A tricky question.
Can it be, despite the continued flat landscape, the homicidal driving, the noise and the dust, that I’ve quite enjoyed the last few days? Or have I fallen victim to some Indian variant of Stockholm Syndrome? What’s going on?
On the face of it, not much has changed. Since Lucknow, I’ve pushed nearly 400 km across India in four days. The roads have remained pretty flat and featureless, and the temperature is starting to push upwards towards uncomfortable, in comparison with the lovely 23-24C which I’ve had up to now.
But there have been a couple of small but significant changes.
Firstly (and most astonishingly), my third Indian SIM activated itself. Twenty-four hours later than it should have done, but who’s complaining? It was the least promising of the three I’d purchased, having been sold to be by a pair of rank amateurs in a shop with wires hanging from the ceiling and protruding alarmingly from walls. But it’s the only one that’s broken India’s bureaucratic stranglehold, and I finally have mobile internet!
That makes me happy. As well as saving a fortune in more-expensive-than-necessary accommodation…
Secondly (and probably more importantly for morale), I’ve had cross-tailwinds all the way from Lucknow. I checked, and it’s been a while since I waxed lyrical about the benefits of tailwinds. Especially on a touring bike, with the bags acting like sails. The difference pre-and-post Lucknow is remarkable, according to both my GPS and one of the guys above, who chased me down the road on his motorbike, shouting my current speed at me for 20 minutes. He didn’t speak any other English…
Before Lucknow, with an irritating headwind, I was struggling to average 20 kph / 12.5 mph. And it was hurting. After Lucknow, I’ve been cruising effortlessly at 28 kph / 17.5 mph on the main road, and averaging 24 kph / 15 mph including the standard (i.e. dreadfully slow) town riding. And I’ve been knocking off 100 km days without even blinking.
Way quicker. Way easier. Way happier.
Even a massive increase in long waits at level crossings (well, two in three days) hasn’t dented my spirits. When everything’s running ahead of schedule, you can treat it as an opportunity to people-watch, and to marvel at the myriad ways they slide their motorbikes under the barriers (and then look shocked when the train nearly takes them out). It’s not intensely irritating any more; it’s kind of fun.
And then there’s what’s at the end of all those miles. I rolled into Agra this afternoon. There’s a fairly famous building here, which I’ve so far only seen at a (very) long distance. It’s closed on Fridays.
But even from long range, with scaffolding on, the Taj Mahal looks quite impressive at dusk:
I’ll have a closer look at the Taj tomorrow (and hopefully squeeze in Agra’s impressive Fort, too). It’s the first really stunning landmark I’ve come across in India, and it’s a bit bewitching, perhaps because the scenery’s been a bit bland until now. I was staring and taking photos for a couple of minutes before I realised I was stood on top of a massive open sewer. Which probably sums things up quite nicely.
So, is India growing on me? It might be. I’m certainly less disgruntled by the dust and the traffic. But I guess I’ll only really find out if when the wind changes…