So travelling by bike in India is not such an easy thing for me to like. I’m trying, every day, but it doesnt come easily. I think if (like a normal person), you flew into a city, visited the touristy spots and then left, it would be a very different experience, but to battle with the dangerous traffic, the mobs of staring people in the tiny towns between places, the endless rubbish and pollution, and the incessant beeping of horns, I’m finding it a hard place to like.
However it is getting slowly easier, not so much easier to like, but a bit easier not to dislike 😉 Except for the horns. I hate the horns.
I feel as though bit by bit, I’m starting to ignore the rubbish and my expectations for a blue sky and something green to look at are changing. Even the crazy traffic… the traffic… the fucking traffic.
Back home if someone does something stupid and I need to brake to avoid them, it might be something to get angry about, shake my fist or even pull up at the next set of lights and have a quiet word with them. Over here, that kind of thing is happening continuously, like every 10 or 20 seconds, which initially made me angry all day, but in time I’ve gotten used to it and now it’s just part of travelling here on the bike. Assume you are invisible, then ride accordingly. Equally, you ride as though there are no road rules at all. Pass on the right, pass on the left, pass on the footpath, pass in the field next to the road… but always pass, otherwise be passed, and that means pushed off the road. So pass pass pass.
In our one genuine near miss, both Sal and I started with the usual “what the fuck!!” as a truck careered in our direction, then a bit of “WWWAAAhhhh!!!!” but then when it seemed inevitable that we were going to hit something, we both went quiet. I put us as far to the left as I could without hitting something else and then at the last second leaned Betsy away so the handlebar might not hit the oncoming truck but braced for an impact with the pannier which is an inch wider. That hit somehow didnt come, and then again I prepared for the fall I was expecting after we’d been pushed so far off the road to avoid the head on crash. But we stayed up and pulled over silently. I bowed my head with heart going full speed, actually managed a manic laugh, gave betsy a pat to say thanks for staying on 2 wheels, and we hugged and rode away in silence (Sal and I hugged, not Betsy, that would be weird… right?).
Anyway those moments aside, it’s getting easier. It seems India is here to push my patience to levels I didn’t think were possible, like when someone ran into the side of us while we were stopped in traffic, and then beeped their horn and starting yelling at us, presumably because we were in his way.
That was a real patience fail. Persist young grasshopper.
The staring people between towns no longer bothers me so much, I dont much like it but it’s ok. Usually we choose one particularly stary man (it’s always the men), and stare back, just at him, sometimes we take pictures. 10 seconds later he gets self conscious and sulks away to stare from a distance.
What’s hard about it though, especially when no one actually says hello, is that it’s actually dehumanising. It makes you feel like an animal in a zoo. I told this to a man a couple of days ago, he seemed to understand and returned to his stall, only for a short time though…the excitment was a little too much to miss out on so he later came and stared from a distance. A small victory! It does makes me think, that the people who stare at us as though we’re animals, are also the people who are treated like animals themselves. The caste system has a lot to answer for.
We have so far avoided any scams or being horribly overcharged for anything (I think!?), although we were asked to pay an entry fee for a museum inside a fort that we didnt actually want to see, before they would even let us into the fort. But that’s been the worst of it so far.
The food has been pretty good, but it’s really heavy, so after a month it’s getting a bit much. I happily lived on hamburgers and other shit food for weeks in South America, but am struggling a bit here. Virtually every meal is curry of one type or another, and particularly further north there is a lot of flat bread, which is usually fried. I’ve never looked so longingly at fruit before in my life, but everyone tells us not to eat it so…
But the horns… my god the horns are incessant, and they are so fucking loud. Like super modified hotrod horns painted with flames down the sides, tuned to ‘instant headache” pitch, or somtimes to “incite anger”. I dream of ways to make them stop, I want to push the guy over when a bike stops in front of me wth it screaming. Or i want to lean over and smash off a rear view mirror with my gloved hand while moving on the freeway. I fantasise about having a portable horn, 1000x louder than anything else, which I can take out of my pocket and return the sound to the offending driver or rider. So lound it shatters all their windows, their hair falls out and their teeth come loose, all in one foul sweep. I conjure up ways of punishing them, like installing elecrodes in the seats which give the driver a high voltage electric shock with each beeeep, so it still works in emergencies, but only when they really need it. Yes that would be very nice indeed. Ha ha ha!!!! (and I’m the angry one!- Sally)
Sigh… But alas I do none of these things, I take deep breaths, try to remain calm, and keep walking. Every now and then we both have patience fails while walking, and resort to screaming at someone. It passes, our frayed nerves scar over and we continue walking, only a little less calmly than before.
Meditate young grasshopper. When you can take this pebble from my hand… while 1.1 billion horns are blaring at you, the sound reverbering in narrow stone laid alleys, while still smiling… then you will reach nirvana.
Like i said, it’s getting easier not to dislike it, slowly…
But it’s not all hard times, at the moment we are staying with a gentleman names Akarsh, in his apartment just outside Delhi, which he currently shares with his lovely Mother. We met Akarsh for 5 mins in Myanmar as we were travelling in opposite directions, he gave me some advice for the weeks ahead and we contiued on. Then a month later when he heard we were headed for Delhi he asked us to stay with him, and has been an amazing host. All this after meeting for 5 minutes on the road.
Would you invite a ccomplete stranger into your home for a week when you already have your mum staying over? What about 2 strangers? Would you have your mum share your room so your stranger guests can use the second bedroom? Would you cook them breakfast, and take them out for dinner in town, give them metro cards to use and spend hours talking about different options for their upcoming travels? Would you take them to a family wedding even though they have no appropriate clothes to wear?
Like I said, amazing hospitality.
And it’s this hospitality, and other random acts of genuine kindness and warmth that are slowly winning me over. It wont happen overnight, but it might happen.
Not the horns though.
Akarsh hates the horns too.
We are not alone 🙂