Rob's Bike Ride

Cycling around the world
India

The last days of the Raj

Motihari, Muzaffarpur, Begusari, Bhagalpur, Baharampur, Calcutta, Total

13160Kms.

The North Eastern State of Bihar is the poorest and most lawless State in India. It’s a 900Kms ride from the border with Nepal to Calcutta and almost 700Kms of the route will take me through the middle of the State. The alternative, a safer but much longer route would be to ride directly south from Nepal into Uttar Pradesh and then east through Jhakhand and West Bengal. I wanted to finish India as quickly as possible and decided on the route through Bihar. What I didn’t know was the level of poverty and desperation I had seen in the rest of India would be nothing compared to what I would experience in here.

 There had at one time been a perfectly descent road all the way from the border with Nepal and then East through to the city of Calcutta but its fallen into a bit of a 700Kms potholed mess and anyone I spoke to would only say that politicians promise to do something about the road during election times but after the votes have been cast nothing happens. The upside to the road being in such a state means that nothing can travel at any great speed, so the trucks and buses that usually hurtle past me at speed with just a few inches of clearance often forcing me off the road have had to slow down to my pace. The downside is that I’m covered in oil and everything else that comes out of their exhausts as all this traffic slowly trundles past me. I’m not so bothered about being filthy every day, I’m just used to it. In my past life the slightest bit of dirt on my shirt and it would go into the wash. In my new life I smile as I see the expressions on the faces of the people who work in the hotels and other guests as I walk up to the reception. The first thing I mention is that I’m on a bike, they can then see that there is a reason for the mess I’m in and that I haven’t just stepped out of a car looking the way I do. There is no point trying to stay clean, within an hour on these roads I’m as filthy as the bike. Fortunately Indians don’t seem to expect people to be perfectly clean so there is never a problem getting into a hotel looking as I do.

 As with most places I’ve been told to avoid because of presumed danger the reality is very different. It was in Bihar that I met some of the kindest people on my ride through India. These were People who had little or nothing in their pockets but they had hearts that were full. They treated me with a kindness that was beyond measure and as always in a place where hardship reigns supreme there is a corrupt police force making sure everything runs smoothly. When I was stopped by the first police patrol I assumed that they would want to see my passport and visa but it wasn’t that simple. They weren’t interested in my documents only my money. They asked how much cash I had on me; I lied and said very little as I pay for everything by credit card. What he said next was absolutely amazing and I thought he was joking. You are likely to be kidnapped in this State and there are many dangerous bandits here, if you pay us then when you are kidnapped we will use the money to come and help you. I got back on the bike and just rode away with him shouting at me, I guessed or at least hoped he wouldn’t shoot me in the back. On the second occasion I was staying the night with a local Doctor. His son had seen me passing their home and had followed me on his bike begging me to come and stay with them for the night. I turned around and ended up staying with a wonderful family for two nights that treated me as a truly special guest in their home. The police arrived on the second night; news had spread round the village that a foreigner on a bike was staying with the doctor’s family. Again they weren’t interested in my passport and visa. This patrol had heard that I had been kidnapped and for a fee had come to rescue me. The Doctor and his family were very embarrassed; they didn’t want me to think that all Indians were like this. I heard many stories that night about how poorly paid policemen fall into a life of crime to boost their incomes. I was stopped on two more occasions on the road and I always acted in the same way, showing the police my visa and telling them I was a Tourist legally in the country and then rode off to them shouting at me to come back. The cowards never followed me.

 One morning I noticed coming towards me a bike loaded with coal. I guessed it must have weighed about 100Kgs if not more. I thought it was just a one off and watched him push the bike past me heading in the opposite direction. Eventually I was to see these guys on their heavily laden bikes every day. I had heard that there was a coal mine just off the main road and the bikes were loaded with as much coal as that boy or man was capable of carrying and then they would push the bike to the power station an incredible 70Kms away. Once again it put into perspective what I was doing. I think my bike weighs about 30Kgs and I know there is 20Kgs in the panniers. So I have to manhandle about 60Kgs daily and at the end of it if I’m lucky I check into a hotel, have a meal a beer and then fall asleep in a comfortable bed. These guys are pushing their bikes up and down this road for a living and they have no choice. There is no hotel at the end of their day; they sleep outside with their bikes just in case someone tries to steal their load. I worked out that their salary was under $50.00 a month. They were truly amazing guys, I would have a hard time moving their loads and I’m fit after a year on the bike. When I stopped for something to eat the usual crowd would gather around me taking photos and falling over my bike to look at it, yet on the road behind us these guys were pushing their incredible loads of coal to the power station ignored by everyone. Fortunately we are following The River Ganges so the road is perfectly flat which makes it a little easier for the coal bikes. Almost everything you can think of is transported by cycle in India. I’ve passed guys loaded down with steel, bricks and all kinds of heavy building materials. I once passed a guy with a motorbike strapped to a trailer on the back of his cycle. Here in India the cycle is the main form of transportation.

I am never alone in India. No matter how quiet it is when I stop for a break or how well I choose my hiding place someone always finds me and if a local is seen talking to me it’s a signal for anyone who might be passing to stop and join in the conversation. Once they find out what I’m doing people who might not have paid me any attention have to be flagged down and my story told to them. A bus driver opened his door as he was about to pass me and asked me where I was from, how long I had been in India and what was I doing, I answered him and he then drove away only to wave down a bus coming towards him, the information was passed on to the new bus driver who then slowed down as he passed so his passengers could see me and he then shouted to them, English man, cycle tour round the world, then the news would be relayed by that bus driver to the buses coming towards him and so it would go on. I would arrive in a town and people would shout out English man or Foreigner on cycle tour.

 On reaching Calcutta I was surprised at how different the city was to how I imagined it should be. Like most people I had heard about the poverty and squalor, the children begging on the streets and the destitute. Maybe my months in India have hardened me to what was going on around me but it just didn’t seem as bad as many places I had just visited. The towns in Bihar had been so poor and I had seen so much poverty that I suppose nothing else will ever have an impact on me again. In the end it was probably that Calcutta just isn’t that bad. It’s a large city with its rich and poor living side by side. It’s the first city in India I had seen that had parks and open spaces and something like a real city center. So it was possible to escape the noise and pollution. Calcutta had been the capital during British rule and the authorities had decided to recreate London with ornate Victorian Buildings and beautiful parks. Another wait for a visa, this time for Bangladesh gave me more than enough time to get to know the city really well.

 The Border with Bangladesh is only about 100Kms from Calcutta so a day’s ride and I would finally finish India. It will come as no surprise that I’m happy to be leaving. I’ve had enough poverty and wretchedness to last me a lifetime and much of what I’ve seen and experienced I haven’t written about because it is too distressing and I see no point in trying to shock you. I have met many kind hearted wonderful people here but they have an epic battle on their hands. We very lucky people who are fortunate enough to live in the West have to give a standing ovation to the people of India. They struggle every single day against tremendous odds to live their lives while their Government sends rockets to the moon in the search for water. There is unimaginable poverty and wretchedness here that would be and should be unacceptable in any Nation calling itself a Democracy, particularly the largest Democracy in the world.

Not so incredible India

Nashik, Indore, Gwalior, Agra, Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Bhairhawa Total 11800 Kms

Ahead of me I had over a thousand miles of travel before I reached Nepal, a journey that I wasn’t looking forward to. It would have been impossible riding any further south than Mumbai with the wind and rain heading north towards me; I would be trying to ride against a constant wet headwind.  I had thought about spending a couple of months in the city but what would I do, it would almost certainly rain everyday and I would be stuck in a hotel room. I could feel the rain in the air that morning as I packed the bike and got ready to leave. It was a very dark sky that followed me north through the suburbs of Mumbai and I knew that before I reached Nepal there were going to be some very wet days ahead.

India had started to get me down. It’s not the best country in the world to ride a bicycle any great distance. Life is in your face each day and it’s impossible to ignore the poverty, destitute souls, the suffering, the filth and pollution. The people in the small towns and villages that I rode through were always very friendly and would call to me from the side of the road and I would always stop and find time to talk with them. In the cities and larger towns it was a different story. Here there was always that high number of touts and rip off merchants walking the streets trying to sell me anything and everything or rip me off. The filth I saw each day had become almost unbearable. The word hygiene in India is almost unheard of and the streets in every town or village where filthy. If I got off the bike to get water or something to eat I had to walk through piles of rubbish to get to the store. I was always covered in everything imaginable and it was impossible to stay clean, every truck or car that passed threw up clouds of dust and I was aware that I was breathing this crap in everyday.

Constantly tired through lack of sleep and fed up with the noise and filth meant that I was beginning to make mistakes on the road. One day I rode 120Kms only to find that I had left my credit card in the last hotel when I had checked out. I was going to have to take a taxi back to the hotel to get it; I couldn’t face riding the bike back. The town I was in had no hotel and nowhere to store the bike. I had only stopped here to use a cash machine. I would have to find transport big enough for the bike and equipment. It’s easy trying to find a cab in Europe, all you have to do is call the local cab office explain that you have a bike and a bit of kit and you need a large car. What we call normality in western societies doesn’t exist here. In India the first thing that happens when you stop is that a large crowd gathers around you, this crowd then followed me as I hunted for transport, it then waited outside the office as I made inquires, it then surrounded the pickup truck making it impossible for me and the driver to load the bike, the driver ended up fighting with people in the crowd because they wouldn’t leave me alone. I just stood there with my head down.  Luckily after a 120Kms journey backwards my card was at the hotel reception. The same guy who had checked me in the day before handed me the card, he had insisted on taking my phone number the day before, so we can call you in case of any emergencies he had said. Leaving my credit card when I checked out was obviously not an emergency.

I had stopped looking after the bike. Usually I spent a Sunday afternoon cleaning it and just checking it over but I hadn’t done this for the month or so that I had been in India, it was impossible to find a quiet courtyard or place to do the maintenance properly. So the inevitable happened and the chain started to miss gears. I knew what the problem was; the cables had slowly stretched over time and needed changing. I had spare cables and the tools to attempt what was a very fiddly job but I needed the quiet of a hotel room, my glasses on and a cup of tea by my side. I couldn’t even think about fixing them at the side of a noisy dusty road. The only thing for it was to take a train to Jhansi a town about 100Kms north on the main Agra road. I didn’t want to ride the bike as this would only make the problem worse and could damage the cogs or even the speed hub. The staff at the station informed me that the bike couldn’t travel with me on the passenger train but would travel on the next freight train and it would arrive in Jhansi at 8.00am the next morning. The train that I was travelling on would arrive at 6pm that evening, there were no passenger coaches on the freight train and the next passenger train would be the last for the day. I had no choice but to take it.

Almost a week later I located the bike in the city of Lucknow over 300Kms to the west of Jhansi. I had been to the station Jhansi every day yet no one could tell me what had happened to the bike or where it was. I went from one station office to the next and close to tears and filled in the same forms over and over again. I was never alone in the quiet of the station office to fill out the forms or talked to the station master but always in the full glare of a large noisy crowd. One morning I was told to call the station master in Lucknow who told me that he had a bike arrive at his station that morning, he went on to say that he had never seen a bike like it,  what a lovely machine with disc brakes just the same as my car. I was over the moon and didn’t hear what he was saying down the phone as I whooped and hollered in the office. He offered to send it on the next train and I think everyone in Lucknow station that morning waiting for trains must have heard me as I screamed NO down the phone, I will come to you please don’t let anyone move it or touch it until I get there this afternoon.  What a relief it was to have the bike back and the next day in the relative quiet of my hotel room I changed the cables and for the third time since arriving in India revised my route. I would have to miss the Taj Mahal and Dehli. My new route would take me north to the Nepal border a two day ride and to be honest I wanted to get out of India as quickly as possible. I had had enough.

I’m not sure why my credit cards stopped working in the cash machines. I knew there was sufficient cash in each account and I had called both banks back in the UK only to be told that they had no record of me even trying to use the cards and that the cards had not been stopped for any reason. It was I was told a computer glitch and that I was to try using them again in the morning, if they didn’t work then I was to call back. I had about $50.00 in my pocket and had tried the machines on three different days with no luck. Every time my cards didn’t work I had to book another day in the same hotel as I had no money to pay the bill so I couldn’t check out. A completely insane situation. The walk to the cash machine every morning was like something out of a nightmare and the feeling of total panic that came over me every time I was refused money was overwhelming. ATM machines have refused to give me money at home every now and then. A salary check hasn’t cleared or the machine has been out of money. It’s never a major problem but here in India thousands of miles from home with no money in my pocket I began to feel desperate with no idea what to do. To compound the situation I was eating in the hotel restaurant and adding it to my room bill. So a bill that I couldn’t pay was getting larger each day and I had this fear that one morning the hotel manager would ask me to settle what was by this point hefty room charges. I had inquired about having money wired from my account to a local bank here but as with everything in India nothing is easy, the procedure was so complicated that I thought it best to at least keep trying the cash machine as it had to cough up someday if I had the money in my account. Everything fell to pieces for me late one night. I was in the shower when the water went off nothing unusual as it happened all the time and I was used to it. Then a power cut and the lights went out. I was standing naked in the dark covered in soapy water, stuck in a town that I couldn’t leave because of my financial situation and there wasn’t a soul I could talk to. I started to laugh then just sat on the bed and cried. Outside in the street the usual mayhem was taking place. I felt as if I was in the middle of some insane circus and no one was laughing.

I’m writing this over a month later. I thought it better to update the site after I had been out of the country for a while because I didn’t want my judgment to be completely clouded by my experiences and I thought that the longer I was away from India the more I would begin to accept it and understand how it works. I flew back to Europe from Kathmandu less than two weeks after that crazy night in the hotel. I needed a break from the road. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or whether I would continue with the ride. I needed to rest in a place where everything worked and I was safe from the noise, the filth and the madness of India. It might have been fate but the bike never left Kathmandu even though I had payed DHL to ship it back to Europe.  When I called the office to find out what had happened to it I was told that there was a problem as to whether I should have paid for volume or weight, I argued that I had payed for weight and surely I shouldn’t have to pay for volume. So the bike was stored in a DHL Warehouse in Kathmandu, patiently waiting no doubt waiting for what it knew would be my eventual return.

I will go back to Nepal to continue with the ride. I don’t want to be the man who went half way around the world on a bike or the guy who rode a bike to India. That wasn’t my dream. It was to ride a bike in an almost straight line around the world. I’m almost a quarter of the way round and have loved every minute of it. I made the mistake of letting India get to me. I began to feel as if I had no hope just like the country. So I’m going to give India another chance. My original plan had been to leave India for Nepal in October as it’s at its best time of the year to visit that Mountain Kingdom. The monsoon rains have ended and the light is perfect. I will ride south through the Kathmandu valley and back over the border into India and then East towards Bangladesh from where I will fly to Thailand. I hope you are looking forward to this next chapter as much as I am and thank you all for your patience.

 


 

South to Mumbai

 Ajmer, Udaipur, Himatnagar, Ahmadabad, Vadodara, Mumbai. Total Kms 10660.

The State of Rajasthan is split in two by the Great Thar Desert. This is one of India’s main Tourist centers and no one who visits India leaves the country without having come here. My journey south would take me to the main Tourist cities of Jaipur, Ajmer and Udaipur. The state has been in the middle of a drought for over twenty years, it still rains but the monsoon rains that used to drench the countryside have long gone. This year the rains were almost a month late. Riding along the main highway I would often smell the remains of a cow or camel that had died of thirst and eventually I would reach the rotting carcass as it was being picked clean by birds. This is one of the poorest states in India and the poverty has not been helped by the drought. It’s impossible for farmers to make any sort of a living from this dusty dry land and it was also hard to believe that people lived in these remote villages with only a handful of small mud houses to call home and not a tree or bush for miles.  

 May is probably the worst month to visit Rajasthan with temperatures that reach well up into the high 40s. I had never known a heat like it and on some afternoons would leave the comfort of an air conditioned hotel but my walk only lasted a matter of minutes, it was as if I had been placed in an oven and it was impossible stay outside. Despite the heat people still worked in the fields or on building sites. The state is famous for a white marble and I watched from the comfort of my hotel room through the windows as people carried on digging out the marble. I didn’t enjoy the cities of Rajasthan, like the locals I wrapped my head in a scarf and wore loose cotton clothing to protect myself from the heat. The constant noise and crowds of the city was exhausting and I found that just being on the streets for a couple of hours was enough. The noise doesn’t seem to bother the locals, it’s a part of their everyday life, they have grown up with it and it has absolutely no effect on them. The average car driver uses his horn about thirty times each kilometer, bald tyres and dodgy brakes are not a problem here but if your car doesn’t have a good horn then you are considered to be an idiot.

Like Iranians the people here are very friendly. I was often invited into a house for chai (tea) or a drink of water and this always put me in a difficult Position. I had heard many stories of travelers who had become seriously ill because they drank the water and for this reason I only ever used bottled water.  I hadn’t suffered from any of the famous illnesses such as Delhi belly, the Rangoon runs or a Bombay blockage, although I was careful with the water I hadn’t been so with the food and was happy to eat on the streets even if I often saw huge rats scurrying around the vendors carts. To overcome the water problem I devised a simple system. I knew that when I was offered a cup of water I was being offered something that was very precious to these people. All the water used in the villages has to be drawn from a fresh water well and sometimes the well is a good walk from the family home. When offered a drink of water I would say that I had just had a drink and ask them to fill my empty water bottle, I would then offer this water to locals on the road who might not have had anything to drink that day. I hated buying bottled water here I was trying to travel round the world with as little impact on the environment as possible but had to get rid of at least ten plastic bottles every day. The advice I had been given by a doctor was that even if the locals drink the water it could still make me seriously ill, I was told to boil water or buy bottled water, it was impossible for me to boil ten litres of water everyday so I had no option other than to buy the plastic stuff.

I was often invited into homes that were so small there was almost no room at all for me to stand up in without my head touching the roof. Indians are a very curious people and within minutes of my arrival a small crowd would have gathered outside peering through the windows or doorways to get a good look at me. Often no one spoke a word of English; everything was communicated in a crude sign language. The children would always break the ice by climbing on the bike; I would take the panniers off so that the bike wasn’t as heavy and take them for a ride down the lane. If there was a good wind blowing I would fly a kite. I had picked up a dozen small pocket kites in London and had used them to entertain children who had no toys. I would ride away hearing the kids laughing like crazy flying their new kite for the first time in their lives. I had asked people in developed countries on route to give me small gifts like pens, pencils and note pads that I could then give away. Hotels always have this free stuff, soaps, packets of tea and pens that I could give to a family as a thank you for a kind act. It was always difficult stopping the bike to give to a kid something because within minutes there would be more kids coming from everywhere and my stock would run out. Sometimes I would be taken to the next village to meet another member of the family. This might be someone who had traveled to England or could speak a little English. Once as I was being taken to a village on the back of an ox cart I asked the driver why he was beating the ox with a stick, I thought we were going fast enough, he said here we beat our animals but don’t eat them; you don’t beat your animals but eat them.

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The poverty and filth in India was beginning to get to me it was just overwhelming. India maybe the world’s biggest democracy but there is nothing democratic about it. Millions of people have no access to basic needs such as clean water, food or shelter. I have never seen so many people sleep outside because they have no homes and it’s in the cities that this situation is the worst with hundreds if not thousands of people sleeping on the pavements every night. In a true democracy the government wouldn’t tolerate this situation. I always wondered how these people voted; they had no homes, no incomes or anything to call their own so who was casting their votes in this huge democracy. Politicians often talked about lifting people out of the poverty trap and also giving more grants to farmers so making their lives much easier. I’m sure it was probably happening somewhere but India is such a huge country and it has so many problems that it seems like a battle is being fought with no end and it was impossible to go anywhere in the country without being upset by the poverty and despair.

 Mumbai was a fantastic city. A law had recently been passed banning people from using their car horns unless in an emergency. Peace and quiet at last. It’s the financial and business capital of India and for that reason people need to work in peace and not have to hear the constant noise of the street. What a difference it was, I had a week of quiet nights. The city sits on the Persian Gulf and therefore was much cooler than the Punjab or Rajasthan in the north. The monsoon rains were almost a month late. I had expected to ride into Mumbai with the rains coming towards me but the weather in India like so many parts of the world is changing. A late monsoon is bad news for farmers, Tourism and the economy and people were on edge waiting for the rains. I was the happiest man alive; I enjoyed almost a week in the city without once getting wet. Like London this is a great walking city and I often found myself lost wandering aimlessly through the crazy city streets. When I asked a local for directions, not knowing where I wanted to go but to save face would always send me somewhere. It’s a city crammed full of Victorian buildings and at times it was hard to believe that I wasn’t in the middle of London only with the sun shining. Mumbai has the advantage of sitting on the ocean and the street food was often a curried fish dish or something just as delicious served on the local beach.

I was going to have to change my route plans. The monsoon rains can be very dangerous disrupting traffic with landslides and road closure. I had intended to travel to the very southernmost tip of India and then take a train north to Delhi visiting the Taj Mahal before crossing into Nepal but my plans have changed because of the weather and I would now turn around and head north and although not riding into the monsoon rains they would no doubt be chasing me.

 

 

Incredible India

 Amritsar, Jagraon, Sangrur, Rohtak, Narnaul, Jaipur. Total Kms 9680.

 As I knew that I would I arrived too late to cross the border into India, and ended up staying in what had been a British Military hostel and although the bed that I slept on had been the same ones left by the British back in 1947 I was happy to have had the first decent night’s sleep in three days. That morning I was the only person crossing the border on foot, most of the traffic was coming the other way and although I had hoped for a quick crossing it took about two hours of paperwork, passport and bag checks plus the first form I had seen dealing with swine flu. Amritsar the home of the Golden Temple was a 30Kms ride from the border; it felt good to be back on the bike after four days of public transport. it’s the conventional way to travel around a country but I find it very stressful working out train and bus timetables, not knowing when you might stop for a rest or leg stretch and of course it’s expensive, my travel costs in a country are nil, it’s all leg power.

Amritsar was my first taste of an Indian city, busy and noisy as all Indian cities are, the streets were filthy and packed with cars, rickshaws and of course Holy cows who always had the right of way. Two nights here would give me enough time to visit the Golden Temple, the Holiest Shrine of the Sikh religion, buy a good road map and get some new clothes, the temperatures were slowly rising and I would need light cotton clothes to ride in. The noise was constant, it never stopped no matter what time of day or night, they drive on their horns here and the first thing the driver will do as they pull away is sound the horn. On a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere I could hear cars ahead and behind me with their horns blowing like crazy, painted on the back of every truck was a sign saying, horn please or ok to honk horn, I’m not sure if it was a safety feature or the law but it meant this constant noise all day and night. European cities are relativity quiet; there isn’t this noise which very soon became one of the most stressful aspects of India. There are over a billion people living in India and it never stops to catch its breath or sleep.

The Punjab is the country’s richest State and before the 1947 partition it extended across both sides of what is now India and Pakistan. It’s mainly agricultural and most of the rice for the rest of the Nation is grown here. It’s also the home of Hero bicycles, India and the world’s biggest bicycle manufacturer, they look like old bikes that were designed in the 1930s and every Indian who owns a bike is the proud owner of a Hero, they are very basic machines but do the job perfectly, every time I passed one on The Grand Trunk Road or on any other road I always had the impression I was riding a Ferrari passing an old Ford. The Grand Trunk, one of the busiest roads in India cuts its way through Pakistan and the Punjab as it heads south towards Rajasthan I realised after two days that it was far too busy and dangerous and that I would have to find a route with a lot less traffic and that proved to be almost impossible.

The Punjab is not a State that has a tourist infrastructure, very few towns have hotels or guest houses but just as in Iran I soon found out that it was possible to stay in Religious houses or Temples for a small donation. Many people sleep outside every night, shop keepers outside their places of business, truck drivers under their vehicles to stop anyone stealing the diesel and countless homeless people sleep at the side of the roads, in fields or anywhere else that they can find a spot to put up a makeshift bed, so it would be no problem for me to pitch the tent if I had to. Within the first couple of days of riding I knew that I had arrived in India at the wrong time of year, my train ride through Pakistan had put me ahead of myself time wise by about two months. I expected to be here in late August or early September the perfect months for riding, the temperatures would be lower and the monsoon season would be almost at an end but in June with the average temperature at midday as high as 43 degrees it was impossible to ride after about 11.00am the heat was unbearable and probably dangerous. I decided that it would be best to leave the hotels at about 5am, this would give me five or six hours riding in comfortable weather and then as the temperature began to rise I could be settled in an air conditioned hotel with a beer. This system didn’t always work, I often found myself stuck between towns with the distance too great to ride and the heat rising, I had to find shelter under a tree or any shade that I could until about 4pm when it was cooler and safer to ride.

Villages are very close together but are always fairly basic when it comes to hotels or guest houses; rooms were usually small with hardly any facilities and not as clean as we might be used to in Europe or America. I had become used to the squat toilets through Turkey and Iran but I would never get used to the filth, the rooms were never clean, no matter how many stars the hotel had, I began to think more stars means more dirt and on more occasions than I care to remember I found it easier to pitch the inner tent in the room and put my own mattress and sleeping bag inside, I then had a comfortable clean personal room to sleep in. I don’t want to give the impression that every hotel I stayed in was dirty, of course they weren’t but more often than not I had to get the staff to come and change the sheets or clean the toilet before I could use the room.

With villages being closer together it meant that I didn’t need to carry food or water on the bike. No matter what time of day I arrived in a village or town there was always the exotic smell of food being cooked, everything from the hottest vegetable curry I’ve ever tasted to a fried egg sandwich or curried fish can be bought for just a few rupees on the streets, its simple food but the best in the world. Stopping in any of these villages whether it was for food, water or just a rest was very different from stopping in Iran where people would ask me all sorts of personal questions, here no one was interested in me, just the bike, within minutes of stopping a crowd of guys would gather round the bike and just stare at it like it was some sort of god, I know it’s much more sophisticated than the Hero bikes they were used to but it is just a bike. No one was interested in asking me questions about what I was up to or where I was going, they gathered round the bike talked in Hindi, took photos and watched me as I rode away. Sometimes it was almost impossible to get back on as so many guys had gathered around and I soon started picking quieter places to stop although a small group usually found me. This strange situation with the bike came to a head outside Mumbai one Saturday morning, I was riding along a fairly busy road and slowed down to go round an old man who was lying in my path, as I got closer I could see that the guy was close to death, I got off the bike walked back to him and saw the thinnest man I had ever seen in my life, he hadn’t eaten for months, I tried to give him water, his head had no weight at all it was like holding a deflated football, he was beyond taking water and I guessed had only hours to live, coming towards me were two young guys, I thought they would have an idea what to do, maybe we could move him to a quieter spot where he could die in peace, they completely ignored me and the old guy, looked at the bike, talked in Hindi, I heard the words disc brakes and bike computer in English and they then walked off. Over a billion people live here, what’s one life when there’s an expensive bike parked at the side of the road to look at.

With the constant noise I found it easier to stay in hotels outside of the major towns. Usually colonial buildings that had been turned into hotels stood just off the main road, these were always pleasant places to stay when I could find one, set in large grounds many of them were former palaces from the days of the raj and a room for the night could cost as little as 500 Rupees about six pounds. I got a much better sleep and would often stay in a place like this for a couple of days just to get a bit of rest and prepare myself for the next part of the ride. I wasn’t enjoying India as much as I hoped, the towns and cities were too hot and busy, there was never a quiet spot in a garden or park to sit in and enjoy a little peace and quiet, beggars and touts would hassle for money on a daily basis, they saw me and other tourists as walking cash machines and no matter how rude I was to them they wouldn’t leave me alone, I told one tout after he followed me into a restaurant that if he didn’t leave me alone I would happily punch him, of course I wouldn’t but he didn’t know this, it just made him worse, I became a challenge to him that he had to break and I only got away from him by jumping into a taxi. I was constantly asked to come into a shop, just have a look you don’t need to buy anything, so what’s the point of me coming in then. I’ve been in the country just over two weeks and I’ve had enough, I’m sure that as I go on things will start to improve, India is huge country and very different from any other place that I have experienced so far, it’s bound to take me a little more time to settle in. I’m about a thousand Kms north of Mumbai and before that I have the cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur in Rajasthan to visit. Things can only get better.