I saw an elephant! Once packed up and ready to go I wheeled my bike down the busy road looking for breakfast options. I chose a place busy with locals and got a plateful of mini chappatis, with curry and tea for 30r (AU$0.60). It was so tasty and cheap that I got a second set. This fuelled me through the morning, including the moment I came across an elephant. Ridden by two men, its face was decoratively painted and it looked in good condition (as far as my untrained eye could tell).

I pushed on until I reached the Ghaghara River. I started riding across the bridge but on looking back to the northern riverside, I decided to turn back and have a look around. A series of grand-looking white arches lined the river and below these were steps leading down to the water’s edge where people were washing clothes and bathing. Set back from the river was a 19m tall statue of Lord Shiva. Lining the street were various food carts. I picked one and had two serves of a samosa/curry dish. The samosa was cut open and squished flat before being drowned in a daal curry and topped with a sprinkling of onion and chilli. Awesome! I have now learned the place is called Mukti-Path.

Elephant!

Once over the other side of the river I stopped again at a samosa stall for a little more food. Just as I was leaving an Indian man with bright blue eyes started talking to me and invited me for a tea. I could understand the odd English word but otherwise had no idea what he was saying. He was telling me something about being trained in using plants as medicine. He collected the tea cups and place them before us, then he asked me to hand him the cup that was placed before me and offer it to him like a gift. I couldn’t help but think of warnings I’d had about accepting tea from strangers. I’d heard twice about foreigners being drugged and all their stuff stolen. I drank the tea and was fine.

I turned southwest towards Azamgarh. Some of the route was nice bitumen, a lot was bad bitumen, and bits of it were dirt. Preliminary work was underway to widen and resurface the road. I finally worked this out after seeing hundreds of tree stumps being attacked with axes both yesterday and today. I realised the first step to widening the road is to cut down all the trees in the way. The trees have been cut and stumps left in the ground. The stumps comprise wood that can be used for fuel, so villagers are out chopping pieces from the stumps bit by bit. The landscape slowly became more rural with village life in easy view, making for a more pleasant ride. Again, everyone was friendly and welcoming.

Mukti-Path

Finding a place to sleep in Azamgarh proved challenging. I asked some locals where I could find a hotel but they either couldn’t speak English or didn’t know. I eventually came across one but they said they had no rooms. I resumed my search and further down the main road I stopped to chat to a guy who’d sparked up a conversation. I’d stopped a few times by this point when someone wanted to talk with me, but this was the first time that someone spoke English. He told me the way to another hotel and after following his directions and finding it, he appeared again. He spoke to the hotel on my behalf, pretending I was a friend of his, but this hotel also had no rooms. We were in an area with a few hotels, but two more we tried were also full. The manager of the last one we visited gave some answers as to why, explaining it was election time so the hotels were filled with people from the surrounding region. He also said this is why police presence was so high. I had noticed a lot of police throughout the day, but hadn’t known what normal levels were. He said he’d call the big hotel in the city and see if they had rooms. This must have been an international-standard hotel because he told me they could give me a discounted room for an astronomical 1,600r (AU$31).

There was only one hotel left that we hadn’t checked out, my new friend saying “it’s too cheap, not good for you”. It’s hard to convince locals that my standards are low and that cheap is a very good thing for me. The hotel was managed by ‘Uncle G’. Uncle G wanted to check my ID before talking about rooms. Other hotels had done the same thing and I got the impression that they want to see what country I am from before deciding whether or not to help me. Luckily I’m Australian and Indians love Australia because of cricket. He still seemed to um and ah about whether or not to let me stay, even asking for an Indian ID. In the end he said yes and I got a room for 350r (AU$6.85). I received a really warm welcome by the group of kids (young teenagers) who help out/work here/live here(?) The room is actually really nice: freshly painted, clean sheets, spotless bathroom, lukewarm water. I faced a barrage of selfies with the kids before I said I really needed to rest and was left alone. After a refreshing shower, I asked if the hotel did food. The kids told  me I could order food and they’d go and get it. I handed over 100r (AU$1.95) and told them to get any vegetarian meal they thought I might like. About 15 minutes later I was delivered an amazing meal: four chappatis, rice, two vegetable curries, daal, spiced egg and an omelette. Plus change! When I said the kids could keep the change, the two older boys encouraged me to give it to the youngest of the trio, who they called the ‘servant boy’. I had to formally accept the chance, then hand it back over to the boy. I ate the meal while watching a western music channel on TV.

I have just been outside to send my family a SPOT message to let them know I am fine. Having attracted the attention of the kids again, I hung out with them for a while. I learned that they are brothers and cousins belonging to two families who own the hotel. The ‘servant boy’ is from a nearby village who they have taken under their wing to ensure he gets two good meals a day and can stay away from bad influences.

Accommodation $ Hotel
Distance ridden today 114.88km
Average cycling speed 15.7kph
Total distance ridden 16,846km