From the City to the Village

I wake in the morning and go downstairs to breakfast. When I travel in India I often get a masala omelette: eggs, onion, tomato and green chilli. They’re delicious. I order one with toast, coffee and mango juice.

I’m convinced the staff here are trying to look out for my fragile Canadian palate because there are no chillies or even onions. I ask for some chutney and ketchup is brought over. I finally ask for pickle and I get this:

Now that’s more like it. I am a huge fan of green chilli and also pickle, but together they are heaven. Now breakfast is amazing. This experience makes me think about one of the big themes that seems to be coming out of this trip: learning about our cultures and challenging our assumptions. Some assumptions like “White people from North America can’t eat spicy food.” are harmless. The assumptions people of all nationalities make about other nationalities or groups can be more harmful. There is really one way to fight against this: Meet as many different people as you can, set your assumptions aside, and be politely curious. You will be surprised and happy with what you discover.

After breakfast I head up to the room, change into cycling clothes and get ready to go. Some of the staff help me carry my things out and I load all of my gear on my bike. I pay my dinner and breakfast bills and get on the road.

My coffee was a little light on caffeine at breakfast so I’m wanting something more. I see a chai stand up ahead and pull my bike over and order a chai. The cook isn’t there – it’ll be five more minutes so I wait with two other people. One man silently smokes his cigarette while the other talks to me. He’s a student nearby studying Physics and Math and grew up in a nearby village. He asks about where I am from, what the people are like, and what the weather is like. The cook arrives and I order a chai. My friend asks if I want some food and I tell him that I’m still very full from breakfast. I’m not sure I have room for anything but liquid at this point.

We talk some more and the chai arrives. It’s delicious and creamy and flavoured with ginger. While I’m drinking, my friend’s food is ready. He brings me over a burger loaded with lettuce and tomato. It looks delicious. I politely refuse. I have absolutely no more room. He gives it to his friend and picks up a second burger for himself. Then we sit and finish our conversation.

I get up to pay the cook and my friend stops me. “I bought your chai,” he tells me. I thank him – this is a lovely surprise. I get on my bike and head west, leaving Narnaul behind me.

Soon the road quality gets worse. Construction is underway and we are routed on to a detour, and then find ourselves on a wide space with lots of construction. What was once a two lane highway looks like it’s going to be four or even six when they finish.

The further west I go, the more the land looks like a true desert. Where there were once fields, now there is sand and trees. And then I get to an area with more brick factories.

I can see that this is a big contributor to the pollution I see here every day. At the same time, it is not good to judge. They are fulfilling a demand for building materials, a demand that isn’t easily met in a clean way. At the same time they’re providing jobs for those around them. All around the world bricks are made and used on a daily basis and they are not made in fields of green grass. I don’t like the fact that there’s pollution, but I also think that the answer is not as easy as “Let’s just close the factories”. There’s a systemic change required on so many levels.

As it approaches noon I’m ready for lunch. Soon I see a food stand and stop. I look around for a place to lean my bike. It’s heavy and has no kickstand so it needs a place to lean. I look around and find nothing. Then someone comes from inside, takes my bike and then carefully leans it against two of the motorcycles parked in front of the restaurant.

I order a samosa to tide me over until I get to the next big town, Singhana. I’m not sure of its freshness but I’m too hungry to worry. I eat it along with a little ketchup (there it is again!) along with a big bottle of Coca Cola. The sugar, water, and caffeine are all welcome in my body. As I sit, one of the people there starts talking to me. As I finish my drink, he asks if I want anything else, chow mein, a burger, or aloo paratha. I feel like if I had an official food of this trip, it would now be aloo paratha so I order one. Then he invites me to go in to the back yard ot relax. I go back there and a hookah is set up and another man is already there smoking. He offers me a smoke and I pass. He takes a pull from the hookah and then says. “You should meet Jojo.” He gets up, opens a partition in to another large part of the yard. Out from under a shady, protected section comes a surprise. Here is a massive St. Bernard. Jojo comes over for pets and cuddles and is absolutely lovely. In a few minutes he goes back in to his house and I follow my friend back to the front of the store. Within minutes, my aloo paratha is waiting for me, hot and steaming along with a large bowl of curd and a bunch of delicious pickle. When I am half way through the paratha, a second one is brought over.

I apologize but there is absolutely no way that second paratha will fit in my stomach. I go up and pay the bill. A 750 ml Coke, an aloo paratha with curd and pickle, and a samosa all together cost Rs. 80 – about $1.60 in Canadian I leave absolutely stuffed.

As I ride I see some camel carts coming. I want to get a better picture to share with you so I get my phone ready and call out to the first one if I can take a photo. He poses and I fumble with my camera not really getting one. The man on the second camel cart looks at me and makes gestures that he’d also like his photo taken. I fumble a bit with this one also but finall get it right.

I continue onwards, making great time thanks to yet another tailwind. Sometimes it even feels like I have a motor it is going so well. Along the way I pass through many small villages. In each of these the traffic increases just a little, and there are businesses. There are always food-related ones, but the next most common seem to be very utilitarian: electrical parts, building supplies, and motorcycle/tire repair shops. The traffic never gets too busy but I do need to pay a little more attention

This truly looked like the cow on the left is posing with the statue someone made of it.

More people stop for selfies. This guy smiles and waves as he passes. When he stops he introduces himself and tells me he is the principal for the local school. They are running an 8K race and would I like to join them as a celebrity participant? I would totally consider it if I could still run. I know if I were to try running I would put the rest of the cycling trip in jeopardy.

At a gas station these guys come out and ask, and then ask me to wait for their friend who is still getting gas to come out and have a photo. Why not?

In this town there’s more traffic, including another herd of goats coming through.

I pass through the town of Singhana and it’s quite busy but again the sort of busy that means slowly cycling through calmly with traffic, negotiating with pedestrians. In fact, as I was riding here I realized what this traffic is most like: It’s like walking in a shopping mall when it’s busy. There are lots of people, there are generally-understood guidelines as to which side you should walk on when going in a particular direction. You might get confused negotiating who goes, when, but you rarely feel like you are going to crash in to anyone.

One village away from my destination, in Chidawa I hear incredibly loud music. I can hear it from two blocks away and feel it from one block away. Google will later tell me it was this song:

When I pass I see a young man sitting on a horse and many others around him dancing. I know now that this is a wedding party getting ready to go. The energy is so high and infectious.

Half an hour later I arrive at my village destination. I call Jerry but he’s not available. I wait a little bit and talk to the people around me, telling them where I’m from when they ask and that I’m waiting for my friend. Soon Jerry calls – he’s running late but on the way. And just a few minutes later he arrives, camera in hand. We’re going to record more for a future video.

Jerry and I

I follow him on his motorcycle until we get on a less busy road and then I lead and he follows me, filming as we go. I push myself a little, not wanting him to have to go too slowly on his motorcycle and I can feel the burn in my legs as I maintain 25 km/hour up and down the hills.

Soon we arrive at another small village – and traffic is stopped – the same wedding party I saw earlier is now here. We make our way around and soon are at his house. Or rather a group of houses that all of his extended family lives in. On the way in we pass a number of cows and buffalo, part of the food supply and also livelihood for the family.

I sit outside and meet many of the family members. Jerry’s grandfather has a huge presence with lots of gravitas. He’s even taller than me and speaks in a low, steady voice. He has so much experience, having retired both from the army and from being a school teacher. He speaks Hindi and English at a minimum and likely Rajastani as well.

Jerry’s grandmother comes by and we try to communicate. She mostly speaks Rajasthani so we have a little trouble but with the Hindi I have and Jerry’s help we manage well. I like her. She has strong opinions and is happy to share them. I’m told that even though I might want to bathe now, it’s not healthy. I need to sit and wait to stop sweating before bathing or it’s bad for my health. Later I’m asked if I want milk or chaas (buttermilk) with dinner and I say chaas. She thinks a minute and tells me that no, I shouldn’t have chaas at this hour. It’s not good for my health, have milk. I am happy to do so.

Jerry’s grandfather is curious about my journey, having been a little skeptical of his grandson’s trip by bike and dreams of doing an even longer ride. I answer his questions about how far I ride each day, how much rest I need and where I find food. Then we talk some more about his life and his career path through the Army to teaching and now to full retirement.

Jerry’s younger brother, Rajneesh, is wandering nearby having recently returned from school. He’s pretty shy at first but eventually we encourage him to join us.

I’m quickly introduced to Jerry’s mom and several other family members before I’m brought upstairs to my room. A bed is set up with two heavy blankets on it. Jerry brings in a power strip so I can charge my devices and soon after he brings a big bucket of hot water. I mix some with cold water in the bathroom and take a quick bath. The temperature is already dropping outside so there will be no long, lingering baths for me today. Get the road grime off and get some warm clothes on again.

Fully bathed it’s now time for dinner. Dinner is a Rajasthani speciality, dal churma. A thali is brought with a bowl of dal and another bowl of churma. This is a semi-sweet mixture of flour, semolina, ghee, sugar, cardamom, and almond. This is scooped out in to the thali, dal is poured over it and it is eaten with roti. Totally delicious.

The bowl in the middle top is the churma, already added to the thali with the dal (bowl on the top right)

There are also fresh cucumbers and tomato available. I try these and am amazed. The freshness and flavour are incredible. This is what it is like when your food is grown in the neighbourhood instead of on the other side of the continent.

Jerry tells me that at 10PM there will be more food, this time meat and I’m very curious to see what it will be. I struggle to stay awake but manage and soon lal maas is brought by. This is goat served in a spicy broth. Along with it are more roti and later a bajra (millet) roti is brought. This has a bit more of an earthy flavour that is good with the meat.

Jerry joins me for this meal and we both enjoy it. It is rich and tasty and satisfying. I eat all I can but as this is my second dinner, it is a struggle to eat a lot.

By the time dinner is finished, it is quite cold. I wash my hands and dive under the blankets. Once there I fall asleep nearly instantly. There is nothing like an 87 kilometre ride and loads of delicious food to make it easy to go to sleep.

Here is the latest map:

Note that this is not fully accurate in terms of route but it is in terms of destinations. Contact me if you need more specifics.

21 thoughts on “From the City to the Village

    1. Thank you, Lakshmi. This means a lot coming from you. My feeling when I spend time traveling but especially here is that I want to be able to literally take people here. To have them on the bus or in the village next to me so they can see and experience for themselves everything I do. Your words make me think that I am being successful.

  1. Thank you so much for the maps you are now providing. That allows me to look up some of the locations and learn even more about them. Now that I have seen your socks I understand why people are so eager to get their pictures taken with you. LOL

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