Planning in advance can be a good thing – it got me all the way here. However, one needs to be flexible as sometimes plans change. While in Delhi, I met up with a video blogger / cyclist and we will be meeting at his family’s house in Rajasthan.
This requires a little change in direction from the maps I’d carefully made up before. And so I look at Google Maps trying to figure out where would be good to stay tonight on the way to his family’s village. I try using Google Maps directions and look at both the pedestrian and car directions (there are no bicycle directions here in India). The car directions are on highways but I’m intrigued by the pedestrian directions which seemed to wander here and there through very rural places. And so I load it all up in to my GPS watch, my bike is brought up from where it was parked and I head out.
The track takes me through a residential area of Neemrana, past shops and storefronts where people do obvious double-takes as I pass. A few more turns and then I’m directed on to a dirt road. Soon there are no more houses, only fields. There are a number of people working the fields. As I ride, the occasional motorcycle passes me, and I pass the occasional person, usually a woman headed to the field. The space is so beautiful it nearly brings me to tears.
I walk my bike for about ten minutes. A motorcycle passes, its wider tires doing better than mine. And then, fortunately the sand is clear from the middle of the road and there’s clay again to ride on. I’m not moving fast – maybe 1/2 to 1/3 of what I could do on pavement but I’m moving.
In the distance I see a number of smokestacks. Smoke is coming from them but there don’t seem to be factories attached to them. As I get closer I hear film music from the 1970’s playing. And then I see – Lata Mangeshkar is entertaining dozens of people working here. This is a brick factory. Men and women and even a few kids in their early teens are here. Some are forming clay into brick forms, some are stacking bricks in long rows, others are driving donkey carts loaded with bricks. On both sides of the road there is so much activity. I turn a corner and a man in only his underwear is up on top of a small hill next to the path having a bath. I wonder if he is finished for the day.
I feel hugely self-conscious. People here are working so hard and I’m just out riding around. But nobody here seems to care. Mostly nobody even looks at me, they’re focused so hard on their tasks.
I pass a couple of factories like this and then the road gets tree-lined again and there are houses. Outside the biggest one are a few men. One of them calls me over and asks where I’m from. He is Jitendra and he owns the factory and the others around are his family. More people arrive – his 20something son pulls up on a motorcycle, his daughter of about ten years old arrives from school. He offers tea and food but as I’ve just eaten and only been riding for a little while, I’m not hungry.
He asks where I’m headed. Usually I’m private about this but there really aren’t many places I could be headed with my bike pointed in this direction. I tell him I’m headed toward Narnaul. He tells me I’m going the wrong way and is going to take me an extra 15-20 km. My GPS| disagrees with him saying I’ve only got another 30 km to go this way and now I’m not sure what to do. In fact, he suggests I turn almost completely back.
Before I leave we take more selfies – even his daughter wants to get in one. Then Jitendra offers his phone number in case I run in to trouble. I key it in to my phone and call him to easily save it. I head north, following my GPS and it is confusing. Where it is telling me to go is a dead end. I go further north to see if there’s another road, and there is! Except it’s just a longer dead end. I get out Google Maps and it gives me a new route. I circle back to the main road and my phone rings. Jitendra has seen me and asks me if I need help and tells me I should come back. I really don’t want to backtrack and am more confident in Google’s new route. And so I awkwardly tell him I’m going to continue north. He’s skeptical but eventually we end he call. I feel bad because I know he wants to help – and likely if I were on a motorcycle, it would make sense to backtrack to Neemrana and take the main road but that was just what I am trying to avoid.
Now the village is getting more densely populated. I have to cycle carefully because the road is brick but crossing the road are one inch cracks designed for drainage. Sometimes they’re wider and I have to walk over them.
Now that I’m no longer using my GPS watch for navigation I’m listening to Google Maps’ voice and it seems strangely out of place here. Google tells me to make a left and the contrast between the world of Google Maps and my current reality gets even greater.
It’s the first camel I’ve seen up this close since I was a kid seeing them in the zoo. An old man next to me belly laughs. “Photo keencho!” (“Take a photo!”) he shouts between laughs. He’s laughing so hard his son comes out to see what’s happening. I tell them we don’t have camels back home.
I wind my way through the village until I get to a wider road. Now I can make good time. I am zooming along through fields and mountains. As I pass one mountain with roads carved into its side I hear and feel a massive explosion. It must be more stone mining.
There’s more traffic in both directions now, mostly men on motorcycles with passengers. Sometimes it’s men their age, other times it’s a woman sitting side-saddle that could be their wife or sister or even their mom. Quite often the men will do a double-take as they pass. Sometimes the women will wave or smile, other times they’ll pull their scarves a little closer around to cover more of their faces.
Cycling today is good but not as good as before. The wind is coming from the north and that’s where I’m riding most of the time so I work harder to go slower. Still I get in to a groove and cover ground well. I rarely stop to take photos (sorry!). Sometimes, though, there are exceptions:
Google routes me through another small village. I’m getting hungry and am watching for a restaurant that I can get lunch in. No good, though. There isn’t anything. The village ends and now I’m on a shady road. And then there it is! A food stand. A man sits with two big pots of hot oil and a stack of jalebis, and some uncooked samosas ready to cook. I ask him for two and he tells me to take a seat. I ask him where I can wash my hands before eating and he directs me to a bucket of water. It isn’t quite what I was imagining but it’ll do.
Soon the samosas come, They are big, hot, and delicious and are covered in chutney. I was expecting to only get two dry samosas so this is a bonus.
It is as delicious as it looks. Now I have a bit more energy to get where I’m going. I settle the bill and it’s only $0.80. I thank him and try to make some conversation but he’s not particularly talkative.
I notice that on today’s trip with a couple exceptions people aren’t quite so talkative. There might be fewer smiles as well. It is hard to tell when one doesn’t keep accounts of these things. One of my pet peeves about some travel authors is that when they make an observation such as this they immediately take it as truth and then go on to tell us what everyone around them is thinking without saying a word to them. So I won’t do that. I’ll just say that today is quieter. There are fewer interactions with humans. I have no idea why or even if it is an accurate perception. But the natural world is making up for it.
Thirty minutes later the traffic gets heavier. I’m entering Narnaul. There is so much activity in the street that you have to ride very carefully between the motorcycles, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs and cows. It’s very slow so there’s little risk. The street is lined with shops and in front of the buildings one lane is filled with different stalls. Sometimes it’s a group of clothes-sellers, or housewares, or veggies. I stop and pick up three bananas for snacks later. I’m not sure where the seller is from but his accent is tough for me to follow. Still, I manage, and take 3 bananas for $0.20. He offers me kulfi (ice cream) but as I need to watch my dairy intake, I take a pass on that.
One thing I’ve noticed on this trip more than bike trips back home is I need to drink much more. In less than 40 km I’ve had two bottles of water and still am thirsty. I’m really craving pop, though, so I’m watching for a cold drink stand. I’m not disappointed. In 5 minutes I find one and pick up a 750 ml bottle of Coke for $0.80. I sit next to the stall and a fast food stand where a 15 year old boy makes samosas and hakka noodles for passers by, drink my Coke and watch people go by.
Now with more liquid and sugar in my system my body is happy. I ride just a few more kilometres to my night’s stay.
I arrive at the hotel and it feels like one of those resorts in the 60’s along Route 66 in North America. There are several buildings around courtyards. I check in and ask where my bike can go. The desk clerk insists that my bike will be safe right outside in the parking lot. I believe him but ask if I can bring my bike in my room. He thinks it is strange but is OK with it. He gives my key to a man a little older than me who insists on carrying all of my things. We wheel the bike through the courtyard. He objects when I take the bags off the rack but I really don’t want him to try to carry the 30 lb bike and 30-40 lbs of gear up the stairs by himself. I let him take the panniers and grab the bike itself. He shows me to the room and then shows me where everything is. He pulls a heavy comforter out of the closet and puts it on the bed. Then he lets me know I can call him if I need absolutely anything or have problems or complaints. “No complaints,” I tell him. “I’m happy!”
I start to get undressed for my shower and the doorbell rings. I quickly get dressed again and the bellman is back. He has some more towels and also a small packet of paper napkins. I thank him and then look in the washroom. Ah yes – no toilet paper. He really thought of everything.
Bathrooms in India typically have a geyser (pronounced “geezer”). It is a small hot water heater with just enough capacity for a short shower. When you’re ready to shower, you turn on the geyser, wait a few minutes. Then you have your shower and turn the geyser off. The first time I saw this idea I realized how strange and wasteful it is for us to keep 100 gallons of water hot 24/7 in our homes back in North America just in case we might want to have a shower at any point in time. Here, though, there is no geyser. It’s hot. I jump in and have the hottest of showers, cleaning the road grime off from another wonderful day. All that is left is to have dinner and relax. But wait! My phone is ringing. It is Jitendra. He wants to make sure I made it safely and am staying somewhere good and safe. I assure him I am happy and safe and head down to dinner.
For those who are curious here is a simple map of where I’ve gone. It’s not 100% accurate in distance or exact routing but will show you generally where I have gone. Of course if you’re a cyclist planning a trip feel free to message me and I can give you more details and possibly even GPX files for planning your own routes.
Next up – another longer day and meeting with Jerry from the video at the beginning of the entry.