Monday, 23 February 2015

Cycling in Kerala - bicycles welcome

In the UK we talk a lot about The Cycling Problem. We agonise over infrastructure and consider whether, if only riders were a little more visible, they might be a bit less dead.

In Kerala, the roads are a hot, noisy, dusty stage for a fast moving ballet of vehicles, pedestrians and animals. Horns sound, endlessly. Lorries, cars and motorcycles weave between lanes, certain collision averted in a heartbeat. 

Into this mechanical soup, throw five English cyclists. Stand back, check insurance policies. Close eyes and pray to any number of local Gods.

Except, after the initial shock and no little awe, it wasn't like that. 

Soon, we were doing a spot of weaving ourselves. We grew confident that the buses thundering past, inches away, wouldn't skin our elbows, or worse. We even acquired our own horns, calling "Beep beep," as unwary pedestrians drifted into our path. I came to feel safer cycling on the chaotic Indian roads than on some of the A-roads near to my home. 
Kate and Sanjeev 

In Kerala we grew to trust our fellow road users. They were neither malign nor maladroit. We saw countless near misses but no disasters. At the root of the road craft was an absence of rancour. Instead of blindly observing rules and lambasting any real or perceived transgression, Keralan motorists share a fluid, harmonious desire to reach their destination while doing no harm. 

It's not a cacophany. When you look more closely, it's beautifully orchestrated jazz. 

There are no traffic tribes, here. No assumption that mode of transport maketh man. Best of all, no antipathy towards cyclists. When passengers hang out of car windows they don't hurl epithets, they call greetings, take photographs or shout the frequent enquiry: "Where are you going?"
Young motorists rush to be pictured with the cyclists

Children ran out of their homes to wave as we pedalled past. Their parents waved. People hung out of cars to wave. 

Once, as we rested in a layby, a jeep screeched to a halt beside us. A group of young men tumbled out and came running towards us. They spoke no English but were carrying camera phones. Eventually it became clear that what they wanted wasn't our purses or even our peanut brittle. The boisterous group simply wanted to  have their photographs taken alongside the funny-looking cyclists. 

Throughout our trip I saw the guides concerned for our safety just once. That wasn't because of a rumbling lorry or speeding motorcycle. It was because we were in elephant country and they had just spotted fresh dung at the side of the track.

Sharing the road
















Use of the horn between sunrise and sunset (compulsory)
Beep.........Hello
Beep.........I am rapidly approaching to your right
Beep.........I am overtaking
Beep.........Hey, look, we made it!
Beep.........Thank you. 
Beep.........I met your cousin in Allepey this morning. He says hello
Beep.........I know you are there. I am just behaving as though I can't see you because it amuses me
Beep.........OK, knock yourself out. Go for that gap if you don't care if you never see your children again
Beep........I am rounding a blind bend. I am not adjusting my speed in any way
Beep, Beep, Beeeeeeep...........You were overtaking too. What bold fellows we are!
Beep........Can someone move that buffalo?
Beep........A cyclist. Oh look, more of them. What a joyful day this is!
Beep........Where are you going?

The cycling tour of Kerala was arranged through Pedal Nation, flying to Cochi with Emirates




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