Riding through Punjab into Rajasthan, we were off the beaten tourist track. Sure, there are backpackers and lots of Indian tourists to be found in the cities and at the sights. But they usually get there by bus or train.
So they are rarely seen at roadside dhabas where the truckers eat and where we would stop for a chai or lunch. (They are missing out on the yummiest food that is often so much better than that served at restaurants.) And you don’t see any tourists bumbling around the smaller towns and villages. This makes us a bit of a novelty here and brings about some strange situations.
By now we are quite used to being stared at like animals in a zoo, every time we stop.
Bikes and tuk-tuks slow down to get an extra good stare and shout “Hello!”. A school bus did the same as we were sat outside a chai place. But then he reversed all the way back. The driver jumped out, commanded us to stand by the open door and snapped some pictures. The kids jumped off the bus, notebooks in hand, asking for autographs! All the while a crowd gathered, taking more photos. I left my camera hidden, as that usually sparks another frenzy, people wanting their picture taken with it, and we would be there for hours.
The countryside here is flat and most of it is farmland in Punjab and the neighbouring north of Rajasthan. People still cut and thrash the rice by hand, beating the bushels over a hard surface, letting the grains drop onto a cloth.
Oxen, donkeys or horses pull the heavily laden carts.
In Rajasthan Camels replace the horses.
Though the further south you get, the richer the lands. Small tractors make an appearance, the driver’s heads bobbing away to the Indian tunes blasting from their radios.
Combine harvesters make an appearance, too, and they look a bit like a tractor mounted on the harvesting machine 🙂
Traffic is mad, even on the smaller roads and I’ve already had a couple of accidents. Luckily nothing serious though and no one got hurt. Nila just has a couple more scratches. Every now and again you ride past really smashed up cars or overturned trucks, macabre reminders to stay alert.
We tried a bit of wildcamping, which is difficult, as there are people absolutely everywhere, even in the sandy steppe of Rajasthan. Like in Kashmir, the first night in Rajasthan was quite successful. We found a pretty, hidden little spot by the side of a train track. Every now and again a train would rattle past tooting its horn and shaking the ground. But other than that it was peaceful and the farmers that spotted us, just waved and drove on.
The next morning, riding down the track of deep desert sand that we’d come, we watched a guy wash his cows in the river that waters the farmland here.
The next time we weren’t so lucky. We’d gone past a house and the owners came over for a chat, only to return minutes later with a shovel so we could level the ground to sleep on. Real nice, but we wouldn’t need it. We declined the offer for food and drink too, just wanting a quiet evening under the stars.
They left, only to return with all their friends and family and more and more arrived, laughing and joking about. They couldn’t believe why anyone that could afford a room would live in a tent. Only really poor people do that here.
They wanted to investigate our tent inside out.
An older guy warned of all the wild animals that would eat us. They offered we should sleep in the local school building to be safe, but we eventually managed to convince them that our tent is quite snake proof. The police showed up too, but spoke no English and so eventually drove off.
It was all becoming a bit much after a while. Curiosity about other people and customs is great, but all their questions, fumbling with our stuff and request for having the millionth photos taken only to squabble over the camera to see the result on the screen was getting very annoying. They even managed to spill our last beer. Enough is enough, so I loudly declared it was time for me to sleep and disappeared into the tent.
Aidan said good bye and soon followed. With no one left to ask “Your name? Your country?” they wandered off home. As soon as they’d gone, I dashed out of the tent for a pee I’d been holding in since we first parked up the bikes hours ago.
We’d just settled in for some quiet diary writing, when a jeep drove up, headlights on our camp. The cops had returned, and this time they’d brought someone who speaks English impatiently yelling: “Hello! Hello!! Come out please!” heavy boots approaching our tent.
Aidan went out to talk to them. But no amount of explaining that we are quite experienced with camping and for us it’s quite a normal thing to do, would convince them that we were safe. They sort of believed no snake could operate the zip, sneak in and munch us in our sleep. But they were convinced we’d be raped and murdered by all those bad people pushing up the crime rates in the area.
They pointed out that everyone knew we were here by now. Though I thought everyone also knew the cops were keeping an eye on us. And while annoying, the villagers had been welcoming, offering food and help. The policeman couldn’t believe his ears when we told him we’d previously camped quite safely in India and insisted they’d take us to a hotel.
A big crowd had formed again by now and they all watched as we packed up our stuff again, the police helping by finding some torches to add to the car lights. Almost an hour later we followed their car to a hotel in town, where they waited till we were properly checked in and the bikes parked in the locked backyard, before heading off.
Admittedly we had become a little complacent about remaining unseen while wildcamping. So having learned our lesson, the next time we hid in a hole. We’d started looking for a secret spot a while ago, but there aren’t many of those around. So the next time we jumped off the main road onto a sand track, we waited till the girls and the shepherd in the distance had passed and then rode into a small depression with cliff-like edges. On one side the ground sloped down gradually so we could ride in, weaving around thorny bushes. Now someone had to come right up to the edge of the hole to see us. Perfect!
The tent usually causes the greatest curiosity, so we decided to wait till well after dark, before pitching it. Until then we just sat on a little gravel heap and wrote our diaries, leaving the bikes loaded up. Like that we could always ride off straight away, if we had to.
The shepherd did see us when he walked past again. But he didn’t stop or call everyone he knew. So we put up the tent by moonlight and had an undisturbed night.
The next morning I found a gazelle sleeping in a smaller hole next to ours. They are really shy and have the most fascinatingly graceful way of skipping when they flee.
As we were packing up, an older man, wearing a bright orange turban and one of those white wrap-around sheet garments climbed down into the basin. Undisturbed by us, he lifted his robes in full view and went for a poo! Hm…. breakfast would have to wait till later.
As we are riding south the people are becoming more generous. If we misunderstand the price and hand over too much cash, they give the extra back, where before they would have pocketed it, us none the wiser till much later. And some even offer us a little present. One morning the chai was free, a gift for the traveler. And another we were offered some biscuits to go with our morning tea. Aidan was given them by the stall owner, while I was busy photographing the milkman.
Traveling by motorcycle in India presents many challenges, with its mad traffic and people. By comparison Europe was a pleasurable breeze. I’ve still not made up my mind whether I love or hate this place, or both, or neither. One thing is for sure, I’ve never felt so alive! And I’m loving that feeling 🙂