Everything was going both really fast and painfully slow at the same time; if we added up the time we had to wait in China for the Pakistani Visa due to IT problems, the time we had to wait in Pakistan for the Indian Visa because it was Yoga Day and because they apparently don’t how to handle a Visa application properly and the days we wasted in Lahore because we got turned back at the border due to more IT problems… well, let’s just say that our RDV for the endowment of 45 bicycles in Nepal was getting painfully nearer and all we could do was to draw a straight line across Northern India and pedal as fast as we could.
Ever since we had left the freshness of the KKH, the weather had been scorching and it wasn’t going to change anytime soon. In fact, although the rainy season should have started already, there wasn’t a cloud in sight and the next two weeks were forecast as 40+ degrees Celsius.
Sounds like we’re going to have some fun!!
From the beginning of the trip we have always noticed that the areas around a border are actually very similar on both sides of it. It’s like if some genius devised a line to separate two administrative territories but, luckily, he forgot to tell humans living there about it. And so languages, customs, architecture and a lot more stay connected even with the passing of time…
However, when Punjab was separated back in 1947, something huge happened and although small resemblances still persist on either side of the heavily militarised border between Pakistan and India, truth is that when you cross that line you step into a totally different world.
Because of what little history we knew, at the time, about the complicated separation of these two countries, and also from what we had heard from Pakistanis, we were expecting Indian Punjab to somewhat nonidentical, but we had no idea to what extent!
The greatest surprise came from the religious sphere actually; East Punjab is actually the biggest Sikh community in India (hence in the world) but there is still a huge Muslim population there too. Again, not big experts of Indian history but we honestly didn’t expect either of the previously mentioned facts.
There are only three cities that we knew about in this part of the world; New Delhi, which we made our life mission to stay as far away from it as possible because of road safety, Haridwar which is supposedly a smaller version of Varanasi, and Amritsar. This last is just across the border and it’s well-known for being a wonder and a must visit for any traveler in the region.
And so we went!
It’s always difficult to remember exactly what you expected from a place before getting there, but Amritsar really impressed us and, sadly, it also made the rest of our time in Northern India a lot more disappointing.
The Golden Temple is for Sikhs what St. Peter’s is for Catholics and thousands of people go through it’s 4 doors every day. We stayed in a special room for foreigners and so had the chance to visit it several times the same day and every time it was different, not only because the sun shines upon it at different angles and changes the whole light and atmosphere around it, but also because at different times different ceremonies are performed.
As white people are actually a rare sight but always super welcomed, and we obviously stand out like an old Motorola in an iStore, many people talked to us and we were able to get a very valuable first insight into a religion we knew absolutely nothing about. We rather liked what we learned about Sikhism and found it pretty simple and very inspiring.
Unfortunately, due to the previously explained time restrictions, we could only stay there one night before facing the longest, hottest and dirtiest straight line of our trip.
Needless to say, India is busy. The real challenge for us though was being taken seriously by drivers while on the road. You see, India is one of those places where the biggest and heaviest vehicles get away with murder (literally!) and everyone else better get out of the way.
So apart from dogging cars driving the wrong way, just about anything imaginable being parked in the middle of the road, vehicles and people pulling out without even the quickest of glances, potholes of course, stray dogs, street vendors, religious celebrations, beggars and also genuinely being distracted by countless curious sights that we constantly witnessed, we were also endlessly having to look over our shoulder just to make sure that some idiot speaking on the phone wasn’t trying to overtake us while making a turn.
We often speak to other cyclists who have adored India and we inevitably secretly ask ourselves if they actually cycled there or just left their bikes somewhere safe and backpacked!
Oh sorry, we forgot to mention the noise; not only it’s by far the noisiest country we’ve been to, it’s also very difficult to get away from said noise just because of the high population density. To get an idea of what’s it’s like, just watch these 10 seconds; VIDEO
One great thing which must be said about bike touring in India though is the fact that we managed to go the whole 2 weeks without buying a single plastic bottle of water because super professional water filters can be found almost everywhere! We made it our routine to have breaks at petrol stations because there to you can fill your bottles for free and most of the time the water is also refrigerated!
Anyway, without going on and on about it, I think we made it clear that we didn’t have much fun on Indian roads in this part of the country, so let’s move onto the next big city we encountered along the way; Haridwar.
It was going to be our first encounter with a real Hindu pilgrimage city and, alas, it didn’t exactly go as well as we had hoped.
It’s almost exactly halfway between the Pakistani and the Nepalese border we were going to use and we had planned a day off there in order to rest and visit a little and, upon arrival, our bodies decided to take the opportunity to release all the stress accumulated over the previous week and we spent most of that day sitting on the toilet…
Still though, we managed to pull ourselves out of bed in the afternoon and visit a temple atop a holy hill and we’re still glad we did, but we would never go back to a similar place again while in India.
It was exactly like cycling on a road there with the only difference that, at every turn, someone tried to pull us into a shrine, anoint us with either ash or oil, and demanded money for it. All while having to be careful not to step on someone’s foot because the place was packed.
The other must-visit place in the city is the largest of several sacred ghats (bathing steps) where at 6 o’clock a nightly Ganga Aarti (river-worshiping ceremony) takes place and everyone (men of course) bathes and releases what once upon a time must have been a splendid display of tiny flickering lamps and petals but which is now just plastic, down the Ganges.
A mixture of exhaustion, intense heat and humidity and the fact that we hadn’t been to a crowded place in a while meant that we didn’t really enjoy this city so much. Unfortunately travelling is not always as idyllic as some make it out to be and one must accept that life, in general, is an intertwining roller-coaster of emotions which actually makes everything a lot more interesting.
As we got closer to Nepal and further away from New Delhi’s huge metropolitan spew and numerous industrial cities which surround it, we finally got to ride through some nice countryside roads and small nature reserves. We could see mountains in the distance, the landscape slowly turned more agricultural and rural and the rains finally arrived! The first time it was a full grown storm but we were so happy that we just cycled through it and absolutely loved it!
Don’t forget that while in India we filmed several episodes (from 10 to 18 to be precise) of our “1500 kms to happiness” VLOG series dedicated to our arrival at the children’s home in Nepal where we endowed 45 bikes in coordination with 88Bikes. Basically, if you’d like to watch what you’ve just read just click HERE
There’s also a short video about our time spent in India which is, more or less, a summary of this Entry HERE
And, finally, if you’re interested about the route we took through Northern India, there’s a section in our blog called “Itinerary” where you can see our way; LINK