Sikhing Punjab

Apologies for the terrible pun in the title.  I can only justify it by pointing out that it’s much cleaner than anything I could come up with relating to the town of Karnal, where I stopped a few days ago.

Anyway…

Once upon a time (about a month ago, I think), I was riding across eastern India.  Complaining incessantly about the flat, tedious roads, and the dust.

Then, heading north from Agra, through Delhi, and towards my final Indian destination of Amritsar, I was pondering why I seemed to have come to terms with it all, and was quite enjoying myself.

Then it rained.

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It shouldn’t have rained.  It’s the wrong season, and things are normally pretty settled up in this part of India.  But it did rain.  On Sunday.  Quite a lot.  The bike hid for a while, trying to protect its lovely golden chain (above).

I managed to stay relatively dry by following the back edge of a slow moving thunderstorm.  But I couldn’t avoid the water it had dropped on the highway.

You might recall the picture I posted of my face covered in dust a few weeks ago.  That was a horrid day.  But, arguably, the rain makes it worse.  All the pollution is knocked out of the air, and mixes with the dust, diesel particles, rubber and cow droppings that are already sitting on the road.

The result of this is spraying, liquid filth.  I’ll spare you the face picture this time, and demonstrate the effects that just 30-odd kilometres of this foul mixture had on my leg:

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As you can imagine, the golden chain is no longer quite as spangly as it once was, either.

I washed myself, cleaned the bike as best I could, and stumbled on up the road towards Punjab.

With all the media fuss a couple of weeks ago about caste-based unrest, blocked highways, and threats to Delhi’s water supply, it was slightly surprising that there was no trace of any damage or roadblocks throughout northern Haryana province.

It does, however, seem to be the province most likely to offer wandering travellers a nice cup of tea.  Which makes me wonder how the trouble could have kicked off in the first place.  Maybe someone forgot the biscuits…

After Haryana, I only had one province left to cover in India.  Punjab is famed as the centre of Sikh culture, and even before the border (which I crossed yesterday – Tuesday), there’s a significant increase in colourful turbans and exuberant facial hair.

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Although the road remains pretty similar, there’s a noticeable difference in culture up here.  It feels quite different from the rest of India.  Sikhs don’t use the caste system, which appears to be reflected in a more egalitarian feel overall.  There are a lot more women who obviously have jobs, and who ride their own motorbikes, for example.  And the cycling experience is a bit different too; a lot more passing big grins, ‘good lucks’ and thumbs up happen here, compared to the rest of the country.

Although several of the biggest grins came from a bunch of guys on motorbikes who were waving spears and swords around.  Heading for a wedding, apparently.  Unclear what they were intending to do there…

I’ve also had three people pass me free drinks (twice out of moving cars, which is a little nerve-wracking).  And that’s never something to complain about.  It’s almost made me forget that nasty rain…

Possibly the only significant criticism of Punjab so far is the taste in interior decorating.  I’m not entirely clear whether the guest house I’m staying in tonight is intended as a shining example of boutique hotel sophistication.

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But I thing the green and blue LED detailing is interesting.  As is the wallpaper on the ceiling.

Tomorrow (Thursday), I should hit the end of my road in India, at the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, just 80 km (50 miles) down the road.  I’ll have a few days before my flight to Uzbekistan to deal with more travel bureaucracy.  I need to work out how to buy US Dollars (much harder than you’d think, this being India), and grab a bike box from somewhere.

And I should have the chance to see more of Punjabi Sikh culture.  As long as they stop waving swords at me, I’m quite looking forward to my last few days on the subcontinent…

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