Friday, July 1, 2016

Welcome to India

I'm always amazed at how fast I can switch mindsets and go from crazy busy at work in a stressful environment to complete disconnect on holiday with no worries in the world. If only I could do that switch daily when I finish work…..

The school year was extremely busy and stressful. It was as if i was a first year teacher again. My confidence were completely shaken at the start of the year and I found the transition to work life after being free and in the saddle for about 2 years to be pretty rough. No need to go into details. Thankfully, I don’t think next year could be worse.

After being crazy busy with last minute grading, preparing my summer travels and getting my apartment ready for subletters, as the train doors closed, with my bike in a box and my gear on my back, I found myself with nothing to do as I rode the train to the Geneva airport. What a liberating feeling; no list of things to do, nothing to preoccupy my mind, nothing pressing at the last minute. I just sat and zoned out looking out the at the gorgeous Swiss countryside that never gets old for me.

I really should have slept on my flights to Delhi via Doha but i a sucker for the movies they play on the entertainment system on the back of the seats. After watching a dozen trailers I got through about 3 movies and did doze a bit. Once in Delhi I booked a domestic flight on Air India to get me as close to the Himalayas as possible effortlessly, which landed me in Chandigarh. It all went smoothly and my bike arrived as well, unfortunately more banged up than I would have liked. I built it at the airport calmly and headed out, making my way towards the mountains slowly.

It’s my second time in India, but the first time cycling here. Everything changes when you are battling the traffic and chaos on the road rather than riding in a rickshaw or taxi. It took me about 10km to warm up once again to riding on the opposite side of the road, but that is easier to get used to than the honking. Indians use their horns more than any country in SE Asia, even Myanmar which was pretty unbearable.

Horns here serve many purposes: Warning I’m going to pass you; I’m impatient, I think I’ll honk; it’s a blind curve I better honk to let them know I’m around the corner; careful cow, monkey, or dog, get out of the middle of the road; or hey there cyclist kudos to you! Therefore, honking is just one continuous sound and it’s hard to know the true reason for why they are honking! In Europe there are no honking signs to keep the transit noise down, but in India the trucks actually say blow your horn. I’ve thought of sticking a big sign on the back of my bike that says, “Don’t honk, I hear you!!!” I think they would honk anyway

India, I had forgotten the little things I love about this country that surfaced again after my first 30 kilometers of pedaling. First is the head bob. Nowhere else in the world to they bob their head back and forth so smoothly and continuously to imply “yes”. It cracks me up. They look like one of those little toy figures that have that ever bobbing out-of-proportion head. And yet I have still not figured out what head action means know as they pretty much say “yes” to everything! Is the road hilly? Yes! Is there a hotel up ahead? Yes! Spicy? YES!

I also get a good laugh at the dyed hair style that surprisingly I’ve only seen men wear. They dye their hair this bright, almost fluorescent, orange that looks so far from any natural color, I can’t help but think it would go nicely with the older women in Spain who go for the bright purple dye, also a very natural color.

I’d forgotten how funny the cows are here. We all know there are huge cultural difference from country to country, but the same goes for animals in foreign countries. A Swiss cow puts an Indian cow to shame. The cows in Switzerland are immense, larger and more robust than any cow I’ve ever seen. They graze so systematically around the open countryside, never passing their electrical fence barrier. When it come to being round up, their farmer makes it seem rather effortless. Their udders seem to have an endless supply of milk and they let other people know of their presence with their huge bells around their neck. In India, cars come within centimeters of cows as they plop themselves down of the big belly right on the side of the road. The don't seem to be worried at all about finding food, appearing emaciated in comparison to those of Switzerland. Whereas those in the Swiss fields are nicely colored with their markings, here their markings look like a primary school science experiment! Oddly, here, no one seems to mind their presence by the side of the road but I have yet to see a cow road kill either, impressive.

Like other countries in Southeast Asia, the stores amaze me. You can find anything, any time you want for incredibly cheap prices. I didn’t come to shop, but I’ve been in desperate need of a proper industrial seamstress to replace the buckles on my Ortlieb panniers. I never got around to getting the sewing machine out at home and all but one original buckle works! On my first night, I find a seamstress, in this case a man, and in 15 minutes and 50 cents later all bags have nice new clips. You can’t beat that!

India, so far it has warmly greeted me, both literally and figuratively. Fifteen minutes into my ride I’m so sweaty the sunscreen on my face is dripping down my face. My whole front and back of my shirt is soaked, I ring it out at my first stop 2 hours into my ride. Even my shorts are wet coming from the sweat on my shirt. It’s about 35 C and 99% humidity or so the barometer of my hair reads. I’ll be happy to climb up into the mountains just to have cooler temperatures and less humidity.

In a day and a half, i’ve climbed to the base of the Himalayas, riding 130km and climbing about 2000m. The fun has yet to begin along with the amazing scenery!

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