The landscape of Uttar Pradesh, to describe it in one word, is flat. Flat and dusty, to use two. Though the latter is exacerbated by the season. This is the driest time of the year, just before the first spring rains arrive. The monsoon season is still far though, so rain shouldn’t bother me much. The flat ground makes for easy bicycling though and bicycles are popular here. Same for scooters and motorbikes. This makes traffic a little less risky, as drivers are used to lots of two-wheelers on the roads. It doesn’t mean that big trucks or buses would slow down or give space to riders, but at least they do their best not to simply run me over.
I’d like to see this place right after the monsoons, when the dust has not yet returned to cover everything. It might not change much though. The soil here is sandy and greenery is sparse, making the entire region look like the outskirts of a desert. Though the days were cloudless, a thick haze covered the sky and made everything even more dry and yellow. I had not expected to see camel caravans in India, but they fit right in over here. Numerous brick kilns lining the roads added to this somewhat Mad-Max-ish atmosphere, their tall khaki chimneys pouring black smoke over large stacks of red bricks.
The only thing more numerous than brick factories over here were schools. From the number of institutions, their ever-present advertisements and school buses, one could think that education was India’s primary industry. Though now that I think of it, piles of garbage and dung were an even more common sight. Dung here is collected, caked and dried to be later used in stoves and fireplaces. In some villages the cakes were laid out in neat rows, in others they were piled into organized heaps. The dung comes from cows and buffalo, however open defecation by people is also, unfortunately, an extremely obvious problem.
Garbage management here seems to be the same as in many poorer developing countries. Garbage bins are unheard of, meaning that even if people had something against just tossing trash and wrappers on the ground, there would be no better place to conveniently put them. I made it a personal challenge not to litter, which usually meant carrying my trash with me until I reached a hotel. Even roadside shops and eateries, places where people regularly buy snacks and cigarettes, didn’t have rubbish bins. Twice I asked and was told just to drop it in the ditch. Either rains would take it or eventually the owner would sweep it into a pile and set it on fire. With all of these black unfiltered exhausts from chimneys big and small, trucks, buses and garbage fires it is no wonder that air pollution has become a paralyzing problem for India. With most of these being either illegal on unaccountable, dealing with it is not be an easy task.
Arriving in Saharanpur (as if the desert analogy wasn’t enough) I was greeted by something completely different – an abundance of wedding ceremonies. As the evening got near, more and more of colorful chariots and decorated horses populated the roads. It was the day of the Vasant Panchami festival, which made it an auspicious day to get married. Due to weddings, almost all hotels were booked. When I finally did find one with vacancies, I quickly also understood why – the place was a dump. Hands down the worst I stopped at during this entire trip. The bathroom was dark brown from rust, paint was peeling off the walls, furniture covered in layers of dust and electric wires had been torn out of sockets. Despite this, as I was carrying the bike upstairs for safekeeping, the owner shouted warnings that if I damaged his (stone) stairs I’d have to pay for it. Welcome to India.