|Pushkar, to Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
1,050 kilometers (more or less) Pushkar
After a non-stop 350 kilometer ride up from Mt. Abu, we arrived in
Pushkar. We'd been battling winds, lots of truck traffic, and stomach
buggies so we were all ready for a nice break. This was the perfect
place. Pushkar is smack dab in the middle of the tourist trail. This is
hippie heaven- full of ashrams, dreadlocks, and baggy poo-catcher pants.
Most foreigners here look like they've been hitting the rainbow-colored
karma cola pretty hard. It's great people watching. Find a balcony with
a street view and you'll spot Merlin with a hangover, an extra who
walked off the set of Easy Rider, and the gentle hippie-folk parents who
come to India to raise their children free from the corrupting influence
of Western society.
There are plenty of Indian tourists here as well- Hindi pilgrims who
come to visit the holy Pushkar lake and one of the only Brahma temples
in all of India. Our hotel is great. It looks out over the lake with all
its ghats and temples. We've got a daily view of the throngs of people
splashing around in the water, along with flocks of pigeons and the
sacred cows that loll around the ghats. Pushkar does have extra cuddly
street cows. It's not uncommon to get a nudge from a big flat nose on
the street, a friendly bovine reminder to feed your local cow. Our place
also comes with a set of matching black cats (small, medium, and large)
that wind around the potted plants and catch pigeons in the mornings.
Each day we get woken up by the morning bells, rung at 5 AM to start the
daily routine of worship.
Since the city is so holy, there are strict rules: no alcohol or meat
allowed. Actually, any waiter at the rooftop restaurants will happily
offer to break the booze rules if you feel like drinking overpriced
beer. And on one of my wanderings I was suddenly overwhelmed by the
smell of barbeque coming from a walled courtyard. We were both craving
protein, but made due with felafel wraps stuffed with avocado and paneer.
It was too bad about the vegan chocolate cake.
At the Enfield motorcycle shop, Tim drilled out my bike's rims so
that we could fit in inner tube with Schrader valves. There are no
Presta valve tubes for sale in India, and my latest round of flats has
left me with no unpatched spares. The motorcycle shop guys were kind
enough to lend him a round file, but they were completely un-impressed
with our pushbikes. The Enfield riders take themselves pretty seriously
here. We also took our bikes to the car wash. As a bonus, the car
washers gave our gears an un-environmentally correct spray of petrol. I
was a little shocked when it happened but I've got to admit that my
bicycle shifts like a dream now.
March 4, 2012 Pushkar to Merta City 61.1 km
Just outside of Pushkar we saw huge signs advertising “Beer and
Meat.” Apparently the holy ban on meat and booze expires at the town
We saw far too many dead and hurt animals today. Most tragic was the
medium sized black cat at our hotel lying dead on the stones of the
ghats this morning. Maybe she fell off the roof or perhaps the temple
dogs got her. On the road later we saw a squashed Indian Roller bird,
its brilliant blue feathers sticking up like a pin cushion. Then we
passed a bunch of goats milling in the street around their fallen
herd-mate. One goat sat on the median, struggling to rise off her broken
hindquarters, the other goats nudging her with their noses. A man on a
motorcycle stopped. He wore a clean shirt and pressed pants, but he got
off his bike to gently pull the injured goat to the side of the road.
Thirteen kilometers from town, we stopped for tea and watched a brave
tourist who had rented a motor scooter to get out of town. I guess he
wanted to get off the tourist trail. He studiously ignored us and
squatted on the ground to take photographs of dirty people with his
March 5, 2012 Merta to Pundia 33.16 km
Just awful winds today. We gave up after a few hours and found a
hotel. Some school kids on bicycles led us to a decent roadhouse. It
felt so good to have a bath.
March 6, 2012 Pundia to camp 73.15 kilometers
It was a hot, hot ride. I was so overheated I actually stuck my feet
into a slimy cow water trough. If it hadn't been so green, I might have
gone in all the way.
We saw a herd of camels today, stretching their giraffe necks to
nibble on thorn trees. A knobby-kneed baby camel trotted and pranced
amongst the adults. Tim said I squealed. We also spotted a family of
small gazelle type deer with stripey horns. I haven't got a mammal book.
I don't know what they're called.
We met some medical students riding four on a motorcycle all the way
back to Jodhpur. They were so cramped they had to take turns standing up
to give the others enough space. They've got 100 km to go. They rode
alongside us for awhile, just for something interesting to gander at, I
We made camp just off the street in a walled-off lot. Noisy but
nicely hidden as long as no one entered our space. The fence was a
little short for Tim's height. Mostly we stayed seated.
A camp spot that only a cyclist would consider. We were right on the side of the
highway, hidden as long as we walked hunched over.
March 7, 2012 camp to Jodhpur 56.12 kilometers
We meant to have a short day today but as we approached the outskirts
of Jodhpur, I suddenly realized that I'd left most of my cash lying on a
rock back at camp. Tim was nice enough to make the 18 km fast return
trip with me. We had the wind at our backs for the run back but a stiff
wind in our faces for the do over trip. Thank goodness the money was
still there. I don't know how I managed to do something so stupid. Just
a brain lapse.
Jodhpur has a fantastic fort that looms over the city. At night it's
lit up and looks awesome. I was seduced into a cheap room with a great
view of the fort, but came to regret my hotel choice. Although he seemed
to mostly cater to Japanese backpackers, the owner was strangely mean to
them, one nice girl in particular. At the rooftop restaurant one night,
he and a waiter started lecturing this girl about being too giggly. “Why
you laugh so much? It's not good, nothing funny.” The other kids laughed
uncomfortably, thinking it might be a bad joke, but he was serious. Tim
and I couldn't stand it and started defending her. There's absolutely
nothing wrong with Asian girls giggling and if that guy doesn't know it,
he really doesn't understand his customer base. When he left, the rest
of the Japanese kids turned around to thank us. I don't know why the
boys didn't say anything to the owner. Even after we shot him down, he
stuck around to glower at everyone. Maybe he was drunk, or just crazy,
but when Tim was out of earshot, he started into me for sticking up for
his little victim. It really gave us a bad vibe. If you're ever in
Jodhpur, avoid the Discovery Guesthouse. Yogi's Guesthouse down the
alley seemed a much better choice. The owner let me trade paperbacks at
no charge, and gave me a new canvas shopping bag.
We were in town for Holi, one of those festivals where people get
drunk and smear each other with colored dust. The chalk dust is very
hard to wash off, so everyone's got pink stained hair and hands and
clothes for the next week or so. We avoided the staining as we're both
down to just a few wearable shirts. We loved the fort, even though we're
both a little burned out on forts and castles by now.
We visited the shop with the 'best' lassi in India. This according to
the LP. It was good. The best? Actually, I liked the Jaipur lassi better
but this one was okay. Maybe I'm just not so excited about saffron. Does
it taste lemony? Jodhpur is a good place for a nice wander. It has
really neat alleys and blue buildings and markets. Herds of camera happy
tourists wearing zip-off khakis and sunhats. Oh, those cameras! I've
always liked my tiny point-and-shoot. I could upgrade but I don't think
I'll ever own a camera that requires its own luggage.
There were no monkeys in Jodhpur. I wonder if it's too desert-y or if
the monkey catchers have taken them out.
March 13, 2012 Jodhpur to Osiyan, 46.66 kilometers
It's a bit of a maze to leave Jodhpur. There are multiple routes to
get to the same place, highways and back ways. I believe we did a little
of both. The compass was very helpful. All in all it was a pleasant
ride. In Osiyan we found a guesthouse with the help of some young boys.
Osiyan is home to some neat Jain temples and a couple of luxury camel
camps. Our guesthouse was luxury by no means but totally decent. I'm not
sure how anyone finds the place as there is no sign out front.
The owner told us a morbid story about a murder that happened here a
few years back. I was so curious I had to look it up online later. It
seems an American woman was murdered by her teenage son in one of the
luxury camel camps. He was apparently upset about his parents' divorce
(which happened 8 years previous) and his mother's refusal to reconcile
with his dad. He was also pissed that his mother was set on sending him
to school in Italy. He'd bragged about his plans to kill his mother on
his Facebook page. (What a Genius!) He ordered a banana and a knife from
room service, cut his mother's throat, and threw her body out on a sand
dune. Then he fled. The police caught him as he tried to board a plane
back to the States. He's now serving a prison sentence in India.
March 14, 2012 Bap 55.79 km
We wanted to find a hotel at Bap but our choices were lame. A 4000
rupee haveli (The guy at the desk asked me, “What company are you
from?”) or a roadhouse of suspicious morals (“The room is open at 6pm.”
“Can I see it?” “Not available now.”) Downhearted, we left town. Tim
spotted a space out on the plains and we pushed out to find a sweet
little pond, dried up a little so it was shrunk down from its ghats.
There were plenty of birds. Four black ibises (ibi?) poking in the mud,
a chatty green parakeet. A few goat herders saw us but left us alone. At
sunset we sipped whiskey and then slept with the fly off, Venus and
Jupiter shining bright in the sky.
March 15, 2012 Bap camp to Cow Skull camp, 58.66
We passed by a few solar panel projects and got invited to visit one.
It's very interesting. We saw wind generators too. Much nicer than the
mineral mining. There are lots of camels in the desert too. They are
mostly working camels, either hitched to carts or dressed for camel
desert safari trips. We see the tourists getting bused or jeeped around
to and from their camel trips. Tim calls them the 'Oh My God” buses
because of the open-mouthed stares you can see briefly through the
windows. There were some French tourists that stopped while we were
having lunch but they ignored us.
We had a slight disagreement over camping arrangements and had to
backtrack to Tim's first pick. It was tough getting the bikes over the
rise to a sun-baked field but there really were no alternatives. The
fields closer to the next town seemed to be a dumping ground for dead
cows. Since they can't eat the cows, they're just left to rot and be
eaten by scavenging vultures and dogs. It's quite gross.
March 16, 2012 camp to Bikaner 51 km
We were visited by several goat and sheep herders in the morning. I
got to hold a baby goat and was instantly in love. The baby sheep get
tired and try to lay on the ground when the herd moves on. That's why
the herders occasionally have to carry the lambs. They always have a
donkey or two to carry herders' luggage. The herders had to spoil the
visit by asking us for money and being obnoxious about it.
Dusty wind and big quarry-blasted landscape. Saw some more little
gazelle deer and a few really strange-looking big deer animals, almost
like a pre-historic horse.
The Bikaner guesthouse was really hard to find. It's off the LP map,
one of those places where they just sort of point you in the direction
and then you're meant to find it yourself. I guess you're supposed to be
taking a taxi or something, not riding a bicycle. We stopped at a
railroad crossing that didn't seem to ever open up. The motorcyclists
and bicyclists squeeze under the crossing barriers while the car drivers
just shut down the engines and take a long break in the sun. Tim is a
bit too tall to make the duck so we had to wait it out. After asking a
bunch of people, we finally found a nice young man who led us down an
alley full of cows to our guesthouse.
Our hotel was supposed to have a dip pool but it was disappointingly
empty. Instead I sat around with my feet in a bucket of water. Lots of
tourists at our guesthouse as Bikaner is touted as the 'alternate' camel
safari town. We found a nice supermarket and a roasted chicken shop. I
don't think the hotel lady was too happy about the chicken bones.
They're vegetarians here and I think some kind of animal got into the
trash that night. Actually, the hotel family was not the friendly happy
bunch described in the LP. I think they put on happy smiles for the
guidebook writer, and then put those smiles away, never to be seen
March 22, 2012 Bikaner to camp, 40.61kilometers
The camels are great but the desert is getting old. It's really very
hot and the wind blows dust in my eyes. By some miracle we've avoided
more flat tires, but not for the lack of thorniness. The little
reservoirs full of birdlife have dried up, instead we camp in the dust
and get far too many visitors.
Pushing a heavily loaded touring bicycle through the sand has to be a cyclist
low point. We had to get away from the road so we pushed back to the tree
line in the distance and camped between two sand dunes. We woke up to a
tequila sunrise that only an empty desert can produce and a herd of little
We thought by laying the bikes on the sand, we might stay hidden from the road.
It worked until some people appeared over the sand dune behind us. The ladies
carrying bundles of sticks on their heads left after a few minutes, but the goat
herder guys obviously didn't have as much work waiting on them. They stuck
around for a long time to have a good stare.
March 23, 2012 camp to Dust town, 73.56 kilometers
I'm not sure the name of this town. It is incredibly dirty.
March 24, 2012 Sri Ganganagar 64.01 kilometers
We saw scores of army trucks on the road. Must be some sort of war
games, or some trouble with Pakistan. We are close to the border. We saw
big Abrahms tanks on truck beds. One sort of ran us off the road. The
trailers they're on are much wider than the usual Indian truck. Big
attack helicopters flew over us. Tim says they're Apaches, pretty
scary-looking machines. There are lots of convent school in this town.
My favorite is called Harsh Convent School.
March 26, 2012 farm house 57.25 kilometers
Punjab has lots of water canals, plenty of farms, few places to camp.
A family invited us in, our first time in India. They were Sikhs.
Grandma sews like a machine and wears a small dagger in a holster. Dad
gave us a ride on the tractor. The laborers gave us a large bag of green
peas. The cousin came over to translate after the teenage son's
abilities were completely exhausted. The disabled cousin crashes around
house on hand truck and watches Sikh devotional videos. We watched a
video of a wedding, an arranged marriage. The cousin explained to us
that she's unmarried and her parents are currently seeking a proper
husband for her. Later at dinner we were taught the proper Punjab way to
March 27 Ahogar 63.69 km
Men drive pony carts here and stand up on the carts, holding the
reins while the ponies trot along. It's much greener now, a treat to see
so much green, even if it does mean that our camping days are over.
Great big fields of wheat and orange trees. There is even more military
action going on. We get passed by huge convoys of dull green trucks.
There also seems to be some tense police action going on. We passed a
few roadblocks and a lot of serious-looking armed police.
After a rest day where Tim was taken to the police station to fill
out reams of foreign registration papers, we've decided that we don't
want to travel all the way north to Amritsar. The Golden Temple and the
border ceremony sound so interesting, but really it's too hot to stay in
the desert and this place is sort of vibing us out. Instead we'll turn
east and head back to the Himalayas.
March 28 Ahogar to Bathinda 74.94 kilometers
Seems we made the right choice. Amritsar is the place to avoid
because shit is going down. Big protests, police and paramilitary troops
deployed. It's not war games, it's all in anticipation of an execution
that will (maybe) happen in 3 days. Some guy who assassinated someone
political back in 1995 is due to be killed by hanging (gruesome noose
graphics on the news, nice touch) on the 31st. The road blocks and
orange turbans we saw today, all in response, also all Sikhs are on
strike so lots of businesses are closed and it's expected that Amritsar
will be a powder keg for the next few days. Punjab is definitely too hot
for us bike tourists now so we'll keep heading for the hills.
Saw lots of Ibises, two big woodpeckers, brick kilns stinking up the
horizon, paparazzi Punjabis stopped us for “one snap please” (they're
not shy!), orange trees and wheat fields, small marijuana plants lining
the roadsides, very serious looking militia soldiers stopping bullock
trucks, unfortunately the camels are no more, but lots of little pony
carts trotting along, turbans and beards and waving mustaches. The older
Sikh men with white beards sometimes look like Santa Claus in a turban.
People eat their roti (not chapatti, although still the exact same
thing) with their left hand, holding the bread in their right as a sort
of napkin. No more camping, there are just too many people here. Oranges
are ripe now and lovely. TV news showed policemen beating the legs of
protestors with bamboo sticks. Not everyone is honoring the strike (bandh)
as all the businesses on the outskirts of town were open, but inside
Bathinda it is eerie and shuttered. Even the petrol stations are shut
down. Tim met two boys pushing a motorcycle who said they couldn't buy
gas as the station is closed today. Expensive hotels in this town and
they are very rude at the door. It does not make me want to spend 1500
rupees on a room, especially when the guys at our cheapo place are so
nice they offered me the slippers off their own feet when I walked out
barefoot. Hot water bucket shower, what a luxury! Still very flat
riding, getting slightly nervous about our return to the hills although
the cooler temps will make up for a little hill climbing.
March 29 Barnala 57.93 km
The strike is over and apparently everyone in Punjab got on the road
to drive like an asshole today.
It was nerve wracking getting out of town with all the cars on the
road. Bathinda has stoplights but they don't make much difference if no
one pays attention to them. Same with the road blocks outside the army
areas. There are no soldiers to make sure drivers are slowing down, so
everyone just swerves madly around the blocks. Tim said it wasn't a
traffic calming device, more like a population control device. Really,
it's amazing we haven't seen more accidents the way people drive here.
The highway had no shoulder, just a big drift of sand. When a truck
passing a bullock cart came barreling straight at me, I over-reacted and
flew off the pavement and skewed into the sand. My bike fishtailed back
and forth. Somehow, I didn't fall down. I may have even done what you're
supposed to do: shifted my weight back and squeezed my back brake. Then
I had a little meltdown while Tim tried to comfort me. A crowd of
curious people stopped their motorcycles to get a good stare in before I
screamed at them in the most undignified way. They left pretty quick but
didn't even have the decency to look embarrassed, just puzzled. Like,
why wouldn't anyone stop to stare at a crying woman? What else would you
So, it was one of those days when I just really hate Indian drivers
and nothing was nice. The road sucked, the traffic was deadly, and
everyone we met was kind of a jerk. Tim said that everyone here should
be smoking some of the weed that grows all over on the side of the road
to calm down a little. It's true, people here are a little manic. Last
night I was flipping through the hundred channels of music videos and
noticing how hyperactive the dancing is. Like all those moves would look
cool if the dancers weren't flailing around so spastically.
I'm sure this has no bearing whatsoever on the driving mania here,
but there are a lot of nuclear power plants around Bathinda. We passed
one yesterday on the way into town. Four humongous cooling towers. Then
about 20 kilometers out of town this morning, I saw four more towers and
thought we'd taken a round about loop back to the same power plant.
Turns out it's a whole different nuclear power plant. There was an
elementary school pretty close to it. Wonder if those kids glow at
night. Made me think of the Simpsons for some reason. Interesting that
the street signs say “Thermal Plant” instead of nuclear.
March 30, 2012 Pataila 75.75 km
Today's road had a little shoulder so the riding was much more
relaxed. Also, the pot plants on the side of the road have grown to the
size of small trees. They bake in the heat and the odor permeates the
air. That may be calming things down too. I'm pretty sure we saw
marijuana being cultivated right there next to the wheat. Some farmers
were collecting it in bushels and feeding it to their horses and cattle.
But the traffic hasn't really calmed down. We saw a truck on its
side, blocking most of the road. On the other side was a little white
car, the driver's side completely crushed. There are plenty of these
little white cars on the road, Suzukis and Tatas. I'm guessing that
their owners are the new Indian middle class who drive fearlessly while
shouting into their brand new mobile phones.
The wind was whipping around pretty good, but with the close traffic
that was the least of our worries.
We finally found a camping spot in Punjab. It was a little tuft of
trees outside an extravagant Sikh temple. Tim says we can stay at the
Sikh temples for free but I was not feeling in the mood for all the
staring that would go with that. The view of the temple was gorgeous. We
set up camp and then heard a rather loud engine in the distance. It was
a tank, roaring around in the dust nearby. No fences between us and the
tank. The goat herders were unperturbed. We decided to stay and ignore
Some of the Sikhs from the temple came by to invite us for dinner and
to stay overnight. We were already set up and so declined but posed for
lots of photos instead. They were really very sweet.
March 31, 2012 Chandigarh 85.85 km
This morning a very funny man on a bicycle passed by our camping
spot. He was wearing a huge turban and seemed to be holding a spear.
Awhile later a military jeep parked nearby. Uh oh, we said to each
other, but the policeman just waved at us as they walked by. They walked
down the same path the spear man had taken. Perhaps he was wanted.
We went through a city holding a big festival with crazy traffic
jams. Military bases clustered on the edges of town, each section with
funny names (Soldiers in the sky). After a long day of non-stop traffic,
lots of accidents and dead dogs stinking in the road, we finally pulled
into the capital. What a relief. Chandigarh has bike lanes! A logical
street grid! A real bike shop! Unfortunately all the hotels are much too
expensive. We got good advice from the owner of the Foxfire cycle shop
but still our room cost 700 rupees.
Lucky break for us, we me Mr. Narindar Singh, self-appointed tourist
advocate. He took us to stay a Sikh temple for 100 rupees a night (free
wifi!). We had tea at lots of government building canteens and visited
all the temples serving free meals. Really, this guy has too much energy
for 76 years old. We had dinner at the market every night and met
engineering students in shockingly mismatched plaids. Our guide took us
to the Nok Chand Rock Garden. It is said to be the second most visited
spot in India after the Taj Mahal. I was hoping for more junk art at the
garden but there were only a few walls built of old resistors. The
waterfall sections were lovely and shady. The crowds of rock and mosaic
people were cool but a little creepy. Made me think of children being
punished by doing calisthenics in the sun.
Chandigarh was actually designed by the French planner Le Corbusier.
It's the only planned city in India. It's very easy to find your way
around. Narindar Singh loves getting people around for good prices. He
even had us hitching rides for free with random cars and city government
buses. The bus driver was amazingly bad. In a twenty minute ride he hit
two things: a motorcycle mirror and a tuk-tuk taxi. The taxi driver
drove alongside us shaking his fist and yelling but our driver ignored