In Mumbai I touch down and continue cycling from here. I find an accommodation right next to the airport so that I don't have to ride downtown. I go there next morning with a suburb commuter train. my goodness, I think I have never seen such a mass of people! Impossible crowds storm the trains and without the extensive use of elbows there is no way I ever get on board. I finally manage to get on the train (resulting in almost a bit of pride) but at the next stop I am getting kicked out again: I accidently got on a carriage, reserved only for women... welcome to India!
When I get ready to leave Mumbai, I prepare myself for nothing less but the sheer horror. I am not getting disappointed. After 40km when I have the worst behind me, I am buggered from the noise, stench and danger.
My biggest fear about India was always, if it was going to be possible to find small roads, where I could escape the chaotic traffic. Although on earlier journeys I have mostly travelled only in the north (Kashmir, Ladakh, Zanskar), I have already made some experience with the traffic here. So I plan my first days not along sightseeing attractions but rather try to choose the smallest possible roads to get north. Surprisingly that works rather well and at the end of the first day I ride already through such a remote valley that I even end up camping, although I thought I would not do that anymore here.
Something that I really had been looking forward was the food here in India und I am not getting disappointed. Be it on a simple roadside food stall or in a restaurant, it is simply always heavenly. Often I have no clue as what I eat or what the dishes are called, I simply order what my neighbor is eating. This variety of ingredients and spices is what I really missed in Africa.
In India you find an accommodation in every town. That was what I always thought. But yesterday I ended up in that not so little town and saw already nothing on the way to the center. At the market I ask. I cause quite a chaos, because simply everybody wants to see the strange foreigner. At first someone who speaks english is organized. He invites me for chai while the traders supply me with fruits and drinks. He laughs: there really is no accommodation here, no one come here. But after some phone calls he has organized that I can stay the night at the Gouvernement Resthouse, which is normally used by traveling officials.
There are still towns where the local reporter drops everything at the arrival of a touring cyclist. Happened today in a little place far from any tourist trail. Before I can even check in at the guesthouse I am asked for an interview and photos.
When I started in Mumbai, it was really hot (35º). Now with every day that I get further north, the temperatures are getting nicer. Currently it is almost perfect for cycling: a little bit cool in the morning and then just over 20º in the afternoon.
After about 10 days I reach the border to Rajasthan. Meanwhile it works really well, choosing the right roads. For days I travel on narrow roads across the rural countryside. Men with imposing mustaches and colourful turbans sit in groups next to the road, women dressed in no less colourful Saris balancing a water container on their head pass me, two cows walk in a circle to propel a water irrigation system while I ride slalom around Tuk-Tuks, cattle and potholes. It is simply fantastic and just the India I always wanted to see, away from the chaotic cities.
In Rajasthan (literally the land of the kings), almost every town has an imposing fort and there are many Jain temples. Like the one in Ranakpur with its 1444 columns full of impossibly detailed ornaments. It is the land of the intense colors. Be it dresses, jewelry or spices: bright yellow and fire red dominate.
Kites are very popular in India and when I reach Jaipur the whole sky seems to be full of them. No wonder today just happens to be the kite festival. Thanks to the festival there are many music and dance groups in town. In between I visit the pink city, the interesting Amber fort and Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark, the Palace of the Winds.
When I leave Jaipur it is foggy out of a sudden. Unfortunately this is going to stay like that for the coming days. Especially in the morning I often see no further then 20m and it is wet and cold. In this weather I don’t feel like taking additional detours and so I often ride on big, direct roads. It is manly killing the distance and the fun factor has dropped dramatically. At least I reach interesting places on the way, like Agra. But when arriving there I can barely see the Taj Mahal because of the fog.
The ‚highlight‘ is finally the arrival in Delhi. It rains as if the monsoon has just begun. The water from above is not that much of a problem, but when indian roads get wet it is terribly dirty. From everywhere the dirt hits me and mainly along the edge of the road (where I ride) it is often a deep puddle. When I reach Delhi I am happy I can throw all my clothes at once in a washing machine.
Actually I had planned to stay well away from Delhi. But some days ago, friends who have been living here for some time write me and invite me. So enjoy some very relaxing days, swiss food (Raclette, real bread and wine). But I can also use the time to organize permits and visa and we visit a Lama whom I tell about my travels.
Cycling in India is often mentally exhausting. Especially the hordes of motorcycles that often constantly ride next to me and bombard me with ‚where from?‘ and ‚where to?‘ can sometimes be nerving. There probably are road rules in India too I assume. But absolutely no one cares about them. There is only one rule on Indian roads: the stronger wins. When riding on separated lanes for example I constantly have to be careful of oncoming traffic on my lane. Two things are unique for every driver: constant (and often seemingly pointless) honking and that everyone always only looks ahead (certainly never back even I you enter a road).
Indians are by nature very curious. Privacy is an unknown word here and no matter wehere I stop, I soon have a crowd of people watching whatever I do.
I am happy when I reach Rishikesh. This town lies at the foot of the mountains, exactly where the Ganges for the first time leaves the mountains. It is the self proclaimed yoga capital of the world. The place also became known when in the 68's the Beatles came here in search of spiritual experiences.
When I leave Rishikesh along the Ganges, it is as if everything changes at once. No more big roads with lots of traffic and loud honking, but a small mountain road that winds in endless curves along the steep hillside. No more fog but sun. I am finally where I wanted to get for quite some time: at the foot of the Himalaya!
The road is immediately a challenge. Flat has been erased from the vocabulary. In daily very long climbs I reach 2000m several times. The road seem to actually have been glued to the often impossibly steep hillside. Every couple of hundred meters I ride over the remains of a landslide. During the last monsoon the area has been hit very badly by serious storms. Often it looks as if that had only just been last week.
Atop the second climb I can enjoy the first view of the snow covered Himalaya main range around Nanda Devi. After a week of up and down I reach Nainital. A typical indian hillstation where in the past the english and today the better off indians come for the weekend. From here I go back down into the plains to the border with Nepal.