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.
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.
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.
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.
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.