Indian summer

My last weeks in India were chilly +40 degrees C days that made it hard to do anything else but try to cool off and eat mountains of 25cent watermelons, so I wasn’t so sad to be leaving. Through Uttar Pradesh the cycling was energy draining because of the extreme heat but the landscape was quite flat so I was still able to cycle over 100km each day. Since cycling in the 40 degree afternoons was near suicidal, I would get outta bed at 3am each morning and be rolling on my bike before 4am so I could finish my +100km days before 12pm. I was looking forward to arriving in the mountains of Nepal where I imagined the air to be more fresh and cool. I’m glad I went to India and I’m glad I discovered the country by bicycle, but if you asked me if my experience was a good or bad one I would find your question difficult to answer. India can really be a mind boggling place that can take you several lifetimes to truly learn about and understand. It is such a big and diverse country that it’s impossible to generalize. Most of my experiences there were good and I thank God for, and for having given me the ability to travel and see first hand what the world is really like and meet all the good people that I have met, but also more then once in India I did experience or witness some unpleasantries which are commonly found in most countries throughout the world such as racial prejudice, sexual and verbal harassment of women, common lack of courtesy, and disregard from the environment, which although I want to I find it hard to forget about. But these are just small aspects of the great world we live in, it is caused by us and so can be changed by us.

Would I ever want to go back to India? I’m really not sure. With a population of over 1.2 billion, India is a country that is having very hard time coping with and adjusting to a massive population and continued population growth. It is estimated that India’s population will surpass China’s in the next 20 years or less, moving from the second to the first most populated country in the world, and doesn’t yet have the infrastructure or power generation to deal with the demands, and so is steadily destroying the environment and helping to create a larger gap between the rich and poor. I felt that by traveling there I wasn’t really alleviating the problems but only making them worse. In a country with very poor waste management it is much more difficult to be “Eco-friendly”. Sometimes I carried plastic and other trash from my lunch for over 100’km before I found a trash can to put it in (forget about recycling it)  only to later watch someone come and empty the can into a nearby riverbank or ditch.

If I think about India and I imagine it to be a model for the direction the whole world is heading it doesn’t look good for our future. One of the major problems in India that can have implications for the rest of the world is water scarcity. Right now millions of Indians lack access to clean drinking water, and the situation is only getting worse. In a list of 122 countries rated on the quality of potable drinking water, India ranked a lowly 120. According to estimates by the world bank, in India, diarrhea from contaminated water alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily— that’s the same as if eight 200-person commercial aircrafts crashed to the ground every single day! India’s demand for water is growing at an alarming rate as the population grows. Their growing economy and growing demand for food stretch India’s supply of water even thinner. Climate change could reduce the supply of water coming from rainfall and glaciers feeding India’s many rivers are shrinking fast. As demand for water for farming outweighs supply more and more each year, India may face more problems of food shortages as well.

But India’s water crisis is mostly a man-made problem. India’s climate is not particularly dry, they have a long monsoon season and have a lot of rivers and groundwater. Extremely inhumane management, unclear laws, government corruption, privatization, and industrial and human waste have caused most of the problems and made what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution. Because people have caused most of this crisis, by changing their actions and the way they think about water resources, they have the power to prevent water scarcity, and this means there is still hope. They must begin to make positive changes, start conserving water, stand against privatization, boycott bottled water, begin to harvest more rainwater, treat human, agricultural, and industrial waste, stop building dams and regulate how much water can be drawn out of the ground. This will be a big step towards a brighter future.

As for traveling India by bike, I think it’s good to experience once in your life…but only once. It is crazy. Traffic there is incredibly noisy and insane. Everyone is constantly honking their horns and the eardrums of a cyclist can easily explode into a bloody mess. Big trucks and buses regularly puff hot, black smoke in your eyes and down you lungs, and everyday you look death in the face as a big truck comes thundering towards you and oncoming traffic while passing other cars and trucks on blind corners. That’s normal. There really aren’t many traffic rules other then “all empty spaces must be filled” “always be blaring your horn” and “the biggest vehicle wins”, so cyclists always loose the battle. Although the constant realization of your own mortality can be a good thing, riding a bike in India can make you wonder if cycling really is all that healthy, but then you remember that if everyone was cycling you wouldn’t have the noise, the traffic, and the hot black smoke in your face.

But there were also days when cows and monkeys were the only traffic to dodge on quiet roads through the shining country side or along an endless, deserted white sandy beach, under shady palms, the warm wind on your back smelling sweet with the sent of flowers and fruit trees, rolling through curious, welcoming villages with children running alongside you smiling and waving. Moments when time stops as you catch the eyes of a kind stranger and you share an understanding. Map-less and guidebook-less in the hands of fate, not knowing exactly where the road will take you and who you will meet each day. These moments are when you remember what life is all about and why your doing what your doing. Adventure and freedom fills your soul as you sit and drink the refreshing juice from a coconut, listening and watching the strange world around you.