It’s a bloody hot business: cycling in summer!
The heat. That terrible damn heat. Building up each day and gathering in the air, being hoarded by hazy invisible clouds who attract the heat and collect it, to give it to you in the night, so you’ll be warm and toasty.
My plan was to make a detour of two days towards a picturesque village with colorful painted haveli doors. Being in Bundi and entering Delhi from the West this seems to be a very nice plan indeed. I think it’s best to avoid the Express Highway from Jaipur to Delhi. A big red line on the map, surrounded by countless little other lines from yellow to white and pink. A tremendous populated area. Best to avoid and stay some longer in atmospheric Rajasthan! But the heat. That damn heat. It leaves little energy for sightseeing, and so where I’ll end up is exactly there: on the terrible crowded, uninspiring dusty highway connecting two massive cities. Cycling from Jaipur to Delhi. A part of the so-called golden triangle, a triangle of golden dust, golden heat and golden sun-kissed drivers of Tata, Ashok and Eicher trucks
Hotness on my eyeballs
The heat is everywhere, and the humidity is not even that high, but the heat simply never seem to disappear. It is worse than the Mauritanian Sahara, because it never cools down. The air touching my eye-balls is hot. The wind striking my bottom while peeing is hot. The mango I carry and eat is boiling hot. When I press the earphones in my ears, they’re hot. My urine is dark yellow of color, though I drink at least 7 liter of water a day. My breath is hot. The pores of my skin are wide opened. I need to stop regular to get my whole self back to normal. The pillow I touch in the evening is filled with hotness. The waxy earplugs I need to wear for the noisy fan are melted. Sweat drips where body parts are touching. When I stop cycling, the wind is gone too and my arms immediately start to pour sweat, like I am a fish crawling out of the ocean.
The heat. That uncomfortable warmth. Each night I touch the bed and find a warm, hot surface. My body can not take any other position than stretched on my back, legs and arms spread, paralyzed without clothes. Temperatures go down to 34 degrees, coming from a 39 in the evenings: inside the room. Sometimes lodge-owners offers me the coolest room, sometimes I get a remarkable good water-cooler and one time a police woman sets the price for an air-conditioned room back to half the original price, because that’s all I want to afford. A police woman? Why that?
Why am I denied a room?
One day I make it to the outskirts of Jaipur, where the city of a mega size starts. I have passed stinking dye factories, doing their work in the open fields, the creeks filled with blood-red water where once white birds splash and sing. Meters long textile are drying on huge metal frames, trucks with dyed goods leave the factory, stocked with cheap looking garments and bed covers. Coming closer to the heart of the city I pass remarkable many schools, all private owned and only for those who can afford. I scold on girls on a scooter who cut me off: ‘Fucking girls can’t drive’. My language has long before gone uncharming. The people in the city are slightly more madden, the craziness of an Indian city will make you, whether you want it or not. With an air of proudness and contentment, cranked by tiredness I stand still to see where I need to go to in order to avoid being in the heart of Jaipur. I have cycled a 90 kilometer in a heat reaching 52 degrees. My bottom is sore. I got a huge blister on it because of the cheap Indian tape I put on, and when tearing this off, I tear the skin with it. But I do find a lodge easy in this crowded city, people just point and direct me well.
The first lodge simply announce they’re fully booked. I know it is a lie and I don’t even start arguing. The second hotel is way too expensive for me, and I decide to go for a quicker way: the police station. Again I get directed well but not helped once there. The police men in a station of a big city has other things to do, like sitting, relaxing and chatting. ‘Sleep on the street,’ is what the head officer tells me. Do I hear that correct? While cycling in Madhya Pradesh I was escorted and delivered to lodges by three police since a brutal rape case had happened not so long ago (two western cyclists involved) and here the police says: ‘Sleep on the street.’
The man has probably better things to do than arrange a bed for a tourist in Jaipur. I gladly would have laid down a piece of dynamite at such an asshole. Thankfully there’s a lady working, she is new here, has just arrived fresh on this location and she helps me finding a cheap lodge. I go there on my own but once there the guy says it’s a boys hostel and they’re full. My uncharming reply: ‘You are lying, I know it. Fuck it man, you are lying!’ is followed by me walking away. Angry. Yes, for fuck sake: I am in a big massive city and again denied. What the fuck is this all about?! I am aware I use a lot of ‘fuck’ but that is what India does to you, the other side of a country where Siddhartha found enlightenment.
I get directed to another lodge, they initially seem to accept me but in the course of doing so they refuse me. A man walking past tries to help me and he even explains the mystery of my constant refusal throughout the whole of India, but I am in a rage and I don’t hear his important words: ‘Thank you sir for your kind effort, but fuck these people, fuck you all, well… except you’, I glance at the friendly man to exclude him from what’s coming: ‘Fuck you!!’ I am not very lady-like at this moment, and I race through the rush-hour traffic, in opposite direction, back to the police station. Cycling in this craziness cools me down, people in all sorts, on all kind of vehicles and of all sorts of speed, are swirling around me. It’s remarkable easy to cycle this way.
Honor is not about who you are
Back at the police station, every one denies me, except the lady, she helps me again: ‘We will do everything to give you a proper rest’. With ‘we’ she means only herself, and within half an hour she accompanies me with another police-man to the so-called ‘boys hostel’ where as by magic the boys hostel spell has broken. I get a room for half the price and may switch on the air-conditioner at no extra costs, ‘leave it on as long as you desire,’ says the police lady. I am happy as a child to the prospect of a good night sleep! Not only that, a huge plate of marvelous food -fresh mushrooms- is dished by guys who treat me utmost respectful. Honor is not about who you are but who you know in India. And I know the police! Many nights have been watched at distance by police guarding my rest. That’s India too. The next morning the hotel guys help me and wave me genuinely friendly off.
The appeals of the highway
Cycling out of the suffocating city slowly brings back a feeling of relief and sheds the congesting smothering feeling off of me, though I am still on the highway. I can see the charm of being here, thankfully, because if I couldn’t it would be really dreary for me. Sugar-cane sellers are positioned on the highway and trucks just stop on the shoulder to drink this delicious refreshing and stomach filling juice. Truck boys -the cabin of a truck is usually filled with guys, mostly younger than the driver, who are his assistants, not rarely very young boys- and their heads are always popping out of the little square window, blinking white teeth flashing at me. They have never seen such a thing, and that some people are laughing at, or, with me, is something I agree on: it must be the same as when I burst into a laugh when I see the little vans swallowed by a huge enormous load of fine-cut wheat. Bellowing tents stitched loosely are bursting and covering the whole of the small truck, as it were a hot air balloon filling up with too much air, having the little basket disappear by its largeness. The sack almost knocks me off my bicycle when it passes me, and I have a good laugh! I laugh when I see truck loads so enormously out of angle that I wonder when it will lose its balance. I laugh when I see four people packed on a motorbike where the driver sits on the petrol tank. And I laugh when I have the wind in my back, at last… weeks of cycling against it.
8 days of continuous cycling towards Delhi
The route continues along the Express Highway. The heat needs me to have a good rest every 20 kilometer. My head starts spinning, the temperature in my skull must reach its limit. At some days my belly is swollen by lack of rest which has an effect on the bowels, being jam-packed with processed food. Other days I start drinking icy sugar cane and even Coca Cola in the late mornings. I give in, as ice really cools my head and body down. That the ice comes straight out of a dirty cool-box cooling down rusty soft drink cans and unwashed veggies, I don’t mind. Just need to be cooled down. Rested. Bowels emptied. The mind happy and content again. I move on. At other days I am able to find consolation in the nature lining the highway, but I have to walk some distance to get there. Yet I am always visited…
I want to see every bit of change, that’s why I cycle…
Children come begging for money when I stop to drink fresh sugar-cane juice. The owner of the cart shove them away, while I try to give them attention in the form of playfulness. The children forget to beg, smiles flashing at me. Lodge-owners convince me to stay in their expensive hotel as I surely will find nothing anymore on the highway. Ten minutes later I end the day in a friendly bar with some rooms and a water-cooler so cold it allows me to sleep a deep dreamy night again. I enjoy kulfi ice-creams just when I wished for a kulfi-wallah, a man on a bicycle who’s carrying an earthenware pot full of hand-made ice-cream. I eat fresh watermelon from a cart full with flies, positioned between trucks in repair, just along the highway. I lack energy for making photo’s or writing or focused resting, I keep on pedaling along the highway, some days I find great rooms, where the owner in his safari suit, and his staff, including the cook, come to visit me. The food is always good. Highway lodges are not the cheapest but the standard is higher. People along the highway point to me that it is too hot to cycle, indeed, I do get blisters on my head from the heat. The change in scenery might be drastic and ugly, it is exactly that change I wanted to see for myself, every bit of it. If it was only the change in sugar-cane carts: in South India they use a bullock to press, higher up they use themselves to turn around the press-screw and along the Express Highway to Delhi they have a motorized vehicle with a chair and a steering wheel on it!
My findings of cycling in summer is remarkable, first of all, cycling in summer heat is always better than cycling in rain. Heat is possible to beat, and with careful listening to your body it shows you what to do, but most of all: cycling -together with a motorbike I guess- is the only means of transport which brings wind. Cycling keeps me literally moving because of the wind and thus the coolness it gives me. If only I could have good night sleeps…
Arriving in Delhi by bicycle feels sturdy! Cycling the congested narrow streets of Old Delhi is magic! Full of energy and proud, full of wonder and marvel about such a city, full of arrogance once in the touristy area, I slide easy into Pahar Ganj. I am there. I HAVE MADE IT!
The squeezed boil
When the rain falls out of the dreary sky it is accompanied by sand blowing through the narrow streets of Pahar Ganj, making draw maps on the table easy. The temperature drops with 5 degrees and I am looking forward to a cool night where I will finally be able to sleep. Where the mantra ‘it is hot, it is hot, it is hot’ will vanish by itself and finally, finally, finally… the temperature drops down to a natural 33 in the room and I am able to sleep! The temperature drops down even further and as by magic I get energy. It’s just dripping through my whole body like a magic potion, and I order a thermos of chai, stretch myself out, and have the cool air touch me, caress me, bring me back to life.
Heat is pressing the energy out of humans, it brings you in a state of automatism. Not only me, I recognize it by everyone, we feel like a tree being cut, falling to the earth. It must have to do with the balance which is quite lost in Nature. Our buildings which are totally not cooperating with Nature. They are built by humans doing, not by humans being. I only feel the connection with Nature and humans -here in India- hundreds of years ago when I stand on high fort walls, built-in collaboration with the forces of Nature. Think of people living in hot climate countries, we Dutch easily say they’re lazy, but would you be such a lunatic to cycle 3500 kilometer in Indian summer?!