With only a few days left in India, I feel very double about leaving. It is easy to love this country, but it can also be a bit much at times.
To give an idea how a cycling day could look like, here a summary 🙂
In the morning we try to wake up at 4.30 or 5 o’clock to avoid the hottest times of the day. Sometimes it was 47 degrees in the shadow, and we were riding in the sun! First mission in the morning is the toilet. India’s food has a magical influence on our bellies, so you never know what’s going to happen after waking up. By now we are experts in talking about poo. Royal shit, runny shit, cow pat, goat style or just sometimes ‘OK’.
After our breakfast; yogurt and lots of yummy mangoes, we start cycling around 6 AM. We are cycling through the north and north west of India. It has many very poor areas and the extreme temperatures causes droughts which makes it hard for people to find water. We drive through desert landscapes, cities and small towns full of dust and cities built around oases.
At 6 the sun is just up and on the side of the road people are brushing their teeth while watching the traffic. You see them everywhere, it is clearly not something you do in front of a sink.
Water is scarce and that makes that some people search for a place to go for a poo far from their house, so they don’t have to flush anything down. People often cross the street in front of us to go for a shit, carrying a bottle of water to clean their bums. You see them squat in the funniest places. Kids get to squat a bit closer to home, preferably next to the road, sometimes with a piece of newspaper to poo on.
Women and children walk long ways to get water from the nearest source. The women have gorgeously coloured sarees, a dress that consists of many meters of carefully plaited fabric. They carry the water on their heads in big jerry cans or metal bowls. Average 20 liters!
After 2 hours we’ll find a place for our second breakfast and some tea. Indians in the west drink their chai, tea with milk, by pouring it into the saucer. It cools off very quick then, so you can down your shot of tea and leave directly. Looks very funny!
Because it is so hot, we drink lots of water. Finding drinking water is sometimes tricky because normal tap water can make us sick. In this part of India most of the big fuel stations and restaurants have drinking water and when we are in remote areas we use purification tablets. Searching and drinking around 4 liters per day, makes us have lots of cycling breaks and talks with the locals.
Indians have a way of saying no or yes by wiggling their head, not saying a word. We never seem to know what they mean. Is this water drinkable? Wiggle wiggle. You mean yes? Wiggle wiggle. Right!
Kiran does understands a bit of the Gujarati language, the language of Gujarat, the state his grandparents come from. It has some similarities with Hindi but most of the time we have no idea what they talk about. And most of the time Kiran has to explain why he doesn’t speak Hindi, why he looks like an Indian, but isn’t a real Indian.
When locals don’t speak any English, or when we are quickly cycling by, they use a hand gesture to ask something. They show one hand, fingers up, and make a twisting movement with their wrist. This gesture, including wondering facial expressions, means: what are you doing? Where are you going? Or sometimes I’m sure it means: what the hell are you doing!?!
We often have the same talk over and over again with the locals: where are you from? (The Netherlands. New Zealand? No, the Netherlands. Aaah, new zealand) Where are you going? (To London. To London?!?!?!, Yes. Short silence, eyes popping, lips trembling, wiggle, wiggle, Really?!?!) Why? (Because it’s fun. Eyes rolling, good luck wishes and occasionally we get fruit or invitations for tea 😊) Because of all these funny encounters, some of the days, distance wise, we go very slow.
We come past bustling colourful cities with people, cows, temples, mosques and shops everywhere. In the cities the slums are shocking.., but you also see people on the street with absolutely nothing, no roof above their heads, no food to eat. Kids don’t go to school, whole families are begging… I find it very hard to deal with.
In Rajasthan we cycle so close to the desert that we come across many camels! I really find them so cool! You also see a lot of peacocks! They love chillin’ out in the trees impressing the ladies (and us!) with their feathers!
The sun and the sand flying around makes women and men wear scarves around their head, quite often only uncovering their eyes. A fairer skin is considered more beautiful here. On the road it’s like seeing lots of colorful mummies and mysterious women on motorbikes passing you by.
The lack of water is very visible in the landscape. The rivers have almost all dried up, and the landscape is yellow with hardly any leaves on the trees. It also makes the country look even more dirty. The garbage lays everywhere waiting for the rain to come and flush part of it via the rivers into the sea 😪 There is no good garbage system and people are not educated or stimulated to not throw it on the ground. Whole areas are scattered with litter. Especially just next to the villages, where the garbage gets dumped just out of sight of the houses. The stink is so intense sometimes, you have the feeling you cycle past dozens of rotten corpses. It makes me feel very sad to see this and it makes me more aware about the amount of plastic we use in daily life.
Here everything goes in single use plastic bags. In Amsterdam and all previous countries I gave lessons about litter, I would tell the students that even big countries like India banned the plastic bag! Clearly the ban doesn’t work.. Since 2 weeks the rain started and now everywhere gutters run over due to the garbage that gets stuck in the pipes. People complain, but still they don’t make a link between littering and blocked sewers..
So we cycle avoiding the garbage, dealing with the smell, seeing poverty, having water breaks and amazing encounters, seeing beautiful buildings and people in gorgeous outfits.
We try to find a place to have lunch around 12 o’clock. Quite often we end up eating a Thali: a plate with rice and chapati or naan, 3 or 4 little pots with veggies, curry, yoghurt and pickles. A very good varied and filling dish, since half of things you can top up for free!
After that the big search for a hotel starts, because it is too hot to cycle now! Normally we never aim for Aircon rooms, but with this heat we can’t sleep well at night and cycling without proper sleep is too tiring. Some hotels or homestays feel like luxury for under 10 euros. Others are really disgusting and many hotels have rules like ‘no foreigners allowed’ or ‘no unmarried couples allowed’ . It makes finding a place a challenge sometimes!
Once we found one, it feels sooo nice to have a cold shower or a bucket shower: throwing water over yourself with a little bucket. We have a little break, which for me often means I am knocked out asleep for 1,5 hours or so. Kiran, having Indian blood, seems to handle the heat much better. I have no idea what he does in that time 😉
The temperature goes down a bit around five, so we wonder out to explore the surrounding. Bustling markets full of people with all kinds of culture based outfits: henna red beards, turbans, burkas, saris (I find women so sensual in saris!). Many beautifully decorated temples and mosques.
We mostly don’t drink after cycling, when we are cycling the next day. But if we stay somewhere for longer than a day, we try to find a place to have a nice cold beer. Which is hard in this area of India where public drinking is hidden away for some reason and in Gujarat alcohol is even illegal! So we end up in dungeon like dodgy bars to have a beer and were sober too for a few weeks!
Time for dinner! Dinner would consist of variations of mostly veggie curries and dahl (lentils), with chapati or rice. Home cooked food is the best and every time we were invited to dinner or that we were in a small restaurant with a mummy or daddy cooking it was great!!
Now sleep is kicking in after a day of impressions! We often go to bed at a ridiculous early hour: 9 o’clock we are in bed, sometimes even 8 and asleep by 10 for sure!
The last week we spent in Surat with Kirans cousin, wife and kids, which was great! We will go by train to Delhi to catch a flight on the 6th of July to Almaty in Kazakhstan ( it is not possible for us to go through Pakistan, Afghanistan or China)
It has been great, these couple of months, but I am also looking forward to a next culture shock! Kazachstan!
Please help us reach our target and help the Burmese students! Thanks so much!!