London to Auckland – stage four. The story of the recent adventures of one of our volunteers.
Sub-continent – December 2018 – April 2019 – Cutting Our ‘Travelling Teeth’
We flew from Istanbul to Delhi and spent a total of 3.5 months in the main part of India and it was probably the most intense and tiring period of our journey. Two white westerners on bikes, is not something that the locals are used to seeing so we were a constant source of intense interest. This is something we’d never encountered before and something we never really got used to. From people surrounding us every time we stopped, to the thousands of times we were asked for selfies by motorbike riders, to fighting not to be ripped off every day, it was a test of our patience to say the least!
And We Only Stopped For Some Water!
It was also where we had to get used to living conditions far below what we had ever experienced before – had we just arrived on shiny bikes from London I’m not sure we would have handled things as well as we did, but we’d had 9 months on the road by then we had definitely toughened up. Bucket washes were normal – and mostly with cold water. And a flushing toilet wasn’t guaranteed even in hotel accommodation, but like everything else on our trip we learned to adapt and be grateful for a safe place to put our heads down at the end of the day.
One of the better hotel bathrooms we encountered!
The roads in India are chaotic. Drivers use any part of the road and drive in any direction they want which means that there are vehicles coming at you from multiple directions all the time. It wasn’t unusual to see a bus coming in the opposite direction, on our side of the road, honking its horn for us to move out of its way! Street vendors would push carts down the middle of a multi-lane motorway selling food to car drivers who would stop where the cart was. And sacred cows would regularly wander in the middle of an 8-lane motorway whilst drivers swerved to avoided them at all costs – it’s bad luck to kill a cow. This actually all became normal to us and the longer we were there, we found we were less fazed by it all.
Anything Goes on India’s Roads!
Our route took us through Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udiapur, along the south-eastern side of the Thar Desert and then south to Mumbai. Every day was a cacophony of sounds and sights – it is a very full-on place to visit, especially on a bike. Getting into Mumbai reminded us of the journey into Istanbul, but without the rain – lots of traffic, moving very fast in a random fashion! After Mumbai we head south to Goa and then inland, across central India to Kolkata and then on to Bangladesh.
That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy ourselves – outside of the cycling we had some amazing interactions with locals through warmshowers and couchsurfing across India. And it was there that we had our first real experience of how inclusive Asians are of seniors into family and mainstream society, which we view as very different to how we treat our own seniors. There, the majority of older people live with their families and are the heart of the home. We stayed in one particular household where two brothers, their wives and children all lived in the family home with their elderly parents. The grandmother and grandfather’s bedroom was the first room you walked into when entering their house and it was a constant hive of activity with family friends and neighbours of all ages, school children and us 2 exotic white Westeners constantly coming and going. Both the grandmother and grandfather were in the middle of everything that was going on and were treated with the respect and reverence that their senior years deserve. We felt very privileged to be treated like an extension of the family and grandmother took a particular shine to me, which was very sweet – but also very lucky as she was the ultimate household matriarch.