So… back in India again. How’s it working out?
Well, to be honest, it’s much the same as the first time. But with better roads. Long, flat miles, unchanging scenery, sweat and dust. A few interesting temples and imperial relics (and kite flyers, below) in town centres. A third (so far, but I suppose you never know) non-activated SIM. Oh, and headwinds, for a ‘nice’ change.
The main roads which I’m following have the great merit of being flat and smooth. If you were looking to set round-the-world cycling records, heading along here (with the wind, rather than against it) would be a good way to get your 200+ kms a day.
I’m not, of course, trying to set any records. So for me, it’s more a case of trying not to lose concentration. Because the second the long, straight road lulls me into relaxation, a piece of Indian driving insanity is likely to cause me significant amount of grief.
It’s a bit like that famous definition of war; long periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
I think I’ve sorted out the ‘rules’ of the road here, now. Which is helpful, if not exactly encouraging. Essentially, it’s all about the horn. And I haven’t got a horn on the bike.
If you hit the horn, you are in the right. It doesn’t matter which level of motoring insanity you’ve just descended to. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing things (like driving a car the wrong way down the fast lane of a dual carriageway) which would get you imprisoned in most countries.
If your hand is on the horn, you can do exactly what you want, and expect everyone else to get out of the way. Or die. And, best of all, you get to stare aggressively at people who have the temerity to remain on their own side of the road, minding their own business, while you try your best to kill them and yourself.
For the last few days, the trick to keeping myself alert (and therefore alive) has been cows. Uttar Pradesh, which is the region I’ve been traversing since crossing the border from Nepal on Friday, seems to have a lot more of them than the other parts of India I’ve been.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to witness a lengthy tug-of-war between cow and man at a large roadside cattle market (above). But I’ve also seen cows in vans, small cows in rickshaws, and cows wandering across the highway (relying on bells, rather than their horns, strangely).
And, of course, there’s that classic Indian ‘cows lounging in the middle of the street in the city centre’ thing going on, too:
I’m in Lucknow at the moment, which is the biggest city around here by a margin. It’s a major centre in northern India, home to about a million colleges, a large Muslim population, and stacks of historic buildings, running right through from the Mughal Empire to the British Raj. It’s actually a really interesting town to stroll around (once you’ve reminded yourself that you’re not a pedestrian in Nepal any more).
From here, the road should remain flat and smooth all the way to Delhi. Hopefully, the headwinds will give it a rest for a day or two. No doubt the driving clowns will still be out in abundance, but there’s another possible cloud on the horizon. There’s a lot of civil unrest just to the north of Delhi at the moment, which The Times of India says has spread around the country a bit.
The main road to Agra (which I’ll be taking) was blocked for a few hours yesterday. And most of the highways to the north of Delhi – towards Amritsar, which is my final target in India – have been disrupted by protests too. Apparently, the water supply to Delhi’s been interrupted, too; it’s clearly all kicking off.
This is one situation where being on a bike may work to my advantage. There are still a few days before I get to Agra, and another few from there to Delhi. So there’s a chance that things will have calmed down up there by the time I get that far north.
I’ll just have to wait and see whether this ends up affecting things or not. With a bit of luck, a change of plan won’t be required, but I’m not going to know for a while.
In the meantime, it’s back on those crazy, dusty roads tomorrow (Tuesday). Wish me luck!