A few hours after I arrive in Jaipur, I get an email message from Khushal at Le Tour de India, a bicycle tour company I connected with years before as I started planning this trip. Khushal, who follows me on Instagram, asks if I am in Jaipur and when I tell him I am, he suggests I join them for a three hour morning tour. This is my fourth trip to Jaipur and I’ve seen most of the major tourist attractions so part of me thinks that this won’t be so fun. However, I’m already missing cycling and so say yes right away. If nothing else I’ll get a lovely ride around the city.
And so it is that I find myself outside Le Tour de India’s offices in India at 7:00 in the morning. It is still dark, cold enough that I’m wearing cycling gloves, a jacket pants and a long sleeve shirt. People are already moving bikes out to the side of the road – mountain bikes with a front suspension, a bottle of water in the cage, and a pink helmet on each. I’m met by Umesh who asks me to choose one of the larger bikes and give it a try. I adjust the seat and am off, zooming up the street, enjoying the fact that the bumpy roads are smoothed by the suspension.
Soon we are joined by a few other tourists: a couple from Australia and their American friend from Ohio. Umesh leads us off in to the dark morning with another man riding in the rear to make sure nobody is lost.
It’s still dark when we make our first stop. Here there are about 10 cows on the side of the road. A man is selling methi greens and Umesh hands us all some and tells us we can feed the cows – not only is it good karma, it is fun to feed them. They seem to appreciate it too. The cows here are rescue cows. Many of the cows you see on the street in India aren’t stray, someone owns them, milks them and cares for them. These cows, however, have no owners. They’ve been abandoned because they no longer are producing milk and their owners decided to just let them go. So now they are cared for here.
Once we all feed the cows, we get back on our bikes, and ride through the city as it wakes.
It’s time for my highest priority of the day: chai. I woke up so early I had no time for it and it’s long overdue. We find our way to a chai stall and a cup is ordered for everyone. As the chai walla is preparing our tea, I ask him in Hindi if I can take his photo. He’s noticeably surprised and tells me that I can – but adds that now that he knows I can speak Hindi he has to be careful what he says.
I was surprised at how easy it was to ride in India when I left Delhi in rush hour a couple of weeks before but it really is easy here. The streets are nearly empty. And in fact some, like the streets near the Albert Hall Museum are completely closed to traffic. While this road will be opened to traffic later in the day, becoming one of the busiest streets in the city, now it is tranquil. So tranquil that at one point we even play badminton in the middle of the road with some of the people there.
Traffic is building and I have to pay a little more attention to cycling but it’s exciting. I enjoy cycling in Indian traffic – there’s so much communication between road users that it never feels lonely. Across the city we go until we’re at a vegetable market. Umesh asks someone to watch all of our bikes and we head in to the market. This one is so busy. Umesh tells us to pay close attention to who is doing the hardest work. It is, surprising for many tourists, the women. Men seem to be struggling to lift heavy boxes of vegetables and mostly relaxing, selling things. Women, however, are carrying tremendous amounts.
This seems to be common throughout Rajasthan, and perhaps India as well. Wherever I go, women are doing much of the heavy lifting. It isn’t uncommon to see women at construction sites carrying bricks stacked high on their head – sometimes 10-15 of them at a time, balancing them carefully. This is in sharp contrast to here in North America where construction sites are still mostly a male-dominated space, particularly when it comes to physically taxing work.
Umesh gathers us all together and tells us we need to go because we’re running late. We jog through the market until we find our way to a park. Soon men ranging in age from 50-70 join us and introduce themselves. We get in to a circle and I am immediately reminded of improv class. I am wondering what is coming next when one of the men explains what we should do: We are going to start by laughing as hard as we can. I’m very excited, I’ve heard about laughing yoga but never tried it. It is fun and infectious. We do a few different variations, including directing our laughter at our neighbour who is directing theirs at us. This really does feel like improv class now. After some other breathing exercises it is time to all be tigers. We exercise our lungs by growling at each other.
About fifteen minutes later it’s time to go. We say our goodbyes and Umesh tells the men I speak Hindi. They’re excited and ask me all about where I learned it from, where I’m from and so on. I get so absorbed in the conversation that Umesh has to shout back at me to tell me it’s time to go. And we’re off!
Now we’re headed next door to Govind Dev Ji Temple for one of the morning services. The place is packed but we find space inside. We’re given holy water and tulsi (holy basil) leaves and then Krishna is revealed and there is more singing. It feels lovely to be here.
We dash off to get our shoes, then find our bikes again and this time in search of some more food. We order kachori and samosas, both delicious deep fried pastry filled with potatoes and spices, served with chutney. It hits the spot
After eating we go down a side street where we hear the sounds of grinding. Umesh stops and tells us to follow him. We go through a gate in to the front yard of a building where there are huge blocks of stone and marble. Here is where gods are born. Throughout the space are statues in various stages of completion. Until now I’ve only seen the completed product but never thought how they got to be that way. They all have a simple beauty.
Finally it’s time go to our last stop for one of the best energy drinks invented for cycling: fresh lassi made from fresh yogurt and ice. It may be a cold morning but we’ve worked up an appetite and have warmed up a lot – it feels good to have something cold and filling. And it’s so delicious we all have two.
In the end I am beyond pleasantly surprised. While I have had all of the foods on the trip, the experiences were all new and unique. I never, for a minute, felt that I was seeing something I’d already seen a number of times before. Le Tour de India did a great job of making a fun and interactive trip that did not go to the same places as all of the other tours. It’s a great trip not just for someone new to Jaipur but to anyone interested in seeing the city from a new perspective.
If you’re going to Jaipur, I would definitely recommend signing up and trying it yourself. You can find out details and sign up here.