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Flat and Easy to the Big, Big City

Last time, I said I’d find out for sure whether I was enjoying India when the wind changed.

Well, it hasn’t changed, so that question will have to wait for another day.  All I can really do is refer you to my last post regarding the joy of tailwinds.

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Having had a proper, close-up look at the Taj Mahal on Saturday, it was time to get moving again.  Only a couple of hundred kilometres to Delhi, which is really just a couple of long-ish days.

On the other hand, there was a city of 20 million people at the other end of it, so I decided to make it a gentle three days instead.  That would give me time to take it easy through the undoubtedly awful traffic in New Delhi.

The road held little interest, mostly.  Flat, fairly smooth in most places, with the usual crazy driving.  You know the score from the last several hundred kilometres.

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This rather elaborate mosque at Muthara was probably as interesting as it got (apart from ticking past 20,000 kilometres for the round-the-world ride).  The Islamic architecture definitely won on the way to Delhi; it’s possible that the colonial and post-colonial stuff will beat it in town.  We’ll see.

After the almost suspiciously easy riding I’ve had all the way from Kanpur, I was expecting today’s run into Delhi to be awful.  Usually, everything gets magnified in big cities, so I was anticipating enormous potholes, kamikaze motorcycles, and two-mile traffic jams at every junction.

But I wasn’t altogether expecting to see this trundling up the main road first thing this morning (or, at least, a little after ten – I can never get out of bed early for short days):

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I’ve been trying to remember quite hard, and I’m pretty sure I can’t recall ever seeing an elephant strolling up a major highway before.  It was, however, being much better driven than most vehicles I’ve seen.

So, that’s an experience ticked off the bucket list.  If it had been on the bucket list…

I took the wandering pachyderm as a good sign, and pushed on optimistically.

Soon enough, I hit Faridabad, and started seeing the enormous Delhi Metro stations which would mark the road all the way to the start of Delhi proper.  The Metro starts about 40 kilometres out from the city centre, which gives you an idea of the urban area I needed to cover.

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It all went remarkably well.  The elephant was clearly a decent talisman.  I stopped for a little rest at the end of Faridabad and the start of Delhi.  The Beastlet made friends with a local bicycle and a postbox.

And then it was into the madness of New Delhi.

Except there wasn’t really any madness.  Maybe because I’m still not fully in the city centre.  But the roads were reasonable.  The traffic was reasonable, and there were even things to look at, like these ancient fortress walls:

IMG_1119 Edit There’s something else in the picture above that I’ve not seen before in India.  A Mercedes.  As with most capital cities, there’s clearly quite a bit more money sloshing around Delhi than there is in rest of the country.

And that’s one of the things I’ll be taking advantage of in the next few days here.  I’ve found a bike shop which sells bikes and parts with more than one gear.  There are very few of those in the country.  So the Beastlet is getting a fresh chain and cassette tomorrow to prepare it for the deserts to come.  The chain is gold, which is a bit gangster, but still…

Oh, and that’s gold coloured, by the way, not solid gold.  I’m nothing like that flash.  And I’m pretty sure that real gold would wear out really quickly.

As well as the bike bling, I need to get a new supply of Factor 50, and sort out a visa for Uzbekistan while I’m here.  Both of which also feature on the list of things you can do in Delhi, but not in many other places in India.

I’ll try and squeeze in a bit of sightseeing, too.  So a fairly busy few days in the big city before the last few on the road in India.  Heading towards the end of the subcontinent, and the start of central Asia.

Just a few hundred more kilometres of India remain.  And I still don’t know if I’ll be sad to see it go or not.  Maybe I’ll work it out by the time I finish…

Is it Growing on Me? Or Have I Just Got Used to It?

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?

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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…

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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.

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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:

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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…