Eventful desert safari by bicycle: Rajasthan, India

Our first tunnel – how exciting!

Before cycling off to explore more of Rajasthan, I walked down to the local homeless lady to give her some food I had bought her. On my way back I picked up an Americano from a cafe owned by a Greek expat. It was only on my walk back that I realised the stupidity of my contradictory act. Just a word of warning for all you coffee addicts, coffee in India is pretty darn shoddy. Give your money to a charity instead.


Great to pass Jimmy on the road!

We were both on a bit of a downer having had a week out of the saddle but our mood was boosted when Jimmy, our friend at BunkYard Hostel in Udaipur, passed us on his motorbike. Around 60km in my front wheel came off and no matter how many times I screwed it back on, it kept coming loose. Luckily in India there’s always a man with some nuts nearby (no innuendo intended) and I managed to get it fixed. It’s literally got to that point when I feel like I am riding on a ticking time bomb, like those games Buckaroo or the one with the shark’s teeth where any moment the thing will snap and all hell will break loose. It’s only a matter of time before Sheila Shitshow (my cycle) “expires” (Indian translation for death).

Nice mountains to weave down!

We decided to have an easy first day back on the bike so stopped mid-afternoon and as usual, struggled to find anywhere who would allow foreigners to stay. Thankfully one guesthouse took pity on us and I spent the rest of the afternoon sprawled out on the bed, which may I add, hadn’t been changed from the previous guests. My nocturnal hostel life was taking its toll.


The road melting beneath me

Cycling through rural Rajasthan is like a desert safari. Despite it topping nearly 50 degrees it didn’t feel as hot as Gurjarat but we could certainly feel it with unavoidable sunburn and still on the brink of heat exhaustion. There was a beautiful downhill stretch winding through the rocky hills, alongside a river but unfortunately without working brakes I was forced to traverse across the roads to stop myself from picking up speed. It was still one the most enjoyable few kilometres on this trip.


Unexpected hold up

To pass the time in a landscape of nothingness we made up a cool game called “dead or barely alive”. This involves guessing whether the dog, goat, cow or person laying on the ground was dead or barely alive. So engrossed in our new found fun, we completely overshot our turning and ended up cycling 15km in the opposite direction. I was mortified at the thought of cycling for over two hours for absolutely nothing but hey, we both agreed it was something to look back on and maybe one day in a million years, I may crack a laugh.


Rajasthan street food
Rajasthani street side samosa – it’s under there somewhere!

One thing I love about cycling in Rajasthan is that there is free water on the side of the road, which is surprising for a state that only produces 1% of its own water and continuously suffered from annual droughts. Another thing I love is the street side snacks, which are a little more substantial and subsequently, more cyclist-friendly than usual. “Jeez they half make a meal of it out here” I said to Hugo one day. I wasn’t kidding. Instead of just handing me a samosa, the vendors in Rajasthan crush it with their hands on to a small plate. They add two or three different types of sauces, curd, masala seasoning and to top it off, sprinkle some fried crisps on top. They then try to charge me triple the price but aha, I have been here too long. I know the score. They either accept the price locals pay or I hand the plate back.


Safety camel (and Hugo taking a pee at the side of the road)

I’ve got used to men on motorbikes pulling up beside us whilst cycling. Only addressing Hugo, they mostly ask the same questions “where are you from” “how do you like India” “where are you going” but every now and again we get followed by a weirdo. This guy was particularly sketchy so we stopped alongside a herd of camels to pick up some sharp sticks. I’m not sure what the camels would have done to help and I’m doubtful the sticks would have been much use either, but it was an attempt to try and shake him off. I’m sure he was only being friendly but the cycling on edge isn’t enjoyable and in the end Hugo had a word and basically told him to stop staring and get lost.


Five minutes later the crowd tripled

After seeing my first road sign in days I was ecstatic to calculate that we could possibly make it to Jodhpur the very next day if we cycled another 50km by dark. It was now 3:30pm. Moments after our motivational high, my back tyre went flat AGAIN. We only had one spare inner tube so patched it the best we could slightly hidden just off the road. Within moments a crowd formed around us. The tyre went flat soon after putting my wheel back on so I got out my emergency spare inner tube. Hugo went ballistic when he realised I had bought a bloody great big mountain bike tyre. I trusted Mr Punjab, the bike man in Udaipur, so I had no reason to check the tube he sold me was the correct size. Oops. By now the whole village was around us and all the men fighting over who was going to fix my bike. I couldn’t get a look in to the chaos happening around my bike and watched in horror as a kid rolled my bike tyre down the street and ran after it. In the end we were both so overwhelmed by the whole situation we just buried our heads in our hands and let the unimaginable situation carry on around us. After nearly two hours of trying to get my bike back on the road, I was off and we cycled until the sky went dark.


Evening ritual at the temple

Of course we were miles away from any form of civilisation so started looking for places to camp. We passed a temple so asked if we could sleep there after our successful temple stay in Gurjarat. They waved us in and said we could sleep on the roof. We were then told to take a bath and sit on a rug next to them. The hand signal for food was made and I nodded my head and gave a big thumbs up.

Soon after the family (I presume they were related) started some kind of ritual with fire, banging of instruments (you couldn’t call it music) and some chanting on some kind of surround sound boom box. It was deafening. Trying not to laugh at the crazy goings on, Hugo and I spent the time cracking some jokes. Not poking fun may I add, just merely observing what was going on around us.

“Don’t you hate it when they give chapati to the gods” I said

Yeah it’s such a waste of food” Hugo replied

My reply, “Oh I was thinking more that they could have given that piece to me, just to tide me over before dinner, I’m starving”

We ended up enduring the ordeal ritual for over 45 minutes. We continued to sit on the floor in the hope dinner would soon be served but after an hour of sweating my bollocks off they pointed at the shack across the road and signalled for us to eat there. “You win some you loose some“‘ in India and I wasn’t going to be ungrateful.


Typical Rajasthani feast

The guys at the shack asked what we wanted to eat and so we asked what they had. “dal and rice?”. “OK” we replied. Quick, cheap and easy. With no spoken English and no set menu I wasn’t going to be happy, not this time. I couldn’t understand why all the truckies who arrived after us had received their dal and rice already, ours was taking forever. When ours did finally arrive I understood why. We were practically showcased the entire menu; curries, breads, two types of rice, chutneys and a delicious sweet dish. It was divine but around ten times the price of dal and rice.


Only sign of civilisation in the desert

That night I was very ill and spent most of the night crouched in a ball at the side of the road outside of the temple – toilet facilities in Rajasthan are known as “open toilet” otherwise known as the street. I probably looked like a dead cow or something so didn’t feel too endangered by vehicles whizzing by.  After chugging four litres of water the next morning I felt right as rain and we carried on cycling.


Thar desertb
Snack time with locals

In rural Rajasthan everyone wears traditional attire with coloured turbans, pointy Aladdin shoes, curled up moustaches and ladies with huge ear to nose rings. It was like cycling through a film set but unfortunately, Hugo and I agree that we’ve gotten rather numb to it all. The wildlife, the traditional dress, the scenery and the poverty – the more I see the less I am phased. Sad that. The villages I pass are incredibly poor and locals ran along side us shouting as if they had never seen anything like it. Although we were on a National Highway there was barely anything around. Just 30km out of town my back wheel went flat AGAIN.


Bikes just hanging out of the boot

I wasn’t sure whether to scream or cry. Now with no spare tube I had no other option than to try and ride it flat. Very painful indeed. My slow progress in the scorching sun made Hugo and I overheat. After a long debate whether to sell my bike or take great satisfaction in destroying it, we decided our only way to get to Jodhpur was to hitch hike. Secretly I was really rather pleased my bike had failed on me this time and we had to hitch hike. I have always wanted to hitch hike!


Hitch hiking is awesome!

Joyfully I stuck my thumb out at the side of the road and soon after a car with three Indian guys pulled up. In India “anything is possible” so we put our bikes in the boot which was therefore unable to close. It was then I spotted the beers in the hands of all, even the driver. They were clearly smashed and we drove along the national highway at snail speed swerving all over the shop. Me and Hugo just gave each other “that look” and hoped that if a bike was to fall out of the open boot, it would be mine. When they guys pulled up at the roadside liquor store I immediately accepted beer to not only cool me down but make me less nervous about being in a car with three drunk Indians on a national highway with my bike hanging out the open boot. Heat exhaustion and beer made me rather pissed very quickly. It was just what I needed though and in good time we were dropped off at our hostel in Jodhpur. Another successful journey complete!


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