India

For my final day in Pakistan I continued along the Grand Trunk Road. The traffic was manic with bicycles, motorcycles, tuktuks, cars and trucks all swerving around and competing for space.

I turned towards the Indian border just before the road reached Lahore. The people on the outskirts of the city lived in some of the poorest-looking slums I’ve seen.

I reached the border before midday. With Pakistan and India in a constant state of low-level war, this border (Wagah) is the only open crossing between the two countries. It is the site of a famous border ceremony (though I did not see it), and more opulent a site than most borders.

The border formalities took a while, but after an hour or so I set off cycling into India. I left the main road and cycled along some quiet country roads. India has a reputation for being overcrowded and having some of the craziest traffic in the world road. For now at least, India was thankfully quite unlike its reputation – it was quiet, green and there was almost no traffic!

Over the next couple of days I made my way closer to Delhi, and of course things began to get busier.

Cows now rule the road
This region of India is has a significant Sikh population, as this Gurdwara shows
For the first few days in India there were constant billboards devoted to visa services and international qualifications. Also, note the turban on the motorcycle passenger – perhaps half the men in this region wear turbans

About a day’s ride from Delhi, I was riding along a smooth tarmac road when there was a sudden bang. My tyre had exploded. A large hole had been ripped through the tyre. I put some bits of old inner tube between tyre and tube, but the hole was big and I wasn’t confident my repair would hold for long.

The town of Barnala was about 15km away so I rode there, passing through some sort of protest that was blocking the road. To my relief, the first bicycle shop had 28inch tyres – the size I needed.

However, it turns out Indian 28inch tyres are different to normal 28inch tyres – 635mm instead of 622mm. I visited several shops and couldn’t find the tyre I needed – 28inch, 29inch, 622mm, 700c or whatever you prefer to call it. (Tyre sizes are complicated)

One guy told me that there was a shop that would be open tomorrow and would have a tyre for me. I decided to check in to a hotel and hope he was correct. In the meantime, I looked into replacing the whole wheel. I could buy a 26inch wheel and tyre which would at least last me to Delhi.

In the end, though, I made my way to the shop the next morning and found that they did indeed have a tyre for me. The guy guaranteed me it would last a bare minimum of ten years. I doubted that.

A little-used street in Barnala
Looking out over Barnala
As I approached Delhi, the smog worsened. I can’t think what could be causing it…

I arrived in Delhi and cycled towards the Old town. It is an enormous city so I spent a long time cycling in traffic. Oxen seem to be forbidden in the city so much of their work is done by cyclists carrying enormous loads – so big that they are often pulled or pushed on foot.

A tuktuk driver pushes a heavily laden cyclist up a slight hill
Busy traffic

Remarkably, traffic tended to keep moving. There were only a few traffic lights, where everyone stops and so salespeople and prostitutes gather to hassle their captive market.

Declining their insistent offers, I continued on to the Red Fort, Delhi’s largest tourist attraction.

The Red Fort is huge. For a sense of the scale, see the man on the ladder part way up the wall.
Inside the fort complex

After visiting the fort I visited the holy site of the cyclist: Decathlon! I picked up a few things there, and got some work done at a nearby bike shop. Finally I started to cycle out of the city. There was a bike path for part of the way, but I didn’t use it. Besides the usual problems it had one more: it had been taken over by monkeys!

My next stop after Delhi was to be the city of Agra. I was curious to see how the sizes of the cities compared, so I looked it up. Apparently Delhi has a population of 2 crore, compared to just 20 lakh for Agra.

Rather than the standard thousand-million-billion system, India has their own number system. A lakh is 100,000 and a crore is 10,000,000.

Anyway, Agra was significantly smaller than Delhi and I had an easier time of riding through and checking into the hotel. I then walked to the site that was my reason for visiting the city: the Taj Mahal!

One of the seven wonders of the world! (And a lot of tourists)

A mother carrying her child around the site

I took a rest day in Agra before heading northeast into rural countryside in the direction of Nepal.

A whole lot of rice
Sugar cane is the main industry of the area. It is carried by trucks, bicycles, and on top of women’s heads

Medium-sized towns were the worst for traffic. Villages don’t have enough vehicles for congestion, while cities have wide enough roads to keep things moving

Now that I was away from the tourist areas, I was becoming the tourist attraction myself. People were constantly staring and demanding selfies. Whenever I stopped a crowd (generally men) would gather, just to stare.

I tended to stay in hotels in India. They were cheap, and the country was just too crowded to easily be able to camp. On the evening of my last day in India, though, there were no hotels nearby. After spending some time searching for a good spot (without any luck), I wandered down a narrow track. It turned out to be a dead end. In the absence of any better option, I wandered into a field of sugar cane and lay down to sleep. Pretty soon ten or fifteen people came down the track in the hopes of staring at me. They didn’t find me, and eventually gave up, went away and left me to sleep.

November 9: 176 km

November 10: 116 km

November 11: 124 km

November 12: 160 km

November 13: 47 km

November 14: 187 km

November 16: 183 km

November 17: 194 km

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