Where do I begin to tell the story of the last 10 days? There have been some incredible highs but also some really bad lows-so low in fact, that I could not find any inspiration to write. So for those who wrote wondering “What’s up?” here goes.
From Varanasi and the Ganges, the roads were terrible! Large sections of payment were missing, the air was thick with desert dust, the villages were horribly congested and the stench of burning garbage filled the air. The narrower roads meant that it was even more treacherous trying to pass lumbering trucks because just as you would pull out to pass them, they would move over to pass some animal or cart and now you're almost forced off the road on the opposite side! Or you pass quickly, only to find some massive pothole waiting as you pull back in. The rough surface is also bone jarring. These bikes are fairly comfortable, but even my ample padding doesn't cushion the constant impacts.
Our next attraction is in Khajuraho-erotic temple sculptures inspired by the Indian Kama Sutra although based on the current battered state of our bodies, we won’t be emulating them for awhile! The temples are beautifully situated and well preserved in a huge park-like setting. As always though, we are constantly pestered by pushy peddlers, beggars and drivers who are drawn to our white skin like magnets and who often follow us for ages repeating their pitch over and over again. It is very wearing.
Dave McQueeney asked if we had found any truth in the statement that India had 10 races, 100 languages and 1000 gods and we certainly have. The predominant religion is Hindu, practiced by about 85% of the people including Sanjay and Mukesh (which means we avoid stopping in Muslim areas). They recently celebrated Diwaili, the festival of lights, commemorating the return of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and star of some of the erotic sculptures. Candles were everywhere including in and around the hotel swimming pool, firecrackers exploded with abandon and strings of lights hung from rooftops. It is a time for family and sweets and we felt sorry that our guys couldn't be home so we invited them to join us for the celebration.
Two hundred kilometres west and a full days ride, brought us to Gwalior, the site of a very imposing pile of rocks, as Bill fondly refers to them. It’s a fort that sprawls over 3 kilometres on a hilltop overlooking the city. It houses 6 palaces, 3 temples, cisterns and more recently, a public school. It is fascinating, with tales of Moghul emperors and their many wives; of British domination; and maharajah dynasties. The next day, we visited the palace of one of the oldest ruling maharajahs, and were amused by the over-the-top opulence on display: chandeliers weighing tons; a toy train on the dining table used to deliver cigars and liquors to guests; and a crystal staircase-all of which were in need of a good cleaning (like everything else here!).
We were looking forward to the next stop-Agra and the Taj Mahal. The day didn't start well. As I passed a bus, several passengers threw their garbage (banana peels, etc.) out the window landing in my lap. The four lane we had been promised turned out to be another work in progress and we had to do it in the dirt.
Then, just 40 kms. from Agra, we came upon some stopped traffic. There was a large crowd of people on the other side of the road yelling and burning stuff and then suddenly someone drove a tractor across our lane blocking it. We saw a car pull out and around to get away and Ross yelled “Let’s get out of here!” (With all the recent bombings and agitation, we’re a little nervous.) He pulled around and a bunch of men spotted him and threw handfuls of sand in his face. He managed to keep going but I wasn’t as lucky. They ran at me and pulled me and the bike to the ground while some threw sand in my face and others pounded my back (thank goodness for body armour!) It was the scariest moment of my life! I started screaming “I’m a woman! I’m a woman!” (Foolishly thinking chivalry might kick in.) Steve and Ross rushed towards me and they finally took off. Ruth Ann managed to get me focused enough to get up and on my bike and we took off. Talking to Sanjay and Mukesh later, they think they were trying to bring water across the highway by hose and so they blocked the traffic without explanation. The bike suffered some minor damage and I’ve got some colourful bruises but nothing serious. Needless to say, this experience has done nothing to enhance my opinion of this country and that’s why I’ve found it difficult write. Thanks for all your expressions of concern.
The adventure continues.......................