Cycling Through Hell: India

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”

As I take three or four large gulps from the water jug on the rickety bench I feel that familiar sense of adrenaline, fear, and anger rise up inside of me. When I lower the pitcher I see them, watching me intently as they always do. Indian men.

Though their names may change, to me they are all the same. I feel naked. Their piercing greedy eyes undress me, leaving me vulnerable yet prepared to fight as I toy with the rock in my clenched fist. I have three more in my pocket and pepper spray tucked into my bra. I’m prepared, I have been through this before. In fact, I go through this everyday now. I’m cycling through hell.

For a split second I want one of them to make a move so I can fight back. I have two weeks of intense anger boiling deep inside of me.

There are more now, a dozen or so, crowded into and around the small local shop I have stopped to eat at. No one has made a sound, they never do. The eerie silence grates on my nerves a hundred times louder than the incessant honking on the highway out front. They could easily overpower me.

I shovel fistfuls of rice into my mouth, desperate to be back on the open road. Not that it’s much better out there, they always find me. Twenty kilometers back I stopped behind a tree to eat a few bananas I had stashed away. I was desperate for a break, it was only nine a.m. but mentally I was ready to snap. My breaking point gets earlier with each passing day, a nights sleep can no longer ease the nightmare I am living through. 288 kilometers to go.

Five minutes in he approached me. He got close enough for me to see what he was holding, a picture of a naked white girl, before I screamed at him to go and held up a rock. He got the point and turned to leave. I threw the rock anyways.

I threw another one as he turned around for one last look. And then again as he began to run. I wasn’t throwing them at him, per say, but rather at his ignorance. At his twisted upbringing which has taught him that women are objects. That we are disposable. That we are second class. No, not second class, scum. I am throwing these rocks in anger at the inequality that is all too prevalent in this part of the world.

I’m cycling again, I’m far from full but I’m not about to hang around for any longer. They are everywhere. The passenger on the motorcycle in front of me turns around to stare. His drivers turns around too, then swerves sharply, barely avoiding a crash. I almost chuckle to myself. I need to get out of here, this place is turning me into a heartless creature.

I pedal faster but it is no use. A motorcycle carrying three adolescents has pulled up in front of me, half blocking my way in an attempt to pull me over. They stare as I pedal quickly by them, my head down. I hear their engine roar as they come up behind me, overtaking me in order to block my way again. This time I hold up one of my rocks. The third one smiles slightly, taunting me. My rock hits his motorbike as his leer turns into shock. He isn’t use to a women fighting back.

They speed away quickly into the distance, but my troubles don’t disappear with them. There are more of them, dozens a day, who play this little game with me. 246 kilometers to go.

A hotel. It’s only three p.m. but I’m ready to lock myself away until I force myself through hell again tomorrow. The sleazy rich business man overcharges me but there is nothing I can do. There is no way I would survive a night in my tent here. He tries to talk to me, tries to ask for my name and number. I want to throw a rock at him.

I double lock the door and shove my bags in front. Safe, or at least hopefully. No one would hear me scream if they found a way in.

Thud, thud, thud. I sit up in bed with a start, half-asleep, my heart racing. I reach for the rock I left on the bedside table. Relief floods through me, it’s not my door they are breaking down. I’m still safe, but awake. I want to stay in my dingy cell forever but I’m starving, the samosas I ate last night were not nearly enough. There was no way I was going back out to grab a real dinner though. They would have found me all too quickly, shredding my soul with their cold-blooded stares.

The cars are already honking down below and the noisy shop garage doors are being pulled up around the block. They are already awake, before the crack of dawn like they always are. I slowly drag myself out of bed and begin to pack my bags. Another day in hell has begun. 206 kilometers to go.

16 thoughts on “Cycling Through Hell: India

  1. This can be so taxing on your heart, but having been the victim of this kind of badgering as well, I am happy to read that you are staying strong! Their interactions with you (even if no words are shared) will be a part of their education, being exposed to a white woman that is not the one they’ve come to know on screens or shiny magazine covers. Keep up the good fight. You have an army behind you, supporting you, cheering you on!

  2. I must say that is very brave of you. I bet you found Nepal completely different. Although we share a lot of our culture with the Indians we are in fact different in many ways. It is one of the reasons most Nepalese have antipathy toward Indians. They are stereotyped as tricksters, too. Obviously this does not apply to all Indians but if you are traveling to India you do have to keep these things in mind and be prepared. I have traveled to Varanasi and Allahabad in India and absolutely loved it but then had to be on my toes every step of the way not to get tricked or scammed.
    One hell of a ride! I have a lot of respect for girls like you, so adventurous and daring! yet so smart and strong on the inside.

  3. Amazing post! Sorry those dirt bags aren’t treating you well. Hope the last 200k wasn’t as bad, and that you don’t encounter that again. Throw more rocks!!

  4. Oh, Shirine! My heart aches for you and for every other woman who is so objectified! How horrible to live with such fear and anger. May your guardian angel work overtime while you complete this journey thru hell…knowing that heaven will come! Big hugs!

  5. Shirine, My heart is so heavy, because months ago, this was my fear although I couldn’t quite put a finger on the time, place or face to what you would experience. You are one of the strongest people I know and I know that you will persevere through this. You are so loving, thoughtful, sensitive and giving and to see you have to experience this seediness in the world just breaks my heart. I count the minutes until you can ride again with happiness in your heart. Please, please know that we all are thinking of you daily and are hoping, praying and wishing for your safety. We love you dear girl.

    Lisa, John, Preston and Pierce

  6. Dear, I come from India & Nepalese by origin. And I feel strangely related to your words here.
    Note that Indian men doesnot hold back their intentions when they see a fair lady like you. Incidents that deprive humanity occur too often here in my country. Like everywhere else, these are small group of people who actually hurt others, rest all are just people just like anywhere else. India is a sacred land and if someone has to go through hell while cycling on its road, that brings disgrace to the whole nation.
    One thing I want you to do is to cycle towards the state of Assam while/if you exit Nepal from panitanki. There is a place called Lapchaka ( route details given below). You have to hike for 6 km upwards to reach this place where resides a very different set of Indian people. Their food, lifestyle & the place itself will give you immense satisfaction of being in India.
    I am just writing you this so that you can have a reflection of India in you which you will cherish always & make you find a piece of heaven in this hell.

    Do take care & keep writing.
    Namaste & Pranam πŸ™‚

    ( Panitanki – Siliguri – Sevoke road – Bagpool – Malbazar – Binnaguri – Birpara – Madarihat (my residence, though i live n work in kolkata) – Kalchini – 28 Basti (where you can keep your transport) – Lapchaka. (approx 150 – 200 kms in total))

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  12. I am so sorry!!! they are supposed to be shot dead!!! please forgive my country!!!! not all Indians are like those pieces of worthless shit !! Please forgive my Stupid country….. 😦
    unfortunately the entire county has become filled with these type of imbeciles……

    kids , teenage girls , women and even grandmas….. no one is safe now….. I am really ashamed to call myself an Indian male as the entire world is slowly recognizing India as the Rape capital!!!!
    The number of people rising against these criminals is low , cz if you raise a finger , you get shot! or worse…. your mom or wife or daughter gets raped!

    I really hope karma kicks in and all of the tormentors die a bloody death , a painful one !!!

    Please forgive my country……


    I really hope we improve!!! 😦

    and best of luck with your tour….. πŸ™‚

    you touched an moved another GOOD soul here….. πŸ™‚

  13. I hear you. The wife and I are leaving in a couple of weeks for a 4 month long tour across Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Zanskar. This is the single largest fear I have, about how we’ll deal with such men along the way, although we’re Indian too. In contrast, touring in Southern India is wayyy safer and very enjoyable too.

    Love the blog. Thank you for the inspiration

  14. No one should have to endure this treatment in any country. It is a sad reflection on the world, that there are still countries where this sort of behaviour is all too common.

    Sometimes when out and about, I can’t believe the various lurid statements made to women, who have the unfortunate necessity to pass by some street yobs.

    I know this post is old, but feel I must say something and support your achievements. I can only hope, that incidents like these diminish – and people all over the world attain a more enlightened state of dignity, respect and equality for all.

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