The Capital

Most capital cities are a bit different from the rest of the country they’re in.

And New Delhi is no exception to the rule.  I rode out of town this morning along broad avenues.  Amongst grand buildings and elegant pavements, rows of columns, statues and monuments.

These are all a bit different from the rest of India.  But the biggest difference was the traffic:

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Yes, it was Saturday morning.  It’s a bit busier during the week.

But I walked around a bit on weekdays, and it’s just not that bad.  Far less of the driving mayhem.  Cars staying more-or-less in lane.  Levels of horn use so low as to be simply un-Indian.

As a result, I think New Delhi may well be the best city in India to ride a bike in.  Which might not be saying a great deal, but it’s definitely a massive improvement on every other town I’ve dealt with in the last few weeks.

There are other benefits to being in the capital, too.  I had errands to run.  The sort of errands that only Delhi could fulfil.

I got the Beastlet’s drivetrain refreshed at The Bike Shop.  I was expecting trouble getting hold of the parts I needed (conventional cycling wisdom says that it’s impossible to get 10-speed parts outside of Europe and North America).

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But they had most of it, and what they didn’t have, they managed to courier in within 36 hours.  And the mechanic (above) was top notch, despite having the street as his workshop.  I’m still not sure that the ultra-blingy golden chain is strictly necessary, but it all works really nicely.

I just have to make sure I’ve got my shades on when I look at it now – it’s really bright…

So the bike’s ready for the desert.  And after a day flapping around (three visits to the embassy, one set of emergency form reprinting, and one trip to a bank on the other side of town), I’ve got my visa for Uzbekistan.  And a flight out of Amritsar to Tashkent on the 15th.  The next stage is on.

That’ll mean moving on from India.  Into the former Soviet Union.  The sort of place you expect to see giant monuments and massive flags all over the place.

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Delhi has its share of both, mind you.  The enormous flag is in the centre of Connaught Place, which is pretty much the heart of the colonial area.  The area around the flag looks more like Regent Street in London than India.

And then there’s the huge and monumental scale of the parliament buildings, the massive mall which runs away from them, and the India Gate at the other end:

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All immensely oversized, and very impressive.  It’s a bit odd to me that this was laid out by the British while they were in charge over here.  While the style’s quite similar to home, the scale is definitely more American or Soviet than what I’d normally associate with my more modestly-sized homeland.

I guess maybe running half the world had gone to their heads a little bit…

Still, this morning, it was time to head north.  Given that it’s less than 500 km from Delhi to Amritsar, and I had ten days before the flight, I was back in gentle cruising mode.  A last look at those impressive avenues (below), and it was back to the main road.

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Still pretty flat, still pretty fast, even though the wind has finally swung against me.  It’s actually a bit of a relief, as the temperature had built up uncomfortably in the last few days.  It’s a lot cooler with the north-easterly breeze in my face.  And, as I’m in no rush, the headwind’s not really bothering me.

Should be a relatively gentle last few days in India.  Or back in India, as I should probably say, after the metropolis…


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…

Coming Down the Mountains

With the after-effects of that dodgy high-altitude chicken masala still haunting me as I rolled out of Kathmandu, I could have been forgiven for taking it a bit easy on the way back down to the plains.

So I did.

There’s no point in hammering yourself when you’re not 100%, and I’d lost a lot of energy.

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Nepal’s not the most difficult country if you want to slow down a bit and enjoy the scenery.  After just a few kilometres of gentle climbing on the main drag out of Kathmandu on Monday, I tipped over the pass (above), and had about 1400 metres of altitude to drop off before flattening out on the approach to the Indian border.

It’s not quite as easy as it sounds.  I was still in the Himalayas, after all.  So although there was all that height to drop, there were still quite a few climbs to deal with as the road contoured around valley sides and gorges.

And, despite being foothills, these are not exactly small.  Hopefully, you can get an idea of the scale from the size of the bike in the picture below.

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Given their proximity, and close economic ties, Nepal and India don’t seem to have a great deal in common.  Nepal loses on economic development (apparently, although it doesn’t feel any poorer than India), but wins on scenery, cleanliness, mobile internet access, traffic levels, chocolate availability, driving skills (marginally), the general level of English spoken, having bikes with gears, and having pavements to walk on in town.

But there is one area where both countries are on a par.  Unannounced, unsignposted, major roadworks.  As I headed down to Bharatpur on Tuesday, I suddenly hit a roadblock.  Loads of irate locals, trucks, buses and all, piled up at a barrier.  There’s only the one road to Bharatpur, so this was a bit of an issue.

It turns out that the highway is shut in both directions from 11 until three every day.  At three, the traffic tsunami at each end is released to smash together somewhere in the middle.  Probably right where the roadworks are.  This didn’t seem like a great idea.  Fortunately, after discussing with a few locals (and promising to carry a couple of them on the back of the bike – I think this was a joke), the fierce guardian of the gate agreed that it would be a tad dangerous to be caught up in the three o’clock stampede.

So I got to ride the valley road pretty much by myself.  This was good, because it was a rather nice valley to ride:

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After Bharatpur, it was more-or-less back to flat country.  Yesterday (Wednesday) gave me a chance to see if I’d fully recovered from the stomach bug, as I put in the first 100 km ride for a while to bring me to the border.  It went OK, although I still don’t think my energy levels are quite back to where they were.

Just one last big hill, which gave me one last Himalayan downhill to smile about as I headed onto the plain, in company with some of the many bicycle commuters of southern Nepal.

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Today is another rest, and a chance to refuel and look forward to heading back to India.  A few more decent roads and a little less dust than the eastern side of the country provided would be a good start.  And I’m going to give them one more chance to sort me out with mobile internet.

With the Taj Mahal and Delhi on the route for the next section, there should be a good chance for India Part 2 to improve significantly on Part 1.

Assuming the border presents no more problems than it did on the way into Nepal, I’ll start to find that out tomorrow…