It's the third time in my life that arrive in India and the second by bicycle. 13 years ago, I was arriving for the first time and at 22 years old, I was barely a kid carrying a backpack with little experience in comparison to the present. I already knew back then, during the first few days and after having gone through the first big shock that one experiences in the first visit to India, that I would come back over and over in the course of my life. Today, 13 years later, I still have the same feeling I got on that first trip, that of carrying India very deep inside me. As years pass by and I get older, I feel that India keeps growing inside me and with me with every trip. India is a planet in itself and it is quite true the fact that either you love it or you hate, because no matter where you are in India, you may like it or not, but one thing is sure, you can't be indifferent to it. I certainly love it with devotion, it's like a magnet that doesn't allow me to detach from it. Now, that in this third opportunity we've had the enormous fortune of experiencing India from the inside, through a local family that has pretty much adopted us during our stay, and later with the visit of my own mother, to whom I haven't hesitated in showing her the corners of the country where few tourists make it, I have nothing but confirmed once again that very same original feeling from the first trip: I will never stop coming back to India.
The usual chaos
It only takes a few kilometers after crossing the border that you can feel it already. The change coming from Nepal is evident. The density, the noise, the smells, the colors, the music, the mess, India manifests itself, stimulating and many times irritating the senses. There is no escape. If there is no acceptance, madness is imminent. But this is my third time already, I accept this chaos, I feel it and I even enjoy it, because, behind all of it, there's a never-ending explosion of life that never ceases. It is beautiful to see the streets vibrating, the energy, the cars, the rickshaws, the street business, the people, the cows, everything in the very same ecosystem.
We pass one village after another along the 400 km that lead us to Delhi across the states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. It is impossible to get bored, there is always too much to see. To the sides of the road we stop to chat with local women that dressed in exquisite sarees they spend their days picking up cakes of dung and carrying them on top of their heads to their homes to use as fuel for their stoves. India's economy has been growing steadily in the past decade but it is still a long way to go until most of its 1.2 billion people improve their precarious living conditions.
In the cities, the hustle and bustle don't stop until late at night, and the vast array of unique scenes of everyday life happen here and there wherever you look at. In one side, two cycle-rickshaw wallahs chat while they wait for a new passenger to earn a couple more cents. They are in the middle of the street, blocking the never ending flow of traffic, but nobody seems to bother, people just dodge them and keep going.
On the other side of the street, a street barber shaves a customer in a rather improvised location for his shop. It is the end of the day and none of the passer by's seem distracted by them.
Kids have their own transportation to take them to school in this Wonder Land.
Roads are insane as usual. The country's development can be seen in the ever growing number of paved roads, but drivers still drive as though they are in a bumper cars' circuit. The hierarchical system where the biggest vehicle has total priority over the smaller ones still rules the Indian roads, nothing has changed. If a truck comes in the opposite direction, all of the smaller vehicles must swerve away from it to let it pass, otherwise, collision is imminent.
And finally, there are the horns, that never stop for a minute with their loud deafening sound. In India, it is compulsory to blow the horn, trucks even have a sign on the back in big colored letters "blow horn please". But chaos is compensated but the Indians, who with the insatiable curiosity come close to us riding their motorcycles or bicycles and march by our side, smiling and asking us the same questions over and over: where are you from? where are you going? are you married? Do you have children?. Family is the entity around which the whole Indian society revolves around, and almost without exception it is the starting point of every relationship.
Indians can be a little annoying to some, and I have even seen, heard and read many unjustified prejudices against them from other travelers, but in my own experience, after having spent quite a long time in this country, I find them to be quite exceptional people, genuine, curious, nice and yes, they might be a little too much sometimes but their approach (out of touristy areas)
is always honest and friendly. As usual, all this chaos will be accompanied by the fantastic local flavors. Indian food has been my favorite food for years and with every trip, I reaffirm this. India is an overflow of tastes and its street food the best in the world. There is always somewhere on the side of the road cooking something delicious and cheap. So delicious that the hygiene standard suddenly becomes irrelevant.
Within the various (if not countless) problems that India has, it is the garbage one the one that strikes me the most. It seems to have been even growing exponentially since my first visit and it does make sense considering the country's growth. With the advent of plastics and such fast pace of developing mixed with a great lack of basic education, it is rare if more than a kilometer goes by without seeing garbage spread all over. It is everywhere, sidewalks, parks, blocking city sewers, flooding the streets and asphyxiating with its foul smell. Everything that is consumed is thrown away onto the street with total disregard. It is repulsive and disheartening at the same time and the problem doesn't seem to have any relevance in the list of priorities the government needs to address, it will only grow worse. In the last kilometers before reaching Delhi, a colossal landfill raises from the ground like a truncated pyramid flanking a huge area of slums around it. It emanates indescribable pestilence and the sky above is clouded by tens of thousands of vultures.
The thick urban belt that surrounds Delhi throws to your face the most inhumane reality of the country, that of millions of people who still dwell in shit, living in the most dire conditions, settled along poisoned rivers and crammed with millions of others together. It is the reality of hundreds of millions of people that migrate to the city from the backward rural regions affected by drought and poverty, in search of hope for their lives.
Entering Delhi from the south-east shows us the other extreme of India, the one of the millionaires who live in the most luxurious conditions, hiding behind the high concrete walls of their mansions, in immaculate districts with tree-lined broad avenues monitored by armed private security personnel. The owners pass by driven by chauffeurs in fancy cars, seemingly disconnected from the reality that surrounds them at every red light they have to stop, when swarms of barefooted street kids wearing rags knock on their tinted windows asking for a miserable coin. India has no greys, or better put: India shows us, with its blacks and whites that, for most of us who seem to be so lost into our so-called "problems", life is nothing but a benevolent collection of greys.