Back on the Road

I hang my panniers on the rack of my bike, strap my backpack on top and ride to the end of the long driveway of Satya Jyoti Farm. Ramesh meets me at the gate again to let me out and I thank him for everything. The stay has really been wonderful. He wants to know where I’m going next and I tell him I’m headed for Neemrana – about a 70 km ride away. “If you run in to any problems, any problems at all, please call me.” We shake hands and I pedal off.

About 500 metres away I am flagged down by three boys sitting in a massive transport truck. The driver seems to be in his mid teens and the others are around 10-12 with one smaller boy tagging along. We take selfies on the side of the road together. Throughout the day I will see many younger boys driving huge trucks and tractors and I’m reminded of how it was in the small town I grew up in. While it wasn’t legal for kids to drive on the roads, so many of my classmates not only knew how to drive in their early teens, they would operate trucks or tractors around the farm. They had to, it was part of how families got things done.

Another kilometre away and some kids flag me down to say hello. They ask where I’m from and as I’m telling them, more and more people join me from various nearby driveways. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. Soon the two-lane road is completely blocked with a crowd of people.

Questions are hurled from all directions. A woman in her 60’s quietly asks someone next to her something I can’t hear and they respond to her “Vo Hindi ata hai.” – He speaks Hindi. And so she asks me where I’m going. Though it’s quite safe to travel here, my friends from here have advised me to keep my route and destination private and so I tell a little white lie. “Main idhar udhar ja raha hoon aur jab main thaka hoga, tab main rukhunga.” I’m going here and there – and when I get tired, then I’ll stop.

Eventually I, and the rest of the traffic in Sare Khurd need to get going and so I thank everyone and say my goodbyes. Down the road I go. It’s a little hilly and bumpy here and there but overall it is good. Traffic is light but there are some big trucks, many driven by small boys passing me here and there. After about ten minutes, I see I have some traveling companions. Two boys of about 12-13 from Sare Khurd are riding on a scooter. Sometimes they are behind me, sometimes they come and talk for a bit. We ride together for about 30 minutes.

At Tapukara the road turns north and I am in a small village. Shops line both sides of the road and there are more vehicles and pedestrians. Some people from a shop call out to me and ask me to come over. Chai is offered and a bench is brought over for me to sit on. About 20 people show up around me. The man who invited me over wants a selfie and tries to get his friends to do the same but they’re not interested. They just want to talk. Where am I from? What’s the weather like there? A woman my age wanders over and remarks at how sweaty I am already and other people explain that I’m from a cold place so this feels hot to me. Chai is brought over and we keep talking. The usual questions of what we all do for work and who is in our families are asked and I learn that the bulk of the people here today are all related to the man who called me over. They ask me where I learned Hindi and I tell them about my various teachers and how I practice at home in a city where most people don’t speak Hindi. And as I tell them all this, a little voice in the back of my mind is piping up, reminding me of how discouraged I was with my progress a couple of years ago. I would ask myself why I bothered because I wasn’t really learning anything. And besides, where would I use it? Well, I will use it here and now. And if I could travel back in time and see that younger version of me we would have some serious words. I resolve to remember this whenever I feel discouraged with anything else in the future.

As you might imagine, I’ve read a number of blogs and books about people cycling through India. One thing that many people from North America remark on is how crowds show up in villages just as they did here. There is a bit of annoyance and even a little fear in their account. “Why is everyone staring at us?” they say, “It’s weird and uncomfortable.” But that same experience with language comprehension becomes something different. The film now has an audio track and when you hear the audio it becomes a conversation of shared curiosity. The impulse that brings crowds to see me in a village is the same impulse that brought me to that very village. It’s just that there’s only one of me so it is a little less overwhelming.

To me, sightseeing, visiting monuments or temples, or parks is only a part of what travel is. To visit a place and only see and appreciate these things is like spending time with a new person and only paying attention to their clothing. These things are nice, and might tell us a little about the people just as someone’s outfit might give you a little idea of what they’re like. But you have to actually talk to people to get to know them. This is how we all learn about what our differences are and also learn just how similar we all are once we get past the obvious differences of language and appearance.

At the end I thank them for their conversation and get up to leave. But before I go I ask for a photo of everyone. There are so many people they can’t fit easily in one.

As I leave Tapukara, I see signs welcoming me to an “Industrial Zone” and the pollution increases a bit. Still it is quite rural and lovely for most of the way.

Looking at the map I can see I am popping back and forth between the states of Rajasthan and Haryana as the border is a bit of a squiggly line here. Soon after crossing back in to Haryana again I come to a six lane highway that will be my road for most of the day. As I head toward the service road and on-ramp, a police officer calls out to me. “Oh no,” I think, “I’m not allowed on this road” because, of course, I wouldn’t be on a road like this back in Canada – nor would I want to be riding on the 401 either. But instead he invites me over and we go in to the police compound. I lean my bike up against the wall and we sit in the shade. chai and sweets are brought over and we talk. He’s lived in Haryana all his life and has been with the police department since he was an adult. He has a wife, a son, and daughter and his brother is a commando working with the Prime Minister’s security force. Another officer comes over and asks if I want some food but I had such a huge breakfast and had just eaten an energy bar so I politely declined. We continue to talk, broken up by the occasional person coming by to have official-looking forms signed and approved. While he does this some women sitting nearby wave and smile and ask for selfies. One of them comes over and asks if she can take a selfie. Of course – I ask her where her phone is but she doesn’t have one. She just wanted to share a photo.

When the officer is finished with his paperwork I ask him more about his kids. His son is in the twelfth standard, getting ready to apply for colleges. His daughter is younger and doing well in school but is also a karate champion. Then he tells me the secret to happiness as a father: “You have to be friends with your kids,” he says, “Not just a father but their friend.” I so rarely hear this anywhere in the world (and agree completely) that I think maybe I’m misunderstanding so I ask to confirm my understanding and he says definitely – it is so important.

I stand up and get ready to go and he claps me on the shoulder saying how great it is that I am able to cycle so far. He goes inside and finds a pen to give me as a gift and then, before I get on my bike he gives me a huge hug, nearly lifting my feet off the ground. Before we go we have a selfie together as well.

The highway is good and mostly smooth and aside for one small part where it is closed, the service road lets me have a mostly empty road to myself as the traffic roars and honks on the expressway to my right. Riding on this road I can see the real similarities. There are truckstops, cheap motels, and dhabas (like diners – heavy hearty food that is cheap and plentiful) all along the way. Billboards advertise them for miles ahead. Where there are exits, there’s a bit of traffic as trucks go in and out of the fuel stations.

But then there are a few things that are different. Like this:

Soon the entire service road in front of me is filled with goats managed by a couple of goatherds carrying long bamboo poles they use to tap the animals on the shoulder to guide them in the direction they need them to go. It’s slow going so I ride up next to one of them and ask them how they are. He says he is doing well and responds in a thick accent I don’t recognize and uses a lot of words I don’t recognize. Eventually I learn he is from Jodhpur quite some distance to the southwest of here. I share that I am from Canada. He tries to tell me some more things but I only catch a few of the words. Looking back it is possible he was speaking some Mewari or Rajasthani and I was only catching the words that were the same as those in Hindi.

Soon a car came and needed to get through and he tapped the animals on their shoulders and like magic they went from taking up the whole road to becoming a long thin line exactly in the right lane. The car went through and I said my goodbyes and went through as well. After all, a bike is a little bit quicker than a herd of goats.

Soon I come to a toll plaza – the third of the trip. I wonder if I’ll be charged anything. As I get closer I realize that like the others, there’s a narrow lane leading off to the left – too narrow for cars or trucks. And thus all of us on two wheels get a free pass.

I notice that though I’ve been drinking a lot all day I haven’t had to use the washroom. This is not a good sign health-wise. I may be drinking but not enough. And so I stop at a cold drink stand near a dhaba and buy a Sprite. It costs about $0.80 and tastes like heaven. Looking at the label I see that there’s about 50% more sugar in this than the pop I very rarely drink at home. I don’t mind, though. That sugar is going to go straight to my pedals. This is one of the nice aspects of bicycle touring.

I approach Neemrana and see signs for the “Japanese Industrial Area.” I gather that Japanese companies do a lot of manufacturing here. My hotel looks to be in one of these industrial areas. Though it’s midday, the roads are very clear and I find my way quickly to my destination.

Streets are wide open in this industrial area

I pull up outside and though my whole bill including breakfast and dinner will be less than $30, there is valet parking for my bike. It’s taken away for safe keeping, my bags brought inside and a bottle of cold water brought to me immediately while they ready my room. I look around and in addition to the hotel restaurant serving Indian food, there’s a second more upscale looking restaurant advertising “Authentic Japanese Food”. When I get upstairs all of the things in the bathroom, shaving kit, shampoo, etc, are all branded by a Japanese company. It truly is a global world. I turn on the hot water heater and soon am having my first hot shower since leaving Delhi. It is heaven!

I get in to the room about 3PM and realize that somehow I forgot to have lunch. By 5 I am quite hungry but the restaurant won’t open until 7:30. I look at the menu in the room and Hakka Noodles sound like the absolute best thing I could have. I dream of them for over two hours more, finally ordering them and feeling the carbohydrates refueling my leg muscles.

Hoping to avoid the standard 1:30 AM wake-up I’ve been having, I stay up as late as I can – almost until 11:30. In the end I find myself playing board games online with Sage terribly and falling asleep between turns. I go to sleep.

At 1:30 I wake up. The neighbours are listening to TV very loudly, doors are slamming and there is distant music. But this time I am so exhausted that I turn on the fan to drown them out, turn over and sleep until almost 7:30. I think that after four nights here my jetlag is finally abating.

In the morning, after a breakfast of more sabzi puri and a cup of instant coffee that is more heavy cream and sugar than coffee but still delicious I plan my day and my next destination. Today will be a short ride and with the weather expected to be 24 degrees C (about 76 F) it’s going to be a good one.

4 thoughts on “Back on the Road

  1. I now will have to get out a map of India to be able to follow you. This is such a wonderful diary of your expedition and so totally new to me. Thanks so much for chronicling it.

    1. It is really my pleasure. I hope it inspires some people to make a trip here or a similar trip they’ve been dreaming of. And for those who can’t come visit, I hope I do a good job of bringing them here along with me.

      I added a map to the next entry, by the way. Not 100% accurate -> but it shows relative locations and directions and gives an idea the route – and is accurate to within about 10 km.

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