Having established that the paper maps are very limited I have been thinking about how to use free online mapping.
Google maps might seem an obvious choiceThe , they are usually adopted by cyclists to publish routes. As well as good (ish) route planning tools they contain a lot of detailed information, including details of sites and businesses added by users. At first glance the Google mapping of Kerala is much more comprehensive than the paper maps, showing a lot of minor roads and tracks and many small towns.
Another advantage of Google is that you can download “offline” copies of their maps for up to a month’s use when you don’t have easy access to the internet. That will be very useful as I can carry a copy on my cheap Android smartphone. Even though the phone will not be connected to a network in India, the combination of Google maps and the phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) will provide us with a way to find out where we are.
But you can’t beat a paper map and I felt I had to be able to print out an “Atlas” for the trip which is where it all became more interesting. Google maps are neither attractively presented nor very easy to read, especially when printed. So I started looking around for alternatives.
Microsoft’s Bing maps were an obvious choice since their UK mapping is really good, using much better original material than their competitors including Ordnance Survey maps. However in India, outside the cities, Bing is not much help as it only provides very minimal information, just a few main roads.
Open Streetmap is similar. I’m a big fan of the Open Streetmap project to build a free world map from the information collected by ordinary people, and in well-populated technically advanced areas, particularly in Europe, it provides a good level of detail. But in India it’s minimal.
Yahoo Maps does provide some benefits as an occasional alternative to Google (Incidentally that link I have provided is to the Yahoo UK maps site but the actual map is for the whole world). The advantages are that it shows more small towns than Google, in some areas at least, although not as many roads and some quite significant roads are missing. The main advantage however is good design for legibility and reading comfort. Here are some samples to show the comparison:
Yahoo Map of Munnar area
Only the most important roads but very clearly shown, good clear type and outlined roads rather than just a coloured line. A few more small towns/villages than Google although, as usual, some of the locations are suspect. For example Baisonvally in the centre of the map sounds suspiciously like Bison Valley, which Google shows some way to the south.
Google Map of Munnar Area
As well as the Bison Valley confusion you may notice that the two maps have Pooppara in different locations and I’m pretty sure, from cyclists journals and blogs, that Google is correct. Google also has more roads but Yahoo is definitely easier to read.
Yahoo Map of Munnar Centre
Zooming in for some urban detail, Yahoo shows an extensive network of roads within the town (other towns are similar) but very little other information.
Google Map of Munnar Centre
Google does not have the streets but it does have a lot more local information in street names and local points of interest. As you zoom in on Google you get a lot more of that information, a lot of it with clickable links.
So it’s clear that I need to use both but I think I’ll start with Yahoo for a printable map that I can annotate. I’ve started by screen-grabbing “tiles” of the Yahoo map to make my own map of the central section of Kerala as a giant .jpg image. I’ll probably cut and past sections from that into Powerpoint where I can add text and graphics and print it or export it as a .pdf
Incidentally, for both types of map I found that reducing brightness (from 50% to 35%) and increasing contrast (from 50% to 70%) make a huge difference to legibility when printed. Those numbers work in the Powerpoint “format picture” dialogue.
I’ll come back to this later as there are a number of aspects of route planning, route recording and using maps that need more thought.
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