Road signs show that Chennai is only 350km from here – so close!! We will detour through settlements from Pandyas, Cholas, Vijayanagar (kings of Hampi), and Nyak dynasties (yes Charles, yet more temples) and hopefully a beach resort or two! While I anticipate the pleasure of family and friends, and my own bed (and 6 nations rugby) I’m actually aware of just how special our lives have become. Today for example. Well maybe not breakfast – a local millet muesli with water (no milk available) served in a tin mug is not particularly appetising but at 6am food is fuel. Post dawn the roads are blissfully quiet and the light is magical: hills of weathered pink granite lie like slumbering elephants behind the palms. This is the geology of Hampi, part of the Indian Craton. Most people wave, some old women scowl, children cheer, mopeds slow for a chat. Our route crosses the Cauvery plain, an arid landscape second by bunds waiting for the Monsoon rains in May. We stop in a village bus shelter for shade. There is absolutely nothing here to entertain the crowd of young people who come to check us out. They are fascinated by my tablet, and my blue eyes. Between them they produce a single mobile phone for a selfie. It would be too unkind to eat our small snack in front of them, so after 20mins we cycle again.
Another village proudly displays is bull stockade. After many protests, on Feb 1st 2017, Jallikattu “bull taming” was reinstated as part of Tamil village culture. The zebu bull is tormented, then released into a crowd of men who attempt to grab the large hump of the bull with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Every day we read of dozens of fresh injuries, and some days, death. In one village a viewing platform collapsed, was repaired and collapsed again sending another crowd off to the hospital! Without a doubt this is cruelty to bulls.
But are we guilty of cruelty to dogs? In a hamlet, Charles disappears around a corner to buy water. The silence is disturbed by dogs barking: do I pick up a stone and help or leave him to it? There’s a yelp as a foot meets snout and the dogs scarper. Any cyclist who follows our route will wonder why the dogs are so aggressive!!!
We arrive in Trichy, and cycle through the heart of the city to lavish Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple. First we are on the main road where not one vehicle turning right actually goes around the roundabout! Then through bustling markets on narrow lanes barely wide enough for the delivery tricycles. There is so much interest, colour, traffic and noise, more exciting than any fairground ride! By the time we reach our pilgrims’ hotel I am buzzing and breathless: we are still alive!!
Which is no joke for the homeless man asleep near the temple. Beggars are drawn to the free meals and shelter in the temple, and the occasional generosity of pilgrims. He was pitifully thin, barely clothed, but when I approached him with some rupees I saw that his eyes and mouth were covered in flies. He did stir, not dead then, but dying. This morning he was gone, but at least he was old. Last year in Mexico we met two young Australian surfers: five days later they were shot dead in a robbery. Life is cheap on our travels. More than anything I am so utterly grateful that I was born in England!
Every hotel, cafe, restaurant has the most marvellous marble floors!