Highway to hell
I was really afraid of coming back to India. Nepal as less densely populated country with less traffic (especially in the west), was kind of relief. I passed another over-the-river border on a very cramped bridge, using my “foreigner privilege” (it does not exist, but I just close eyes, believe it exists, and cycle = crowd runs away 😉).
After the night in the border city (in a very overpriced hotel – welcome to India, the country of “if I can rip you off, I will do”), I got back on the road and shortly reached highway to New Delhi. After maybe 30 minutes of very strong back wind, I decided to cycle all 320km in a day without the planned stop in a half.
Few times someone rode a motorbike just behind me asking plenty questions. Once, after being followed for 15 minutes for 2 guys, I got super pissed off and started shouting, and they started laughing. India is insane. At least this time I was too fast for other cyclists (cycling ~30kmh most of the time). On a plus side, people speak English in India. On the minus side, even if you will tell them to go away, they will not. This is not something bad, just “another culture” which does not fit me well.
I planned to cycle into Moradabad which was in half way. However there was such a huge traffic jam on the turn to the city that I got lost in the middle of the road (sic!) and after fighting 15min to cycle 200m, I realised that I got out in the different direction. When a density of traffic jam prohibits you to see where you are going, you know you are in India.
70kms ahead of New Delhi, I was stacked in 4 huge traffic jams. So dense that I could not find a free way even on a bike – rickshaw and cars where everywhere on the road and around.
One jam was particularly interesting. Wedding organizators set up “sztuczne ognie” in the middle of the road. WTF?
Finally, around midnight, I cycled into New Delhi. Surprisingly quiet after all these traffic jams. I stopped at Sturbucks to connect to WiFi and find a hostel, but I could not connect without Indian number. I asked serviceman to lent me his phone for a moment. He did not agree. After all these “my friend” on the road, I was surprised. I somehow managed to find internet connection and booked a hostel room.
New Delhi is a very interesting historic city with many different sectors – old Delhi, old New Delhi, new New Delhi and whatever else. You could spend there one month and do not see everything (and be ripped off 10000 times). The main attraction is temples. Of any kind, belonging to different nationalities and being build in completely different periods of history.
People in New Delhi is a representative sample of the whole country. You will meet very rich and very poor, ripping you off and ripping you off (no diff. here). Few situations:
– When I arrived to the hostel, the owner tried to pass the Booking.com fee on me – so he asked for more money than I booked for. WTF. Ripping off in India has no limits (after threatening that I will inform Booking.com and he will be banned, he became very calm).
-Rikshaw driver (cyclist) during the ride wanted to sell me pants to get to the temple bullshitting that they will not allow me inside in shorts. I declined. They really required long sleeves but they gave me all proper clothes at the entrance for free.
-Another rikshaw driver got super pissed off that I do not want to see his shop (“you will only check, you do not have to buy anything”) and he charged me 2x more than we agreed on. I had no smaller money and he simply did not give me the change.
-One kid on a crossroad came to my rikshaw and begged for money. It was pretty hard to kick him out of rickshaw – he always came back. Maybe he just liked the game?
-When I asked for direction one guy, he showed me how I should go and next proposed: “Can I be your friend?”. “Sure, why not”.” Ok, give me your number and facebook profile”. A random guy on the streets ask you for contact and wants to be your “friend”. Indian culture is really “too much” for me.
-I entered Nike shop in the centre, tried on pants and did not like them. So I decided not to buy. They owner asked 3 times if the size is good and why I do not want to buy them. Finally, he told me in a super rude way: go away.
And now the situation which made me sick thinking about India for the rest of the trip:
I decided to repair the screen of my iPhone SE which broke in Thailand. The guys in the small shop told me 2000 rupees for an original screen. OK, it would cost the same in Europe. After repairing, they told me: 2500, we did not know that it is SE not 5. They did not want to show me the package of the screen and claimed they added only 300 rupees for the work. Shortly after leaving New Delhi, it turned out that they installed a cheap non-original screen and a one drop of sweet or water was enough to block it or cause plenty mistakes. Such a small thing, but pissed me off so many times…
Unfortunately, it is not a good idea to it on streets in India. Even if it is prepared on spot, well cooked etc. They will charge you as in restaurant (bc you are a foreigner), and the risk is high. I got poisoned near India Gate. Two terrible days in New Delhi + cycling to Islamabad (ca. 900km) just drinking Sprite, looking for a “toilet” immediately when I tried to eat anything.
You will not find it in parks or near main tourist attractions, but if you will walk anywhere else (read it: where people live), it will be literally everywhere. What’s more, cows look for food in piles of trush, spreading it everywhere around. But the worst is smell. When I had diarrhoea, I could not go out of the hostel, because I was vomiting immediately. I am really sorry for kids who grow up in such an environment.
Cycling from New Delhi to Pakistan
After 4 days in the capital and feeling quite OK, I decided to continue my journey. Next stop – Amritsar. Experience of getting out of New Delhi at 10a.m. was exactly the same as entering the city at 11p.m. They have constant traffic jams 24/7 there. Trush was everywhere around the road, and they even burned it. Imagine breathing oxygen with all the shit in the air while cycling. I had enough after 50km and stopped for a break, but the bad smell was everywhere. The situation got much better in Punjab, because of wheat fields which smelled really good 😊
After ca 120km, I stopped at the restaurant next to the road and was about to pitch my tent just behind it. Two guys drinking whisky in a car saw me, they told me that it is dangerous to sleep in a tent because of snakes and they proposed to take me to their home for a night – that was cool! They showed me their ID, and IDs of their fathers working in a police to assure me that I am safe. It was really kind.
But before we drove to their home, they proposed me to drink with them. And that how I learnt about arranged marriages. Long story short: a guy (one of two I met) and a girl fell in love with each other. But their parents decided that they will marry someone else. They arranged their marriages. On the day when I met these guys, the girl got engaged with the man their parents picked. What is the alternative: you can not listen to your parents. They will kick you out of home and kill, throwing body to the river. No, they will not go to jail for that. So what can they do? Drink whiskey. As they told me: coming here in the night and drinking whiskey is the only thing which is left to us.
I recommend everyone to watch a documentary on the topic. I watched one about the situation which happened in Pakistan, do not remember the title 😦
In the morning, I visited their new house. Really big house financed by the father of the family.
Next day, I followed the highway to Rajpura. During cycling, 4 boys on one motorcycle overtook me. When they realised that I am a foreigner on a bike, they all turned back and started waving. HIT. A motorcyclist going from opposite direction hit them. Something detached from a motorbike, but they did not care. After an accident, they continued driving. And waiving to me. Still looking back. WOW. As in Assam, also in this part of India everyone uses lanes on both sides of highway for driving in both directions. Crazy. There is lack of other good roads and highway exits, so to save time, people stay on one side of the highway despite changing direction to the opposite one.
In Rajpura, while waiting on the railway relay, I got to know Sanjam. He showed me direction to the hostel and invited to his home for dinner. I met his sister, mother and father. I learned another interesting thing about India. Each family in Punjab sends one kid abroad to study and next settle there. Most of them go to Canada mainly because of relaxed visa rules. Another common destination is Australia. Lucky ones go to USA or Europe (expensive universities with selective recruitment process). Another interesting thing was that Sanjam had his own room, father his own, and his mother slept with his sister. This is very conservative…
Next day, remembering 20min negotiations with the owner of the hostel in Rajpura (at the end I got only 200% of what locals pay), I decided to do wild camping. I picked a place 500m from the road, next to a railway and almost crawled there with a bike across a wheat field to not be seen by anyone. Despite waking up every 30minutes when the train passed, it was a good place.
The next day, I finally reached Amritsar. On the way, I passed across Jalandhar. In the middle of this super crowded city, one guy decided to race with me. And I have to admit he was fast. And of course he even did not look at me, pretending that it is his normal speed (45kmh…). People in India are really funny.
Amritsar and the last scam
Amritsar is the saint place of Sikh. They have a temple with a history of many fights with Islam, miracles, and a huge queue to the small temple inside a big one.
After visiting it, I decided to go to Wagha border crossing to see the border closing ceremony. I had to cross this border the next day. The driver on the street proposed 1000 rupees for driving me there and back. 200 more than he should, but it was pretty late so I agreed. When we got out of the carpark, he insisted on giving him another 300 rupees as this is “parking fee”. Few boys stood at the exit from the car park pretending that they are collecting this fee. I got super pissed off. I told him this is scam and I will call police. Only after threatening him, he stopped insisting (and of course I did not give him any money). When we got back, he did not drive me to the hostel but to the exit from highway (10min walk ahead of the hostel) as he wanted to stay on the highway and do not drive into traffic jam. His terrible customer service and the scamming action did not prevent him to ask me for a tip at the end of the course. WHAT THE FU*K!
The closing ceremony of the border between two biggest enemies in Asia is very unique. Very tall soldiers on both sides of the border walk there and back, shouting and showing antagonistic gestures. They wear special costumes and high heels, so they are ca 2.5m tall. It is definitely worth to see.
Wagha Border crossing
In the morning the next day, I packed and cycled out of Amritsar. The hostel receptionist was really curious how I will get to the border. It is 30km far, to far to cycle there 😀 😀 :d
I had a really quick ride, using rickshaw as a wind protector 😉 and after ca. 1h was on the border.
Indian side: multiple questions about my life situation, my purpose of travelling, friends in both countries, value of my bike, the purpose of life etc. (at least 30min interview), plus checking all baggage, and at the end cycling with the bus escort (sick!) from the interview place to the actual border
Pakistani side: “Welcome to Pakistan. Do you have any alcohol with you?” 😀 plus a small, standard survey (max 5min) and the contact details to the person I am staying with in Lahore. And that’s all 😀
This time, I spent in India more days than while cycling across Assam. My opinion about this country did not change much. On the positive side, I met really nice people in Punjab, happy to talk and not pushy. I also appreciated the quality of surface on highways. On the negative side, I experienced a lot of tourist scams especially in New Delhi (people ripping you off everywhere, pretending that they are “your friend”) and felt the stink of trush almost everywhere in New Delhi and Hariana. I also learned more about the culture in this country – especially arranged marriages.
To sum up, India is an absolutely unique country in the world. And it is changing in a positive way. I recommend visiting India because it is completely different from anything else. But remember: do not go there for holidays. It is not a place where you can have a rest. And be aware of tourist scams and very pushy people (what is positive in some way, but Europeans are not used to that)