This is the story of how I rode a bicycle from New Delhi, India to Kathmandu, Nepal. And it starts with traveling to India.
For those of you who have never flown in and out of Kathmandu, be aware that it is something that requires quite a bit of forethought. The most important part is making sure you get a window seat on the correct side of the airplane. Because the Himalayas is a sight you cannot ignore. Even at cruising altitude of 10 000 meters asl, their white peaks look as if they almost reach you. This is truly the roof of the world. And you can almost touch it.
I didn’t travel to India to ride a bicycle. No. The trip to Delhi was actually sparked by a friend’s wedding. Only when purchasing plane tickets did I come upon the idea of returning overland. It had been a while since my last adventure and I’d yet to properly explore India. But how to do it? Traveling on top of a train I had already ticked off my list and it may not necessarily be the most comfortable way of covering long distances. I’d heard exciting (read: horror) stories about bus travel in India, so there was that option. This might actually guarantee some pretty colorful insights into life in India. Riding an animal might get a bit expensive and I’d be sure to incur the wrath of some god around these parts.
But why not by bicycle? Something that would give me greater freedom to go where ever I wanted and stop when ever I found a cosy spot or a magnificent view. Also the healthy option. Thus there being no compelling arguments against riding over 1000km by bicycle, my mind was set. I’d thought about getting a mountain bike for the trails around Kathmandu anyways – this could be one of those “two birds with one stone” things. And while I’m at it, I might as well take a look around Uttarakhand and visit the mountains on the Indian side of the border. How hard can it be to pedal up the Himalayas?
Hence upon arrival in India I set about finding a bike and getting it fitted. Weddings in India last several days, which was perfect. Buying a bicycle should never be a one-day-affair. Outfitting for a trip like this would also require some special attention. For example it took me a whooping 2 minutes to buy a bag for the bike rack (and what a good bag it was. Thank you Mr. Bag Salesman). During that time only 7 people asked to take selfies with me. India is fun.
This also gave me the opportunity to visit Taj Mahal and several other historic sites in and around New Delhi. Humayun’s Tomb was my favorite inside the capital. The morning light gave it a special glow that I could admire in the company of chipmunks. Those critters run rampant all over the city. Walking around Purana Quila was also a good for getting away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi streets to enjoy some peace and quiet among greenery.
Concerning Taj, I have to admit I found it a tad underwhelming. Yes, it is big and white and exhibits some rather interesting geometry, but in an odd way it lacks charm and intricacy. Its surfaces are big, flat and white; nowhere near as captivating as for example the detailed carved patterns and shapes of the tiny Itmad-ud-Daula. This is not to say that the Taj Mahal is boring, no. It is a magnificent piece of art to witness and marvel. This is specially true when looking at it as a piece of the greater history of Agra – there it stands out like the crown jewel it is. Together with other Mughal sites it gives Agra a special kind of atmosphere, one of wonder and serenity. I’d love to visit the place again in a decade, to see how the river gardens and other Mughal-era sites have been restored into a wholesome historic city.
Once the bike got all set, I was ready to go. And so, on a Thursday morning I took off due north. This ride was not going to be a tourist trip. I didn’t have any hotels booked or any particular destinations in mind that I wanted to visit. At best it was a journey – a ride on larger and smaller roads, through larger and smaller towns and villages, to see where and how people live in this part of the world. My only plan was to head north. And then at some point turn east to Nepal.