Lacy: We left Manali expecting to ride half the distance to Chandigarh that morning and complete the remainder the following morning. We made the decision to start our ride at 5am so we could avoid as many near fatal incidents on the road as possible with the mind blowingly insane traffic here as well as lessen the impact of dust and diesel in our faces. We were incredibly impressed with ourselves when we pulled out of the hotel at 5am on the dot! I suppose that when given the proper motivation we can accomplish anything!! Early mornings are not normally our thing. There was no question we made the right choice as we flew out of town as one of the only vehicles on the road and had long stretches of being in fifth gear, when the condition of the road allowed. Stopping for a tea and omelette at 7:30 it was hard to comprehend how much ground we had easily covered already. I have never been more appreciative of American roads, infrastructure and rules of the road than after riding through India for 30+ days. Rob’s explanation of the roads will help you understand why.
Rob: Our last day on the bike was a long one. At 5am a totally deserted road was awesome. We even made it through the dust bowl and tunnel from Hell again without incident. We decided that things were going so well that we might ride all the way to Chandigarh in this single day. Then it got hot, slow, crazy, dangerous, bumpy and dirty. Since we were back on a main 2 lane road, we had to adjust to a few new issues. Mainly, busses passing trucks on blind corners right into us. I lost count of how many double head on collisions we’ve avoided in total but 1/2 from the whole trip happened today. Remember that here, it’s the smaller vehicles responsibility to get out of the way should 2 trucks, busses, bulldozers or farm machinery decide its a good idea to pass one another, even it it takes up the road from one shoulder to the other. At one point I stared face first into twin busses coming straight at me, the outside bus having one of its double rear wheels hanging over the edge of my side of the road into thin air and a sheer drop off. The rough road and potholes (that resembled sun cups in the snow because they were just constant) were taking their toll on our butts and backs. It took over 10 hours with just a few quick rest stops for Chai and petrol to go 108 miles. This isn’t a very high average but it was actually quick for us today factoring in road and traffic conditions. My Father-in-Law is an official Iron Butt Rider who will cover 1000 miles in a 24 hour period. Back a few years, I covered 108 miles with my best friend Chris in a certain red Corvette convertible more times than we should talk about in a single hour. 108 miles for Lacy and I on this day over 10 grueling hours sucked the life force right out of us.
We had made it. No flat tires. No broken teeth. My riding bandana I use for dust/sun and the shirt I road most of the trip in are permanently tie-dye stained from oil and 10 kinds of dirt. I bought a great pair of Royal Enfield riding gloves that served me very well on this trip and are now a prized possession. We were both exhausted and battle worn by the time we handed back the keys to Sunam at Royal India Bikes. But, I was smiling because it truly was a ride of a lifetime for us.
Lacy: After staying in a lot of crappy hotels along our journey so far (the hotels in Pooh and Tabo being the major exceptions) we decided it was time for an upgrade to properly celebrate surviving our Royal Enfield trek through the Himalayas. We pulled up to Maya Hotel in Chandigarh which we had scouted out earlier in the day as we took a break from the bike. I love how it’s common to look at a room before you reserve it. I double checked that before we spent $60, 3 times what we had been spending for the past month and a half, that it was indeed worth it. It checked all the boxes and we took it! The bed was so comfortable, there were a few English channels on tv and it was very clean! We were feeling like a million bucks after a ten hour day of riding. A couple showers later we were down the block at a local pub toasting ourselves over a pitcher of Kingfisher beer and honestly the best wings we have ever had. Tandoori wings. Succulent, spicy and so good we returned the following night.
Having a full day to kill in Chandigarh before returning to Delhi I came to what seemed to be the most reasonable conclusion and pampered myself. I spent four delightful hours at the salon having my hair cut, a moisturizing treatment applied to combat the damage from the sun and arid conditions in the mountains and a spa manicure and pedicure complete with massages. It was divine and I was beginning to really feel that we were changing modes from ‘adventure’ to ‘vacation.’ We had discussed this the night before, actually, deciding that we should treat the remaining time in India as more of a vacation. I was off to a good start.
The next day, hopping on an early morning train (and later questioning why the heck we booked a train at this time..especially considering how comfortable our bed was and the delicious buffet breakfast included with the room that we missed!) We watched the remaining blue sky in Chandigarh slip away as it was replaced by the thick gray smog of Delhi. While chugging along I found a smoking deal on a far nicer hotel than we stayed in the first time around when we visited Delhi. With photos of a beautiful pool and an incredibly comfortable bed I immediately booked it. It only two seconds – without any exaggeration -of stepping out of the train at the Delhi station before Rob was being poked and prodded by people for reasons we couldn’t understand. Number one rule when traveling anywhere – don’t let anyone get too close to you or start touching you. That’s how you ‘lose’ things. I just started laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of how immediately wild the environment was as we stepped off the train. A hot tuk tuk ride later we arrived at our lovely hotel, a respite from the craziness, and it indeed lived up to our expectations.
We used our remaining three and half days in Delhi to indulge in some rest and relaxation. Playing cards and drinking beer in between cooling off in the pool from the 100 degree weather in Delhi. Rob learned a lot about cricket as he watched the World Cup games. I get a kick out of watching him enjoy the local sports when we travel. We did a little shopping, went to the National Gallery of Modern Art and did our best to try to avoid some of the hassles of Delhi. We were only somewhat successful as it’s damn near impossible not to have an encounter where someone is trying to take more money from you than you agreed upon. Unless of course you don’t leave the hotel grounds, which while beautiful, would have cost us an arm and a leg to eat there everyday. We treated ourselves to one meal at the hotel and went out for every other. There was A LOT of really tasty tandoori chicken ordered. Come to think of it, we had tandoori chicken and beer (a necessary pairing) six days in a row – right up to our last meal.
We both agreed that traveling India was harder and more challenging than hiking 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017.
Having had some really great moments, those we absolutely loved, we can’t say that we fell in love with India. Something that we were surprised by was how many different varieties of birds we encountered during our Himalayan ride. Everything from massive Griffon vultures the size of a big turkey to birds with tails two feet long. Our heads would spin and we would let out a gasp as they flew over our heads. This was really special for us because we loved being in an area where there was so much nature at our fingertips. Being surrounded by the Tibetan Buddhist temples and culture as we traveled further north was something else we cherished. Since our time in Nepal we have an affinity for this religion and customs even though we don’t understand most of it. Spending time with Tanzin we learned even more as he took us to his family temple and explained his family’s history to us. Wandering through the villages with the temples, Mani stones and prayer wheels was a favorite pastime. While neither of us have any desire to return to Delhi that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t return to India sometime in the future. India only gained its independence from the British in 1947 and is still a relatively young country. People here refer to that often and you can often feel that there is still a big growth stage going on as you see the division of its population related to language (English is the common language as people from different parts of the country often can’t communicate with one another through another common national language), religion, caste, dietary preferences and politics. There are heartbreaking levels of poverty here that really played with our emotions. Little kids and women with nursing babies approaching us in the cities with open hands asking for money. Shanty town and slums one after the other visible along the rail lines built in piles and piles of trash. Young children selling wares on the street as opposed to being in school. You never want to desensitize yourself to people, like you and me, looking for food, shelter and love in life. It’s difficult to wrap your mind and heart around how much of India’s population is living in these conditions.
It’s fitting that after another week of travel in Malaysia we land in America on July 4th because spending time in India has given me a greater appreciation and love for my own country. That’s one of the many rewards of stepping outside of your comfort zone and diving into another culture. Perspective. I realized that a long time ago and each time I visit a new place I am blessed with first hand insights that somehow enrich my life. Upon returning to the States we will embark upon a 3-4 week cross country road trip and explore our own backyard as we relocate from upstate New York to New Mexico. I have never felt more grateful for our the roads and, being obeyed more times than not, the related rules. Seriously. I am also thankful to have been raised as a woman in America. That’s not to say that we don’t still have major hurdles to overcome in the US, but I have never felt marginalized because of and defined by my gender as distinctly as I did from the first day in India. Access to clean air. I took this for granted before visiting Delhi and learning what it feels like to be wrapped in such suffocating smog. For these and other reasons I’m returning home with greater appreciation for my home country.
We definitely earned some more R&R so on our way home so when making plans to return to the US this past week we booked ourselves a week on the tropical island of Langkawi. We didn’t make it to this particular island when traveling Malaysia last year. We never stopped speaking Bahasa (national language in Indonesia) to one another while traveling India so its only fitting we return to a country where that makes a difference. Bahasa Malay is very similar to that of Indonesia. Plus, we love the food there! I have been joking that I have put on the Indian Five. Something I made up to account for the bulge in my belly after indulging in fresh breads, curries and paneer for the past month and a half in India. Seems like a good idea to top it off with some Malaysian delicacies before heading home!