Bicycling the Arabian Sea

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As we rode in the cool morning shade of a narrow coastal road north of Alleppey, I was reminded of our riding the narrow lanes of the Mekong Delta during our Shangri La trip. This time we were riding along the Arabian Sea coast of Kerala, India.

The clean brightly painted houses, set back among lush coconut trees and tropical flowers, flashed past between glimpses of open ocean. Girls and boys in school uniforms, smiled in surprise as passed them on our long bike. Women swept the sand in front of their houses bent over with the traditional short broom while men gathered at tea stands, or began the work day, mostly building new houses.

Half way through our morning we decided on a short detour to the harbour (how it is spelled here). We were so glad we did. The “harbour”¬†was a beach, a beach with just the right slope, and probably protected by an offshore sandbar, where local fishermen were landing their long open boats, stern first, after a long night of fishing. Locals gathered to help land the boats, impromptu auctions of squid dotted the beach sand, and particularly successful boats shared with the poor.

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Grim Rohtang La

“This is grim,” I thought. We were taking shelter from the steady rain under a roadside lean-to tarp shelter and I had just added my last precious few layers of clothing, save one. Bob had nothing left to put on.

Just to come upon this shelter was a fortunate turn. “Bicycles?” As we climbed around another switchback, I saw ahead what appeared to be touring bikes, one laying in the rain, the other parked under the shelter our current refuge. According to these other tourists, we were a kilometer and a half from Rohtang La, or Dead Body Pass.

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I’d had a bad feeling about this pass anyway and the weather had turned much worse than we’d hoped. Forecasts indicated showers with minor amounts of accumulation. We stood just out of reach of the gusty rain, dripping puddles and watching the fog banks blow over the pass above us.

Then we heard a rhythmic whistling coming up the slope behind us. It wasn’t a bird, was it an animal? Soon, our shelter was surrounded by goats and sheep, led by a whistling shepherd wearing only a soggy, woolen shawl against the weather. A few working dogs and other shepherds brought up the stragglers, one sheep hobbling on a bandaged leg. This is one of the same herds we saw down in the village of Koksar; they’d paced us up the mountain, going up straight-line, cutting through the long, sweeping switchbacks we were making. We would see them again, in even less pleasant circumstances.

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