Dehli —-> Bhiwadi. Saturday 8 Dec. 90km.
We left Delhi on Saturday morning, more excited to be on our bikes than anything else. Our week there had given us a certain comfort level with the traffic so although we knew it would be crazy it didn’t completely scare us. We had planned to take the main ring road out of the city, which we only managed for a brief period of time as it wasn’t that well signposted so we unintentionally diverted. But we think this actually ended up being a better route as the “lesser” inner ring road took us west and then south – but not as far west or south as the main ring road would have. And although traffic was chaotic, it was slow and very manageable….. the terrifying ride into Istanbul has obviously made us braver as I have to confess I quite enjoyed the chaos of it all!
There’s a crazy logic to the chaos and once you get the hang of it, it feels like you are part of one big mad community of people on the move, which I really liked. To me the navigation is a bit like skiing, which is how I am treating it..not that I am a particularly good skier! Look out for what’s directly in front and what’s joining the road in front of you and as much as possible ignore what’s behind. If everyone is doing the same it means that anything behind you will go around you if they want to, so you only have to navigate around what’s in front. They “horn” you to let you know they are coming through – but you basically carry on as you are and keep going in a straight line. Simples!! It worked most of the time, even on the 18-lane highway that we ended up on at one stage, and that was just the lanes on our side! Junctions and roundabouts can be more chaotic, sometimes there are cars coming against you on the wrong side of the road, and there’s the odd traffic jam caused by an accident which meant the road got gridlocked, but on the whole it was fine, although it’s really noisy with all the horns going, which takes some getting used to. The horns are all part of their rules of the road…(I use the word “rules” lightly..!). Trucks carry “blow horn” or “horn please” instructions and at night they expect you to use your “dippers”, which thankfully we won’t need as we have no intention of being on the roads after dark!
About 50km into the day we stopped for lunch at a Dhaba (roadside eatery) in Gurugram. The food was excellent and fuelled us up for the afternoon. We thought that by now the road would be much quieter, but it was still fairly chocca which was tiring as we needed to be constantly on our game with the traffic. It was also incredibly loud with all the horns…and we don’t have one as my really loud one stopped working in the torrential rain into Istanbul…the first time I had ever really needed it!
Our lovely driver in Delhi, Rakesh, had recommended OYO, an app for accommodation in India and other parts of Asia. We booked a place and and when we arrived at the hotel around 5pm, we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was for the price tag and made good use of the shower to wash away the grime of the day. Unfortunately their restaurant was closed for a private function so dinner was room service, which made our room smell of curry for the night!
Bhiwadi —-> Alwar. Sunday 9 Dec. 92 km.
We were on the road by 9am after a breakfast of omelette and toast (we kept asking for an Indian breakfast to get replies of “Omelette?” “Toast?” So it was just easier to go along with it). Our journey started on country roads that took us through some villages before joining route 25, which although this is a main road it isn’t the main route into Jaipur. Travelling these smaller roads was a completely different experience from yesterday…there wasn’t as much traffic but that meant that we stood out more. It probably doesn’t help that I am dressed like an advert for the United Colours of Benetton so that I stick out like a sore thumb…
….and Nigel isn’t any less conspicuous, but it’s mainly because we are white westerners, which they obviously don’t see many of. We were chased by cars with drivers shouting out the window for us to stop of have tea with them, mopeds and motorcycles riding alongside us to chat, take videos, photos or selfies…it was relentless all day, which was tiring at first and after 6 hours it was just plain annoying.
But we are trying to embrace it all as positive experience and it is 100% curiosity on their part – especially to see a female on a bike. There are lot of bikes in this country but we have yet to see a female riding one. And we have noticed that since leaving Delhi there are very few women in western dress. Most of them wearing are shawls and have their heads covered, regardless of age.
The villages we travelled through in the morning were very poor….lots of mud huts and cow pats drying by the side of the road, which we think are for burning for heat and cooking.
We saw women making them and leaving them to dry…and the more we travelled the more we saw that it’s mainly the women who are doing all the hard and/or dirty work while the men do the driving, hang out with their other male friends or lounge around doing very little (Nigel’s addition to this is that it’s the same the world over!).
Like andscape-wise, even if there was spectacular scenery, we would have struggled to see it as there is so much haze and smog around – but there is so much activity to take in anyway it makes for easy cycling and the kilometres just whizz passed. At the 50km mark we stopped at a roadside Dhaba for another delicious lunch – for the princely sun of £2.50 for us both.
Before coming here a lot of friends told us to stick to western hotels and tourist restaurants to avoid the dreaded Dehli belly. We can’t do that on this type of trip so our strategy has been to eat only hot food, no meat and only bottled water…which has worked so far. We even survived food served from by a fairly scruffy looking market stall on our guided tour with Rakesh, so long may it’s last!
Because the terrain is so flat we covered a fair distance in a good time, so we reached our end destination of Alwar at 3.30pm. Even after only 2 days, going from the country back to city roads wasn’t much of a problem and we navigated the traffic like locals…with a paparazzi entourage in tow of course. Nigel even had a couple of teenagers ask him for his mobile number!!
Arrived at hotel reception to walk straight into the middle of a wedding, but thankfully we were swiftly escorted to our room as our dirty, crusty traveller look didn’t quite fit in! Alwar is supposedly a tourist resort with plenty to see and do, but it gets dark early and we didn’t fancy wandering around in the dark so were happy to just take it easy before dinner. Because the hotel is a “resort” we had assumed it would have a restaurant…we assumed wrong, so for dinner we were directed 500m up a very dark road to the “resort” restaurant. We sat in a little wooden outside booth thinking it would be nice and private…but oh no..we had five faces staring at us as the owner took our order. And while we ate, the owner stood and watched Nigel eating…so even though the food was superb we wolfed it down and were done and dusted and back in the hotel within an hour. This celebrity status will take a lot to get used to me thinks…that’s assuming we ever do!
Photo of the day….is this the biggest bag ever?!
Alwar —-> Dausa. Monday 10 Dec. 101km.
We had more success on the breakfast front this morning so we started the day with yummy potato parathas. We were on the road for 9am and continued on the 25 highway south for the morning. It was much quieter than yesterday – people were at work, but there definitely wasn’t as much attention coming our way, which was a relief…until we stopped for a banana and drink of water in a small village and within seconds we were surrounded by locals…men, women and children just staring silently at us and our bikes. Slightly disconcerting but we smiled through it until we were finished and then they waved us off smiling!
The road quality is surprisingly good and until now have been at least 2 lanes-wide plus a hard shoulder so we feel safe cycling. There were a couple of times that they went into a single lane and that was definitely more unnerving as we basically had cars and trucks coming for us on our side of the road as they overtook on their side. But these instances were short-lived so on the whole it was fine. Lots of crazy and interesting sights to behold on the route again….women working in the fields….
tractors with drum and bass music blaring, dead cows and pigs at the side of the roads being nibbled at by dogs, women washing naked at the side of the road. And we saw girls on bicycles for the first time today as well as a temple that looked like it was made from sweets….
…it really is all going on in a way that’s difficult to describe in writing to capture the diversity and madness of it all. While we feel that everyone is gawping at us, we are also just staring at everything going on around us…if my head could turn 360 degrees I would let it, as I’m sure we are missing out on loads!
The fog/haze/smog is still there but there was some nice country scenery and a few small hills which added a bit of variety to our cycling. Temperature is mid-twenties so it’s comfortable cycling in the morning, but it does feel hotter in the afternoon and we both caught the sun today for the first time in ages.
Our destination was Dausa, which is 60km east of Jaipur, and even with a ride of 100km we arrived at 4pm. We had decided to wing it a bit today so we had no accommodation booked and the first place we tried looked decidedly dodgy so we decided to try keep going to one we saw one on booking.com. We wanted to check it out before booking it to see that it was OK, and it looked fine. Horrah! We went to reception where the guy behind the counter said that all their standard rooms were booked and we could only have the next one up and a much more expensive price. We showed him what was available on booking.com but he was having none of it and kept insisting on a price which was almost double what was quoted on the website…so we booked it online in front of him and he had to give us a room at that price. In our 3 days out of Delhi we have quickly realised that many (not all!) people see us rich westerners and we can never be sure if we are being ripped off or not….it’s quite an uncomfortable feeling and quite tiring to feel so suspicious all the time, but I think it’s just part of our DNA – for now at least. And this confirmed that it definitely does happen! We know that foreigners are charged different prices to Indian nationals at major tourist attractions (almost 10 times as much!) but its still cheap and clearly marked on signs – so we are fine with that.
But at hotels and restaurants where they don’t always show prices, what we get charged doesn’t always indicate the value or quality and prices for the same thing can vary quite a lot.
When we got to our room it wasn’t the best….no light in the bathroom, no toilet paper (which was the case yesterday as well so we are starting to realise might be the case in the accommodation that we choose/is available in smaller towns and cities…so we carry our own!) and we used our own sleeping bag liners so that have a layer between us and the scruffy looking blanket that was provided. On discovering all this I was especially glad we stuck to our guns and didn’t pay the inflated rates he quoted us! On the plus side however, the shower worked so we could wash the layer of dust and grime that had built up, which is now part of the daily experience with cycling here.
We decided to venture out for dinner rather than eat in the hotel and that was our first night time experience since we arrived and the first time since we experienced begging kids – dancing around us with a “photo/money/chocolate” chant. We also walked passed roadside camps with men, women and children lighting fires and preparing their evening meals….this is where they live, so actually it made us realise that our hotel really wasn’t that bad. We managed a quiet peaceful dinner in a “restaurant” near the hotel if you could call it that…but we were fed and grateful for it, so back to the security of our hotel and we were in for the night. One interesting feature about this town was the number of very large pigs wandering around the streets….we have seen some before but round the corner from where we are there must be at least 15 of them rooting through rubbish, running alongside the road or catching forty winks. Not your average city dweller!
Dausa ——> Jaipur. Tuesday 11 Dec. 65km.
We have learned from the hotels that we have stayed in so far that that breakfast is only served in the bedroom. As we couldn’t order until 8am and then we would have to wait for it, we opted to use our own stocks of muesli and bread (old habits die hard so we always carry food!) and we were on the road by 9am.
Again an interesting cycle on quietish roads towards Japipur. Lots to see and take in en route, including waving kids on their way to school.
The air was relatively clear until we got to the outskirts of Jaipur and immediately we could see that there was a city coming up because of the darkish smog that lingered. Traffic got a bit chaotic but it was all going so well until we decided to stop to look at a restaurant…Nigel was turning right and a scooter came up on his left hand-side and knocked him off his bike – and then started saying “yes your fault, your fault” before driving off. It all happened in slow motion so he wasn’t badly hurt, and by the time I got to him a group of young boys had helped him up. We took a minute to recover from the shock more than anything else and then back on the bikes, both feeling a bit out of sorts with it all.
Until now, we were starting to feel that the cycling part of our adventure is actually the easiest part of here….it’s the intensity of the constant attention we get and and how different everything is that’s the mentally challenging and pretty exhausting part. But that momentarily changed our view and I know I was cycling along thinking “what the hell are we doing?” And “how will we survive the next 8 months of this?!” But after a lunch stop we were both feeling better about it all – and realistically Nigel had come off his bikes at the same speed as other falls he has had on the trip so it wasn’t a serious accident.
For accommodation in Jaipur we are being hosted by 2 local sisters through Couchsurfers. I realise this makes us sound like backpackers who are crashing on strangers couches, which is what this website was originally set up to do…but it has moved on a bit from that. To experience local life without being stared at and to meet some locals who we can feel relaxed with, we decided to give it a go – and these hosts offered our own room and bathroom. Jassika, the younger of the two, was a home to meet us when we arrived around 3pm. The apartment is huge and very quiet, so it was just what we needed to relax after our testing day. We spent a lovely afternoon getting to know her and bombarding her with questions about India before Manuma, her older sister, arrived home from work around 6.30. We had a lovely evening together, lots of chat, laughing and just chilling out…..not to mention the fantastic home cooked dinner and lessons in cooking chapatis. A perfect end to a somewhat trying day!