A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle

7th May 2014
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 1/15 by Pat
Fort in Jaisalmer
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 2/15 by Pat
Boat ride on the Ganges in Varanasi
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 3/15 by Pat
Gateway of India in Mumbai
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 4/15 by Pat
Hawa Mahal in Jaipur
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 5/15 by Pat
Lakshmi Villas Palace in Vadodra
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 6/15 by Pat
The Hills in Mussourie
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 7/15 by Pat
Coastline of Mumbai
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 8/15 by Pat
The Bike at the Om Bana Temple
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 9/15 by Pat
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 10/15 by Pat
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 11/15 by Pat
Rock Garden in Chandigarh
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 12/15 by Pat
The Blue City- Jodhpur
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 13/15 by Pat
The Taj Mahal In Agra
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 14/15 by Pat
Shiv Temple outside Pushkar
Photo of A Bitter-Sweet Tryst With India On A Motorcycle 15/15 by Pat
Streets of Delhi

In pretty much every way possible, India is a completely different than anywhere I’ve been. I think that’s pretty much what everyone says about this place after they’ve visited, which made me think I’d have some idea of what to expect. Turns out I didn’t.

Things I’ve noticed (some of which were expected, but I didn’t understand the extent)…
It’s loud. Horns are constantly being honked. People are everywhere, so of course you’re always surrounded by conversations. And shockingly, you’ll occasionally be passed by a car with a substandard exhaust system.

People smile A LOT. Going through Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Turkey, I always noticed a complete lack of expression on peoples faces as I walked around. In India, people just look so cheerful.

There really are cows everywhere. I thought they would be on the roads in small villages, but didn’t think they’d be in the middle of Mumbai. Going to the train station? Walking through a market? Exiting your hotel lobby? You’ll see a cow in all these places. So watch your step…navigating around the occasional pile of cow shit might not be something you’re used to doing in other cities. Sure it’s a bit more chaotic than other places, but once you watch what’s going on for a little bit, it starts to make sense. People follow closely, don’t use specific lanes, and cut others off to make turns…but as long as you get into that mindset and know that it’s going to be happening constantly, none of it is surprising.
Food is cheap…really cheap. 50 cents will get you a meal on the street. And the food is delicious and filling (this is even coming from a guy who eats too much).
Running in Mumbai is like trail running+people+stray dogs+traffic.
The trains are nuts. At the busy stops, you risk getting trampled while trying to enter or exit the train. People cram in far tighter than anywhere else I’ve been. The doors don’t close, so people are hanging outside the train.

Trash is everywhere. Carrying around and empty bottle, looking for a garbage can seems pretty pointless when you’re passing heaps of trash on the way.
Space and time are different here than in the west. Einstein should’ve come here when working on the special theory of relativity…surely his models wouldn’t have worked out.

I got to see the southern area of Mumbai, around the Queen’s necklace. The main attraction in this area is the Gateway of India, built in 1924 to commemorate the visit that King George V made in 1911. From the Gate, we caught a boat to Elephanta Island, location of the Elephanta Caves. The caves are man-made, and contain numerous statues…the largest and most impressive being the three headed Shiva statue in the center. It’s a bit unclear as to when they were carved, but it was thought to be between 450 and 750 AD. Next was the Haji Ali Dargah Mosque. This mosque contains the tomb of saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Apparently he died while on pilgrimage to Mecca, and his body floated back to this spot, so the mosque was built here. Bombay Panjrapole- In the middle of a market there is this small, and strangely silent cow sanctuary. During the 18th century, the British were trying to control the stray animal population in the city by killing them, so this area was designated as a safe house for homeless cows. The immediate silence experienced when entering the area makes you feel like you’ve been teleported to a different planet, in comparison to the constant noise and rush in the rest of the city. Autorickshaws are everywhere…much like Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok, but in Mumbai, they’re a bit less customized.
Photo of Mumbai, Maharashtra, India by Pat
As expected, riding here is a lot more mentally exhausting that most places. Losing focus or looking away for just a second isn’t something you can to do. In between getting accustomed to the traffic, I spent a couple days in Vadodara. A friend there, Ketan, showed me around the city for a day. The sightseeing highlight surely was Laxmi Vilas Palace. It was built in 1890 by the Maharaja of Baroda, and supposedly was the largest private dwelling at that time.In the afternoon, he brought me to the Atladra Swaminarayan Temple, where I received a blessing for the rest of my travels from one of the Swamis.After leaving Vadodara, I stopped at the Sun Temple in Modhera. Built in 1026, this place is in amazingly good condition after 1000 years
Photo of Vadodara, Gujarat, India by Pat
Riding into Jaisalmer, it became immediately apparent why they call it the Golden City. Every structure, especially the very prominent fort which is built on a hill in the middle of the city is made from golden yellow stone, giving the city a strangely beautiful uniformity when viewed from afar or above. I walked through the palace in the fort. The history was interesting, but for me, the best part was the close up views of these incredible details and the view of the city that you get from the top. Also inside the fort are seven Jain Temples. Throughout the city there are Havelis, which is basically just another word for mansions. The amount of detail in the carvings of these buildings is pretty incredible.
Photo of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India by Pat
From Jaisalmer, I headed to Jodhpur, just for a one night stop. I arrived in the afternoon and had time to take a stroll around the fort in the center of the city, and also get a glimpse of why they call it the “Blue City.” In the fort, I also toured the Mehrangarh Palace. The next morning, I headed to Pushkar, but took a slight detour to make a stop at my own little Mecca…The Om Bana Temple. In the 80s, a villager named Om Bana died in an accident on his Royal Enfield. The motorcycle was taken to the police station, but the next morning was nowhere to be found. After some searching, the found it back at the scene of the accident. Again it was brought to the station, and once more it somehow made it’s way back to the scene of the accident. Supposedly, people also started to see visions of Om Bana in the area, so a small temple was built where the accident occurred, and the motorcycle is kept there as well.
Photo of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India by Pat
Pushkar is an interesting little place. It’s a common Hindu pilgrimage town where many people come to bathe in the lake, which was said to be formed when a petal from Brahma’s lotus flower fell to the ground. While here, I felt obligated to try a specialty in Rajasthan…Special Lassi. Lassi is a sweet yogurt drink, common throughout India. On my way out of Pushkar, I stopped by the Shiva Temple about 10km away in Kharekhari. I met Baba Aloo while I was there, and after talking about my trip with him and a few other locals who were hanging out there, he suggested that we smoke a chillum together. I tried as politely as I could to decline, as hash and motorcycle riding seems like a terrible plan…Instead we opted for a couple cups of chai.
Photo of Pushkar, Rajasthan, India by Pat
Here’s how I spent the rest of my time in Jaipur. I first visited the Hawa Mahal. I’d say that the backside of this building provide the best photo. Jantar Mantar is a collection of massive astronomical instruments. Due to lacking astronomical knowledge, to me, it was mostly just an interesting sculpture garden. Maybe I thought I’d get something out of it, or maybe I just wanted to look intelligent, but I diligently read the descriptions of everything, without much clue as to what was being described. I don’t know how many times I read the words “celestial” and “zenith,” but all they made me think about was tea and console TVs.
Photo of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India by Pat
Made a quick stop in Agra, to see a little place called the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal refers to the entire complex…the structure that is typically associated with it is actually just the mausoleum component of the whole Taj Mahal. What was the most surprising was that this huge and magnificent structure was built as a tomb for just two bodies…maybe a little excessive? Being there at sunrise made the view all the better. The detail was pretty amazing…especially inside the mausoleum, where unfortunately cameras were not allowed. Agra Fort…The history of this fort is probably the richest of any I’ve seen in India, but as far as an interesting place to visit (don’t get me wrong, it was great to visit and shouldn’t be missed if you’re ever in Agra), I preferred the Amer Fort outside of Jaipur, or the Fort in Jaisalmer.
Photo of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India by Pat
I only paid a one day visit to the capital city of Delhi. I’m not really sure why, and maybe it was a mistake, but I didn’t really have any desire to spend any time there. The only reason I even stopped was because I need to get to the Fedex office to pick up a new ATM card that was sent from home. Within a couple hours of being there, I started to feel congested, much like in Mumbai…I guess I’m not good with pollution. Once the sun went down, I felt a little bit like I was in Blade Runner.
Photo of Delhi, India by Pat
My next stop, on the way north, was Chandigarh. I wouldn’t have visited this particular city over any others if it weren’t for the fact it is a planned city, the work of the famous architect Le Corbusier. It had a very different layout that any other city I’ve been to in India (or any city I’ve been to outside of the US or Canada, for that matter). What stands out the most is that the streets follow a very repetitive grid pattern. I didn’t have to ride around the city for long to see one thing that was really great about it…the parks. Often, I think cities lack enough green space, and for me, it’s one of the main things that differentiates the good cities from the bad. The main attraction of this type in Chandigarh is the Rose Garden, which is the largest one in Asia. A short stroll through it provided some much needed relief from the busy-ness and constant honking that seems to be unavoidable in the city. And on top of that, it was great to see how utilized this park was…lots of people were out enjoying the nice weather. Another great little part of Chandigarh was the Rock Garden. It was secretly started in 1957 by a guy named Nek Chand, and was built only from industrial waste and rocks from the site. It was originally a land conservation area that nothing could be built on, so all his work was being done illegally. He managed to keep it all a secret for 18 years, and once it was discovered, the people and city of Chandigarh backed the idea, and worked continued on it until 1996. This place was much bigger than I expected, and I was continuously surprised when I’d round a corner or pass through a doorway, only to see yet another place that I only thought could exist in fantasy stories. Towards the end of the garden, there were these huge collections of statues of people and animals…I’m not sure if Nek Chand’s goal was to creep people out, but I was just a little bit.
Photo of Chandigarh, India by Pat
From Chandigarh, I had a full day of riding (on the roughest paved road I’ve ever seen) to get to Mcleodganj. What’s in Mcleodganj? The Dalai Lama and Mountains. I didn’t see the Dalai Lama, but I did go through the temple. Right before I had to give up my camera, they had this huge banner honoring Tibetans that had self-immolated…grim. Of course, I had to do a little hiking in the mountains. Back home, friends and I would often joke about how it’d be great to have a beer/food/etc. waiting at the end of a big hike or climb. To my surprise, this dream finally came true. At the top of this ridge line, there was a little shop where I warmed up with a nice cup of coffee.
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Pat
After Mcleodganj, I moved on to Mussoorie…another town in the mountains, with some great views. From the high point in the town, you can catch a glimpse of some of the higher Himalayan peaks off in the distance. Woke up to a bit of snowfall, but luckily that was the morning before I left town, so I dodged having to ride through any bad weather on my way out.
Photo of Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India by Pat
When I finally got to Varanasi, I was exhausted from the really long day of riding, and really was just hoping to quickly get to my hotel. Varanasi proved to be an interesting place…and also fairly crowded and noisy compared to my last two stops in smaller towns. It’s a very holy city, located on the Ganges River, and it’s believed that dying here will result in one’s liberation from the cycle of life and death. And when one does die here, they’re typically cremated at one of the burning ghats on the bank of the Ganges.It’s a very interesting process to see, especially being from the US, as there are basically zero similarities between our funeral process and what you see here. Aside from the burning ghats, the rest of the river bank that stretches through Varanasi is entirely bathing ghats, much like the shoreline of Pushkar. Throughout the day, but especially in the morning they are absolutely packed with people bathing in the river. Looking at it from my non-Hindu perspective, it’s a bit strange because of how dirty the water seems to be…if this river was in the US, surely this activity would not be encouraged. One of the typical things to do here is to take a boat ride on the Ganges…I opted for a early morning ride to see the ghats at sunrise.
Photo of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Pat