A Little Less Agra-vation (Please?)

6

September 24, 2013 by gardiner12

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

After a lot longer than originally intended, I finally left Delhi and set off on my bike again. And so, my battle with the infamous Indian traffic began. You might think I would take it easy on my first full day of cycling. You would be wrong. Nichola and I had agreed to see some of the sights to the southwest of Delhi. She would travel by train and I would cycle. Therefore, at 6.30am, I began the 160 kilometre ride from Delhi to Mathura.

Hare Krishna temple in Vrindivan

Hare Krishna temple in Vrindivan (Or Gondor?)

Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri

Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri

My early start meant I escaped Delhi rush hour, but hit gridlock in the next city. Horns blared as every form of transport fought for space on the road. However, once the traffic cleared, the cycling was easy. Unfortunately, easy does not equate to enjoyable. The uninspiring landscape, unpleasant smells, incessant honking, and traffic flying inside me from the wrong direction meant that relaxing was never an option.

Blending in

Blending in

Furthermore, whilst the heat was more than manageable, the humidity meant I was sweating to a degree that seemed physically impossible. Even though I was downing litre after litre of fluids, cramp began to spread through my legs as the cycling wore on.

The only creature happy about the temperature here

The only creature happy about the temperature here

Despite this, I arrived in Mathura unscathed and was greeted by the an extraordinarily busy city; full of animals, people and traffic. Not exactly the most relaxing place to arrive following a hard day’s cycling. No matter – I long ago shed the notion that relaxation is an option in India. However, I was pleased to note that, once I got back on to my bicycle, there was definitely a change in the way Indians perceived me. Greed was replaced by curiosity and I began to feel that I might get a real glimpse into Indian culture for the first time. This turned out to be, largely, misplaced optimism, as I will explain below.

Wonder what that building is

Wonder what that building is

The view from our hostel

The view from our hostel

After two days exploring Mathura and nearby Vrindivan, we travelled to Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, and then Gwalior – visiting the array of temples and palaces that these cities boast. Of course, our travels were in no way stress-free and, in particular, Mathura was rife with people trying their hardest to (dishonestly) separate us from our hard-earned cash. Despite this, the sights were beautiful, the food delicious, and, Mathura aside, the people did not bother us as much as in Delhi.

Finally, five digits! But only one front pannier.

Finally, five digits! But only one front pannier.

On the other hand, the cycling was not getting any better and it was en route to Gwalior that my Indian cycling experience really nosedived. After three days of cycling, I had not begun to enjoy cycling in India and had not really felt that it had led to improved interactions with people, as cycling often does. However, I had begun to feel that I could cope with the cycling and that the traffic was manageable. I was proven wrong in the worst possible way: I smashed into the back of a moped. The driver had just overtaken me and, as I glanced down at my cycle computer for a split second, he stopped sharply to answer his phone. Despite the road being almost empty, having a hard shoulder and being a dual carriageway, he made no attempt to pull over and stopped only seconds after he had accelerated past me.

Nichoila with her fan club. Not surprising really, since she is the same age as Selena Gomez. (According to her sister's birthday message, not my celebrity knowledge bank)

Nichola with her fan club. Not surprising really, since she is the same age as Selena Gomez. (According to her sister’s birthday message, not my celebrity knowledge bank)

Luckily, I was fine, since my bike took the impact. And, initially, it seemed that even that had escaped any damage. Then, I noticed a flat tyre and loose front rack. Unsurprisingly, when I tried to tighten the rack, the bolt sheared clean off. Again. Thus, I’m now in the same situation as before, but with no Kazakh National Cycle Team mechanic to help me out.

Perched on a 9th century temple, in Gwalior

Perched on a 9th century temple, in Gwalior

Therefore, back to Delhi (and the land of half-decent bike shops) I have to go. I’m going to take some time out and travel the north of India in search of mountains, relaxation, and cooler climes. Whilst there I need to consider my options and decide whether it is time to give up on the idea of cycling in India and escape to Thailand. I think this is probably the wisest choice, particularly with regards to enjoyment and safety, but it saddens me because I don’t like the impression of India that I think I will leave with.

Hindu rock sculptures, Gwalior

Hindu rock sculptures, Gwalior

As I mentioned above, cycling often brings you closer to the local population and leads to interesting, and memorable, interactions. You only have to read previous blog posts to find proof of this. However, despite my optimism after my first day of cycling, this really does not seem to be the case in India. That is not to say that people have not spoken to me and are not interested in what I am doing. They have and they are, but these interactions are the exception, rather than the norm.

Palace in Orchha

Palace in Orchha

Surveying the Orchha ruins

Surveying the Orchha ruins

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people merely stare at me and my bike, or try to fiddle with my bike, without making any attempt to introduce themselves or start conversation. After the inescapable handshakes and respectful Islamic greetings of Central Asia, this is really disappointing.

Nichola, just hanging out

Nichola, just hanging out

Furthermore, I have had three different people (on mopeds) who have attempted to initiate vulgar conversations and/or made disgusting gestures in my direction. After only four days and less than 400 kilometres of cycling, this has happened with worrying regularity.

Cenotaphs in Orchha

Cenotaphs in Orchha

Yet again, it seems that another blog post is dedicated to my increasing disenchantment with Indian society. The question is:  Should this justify me giving India a second chance or is it time to call it quits on our volatile relationship? Either way, I hope the plethora of beautiful photos* I have included will counteract the negative tone and convince people that India isn’t all bad, really.

Relaxing in one of the towers atop Orchha's 16th  century palace. (Finally, some peace and quiet!)

Relaxing in one of the towers atop Orchha’s 16th century palace. (Finally, some peace and quiet!)

*I’m obliged to mention that all photos of me were taken by Nichola and she retains all rights (Bragging etc.)

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6 thoughts on “A Little Less Agra-vation (Please?)

  1. Great pics! Delhi is nuts, but everywhere else isn’t so bad. My friends live up in the mountains and are teaching/dorm parents at a school called Woodstock in Mussoorie. If you want me to connect you just let me know. However, the ride up to their school us up a mountain and isn’t so pleasant.

    • gardiner12 says:

      Thanks for the offer Holland, but I glanced at a map and I think we are heading to a different state. I’ve heard good things about the north of India, so I’m looking forward to seeing how different it really is.

  2. Heather says:

    Robert India is great! The area around Delhi is not great and Agra apart from the Taj Mahal I didn’t like much but the smaller towns and more rural areas are great. The Himalayas are beautiful and the south of India is much friendlier than the north. The driving will always be horrendous but really Delhi isn’t all India’s like. In the south I went travelling just with Fay and as 2 white girls we couldn’t have felt safer or more welcome.

    On another note if you’re going to Thailand vietnam’s probably quite good for cycling, the roads are good and the drivers slow (in the north anyway, I haven’t been to the south so can’t speak for it

    Heather xx

    • gardiner12 says:

      Thanks, Heather! I need to look at a map and work out where I might be able to cycle in India. The problem is that I can only really fly out of Delhi or Kolkata, so the south is quite out of the way for me. I’m glad to hear that you and Fay felt safe and welcome. I can’t say that the areas I have been in have felt at all safe for female travellers.

      With regards to SE Asia, I have heard so many positive things that I’m not at all worried, even if the driving might be a little crazy. Unfortunately, Vietnam is a country too far for me. I’m going to do a loop from Bangkok that takes in Cambodia and Laos, but given I’m heading down towards Malaysia eventually, Vietnam just adds to much distance (and an expensive visa).

  3. Fantastic scenery and pictures but it must be so frustrating to be stressed by the situation. Hope you find some good cycling experience before you leave India. Just back from MAlaysia – only KL – but no cycletourists at all!

    • gardiner12 says:

      Yeah, the situation is a bit frustration, but it is good to hear positive things about India from other people. Malaysia sounds really interesting from what I’ve heard. I’m definitely going to be avoiding KL, though. Too pricey! What were you doing there?

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