Meet Hari

Today, we named the bike. Hari was chosen because; it’s our pops middle name, we love Harry Enfield and we’re in India…

Hari Krishna, Hari Rama, Hari Om.

So, meet Hari.

In the distance is the stunning Triund range, about a days trek from McLeod Ganj.

You can follow Hari’s adventures on Instagram @HariOmEnfield.

A mandala painted on the ceiling of the gompa at Tushita Meditation Centre

Relax, Release, Return

Earlier this week we attended a short workshop at Tushita Meditation Centre. Cultivating Mindfulness and Emotional Balance with Glen Svenson was a three day event designed to  help students develop their meditation practice and understand how to apply it to daily life.

When you focus on something does your body tense? Do you find that concentrated attention leads to a rigid, tight posture? Do you frown, hold your breath or stick your tongue out when you’re really alert to a task?

If the answer is yes (for 9/10 cats this is the case), then this learning is for you.

That sustained tension over time is a disaster. It will wear you out, run you down and leave you feeling tired, stressed and unhappy.

Here’s a simple way out of it:

First, relax. Relax your attention, come away from the object and let out a deep exhale. And again. Breathe right out. Feels better already, right?

Second, release. Release the tension in your body. The exhale helped relax and release but make a conscious check of your entire body, see that you are free from agitation, stiffness or tension. Stay loose.

Third, return. Return to the task with an alert but comfortable posture and breathe deeply. Spine straight, sit bones balanced and grounded, equal weight in each (i’f you’re reading this at a desk – this means sitting properly in that chair, leaning slightly forward with a straight back). Head balanced perfectly in top of your shoulders with a strong, supple neck. Breathe a few deep belly breaths and let them right out.

You’re ready to commence with your task in alert, relaxed, attention. Be sure to check in every hour (ideally take a break and walk a little to stretch your legs), come back to the task with alert relaxed attention.

Relax, release, return.

JT rides into a herd of sheep on the road to McLeod Ganj

The 303

We were all feeling pretty chuffed with the previous day’s journey from Rishikesh. The road had been kind. We’d made new friends and arrived at a respectable hotel to share a delicious meal together. A very satisfying combination.

Our night’s sleep however, was less successful. For most of the night bus load after bus load of hungry, tired travellers arrived, ate and went to bed noisily. At one point it sounded a lot like someone was using an industrial grade floor cleaner to scrub the tiles in the room above us. Michal and Mirtilla were of a similar disposition, adding that they now smelt very much like curry and chapati, having secured a room close to the busy kitchen.

Easy rider; Royal Enfield Thunderbird does Himachal Pradesh

Easy rider; Royal Enfield Thunderbird does Himachal Pradesh

The smugness of the previous day had already begun to wear off. Unperturbed, we loaded the bikes and made for a quick start, opting to skip breakfast in favour of a later stop a few kilometres outside of Shimla. Elevenses always taste better anyway. At breakfast we were treated to a spectacular view across Himachal Pradesh. The terrain averaging around 1,500m and filled with rolling hills for many miles, the morning sun burning through the dewy mist of the early hours.

Conversation during our meal of aloo paratha, chutney and chai veered very deeply in to the current mess of the political situation in both Britain and Italy – Brexit, the far-right and unemployment. It was an unlikely topic for such a beautiful place. The words didn’t sound quite right against the backdrop of the Indian Himalayan foothills.

View from the bike; Himachal Pradesh

View from the bike; Himachal Pradesh

As we hugged for the sixth time that day, saying fond farewells as if we’d not see each other in a few hours time for chai and chit-chat, I pointed out that we would definitely cross paths someways along the road and certainly jinxed meeting up again that day. Michal had memories of a very good road to Dharamshala, insisting that it was possible to reach the town before dark. Again, jinx had an eye on our plans and stepped in to throw the game.

To say that the road was bad would be understatement of a tall order. An hour after our optimistic goodbyes we were sucking diesel and cursing the poor condition of the road. NH202 it seemed was a thoroughfare for the lions share of the heavy goods traffic of Himachal Pradesh. Landslides had destroyed great swathes of the asphalt surface leaving behind just dust, rocks and potholes. The sheer volume of traffic kicked up a great deal of choking, thick white dust, reducing visibility and air to unpleasantly smoggy levels.

The happiest truck in Himachal Pradesh; can you see the smile?

The happiest truck in Himachal Pradesh; can you see the smile?

Indian road haulage trucks are huge – stacked higher than high, decked out with cargos of unknown weight on tyres of questionable tread – a real heady mix of danger, frustration and risk. It’s hard to describe the filth that these beasts chug out in biblical quantities. Within a few minutes of being sandwiched between these monsters we ere covered in thick black soot and desperately wrapping our scarves tightly around our faces to mitigate the suffocating stink of fumes.

In three hours we travelled just 65km. The intricate hand painted bodywork of the vehicles making little compensation for the unpleasantness of that stretch of road. One piece of wisdom did come out of it, however, the rear tailgate of one of the trucks had a message for fellow travellers ‘Life is limited one time offer – use it!’.

Switchback; hairpin bends in Himachal Pradesh make for exciting riding

Switchback; hairpin bends in Himachal Pradesh make for exciting riding

At lunch we were greeted with a hundred smiles and requests for ‘one selfie’. Since Diwali, Gujuratis have been on state holiday and have been travelling north in large numbers to visit places such as Manali, Dhramshala and Rishikesh. Grubby with black dirt and exhaust smoke, eyes like a motorcycling Jack Sparrow, we posed patiently for ‘one click’ and shook hands with dozens of moustached men and eager young children.

We looked like a bad drag act after a late night SoHo shindig, all smudged panda eyes, wild hair and blackened fingers, but that didn’t matter, the whites of our eyes shone like crystals in a Swarovski show room against the bleak appearance of our ragged attire. ‘One snap’ with a Britisher was still something exotic for our Gujarati friends, bedraggled or otherwise.

JT rides into a herd of sheep on the road to McLeod Ganj

JT rides into a herd of sheep on the road to McLeod Ganj

Happily, the afternoon’s route was more comfortable; a wide, well paved, less steep, straight course was a welcome relief after a gruelling stint in the deep, winding, broken up valleys.

Reflecting on our progress over a delicious plate of very spicy bean curry, subgee and plain boiled rice I was grateful for our meagre achievement. Considering the gradient, surface and traffic we’d still come a long way in comparison to a bicycle. In fact, we’d already done as much in a long morning than I would have hoped to climb on a push iron. The motorcycle was giving us the possibility of two to three times the daily range of a pedal bike.

That said, the greater totals travelled came at a cost. The speed, frenetic chaos of constantly overtaking slow trucks, buffalo carts and insanely anxious drivers – literally a new driver will simply buy a car, turn on the hazards lights and drive at just a few miles an hour in the middle of the road – push mental resilience to maximum limits. By the end of this day I felt burnt out like a fire damaged truck that had rolled off a cliff and burst into flames in the valley below.

Just chillin; cows are free to roam in all India

Just chillin; cows are free to roam in all India

All the intensity of the days two wheeled activity; concentration to navigate the dicey roads, outmanoeuvring dodgy drivers and the inevitable overtaking of trucks had sunk into my nervous system a very fragile energy. I was dead beat by the time we arrived at Jawalamukhi at 5pm. Pulling up at the first hotel we saw, things started to fall into place for us; Hotel Maya (Maya the name of my sisters godchild), room 17 (my birthday, on the NH303 (the same road that passes Stone henge and title of a Kula Shaker track), and 600 rupee (an amount we were happy to pay) all made this decision feel totally correct, like the universe approved entirely of our choices and wanted to confirm us through these little signs and portents.

After I’d put my finger into a live electric socket in the bathroom attempting to switch on the boiler for hot water, we made our way with haste to the hotel restaurant for an Indian feast; butter paneer masala, aloo gobi masala, a dozen chapati, onion bhaji, finger chips, followed by fruit kulfi with the last chapati – like an ice cream sandwich – a surprisingly tasty combination.

Bathing in the Baner Khad river; Himachal Pradesh

Bathing in the Baner Khad river; Himachal Pradesh

Back at the room we put on the televisions for a little local entertainment. We found a fantastic channel showing short clips of old Bollywood movies, usually one of the main dance off showdowns; alternate waving hands, shaking feet and wobbling heads, like Mr Bean on acid in a National Trust property.

Our plan for the next day was to leave early for McLeod Ganj, the hill station home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. With just under 60km t ride we felt that this would be a breeze after the hard won experience of the previous day. How wrong we were. We eft on empty stomachs, believing that we’d be in McLeod for breakfast, so with this idea we took off along one of the prettiest scenic routs so far; glorious expansive vistas stretching many miles distant, alpine flora and fauna giving a delightfully familiar fragrance to the air and small homesteads lining the village roads; a cow, a few chickens, a bullock or water buffalo, a brace of mules, spiked straw drying on the roofs, a classic bucolic Indian setting.

Police cops; traffic police in Himachal Pradesh are fly like mounties

Police cops; traffic police in Himachal Pradesh are fly like mounties

Three hours later we were still pootling around Dharamshala slightly lost, semi fatigued and increasingly irritated – skipping breakfast had spectacularly backfired – the hunger-confusion-rage that set in at this point was debilitating. Three times I followed a road sign that took me in a complete circle. Three times I returned to the point of action ‘Is this the way, Luce? I’m sure we’ve been here before’. Three times I realised too late that indeed we had. Eventually, we arrived in McLeod Ganj, the summit of the main square a spaghetti of awkward lanes, tight one way streets and out of control traffic police.

Frazzled, I pulled up the bike on to it’s centre stand and instructed Lucy to find any room that met our requirements; cheap, clean and close to town; I sat on some steps observing the morning rush at the makeshift roundabout. Horns blared loudly to indicate driver intent, a cow meandered casually across the whole intersection and a taxi crashed slowly, but certainly into the bike, knocking it from the stand, momentarily to two wheels, balanced and rolling gently toward a glass fronted cake shop, then wobbling heavily onto a pedestrian.

The impact knocked the stout Tibetan lady to the ground but luckily did not crush her – the weight of the bike and bags was getting on for 300kgs – quickly a crowd gathered to lift the lady and the bike back to standing and the clumsy taxi driver came over to apologise first to the bike, then to the lady. The traffic cop then decided that there was no parking in the area and ordered me to move the bike. I dawdled til Lucy returned and made a swift exit to the safety of the hotel.

That’s why it’s called a practice

India is pretty full on. Come here a little out of whack and you’ll be found out. Like a house of mirrors and every one is truth. These last few days there have been some really strong lessons. It’s been as if every thought has manifested itself in real time. A supercharged karmic bubble. India is like that. Full power.

Walking through the streets of McLeod Ganj today (a very spiritual place, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama), I noticed a shopfront; ‘What we think, we become’. If you get caught up in a negative cycle, you’re going down, down to chinatown. Conversely, focus on compassion, light and love, and guess what, you’ll have a pretty swell day.

You have a choice.

We were all born with everything we’ll ever need. Our primary task in life is to realise that and allow the rest to happen for us. Training your mind to shut up and chill is a hard job. But, the only sure way to liberation is to quiet the mind.

Meditation is simple but tough. You sit on your cushion, close your eyes and the thoughts speed up to frantic, like Jeremy Clarkson is directing your very own private episode of Top Gear and the whole budget has been spent on pointless showing off, explosions and soundtracks.

You just can’t stop thinking about stuff; the conversation you had yesterday with a colleague, the funny look the neighbour gave you this evening, the awesome new song you heard on the radio – the lyrics to every song you’ve ever known.

That’s why it’s called a practice.

Keep trying.

For those with an interest, I added photos to yesterday’s post – click here to see them (a maverick blogging technique if ever there was one 😉

Lakshman Jhula; A Bridge Over Holy Water

We crossed Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh’s famous hanging bridge before the sun came up from behind the mountains. The bike putt-putt-putting as we slowly idled across the narrow metal plates suspended high above the Ganges river.

Easy rider; crossing Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh

Easy rider; crossing Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh

Our early start made certain we had the path almost entirely to ourselves. A handful of pedestrians walked along beside us, stopping to let us pass. An hour a later and this quiet moment high above the rushing torrents of India’s longest river will be long forgotten, crowds jostling in a seething mass crossing from Tapovan to Jonk.

The route; Rishikesh to Nahan

The route; Rishikesh to Nahana

As we pulled slowly up the west bank through Tapovan we passed mules laden with bricks headed down to a building site close to the river, each measured step, sure and steady under the weight their load. The early morning hush hung in the air like a velvet mist dissolving all sounds as the town gracefully eased into the momentum of the coming day.

The sun came up as we crossed from Uttrakhand into Himachal Pradesh. Cruising along on highway 7 we made light work of the 144 kilometres to reach Nahan by 11:30. Home to the Indian Army Special Forces Training School and headquarters of the Sirmaur District, Nahan is also the site of the Lytton memorial, of which there is little information save to say that it’s a huge triple arched gateway with a cannon inside the middle arch that stands at the edge of the maze of lanes of the bazaar, the corner of the football pitch and a few doors down from the Sikh temple.

Nahan; the military school play football

Nahan; the military school play football

At this early hour of the day we decided that the natural course of action was to continue onwards towards Dharamshala. Progress had been swift and with the rest of the day ahead of us we remounted the bike and took off at full speed. This rapid movement lasted all of a few hours until we ran into some very heavy traffic on the road towards Shimla.

From Rishikesh to Nahan the route was the reverse of the path that I’d cycled nearly there years before. The memory of this struck me as we approached Nahan and then more vividly again as we neared Shimla; I’d spent the night with a fellow bike traveler bedded down at the side of the road after a family had declined our request to pitch a tent in their back garden – the only flat area for many miles – this night was restless to say the least, and as the early morning toy train pulled itself slowly upwards we were glad to breathe into a new day.

Karada Baba Temple, Himachal Pradesh

Karada Baba Temple, Himachal Pradesh

We were now firmly into Himachal Pradesh proper; the altitude picking up a few notches demonstrated by the abundance of pines of multifarious species and the steep incline testing the mettle of our steel horse; Himachal Pradesh is known for it’s high quality charas and hashish, which is hand rubbed and a particular favourite with connoisseurs of such things.

Africa Twin with the Thunderbird One

Africa Twin with the Thunderbird One

Our day ended with a chance meeting of an Italian couple motorcycling form Italy to Nepal. Michal and Mirta were five months in to their epic journey and it was a joy to share stories of Central Asia; the great Silk Road cities of Samarkhand, Bukhara and Tashkent. The guys had had to fly their Africa Twin by cargo plane from Tashkent to Delhi due to visa challenges with Pakistan and permission complications for entering China with a motorcycle. Despite these difficulties they were now ten happy days into their Indian odyssey.

Himachal Pradesh

Himachal Pradesh

A thin silver sliver of crescent moon rose above our weary heads, like the steel of a Sabreuse  slicing through the dusk of the crisp evening air. We had reached the town of Waknaghat, some 248km from our early morning crossing of the bridge over holy water.  A great way to round off a very successful day’s riding.

The Oldest Hippie In Rishikesh

Yesterday morning I went up to the roof to join Lucy for an hour of yoga before breakfast. Before we could get started an old guy playing clarinet called me over.

“You know what this is? No? You’re not a hippie. This is a peace sign. My mandala is a peace sign. I want to make a recording, right here, look, here’s the phone, you click this, hold it, then swipe to the lock and that’s it. Keep it steady, no shaking. We’ll see how good a photographer you are.”

“You know yoga? Yeh? All Yoga Teachers failed at life, that’s why they’re here. You have to be vegetarian to do yoga. The American Alliance of Yoga? It’s a Coca Cola company. They’ve got a nerve, man. You know? Come over here and just steal yoga and turn it into some multi million dollar business.”

“These women in leggings, walking around like that, all sex and body. That’s not yoga. That’s just sex, working only one chakra. These teachers here, they’re making like, two, three hundred thousand dollars a year. They can’t enjoy that money. It’s wrong. It’s cheating. A pickpocket, he can enjoy his piece, that’s an art. Teaching yoga, that’s just cheating.”

“Record me with this clarinet. I’m going to make a video and send it to all the big labels. A big hit. Let’s go.”

We record the clip to a tabla and harmonium backing track and play it back.

“Powerful sound. You know the tabla? That’s the sound. Yeh.”

“I had the best Bullet in all India. No one believed it was mine. My girlfriend, she used to feed the baby on the back, no problem, then I sold it – show’s over! I destroyed Rishikesh. Shiva. When I came here there were like, just three local restaurants, chillum and chai. This place [the ashram where we were staying], just a ruin. Nothing.”

“Who could believe that India could be like this? So many cars, so much rush – ruuusssshhhh.”

“So, James Bond. Yeh, he was in deep. Real brainwashed. You know? Like terrorists, really they believe it. When they do it, they’re like, really IN TO IT! Destroy all terrorists. Say it, say ‘destroy all terrorists’. Brainwashing, man. Mental. GOV-ERN-MENTAL. You get it? MENTAL.”

A traditional Indian taxi

Mother Ganga

Escape from Delhi

Overtaken by a feeling of hurry and rush we sped through the small town roads north east of Delhi. The idea of a destination, the satisfaction arriving and the excitement of a new journey begun were overpowering thoughts, sensations and energies.

The most iconic ashram in Rishikesh

The most iconic ashram in Rishikesh

Our 250km journey from Delhi to Rishikesh was a great adventure in itself. New to Indian roads by motorcycle, the experience was invigorating, challenging and familiar. It was amazing just how familiar it all felt. The early days of a new tour are always the same – MUST. REACH. DESTINATION.

King of the road: cows take priority here in India

King of the road: cows take priority here in India

After near eight hours astride saddle, the plush leather was less comfortable than It first appeared. Of course, we took breaks every couple of hours to take chai and fruit, but the effort was still mighty, the wear and tear of the day pulling at our fraying seams. It couldn’t have been any different.

A shop keeper combs his hair. Rishikesh, India

A shop keeper combs his hair. Rishikesh, India

With a desire to leave the madness of Delhi behind at the earliest opportunity, we packed up in haste and executed our to-do list with precision. All the little jobs were done quickly and efficiently. That checklist mentality was taken with us to the bike on that first day.

Mother Ganga

Our long day chasing an arrival was a great lesson. As I sit here now, looking out over the mighty Ganges, the most holy of rivers, life giver, and Mother to all India, its easy to remember that its the journey that matters. The destination does not.

Mother Ganga; the Ganges is the most holy river in India

Mother Ganga; the Ganges is the most holy river in India

Let’s take the metaphor of life as the great journey; the beginning is birth, the middle is your ‘life’ and the destination is death – surely then, there is no hurry to arrive?

Shiva; the destroyer and the transformer

Shiva; the destroyer and the transformer

Yet, it’s all too common to meet people that are living by checklist, mired in a constant feeling of lack, misery and suffering. ‘If I just get that next promotion’, they say, ‘a bigger house’, things would be different, ‘a little more money’ that’s all, ‘then I’d be happy’.

An Indian woman and child enter an ashram

An Indian woman and child enter an ashram

Where the does all that end? It doesn’t. It never ends. It’s a trap.

The trick is not to get so caught up in all that stuff and nonsense.

A friend shared a piece of wisdom recently;

‘A great master does not teach, but simply helps you to forget what you think you know’.

Taking a rejuvenating dip in the powerful flow of Mother Ganga was needed to help us to remember the journey and to forget the destination.

Beautiful Rishikesh in the evening sun

Beautiful Rishikesh in the evening sun

So, when we load the bags back onto the bike tomorrow morning we’ll be taking a different mind with us. A calm and quiet mind. Ready to see the joy in a smile, take in the wonder of nature and enjoy every moment.

The Pilgrim Plane

Mecca

Flying into Delhi was a journey of two halves. The first half was only half capacity, I had the middle row of three seats to myself, in a very new, comfortable aircraft. Passengers on this flight were British Muslims headed for Mecca. Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the holiest city in the world for Muslims. Since this flight connected to New Delhi via Jeddah our path took us just 70km from the site.

During the six hours airtime many of the men on board changed from ordinary clothes of jeans, shirts and shoes into the traditional white Ihram robes particular to Hajj. The females were already dressed in the black equivalent. The idea is to minimise the distraction of others attention. This checkerboard spectacle was quite the opposite viewed in one sweep of the plane, like a game of chess gone on holiday.

Arriving at Jeddah I was lucky enough to snuggle down in the snooze lounge of the Saudia Air business class customers. A little persistence and a friendly smile goes a long way. The scene upon passing through security some hours later was an exploded replica of the flight. Scores of men in white robes and women dressed in black were seated in neat rows. The unique dress of the Saudi Arabian man adding a touch of variation to proceedings with the addition of a red and white Keffiyeh, like a gingham lions mane offering protection against the heat and the dust.

Home From Hajj

I sat to meditate in a quiet corner of the terminal, leaving just the right amount of time to join the tail end of the queue for boarding. The melee of this line was significantly Indian. The men were again, traditionally dressed in the white robes expected at Mecca but the women were dressed in every possible colour, pattern and style. These were Indian Muslims on the return home from Hajj.

Once boarded I was second last to be seated. A fellow Westerner, Leon, a 25 year old student from Berlin had taken his sweet time too. We were sat together at the door seats with the maximum leg room. No attention was paid to our tickets, simply ‘here are two seats, please take one and be happy’. A typically pragmatic Indian attitude to tickets, systems and protocol.

Leon and I immediately struck up conversation. We’d smiled knowingly on the long wait in the coach transfer from the terminal to the boarding area, waiting many minutes for a melodramatic thunder storm to shower its praises on the desert. An old lady garrotted up a long string of green phlegm, Leon looked disgusted, amused and accepting all at once.

Pilgrims Progress

We spoke on the flight of our respective journeys. Leon had been living in Istanbul for a year, navigating the challenges of a long distance relationship with his girlfriend based out of Amsterdam, figuring out what was next. His challenges felt familiar. I nodded, smiled and listened.

As beginnings of journeys go, being sandwiched between the two legs of the worlds biggest pilgrimage seemed fitting. Leaving the West and all the trappings of that life to again explore the country of Vipassana made even more sense. Synchronicity at work.

A little side note for the music fans out there: Kula Shakers album Pilgrims Progress is well worth a listen, check out Modern Blues; and the track Synchronicity II by the Police, see if they resonate.

Namaste from a very sunny Rishikesh. Yoga capital of the world, home to the Beatles ashram and a great place to swim in mother Ganga. #incredibleindia #visitindia #indiabybike #royalenfield #streetphotographyindia #indiagram #storiesofindia #allindiapermit #indianroadtrip #lonelyplanetindia #india_undiscovered #travelindia #rishikesh #yogacapitaloftheworld #breathedeeply #hippieinhills #motherganga #ganges #yogaindia #omshantiom #omhariom #harekrishna #harerama #harekrishnahareom #beatlesashram #johnpaulgeorgeringo

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Rural village near to Haridwar

Your Hair Is Like Thor

One Post For The Days Of Two

Let’s start with a caveat: the commitment I made to post daily is flexible. I’ll post where tech / WiFi permits but the intention is to write daily (which I am) and if the posts are a bit less consistent, that’s cool. You know how it is.

Lucy and the bike

Lucy and the bike

Yesterday we bought a Royal Enfield Thunderbird. The day was spent mostly in the cool shade of the small shop where Auntie cuts deals and orders young lads to fetch, carry and fix things. The bike was fitted with a luggage rack, new rear tyre and a couple of luxuries: a mobile phone holder / charger to make the navigation possible and a backrest for Lucy.

After a very calm day sipping chai and people watching in the Karol Bagh district of New Delhi, the journey across town to the hostel was pretty hairy. Delhi in the dark on a newly purchased motorcycle is an experience.

We made a plan to leave town early next day since roads would be quieter on Diwali.

Touch The Money

The drumming started early today. Diwali in Delhi is a loud celebration of the kind India is brilliant at. The repetitive, rhythmic beat slowly building as I rose from a deep restful sleep. The alarm clock of a fellow traveller began it’s chorus of electronic chimes to accompany the bass.

The route; Delhi to Rishikesh

The route; Delhi to Rishikesh

We wheeled our way through remarkably quiet streets to join the Delhi-Meerut Expressway. As we pulled up to a stop light at a large junction a handful of guys dressed in black, with a mala of severed limbs and shrunken skulls with faces painted jet black approached us.

“Touch money”

They screamed in unison. I pulled out a 10 rupee note and handed it over.

“Touch the money”

Waiting for the red light to change we had nowhere to go. They persisted with ‘touch the money’ and I took what I thought was another 10 rupee note and handed it over. It was a hundred. The guys were cackling now. Like a gaggle of crazed hyena witches, the whites of their eyes and teeth shining in the early morning sun.

The lights changed and we jerked away, reeling from the weirdness of the moment. It’s hard to describe the intensity of the encounter. It’s just not something that happens anywhere else. India can be quite full on.

At 9:30 we crossed the Yamuna River, the wide lanes of the Meerut Expressway empty save a few Indian families traveling to meet relatives in other towns. Progress was swift on the sealed highway. The bike purring its way through the morning.

Our easy streak came to an abrupt end at Muradnagar. The reliable surface of the motorway long gone, hundreds of vehicles of every shape, size and sturdiness making their elaborate way on a narrow single track semi paved road. Indian roads are loud because the horn is used to signal intent; speed up, get out of the way, watch out being the main ones.

By now, a few hours in to the journey, I’d begun to feel the weight of the bike. Constant stopping, starting, swerving, stopping again, was heavy work. Indian roads are notoriously chaotic; the volume of traffic, huge variety of vehicles and the vast differences in speed make the cocktail pretty heady.

A man riding a trailer loaded with bricks pulled by a water buffalo turns right. He raises an arm, pointing his stick towards the field he’s headed for and slowly the long train of animal, trailer and cargo make the move. Approaching this at 60 kph with a fleet of other scooters, small cars and sumos, the result is a complete roadblock for 40 seconds.

Diwali decorations

Diwali decorations

Your Hair Is Like Thor

Our route carved its way through sugar cane, pampas grass and species of trees too numerous to mention. Small tea stalls lined the path offering plentiful opportunities for refreshment with sweet milky chai, veg pakoda (cauliflower and potato with spices in a light batter) and fruit salad with sugar and green chilli dressing.

In Roorkee we stopped for some fruit and chai. Lucy sat on a bench next to the bike, I crossed the busy road to get chai and by the time I returned a crowd had gathered; inquisitive, shy, eager and excitable all at once. Tall European blondes are a rare thing indeed in small town India.

“Where are you from?”

The usual drill of questions came barrelling out. Lucy replying with angelic patience, all smiles and naivety. We’ll be asked that question often. It would be easy to become tired and jaded of the repetition.

As a traveler it’s important to remember that it’s a great privilege to be free to travel foreign lands. Every meeting with a new face is a moment of genuine thrill for a local; a polite reply, a smile and handshake is the least you can do.

Rising from the bench and the glow of the early evening sunlight, one of the young guys points and says;

“You know Thor? You have hair like Thor!”

Lucy replies with a reference to vikings.

“Vikings are scary!” the lad smiles, shaking my hand.