When we first arrived in Mumbai we loved India. We loved the colors, the spices, the mess, the vibrant energetic atmosphere, we loved the food and even the selfie requests. India was such a different experience compared to all the countries we have previously travelled. We dived in head first without holding back and we enjoyed everything, that incredible India has to offer. But our excitement didn’t last long.
After cycling through India for almost two months, we had developed a consistent routine. We would arrive in a small town of 1 million people and search for a hotel room at around 4pm. We then checked in and didn’t leave the hotel room anymore until the morning when we had to cycle on. On certain days, we had dinner and breakfast delivered to our hotel room because we just couldn’t deal with India anymore. How is such a big change in our perception possible?
India has a population of 1.3 billion people and we feel like we met all of them. India is crowded. There are people everywhere. On a bicycle, you are constantly exposed to the locals around you. In other countries, this exposure was one of the main reasons we love travelling by bike so much, but in India it was exhausting. When we cycled through the state of Uttar Pradesh, it got so bad, that we didn’t make any brakes during the day. Whenever we stopped to have a snack, it took 2 minutes and we were surrounded by 20 starring Indian men.
The starring was to be expected but the disrespect and harassment was shocking. It happened twice, that men touched up my thigh whilst I was riding my bicycle. One guy just stuck his hand out as he passed me with his motorcycle and then rode off, Matt was behind me and saw everything happening. The second time I was felt up by a little boy of maybe ten years, he was cycling beside me and then just before he turned off, he stuck his hand in between my legs. I was so shocked that a ten-year-old just did that to me that I didn’t have time to say anything or chase after him. How is it possible that a boy of ten years comes up with the idea to do this? We were and are still shocked.
Another thing that made cycling in India challenging was the 20+ selfie requests per day. Most of them weren’t even requests, but just screams “selfie!”, “selfie!”. People held phones into our faces even when we clearly said no to them. Also men came far too close when I once said yes to a selfie, thank god Matt was always nearby.
On top of that, it was new for us, that no one ever offered us help. In all the 12 other countries we have travelled, we got offered help from locals daily. This kindness of the locals all over the world surprised and was one of the things that made our trip so special. In India, we got offered help twice during our two months here.
All these things added up plus the pollution and plus the insane traffic, made India our most challenging country so far. I would still advise anyone to visit India, just don’t do it bicycle. If you back pack and you can take a bus from one beautiful city where the locals are used to tourists to the next, India must be wonderful. But if you have to cycle through all the small villages in between, you might end up like us and not leave your hotel room once the door is closed behind you. Mostly we think travelling is about the journey and not about the destination, but in India it is clearly about the destination and not about the journey.
We don’t want to say India is an unfriendly or bad country, we have also met some lovely Indians. And also, we have only cycled through 3 of India’s 29 states, so maybe we just got unlucky. But this was our experience and we think it is also important to share not only our good stories on this blog.
To give our body and mind a rest of this exhausting experience, we cycled north to Rishikesh, the world capital of yoga. We intended to spend one week there and ended up staying almost three weeks. Rishikesh is a relaxed little tourist town on India’s holy river Ganges. We enjoyed cappuccinos, got to know other travelers and did yoga every day. Compared to the India we have travelled through before, Rishikesh was heaven.
From Rishikesh we cycled onwards to Banbasa, to cross the Nepalese border. We got the Nepalese 90-days-visa surprisingly easy but also surprisingly expensive for 100 USD directly at the border. At the border we met Prem, a very friendly Nepalese tour guide. He invited us to stay with him in a national Park for tigers and rhinos 150km down our way. Matt was sold.
As we cycled our first few kilometers in Nepal we couldn’t believe how much difference a border, just a line on the map, can make. In the last three days, not once has anyone asked us for a selfie or starred at us until we felt uncomfortable. The difference between Indians and Nepali is very big to us even only after three days in Nepal.
Just after the border, a girl in her school uniform joined us for a bit on her bicycle. We suddenly noticed that she was wearing pants as part of her Nepali school uniform, a big change from our last 4 countries (India, Oman, UAE and Iran): Nepal is the first country where girls wear pants again and are not forced to wear dresses only. Anyway, the girl joined us for a bit and tried her best to talk English with us. She was absolutely lovely and before she left us she said: “Every day I ride my bicycle to school for one hour and then back an hour. Normally this way is very long, but today it seems too short because I met you.”. It took her about three minutes to explain what she wanted to say in her broken English but when she succeeded, it went right into our hearts.
We are again finding the love for bicycle touring here in Nepal. The waves and friendly smiles have returned and our excitement to get back on the bike growing every morning. We can see that these Nepali people are happy to have us, help us and quite simply they respect us as we respect them.
I’m sure you are all thinking that riding a bicycle through Nepal is madness because of the Himalayas. When planning our route, we thought this also. Surprisingly, Nepal is quite navigable by bicycle. The country is comprised of three distinct regions: The flatlands, the middle ranges and the upper Himalaya area. We have been cycling the east west highway in the flatlands, which has been great so far. The hills are coming though, and we are a little nervous, but ready!
We plan to meet up with my best friend Anja and her boyfriend Dimitri in a couple of weeks to do a trekking in the Himalayas. We are very excited to have our friends around and do some exercise that doesn’t involve a bicycle. After the trekking we will box up our bicycles once again in Kathmandu and fly into Myanmar. Exciting times ahead!
Guess where I am in this moment, writing this blog post? Yup, at the house of our new friend Prem whilst Matt and him are out there in the Jungle chasing tigers and rhinos.
Talk to you soon
Jasi (hopefully with Matt)