|Bundi - Udaipur|
‘Show me the real India’ I call to the new quiet road I have taken from my last town filled with foreign tourists, Indian tourists (“domestic tourism is very popular these days” – said with lots of waggling of head in sing song voice), and locals who would sell their own mother to a tourist for the right price (“best mother in all of India – I give you good price” – with more head waggling)
First there’s the dusty red roads cutting between rock formations that wouldn’t look out of place in the Australian outback. Somehow bright yellow rape seed (Canewdon’s finest export) manages to flourish here leaving a wonderful smell and contrast with the red rocks. The red turns to bright lush green as agriculture kicks in – extensive and complex irrigation streams are cut into the earth to make it possible. A friend camped in one of these fields – at two in the morning his tent was floating in half a foot of water :o) he just lay back down and enjoyed his waterbed – us cyclists get tired you know. It then turns to palm tree jungle bejeweled with pink and red flowers.
I stop to get coke and crisps (this constitutes my breakfasts after recent bouts of sickness of the ‘oh no, how do I get to reception to call the ambulance without leaving a nasty trial’ variety) and all business in the village stops. Grown men simply stop in the street and stare, motorbikes pull over with anything up to 4 additional passengers, children practice their spattering of English – these villages don’t see westerners very often. You can normally tell how long it is since a foreigner has been around by the age limit of the children that burst into tears at the sight of the ‘white devil’. Normally 3-6 yrs. “TV?” You ask. “Money is for food, time is for working in the fields”, I respond – yes, unfortunately the kids too.
For someone who loves children and often finds their company more appealing than adults I find this experience surprisingly rewarding. I’m the only white man these children have EVER seen. Normally a few massive smiles and songs can prise them away from behind their fathers legs but any fast movements on my behalf sends them scuttling again.
Whilst I chat to the kids the gathering gets bigger and bigger. By now I can’t see anything other than eyes peering at me. If I eat lunch it remains this way until I pick my bike back up and push my way through, being as polite as possible in my basic Hindi. Having people watch you eat – not the nicest thing normally – if they weren’t there I’d be lonely nowadays!!
On one occasion in a very small shop in the middle of nowhere I’d made friends with the girl and boy (after the crying stopped by giving them both polystyrene aeroplanes). I was sitting back enjoying watching them play nicely in the quiet when a man appears on my right. He’s staring at me but in a slightly different way. He seems to be looking in my ear. ‘Dirty?’ He pulls out his little wooden box and before I can say ‘Please don’t put that painfully long needle into my ears he has already pulled out his first potato. After several more potatoes – it’s been a good harvest this year – he says I need medicine, pours it into my ears and then shakes my head one way and then the other – tweezers are then extracted and he pulls something looking like my ear drum out. Repeated procedure in the other ear has given me 20:20 hearing :oD – now when the bus hoots it’s horn it hurts my head even more – great! All the while the kids were throwing planes at me and the ‘super long needle near my eardrum’ man.
At another I stop for a quick rest a cow in front of me does the dew right by my feet. I woman whips out of the nearest hut and scoops it up and makes it into what can only be described as a huge chocolate button. It’s then left on the house or road side to dry and used as fuel in the houses. Particularly keen gatherers have villages that look like something from Hansel and Gretel – chocolate button houses!!! They look good enough to eat!! (Dad, when you come out you are forbidden to try and throw one as a discus – you (or unlucky bystanders) won’t be so lucky the second time!!
Then (7 or 8 days later) I find my way onto a highway again. 6 lanes of traffic. The outside lane normally for the speeding vehicles is filled with cows (with horns as big as there legs) – it’s a cows life here in India – if they want to hang out in the fast lane they damn well do it and no amount of hooting of horns will budge them. The next lane is fairly normal – for an Asian road. Just very fast moving traffic swerving left and right. The third and outside lane is the most interesting. Really I should say there are 8 lanes, the outside lane is used as two way traffic. In one direction (one would normally say the wrong direction) you can see herds of cow / goats / sheep, bikes, tuktuks, rampaging buses, trucks, motorbikes, industrial vehicles, camels, the odd elephant and carts, in the other direction (the correct direction) is the odd tuktuk, banished from the faster lanes by a careering bus, and a lone English cyclist fighting tooth and nail for his little strip of tarmac, and his life. Kicking, pushing, and punching other motorists to keep his pathway clear. Then you have the boys throwing stones, the loads falling from trucks, the trucks themselves toppling, people jumping into the road on pan fueled craziness (these guys normally get a very fine hand-off or shoulder in the chest (bike rugby is big in India)). Yes, this is the main highway between Delhi and Mumbai.
I’ve got a good spot and I’m charging ahead at about 30k – I’m feeling great. Coming in the opposite direction a guy on a motorbike pulls over. ‘Stop Stop Stop’ he says. I drop my shoulder ready, but no this sounds serious. ‘Stop stop please’. I pull up – ‘Has someone been hurt? Can I help?’ A pause for a moment…….. His voice is no longer high pitched and panicked but turned a little meek and mild………… ‘What country?’ What friggin country? – I’ll box your ears boy!!! And get back on the bike.