Monday 27 January 2014

Ubiquitous India : No 3 - The Hercules Bicycle

Where would everyday Indian Man be without his bicycle? Sturdy, reliable and with an eternally long life, the Hercules bicycle is as much a packhorse as it is a convenient mode of transport.

The unchanging simplicity of design makes the Indian Bicycle a 'classic'.
You won't find a working class man riding racers, BMXs or mountain bikes in India. For them, the bike is ridden out of necessity and very rarely as a pastime. In fact, I think I have only ever seen one person wearing Tour de France lycra sports clothing, pedalling a bike for fun. But then you would probably be taking your life into your own hands, if you chose to cycle as a hobby in this city!

"Cycle is a poor man’s transport, hobby of rich man 

and medical activity for the old"

The Hercules Bicycle is so sturdy and reliable - that it is the workhorse of Mumbai's Dobi and Dabba Wallahs and all manner of delivery men.  I love the way that it is also used - through a clever modification to the pedals - as a mobile knife sharpening station. In the city, it is the Lamborghini of the working classes - enabling their riders to zoom past the static traffic of Mumbai's choked up streets. In rural India, the trusty bicycle enables village dwellers to go from village to farm and from the fields to home.

The packhorse (tiffin deliveries)
I've been all over the country, and it seems that the standard bicycle model is roughly the same. It has an old fashioned (nay, 'classic') shape with an economy of design that has not changed in decades (much like India's favourite taxis - the Hindustan Ambassador or Premier Padmini). From my pictures, you will notice that these bicycles can carry huge weights - probably because of their reinforced stays and double crossbars.  Due to the ubiquity of such cycles, roadside bicycle repairing is a 'profession' in itself and punchars can be easily seen to. Most of the bikes you see on the roads must have been repaired countless times, kept in families for decades or resold down the line on many occasions. You can probably pick one up for a few hundred rupees. 

So what is the story behind the Hercules brand? (Hang on a minute whilst I get serious).

The Hercules Cycle & Motor Company

The Hercules Cycle and Motor Company Limited was a British bicycle manufacturer founded in 1910 by Edmund and Harry Crane in Birmingham. The name Hercules was chosen to signify 'durability and robustness'. At first, Harry assembled the bikes whilst Ted cycled around Birmingham for parts. They went from making 25 to 70 bicycles a week within six months and from there on in, expanded exponentially. By 1914, they were producing 10,000 bikes a week, occupying a 13 acre site in Aston. 

The brothers exported a large proportion of their production and by the time Sir Malcolm Campbell was invited to see the three millionth bicycle roll off the line in 1933, over half was being sent overseas - earning them £6m and the congratulations of the King.  By the end of the 1930s, Hercules had already produced more than six million bicycles and could claim to be the biggest manufacturer of cycles in the world.

Sir Edmund Crane ("The Bicycle King") in the 1930s outside his home with a classic
Hercules bicycle - you can see that the design has not changed in all these years!
Tube Investments
In 1946, the Cranes sold Hercules to Tube Investments for a mere £3.25m who then combined it with its other brands (including Phillips Cycles, Sun, Armstrong and Norman) to form the British Cycle Corporation subsidiary. Tube Investments (itself registered in 1919) had previously been the main supplier to Hercules - providing the tubing from which the bicycle frames were made.  But apparently by then, Hercules had lost its understanding of the racing bicycle market - manufacturing its handlebars in steel when lighter alloys had become the fashion.  Plus their bikes only had five gears when ten was the norm.  
In 1960, Tube Investments also acquired Raleigh and merged the British Cycle Corporation with Raleigh to form TI-Raleigh which had 75% of the UK market. Raleigh itself had already acquired the BSA cycle division from BSA (The Birmingham Small Arms Company) in 1957. Sadly, the last bicycles displaying the Hercules name were produced by the Raleigh Factory until the name was eventually allowed to die in around 1963.

Tube Investments Comes to India
But before the brand died out in the UK, TI Cycles of India was established by the Murugappa Group in 1949 in partnership with Tube Investments of the UK.  It had been the vision of AMM Murugappa Chettiar to start a business that would manufacture a product 'for the common man' which they could sell in large numbers. Cycles seemed to fit the bill. The first Hercules bicycles rolled out in 1951 (then the Phillips brand in 1959 and BSA in 1964). Today, TI Cycles has the capacity to manufacture 5.4m bikes a year at three plants across India (Chennai, Nasik and Noida). During the 70s and 80s TI-UK divested from the Indian company - so that today TI Cycles is a 100% Indian owned company (but one with 'a global outlook').  The names BSA and Hercules live on today in India as trusted and reliable brands and that is what you see on the roads on a daily basis. They have even branched out their range of products to include mountain terrain and electric bicycles (see the BSAHercules website here). 
So there you have it - the history of Indian's best loved bicycle in a (not so) nutshell!

An old advertising poster (but not ridden by Indians!)

This newer model has been jazzed up by its Dabbawallah owner

Above & Below: It's amazing what you can get on the back of a Hercules!

A cracking balancing act!

Worli Fishing Village
'Classic' (Carter Road, Bandra)
In Kollam, Kerala
Between Trivandrum and Kollam, Kerala.
Farm workers park up their Hercules bikes in Aarey Milk Colony
In Bandra
Perfectly balanced
In Bangalore. I think this might be a bicycle manufactured by Hero - a brand originating in India (see here)

Demonstrating the environmentally friendly bicycle at the 2013 Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
Note: The bicycle is so ubiquitous that I did not go out of my way to take these photos - they are all from my archives.

Friday 24 January 2014

Another Fishy Tale (Khar Danda Market)

We recently had some guests staying and instead of taking them to see some 'normal' tourist sights, we thought that they would just love to see our local Koli fishing village on Carter Road. It was on this outing that we found a proper covered fish market - which I have to admit, I never previously knew about.

Unbelievable to see egrets hanging around inside the fishmarket, waiting for scraps

On the nearby seafront - up from Carter Road is the Koli fishing area (I am now officially the best friend of the Koli Fisher Folk having been here and here!) - where not only can you find Koli inhabitants but also a large tract of land for drying out fish. Sometimes, when the breeze is just right, a heady mixture of fishy fragrance and fresh sewerage wafts over as far as our apartment building.  I call it 'Eau-de-Mumbai'. Lovely.

A short distance away from the drying grounds and towards Chuim Village is the actual (and newly discovered) covered seafood market. Here, you will find the Koli Fishwives sat cross-legged on waist level platforms selling their produce to the locals out of brightly coloured plastic baskets.  

Of course, these types of places are always a vibrant representation of Mumbai life and a great place to take photos. Our guests seemed to enjoy the experience - and unlike the fishwives of Sassoon Docks, these ladies did not mind (too much) having their photographs taken. They even obliged us with a few smiles:

Impromptu clothes-line (Koli dwellings in the background)

Drying out fish (not sure which type?) on horizontal rods.

Sorting through shrimps and other small fry. 
This is how the small fish are dried - spread out over a dusty floor!  Peculiarly, I did not see
birds or cats trying to steal the produce.

Off to meet their makers (sorry, not a photo that will appeal to animal rights activists)
Hello pretty lady!

Surely the temptation is too much for this pussy cat!

Mega-succulent prawns

I love the colourful saris of the Koli Fishwives

Fish is skinned, boned and gutted for the buyer if so desired...

Hello, what a lovely smile!

In awe of seeing egrets indoors like this

Slippery When Wet

Opposite the fishmarket we found a man who looks after injured kites -
these guys were lined up on a wall outside his shop.

This poor Brahminy Kite has seen better days...but at least he is receiving some food and love
from this kindly gentleman (whose pic I sadly did not get)
I tried to find out some official information about the market on the internet but found very little indeed. However, I did discover that 'Khar' comes from the Marathi word 'khara' which means 'salty'.  When Bombay was nothing but a series of islands, the Khar area was in fact a marshland on salty sea water. Interesting huh!

Thursday 23 January 2014

A Spotted Leopard or a Leopard Spotted?

Mr Jules and I have been off on safari again! This time on another Toehold Wildlife & Photography tour to Kabini in Nagarhole National Park (Karnataka).  The trip was short but sweet and bit-by-bit, I was able to improve on the skills learnt on the last photography tour to Tadoba.  

The experience with Toehold was again, brilliant. Everything was perfectly executed. We stayed in simple tented accommodation (great fun!) at Kabini River Lodge - a government owned property which meant that all safaris into the park went directly from there (even for other people who were staying at nearby Orange County and Serai safari lodges).  All the paperwork was sorted out for us - and as Indian-tax-paying expats, Toehold even managed to get us in on Indian rates (about half the price of 'Foreigner' prices).

Crested Serpent Eagle at the foot of a tree

In all, we had four safaris (including one by boat on the Kabini Lake) which was perfect for our long weekend away. Again, because everything was organised by Toehold, there were only six of us in each of the spacious jeeps. I noticed that some of the other guests at the Lodge were being carted around in small bus-type vehicles (which was mostly OK as they were not wielding big lenses like us photographers).

We were primarily here in the hope of spotting a leopard - the chances are usually quite high in Kabini, especially as the leopards like to hang out in the tops of trees at this particular Reserve. But sadly, we were unlucky this time. However, we did have two sightings of a tiger...and the likelihood of that happening was minimal! Unfortunately I only managed to get a 'record' shot due to its fleeting appearance by the side of the road.  We were sooooo pleased to see him though.

Here is a selection of photos - I hired a Nikkor 80-400mm VR lens for my Nikon D7000 from Toehold.  I got quite a lot of blur from not holding it steady but it was a great experience to handle a more powerful lens. I will try the 500mm next time.  We did see a lot of other wildlife other than recorded below - Vultures, Gaur, Malabar Giant Squirrels, Mongoose, a White Bellied Sea-Eagle, and loads of birds - over 100 species as counted by Mr Jules!

The same eagle now sitting on a branch
I'm not keen on macaques but this baby one is quite cute (Bonnet Macaque)
Black Faced Langur

Black Faced Langur with tiny baby
A gaur (bovine) crosses the road...this pic is to show the beauty of the Kabini jungle in the early morning light.

Spotted stag

This one with his tongue out

Above & Below: exciting moment as a family of elephants cross the road and walk into the woods.

Streak-throated woodpecker - one of my favourite shots of the weekend
Large Cuckooshrike (heavily cropped, it was a bit far off for my 400mm zoom).

Attempting to get a perfect ring of light...but not quite there

Sambar Stag

Red-wattled Lapwing

OK, the composition is nothing to get over-excited about! However, it was thanks to our skipper Jayanth Sharma that we had the opportunity of seeing this wonderful creature.  Over the engine noise of the jeep, he was able to make out the piercing cries of a Jungle Fowl in the bushes and asked the driver to stop the jeep and wait.  We sat there for several minutes listening for further clues until we heard the warning 'hoot' of a chittal in the distance.  We rolled the jeep back up to a junction in the tracks and looked in all directions.  After ten minutes of patiently waiting in silence, Mr Jules was the first to spot the tiger out of the corner of his eye, exclaiming 'tiger tiger!' That's when I took the shot above. We then sped off in the direction of the sighting which unfortunately made the cat go back into the bushes.  So we stopped to listen and watch for more activity.  Ten minutes later we were rewarded when the tiger stepped out of the bush again (shown below).  Unfortunately - unlike the cats we saw at Tadoba, he was of a more nervous disposition and quickly crept back into the bush.  But what a treat to see him at all!
His second appearance a few minutes later.

Tree planted by Goldie Hawn "Holly Wood Actress"

One of the safaris was a river-boat trip - the following shots were taken from the lake.

It was amazing to see these smooth-coated otters - the first time they had been spotted on the lake in three months!

Chomping on a bit of fish, this otter has blood all around his mouth.

Not in focus due to the boat bobbing around but still pleased to get a shot of him holding his catch

Grey Heron

Cormorant (boooooring!)

 Cormorant hanging out to dry

Osprey on his perch in the middle of the lake - all the way from Scotland apparently!
Osprey spots something in the water.....
 I was amazed to find afterwards that I'd actually captured this Osprey flying! 

Cormorant Silhouette (thanks to the artistic input of Santosh, one of our skippers)

Peacock and his fuzzy reflection
Second Osprey I captured on the lake
Next time, I would love to get a shot of an Osprey plucking his dinner out of the water - the background sky is so uninteresting in this picture.

Painted Stork on a stack of old bamboo

Darter hanging himself out to dry (spotted deer in the background)

Cormorant in nest - wish I could have got a good closeup of the baby with its mouth wide open

Yellow-footed pigeon coming in to land.

On the way back to the airport, we stopped by Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in Mysore (Srirangapatna). Unfortunately I'd handed back the lovely Nikkor 80-400mm lens by then so the pictures below were taken with my kit lens and cropped afterwards.  Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary was quite something - the tops of the trees were jam-packed with Pelicans and Storks.  We took a little boat trip around the lake and experienced Painted Storks and the Pelicans zooming in low to land on the water beside us.  Mr Jules was in his twitching element! 

Spot-billed Pelican
Mugger Crocodile

Blurred Painted Stork

Baby crocodile...cuuuuute!

Open Billed Stork.

We travelled with:
Toehold Travel & Photography Pvt. Ltd.
#359, 2nd Floor, 16th Main, 4th T Block, Jayanagar,
Bangalore-560041, India.
Fax: +91-80-22443211

+91 80 22442211

Information about Kabini/Nagarhole:

Nagarhole National Park, also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park, is located near Mysore in Karnataka, India. It was once an exclusive hunting ground for the rulers of Mysore. In 1955, Nagarhole was set up as a wildlife sanctuary and later its area was increased to 643.39 sq km. It became a national park in 1988 and ten years later, in 1999, it was declared a Project Tiger reserve. Nagarhole National Park is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and is under consideration from USESCO to be declared a World Heritage Site. The Park is most famous for its tigers, Indian bison, and elephants. Nagarhole National Park is located 94kms away from Mysore, Karnataka in south India. The Park lies between the Kodagu and Mysore districts to the northwest of Bandipur National Park, with the Kabini reservoir separating the two Parks. Nagarhole has small streams, rich forest cover, valleys, and waterfalls. It also contains an abundance of vegetation. Along with the adjoining Bandipur National Park, Mudumalai National Park, and Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Nagarhole National Park is part of the largest protected area in southern India, about 2,183 sq km of wilderness.