. We rode through the world’s highest tea plantations, like nothing we have ever seen before. Women clipped away the leaves with specially designed boxes which cut and collected the tea leaves, they would then empty the box into a huge sack which they had strapped over the top of their heads. The sound of 'snip snipping’ followed us all the way up the mountain pass. Surrounded by huge green mountains, the views down into the accompanying valleys were unforgettable, as were the wonderful smiling faces that came out of everywhere - from the back of bus windows, the tea ladies among the trees, to the little kids on their way to school. India always has a smile (and a head wobble), the only problem is that when you are cycling and feeling exhausted it is only possible to smile back and say ‘hello, how are you? From England’ about 400 times a day, the other 800 times you have to just nod. We went across a dam where loads of Indian tourists were all lining up for the perfect shot. We snaked our way between them and kept going up. When we got to the top we needed to do some working out. We started talking to those with local knowledge, worryingly the story was the same- It is not possible to continue a few said. Very worried we looked for a quiet corner to sit and think (very, very difficult wherever you are in India). We were at a low point (strange thing to say when you have just cycled 2500m above sea level) but thankfully the unpredictability of the trip came through again
. There in front of us was a POMPEY supporter. The royal blue shirt was instantaneously recognisable and it really gave us a lift. Vince and Tracey were from London and Vince was proudly wearing the shirt of The Blues. We had a really good chat with them and then followed it up with a surprisingly good omelette and toast. I also had masala tea - that was different – its spicy!The guy who whipped us up the omelette and tea also seemed to know the tracks. He confirmed our worst fears. The rainy season had made the route we hoped to follow impassable. There was only one option, back down the 21 miles we had just cycled up. We were completely demoralised, there is something very bad about going back the way you came, but when it is back down a 21 mile hill, it is hard to take. Back at the bottom, literally on the steps we had taken breakfast 5 hours earlier, we were really down and not sure what to do. The relentless honking of horns again made it very difficult to think. I was having an argument with a garage owner who wouldn’t use his air machine to fill my tyres when two German touring cyclists appeared. They seemed pretty jaded like us, having come through much the same route and also having problems with maps and poor advice. They did however have serious mountain bikes which seemed like a good idea – they were only doing India. Both the man and his wife were also about twice the size of Polls and I. We couldn’t help them with anywhere nice to stay so we wished each other good luck and they went off to search
. Finally getting some air else where we flopped miserably on a different dirty step to quickly scoff pastries, onion bargees and chocolate before cycling what we had been told would be another 35 miles.) Vince and Tracey (Pompey supporters), miraculously appeared again and were so gutted for us that we had had to come back town, that they really made us feel better. Someone feeling your pain and understanding and respecting what you have done does make you feel a bit better about it! They gave us the boost we needed to get up off the step and get back on the bikes. Although when they went off to their bus a big part of us wanted to join them. But no, we have not cheated thus far, it is bikes all the way. So on we got and yes, started going back up a different hill. This one also went up and up, again it was an amazing ride but having already done 40 miles we were weary. 5 miles up and the bus carrying Vince and Tracey honked past. They waved and shouted out of the window, we were having a marital dispute about whether Polly was going to be knocked off the side of the mountain by said bus so missed waving back. (Very rare for us to argue isn’t it Miles?!!!) 10 miles up again and not knowing where we were going to stay, we were up against it. The downhill which followed was just as tough as our brake pads have worn so much they are not really doing their job. Polly had to use her feet. We rode into a strange hectic mountain town (not on the map),only to discover that the place we had expected to reach was in fact another 30 miles away
. (Theni) Someone will be writing a very strongly worded letter of complaint to the Rough Guide Map of South India producers, which clearly labels the mountain road 49k when it is in fact at least 100k. We didn’t know what to do. We cycled out of town but already the road started going up again, Pols had no brakes, it was raining andat this point I got puncture # 2 (whoever put their money on 100+ punctures should be feeling more confident now that we are in India). We could not do another hill climb so started to think about getting on the back of a truck. We also considered the wild camping option but the forest was thick and wet and there was no obvious spot around. We were also getting hassled by a lot of strange locals living in the forest. We decided to sneak back into town and try and find a room or someone to take us to Theni in a jeep. The ‘Deluxe’ room we found was not pretty, in fact it was absolutely filthy and rancid. I dread to think what the basic room looked like. The drunk receptionist made a real mess of copying our passports, and then chose a room with a conference going on outside so we had to walk through it about 10 times bringing in all the luggage. The 50 or so gathered were incredibly pleasant and even apologised for getting in our way saying we were most welcome!In our room we sat gingerly on the edge of the bed using our waterproof jackets as protection from potential bed bugs and assessed our situation. We were completely exhausted after 70 miles of the toughest cycling yet, we were also completely lost with no idea how far to the next town, or how long it would now take to get to Thandigudi
. The night before we had planned our route to Bombay, and have only 2 days off out of 22 in order to get there to meet Tricia and Alan, so being a day behind really made us panic. Calling home on the mobile made us feel much better as Tricia and Alan emailed Goodwill to let them know we would be late, and we agreed that we will try to make up the time on the flat plains on the coast. If not, hopefully it will be fun for Tricia and Alan to actually see us cycle into Bombay and make up for not meeting them at the airport. Showered (with eyes shut in foul filthy bathroom) and feeling better we found a very good biryani a few doors down. Back at the Green Palace Lodge (ridiculous to give this dump such a dreamy title)Polly went straight to sleep , whilst I stayed up for a couple of hours trying to undo the damage Indian roads have done to the bikes. Actually, successfully replacing a spoke and then adjusting the tension so that the wheel ran true wasvery satisfying. The bikes were ready to go in the morning, would we be in such good shape?
Some days we can just feel tricky times ahead. This looked like one of them, we knew we had a big mountain to climb and on top of that we also had 65 miles to do. To add to the worry, the route we had been given was over the phone from someone we didn't know from Adam. The map we have has pretty much gone out the window and we arehaving to rely upon local knowledge to find our way. With all of this in mind, we were up at 6:00am. The distinctively electric birdsong I had heard the morning before rang out loud like an extravagant alarm clock. First job was to fix the puncture (yes, puncture #1, we are off the mark) which happened luckily in the last mile of yesterday. With this sorted we were out of the dingy hotel and into the chaos of Munnar Town. Breakfast on some steps and off we went, UP. We kept going up for 21 MILES. It was probably the toughest climb yet but the scenery along the way was out of this world, making it not feel too bad. We saw elephants grazing in some grassy fields. OK, they were in an elephant farm but they were still elephants