A thick haze announced to us that we were about to land in one of the most populated cities in the world. The sun was shining and an intense heat slammed my body when I stepped out over the airstrip at Indira Gandhi International Airport.
This was my third time on the Asian Subcontinent but still I was feeling as nervous as a newbie. Over the previous 2 months I experimented touring on a fixed gear bike across Thailand and Malaysia to gain some confidence for this challenge. Despite that I already knew that riding in South East Asia is like a holiday compared to raw and brutal India.
I recall my first days here as sort of getting acquainted to the country’s atmosphere and roads. Traffic and pollution in Delhi is like a punch in the face to the newcomer. Everywhere you look is hectic and dirty, and if you are a foreigner on a nifty bike you will be the centre of attention every single second. I began getting used to the everyday hustle and bustle, the frightful roads and insane traffic. I even hit the deck for the first time with a few bruises as a welcome gift.
Cycling here is such a game-changer regarding culture and safety. Cyclists are considered lower caste poor people who cannot afford to commute by car and therefore don’t deserve respect on the road, and road safety is just completely missing. The traffic is nuts. There are no rules whatsoever and people often drive in the opposite direction to take a shortcut, stop in the middle of the road to buy cigarettes, use smartphones while driving, spit out of the window (yeah, I’ve been spat on several times) and even drink booze. Together with reckless car drivers you share the roads not only with trucks and motorbikes but also with thousands of people, horses, camels, trolleys, vendors, cows, dogs, pigs, monkeys; so one must concentrate 100% of the time to avoid incidents. After a few days riding the capital’s avenues and alleys I realised it would’ve been crazy to attempt riding fixed without a front brake as I easily did before in places like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Saigon.
After this brief introductory week in Delhi I hit the road south towards Rajasthan, one of the biggest and wildest states within the country. Crossing through semi-desert plateaus and rural villages within the limits of Sariska national park was mind-blowing. Touring across that amazing scenery I felt the glances of the villagers like I was the first ever foreigner cycling on that land. Everywhere they would wave at me astonished.
To survive along this ride I starting with carrying snacks and water but soon realised that it would be a much better experience to stop at truck driver’s ‘dabas’ or restaurant huts. There might be at least one of those each 5-10 km on the secondary roads. Despite their undesirable appearance, they were all equipped with a big frying pan to deliver in minutes tasty ‘parathas’, homemade flatbread with a stuffing of potatoes or cheese that was a great carb source for the long stages.
Of course there were downsides of stopping in these truly local places. Almost no one would speak English so I struggled with some basic Hindi to order food. This wasn’t a big problem and I got by. The main issue I had was the extreme curiosity of the people. They would always jump in with personal questions straight away. Right after arriving to a new place the same ritual would follow: every man and child would gather around my bike in awe. They would touch the bars, the frame, the tires, and ultimately they would attempt to ride the bike if I wasn’t paying much attention
Despite some minor incidents I have to say that the experience of meeting and interacting with locals is one of the best possible in India. I recall asking for directions with some gesturing communication to an old man in Rajasthani attire and could feel the intense warmth of his soul in his smile.
Even though the distance was only 330 km it took me two whole days of riding from sunrise to sunset and one rest day in between to make it to Jaipur. The roads were often cracked or just gravel paths, but it was just really exciting to be there doing it on a fixed gear. I soon learnt that due to the intense density of population and heavy traffic most of the roads in India are sketchy, with endless undergoing works. Conditions might change many times in few kilometres. You might be riding in a fairly smooth road at 35 kmph and the next minute you find yourself doing some sort of 'fixedcross' over muddy, bumpy tarmac. Felt a bit like Roubaix at times!
After those initial days I gained a lot of confidence on the Indian roads. Every day was still a challenge but somehow I got used to the trucks passing by leaving 10 cm space, the cracked roads and the extreme effusiveness of the villagers. From Jaipur I made it to Ajmer and Pushkar, and from there to Udaipur on the longest single ride on a fixed gear of my life: 264 km. As I was getting closer to desert areas the temperatures varied substantially with the daylight. That longest day I started riding with 0 degrees and by noon the temperature reached 35.
From Udaipur I crossed the border to the state of Gujarat, reaching the capital, Ahmedabad, and continued until Rajkot. At this point I reached 1200 km and opted to take a train North – where the temperatures should be less extreme - to continue my journey towards the east and the ancient city of Varanasi.
Luis wore our highly breathable Superlight Jersey and Arm Screens for comfort and protection riding in high temperatures. He also wore our Nth Series shorts, with a lightweight, high performance pad for long days in the saddle, and constructed from Coldblack® treated lycra: a highly-technical dye that reflects the sun’s rays to keep the fabric cool against the skin.