Bike saga, part 2

Pondicherry to Mamallapuram: 100 Km

Now, Mamallapuram to Chennai: 50 Km

My bicycle adventure in southeast India continues.

To be clear, I’m NOT riding those long, hot, distances — just transporting my new mountain bike from place to place. And that is difficult enough.

A month ago, I wrote here about how I ‘bribed’ a public bus crew to allow me and the bike onto a bus for the 2.5-hour trip from Pondicherry to Mamallapuram.

But when our Mamallapuram stay ended, I again needed to get the bike to our next slow-travel destination – Chennai, India’s fourth largest megalopolis.

This time the distance was only 31 miles. And I was tempted to just ride the damn bike. But it’s blazing hot here every day. And the road in question is a NON-bike friendly, high-speed, multi-lane, coastal thoroughfare. Plus, I’m 60 years old and not prepared in either mind nor body for such an effort.

The ‘bribe a bus crew’ plan seemed less plausible; the buses from Mamallapuram were smaller, the crews spoke zero English, and the route turned inland about half way. I needed to stay along the sea.

The other option: hire a private car/van to take us, our luggage, and the bike. The cheapest quote 2,300 rupees ($28). I concocted another plan for the bicycle.

I rode the bike to the main coastal road, the ECR (East Coast Road). I made a ECR sign to make clear I needed to travel along the coast – no turns. I stood at the dusty, sweltering Mamallapuram junction with my bike and sign.

After about 20 minutes – during which I waved at trucks and vans exclusively – a pickup truck of sorts pulled over. I dashed to the passenger side window and confirmed “Chennai? East Coast Road?” The 20-something male Indian driver responded with a slight smile and ‘head bobble’. I took that as a ‘yes’ and sprinted back to get the bike. The driver came out to help load it up.

Within seconds, I was en route to Chennai with my new friend “Latish”. Latish spoke zero English – but no matter, he understood Chennai and ECR. Besides, he immediately started blasting Indian techno music on a massive stereo system. My legs were squeezed by the big sub woofer on the floor which rattled the whole vehicle. Check out the video I took below.

Theo hitchhikes to Chennai with his bike.

Yep, we even had ‘dancing girls’ — little dashboard Caucasian barbie dolls. A few minutes later, we were suddenly stopping again. Three more young Indian guys were hitchhiking. Latish pulled over and they jumped into the truck bed with my bike. I took a couple photos of them. Soon they banged on the roof and we stopped again to dispatch them.

For about 40 more minutes Latish and I continued on, playlist intact. Along the way we passed the Airbnb apartment where spouse Ellen and I stayed during the holidays of 2022 – it was about half-way to the current destination (Airbnb in Chennai). A short while later, Latish slowed, pointed, looked uncomfortable. As we passed through a big intersection, in English he said something like “I go lift” (left?).

I correctly took his statement to mean it was time for him to turn inland. Fair enough. By my Google mapping I had eight more miles to go to my destination. Latish did a U-turn and pulled over to unload me and the bike. Thanks, Latish.

Now I was well into the Chennai city sprawl. A congested, hot, madhouse of traffic, construction, fumes, animals, push-carts, motorcycles, and pedestrians. I continued peddling cautiously – helmet on. 

At one point a brand new Burger King appeared, perfect for an AC break and snack. As I got close to our rental, there was ‘wine shop’ – time for a cold brew.

A few minutes more and I had made it. Hot and sweaty, I locked up the bike and helmet in the backyard and grabbed a tuktuk taxi to the bus station serving the coastal road route. A couple hours later, I was back in Mamallapuram having supper with my wife and mom (who is still visiting for winter).

The next day, we checked out of Mamallapuram and made the trip back to the new Chennai rental. A few bucks saved, a travel memory made, a bike still available.

The only problem now – something’s gone wrong with my back. Stiffness, nerve pain, burning. It will be part of the medical care and checkups we plan to do during our Chennai stay. Of course, we’ll post about those experiences and costs here in coming weeks.

As always, be thankful & generous, happy trails & more beer.

Life is NOW!

Thanks for reading, “Bike saga, part 2.”

About Theo

Tedly (Theo) retired early from the news business to wander the planet with wife Ellen. He enjoys exploring all Earth has to offer: jungles and beaches, volcanoes and deserts – always drinking beer along the way.

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