India 1: Love or hate?

India, country of contrasts and for most of the people a cultural shock. Tobi has already spoken to some people about India on this trip. He was quite surprised, because most of the travellers didn’t like it and some of them even hated it. Tobi already visited India 15 years ago and he loved it that time. From all countries he has been travelling to, India’s special flair has always remained in his mind.

India is literally sick, exhausting, ruthless and slaps you right in the face. You don’t go to India for beach or wellness holiday and it is definitely not a “sunshine and lollipops” country. The smell in the crowded streets is always a mixture of disgusting and delicious. People are everywhere, noise is everywhere, trash is everywhere, animals are everywhere – life and death is also everywhere.

You shouldn’t start questioning India. Sometimes things aren’t nice, so you have to try to understand or just ignore them. You get overwhelmed by fantastic things, but also by terrible ones. People, that are sensitive with hygiene, wouldn’t like it and would be out of place anyway. You can only enjoy India, if you adopt to the country, search for contact with the locals, eat and drink with them and face weird and unpleasant situations with humour. If you manage to travel the country like that, you will have unforgettable experiences. If not, you will leave the country and you’ll never come again.

Although India and Pakistan are “similar” (not surprising – it once was one country), we immediately notice right after the border, that we have entered a new country. Without wanting to step on the Indian’s toes, but the friendliness to tourists seems to drop from 200% to 50%. As a white tourist, you are mainly treated as a walking wallet. Before, we almost had to beg to be allowed to pay for anything. Now, we have to pay for every trifle and many things are often more expensive for foreigners. We need a few days to get used to that as a start.

After we have left the border towards Amritsar, it doesn’t take very long until we arrive at the first Indian traffic light. Of course, we stop – but the madly honking crowd behind us seems to be irritated by that. A few vehicles start to pass us, until one car stops and a laughing local signs us to ignore the traffic light. Since we have almost caused an accident by following the traffic rules, we rather decide to follow the guy’s advice.

Bikers in Amritsar
Bikers in Amritsar

At the next traffic light, we have a similar situation, but there is also a police officer standing in the middle of the crossroads. So we rather stop a the red traffic light again. Although the wildly waving officer wants us to stop, the locals just drive on and ear-battering honking starts behind us again. So we slowly drive on, as well. The poor policeman has given up in the meanwhile. Why this guy is standing there at all, remains a mystery to us. Later somebody explains to us, that there are also areas in India, where you have to follow the traffic rules more accurately. We are advised to watch the locals and move with the crowd, if applicable.

The Biker Club in Lahore gave us a contact in the Indian city Lucknow. Bablaa Da is a passionate motorcycle rider and offered us to park our bikes at his place for a while. We want to spend a longer time in a place in southern India, so we won’t really need our bikes down there. The distances are also huge, the traffic is slow and chaotic and petrol isn’t cheap either. So we decided to leave our bikes in Lucknow and abandon our freedom of travelling for a while.

Our earlier plan was to ride to Ladakh in the northwest of India, too. Unfortunately the passes were already closed due to snowfall. Winter is coming and therefore we also decided to skip Nepal. We could have visited its tropical areas in the south, but to be honest – if we travel to Nepal, it is for the mountains and not for the tropics. In addition to that, the visa costs quite a bit and they also charge you for road taxes.

Bablaa informed us, that the indian motorcycle brand Royal Enfield is introducing two new bikes at an event in Lucknow in three days. We don’t have lots of time, but since we aren’t interested in Delhi and we’ll pass Agra later on anyway, we ride the 1000 km to Lucknow without major stops. Some bikers in Amritsar advised us to take the Expressway from Delhi to Lucknow. So shortly before Delhi, we just take the highway entrance without having a closer look at the road signs, to drive around the city. That is going pretty well for a few kilometers and it feels surprisingly similar to a German motorway. Then we get suddenly stopped at a toll station. “You are not allowed to continue with your bikes”, somebody explains to us in bad English. Didn’t the bikers in Amritsar tell us to use the expressway? How is that possible? After a few minutes a man appears, that can speak some better English. “You are only allowed to use the expressway between Delhi and Lucknow, but not to drive around Delhi”. Great, so what are we doing now? He starts to explain a route through Delhi, but since we propably look like two “question marks”, he finally gives up. Another guy approaches and mentions, that we could also use the dirt road next to the expressway to bypass the toll station and simply re-enter the expressway afterwards. “Huh? – we thought it is forbidden?” – “Well, you can’t pass the toll station, but if you drive around it, what can we do?” We look at eachother with an unbelieving grin, but we didn’t need to be told twice, of course. It seems like there is a reason, why people say: “Everything is possible in India”.

No vehicles on the Expressway
No vehicles on the Expressway
Tobi has to repair
Tobi has to repair

Back on the expressway it is easy going. The tarmac is fantastic and there is no traffic at all. Till – a few kilometers later, Miriam says, that her motorcycle is riding “weirdly”. “What does “weirdly” mean Miriam?” Since she is not giving specific details, we just continue riding. 5 minutes later she calls again. Her motorcycle is still behaving “weirdly”, so I decide do stop and have a closer look. It doesn’t take much time to notice the issue – her rear tyre is completely flat. Obviously, such a bagatelle is hard to sense for Miriam. She probably could loose both of her wheels and would just mention, that her motorcycle behaves “weirdly”.

We jack her bike on two panniers to remove the rear wheel. The repair patch, that was used in Pakistan to repair the tube, has become loose and the hole is too big for another patch. So we install a new spare tube and half an hour later, we are on the road again.

Since there don’t seem to be petrol stations on the expressway, we finally have to leave it to get some petrol. Unfortunately, after the bikes are filled, we realise, that we are unable to pay. Tobi confused a similar coloured Pakistani bank note in his wallet and the few Indian rupees left there, aren’t enough to pay the bill. None of the credit cards work either. So I hand my passport to the filling station attendant and try to explain to him, that I’ll have to get some cash. He looks a bit puzzled, but seems to be quite relaxed. Although he doesn’t understand my offering to leave my passport by way of a pledge. So in the end he keeps Miriam, while I try to find an ATM. Of course – as soon as you need a cashpoint, there either is none, it is out of cash, or completely out of order. For that reason I need over an hour to organise some rupees. When we are finally ready to go again, it is late afternoon and we can’t ride very far anymore in daylight, before we have to look for a hotel. The next day we ride the remaining kilometers to Lucknow.

Lucknow is Uttar Pradesh’s capital and fairly nice. There aren’t any tourists though. Bablaa is cordially receiving us and brings us to a nice hotel close to his home. In the evening we go to the Royal Enfield event to see the new bikes Interceptor and Continental. The shop, where the event is happening isn’t that big, but there is an insane amount of bikers. That is a first hint, that India’s biker scene is really something special.

The next day we mainly relax at the hotel. In the evening we go to visit the city. Naturally with a car – nobody goes on foot by choice in India. Bablaa wants to organise some beer and in India you have to go to a liquor store for that. These are usually small rooms with a barred hatch towards the street and the beer is alo quite pricey (beer in Germany is insanely cheap though). Bablaa explains, that Indians are after a good price-performance ratio. So it is hard to find beer below 8% of alcohol –  naturally, that you want to get pissed as fast and cheap as possible. When we ask for a “normal” beer, we just cause a big laughter. No way, we’ll drink Strong Beer. Then we cruise around in the car, while we are encouraged to drink faster, since the food in the restaurant is ordered already and we are not allowed to enter there with a beer. We are drinking too slow, so we make a short stop at a chicken snack, before we continue to the restaurant. However – we still haven’t finished our beers, when we arrive there. We are talking about ~30 minutes for 3 pints of beer with 8% alcohol by the way *haha*. Therefore we get our food for take-away and we finally can stay with our beers in the car. Back at the hotel we are almost a bit in relief. That’s quite a stressful method of drinking. But hey – “different strokes for different folks”.

The following days Bablaa’s family hosts a Sri Sri Jagadhari Puja, a religious reverence ritual, where they invite over 1000 people. The preparations are in full operation and it is hard to imagine, how there should be space for so many people. Several cooks are preparing food continuously. At the upper floor is a shrine, where the actual ritual is happening. We get to know many people and it is pretty interesting to watch the whole ceremony.

Our friends in Pakistan asked us to go to the nearby city of Dewa. There is a holy shrine, where Sufi Hazrat Waris Ali Shah was buried and we promised to bring some flowers to the grave for reverence. It was important for them and the political situation doesn’t allow them to travel to this place by themselves, unfortunately.

Bablaa is kind enough to accompany us with three friends. The way to the shrine is extremely chaotic and we are advised to take care of pickpocketing. It is that crowded, that we get literally squeezed around the shrine one time. It only takes a few minutes and we are out of the shrine again. It is a constantly moving crowd, so there is no way to stay in there for a longer time. Miriam was just able to put some flowers onto the grave, before we were pushed out of the room again. On the way back to the car, the police is waiting for us. They got told, that two foreigners are here and they want to check the situation. Everything seems to be alright though and they leave again after some chat. We have no idea, how the police could get reported that fast with so many people around.

In the evening we visit Lucknow’s old town with Bablaa’s family. It is really nice and also has some beautiful historical buildings. The next morning we are brought to the bus terminal to get our bus to Agra.

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