is a far more shocking gut reaction than one would believe. In this far earlier usage, it stands for the four states of existence in Jainism. The first three all begin with, ‘h’; Heavenly Being, Human Being, Hellish Being and something that annoyingly breaks the alliteration of the sequence, which may, or may not be something like, ‘Tiryancha’. Ignorance allowing, this is subhuman, not Donald Trump, but more to do with Flora and Fauna.

Writing this without access to the internet for cross referencing, checking and generally making one sound far more clever than one actually is, leaves one feeling quite vulnerable and almost naked (I am typing this in my boxers (hot country, you know) so, I suppose this is physically true as well).

The topic of nakedness brings us back to the subject in hand, Bahubali or Gommateshwara. He stands naked at the top of 614 steps, a mere bagatelle after Peta and my 1,000 step triumph only the day before. He is 57 foot tall and has been standing there as, I believe, the world’s largest sculpted monolith since AD/CE (the name of my half Christian, half humanist rock band) 983.

Bare footed and baked, dragging Lyulf and dodging a plethora of caterpillars, whose spikes will poisonously penetrate our pampered western feet, we ascend to this marvel. Standing in awe at this artistic feat the children add the required level of bathos by being gigglingly fixated with the granite hardness of his penis.

So, other than having a knob of rock, who is this man who has spent quite some time staring impassively across the valley?

I’d love to know the details, but from what little I can gather, he is basically a geezer who had a few run-ins with his brother, got bored of the whole male ego malarkey and then decided to mend his ways.

If the ant hills and vines are to be believed, he did nothing for a year (not even claiming the dole and housing benefit) and, by standing there meditating, he, metaphorically, jumped through at lot of Jainist hoops without any effort and rapidly propelled himself to sainthood like so:

(God, not Jain’s as I think they only had saints, knows I am about to get this very wrong)

  • Months 1-4 of doing nowt gets you Kevala Jnana or enlightenment.
  • Months 5-8 bump you up to Moksha, which casually liberates you from the cycle of birth and death.
  • Months 9-12 is the Mutts Nuts, Bees Knees or Cape Buffalo’s personal stereo as one obtains Siddha, the liberation of the soul.

Manage all of that and you qualify for a giant rock in your likeness.

Back down we go we go in order for the Ros to indulge her competitive soul in a spot of haggling over some postcards and, basking in the glow of her victory in the local canteen, we scrape some rice round a banana leaf, thereby introducing it to Mr Dahl and his curried friends.

The joys of eating off leaves is the way it camouflages the greens, tricking the children into eating things I could not crowbar down their throats at home.

Having exercised the mouth over lunch, we drop down to six syllables for our next stop, Srirangapatanam, where the British eventually defeated Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, and his French allies, having previously failed in a couple of Anglo-Mysore wars with his father. They did this by sneaking through the Water Gate to breach the defences, which feels a little like cheating.

It feels slightly uncomfortable exploring the Mosque, walls and ruined palace of a chap beaten by the Brits, well the military of the British East India Company, despite sounding pretty decent (so long as you were not Hindu). Trade will be trade, however, regardless of my sensitivities and he did use the old enemy as allies – an alliance originally brokered by Hyder Ali (No relation to Chemical Ali) and continued with agreement between Tipu and Napoleon. On top of that, in every painting of him I saw on the walls of his surviving summer palace, he seems to be eternally sniffing a rose which is all very royal, but, in the circumstances, a sword may have been a better idea.

Up the road in the Gumbaz is Hyder Sultan’s extremely beautiful mausoleum. Like his son, he too is often depicted eternally sniffing roses, but rather than being killed for a lack of cold steel against the urge for empire, it was old age and a cancerous growth on his back that finally defeated this respected and often admired leader (to précis Bowring*).

*How pretentious is that!

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India observations. Part 1, Life is Chit

India is many things. A sun baked fragrance shop of fabulous contrasts, vibrant colours and textures; extreme beauty, heart-breaking poverty, wonderful kindness and all the things people write about far better than I can ever hope to achieve. So, bollocks to all that, why set oneself up to fail to a level beyond that I am already succeeding at?

On reaching the top of the drive, our Auto-Rick pulled over at security. To gain entry to the hotel forecourt will cost R400, however, explains the charmingly polite guard, handing the chit in at the ballroom restaurant – a place, incidentally, where it takes three waiters to place a single puri just out of reach on the table – will allow you to reclaim R300 against your meal there. Perfect, my rubber arm is twisted and a swim followed by a spot of lunch is decided upon.

Passing through the fading grandeur of the hotel to the thirsty looking rear lawns one is surprised by a decent looking pool where one is immediately collared by a waiting Functionary (Number Two). A swim, of course, is an additional cost that needs to be paid for at reception. A fact our well-mannered man on the gate (Functionary Number One) neglected to mention, as, subsequently, did reception who pointed us in the direction of the pool.

Ros treks back to pay as I set the scene for a refreshing dip and a dose of relaxation. Two sun loungers, long since parted from their cushions, are dragged into the shade of a palm tree, carefully placed just far enough from the trunk to avoid being bombed by friendly coconuts.

Functionary Number Three appears to stand guard over us, while I note that the beer bottle cap to grass ratio is about 50/50.

Our guard, who other than protecting against the threat of non-authorised foreign bathing, probably did not get out too much. This may sound a little harsh, but the opinion is based upon the main topic of conversation being Prince Philip’s visit twenty years ago. I will avoid being harsh about his maths as I need to check my facts, but, if memory serves, the Queens tour of the subcontinent, accompanied by Prince Philip, was in 1961, near on 55 years ago. Equally, unless of course HRH has swung by Mysore more recently while leaving his wife back at the palace, then the attitude to women is suspect too.

I had the children changed in anticipation by the time Ros returned from reception. I prematurely go to pull on some trunks myself when I am informed that, despite now having paid twice, they need some ID before allowing us to escape the heat of midday with a plunge into cooling water.

My turn to trek back from whence I came, smiling as two squealing splashes behind me indicate Lyulf’s and Peta’s attitude to Indian bureaucracy.

It takes four people, with the imminent arrival of the yet un-born fifth joining us at this rate, to look after me at reception. By, ‘look after’, I mean that they insist that, as the photo of my passport is digital, they must have a digital copy of my ID rather than just note down the number.

Really, that’s all very well, but… The signal is (the blunt) Edge (of data transfer technology) and the charges are prohibitively expensive. Soon the combined costs of coming for a casual few lengths of crawl are going to equate to that of a gym membership. Not a good omen as, along with the majority of the population, a gym membership is paid for but never used.

The first email that eventually crawls from my phone to the interweb, returns somewhat shamefacedly as they (Receptionists One to Four) have given me an incorrect email address.

I try the WiFi. The password doesn’t work. The second set of details I am given mimic the first.

I give up and return to the Edge, and as I stand there contemplating an Indian remake of Faulty Towers – assuming I haven’t been beaten to it, that is. Actually, by the time I am finished here I probably will have been.

The mail appearing in my sent items brings me back to the present and I triumphantly present this to Receptionist Number One. In turn, this is presented to Receptionist Number Two and then given the final approval by Receptionist Number Four. As far as I could observe, I do not think the baby (Receptionist Number Four and a Half) or, for that matter, the neglected Receptionist Number Three were part to this decision.

Clutching Chit 4329 and now proudly eligible to swim, I purposefully stride through the corridors, empty bar the paperwork checking Functionaries.

Back at the pool Functionary Number Beyond Which I Am Able To Count appears with a ledger that has, most likely, been in use since Prince Philip’s visit. I enter my name; residence (for now, The Green Hotel); number of people swimming (I would have thought that this would be obvious, but in case some of us are extremely well camouflaged, or if there is an issue, similar to that of sound engineers, with counting beyond Functionary Number 2.)…

…And, finally, the moment the last 70 minutes has been leading up to – sound alarms, drums and trumpets – I enter 4329 in the all important ‘Chit Number’ column.

Excellent! At last!

Ah, that allows for less than five minutes swimming before lunch. Maybe I should have taken the Gym option after all.

All very India of twenty years ago.

At the risk of sounding controversial, however delightful, quaint, frustrating, different the above may be, it did cross my mind that time may be better spent collecting the beer caps, general litter and applying oneself to an odd coat of paint rather than endless paperwork.

Interlude 1 – You learn something new everyday

Well, howdah ‘bout that, I have just found out the name of an elephants saddle!

I must admit I never expected to find this out while actually on the back of one, but, I learnt something new while doing something new – win, win as the dreadful saying goes.

Moments before, I was wondering how much of a ‘win, win’ it may be for the beast in question, but eventually gave in to the children’s ‘Chinese Water Torture’ approach and took them for a ride.

It was only from talking to the Mahoot that I learnt about saddles, the elephant’s lifestyle and the 25 years he has lived with, trained and looked after it. All in all, this giant would not survive in the wild and, given those circumstances, I think has got a pretty good deal.

You still will not be getting me to Sea World anytime soon, however.

Stepping up [Wed 16 Dec 2016]

The next few posts will be categorised as, ‘India’ and are a blatant tangent from the Marrakech – Atlas Etape in aid of Education for All theme of this site.

So. My audience of one, I apologise in advance.

1,000 steps should help one keep in shape during the ‘living to cycle another day’ attitude I have adopted in India.

(Either that, or it is a quote from the Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter Long Earth/Mars books that have made compulsive low-brow reading while on holiday.)

Like limbo dancers, I have set the bar low. However, to add a little to the challenge, a sleepless night with Lyulf of, ‘take to toilet, clean up, check temperature, medicate and encourage to rehydrate’, has left my far from peak condition somewhere in the foothills. ‘Your deity of choice’ knows how Lyulf must be feeling… But, as Peta and I intrepidly set forth towards the great ascent, I do somewhat hate myself for envying the fact he is reclining in bed being nursed by Ros.

The Auto-Rick machine-guns Peta and I to Chaumundi Hill. Treading carefully through families of monkeys we leave our driver, Shiva, in the shade, chatting to friends, with his feet up. And me? –  Contemplating a career change that involves shade.

I am tempted to mis-quote Marvin the Paranoid Android, ‘the first three hundred steps were the worst, the second three hundred were the worst too’, and etc., but, in fairness, it wasn’t too hard, just very hot.

Peta and I took regular water breaks to keep sweat levels at a peak. My light blue cricket shirt, a memento of Tendulkar and Dravid’s final game at Lords, soon had a dark blue sweat patch, amusingly in the shape of the sub-continent, at that rather flattering shelf men have where the ribs stop and the beer-belly juts out.

By the time we reached the temple, by way of a giant statue of Nandi and the pilgrims and busloads of children who are cheating no one but themselves by being driven up, I was drenched and, bar the flag, could have easily been mistaken for wearing a Sri-Lankan shirt.

For the genuine pilgrims who bend down to smudge two or more colours of powdered dye on the face of each and every step it must be back-breaking, with the cooling breeze at the top coming as a welcome relief.

For us, it offered a view of the racecourse and our next stop!

Swinging by the Green Hotel to grab Lyulf and Ros, we are off to the races and a seat in the not too grand stand. The view was fantastic and, the children, having cast their expert eyes over the paddock persuaded Ros to visit our favourite Anglo-Indian bookies. Ray Singh and the noble Sir Tinty relieved us of a couple of hundred and the horses trotted off towards the gates.

The safest bet of the day was that our flutter would be to no avail and so it transpired. The horses did their thing, people got excited and a lesson in the follies of gambling was administered.

Time to go to the zoo to meet some more monkeys.

The zoo in Mysore is, against expectations (which are based on my ignorance), excellent. From Tigers to Lions, India being the only country to have both; Elephants to Rhinos and many, many more, all the animals have been rescued. The large hospital complex nurses a lot of these creatures to health and fitness to be released, where appropriate, back into the wild.

Despite the cheetahs and chimpanzees, the majority of people, from orange robed monks and pilgrims to uniformed school parties, were equally enthralled by a bald man in a kilt and his blonde children – one of whom had to regularly sprint to the toilet during the, ‘hello, what’s your name?’ routine.

The kilt in particular caused much hilarity amongst the locals and, at one stage, Lyulf did a runner in an act of self-preservation as nigh on 100 giggling children advanced towards us pointing at my pleated skirts and chanting, ‘Gandhi, Gandhi’. Gandhi?! Really?! [interrobang] Frankly, the similarities stop with the hair and from thereon down it is more Gandthree!

Heading South

Well, Team Tuffcall returned to cycling with a few laps of Regents Park and then, having had a day or two to find our lungs, followed up with a couple of attempts up Highgate High and environs…

This was perfectly timed to be a training taster as we freewheeled straight into the Christmas party season. The thighs resting and the kidneys aching.

This will be the fourth annual Ouka Monster in aid of Education for All and Chris and I, as veterans of the previous three, really thought we might have got to four months out in some format of fitness as planned. Instead, it is the usual starting from scratch, panting and wheezing while regretting all the cigarettes and alcohol.

Meanwhile, the company – R/GA – won agency of the year for the second year in the row – a great accolade involving much corporate back-slapping and additional party planning on top of the already scheduled December excess!

Thankfully, I had banked some holiday and managed to escape the worst of the annual binge with most of my health intact as I whisked the family off to India – In fairness to Ros, she did all the organisation, so, I was really the one been whisked.

Delhi was not as frantic as my distant memory thereof. It is a lot more Westernised – to the extent that Peta, just six, blue eyed and blonde, is now mobbed by people wanting to take her picture on their iPhones and Samsungs. Previously, this would have been much bruising cheek pinching, hair stroking and tears. Now it is a crash course in what it is like to be famous.

The roads are far less frantic now they are dominated by smog-fuelling motor vehicles. Having said that the soundtrack of the city, and India, is still beeping horns, belching exhaust and the staccato sewing machine stutter of the auto-ricks straining against their above capacity loads.

Amongst this, it is fair to say, that not a vast amount has been done to improve the cycling infrastructure. I decide to leave any trans-continental training until I had headed to the more chill south.

The chill south.

Lyulf moans of stomach ache as we fly from Delhi to Bangalore and on the bus from there to Mysore. An introduction to proper ‘squatters’ at Mysore Palace and the inability to eat lunch, despite the wonderfully dilapidated ballroom setting indicates that something actually is wrong.

Once ensconced in the wonderful green hotel this graduates to a full blown dose of the Leon’s (Trotsky), associated vomiting and high fever. The trained first-aider leaps into action and fires up the Red Cross (Crescent and any other shape of your choice) App mid panic attack to find no reference to raging temperatures. Cunningly, I realise, while inhaling a brown paper bag, they have hidden this topic in a separate app for children – relating to children, even (something I have always struggled with).

Turns out, that while his white cotton trousers were very Kipling, they may not have been the best choice in the circumstances. Equally, we seem to be doing all possible to help the boy, bar paying through the nose for a third party to do it on our behalf.

And, while administering to this sweating nine year old and remembering the combination of fear and unfairness that being ill at that age involved, a little part of me was guiltily thankful that he was providing me with a valid reason not to be on the local equivalent of a Boris Bike, bunny hopping cows and dealing with the local traffic, bovine or otherwise.

The chill south – my(sore) arse!

I have to admit to myself that, for 2015, my cycling is done. The year started fighting my way back to fitness on the new folder, the Pacific Reach. The triumph of the third Ouka, less than a year after fracturing my pelvis in three places, was exhilarating. Hot on the tail of this came the complacently that led to my fitness being hotly pursued by my waistline in a southerly direction.

All in all, the year stacked up as follows. Between full time job and childcare, the Tuffs half of the team managed:

  • 3,446 miles
  • Climbing over 88k feet
  • In 545 rides
  • Over 305 hours (and five minutes!)

The 2015 summary – a lot of pretty slow, short rides.

2016 beckons. Naturally I aim to be a healthier, fitter, slimmer variant of the current me. So, the targets?

  • Get to and stay below 15 stone, with 14 being ideal.
  • Up the mileage to 4k
  • Speed up!

We shall see.

More importantly is to stop typing and look after Lyulf. `the poor kid still hasn’t forgiven me for dragging him to India before Star Wars is released and where we will not be doing Christmas before he gets sick.