Harrogate to India cycle: Lost passports and starring on TV

Tom Cartledge (left) and Rhys James
Tom Cartledge (left) and Rhys James

Harrogate friends Tom Cartledge and Rhys James set out from Hookstone Drive in March, aiming to cycle from Harrogate to India.

They are raising money for charities The Railway Children and St Michael’s Hospice.

The Harrogate Advertiser is keeping up-to-date with their progress. This month, the pair are robbed of their passports, and star in a Georgian TV advert.

We have been in Georgia for nearly one month and have not found life easy at all. There has definitely been an assortment of emotions and very peculiar occurrences.

After days and days of excited cycling with extraordinary mountain views on the horizon we eventually reached the northern city of Zugdidi.

This was our proposed crossing point into Abkhazia which essentially is an autonomous area of Georgia.

Georgians are not allowed into this region due to the war in the 90s but we were interested in seeing the natural beauty and interested in ghost towns that were left behind.

However, while there, our possessions and passports were stolen.

My first instinct was to turn and run in the direction of the criminal.

After tracing where I thought he had placed his steps just a minute before there was no sign of him. In a frantic panic we asked shop owners to call the police but with no success.

Another long day had delivered us to this moment: interviews and statements which never seemed to end. Conversations and documents were interpreted through our already exhausted ‘English teacher translator’.

This initial experience passed with us clarifying exactly what had befallen, where we had cycled from (to their astonishment), and then what had been pilfered, how one could distinguish certain goods, and to their shock how much the items actually cost. This process occurred until maybe 1 AM when finally we were given the option of camping next to a fountain on the compound, which was guarded by armed army personnel at all times, or having a discounted guest house.

Plans were made for us to travel by night train to Tbilisi to alert the embassy of the loss of our documents and theft of our goods but ten miuntes before leaving for the train the Police Stations undercover team marched into the office with our belongings but no passports.

Spirits of victory emanated from every corner of the department. 5 minutes later two water damaged passports also arrived in another car. We were overjoyed and couldn’t actually believe the situation which now presented itself to us. We were more than humbled by the hard work of the Zugdidi Police Department and by the hospitality that they had forwarded in our direction.

The balk of our trip to the northern mountains and Abkhazia was a tremendous annoyance. Not only did we have to spend three days feeling very much like we were fictional characters in one of the most bizarre Georgian TV Police dramas, it actually began to feel like we were under constant observation and possible witness protection/house arrest, but in the end everything luckily turned out ok. Who says traveling is ever easy?

On finally arriving in Tbilisi we have checked into an old bordello hostel which amazingly offers a bed, coffee, tea, wine and an evening meal for the grand cost of four pounds a night. We only wanted to forget about the ‘recent past’ of Zugdidi and so contacted various local people to meet up with and take our minds off of the Georgian cowboys. Funnily enough one close contact called Khatia whom now has become a good friend managed to find me a job as a cowboy, staring in a Georgian beer commercial.

Georgia has been a collection of amazing views, interesting people and a world of colliding emotions. We still have so much to see and experience of this interesting country. Mountain hiking, Soviet museums, code breaking of the Georgian script, interviews and much more all provide an idea of the month ahead.

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