India: looking at you.
01 December 2016

India: looking at you.

We unfortunately get to India by plane, after a short flight from Muscat, Oman.
We chose the plane because the northern route through China in winter would have been too cold for our legs, while the Southern one through Pakistan would have been too hot for our safety.
We land in Jaipur.
The customs officer stops us: “You have to pay takes if the bicycles are worth more than 300 euro”.
“They cost 100 euro” I reply, “they are second hand”.
This is not going to work, I think.
She talks to her colleagues and then lets us go, obviously annoyed.
The Indian Prime Minister has just implemented an unprecedented economic revolution in the history of currency: all 1000 and 500 Rupee banknotes have suddenly been demonetized. About 80% of the banknotes circulating in a country with a population of over 1 billion.
You can imagine the inconvenience, for us passers-by and for the population.
For us, it involved airport ATM, bank, post office were out of order for lack of banknotes, so no way for us to get hold of some Rupees. We are exhausted after a sleepless night but we start mounting our bicycles outside the airport because we have no money to pay for the taxi to get to the hotel. Then the hotel has no POS for our credit card, and so on.
During the following 3000 km, we constantly need to invent tricks to withdraw/change money, given the restrictions during this transition.
And this is not the main issue, our main issue with India is India: hopping on the saddle every morning is not a pleasure, nor it is getting to your destination in the evening.
Roads are bicycle-impossible, in a traffic with no rules and respect. The air is suffocating.
For the first time, we have to deal with an extremely intrusive population, often sly and not very hospitable (with the due exceptions, of course).
The hotels, the roads, the restaurants are dirty.
Kilometers in India are nervous and dangerous.

Every time we stop, we find ourselves surrounded by people who stare at us without moving, with no intention whatsoever to communicate besides a random “How much?”, pointing at our bicycles.
Sometimes we feel the urge to literally hide in secondary country roads, behind the bushes, to eat our sandwich in peace.
Of course, it often isn’t enough, and groups of bicycles and motorbikes divert from their routes to come look at us.
On one of these occasions, I lose my patience and stare at one of these guys: “What are you doing?”.
Without batting an eyelid: “Looking at you”, he answers.
When, for the first time in your life, you are feeling happy because you are strolling in a shopping center and having dinner in a fast food, it means something is wrong.

There definitely is a huge energy behind this country, extreme in all of its features, but any philosophical-hippy approach, in our case, clashes with reality: complex, violent, cruel, and smelling like factory fumes.
Northern India is not a place for bicycles.
Every now and then, discomforted, I say: “Chiara, let’s hop on a plane and go to the Philippines, at the beach”. I am joking, but not so much.
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