Riding Rajhastan – Land of the Maharajahs
By Steve Wright
‘Oh yes sir, these will bring you special luck’, a young lad eagerly hunched down in front of our 4x4 and with a broad grin he attached a string of chillis and lemons to our front bumper. We didn’t need to ask why. We had arrived in India. Things don’t really need to make sense. It looked nice, and who knows, it might just bring us luck!
Not ten minutes down the road, and Vee-Jay our driver had piled into the back of a tiny Suzuki Maruti. The chillis weren’t working! We sat very quietly, and didn’t encourage him to chatter along anymore. The traffic was frightening enough already. From all angles, the Delhi to Agra Highway launched its attack on us. In front cars without brake lights stopped without warning. Motorcyclists swerved and undertook us at every turn, and hulking buses squeezed us from either side as we tried desperately to make forward progress.
The following morning, the warm glow of the early suns rays brought a healthy orange to the shapely teardrop dome of the Taj Mahal. The scene could not be much more different. Quiet, clean, well ordered, and peaceful, as we stepped through the Western Gate to behold the long gardens that lead one to the Taj, our Indian Adventure had truly begun.
None less of an experience were the first turns of the pedals through the late morning traffic leaving Agra on our ride. Bound for the deserts of Rajhastan, an early, excited energy propelled the team along. And pure adrenaline helped to keep us focused on the clear and immediate dangers of the Indian Roads. Out on the road, and into the countryside though, and things started to settle. Our eyes darted here and there, trying to capture as much of the amazing scene along this – National Highway Number Eleven. Camels loped rhythmically along towing heavily laden trailers, parakeets squawked and flew above our heads, and throughout the day, as would be the pattern for the entirety of our journey, hands waved from the fields eagerly, and smiles beamed with chattering questions not far behind.
Day three of our journey found us pedaling up and through the city fortifications and down into the capital of Rajhastan. With a teeming one and a half million, Jaipur is no small backwater. And riding around the old city walls, and down MI road, the city’s main thoroughfare was certainly no walk in the park, especially after a hot day in the saddle. Once safely arrived though, the pleasures of a cold shower, clean sheets, cold drinks and maybe even a little non-spiced food awaited us. With just a day and a bit to soak in the sights of Rajhastan’s biggest, and most historic city, we had little time to waste. Rickshaws are an ideal way for a weary cyclist to experience the hustle and bustle of sundown in Jaipur. My driver took me past the city palace, and the Jantar Mantar (the old observatory) and past the palace of the winds and through the busiest of the rush hour traffic. More than once we cheated being squashed by taxis, rickshaws and lorries, but again, such is life in India. One certainly doesn’t come here to be cosseted by stifling health and safety legislation. India has now well over a billion teeming population. Every one of them has a horn, and once on the road, every one of them needs to test his nerve by getting as close to crashing as reasonably possible, at every available opportunity. The horn is an essential tool for communicating with other drivers, and headlights are to be used on full beam at all time.
Leaving from Jaipur we made an early start, to beat the heat, but also to beat the city traffic. But after just a few kilometers, imagine our surprise to be greeted with a sign proclaiming a toll motorway. 3 lanes of smooth uninterrupted tarmac, moving by and large without a hitch. Of course there were the odd holy cows here and there, and tractors sneaking up the hard shoulder, and first lane in the wrong direction. But this is certainly a huge leap forward for India. For us, our day to Kishangarh was fast and furious, and one hundred and ten kilometers flew by in a blink, but thankfully for our cultural discovery tour of India, that is the extent of the motorway upgrade on National Highway No. 8 between Jaipur and Bombay.
From Kishangarh, we were thrust back amongst the melee, and once again wove our way between animals, pedestrians and heavy goods vehicles. The back road to Pushkar was an absolute delight, riding through tiny villages, beneath towering mountains, and beside forming sand dunes.
Pushkar provided us with another rest day, and time to absorb the Holy Town of Lord Brahma. The town clusters around the Lake, which it is said, was created when Brahma dropped a Lotus Flower between two mountains. Certainly the location and feel of Pushkar is special. With its Holy connections the town is entirely Vegetarian and alcohol free, and so makes a good, wholesome, healthy retreat, especially as we did, combining it with a couple of Yoga sessions.
From Pushkar however, the route into the desert becomes less and less populated, and we found our road climbing up into the Araveli Mountains. Wilder and wilder our route became, and simpler and simpler our experiences at the roadside and in the towns. Basic facilities are sufficient for most cyclists for an evening stop. Here was no exception. We passed through the towns of Beawar, almost through Deogarh – we used a small motel just beside the road, and Rajsamand. But our journey here was really not about the towns, our hotels, or the food – although throughout our journey we were indeed treated to some marvelous Paneer Muttar (Cheese and Pea Curry), and Tomato Masala. Our journey was more about a first hand soaking in the real life in India. The life that the millions in the world’s second most populous nation experience, come rain or shine, day after day. The devout millions who offer their Puja at the roadside shrines that litter the countryside, and the enthusiastic masses who ply the highways on their camels, Tata Lorries, Royal Enfield Motorcycles, Hero Pushbikes, Austin Ambassadors and even on their elephants.
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