Pedal Power: Our Master Tailor Andrew Ramroop shares stories from his incredible 390km bike ride through Rajasthan, India.
It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I embarked on this challenging bicycle ride. I had not ridden for more than 30 years when my interest was aroused by friends who were doing the 50 mile London to Brighton Ride to raise funds for British Heart Foundation (BHF).
I was too late for signing up for that ride last year and was very disappointed not to get on the ride via the wait list. I will have to wait another year for the opportunity.
Searching the BHF website for alternatives I found many interesting challenges that attracted me. Eventually, I found something interesting; it was a toss-up between climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a bicycle ride from Vietnam to Cambodia and the 390 km. Rajasthan Bike Ride – The land of my distant ancestors of 1860 immediately caught my attention.
Going to India for the first time intrigued me, then excited me, and as I thought about this challenge more and more the idea began to tear at my ‘heart strings’. I had very little interest in visiting India for any reason other than perhaps to watch West Indies play against India. I began to persuade myself with positive thoughts and good reasons to discover the real heart of the Indian villages. It was a challenge I should not resist.
As I did not have a bicycle I began training in the gym and spin classes. As news of my cycling expedition spread, those in the know recommended road riding practice. Later I borrowed my son’s bicycle. I enjoyed being out on the road so much that I eventually got my own excellent Land Rover bicycle; a hybrid bike that is on and off road. I had not imagined that I would ‘enjoy’ bicycling. I was more interested in going ‘for the ride’ and at the same time raising much needed funds for a worthy cardiac research charity.
I trained an average of three times weekly and went for a longer ride at weekends; as I lived in Northwood Hills at the time, the landscape there was ideal for training – I challenged myself on every training ride. I rode longer and higher and gradually gained strength without giving it much thought. I felt very happy with my progress. The longest weekend ride I did nonstop was 62 miles together with my biking friend Paul Warner. The Rajasthan Ride would be a doodle, piece of cake, a walk in the park... well, at least so I thought.
After what seemed like the longest long-haul overnight flight in history, the 18 strong BHF group arrived in Delhi just before noon on a Sunday in November. I had met the other riders at a couple of meetings at the BHF King’s Cross offices. We were shown exciting videos, beautiful terrain and encouragingly picturesque landscapes. Past riders shared lifetime experiences and repeated world tours. Wow! I’m glad I signed up!
Delhi airport is a very modern glass and metal monstrosity; the usual for most countries I have visited. The staff were very efficient and the surroundings clinically clean. We all got through immigration without any issues; plain sailing, just the way it should be at all airports especially after such a long uncomfortable Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow. Obviously Virgin needs more experience…
The passenger next to me was a fidgety, burping man that looks around 60, full head of greying hair and extremely overweight. He kept shifting around and searching from one bag to another, flipping through several magazine pages without pausing. We silently played ‘fight for the arm rest’ and shoulder jam. It didn’t help my attempt to rest a bit when his untimely finger drumming of on the base of a plastic cup while he listened to the loud music on his ear phones of the film he appeared to watch with his eyes closed. Was he trying to sleep or meditate to the noise, I asked myself. The only words ‘exchanged’ throughout the journey were from me asking ‘would you mind stopping that noise, I’m trying to sleep’ to which he replied very loudly WHAT? Oh! He was oblivious to being a nuisance. Eventually I may have managed to get about three hours ‘sleep’ as best as I could while sandwiched between two people in the middle of a three seater row. The baptism of punishment was only just beginning.
Economy ‘class’ on Virgin is punishment. I had flown with Virgin a dozen times before but it appears that they reserve dreadful experiences for some routes. They are a ‘class act’ when it comes to passenger discomfort. They are experienced in making customers in economy feel that “I shall never use this airline again’ – I was reminded why I no longer travel with them. No leg or shoulder room for little frames such as mine. No wonder the ‘gentleman’ next to me could not sit still in such cramped conditions BUT consolation is that it was good preparations for India! All-be-it poor consolation.
The group of 18 riders and four other guides travelling with us boarded the coach for another punishingly long six hour journey to Agra. It was an eye-opening experience travelling through the ramshackle streets of Delhi into the city of Kanwa, with hundreds if not thousands of small, medium and large businesses picturesquely framing the Highway all along the route. Traders were selling goods of every description, from huge tractor tyres next to fruit stalls all in one stretch of road, side by side with mouth-watering sweet stations.
The tyre shops were interesting to say the least – most of them were selling smooth worn out tyres that wouldn’t pass the regulations in any developed country.
On that long journey we passed just one set of traffic lights which were out of order. This is a special free-for-all route, I wondered. Only the most determined drivers getting through and, my goodness, they were all very determined indeed. In a country with a hard to imagine billion inhabitants, I suppose this is a daily occurrence or is this rush ‘hour’? Later I discovered it was rush hour after hour after hour...
Numerous puddles along the way and streams of algae green and brown water were aplenty. This is supposed to be the cooler time of the year to be in the North of India. Top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz and bullock carts battled fearlessly for the same cramped space. Ladies on foot and scooters brightened up the dismal polluted landscape dressed in vibrant colourful flowing saris covered from head to toes, while most young men mimicked the Western taste for dressing. The dullness and colour was a mixture of shock and excitement for me as my knowledge of India did not extend beyond a few old Bollywood films.
The journey towards Agra was adventurous to say the least. We had an excellent driver. If it weren’t for him we would have been on the road for eight hours or more. He broke every single Highway Code in the book and even some others that are not yet written.
The adventure began by winding our way between cattle, bicycles, scooters, cars, lorries and pedestrians; many of whom give the impression that they have absolute right to priority. There is no such guidance as to look left, right and left again before crossing. It is rather like headless chickens navigating through the three way traffic.
There ought to be some invention to be airborne when traffic is so congested. However, there seem to be an unwritten rule of acknowledging each other’s right to the space on the road occupied – by the grace of God, Allah, Vishnu, Yewei or whatever misguided superior being we follow, the bus got through without any mishap whatever.
Passing an area as we entered the ancient city of Agra which was described as the call centre capital of the world, was a very modern city with several sky-scrapers and many more new constructions pushing skywards. What was a surprise to me is the skyline looked like any developed city in the world but sitting uncomfortably next to the glass boxes were circular brown mud huts! Is India the developed country I expected to see? The mud huts were numbered in their hundreds framing the skyscrapers like the exposed roots of a huge oak tree.
Cargo laden open top vans are all around; driving in this combustion-engine jungle like busy bachas with an over loaded back was like trying to do a high jump with a pitch-oil tin of water on our head. Strange, not a drop spilled...
Three arduous hours into the drive we stopped at a designated location for an overdue comfort break and lunch. We ate out on the beautifully manicured lawns at the rear of the yellow/pink/red brick building with majestic cone shaped towers at each of the four corners. The edifice looked like a time-warp from British colonial times. My humble background drove me to daydream of suffering lower classes under Maharaja’s rule.
It appears as though every ancient building seems to have a temple at the rear. In the middle of the lawns was a flowing fountain of water lilies with ancient stone paved paths leading to east, west, north and south, one to a pool and another winding towards an unusually huge crumpled shape tree with terribly dark green leaves. The branches and leaves were as thick as a jute and clustered into an almost perfect circle of about forty feet in diameter– I should have taken a photo. I hope there are others. One of the paths led to a beautiful flower-bed where many of us excitedly clamoured to take pictures.
After a good lunch of my first real Indian curry chicken, salad, rice and vegetables, I walked around the grounds before we were ushered back into the bus and off again for another three hours’ drive to the ‘Grand Hotel Agra’.
Soon after leaving we encountered another ‘wall’ of beeping, toot toot traffic. Motor bikes were like bees buzzing in a bottle. After a few miles, on noticing the highway feeling more like being in a carpark and without explanation, our driver made a fast detour across the busy highway on what must be the equivalent of the M1 or Churchill Roosevelt Highway. He began to drive back towards the direction we were coming from, but this time with much speed - But!! in the wrong direction! He hit the hard shoulder with a bump that could have capsized the bus. Somehow, we ended back on the safety of four wheels and continued with the same crazy speed against the oncoming traffic.
With bright headlights flashing against us he impatiently banged the beep, beep horn for several miles until with equal suddenness and non-explanation he then did the same erratic action and U-turned into the oncoming traffic on the opposite side of the highway. Again, driving against the traffic but this time, going in the right direction and again, on the bumpy hard shoulder.
It was later we discovered what the craziness was all about – an articulated lorry jack-knifed in the middle of the highway. We then re-joined the highway, with our hearts still in our hands, everyone laughed with nervous relief - PHEW! Get us out of here! I was pleased to be sitting in the back seat with Richard, Simon, Nicola - twenty wide-mouth, wide eyed nervy passengers.
We finally arrived feeling drained but without mishap, just over seven hours after leaving Delhi airport.
The hotel was not at all ‘grand’ in nature - only name. The name must have been inspired by someone’s grand-parent. There was no sign of it ever being of grandeur, not even in a bygone age; very basic, two/three star and not very bright stars at that. Perhaps it should be aptly named The Virgin Atlantic of the North.
Along the frequently pot-hole infested bumpy journey, I managed to dose off twice for shorts cat-naps, both before and after lunch – the hours did not seem quite as long on the road as I had feared. Having had very little sleep on the flight; made worse by the inconsiderate flight attendant waking me to ask if I wanted dinner at the late hour of 11.30 pm, dosing was not a problem, despite the rough ride.
On the eve of the ride we received a briefing from an experienced Dutch guide who had ridden the route on an earlier expedition. He was lean and fit with a clean-shaven head unusually shaped like a football. Earlier, everyone had all been ‘measured’ for our bikes and tested its ‘comfort’. Dinner was unrecognisable in every way. Dread was bearing on me as I am used to organically grown food. My usual health consciousness and quiet calm had flown straight out of the bus window some hours before. All was made worse by the strict do’s and dont’s from Football Head. Do spray your body with mosquito repellent, don’t drink the water unless bottled. Do bathe where there is a bath instead of showering, but don’t swallow the water; be sure to keep mouths closed. Do eat well but not too much to avoid sickness. Don’t have any toilets along the ride but do use the bushes the guide laughed this point... WHAT!!! There are four ladies on this trip - we all looked at each other and started chattering while Football continued his warnings.
There will be a lead rider and a tail rider he barked to retain attention. Do stay on the trail and don’t turn off. If you are not sure, he bellowed in a strange mixture of English with a Dutch-Indian accent, stay where you are and someone will get you if you do not appear at the designated camp. “So what if we are lost and cannot be found?” someone asked with anxiousness. “We’ll find you” he reassured… I could hear deep sighs all around me.
Call to dinner was at 8. Curry again. Most of the guys remained liming until after midnight which is not as late as it may seem – we are 5 ½ hours ahead of the UK. I was knackered, mosquito or not, sleep was begging, I surrendered.
Heavy rain. Our challenge on the first day was set: complete a gruelling 65km.
It would be in constant rain tapping our helmets, a first for me but a blessing in that it would be cooler to ride. Riding on stone tracks and demanding muddy terrain takes some fitness and determination – not for the faint hearted. As my friend, Mark Ramprakash warned me ‘it’s like riding on a pneumatic drill’; very, very uncomfortable. Mark had spent a lot of time touring India playing cricket for England. He knew what I was to experience.
Riding through the villages and hearing the sound of music was familiar to me, as they were the sounds I heard growing up as a child in Trinidad; like poojas in the movies. The people look happy but with very, very basic material things. No electricity therefore no TV’s. Shocking poverty is all around. Villagers are still cooking in outdoor chulhas and using firewood for fuel. No hidden wealth here, just farmers doing what they know best to do - nothing like the movies; more like the Wild West you see in old spaghetti Westerns.
Dirty. Gobar-covered lanes, large puddles and muddy tracks. The main difference to the Western movies is either motor bike or bicycles ride into town to the saloon – nobody is on horse-back. And there’s no gold rush here. Most people walk long distances or ride ancient looking bicycles. Children walk three to four kilometres to school. Umbrellas haven’t got this deep into the villages. It is damp and cold this time of year. Most people wear scarves and traditional headwear to keep warm.
Today, our second day, we were warned that the group needed to have a police escort for company as we were going through a notorious gangster's village and criminal hideouts. Did we need to be told that, I wondered or was it to make us feel more like adventurers.
Nevertheless, riders peddled nervously through the village. Army vans and guides went ahead of us to warn bandits that there would be serious trouble awaiting them if they interfered with any of the BHF cyclists. Strange expressionless faces peered at us as we rode the rough road through several villages. The ten minute ride through bandit country felt like the whole three hours - we passed through without interference. The road guides made sure none of us made a wrong turn by stationing themselves at every corner.
The smell of cow's dung fills the air in equal measure to the polluted horizon of the cities. Neither the city nor the country life is desirable for the average Westerner. But somehow India has its beauty, charm and calming appeal. The discerning traveller would enjoy the wealth of history and tradition. Tangled amongst India’s daily life is affluence and poverty in equal measure. As in other towns and villages Mercedes and rickshaws engage in battle with cows, bicycles and pedestrians for the same space. There appears to be an unwritten rule that who gets through first has right of way in this confusion of the Highway Code.
“Yesterday we rode an average of 12 mph through thick mud and pouring rain; stopping three times over the 65km. Today we are to add around 95km to the tally in similar unwelcoming conditions. Urgg.”
The Maharaja’s Palace
On the 2nd night we upgraded from the camping tents of the first night out in the open desert to the Rajasthan Maharaja’s Palace. I was looking forward to home comforts there, ‘Palace’ sounds exciting but somehow I didn’t think it would be as posh as it sounds - it turned out to be 250 years old and somewhat unkempt.
We were a spectacle for villager’s laughter on seeing our muddy clothes. They apparently think all visitors are stupid idiots for riding in these conditions. They come out in their droves to wave at us and some youngsters unkindly targeted us for fun by pelting us with anything that they could anxiously lay their hands on. I, appearing 'Indian', am sometimes spared the onslaught. As one of the front riders I escaped by peddling as fast as I could. By the time the news get around to the wicked ones that the riders are on the way, those at the back bear the brunt of mischievous youngsters. One kid threw a rock at me 'for fun'. It missed by 5ft. A girl threw a handful of something like chick peas at me. That reminded me that in Hindu weddings they throw rice over the marrying. Perhaps it was a marriage proposal - I wasn’t interested in finding out! She really must have been anxious to get hitched (as chick-peas are so much larger than rice).
...80 hard pushed, back breaking kilometers done in more heavy rain, mud splattered of different colours, puddles and the biggest gobar lumps you've ever seen. Cattle live a luxury life. The wicked ones are everywhere. One rider was unlucky to have had a handful of cow’s dung thrown at her. I reassured her that it was a blessing as cows are sacred animals here. Some chuckled, she was not amused. One very unkindly had a brick aimed at her– luckily it missed the moving target. My room-mate Ling, a pharmacist from Kent, had a bucket of water thrown at him; I suggested that he needed a washing so the locals were lending assistance. I don’t know whether my facetious remarks went down well but afterwards the group later joked that is was to wash the mud off him. By and large a great majority of villagers were good to us, waving, applauding and encouraging us.
Nightly rituals began to take shape around a campfire shielding us from the still nightly cold conditions, chattering about the day’s experience, light-hearted jokes on each other.
“We stop for a break. Everyone is stretching aching limbs; 16 more km to go to the welcome of a hot shower and dry clothes.”
“Phew! 92 to 96 k is the final figure. Hard-going! The odour of endless miles of cow's dung makes even the bravest tourist cough.”
Beautiful ancient buildings and awesome architecture
We arrived at our destination. I was first of the 18. I led all the way on the last 15k (9miles). The hot favourite Simon Wilde is second on this leg of the ride. He has been first to every stop so far – a 38 year old competitive cyclist from somewhere in the north of England
The white Maharaja’s Palace is perched on atop hill overlooking the 'subjects' of 250 years ago. Peddle pounding the cobbled stone lanes lead us to what looks like an ancient building. It is in dire condition. The Palace has the hallmarks of what was once absolute grandeur. The wood carved furniture dates back more than 350 years. There is a courtyard of about 10,000 sq feet where the ceremonies of yesteryear took place. The arched entrance is twenty feet high and leads to a front hedged framed garden with a huge decaying fountain in the centre. Muddied riders arrive one by one to this marbled marvel of a bygone age.
Once all the riders arrived there was a planned gift giving ceremony that the Maharajah does annually to the village children. Each of us gave a gift to a child of school age. The gifts were pencils, pens and many other small items were a huge treat. Happy children run away with excitement and giggles at our so-called generosity. The cost is nominal. A British pound goes a long way here. One of our riders, Trevor Bowerman is to be credited with purchases – very, very thoughtful and considerate of him to take the lead on this.
I bought some T shirts and some underpants for adults. 'They' decided that the helpers on this trip would be the lucky recipients as they were ‘too good’ for villagers. Pity, not what I had in mind…
I dosed off for 1/2 hour after cleaning up myself and washing my clothes. I was woken for dinner. As I walked to dinner the evening appeared totally transformed. The peeling walls hidden by faint lights. Lively beautiful Indian music penetrated the maze of corridors pleasing my senses. There was an accompaniment of male dancers and drummers after dinner – I danced, we all danced. Could have been a movie script - so beautiful, such a delightful night, I was beginning to enjoy the journey, a relief from completing 150km in two days of torturous terrain.
1st stop 17km at Dalarie
Happy villagers surrounded us with excitement. It's clean village-like farming life. The young men were dressed in Western style clothes while the seniors were in traditional dhoti and cotton tops and turbans. The women were dressed in vibrant hues of autumnal colours.
Trinidadian women would only dress like this when attending a function – here, it is everyday wear to work in the fields. Women carry huge logs on their heads and enormous baskets of heavy goods and hay for fuel. I gave my prized Master Tailor cap to a local boy. He was excited at the surprise gift and ran away perhaps thinking I would want it back. The cap was a gift from the Taiwanese delegation when I was judging the Asian Tailoring competitions in Malaysia.
A small snack and we were off again. Most of this leg of the journey is on welcoming tarmac tracks. No sleeping policemen here but the road is littered with numerous potholes and a few bumps along the way.
I was trying to film on my Blackberry for visual record. There was a man outside using a slingshot to ward off birds from his crops. He was shooting more than 600 yards away. Silently and efficiently the stones disperse the hundreds of birds but they soon return. He continues the ritual most of the day until dusk. A daily routine that is only broken by rain and nightfall.
We are a continuing spectacle for the crowds of villagers who quickly spread the word that we are coming. By the time they gather to do any wickedness I am long gone as a front rider.
2nd stop. 14km more
Chand baori (step well) Abhaneri town. It dates back to the 8th century, for preserving water to bathe before going to the temple. There are 13 levels of very wide steps and 100ft deep. 3,500 steps. I conquered them all going down. Coming back up was another matter.
A persistent street trader harassed me to buy something. I was reluctant, where will I carry it. Eventually I relent and bought a tiny hand carved elephant. As the group were about to head out again I discovered a flat front tyre. I filmed the tyre change for the TV documentary. The camera loaned to me by the TV Company is too bulky to use while riding. I am considering ditching the idea. The bicycle mechanics on this trip can compete with the pit stops in Formula 1. They are sharp, busy as bees to get me back on the road. Quick tube change and I was off again but last by a long way - a lot of catching up to do.
3rd stop another 26 kto add to the 14.
To lunch at Baswa. Bicycle chain fell off, I tried to fix it with gloved hands, the travelling mechanic sees me and ran to my assistance. It’s all right getting mud splattered but grease too? Naah!
Lunch was at a school playground. English is taught here as the 2nd language but it is very basic.
A few villagers come out to stare. There is a concrete slide for kids and sand pits to play. Sand castles in the desert? Very original! It cannot be too comfortable for kids to slide on concrete but they are happy. Men are making small very light thin roti much like they do doubles at home. They serve it with curried vegetables laced with chillies. It is really a chilli sandwich with some vegetables. Street food looks delicious. I am not tempted.
4th stop. In a valley, another 19km added to the journey. Idyllic valley setting. Mountains all around; it is very green here. A lone girl of around 10 is hanging around us watching but keeping a respectable distance. She must have walked from quite a long distance as the nearest village is circa three km away. Cows moo in the distance. Bicycle bells rings and riders arrive. This is a longer rest than usual, in preparation, I guess for what is immediately ahead.
Cows are way up on the mountains more than 800 meters high. Sheep and goats can climb, but cows too? We are to ride the mountain after this 'rest'. It’s steep, around 600 meters high we are warned by the football head. Luckily, my training has prepared me and I am fit for the challenge but beginning to feel the aches and pain for the first time and acutely aware that I should not become too ambitious to capture the mountain before anyone else. I am now conscious that I have thighs. They feel heavy, every muscle aching but not too painfully – I can manage (easily - I think, I hope, maybe).
Ray, the cool 55 year young Yorkshire man hits the top first and is elated. Grinning ear to ear, waving from atop the hill in triumph. Nikki, his partner is ahead of me - I cannot go any faster, conquering this hill climb is torture as I lift off the saddle pounding the pedal with heavy breath. Monkeys on trees noisily chatter tracking me up the hill. I worry they may jump on me. The thought keeps me pushing one painful rotation after the other.
Destination another 10km
Arrived to our camping site on the flat plains of a farmer's field surrounded by beautiful colourful distant mountains. The scenery is very appealing. I can lose myself here forever and no one would ever find me. I've momentarily forgotten I am in India as the villages are so very different. No complaints today so far about adverse experiences with villagers. Dozens of them came from afar to just watch us pass by. There are numerous tribes here. All equally curious about what we are all about. Why are we riding from Agra to Jaipur? Why not take bus? It quicker, eh?! There are things called planes that fly too! You dirt people? My bull cart, over there, we ride you! Come, come! Offers upon offers to ‘help’...
The sunrise attracts most of the campers with cameras. It is nothing especially new to me. I show little interest. Head down on my daily diary, if I write every emotion, every torture, every experience, I will not be able to keep up with the pack.
I have lost count on what day it is. Must be day 4.
It appears that the history of British Rule in India has come to haunt them as they are a target for some the locals pelting (us). Indian history and British Rule is taught early on the school curriculum which fuels the dislike. I feel a bit like a traitor.
First stop at 27km to Bhangara to what has now become known as a fruit stops. Fruit and nuts give us energy without filling up too much. A well-deserved one hour break visiting an ex Maharaja's Fort. Built with marble and bricks it is walled for 'miles', as far as the eye could see. Within the protected walls sits a majestic ornate Temple perched upon a hill and framed by mountains on three sides, luscious green lawns below at the front. A clear water river running through with a small man-made waterfall where village boys are bathing. They dive from a precariously protruding metal pipe from a wall and climb back up repeating the performance again and again for the full hour we were visiting there. I watch their antics with vivid memories of my own youth diving from the rocks into Caura and Tunapuna rivers (when it was flowing). As children, we climbed the fruit trees and sat on the branches munching fruits. Sometime we would take just a single bite and throw it away for another. Spoilt for choice we went from various varieties of fruit and coconut trees that framed the river banks.
The water is mossy in some places and cold here but otherwise looks healthy and clean as it flows to the lower end of the stream where a lone lady bathes. We visitors discuss whether it is actually a lady or a man as she seems rather courageous in a society where women are mostly covered. Undecided...
2nd stop Ajabgarh, 16km of better roads but more hilly ones. It was a push all along the challenging tracks.
3rd stop to Partab Gul and lunch 13km. Delightfully pleasing surroundings with hills at the distance.
Final destination is another 11km.
At one leg of the journey I ‘rested’ by easing the pace and was at the back of the group when I heard some villagers shout and laugh ‘the Indian is last’ - That won’t happen again...
I pass a small wedding procession. The bride and groom are walking from one village to the other. The groom doesn’t know how to smile. He looks very solemn. There are only women following. The bride’s face is covered. The bride and groom are tied together by their clothing. No escape for him – no wonder he is not smiling...
This extremely physical challenge is beginning to take its toll on my legs. At 58 years old, my ageing legs are heavy, my behind feels sore but my determination high. I bought my personal gel saddle as we had all been warned to prepare for the worst. I also bought clip-pedals which have been an enormous help peddling through the thick mud.
As I write on my Blackberry leaning with both elbows on my thighs, I can feel the elbows piercing my thighs like crowbars on thick jelly – I am aching. When I lean off, my back aches, I am in my fourth of fifth changed position while trying to write with discomfort – it isbetter only when lying down to write.
Final Day of five:
From Agra to Jaipur and after tens of Ram Ram Bhaia and namastes; hundreds of hellos and goodbyes. Followed by countless good mornings and ta ta's and some “I love you”s. Cows dropping thrown, bricks pelted and water tossed and some other missiles - we are at the end.
It was a once in a lifetime experience riding through the villages; off the beaten tracks to discover how the nerve centre of the real India exists, while raising much needed funds for BHF.
245 miles (400 km) later and by a bicycle length’s (or 5 seconds) the winner is, yes you guessed it...Yours Truly! Yippy! Perhaps, I should say I “came in first” as opposed to declaring myself the winner as it was not really a race (oh? who said that). All the months of training has paid off.
Simon, the very fit 39 year old precision engineer from Leeds, Northern England, who makes ejector seats as a profession came in second.
3rd and 4th came in five minutes later and 5th and 6th another 5 minutes afterwards.
The last rider of eighteen came in 40 minutes later.
It was an undeclared race, everyone asking and talking about who would come in first every evening. Simon was our favourite. He was visibly unhappy to be second – poor fella…
The average age we worked out to be 39. Collectively we raised around £65,000.00
This trip was quite a liberating experience for me. The freedom of having the breeze cool my face for miles of riding is refreshing. Time spent thinking about life and its values helped me to put my own life into perspective. The two and a half days of torrential rain that peppered my face and back renewed my determination to push ahead.
Soaked from head down and from boots up with pools of black and red and brown mud; splattered from front and back wheels without mud guards made uncomfortable riding. The brightness of the sun that burnt my arms and face was a welcome relief on the final day as it dried the sweaty, smelly clothes - I threw out clothes every day after reaching camp. The openness for miles and miles of farming land with mountains of black/brown straw that decorated the roadside added to the beauty of the landscape. The sand dunes and brilliant white marble mountains is a rare sight to behold. The smell of a mixture of manure and animal dropping and burning firewood cleared the nostrils and choked the throat. The gloved hands that protected me from touching the grubby surfaces were essential packing kit. The musical sound of birds and goats cries with the occasional sound of a distant tractor was in complete contrast to the endless peep, peep of the city’s vehicle horns. The taste of curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner was enough to make even the curry pundit convert to McDonalds.
The daily early morning rising only allowed for breakfast and packing and we were off again. Evenings were filled with anxieties to bathe from a plastic bucket of boiling water mixed with cold rain water to get an even temperature. Having brought my own face cloth, shower gel and towel, I managed to scrub thoroughly from head to sole.
Nightly rituals were sitting around a campfire chatting and joking, all wrapped up in warm fleeces. The nights were cold and still with sand dunes extending for many miles. Camps were set down in valleys for protection from the elements.
Simon Wilde was the favourite to lead every day - I beat him twice out of five. Once to the Maharaj Palace but the most satisfying is at the end of the ride. He is not pleased (I guess) he is too quiet. He is not talking to anyone but just smiling but grinding – I am grinning from ear to ear...
The dreaded bus left at 5.05 am exactly. The conquering group are on the way to Delhi Airport. This is a 5/6 hour drive on roads that get pounded with every form of transport, confirming it to be the pothole capital of the world.
On the bus, I dosed off and on until we stopped for a welcoming breakfast of sandwich and bananas followed by over sweetened sugary and milky coffee.
We are now in Delhi. I bought an upgrade business class ticket to return to London. Do I deserve it... I lied to Chiddy, a very charming likeable Black Londoner, telling him ‘they must have made a mistake with my ticket’. Chiddy is one of two pharmacists that are on this trip of a lifetime.
Most people are talking about Cambodia/Vietnam ride next year...I have found my charitable calling....
Fourth from left- The first 15 to the finishing line
No wonder the British colonised this beautiful country. It is awe-inspiring – the most enjoyable travel experience I have ever had…