All good things must end, and this bike trip was definitely one of those good things. After our rest day in Jojawar we rode to Ranakpur, Kumbhalghar, and finally Udaipur, our final destination. As we left Jojawar the scenery quickly started changing; while up to now the terrain was pretty much flat as far as the eye could see, suddenly big hills loomed. Nothing we had to tackle yet, but there they were.
The penultimate day, then, Ranakpur to Kumbhalghar, was all about the hills. Not the biggest hills we’ve ever seen but after several days of almost entirely flat countryside these were definitely hills. First a couple big, long climbs and then a series of rolling hills. Now, “rolling hills” may not sound like much but here’s the problem. When you’re biking in rolling hills you may end up biking hard uphill for maybe five or 10 minutes, then down for one or two, then up again. It feels as though you’re biking almost entirely uphill. Eventually, though, we made it up and over what here in Rajasthan they call the mountains, though to be honest they’re just big hills. From there it was mostly downhill toward Udaipur and our farewell meals.
First, though, there were a couple worthwhile cultural experiences, something Grasshopper is pretty good at scheduling in. In Ranakpur we went to a beautiful Jain temple. Or, I should say, Mark and everyone else went to the Jain temple; I needed a little “Jim time,” plus I was finishing Red Notice, a great little exposé about Russian corruption and the successful efforts of a hedge fund manager to extract a tiny bit of justice. At any rate while I was wrapping that up they were learning more about Jainism, a religion of maybe five million people worldwide, mostly in India, that places non-violence at its center.
The next day in Kumbhalghar it was up to the fort. Blair, our leader, made it clear that this was the best fort of the trip and pointedly indicated that I shouldn’t miss this one. So even though I’d already told Mark I’d seen enough forts for one trip up I went with the rest of them. Was it the best fort ever? No, not even close. The views, though, were pretty good and it’s probably a good thing to be social even if I didn’t entirely feel like it.
And finally, then, it was on to Udaipur and the end. First, though, one last tour, this time a walking tour of Udaipur and the City Palace. There’s a reason, it turns out, why Mark & I almost never take a guided tour of a city; we just prefer to explore it on our own. Too bad that a great bike trip ended on what was, for us, a boring note.
The rest of the trip, though, was anything but boring. Great rides, nice hotels, some genuinely lovely people to share it with. I had been a bit frustrated with our last Grasshopper tour – the requirement to all ride together seemed unnecessary and distinctly suboptimal – but this one restored my faith in them. As you can tell from the pictures we loved all the kids who would line the ratty little roads running through the villages as we rode through. It was almost enough to make me like kids! And just watching people go about their lives, seemingly unchanged over long periods as they carry firewood and herd goats and all that. Of course, things do change of course. At one point during a rest break we watched a tall, thin woman walking what must have been a pretty long walk given how far she was from anything with firewood on her head. “Things just never change,” we said. Until we noticed that while she was balancing the wood with one hand she was talking on a cell phone with the other. Even two flat tires and a little robbery couldn’t cast a shadow on a ride like that.
Oh yeah, that robbery. The morning we left Jojawar, the day after the rock-point robbery, they’d shown me a photo of the guy they thought was the ring-leader. There was no question it was the guy who’d been driving the bike. The next morning, in Ranakpur, we heard from the police that they’d identified all three and sure enough, the picture they sent of the little mean one who’d wielded the threatening rock was spot on; again, no question they’d identified the guys. So far so good.
By the end of the trip, though, the story got even better. The police actually recovered some of the money. Apparently it’s harder to spend $180 in rural India than you might expect. The manager of the hotel we’d stayed at in Jojawar collected what they recovered, topped it up to the total amount they’d taken, and sent the whole thing to our guide. In other words, I got my money back. To be honest I still felt somewhat vulnerable on the last days of the ride, just a little nervous when older guys would cluster around as they did for the local “tourist attraction,” but in the end things worked out OK.
From here we’re staying in Udaipur for a couple days R&R while the rest of the group flew on to Delhi for their farewells. Then we have three days in Mumbai before we fly down to Sri Lanka to start a whole new adventure. Exciting!