If I had more energy, I would have dashed over to Kumbhlogarh Castle before it closed and tried to rush tour the huge fort. But instead I’m clean and sitting on a lovely balcony at the hotel overlooking a beautiful mountain valley sipping my lassi (yogurt drink – fast replacing the much touted milk shake on 2009 Across America ride). It was a wonderful but challenging 100k ride today.
We left Ft. Dahmli just after sunrise and road the first 60k through the desert. The desert landscape is beautiful – though it looks like tough living. There are some irrigated fields and you see shocks of brilliant green plants- chickpeas are plentiful around here – and more blooming mustard (they press the seeds for oil in the winter.) But next to it is true desert: tan sand with occasional trees and large cactus that reach up 5 or 6 feet tall with 10 or 12 square fingers.
You can see here – and other places the last few days of riding – efforts at tree conservation. I was told this so haven’t researched it personally – but will pass it on. Feel free to correct it. De-forestation is a big problem in India due to clearing land for agriculture and as people use wood for cooking. We have passed many women pulling branches down from live trees using long hooks, and even an old man 30 feet in a tree with a saw cutting down branches. You regularly see women and some men carrying huge loads of tree limbs bundled together on their heads as they carry it for kilometers back to their homes. That work must take hours every week.
And it clearly has a devastating impact on the trees. There are large stretches of barren land. A common sight is trees that have been left standing but all the branches are cut from them. I was told this was actually an improvement from the past due to a law that was passed that made it illegal to cut down trees – by just cutting the branches the tree survives to grow more.
We also are seeing circular wells with a raised center next to roads. These have trees planted in them, and the baby trees are protected by brambles to keep cows and other critters from eating them. Most look empty; some you can see a little tree alive in there. The moat around it must be meant to collect water and make it harder to reach by animals. They are planted as a tree line, I think.
I assume these are both efforts to address deforestation … though that will take a lot more to fix.
As we kept pedaling the Aravalli Hills started to appear in the distance. As we got closer we reached the foothills – isolated reddish-brown slick rocks closed in to a valley. They look like ancient mountains – and Sandeep who helps explain India to us tells us it’s one of the oldest mountains ranges in the world. They look the part – worn with rounded tops and loose rock and balding spots. The mountains are still desert and covered by loose groupings of trees and shrubs and cactus.
After lunch in a valley – where our van driver armed himself with rocks and fought a valiant battle to keep a troop of hungry, aggressive monkeys at bay – we pedaled into the mountains. The description of the ride said “some climbing”. Ilike to climb, but I have to say that was a pretty significant climb. We ended up 1000meters higher than we started with lots of ups and downs in between- I didn’t bring my Garminso don’t know elevation gain for sure.
But the ride was beautiful. One good thing about crawling up mountain passes on a bike is you have plenty of time to look around. Gorgeous country – mountains, valleys, yellow blooming cactus and other blooming shrubs. Biking through villages was also a good time to see people out doing laundry, making pots, cooking and irrigating their fields.
Back in the lowlands houses were made of mud, dung or straw on the farms. Fences were made of bramble brush or occasionally huge vertical stone slabs. Here in the mountains we see the transition to building from what’s available- houses of rocks – sometimes filled with mud. Fences are long rows piled up square stones.
Irrigation was especially interesting – I’ve been wondering how they get water into desert fields to grow such lush green. Saw three types of irrigation today. A couple were diesel pumps that pulled water out of well or river into green plastic hoses and pumped it into some sort of distribution system.
More interesting were the ancient systems that you can imagine being in place a few hundred years ago. I saw one system where an ox was hooked up and walking in a circle rotating a waterwheel that picked up water in small buckets and dumped it into a trough. A little old man was sitting behind the ox. The trough led to a system of channels through the fields.
More entertaining but less efficient was two ox hooked up to a pulley. The pulley was connected to an enormous bucket in a well. An old man sat behind the ox and drove them down a narrow chute – pulling the water which drained into a series troughs. Then he had to back the oxen back up the ramp to lower the bucket and do it again. All this was accompanied by a lot of yelling and commands at the oxen thatdon’t seem to walk backward very easily.
Tomorrow we go to Udaipur where hopefully there will be internet for the first time in several days.