Bloomroom Hotel, New Delhi June 14th 2016
My first ever cycle tour, in 1991, started in Bombay (I don’t think it was yet Mumbai, but could be wrong). I was in a shabby hotel, not far from the airport, and spent the first day making a lengthy journey downtown to try to find some maps: in those days, security-conscious India didn’t allow maps with much detail and I was trying, with mixed success, to hunt down state maps for my planned route. Nobody had heard of Google maps. I had never heard of the Internet. A different time.
I fell asleep on the bus back out of the centre and don’t know where I ended up (maybe back at the airport) and don’t remember the details of how I found my way back to my hotel. Very jet-lagged (and not yet having discovered sleep medication), I was awake most of the night, eventually giving up on sleep and starting to put my bike back together in the dimly lit room. Shortly after daylight, I wobbled out into the Bombay traffic with rough directions how to leave the city. It was my first time riding with panniers and a knowledgeable friend had suggested putting the panniers on the front racks since my mountain bike was light at the front. It all felt very strange.
Three hours and a few adventures later, I saw my first greenery. Vibrant greenery, after the dark and dirty shades of the buildings and slum colonies I had ridden past, stopping frequently to reattach my panniers which wanted to jump off the racks at almost every bump. It was all bumps. There was a constant line of black smoke belching trucks passing closely on my right, a not quite so constant line of human turds along the edge of the road, deposited by inhabitants of the Thane slum colony which had no plumbing, to be carried away on the tyres of one of the thousands of passing trucks. It was a fine line I had to ride with clumsy front-pannier steering. But vibrant post-monsoon greenery was a relief; I had made it out of Bombay. And learned my lesson: be wary of riding out of large cities; and if you only have two panniers, put them on the rear rack.
My second cycle tour, also in India, was in 22 years later in 2013. I flew into Kolkata with my bike (a cheap Trek I’d bought in Bangkok) and caught a bus to Darjeeling, a delightful small hill-station, where I waited a couple of weeks for the monsoon to end before setting off on a ride down the east coast of India. On my third tour, I escaped Delhi by taxi, starting my ride into the hills from Chandigarh; I hadn’t wanted to ride out of Delhi in the summer heat. As it was, my cycle computer showed a temperature of 46 deg C on my first day. My last tour, last summer, was along the north coast of Spain. Facilitated by a coach out of Bilbao.
Now I am back in Delhi. My plan had been to get a bus or train to Pathankot, 600 km away and close to the hills where my real ride starts. But this plan had been predicated on me being ready for the hills. As it turned out, I hadn’t had any time to get in shape, to do much riding at home, before arriving in India. Should I stick with the plan and find a bus to Pathankot? The hills will be brutal enough with fitness, maybe impassable without. Or I could ride from Delhi, 600 km of extremely flat terrain, but with daily temperatures reaching 40 deg C. It would wake up those sleeping leg muscles. I’m not sure what to do…
I’ll sleep on it and go for a walk in the city tomorrow to gauge the heat.