Off on a Boat to India

We really wanted to cycle all the way to India and were seriously thinking about cycling through Pakistan from Iran. Concerns about instability in the region ( now even in the South) and of course the recent flooding made us wary. As one backpacker put it “the last thing they need is tourists.”

But what finally put pay to our cycling was the visa. During the summer Pakistan visas for all foreign nationals applying ouside of their home countries were cancelled, certainly for territories west of the border. Other people attempted sending their passport home by fedex to get the visa stamped in their own country. Indeed we met a German couple who tried to do this in Iran until they were told that it was illegal to post passports out of Iran. (And to be honest you don’t want to be caught without your passport in Iran).

So what to do? We didn’t want to cram  into one of those flying sardine tins. Not because we’re we’re holier than thou eco invaders but because it just didn’t feel right. We’ve come this far clinging to the circumference of the earth and we’ren’t yet ready to give up on gravity.

So Jet posted a note on a Dubai internet forum and asked for advice, any boats going to India? Well the  consensus seemed to be you could get a Dhow, one of the traditional wooden trading boats that flit across the Persian gulf, the same kind of sloop that Michael Palin took in his “Around the World in 80 days”. However Jen and I hung out on the docks for a bit having a gander, with the all crews  gazing down at these foreign strangers on bikes and didn’t feel so comfortable. Then the subsequent entries on the internet forum mentioned that a couple of overloaded dhows had overturned in Dubai harbour earlier in the year. This coupled with Dhow rustic living (ie wooden ring over the side of the boat for toilet) and the fact that Jen would be travelling with fifteen other men  neither of us knew for seven days in open sea and we decided no. I think this option would be realistic for a group of men travelling with a personally recommended crew (perhaps with a BBC Michael Palin vouchsafe) but it wasn’t for us.

So what to do? Jet had been in contact with an agent for an International Freighter shipping company who offer limited spaces on their cargo boats. These ships are the giant mammas that carry consumer boff round the world and look like oversized, well, um sardine tins.( But oversized sardine tines that travel over the surface of the waters). It seemed a bit touch and go and the shipping agents weren’t the most communicative of souls. But after tracking down a doctor willing to prove we were medically fit to travel on a boat without a doctor(cycling 8000 km wasn’t sufficient evidence) getting Yellow Fever Vaccinations, signing about 12 pieces of paper and sending them to Canada we were granted passage on one of these beasts. Oh yes and paying lots of money. You’d think this would be an economy way to travel but it ain’t cheap. Who cares we thought we’re gonna darn well get to India on a boat. The kind of container ship that scares  tiny wooden dhows senseless but at least we’ll have our own loo, and won’t be clinging to each other like wet flannels if the winds pick up.

We managed to get a 3 month India visa. The boat trip takes 6 days from tomorrow and gets us to Bombay. From there we cycle south to Goa and down to the Kerala backwaters and then, well then we figure out how to get back home…

j n j

x x

Nutroast Christmas dinner, Thanks Rachel!

Jet with one of his fleet of Dubai supercars...

GnT at a bar next to a beach that costs £100 a day to lie on. Worlds most expensive hotel in background. We ate the free peanuts and tiptoed away.



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11 responses to “Off on a Boat to India

  1. Jon

    good luck with last leg of trip – will keep you posted on GILLfest type plans
    Flo says Hi – she likes your yellow car
    cheers Jon

  2. Joe Med

    ‘Planet’ Dubai indeed! Well done! Well done! Wow! Off to your final planet! Although from what I hear it’s more of a collection of many very different planets!
    You guys are astounding! (I’m sure I’d have whimped out somewhere in France!) All is very wintery again in Briz. Thought we’d escaped it but suddenly the snow flakes fall once more! (if you listen you can just hear the gentle murmur of gardeners finding excuses to go back in doors) Enjoy your new planet explorations! Eagerly awaiting all the stories that come with it.
    A Happy, adventurous New Year to you both!…Legs eleven! Keep them astounding legs a-peddlin’ 😉

    ps. Keep meaning to update the Folk Tales audience on your adventure. Been a while since the last one. Was thinking of putting your blog url on next mail out but not sure how public you want it to be??

  3. forestschools

    Happy New Year Jen and Jet!

    Glad to hear you’re well and keep finding a path. Hope you get to rest and sup some tea on the boat. As Joe says above we’ve had a fab snowy festive period but is now a little bit brrr and grey, your pics are a lovely bit of sunshine. Ah nearly there! Enjoy x

  4. Proud Dad

    Thanks to Rachel, Gabi, Alistair and partner for looking after J and J. I hope the ukulele is tuneful.
    Hope Billy and Bertle have coped being second fiddle to a container ship! India you made it wahoo!! Looks like 30C and sunny although a couple of sites say smokey?
    Still got snow in the Rhondda!
    Mum and Dad

  5. Jet's Mum

    Phew! Well I am glad you made the cargo ship option.
    Love Mum

  6. Rachel

    Are you in India yet? Can’t wait for the next update!

  7. Katherine N

    Only wish I had been still in india to meet you….. X

  8. Your email didn’t work – I blame your handwriting! – so I’m sending this to you here:

    Hey Guys!

    I’m the guy you met coming off the container ship at Nhava Sheva.

    Well I had an awesome time on that freighter, reading, listening to
    podcasts, watching the ocean roll endlessly on by… Good food too.
    And yes, very meaty.

    Well I landed in Salalah, and the first thing that happened to me,
    after getting off the boat at 5am and riding 20 kms to the town, was
    having my bottom bracket disintegrate, forcing me to take the bus to
    Musqat where a decent bike shop fixed me up. I’m there now, heading
    to Dubai tomorrow – it should take me about a week I reckon. I’ve
    seen tons of cycle tourists plying the roads out here – it’s almost
    old hat.

    I found a GAP tshirt in your cabin which I have now appropriated to
    great effect – it’s a little long but gives me an almost Arabian look
    that sticks out in colour contract from my surroundings.

    Thanks also for the books – White Tiger and Seneca – the latter I’m
    ploughing through handily, absorbing the undying wisdom of the old
    bald guy. I feel like I’m cheating because I used to translate some
    of these passages from Latin back at uni.

    That movie Darjeeling Lmt was pretty cool too, although seemed to be
    set in some fictional country in no way related to India.

    I hope your tour’s going well and your spending some solid time on the
    beach. How have those river crossings been treating you?

    You can facebook me: Felix Dance
    Check out my blog:
    or my Flickr page: (I can’t remember the URL, but search for Felix Dance).

    Hope you’re having a good one – it’s great to have met you, although
    ever so briefly. We’ll have to meet up for a beer to recompense you
    for money and various items (oh, and I got some UAE coins out of your


    Felix Dance.

  9. Pip

    You guys freaking rock. Me and Bikey have been reading with increasing fascination and envy about your adventures. Although every time you mention ‘India’ or ‘visa’, Bikey kicks me in the shin with a pedal, wistfully shakes his handlebars and tuts. Bon chance, mes amis. x

    • Pip,

      We remember sitting in a canal boat outside the scout hut when we were handed “Full Tilt”. Dervla and Pip gave the bikes a push for us and here we are. Maybe we cycled the last bit to India with Monsieur Pip at our side on a whistling bikey. Not sure we’d be here without them.


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