The die is cast. My friend Partha and I have been talking for a while of riding together somewhere in Malaysia. A couple of days ago Partha bought his ticket to Kuala Lumpur from Bangalore, where he lives. Yesterday, I bought my own ticket on an overnight sleeper train, for later this coming week.
We are thinking of riding from Kuala Lumpur (or KL, as everyone around here calls it) to Penang further north. We need to be averaging seventy to eighty kilometers per day if the ride is going to work out the way we have planned it. So, in some sort of dry (and it turned out anything but that) run for that ride, I decided that I would cycle from NTU to Woodlands, where the train station is, buy my ticket to KL, and cycle back. By my map, the ride should have been a total of roughly forty-five kilometers.
I set out from NTU along Jalan Bahar and Lim Chu Kang road. As I have mentioned before, the rest of the island is all skyscrapers, but here on the western edge of the island, there are still forests to be found everywhere. The ride along Lim Chu Kang road was in particular really beautiful. Here is the sort of scenery I was riding through:
Why it had wanted to cross the road I don’t know, but the poor thing had evidently died trying, victim to some motorist who would not even have known that their steel behemoth had squashed some creature. Now I don’t know much about snakes, so I could not ascertain its make, model, and vehicle identification number, but I knew just enough about wildlife to know that if there was one snake there, albeit dead, there could be several others hiding in the grass as well. So I did not linger. I took my picture, hissed amicably into the air to reassure the local serpent population that I meant well, and pedaled along.
Ah the joys of getting lost while bicycling! At some point I was supposed to make a right, but I was enjoying the ride and the scenery so much that I forgot about this right turn. So imagine my surprise when I suddenly saw a large body of water ahead. On riding up closer, I realized what had happened. Thanks to my forgetting to make that right, I had ended up on the northern coast of Singapore, along Johor Strait. That is Malaysia that you see on the other side of the water body:
Many years ago I had heard from someone in JB (as Johor Bahru, the town in Malaysia across the strait, is known here) that Singapore has built an electric fence at key spots along its coast to discourage immigrants from Malaysia and other places from simply swimming over. I was not certain that this was true, but I looked around anyway for signs that would point to the existence of such a fence. I did not find any. I instead found the sign that you see on the photograph above, of which a closeup follows:
AIEEEEE! I think I would prefer being electrocuted any day over becoming some croc’s leisurely meal.
I turned back and looked for my right (now left) turn. I made several false turns before I found the correct one. In the process, I got an unintended tour of Singapore’s farming country. Yes, there still is some agriculture in Singapore, and it is all concentrated here, in the north-west part of the island. I rode past signs that pointed to goat dairies, frog farms, and vegetable farms. At one farm house where I stopped to get directions, the folks were really friendly and helpful. When they realized they couldn’t help me find my turn, they went in and fetched the lady of the house, who told me to go back the way I came and make three left turns. This seemed counter-intuitive to me and I was sure she was wrong. But I thought it would be extremely ungracious and uncharitable of me to ignore their advice and ride on in the direction I had been heading. So I turned back, making sure they’d see me taking their advice, and made those three left turns that lady had suggested. What do you know! She was totally right: I found my missing path!
(The following day, along with my friends Shantha and Ravi and their daughter Supriya, who are from LA but now live on the NTU campus, I went back to this area—in their car, not by bike—to visit an interesting farm called Bollywood Veggies. It is run by a very colorful personality: a half-Indian half-Chinese woman called Ivy Singh-Lim, who likes others to see her as a warrior, in the style of her Rajput ancestors. It is a lovely farm that is set up to reacquaint urbanites with nature: there must be over a hundred different varieties of plants and trees there, bearing every kind of tropical fruit or nut or spice or edible leaf that you can think of. For a tiny fee, one can spend hours wandering around, examining this amazing bio-diversity. The icing on the cake—a foodie would think of this as the cake of course—is a restaurant located in the farm, that offers delicious dishes from fresh produce and fruits harvested from that very farm.)
After I found my way to Woodlands and bought my train ticket, it started to pour intensely. I stopped at a nearby hawkers’ stall to take cover and get a small snack, when I ran into a couple of local cyclists. We started to chat, and ended up having a great time together! Both had done some long distance rides. One of them in particular had gone all around Taiwan, in a ride sponsored by the bicycle company Giant. On another trip, he had gone around Bintan Island in Indonesia (not too far from Singapore—this gave me an idea for some riding next time myself!). They told me of other nice rides in the south-eastern part of Malaysia that they go on, which are quite accessible from Singapore. Here is a picture of my new buddies:
It rained during most of my ride back, although not as heavily as at Woodlands. I had my rain jacket on, but all the same, I and my Bike Friday got quite wet. When I got home, my trip meter showed me I had covered fifty-two kilometers in about two and a half hours of actual riding (although, I had been away from my room for over four hours.) It took me nearly half an hour to wash my bike and myself, but I pronounced myself quite satisfied with the day’s adventures.
The day before was Prabha’s and my wedding anniversary. Seventeen years together in the saddle (plus two more in training). Over cross-planetary phone calls, we promised each other another thirty years. Wedded bliss is real.