“Every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair where you’re left puzzling over who you are and whom you’ve fallen in love with…”
India is… Well India. It is dirty, it is beautiful. It is chaotic, busy, and tranquil. It is frustrating yet rewarding. It is rude and friendly, peaceful yet scary. And it is everything in between. There are Hindus, colorfully dressed in beautiful saris and suits. There is a wonderful Sikh community, easily spotted because of their colorful turbans and peaceful nature. There are Muslims wearing full burkas, and there are Buddhist, especially in the mountainous regions where many Tibetan refugees live. There is extreme poverty. Children running around cities without clothes, begging for a bite to eat. There are also beautiful farming communities where everyone is self sufficient. Part of what makes India so interesting and immense is how culturally diverse every area is. Though there are many similarities throughout, the clothing, attitude, type of house, and lifestyle changes dramatically every few hundred kilometers, as if you have just entered into a whole different country. It is impossible to know India, it is impossible to even scratch the surface, which is part of the reason why India holds such appeal, especially to us cyclists.
India, in all its beauty and kindness, is also extremely difficult and tiring for cyclists. The people stare in a way I have never seen. They don’t just watch you curiously, they follow you and watch with a cold blooded chilling stare that makes you want to run and hide. I had a hard time dealing with the constant attention, and often found myself waiting until I was starving to eat because I didn’t want to sit down in a town and become the center of unwanted attention. When you are cycling through India, you are never ever alone. (Unless of course you are in Ladakh, by far my favorite part of India, where you can go hours without seeing another human being.)
I went to India with a dual purpose. First and foremost, to cycle the Himalayas, but also, to prove that, in fact, India was not as bad as the news makes it out to be for women. Well, after cycling through, I can honestly say it is just as bad, if not worse, than I ever could have imagined. Not only is harassment an everyday issue, but also, women here have no independence. They can’t even imagine walking five minutes to the water pump alone, even in their own safe village, because they have been raised to believe that is not what girls do. Here, you are your fathers property until you are married, and then you belong to your husband. End of story. It was interesting and eye opening for me to see the reaction from the different families I stayed with as I passed through as an independent solo female.
What the news, with all its stories of rape and violence doesn’t point out is all the good that is found in India as well. I was shown more hospitality then I ever could have imagined, especially since I was a young solo female. I had mothers trying to adopt me, and young girls calling me their sister. Indian women are wonderful, some of the nicest people who exist on our planet. Though India was by far the most challenging country I will cycle through alone in terms of being a female, it was also an empowering experience, one that has left me feeling as if I can go anywhere and do anything, absolutely anything.
There is nothing like cycling between trucks, ox pulled carriages, motorcycles with five people crammed together, cyclists carrying dozens of boxes of apples, and of course, cows. I often felt as if I was in a national geographic IMAX film. The noise, chaos, and craziness of an Indian highway will inspire a sense of awe in anyone who gets to experience if. To survive on the road you have to be confident and forget any rules you learned back home, because here, it is every man for himself. I loved the adrenaline rush of cycling on an Indian highway.
My favorite roads though were in Ladakh, where the rough unpaved paths climbed up passes over 5,000m through the stunning landscapes that are found in the Indian Himalayas. In fact, I loved the area so much that I have changed my route in order to return again next summer.
Food is very cheap, so unless I was in a place without dhabas (small roadside restaurants), I normally just ate out. In Ladakh, momos and chowmein are common, and in the rest of India, breakfast, lunch, and dinner is always rice and dal, with vegetables and chapati. Street food such as samosas are also extremely cheap and easy to find so I ended up eating a lot of them. There are chai stands everywhere, and as a cyclist, you end up looking forward immensely to these tea breaks. The food in India is delicious, easy to find, and very filling as the typical meals are all you can eat, for only a dollar. Talk about a cyclists dream!
I stayed in just about every type of accommodation possible. I stayed with many families, in a slum, with poor farming families, and with wealthier city and farming families. I stayed in guest houses and hotels. I camped, especially in Ladakh, in the middle of the beautiful mountains. And I even stayed in a few small rock dhabas in Spiti valley. Accommodation for the most part is cheap (2-4 dollars a night), though in some of the non touristic areas there are no hotels, and when there are, they are for rich business men passing through which means they are much more expensive.
I was able to travel through India for 6.55$/day. That means in just over three months I spent 635$, which included everything from food, to shampoo, to permits.
-Food: 225$ (13,550 rupees)
-Lodging: 200$ (11,900 rupees)
-Bike maintenance: 15 cents (10 rupees)
-Medical: 15$ (850 rupees)
-Transport: 110$ (6,600)
(High since I had expensive taxi and bus rides to get to Ladakh, my starting point)
-Essentials: 15$ (900 rupees)
(Maps, gas, ATM fees, passport photos, shampoo…)
-Nonessential: 50$ (3,050)
(Clothes, internet, nose piercing…)
-Permits: 22$ (1,300 rupees)
Total: 635$ (38,150 rupees)
Per day: 6.55$ (393 rupees)
India was mentally challenging in parts, but highly rewarding as well. Though the starring and incessant rudeness from the men got to me by the end, I was also shown more kindness and hospitality than I knew possible. I would highly recommend Spiti and Ladakh to anyone, especially cyclists, and as for the rest of India… Well, to cycle through it is an adventure to say the least.
Being an Indian I have not seen the India you have seen.Means cycling gives a lot.Its amazing to know that with cycle maintenance of Rs.10,one can travel this much & have best & worst experiences of life.Kudos to you Shirine..You inspire me a lot..Have a very nice cycling time in Nepal.
Shirine, love your blog! I can totally understand the harrowing experiences you had with men here, but I do hope you come back, I would love to show you around in Delhi atleast!