We got lost. Like “we have no clue where we are or which way to go” lost.
When we left Murud we were armed with a new map book of India recently purchased at the University bookstore in Mumbai. It’s a beautiful map book in the style of the Thomas Cook maps that we frequently use back home and infinitely more detailed than what we had been relaying on for the first half of our trip.
Before departure, I spent a few minutes studying the three possible routes from Murud to Highway 17, the main coastal highway that heads down to Goa. By my estimation, we had about 20 miles of riding to reach the highway, which, even with the expected climbs, would get us to the highway by noon, then well down the road toward Goa by day’s end. Or so it seemed.
The route I picked had a pretty easy set of directions to follow…ride to a junction at a town called Roha, then turn right and go the junction town of Kolad, where the local road met the highway. For three hours we rode up pass after pass, enjoying fun downhills, but knowing that we were going to pay for it with another climb back up the other side.
Finally our road ended in a T that seemed—according to our map—to be the junction that we were looking for to get us to Kolad. Suspiciously though, also according to our map, that junction should be in Roha, but there was no town in sight. It wasn’t until five days later when I finally had internet access and was able to take a good look at the area on Google maps did I realize that we were on a different road from the beginning, one that does not appear on our map.
There was a weathered sign that seemed to indicate that Roha was two kilometers to our left, but the sign was only in Hindi so we weren’t 100% sure. There was a boy, about 12, walking along the highway and we asked him to confirm for us that Roha was indeed off to the left, which he smilingly did. Not realizing at the time that there was a problem, we happily followed his directions and made our anticipated right turn and headed now towards Kolad.
We rode cluelessly along the ridge for a while, then descended in a long, winding downhill that gave up all of the elevation that we had earned so dearly that morning. Still, estimating that we had about fifteen kilometers to the highway, it took us a fair amount of time to realize that we were lost.
By the time we did, we had consumed nearly all our water and had eaten most of the crackers, fruit and bars that we had stocked up on before launching that morning.
After climbing and descending for half the afternoon—one endless pass after another—we were asking locals for directions frequently, but we were baffled by their contradictory responses. I think there is a natural tendency to just plow ahead in the hopes that you will get back on track and that’s more-or-less what we did.
Finally, after riding along a huge lake that we just couldn’t place on our map, we came upon a massive bridge that was befitting to the national highway. As we approached we were certain that through some circuitous route we had accidentally managed to find our goal, Highway 17.
We were wrong.
As it turns out, at that point we were a mere ten miles from Murud—where we had started the day—having circled nearly all the way back to the coast.
We started putting the map in front of locals that we encountered, hoping that someone could show us our current location. No one could.
Out of desperation, we started reading off the names of every town in the area, with the assembled group of helpful locals often pointing in different directions with each town we struggled to pronounce.
Finally our helpers reached consensus that another junction town by the name of Indapur was across the big bridge and to the left. We shoved off again, but before we did we filled our water bottles with local water that we treated with Iodine tablets.
It was a good thing that we did because we spent the next three hours climbing more and more hills in the blazing afternoon sun. Just as we were about to use up the last of the local water and were looking for more, we arrived in a larger town where we were able to purchase bottled water and some bananas. We also finally got some solid directions and a sense of how far Indapur was. After resting a spell we were off again for a final hour-plus of riding to Indapur and the long-sought junction with Highway 17.
Arriving in Indapur, I was tempted to dramatically kiss the pavement of Highway 17, but instead I found some oranges and celebrated by eating a couple of those. Two miles down 17 we found a roadside hotel that welcomed us with a clean room and cold showers.
All told, we rode 72 miles that day in a ten hour period, over at least ten significant passes. For most of the trip we have been averaging about 11.5 mph, so you can tell how much climbing we did by our meager average speed of about 7 mph. We got lost at about 11AM, but didn’t really know it for more than a couple of hours. After that, the frustration mounted as we got increasingly confused and tired from the heat and exertion and the utter lack of progress with each successive climb and descent. Though many people tried to set us back on course, language barriers and a map that was simply wrong caused us to ride nearly 50 miles more than we should have.
So what’s it like to be lost while bike touring in India? I’ve had a week now to reflect upon the experience.
Fortunately our situation was never totally dire. Though we had absolutely no clue where we were for a fair amount of time, we were always on a road where we could have stopped a truck and paid the driver to get us to some town of our choosing. It might have been a challenging transaction, but one that could doubtlessly been accomplished with enough Rupees.
Also, because we were so excited to have access to western products at the supermarket in Mumbai (which we dubbed ‘Walmart’), we were well stocked with road snacks and other food. Even though we encountered no restaurants until we finally made it to Highway 17, I’m sure we could have negotiated a meal cooked in a home kitchen as a last resort.
And though we ran through our bottled water, we did start the day with extra and when we realized we were getting low we asked for some local water and we were carrying Iodine tablets to treat it.
So in other words, we were never in danger. But for someone who has probably never been truly lost before, with no sense of which way to go or turn, it was a very trying experience. I can read a map with the best of them—I even have a Boyscout Merit Badge to prove it—but I just couldn’t figure out where we went astray. I really dwelled on that for most of the afternoon and from time-to-time in the days after. It wasn’t until I was able to view a Google Map five days later and see with certainty that our map book was simply wrong that I realized that I didn’t make a mistake that my confidence was somewhat restored. Somewhat.
So, lost while bike touring in India? I don’t recommend it, but it’s nowhere near as bad as getting lost in the Sierra in winter!