Rest Day for Wheelers In India

posted 6 Dec 2012, 11:25 by Kevin Monaghan
(By Shay O'Toole)   
One of the positive outcomes from our meeting with the Kashmiri government officials yesterday was their commitment to provide security and transport to enable all riders to get some training done today. So at 10am we gathered to travel to the original “Hotel” base where the team bikes were stored.

On arriving there we were met with a large crowd outside the gates who had come to oversee the counting of votes in local state elections, and this is the reason why all the extra security and curfews were in place during our time here in Srinagar. 

Having finally gotten satisfactory beds, heat and food we were beginning to settle in somewhat to the local scene, that is until we spoke with the government official charged with organizing everything to do with the Srinagar stage of Tour de India. Would you believe, that this man thought we would ask the cyclists to cycle 100km and then go skiing in the mountains and then cycle back to our base. When we explained to him that this was not going to happen he eventually summoned the military escorts and we got on our way. 

It is important to point out, that over the last few days we had only been drip fed bits of information by the Kashmiri officials but by now we were getting the picture that their whole motive for bringing the Tour de India to this location was to promote it is a tourist destination and they were trying every method possible to get photo opportunities to further this aim. Once all the negotiations were completed we departed Hotel Centaur with full military escorts to ride three laps of the Tuesday race circuit i.e. 80km. Driving out the gates through the crowds of smock wearing bearded men held back by police making barriers out of their long batons resulted in several riders’ heart rates rising to threshold level before they even turned a pedal!

Now, whilst the last paragraph and yesterday’s blog may seem a little bleak, I think it is time to strike a balance and give some more detail about this very troubled part of India. Firstly, the people here could not be more friendly or helpful, every interaction is accompanied with a combination of head tilting and some or all of the following statements: “Good morning sir? “ “How are you sir? “ “Can I help you sir? “ They will always ask “From which country are you from sir? “ Many of them are very familiar with our own political history and today I had a long conversation with a shopkeeper about the recent death of an Indian lady in Galway University Hospital. He wanted to know the feelings of Irish people regarding this incident and had his own views which he voiced extremely well.

The landscape is without doubt very dull with a constant haze/fog hanging around the area where we are based. Normal infrastructure which we take for granted is practically non-existent with open drains and mountains of litter everywhere. Their solution for the latter is to brush it into piles and burn it at the roadside. This also serves to keep them warm as they stand around chatting and doing God knows what else. Stray dogs and cows roam the streets at will and as I mentioned before, there are absolutely no rules of the road. Today the riders had several narrow escapes with vehicles pulling straight out in front of them as they approached junctions, and cars that were held up behind the peloton thought nothing of just driving down the wrong side of the carriageway against oncoming traffic to pass us out. 

I could go on for ever but I hope you get some idea of what life is like for these people and how they go about their daily business. It is also important to say, that notwithstanding all of the above, there are very few services which they do not have as we see signs for mobile phones, photocopying, laminating and cash transfer everywhere while there is also every type of shop but just not in the form we are used to in Ireland. Funnily enough one of the most common names over businesses out here is Shaw!

Well, with the training spin done and dusted the riders were back smiling again as they were beginning to develop separation syndrome from their bikes, so we are now all set for tomorrow’s flight to Delhi and the last leg of Tour de India 2012 which takes place on Sunday. I will send more reports of our progress when we settle in there, until then, khuda hafiz.