“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” – Ursula K.
India. All my energies over the last four months have been ultimately focused on getting here. Every pedal-stroke, every hill, every puncture, and every mile, meant progress towards this end. After many nights sleeping in my tent, many days alone on long and lonely roads, hundreds of chance encounters, small lessons and spontaneous acts of unconditional generosity, and thousands of miles on my beautiful red bicycle, I have cycled to India.
My wheels rolled slowly over the Pakistan-Indian frontier on a bright and sunny morning, a light mist still hanging over the surrounding landscape, and I realised with a startling realisation that I had completed my quest. I had done what I had set out to do. But, glutton for punishment as I am, I had decided to cross India, completing my journey in Calcutta. Only another thousand miles or so to go, then.
I’ve been cycling through the vast landscape of the Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for almost three weeks now, and have seen many startling and striking scenes. What people say about India is only too true – it’s quite an experience. Poverty and begging is oppressively evident, cities are riddled with litter, wild dogs, and wandering holy cows. But I have continued to meet people and be offered the kind of generosity that humbles me. I’ve seen the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Taj Mahal at Agra, and have sat by the holy river Ganges at Varanasi, and despite everything that may suggest the contrary, there is something spiritually peaceful about this country. But I have begun to realise that, as incredible as all of these things (and everything I’ve witnessed in between) are, these are not the reasons for which I climbed onto my bicycle on the bright Sunday morning all those months ago, a cooked breakfast bubbling in my stomach with the onset of nerves. I started this journey for the experience as a whole, and I think it would have been wrong to ever expect to gain anything by reaching India, beyond earning the satisfaction of completing what I set out to do.
My experience has been one of adventure. I have done things I would never have thought myself brave or strong enough to accomplish, seen things that I never would have believed or understood otherwise, and met people that have opened my eyes to a much wider world. And I have a fantastic tan (though it expires rather quickly where my t-shirt and shorts begin)!
And this adventure continues, as I enter the final days of my ride to Calcutta, and my dreams of bacon sandwiches, Yorkshire Tea and English ale become increasingly vivid.