The troubles of finding lodging and succeeding in beating the heat
‘What do you like most about India?’
Being a bit tired of many little interviews a day, I answer the simple truth:
The heat is swelling almost to a 50 degrees and cycling might seem a ridiculous thing to do, yet it is the only thing which produces wind, and in my opinion way better than a day of rest. A day of rest becomes suffering in a concrete room where previous day heat accumulated with all the other days before. I start to realize that cycling in India is just not the best country to cycle in, it would be acceptable crossing it from West to East but lengthwise is a bit optimistic. I long for Nature mostly and many evenings I watch down from the room I am in and a longing together with a heavy feeling of being cut off from where I belong overshadows me.
Being rather a purist I want to cycle. Past immense concrete factories, over roads not sealed, dusty and bumpy. The sores on my bum are tightly tapped so I won’t feel them. I stop now and then to let the heat in my head lower a bit and cycle on. Passing slow moving trucks and being honked off the road some minutes later. I tried to find roads on the map less busy, which I succeed in, but never for very long before it turns to another secondary highway. Places to sit down and have a rest are becoming a little more difficult will I not want to be out crowded by shit. But what the heck, I’ll sit down nevertheless and add my own creamy pile next to it. Slowly the network of roads becomes closer and more compact, and cycling here keeps me wondering if these people seriously have no clue about what they are doing with our Planet. It’s such a big big mess, I don’t even know where to start describing the oily, plastic, pile of shit! I wonder time upon time why people can be this reckless with the environment they live in themselves? Their temples are tidy, their little altars inside their house too, but as soon as you step over the doorstep it’s a garbage disaster.
Everybody seem to be thirsty or seeking coolness. Farmers working just work, like I just cycle. In Rajasthan they wave at me enthusiastic or they stop and want to have a closer look. Sometimes this is just plain fun! For a nap I am often too much charged with energy, and drinking a chai is enough to get recharged.
‘I am not a prostitute and not a terrorist with a bomb!’
Not to have another boring evening void of the slightest uplifting moment with energy I decide to cycle on and push a two day cycle into a one day. The road is flat, the heat in on and I arrive in an uninspiring town when the sun has start to sink below the polluted blanket of dirt, dust and smog. Traffic is heavy, trucks push through, carts with bullocks are forced to make place and I maneuver in between. People always tell me very correct where I can find a lodge and so I arrive at one with about 6 guys happily unloading my bicycle and giggling that the price of a room is 2500, but their English is not flawless and 250 (€3) is what they mean. Perfect. All bags on a pile at the reception desk, the bicycle locked inside, I await those 6 guys show me the room. I am tired, I am hungry. Then there’s another reception desk, with the one and only true manager. And this manager, of course, is the one in charge. He doesn’t have one look at me, prefer to deny me. His six guys soon become a twelve, trying to translate that I can not stay here. A guest who speaks English tries to interfere for my benefit but alas, to no result. I have to leave. I can not stay here. I decide to become a little more angry as this usually, against all cultural habits, dóes work for a lone woman. Not this time. Damn, am I pissed off: a day of 110 kilometers in a heat of 45 degrees, my bicycle unloaded and locked! I make a photo of the lodge, load my bicycle and drive through evening traffic to the police station. That’s an adventure as traffic is at it’s most festive now, I have a flow of children on their Chinese bicycles behind me and remarkable enough, now I am so pissed off, I renounce all traffic rules, just bang my bicycle through it, and all others give way to my somewhat unsocial road behavior.
Police helps me find another lodge and while doing so people in the police-office pointing their phone in my face, trying to make a photo. Obviously, I am not in the mood! Gosh, have these people no manners? The next day the same happens, although now I am the one who points that phone in someones face: at the hotel manager who screams ‘go, go, go, you go away!’ I do go away, straight to the police station again, to show his face on my phone, but most of all, to get help to find a lodge which will accept me. What bothers me most is the reaction of those managers, angry or fully denying me, like I am a cockroach on their toilet seat, would they have a seat on their toilet.
And so I feel a little how it can be for the low-caste women in this country. Being treated as a pariah, having no rights, being humiliated. Getting angry doesn’t get them anywhere and police won’t help them ever. My only problem is that my foreign registration doesn’t look good in their hotel books, checked by police. It’s nothing in comparison where the low-caste women have to deal with, and so the topic about ‘why do we live’ pops up in my head while cycling.
Where are Indian low-caste women living for?
Yet, I like cycling in India. The mind had to be resettled a bit after some days but this always happens automatic. The body doesn’t get much rest through nights pressed with heat in concrete cells, but it manage. I don’t know what drives me. Perhaps the fact that I cross the country. At each end of the cycling day I have no energy left for walking through the city or village although here are the best scenes to be seen. I pass women happily sitting together and beading wooden baskets, asking to make a photo of them. I am too tired to get the camera out. Later on I pass road-camps with Rajastani people, while is sit on the back of a motorbike to get money out of a working ATM. I would have accept their invitation for chai and I would have watched the dirty wild looking children as if they were the Mona Lisa, adorned with big golden nose rings and matted hair. As a former fashion cum art student I would have had a precise look at their hand-made clothes with stitched-on tiny beads, their tops outfitted with spacey, pointy room for the breast. Instead I go search for food and collapse to bed, where I can not sleep due to electricity cuts thus not a working fan and when the fan does work it is stirring hot air…
Cycling past agriculture makes it easy to find a spot to squat down. The water to wipe my bum with is so hot it hurts me. In surprise I startle my feet, which is stepping into a torn. Than my naked butt sweeps in all directions, just along that busy secondary highway. It makes me laugh. It makes me laugh too when I have hide myself really well for the people who otherwise would stop and watch me while I pee, and than when I do come out of the bush the old wrinkled farmer with his buffalo’s don’t flash his eyes a second. Sometimes I am followed well into the fields by eager guys wanting to know what I am doing, I have to beg them: ‘Can you please, for fuck-sake, leave me alóne! I am going to pee. Can I perhaps have privácy?’ I start rumble with the elastic band of my pants and they get the message.
The constant attention makes one resistant. We would call it arrogant. It really takes another approach to cycle in India. I notice I start to talk to my bicycle, and I feel like a police man when people gather around the bicycle and try to touch everything. Again it are the very small things which are now attracting my attention and set me free from the hardship of cycling in summer: the perfect tree, children under the stream of a water-pump, a cow with perfect symmetric horns, or unthinkable bright turbans.
Cycling in India has it’s humorist moments, quite a lot, would I not be the leading actress in a movie with one person only: I am in search for a lodge. A car with earsplitting loud music moves slowly behind me, an insane man clutches my handlebars and two grown-up men are asking me, ‘heee, madam, what is your name?’ is that really important, I wonder, my name? I am in a village behind a train-station where, would I have sat in the train, I would have thought, ‘good that I am not released here.’ Now the lodge owner send an innocent looking boy to my room who keeps knocking onto it until I open and bluntly ask for money ‘please, 50 rupees for chai.’ ‘Tomorrow’, is my answer. ‘No way!’ is what I think. It must be a habit throughout India, as I am often asked for chai donations.
Some days I am greeted with ‘hari om’, other days I am offered a nimbu pani, ice cold salty water with lime, by a devote Muslim who strongly refuses to be paid. Now and then I am heated by a refusal of a lodge and get on the street to find consolation. I always find it. I am recognized by people who have read a tiny interview in a local newspaper, or so I think. It’s a most remarkable fact that in every town I arrive I hear people around me speaking about ‘bycycle’ an English word in the middle of their local language. All people seem to know, from others, that I am the one by bicycle. I get chai while people coming to watch me try to fit my helmet. I am surrounded by guys already drugged or drunk in the early morning when I am eating rice from a street cart. It’s always beyond normal: India!
The route straight through India is rather boring, therefor I have made it a habit to stop after 20 kilometer, unload the thermos with chai, take a knife -a small rusty one since the Opinel has been borrowed and never brought back- and peel a mango. Take a package Parle-G biscuits and take a rest. Soon I start to get restless and before I remembered to take a rest, I am in full swing with selfie’s. I guess it has to do with vanity, but I do enjoy it so much it has become a habbit!