Monday, December 29, 2008

Day four: Climb every mountain

Coffee estates gave way to tea, green hills to blue mountains and the toughest stretch of the Tour was also the most beautiful. Once in the Nilgiris, the cyclists rode past eucalyptus plantations, a wildlife reserve, stretches of picturesque water, forests of tall conifers, verges littered with pine cones. It was like entering another country. The hair-pin bends were murderous, as were most of the drivers on the road, but the road itself was excellent.

It's hard for me today to talk about the cycling and say anything I haven't said before. An impressive number made it all the way up by themselves to 7000 feet above sea level. Watching them climb today I felt personal pride in each of them that they got this far. A few of them collected some bad experiences, with people on the way booing and jeering – it’s baffling that school of thought that greets everything new or different with scorn and ridicule.

But apart from the sheer feat of cycling up, there was also the pleasure of the ride. Very few riders did not stop to smell the roses today, with even Raj defying his heart-rate monitor and jeopardising his average statistics, to take a photograph or two. Ravi, Kaushik, Francis and Avinash, to name just a few, actually took little detours into tea estates. Others took a break for a sunlit tea at a roadside shop. Matthew stopped to eat some freshly harvested carrots, maybe others did too after we passed. Nelly spent several unsuccessful minutes trying to find a way to get up to a wooden platform at the edge of the wildlife reserve. Even those of us in the cars took off down impulsive paths today. Hrish, Chetan and I went on a mini hike up to a rocky view point overlooking Madhumalai forest (we saw elephant dung on the way, but the animals themselves remained elusive).

I was with the Flaunge videographers today, seeing the Tour through their eyes. It was much the same as the other days except that we did not hand out cooling drinks to the riders. The most significant difference was that we were in a jeep hired in Sultan Bathery for the day (I suspect I was invited along to be translator). A Kerala-registered jeep taxi on a highway defies the very laws of physics and we travelled at warp speed whenever we didn’t have to slow down to film a passing cyclist. At this point in my post, everyone who knows me is expecting to hear that I was violently car sick. Well I wasn't, ever, but the effort has left me feeling as if l cycled all the way to Ooty, except without the endorphins to reward me. I've arrived here with a whole journal of new methods for dealing with car sickness but forcing the mind to prevail over body around a million intense hairpin bends has taken it out of me.

Tomorrow will be a great day looking around Ooty. Murali just asked me whether I want to check out the botanical gardens with him on a borrowed bicycle. I would have gone with pleasure, if the terror of ruining someone else's precious machine weren’t a much stronger force than all others. I have plans of my own anyway – there’s a new place to see, or at least a place to see with new eyes, and as always, I have family here, though this time they are ghosts. So I will be out bright and early to see them all.

But that’s in the future. Right now, exhaustion threatens to overwhelm, and it feels as if I've been on the road ever since I was born. The camaraderie around the bonfire tonight was wasted on me, even the extremely funny story of one cyclist falling on another due to forgetting he was wearing cleats. I retired to bed early, but from what I could hear before I fell asleep, it sounded like lot of the riders had many talents apart from being able to cycle up a mountain and most everyone had fun, probably happy in the knowledge that they have a day’s break before doing it again. I know that the thought that I don't have to get in another moving vehicle for a whole day makes me euphoric.

Climb Every Mountain, The Sound of Music, 1965

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