India – trying to understand the country

We are leaving Delhi this morning!!!! The last few days have tested our fortitude and patience as we navigated our way through Customs at Delhi Airport. As an experience we can reflect on later and the detailed insight it has given us into the endless and, it seems to us, pointless bureaucratic processes that govern the activities of the staff at Customs (Bond) section, it was priceless. We decided not to return and see our main Customs Bond officer as Anne had said goodbye to him the night before and expressed our gratitude for his help and her happiness to see him with our bikes out of the warehouse, but mainly because it might give him a horrid fright wondering whether anything had gone wrong.

They stood there and watched for 2.5 hours into the night until we left

They stood there and watched for 2.5 hours into the night until we left

Anne starting the exciting of reassembling Streak outside Delhi customs

Anne starting the exciting of reassembling Streak outside Delhi customs

Storm is reassembled and ready to drive out of Delhi customs at long last!

Storm is reassembled and ready to drive out of Delhi customs at long last!

As that fades behind us, we packed the bikes for the first time in almost two weeks, an extra tyre, (we kept my old rear tyre as a spare given the difficulties in obtaining this size in India) has joined the items to be loaded, onto the top of my top box – we will have to see how that works.

Today, there are three of us now as we are riding with Kristján for the next few days before he heads into Nepal. Kristján is probably the only person from Iceland on a motorbike, a BMW F800 GS Adventure, here for many years. I like to introduce him as being from a large island off the Scottish Coast which probably does not help the locals with geography. We are off, plunging into the morning Delhi traffic, with all its noise and activity, horns constantly blaring out as trucks, busses, cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes weave their way along the roads interspersed with pedestrians leisurely making their way from one side of the road to the other, seemingly oblivious to the traffic around them.

An hour later, we reach the start of the “Super Highway” as it is called, a toll road that runs from Delhi to the outskirts of Agra and provides a fast way to cover some kilometres and make us feel we are progressing here. Our first stop and we run into a coach tour of Aussies! Great to hear some voices from home. Anne notices the sticker on the coaches, ‘Captains Choice’. This is the premium way to travel with your own private QANTAS aeroplane. QANTAS is the Australian national airline for those that do not know. Over breakfast at the weekends in Australia we would see the advertisements for these exclusive holidays, no queuing at airports, flight changes in the middle of the night. You fly directly between all the destinations on tour, stay in luxury hotels but well out of our price range. Anne had always said that the only way she ever wanted to visit India was in a luxury air-conditioned coach and our recent experiences has reminded us of that!!….

Our route takes us past Agra and onto the National Highway No. 2 which runs from Delhi to Calcutta – I know the old name but that’s what the spell checker came up with and I need to move on with this post. We are heading for Varanasi, which according to the Icelandic Embassy, where Kristján goes for free drinks and snacks, or to avoid our company, is well worth a visit.

As in all countries for us, lunch locations are determined by the number of trucks parked and again this does not disappoint. We have tasty samosas washed down with whatever fizzy drink is cold and available. The almost continuous sound of truck horns as they pass the food places reminds me of an orchestra tuning up, abeit with little skill. Why do they wait till this point to make so much noise, it does not aid the digestion as far as I can tell.

We always seem to attract a crowd when we stop, most just stand and stare and continue to do so for the entire time we are there, which can become wearing after a time and reminds us of the only other place this happened to us, Rwanda in 1983. We have also had to be careful where we stop, as, while we may pull off onto the side of the road, all those people and vehicles that pull over block the slow lane as they just look at our bikes. When we try to leave we sometimes need to negotiate a pathway out that requires other vehicles to move first. There does always seem to be a helpful organiser, who shouts instructions to those near our bikes, repeats our food order and is generally busy looking for a tip, which we provide when we stop to eat.

Yet another silent crowd gathers, bemused, around us

Yet another silent crowd gathers, bemused, around us

The tea house observers all followed us back to our bikes

The tea house observers all followed us back to our bikes

Another road side stop, another throng - this time it was so huge the highway patrol stopped to check all was ok

Another road side stop, another throng – this time it was so huge the highway patrol stopped to check all was ok

Samosa stop for lunch with Kristjan, our riding companion for 2 days

Samosa stop for lunch with Kristjan, our riding companion for 2 days

After our samosas, this young Indian wanted me to take another photo of him, with Kristjan

After our samosas, this young Indian wanted me to take another photo of him, with Kristjan


We have started to learn Hindi words for the types of food we eat, for example omelette in Hindi is omelette and chips are you guessed it, chips. When we had heard people talking sometimes were were not sure if they were talking Hindi or English. It has become apparent to us now that in many cases the foreign word is used directly in Hindi and many people who are Hindi only speakers would know the word but be unaware of its origins, very simple approach to taking new words into a language.

It also seems that our presence on the road acts at times like a magnet for those who wish to ride or drive alongside very close, and then observe us with scant regard for the oncoming or any other traffic for that matter But you say, you are on a dual lane divided highway, how does oncoming traffic affect you? Well here people just swap directions at will, busses, trucks, everything. Even we have got to the point where we just did a u-turn and went back the wrong way, carefully I hasten to add, and that’s after three days riding in India.

2 lane highway but trucks drive on any side

2 lane highway but trucks drive on any side


There appears to be no regard for any rules and while we have not seen any accidents, from time to time, the results are visible at the side of the road. We are thinking we should move onto smaller roads and avoid the cities as far as possible, but we do not know how this will impact travelling time.

One of the challenges we are finding is that we seem, in my mind, to be travelling either too fast or too slow. Too fast to stop for every interesting photo opportunity, I would have loved to have spent time in one of the number of small, probably family run brickworks, however the pace we can safely, if you can use that word in the traffic here, maintain on the main highways and the concentration involved sees us travelling only 250 or so kilometres a day. This means we need to keep moving to reach our destination some 2500 kilometres away in the next two weeks. We will comment separately on riding conditions under a separate post.

Some of the many brick factories we rode past on our first day put of Delhi, too keen to finally get some miles under our tyres to stop

Some of the many brick factories we rode past on our first day put of Delhi, too keen to finally get some miles under our tyres to stop


Our progress varies as this main artery of road transportation in India goes through every town and village with only the major cities bypassed. In many cases a raised earth filled concrete section is being built for the four lanes through the middle of villages, cutting them in two. We passed dozens of such places in three days. It must feel like a looking at a Berlin Wall with a single tunnel to allow access between sides. No aesthetic considerations here for these villages that grew up on the roadside providing services to passing travellers. How have their businesses faired?
Great Indian trucks and great Indian roads - best not to linger beside these trucks for too long

Great Indian trucks and great Indian roads – best not to linger beside these trucks for too long


Between towns we pass fields of rice and other crops that are being harvested, we are lucky enough to find some people at work, manually cutting and threshing the crops as must have been done for thousands of years. They were kind enough to be allow us to photograph and video their work.

Rice field on our way to Allahabad

Rice field on our way to Allahabad

Threshing rice in India

Threshing rice in India


We have also seen our first tiger, though sadly dead in the road, the morning after discussing the idea of going to a tiger reserve. It did remind us of the potential dangers of camping. In one region, they have just shot a pair of leopards that were eating from time to time, over the last couple of years, drunk men who had fallen asleep on the way home. Could this act as a deterrent for drunks on a Friday night at the local pub?

Anne and I have been discussing with Kristján how we are struggling to have a positive attitude towards India and maybe the long pointless and expensive delay in Customs coupled with the initial rip offs had coloured our views. We decided to put that behind us when we set off on the road to Assam. Now three days into the ride and some 700km down the road, little has happen to change our views. While I, Anthony, have the benefit of mid anti depressants that I have taken for a number of years subsequent to my quadruple bypass, Anne has no such barrier to the impacts of Indian interaction with us. While we can usually find someone who speaks some English, we find apart from staring at us, we are not making the connections that we previously were able in places where no English was spoken, such as in the ‘Stans’.

The riding is the most wearing for reasons mentioned previously but even in most high priced hotels we find that we seem to have to ask for everything three times. We are not sure if people do nothing to avoid making a mistake, or require a senior person to undertake the task with them We struggle understand how India can successfully place a rocket in Mars orbit, yet appear to have the majority of people act as they do. I start to see why China prospered and took advantage of the global opportunities in the last 30 years and India appeared to coast along. Education and now a new Prime Minister Modi who is talking positively about future changes and setting deadlines may be the answer. People speak of him in glowing terms and we can but hope that positive outcomes will prevail for India and it’s people.

Anyone with recent knowledge of or experience in India please enlighten us on what we are missing or not understanding.

– Anthony

So many ride carrying their helmets, but here the companion is carying one under each arm!

So many ride carrying their helmets, but here the companion is carying one under each arm!

The boys need a nap

The boys need a nap

A little tea house we stopped at for tea and breakfast

A little tea house we stopped at for tea and breakfast

The tea house 'fixer' who organised our breakfast

The tea house ‘fixer’ who organised our breakfast

A most stunningly handsome 80 year old with the most beautiful hands, eyes and skin at the little shack we stopped at for tea

A most stunningly handsome 80 year old with the most beautiful hands, eyes and skin at the little shack we stopped at for tea

Usual Indian traffic

Usual Indian traffic

Road side ironing on our way to Allahabad

Road side ironing on our way to Allahabad

10 comments on “India – trying to understand the country

  1. It seems that India is not such a good place for travelling, at least maybe not on a motorbike? I have always wanted to go there but maybe an organised tour is better? It sounds like the endless bureaucracy and stamping of documents is very similar to China? At the moment we are enjoying the hospitality of the Ethiad lounge in Manchester en route to Oz. Look forward to hearing more of your adventures XX

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    • Enjoy Australia. We did have a good two day organised trip to Agra in a car with guide which is easier, but does not get us close to the people. Look out for more on this in the next blog.

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  2. The India you describe is very different from the one that we spent 3 weeks in. We loved the place and would happily return. I’m wondering what is different: we had no bikes, we travelled around with a local chap in a car and on tuk tuks. Also, we have only explored the Southernmost tip up as far as Goa (the most westernised and least interesting of the places we visited). My experience was that these are the most genuine and friendly people outside Africa.

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    • Car and driver do make life easier. We have been in big cities and on the main highway SE from Delhi and maybe this has something to do with our views thus far. We have heard that the south is quite different! Glad you both had such a good time there . Will update shortly on our latest experiences.

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  3. Having had the ‘Stans’ experience you make an excellent point that language is not a barrier and from reading those blogs nor was the simplicity of their lives. My sense is that the numbers, noise and poverty must have an impact and people are shaped for survival rather than social interaction. What a treat seeing the rice harvest! I hope as you get to rural locations that you have more ‘Stan’ experiences. xx

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    • I agree that all these factors can make a difference. We just need to understand how we get on the same wave length as the locals. Others have had fabulous experiences here, not in the same area, but more on that in our next blog. Yes the rice harvest was a real treat for us, wonderful people of the kind we want to interact with.

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  4. Take care you sound stressed! India can be overwhelming and the customs experice will have drained you. I have been in the same position. I have seen a different side of India that I love, may be as you ride out you will catch some of the magic.

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    • Not stressed, except when riding from time to time, more puzzled and frustrated at our ability to connect with people as we have done in other countries. As we head cross country we will report back in the next blog on how we are going on this front

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  5. The wayside ironing intrigues me. Obviously not an electric iron, so is there a fire close at hand to heat the ancient-looking one?
    It might be worthwhile trying the nameste greeting to break the ice with the locals. And, talking of ice, I hope your friend Kristján has not been buffeted by the snowstorms in Nepal.
    xx

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