Magnificent Rajasthan, India
Someone has to do it, someone has to get out and do something different. So I did, taking my son Brad with me we headed to ride motorbikes through the beautiful and magnificent land of the Maharajas, incredible fortresses and spectacular palaces and not forgetting the Taj Mahal.
We actually met a real Maharaja, we stayed in his Palace, very unassuming and quietly spoken he sat with as dinner and talked about him growing up in the same palace we were sitting in eating dinner. It’s incredible to believe we were sitting with a 10th generation king of this region, that was incredible and one of many highlights we experienced travelling through India.
Somewhere along the way I became very ill and in extreme pain, being on a bike made it worse, I was given everyone’s favourite pain killer from other tour members. Of course they all had great result stories. Unfortunately non of these worked and for most of the trip I was in extreme pain. The only way to get relief on the bike was to stand up or almost sit sideways, the only variance to this was when you entered a town where you forgot the pain and put your game face on. It was 100% concentration. Cars, trucks, pedestrians, cows and whatever else they can throw at you would come from every different direction at the same time. One slip of concentration would find you under a car.
We stopped at a railway crossing waiting for the goods train to pass which seemed to take for ever, because of the box cars we could not see the building traffic on the other side heading our way. Meanwhile on our side the traffic started to fill both lanes and then some tried to squeeze between them and the traffic banked up covering the whole road with cars and trucks 3 wide. When the train finally passed they had down exactly the same thing on the other side of the track, so here we have a jousting competition with everyone trying to pass but there is no room to get by anyone. We attempted to squeeze through on bikes and the locals didn’t like that and tried to close any gaps so we couldn’t get through but we did. I have no idea how they sorted themselves out as we headed away from the chaos.
Everything that happens in India is a major issue especially the time that one of our group hit a cow, a sacred cow, all cows are sacred in India and the last thing you want to do is run into and injure a cow. We were on the outskirts of a little village and of course everyone is upset, cars stopped, people came from everywhere it was sheer bedlam. The population of the village may have been 100 but for some reason we had 500 women, men and school kids all hanging around watching to see what happens. Thankfully our guide started to negotiate with the locals as the compensation for the cow’s injury, screaming, arms flailing and everybody talking at the same time. In the meantime we sat in the shade, talked to the school kids, took photos and just absorbed this incredible atmosphere. There was no leaving until this issue was resolved. Finally it went quiet, everyone left and life resumed back to normal all within a few minutes, a deal had been struck. The village leader came over to us and in perfect English apologised to us for the delay, he explained that the cow is as our mother and is very important in their culture. The screaming, flailing arms is normal to seek adequate compensation. It put everything into perspective for us. We left the town much wiser and for our careless rider that much poorer. Funnily the next day the same rider hit and killed a dog, there was no way we were going to stop and just got out of there as quick as possible.
Cows being sacred they have the right of way, you have to stop to give way or make a concerted effort to not run into one even on the open highway doing 100kph. When you come across a herd of cows in the middle of the road the problem is that cars and trucks swerve to miss them and it doesn’t matter if it’s on your side of the road. After a while you learn to ride like the locals if there is a gap in the traffic you take it, if there is traffic stopped, you go around it any way you can – even the footpaths are an access around a stoppage. I was on the inside lane coming up to a truck very quickly and there was a bus in the passing lane so I thought I would go up on the inside breakdown lane only to find a bloody big truck heading towards me, that was the first of very many times I thought I was going to die. Funny for those few seconds I completely forgot the pain I was in.
Poverty is a way of life in India, people sleep anywhere even on the freeways, many times we would see people laying up against the middle road barrier, in gutters or anywhere they could find. As a tourist, it is hard to accept that we are riding down a dirty dusty road, people surviving in little shanties with their families. We came to a set of gates that open when we near them into an oasis of manicured lawns and gardens leading down to a beautiful hotel greeted by hotel porter dressed in typical carry over English/Indian uniform sporting a most magnificent moustache curled at the ends. This was our fifth night’s stay in India and our first chance to eat western food and of course we all ordered pizzas, we ordered so many that we were passing them out to other diners.
I loved India, I had heard so many people talk about the culture, the poverty, beauty and magnificence and I was not disappointed for one moment. I loved the abandoned fortresses, I loved the stories of the princesses walking into a fire taking their lives rather than surrender when their palaces were under attack and looked to be overrun. I loved the people who were so generous, I loved riding the camel through the desert with my bike helmet on and seeing a tiger in the wild. I must return as there is so much more to see.
On our way to India we took a side trip to Egypt landing in Cairo. Ever since I was a small boy I have been fascinated with the pharaohs, pyramids and Sphinx. None more so than Tutankhamen and I was so excited to see his treasures first hand, it’s not often that I get overly excited about anything but this was one of those moments. I was truly here looking at these treasures, only millimeters away from them, a dream come true. I can see Howard Carter looking through the hole broken through the wall holding his lamp up and seeing the glitter of gold. The first time a tomb had been found intact and now I was looking at exactly the same treasures he saw so many years ago. Incredibly two years before I was in England and visited Lord Carnarvon’s home Highclere in Hampshire where the period drama Downton Abbey is made. Lord Carnarvon was the supporter and financier for Howard Carter and in the rooms below the castle is a display of some of the original Egyptian artifacts, another one of those exciting moments in life.
On our way home from India we stopped at Abu Dhabi and spent a few days enjoying the comforts of the Emirates Palace, one of the most magnificent hotels anywhere in the world.
This was one of those adventures to remember.