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Right at the border between Pakistan and India there's a small bookshop with mainly secondhand travel literature. In that shop I buy an Indian Lonely Planet (a travelers bible, like the real Bible a book full of wisdom and not only truths). It is commonly known that Pakistan and India aren't the biggest friends around. On the border that becomes clear. Freight crossing the border is carried across. A hundred meters before the border the Pakistani truck is unloaded by men in red, who carry the freight to the border. There, without being checked, it is handed over to men in blue who carry the stuff to the Indian truck, a hundred meters away from the border.

Around sunset I enter Amritsar. The Indians in Amritsar welcome me 'heartily'. Well, two guys in a Rickshaw (noisy three wheel taxi) think it necessary to try to kick me. They drive beside me and reach out. Quite soon I'm fed up with this practice and I hit the breaks slightly. This brings my feet (remember, I ride a recumbent) at their level and my foot shoots out. I missed the ones head on inches! They understand my intention and drive off. Welcome to India! With the map of the Lonely Planet I continue into Amritsar to the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the holiest temple for the Sikh religion. They claim to have taken the best of the Islam and the best of Hinduism. In the course of about 300 years 10 Guru's wrote a holy book, which is kept in the Golden Temple Complex. To the Golden Temple complex there's a hostel where anyone can sleep a couple of nights for a voluntary donation - which is basically for free. Also there's a restaurant where they serve food for the hungry. The only problem is that the food is Indian style spicy, so the chili's burn my ass in the morning. The book I spoke of earlier, lies at day time inside the Golden Temple itself, but in the evening the Sikh's take pride in carrying it to bed. With prayers and music it is brought to the 'carry chair'; from that point the chair is carried by all the people present, not more than six at a time. In the morning the same ceremony is reversed, taking the book to the temple in the middle of the lake. Together with José (a Spanish backpacker) and Lars (a Danish cyclist, about whom I've heard from other travelers) I take part in both ceremonies. Lars' and my plans differ quite a bit, so we don't cycle on together. After waiting for so long in Lahore, I finally want to cycle again. Lars however wants to take all the possible time for this part of India, as he says that he prefers to see one thing thoroughly than everything quickly. And in that he's right. I just feel like I should make some distance, I haven't done any serious cycling since New Years!

Bikaner, March 6th 1999

Hi There!

With the white snowed feet of the Himalayas I'm on my way to Dharamsala, the present day home of the Dalai Lama. And there I manage to arrive in the end; the foothills of the Himalayas are already very high and for the cyclist tiresome steep. The last 15 km before Dharamsala I think the place is on the top of a mountain. But when I finally get up to McLeod's Ganj - which is another 8 km's up - I can hardly recognize the Dharamsala 'mountain' from the Great Plains even further down below. McLeod's G is the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile, and with that it is crowded with both Tibetan monks and tourists trying to meet the Dalai Lama. They call this Little Lhasa. To me, the place doesn't really do it; except for the marvelous view, I can't feel the magic. Most of my time I spend reading Jane Eyre at times admiring the view from my hotel. In town, most of the talk is about His Holiness the Dalai Lama's waiting list of four months to meet him and the delicious pancakes in the sunrise cafe. Well, after the weeks of nothing but - darn spicy - Dahl Bhat which burns my ass in the morning the pancakes are a welcome variation.

When my book is finished I continue through the Himalayan foothills. The first day is a rough day. Not due to the distance (65 kms), nor due to the steepness of the mountains - I've had worse - but because of what I see on entering in Baijnath. Before I tell you what it is, I'll have to tell something about the Indian traffic. It is by far the worst I've ever seen. Learner drivers get three lessons. In the first lesson one learns how to hunk the horn, the second one learns how to push the gas handle as deep down as possible and the third one learns where the wheel is - read carefully 'where the wheel is' not 'what it is used for'; they never learn that. For the rest there are only two rules: 1) what is behind you is not important and 2) what is bigger than you goes first. Following these rules pedestrians have no rights. Baijnath lies on a hill, so the last kms are quite hard work. Almost at the top a truck is parked. Without looking back (respecting rule 1) I start taking over and by then I hear a desperate crying of a woman from the front side of a truck. Seconds later I have passed the truck and there's a man lying on the road. His mouth filled with blood, some dried up blood one the road. A couple of hundred meters further on the driver of the truck is being beaten up; in India it takes a long time for the police to come, so in cases that an ambulance will be too late - practically all cases - the people take justice in their own hands. Twice before in my life I attended a funeral, but never had I seen a body lying out in the open like this. For a while I'm in some sort of shock. My life continues like planned; I get up in the morning, I eat my breakfast, I cycle my designated distance, I get a room, I eat my diner and I fall a sleep. Nothing special. Except that I don't really notice doing it. Some months later I wonder how on earth it was possible for a pedestrian to get hit by a loaded Indian truck going uphill: Generally I take over on those trucks on my bicycle!!

While time nor distance seem to pass due to the shock I'm in suddenly I do find myself somewhere else. I feel like I've left McLeod's Ganj weeks ago, my diary says it's only four days. That day I find myself on my bicycle leaving a village heading for Shimla; my goal for today. Somewhere halfway I see a sign at a turnoff saying 'Manali' and in an instant I change my plan and head into the Kulu valley. This hidden valley became famous in the seventies due to the high quality of Marihuana. Nowadays quite a few retired hippies can be found here. Nothing makes me more sad than seeing people who came here in their youth and got stuck to the place, got stoned and did nothing else with their lives. Now - in February - there aren't any plants on the roadside - in summer months there are! - but still the valley is beautiful! Steep mountains, long thin waterfalls, a winding road along a white water river... In Manali there's even snow! In Manali it is full of Indians from down south, and it is fun witnessing them seeing their first snow in their lives! On my way back out of the valley I take a turn to the even narrower valley of Manikaran where I enjoy a private natural hot bath from the hot springs around there. And so, a couple of days later than originally planned I get to the former summer capital of India, Shimla. During the hot months in the plains, the British came up here to rule the country. Until the British left this town was strictly segregated; the main shopping mall was 'white only'. There are still some signs reminding of those days, and there are still tidy laws to keep this town India's tidiest. They do a good job, it actually doesn't look like a big rubbish dump!

After Shimla I leave the mountains. This route is fantastic! Gorgeous views down the foothill ranges, winding roads downhill, than on top of a range, and again alongside a cliff. Along this route locals have put up nice traffic warnings like: "Reach home in peace, not in pieces. "From time to time I see a narrow-gauge railway line and I take a brake when I witness the engine work it's way up. This ride is on my wish list to do at least once in my life! After a short steep uphill I fall down towards Nahan. Now I feel like I enter the climate of the plains; it feels like cycling into a warm swimming pool. After the sign "Nahan District" the road turns to shreds. I need to brake a lot. I remember my molten tires in Iran, so every five minutes I stop to cool my rims; which isn't a useless preventive action. The Plains. They seem one big zoo. Wild monkeys - I did see them in Shimla already - are now joined by the famous Holy Cows, the pigs, parrots, goats, donkeys, camels, dogs and cockroaches. The first town I take a brake is Rishikesh. This town sits on the riverside of the River Ganges, exactly there where it emerges from the mountains which makes it an extra holy spot to the Hindu's. In Rishikesh the Beatles (or according to the local tourist office 'The Beatless') met their spiritual leader. In the Ganges there's a last species I want to mention to the zoo: Huge Fish! Huge holy fish which are being fed. And between all these animals there's one more weird creature: The Human. This Human - read Indian - makes a mess, and the animal Kingdom cleans it up. For example a kid takes a dump on the road - of course exactly in front of the restaurant where I am having lunch - and a minute or two later a pig comes and cleans the lot off the pavement. Some day I had some popcorn when a cow came walking past. I threw some of it towards the cow, but she ignored it completely. About ten meters further on her path lay a newspaper which she ate. During all my time in India, I haven't seen one single cow eating grass or anything green that wasn't boiled to snot yet. About half a year after I left India I heard the story that they operated a sick cow; in it's stomach were 7000 plastic bags!! No surprise the cow behaved a little strange! Another common feat is to be in a traffic jam because a cow has fallen asleep on the middle of a busy junction.

The closer I get to Delhi the better the pavement, but also more busy. Biggest nuisance are the high amount of busses; a bus in India is big and fast so he always drives on the wrong side of the road. The danger on Indian roads comes from ahead, not from behind. Someone I met advised me a certain hotel in New Delhi, and although that city has grown to one with Old Delhi the standard of living is higher in the New part. It is more quiet, and better serviced. Entering Delhi wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I avoided the worst part of Old Delhi, so when I get to Ringo's Guest House I feel like: 'this was it?' A couple of days later I make my way - by Rickshaw - to Old Delhi and I realize that I wouldn't have managed to get through sane. Even on foot it is horrible; the air pollution makes it an open air Auswitz. That night I celebrate, together with some fellow backpackers my 10.000st kilometer! After Delhi I turn a direction I haven't turned to ever since I left Holland: I head west. Suddenly the sun is on my left hand, but other than that my left ear turns red instead of my right there's no difference. The roads are still awful. The landscape changes more and more to desert like. Somewhere halfway I almost get killed on the Holi Festival.

And here I once again interrupt the story for an excerpt from my diary. The Holi-day:

Jhunjhunu, March 2nd, 1999

Hi There!

Today it was the Holi festival, a national holiday in India. I'd seen the signs of it coming everywhere and beforehand it didn't look too ugly. It is called "The day of colours". What happens is that everyone gets out on the streets, starting a nation-wide Paint Ball fight without guns. Hands full of all kinds of coloured powder are thrown around at everybody. So, no problem I thought. I'll wash the powder off my body at night, and my black bags will finally be nice and coloured for a change. As it turned out, that was a wrong thought. The first mistake was that I thought they'd only be throwing powder; the second mistake I made was that I misjudged the effect of alcohol on Indian youngsters. Because honouring this celebration they drink. In the first villages things went alright. I got handful of powder over me, but I can keep laughing. Only in Chirawa, a town with some 15.000 citizens things start to get ugly; scary even. Groups of youngsters rummage around town and they don't only throw powder. Some have mixed it with local liquor and apart from the fact that it seems a lot like ink so it stings in my eyes, it also sticks to my sunglasses so I can't see anything anymore. A couple of guys push and pull my luggage, but I manage to stay straight up. An angry yell scared them off. The third group I encounter is bigger. The road is awful so I can't make any speed, I can't see where I'm going after two litres of 'liquor chalk'. Somebody pushes my luggage and I fall over. I get up, cursing and swinging my fists around. The only effect is that others start hitting me, and on guy thinks it necessary to wash my hair - with liquor.

This keeps me busy at least. I worry most about my bicycle; and about the people walking all over it. I thank God for the idea to put locks on the zip! I try to get my bike on her wheels without harm. Except for a little tear in my tent bag, that actually works out. Someone pulls my T-shirt roughly. My shirt gives up and wearing only my shorts I fall back down on the pavement. I expect a shower of liquor and feet on top of me, but that doesn't come. All I see is bare feet in sandals walking past - some backwards. I look up and I see my saviours: Three stern officers with sticks. They all have a look on their face like: 'Why did you have to go cycling TODAY??!!' I return back sorry. The officers install me with a couple of grownups who, coloured as they are, protect from other mishaps. They are very kind indeed. They care for water to wash myself, even for lunch at some point, feed me as much tea as I can take and they're proud to be in one picture with me. Thus washed and revived I watch what is going on, on the road. I see more and more dangerously drunk (one even falls over upside down in an open sewer!) and the amount of 'powder warriors' decreases. Shortly after noon the first freshly washed people appear on the road and they remain unattacked! Although there are still quite a few coloured guys. I put new sunblock on my injured neck and face and at about quarter to two I am given the 'safe' sign. Although it's terribly hot, I decide to cycle at least another 30 km's. The discipline is unbelievable. Not mine, that of the Indians. There's hardly anyone on te road who still wants to through some powder and a warning pointerfinger from my side makes even the last doubters stop.

And so I get to a formerly Rajput house where I rent a room for two hundred rupees a night. A room with a King-sized bed and a bathroom with a good shower. It takes three quarters of a large bottle of shampoo to clean hair - and it is internationally well known shampoo! After the shower I go downstairs and have diner with an Australian guy who waited here for the Holi festival. Last year he had even worse experiences than me now. He made a sensible decision.

I'm relieved that I'm still alive this night, very much so. But the first seeds have been planted for the 'Indian fobia' that has become part of me. Yes, it's a fear for a group of Indians who can't control themselves. It is a built in reaction at the sight of an Indian - a subcontinental Indian, don't get me wrong; it is something allergic to the over attention I get in this country, the lack of personal boundaries and the lack of respect for ownership. They don't steal intentionally; it's just that they seem to think that what's mine, they can try too! Especially in Rajasthan, but also in Maddhya Pradesh my Indian phobia will grow quickly... I'm not proud of it, but I can't help it either.

The next day, while I ride on one of the narrowest roads for all sorts of traffic in the world I take over on two cyclists: an Australian female and a French male. They cycle on Indian bicycles through Rajastan. I hurt myself by cycling 140km through the ever waving desert landscape. Especially the heat lashes out every time I push the pedals round. Because this bit is not anymore on the quietest back roads the others decide to take a bus. We appoint in Bikaner in the Green Villa Guest House. We really enjoy staying with this family because they treat the guest as part of it. It's like home staying without the booking office in between. The women cook delicious traditional Indian meals, less spicy than in the restaurants because they have little children. These Sikhs - the same religion as around the Golden Temple in Amritsar - really do their best to make us leave with good memories from India. After Lionel's - the French - initiative we buy some paint in the city center and we paint our bicycles. Soon it shows that I'm more of a thinker than an artist. The last night, as a thanks to the Green Villa people the three of us make a Western dinner - something Australian, something French and something Dutch - for as far as it is available on the local markets... This is received enthusiastically by the family but after they taste it they don't really love the western taste... They are polite enough to say 'delicious, but...' No surprise if you're used to Indian food.

Hyderabad, April 4th 1999

Hi There!

Leaving Bikaner wasn't the nicest thing I have done this trip. It was so 'conviviable' - not only with Donella and Lionel but also with the owners of the Green Villa! But some time every good thing has to come to an end. And so I ride again through the hot and dusty desert. After thirty kilometers I get to the 'world-famous' Rat Temple. In this temple are holy rats being kept alive; Hindu belief is that those rats are future incarnations of Saddhu's - Holy Hindu men who have left every material thing in their lives behind. The temple is a bit disappointing. I expected loads of huge rats, but instead there are some tame big mice. After a short break my trip continues south. Due to the heat I try to cycle in the mornings only; this results in the fact that my left ear gets sun burnt, and my right doesn't. But cycling mornings only doesn't really work out in this wilderness. The road is in awful condition, and there are days that I don't make it to an average speed of 15 km/h (9 mi/h). That annoys me a little. And of course the Indians beside the road. To their curiosity I'm used by now. I don't mind them looking. But the habit of grabbing my steer - and breaks - to make me stop while I pass makes me actually angry. But it is hard to convey this message to an Indian who hardly speaks any English. He starts laughing when you appear to be upset, and beating up... I don't stand a chance against 900 million country fellows who will come to help him! And when they don't have to fight they all want to hear from me individually what is my name, where am I from, how much my bike costs, whether or not I'm married and - although I reply to the negative to the last question - how many children I have! And they don't only ask those questions when I'm standing still. Sometimes truck drivers maneuver their vehicles beside my - rolling - bicycle and shout those questions over the noise of the truck!

When I take a break some 500 meters outside a village, and one person from that village spots me, every soul comes running towards me, in order to ask me the Five Famous Questions. Once I continue my trip, all proud possessors of a motorcycle start their engines in order to follow me. One comes riding beside me and asks: "Hello sir. What is this?" Pointing at my bicycle. I answer: "A helicopter!" "Nohoho sir. It's a bicycle!" To which I'm tempted to ask: 'If you know the answer already why ask it?' but that is a question which is wasted on Indian ears. Also Indians are noise addicted. It seems no Indian - man - can sleep in a quiet environment. Most hotels are built in a way that traffic noise can access all rooms easily. The few hotels that don't have a busy road next door have a color TV in each room. When I can't sleep until three AM and I finally work up the guts to go to the room where the noise comes from, I find 5 Indian men on one double bed in front of that TV, fast asleep! After a couple of days on the bad roads of Rajasthan I come to Pushkar. I'm through with it; I'm fed up with India... Already I long for crossing the next border; doesn't matter into which country. I can't imagine a people that annoy me more than the Indians. Pushkar has a slightly different environment, and gives me some space to breathe again. Pushkar, a city built along a holy lake is crowded with backpackers and has therefore a slightly different atmosphere. Indians are more used to westerners, and the westerners themselves are pleasant company. I enjoy the pleasant life, eating drinking, learning to juggle, but above all relaxing. In Pushkar there's a huge bull - of course holi - walking around town, for more info see the picture! The will to travel returns to me in Pushkar, but soon after that I dream of the next border!

But I still have some time in India ahead of me. In both Bombay - or Mumbay... new name sir! - and Hyderabad there's mail waiting for me in the GPO. And I really want to pick that up. By train? No... I still feel like I have spent already too much time in busses and trains. So after the four days in Pushkar I hit the road for a non stop - that is no rest day - trip to Jalgaon, 700 kms away. I planned to take a break in Indore, but the day I got there there was some sort of festival. And just like on Holi, things went wrong once again! People at first become enthusiast. Because of lack of powder, they through some shoes at my head and shout "Chello Pakistan!" (which basically means: You belong in our hated neighbor country). I know what to do. Not far from me, I see a truck full of riot police moving its way through the crowd. with some effort I position myself behind them. At first the police are excited about my appearance, but as soon as they notice the intention of the crowd around me, two men jump out and guard me from any harm. That's the good part of India: The police still have the British way of dealing with trouble: "First beat the Indians till they grow quiet, then find out what was happening. After this, the Indians have ruined my positive feelings for the people of this country. I hope I'm forgiven, I hope you can understand. They can't do much good to me anymore. In Jalgaon - a town some 100 kms down the road from Indore - I make a compromise with myself. I get on a train for a five our stay in Bombay. Eight hours one way. Picking up my letters at the GPO, looking out over the sea getting back to the railway station where I bribe someone to get me a ticket back to Jalgaon without getting in line. Back in Jalgaon I get back on my bicycle to ride via the gorgeous Ajanta Caves (ancient artificial caves made by Buddhists some thousand years ago, until lately forgotten in the forest) to Aurangabad where I treat myself to a nice hotel. It's my birthday, so after all this 'suffering' I believe I deserve it. An hotel with aircon, a swimming pool and a guest with a credit card. For three nights, two days I just order all I want and sign the bill without looking. Every day they give me new sheets! In a normal Indian hotel I noticed they only put new sheets on the beds every other costumer. After two fantastic relaxed days I have trouble with the heat. After 10 AM and before 5 PM the temperature is only 35 degrees Celsius or more. In the cheap hotels - under a flat roof - at night it doesn't cool down much either. But in Maharastra, the rich state I'm in now, the roads are quite good so during the day I can catch up with my sleep. In India a recumbent bicycle is called a Sutna Cycle (sleeping bicycle) for a reason! The next thing I know is I get to Andrah Pradesh. A poor state with horrible roads. I race over them, passed by every snail in the forest. This way I have plenty of time to look at the different villages running on a agricultural economy. These villages look like they must have done when the British left. Every now and again there's the rice harvest drying on the black asphalt. This dries the stuff, and at the same time the cars are used to thresh. It seems clever but in such a poor state there's hardly any traffic. It looks like it's slowly getting more though. I think the state government has created a good tax climate to give the economy a boost. And it seems to work. Here and there I spot an overly decadent building owned by one or the other filthy rich. When I get to Hyderabad, I suffer from a culture shock. Wide, tidy boulevards, flashy advertisements for computers and mobiles, expensive marble shopping centers, color TVs in every hotel room - even the ones I can afford! - and the best internet connection I have found in India. In short, a modern island in a poor state with a landscape like they've had since the dawn of time!

Calcutta, April 25th 1999

Hi There!

Also leaving Hyderabad was quite an unpleasant adventure. It is Friday but early morning, so not yet too busy. Already I am followed by Rickshaw-drivers, who want to know how much my bicycle costs. Before 7 am, I got on my bike at 6, I already have a headache from the jolly honking of the truck drivers! I'm cycling now on the National Highway number nine which is more busy than busier. Busiest? No, worse! The only advantage of such an important numbered road is that the quality is acceptable. And when I ride an impolite distance away from the roadside - towards the middle - I don't end up onto the shoulder. The few cases that I have to go off the pavement it is because of a bus which is coming straight at me, ignoring me and the other traffic in my direction completely. India hasn't put up a better face in a long while, so it's time for me to leave the country. In short: The race has started. The first day I ride into the heat. Quarter to two it is 40 degrees Celsius and my speedometer says I've ridden 130 kms; I'm allowed to stop. I buy three new liters of water and one soft drink (Limca) and suddenly I almost collapse. I can't see properly, I sweat like a pig and my sweat tastes like river water but my brain stays bright. I work my way up the stairs to my hotel room and I fall asleep under a fast blowing fan. But I can't sleep. My brain keeps running the same thoughts over and over again: 'what can be wrong?' It's obvious that I have a fever. But why is there unlike previous fever attacks no blanket over my thoughts? Why does only my body feel it and not my head?

After two hours I manage to go back downstairs to get another three liters water. Suddenly all my muscles ache terribly. Fearing Malaria I take a double dose Lariam - I haven't taken any precautionary medicines so far. The next day I arrive to Vijayawada in much better shape and a little better spirits. In this town the NH 9 joins the NH5. This Highway follows the east coast and is supposed to lead me to Calcutta, which is another 1300 kms. During my dinner of salt biscuits and banana's - and another precautionary double dose Lariam - I notice that my faithful rear tire is starting to give in. After some 40000 kms of Indian roads it hasn't gone flat once! The part that touches the road however is getting very thin; the Kevlar used by Vredesein to make my tire puncture proof (not bulletproof of course!) is starting to show through the black. I don't have a spare tire and it's obvious that I won't make it to Calcutta on this one. I insist on going to the ocean (and swim) before I head back into the continent so I head for Bheemunipatnam. I don't expect this town to be known in Holland - or in many other places - but in this town there are remains of the oldest Dutch colonial buildings in India. On Hollanders Green - a graveyard near town - there's a tomb dated in 1709. But I'm running ahead of my story. From Vijayawada it's another 500 km's to go. I'm afraid my tire won't even last that long, so on the week spots I stick tube patches. I feel ridiculous doing it, but it works! Giving up, not cycling all the way to Calcutta, cuts the pressure. I slow down partly because of the still building heat, partly because my next goal is suddenly closer than I thought. Finally I allow myself to really feel how tired I am. It's quite hard work; cycling in an open air oven. The best time to cycle is between 5 and 10 am, but even while packing my bike at 5.30 am my sweat drips from my beard! Until about 11 pm the (air) humidity is so incredibly high that if you're relaxing under a tree breathing is still difficult. And the closer I get to the coast, the worse it gets.

And then, finally, on April 14th 1999, around 12.30 I hear the breaking of waves on a beach! Not long after that I see the waves, and again not long after that I'm in the waves. There's quite a current parallel to the coast, which makes swimming quite difficult, but it's great to have two and a half meter waves break over you. The two available guest houses in this village had two rooms each and both appear to be full, due to which I once again eat a dinner of salt biscuits and banana's, this time at the beach. For about a month - when the dahl-bat was too much for me - I live on biscuits and fruit; by now, this is quite boring too. This variety isn't quite healthy either. The next day I meet Lenart, a Swede on a bicycle on the Bheemunipatnam beach. He rents one of the two rooms in one of the guesthouses and invites me to share it with him; an invitation I gladly accept. Watched by the same 50 Indians who have been watching me ever since 4 am I pack my stuff and my tent and carry it to the room. This was at about 1 pm. Shortly after that I hop on a bus to Visakhapatnam - the neighbor city - and buy a train ticket to Calcutta. Back in Bheemunipatnam I am so fed up with the biscuits and Bananas that I decide to buy oil, potatoes and eggs. I tell Lenart to buy fruit and with that I prepare a heavenly dinner of fries (re-heated chips as you Britts call it) and scrambled egg. Fruit for desert and I feel like God in France. Only next morning I'm back in India. The 18th of April Lenart and I decide to leave for Visakhapatnam as my train leaves early the next morning. That day is one of the laziest days of my trip that I actually traveled! The total distance that day is under 30 kms and it takes us from about 1 pm till 5.30 pm! First taking some pictures, then cycling a bit, then swimming in one of the many nice spots, then relaxing and drying out before continuing the ride. The next morning, about two hours before the scheduled departure of the train I book my bike onto the train as luggage. As when I booked my own ticket I'm still on waitinglist for the second class aircon compartment. So they put me in a non-aircon sleeper wagon. Between the so called lower class Indians. It doesn't take long before someone starts talking to me. "Where are you from sir?" With a tired sigh I answer "Holland," which I've done already some 10 times this morning. To my surprise his response to that is: "Oh really? And where in Holland? Amsterdam, Utrecht, Breda, Assen?" I had never expected someone with such extensive knowledge in the cattle class of Indian trains!

At around six am next morning I arrive in Calcutta. To get my bicycle I have to give away my ticket. But because I didn't travel the class I paid for I need that to get my money back! So I leave my bike with the luggage man and walk to the counters. There it turns out that I should have had a signature from the conductor. So they send me upstairs to the manager. With him I have to talk my tongue numb to convince him to give me my money! He starts with saying: "You should have asked the conductor for a signature." So I ask: "And where is the conductor now?" He says: "He's gone home." So I ask: "So how can I get that signature?" He says: "You can't anymore." So I ask: "Where could I have read that I needed a signature from the conductor? Not on the ticket!" He says: "No, not on the ticket. But you should have asked for a signature from the conductor! That is the rule." So I ask: "How can I ask for something that I don't know I should ask for?" He says: "The rules are that you need a signature from the conductor." And so on and so on, both of us repeating what we just said. But I've grown very very patient in this country. After two hours and 45 minutes of this useless discussion I get my money back! Later I find out that I'm lucky, some people have given up after four hours of talking! But of course now the manager keeps my ticket. So without a ticket I return to the luggage man who is waiting for me with my bicycle. In order to get my bicycle back he demands my ticket. "But I've given my ticket to the manager in order to get my money back." Then he says: "But it's the rule that you give me your ticket in exchange for your luggage." So I say: "But how can I have two tickets?" So he says: "The rule is that you give me your ticket to get your luggage." So I say... Well, you can guess where this is going. After another 45 minutes I'm on my bicycle heading for Calcutta down town. First I go to the GPO. There it takes me about an hour to rush from counter to counter to get all my poste-restante mail - among other things my new tires. And then I ride past the Shilton and Hilson hotels to a red light district of Calcutta; there I find a room in Hotel Paragon. Either it is because of the color lights in the area or because it's the place with the cheapest hotels, this area is crowded with backpackers and other travelers. It's very 'conviviable'. There is no big yellow M, but there are lots of cheap restaurants which produce very edible western style food. So finally I can make an end to my diet of biscuits and bananas. The misery of the past month and a bit seems over. I feel comfortable, I don't feel rejected nor threatened... It's finally really time to relax.

Pokhara, May 31st 1999

Hi There!

And then it was time to leave Calcutta. At least, my reason thought so; I didn't really feel like going. Calcutta is the first place since Pushkar that I really feel comfortable. Still I leave. The first day I almost fall off my bike at about 10 am, after 50 km's. I'm exhausted, I have some problems focusing and I notice that the liters of sweat which I produce taste more like the River Thames than the sea. Roughly thirty minutes after diner I have to go to a toilet and seeing the color of my excrements I can see I drank Fanta; there wasn't any Limca. Even though I have a bad diarrhea I head off next morning at six am. Cycling is harder than ever. And at some point a couple of very friendly Indians send me in the wrong direction. I only find out another 30 kms later; only when I'm back at the airport of Calcutta. Sebastian and Albert - two guys I've hung around with a lot in Calcutta - start laughing heartily when I re-check into Hotel Paragon. Laughing I tell them: "Yeah, I couldn't live without you guys!" Also Stefan has a bad diarrhea so we decide to find a doctor together. The doctor talks with me for ten minutes about cycling around the world and 5 minutes about toilets. He has some experience with foreigners however and the medicines work very well. Combined with the diet he prescribes me I feel the need to go to the toilet after some 48 hours. And after I've left that little room they have to place a new toilet: my ass has produced bullets which has shot holes in it!

So, you think I hit the road again immediately? Wrong. First, the doctor ordered me to take it easy for a little while - to regain some weight (I'm just over 50 kgs, I used to be 70!) - second I give in to my desire to conviviability. Everyday new people arrive, and together with me an some other long term stay-ers we have a good time. I do next to nothing; hanging around, eating and sleeping. I see nothing of the sights of Calcutta. Once I walk around the Victoria Memorial and that's it. And suddenly, May 11th, it happens. My soul starts traveling. For the unenlightened, something that hadn't happened in three weeks has suddenly happened: When I think of cycling the adrenaline level in my blood rises considerably. The only explanation I can give for the fact that this happens now and not three weeks ago is: "My soul starts traveling." So I take the opportunity to say goodbye to everybody I've met - worth mentioning are a Dutch couple named Nick and Yvonne - and I mount my bicycle next morning. The first rain of this years monsoon has fallen so the temperature has dropped considerably. It's only 35°C. The third night I head north along the NH-34 it rains. Some time that night I wake up freezing. Unconsciously I my body has gotten used to a lot of heat; used to sleeping loosing as much body heat as possible: lying in bed in a way that as little skin as possible touches another bit of skin in order to make it possible for a lot of sweat to evaporate. The monsoon is coming quickly, so that isn't necessary anymore. In order to make my body used to keeping the warmth inside at night I sleep in a sheet bag.

Cycling along the NH-34 is not pleasant. It is the only road between Calcutta and North East India so it is extremely busy. Added to that the road is at times of horrible quality. On one of the rare good parts I make a speed of about 30 kph. A truck takes over. I look to the side to see whether or not he gets too close. When I look straight ahead again I suddenly see a feet deep pothole in front of me. To late to break, impossible to avoid due to the truck - going off the road means a drop of 3 feet onto the shoulder. I hit the breaks, hit the hole, my steer doubles up and I slide across the tarmac. Fortunately I ride a recumbent; I'm not injured; only my bags are slightly scratched. Together with precious damage it's time for a new pair of bags. It's not water proof anymore... In five days I climb from sea level to about 140 meters above. Here and there the landscape appears Dutch; only the temperature and the honking of the TATA trucks reminds me that I'm in India. TATA is the Skoda factory of India; also TATA has been bought by Volkswagen. And suddenly a wall rises up in front of me. Heavily overgrown, and the first wall is about 1800 meters high. I know there're some more higher walls behind them. As the crow flies some 500 kms away from here there is one topping 8848 meters high; one which a long row of people walk up. Almost daily the Kathmandu Post reports another group reaching the top. It is far from front page news!

And then I ride, or better I walk, after exactly three months back into the Himalayas. Super gorgeous steep mountains. I walk into the clouds and once I get there the road is less steep, so I ride just before Darjeeling above the clouds. After a short descend I'm back in Darjeeling; some 1800 meters high. Sometimes a cloud travels through this mountain town which makes it somewhat like a fairy town. They say they grow here the best Earl Gray tea in the world. The best quality has a beautiful name: First Flush Super Dine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe No 1. I must admit, if you like Earl Grey it tastes fantastic! In order to get tea out and luxury goods into the mountains the British built a narrow gauge railway; in India they call it the Toy Train. And because I used to be a train freak, I really have to take a ride. I love it! This tiny steam engine pulls the train steep up the mountains to about 2000 meters altitude! Here in Darjeeling it's a lot cooler than the (not so) Great Plains where I just come from. Initially it appears pleasant, but in the evenings I'm really happy with a hot shower and thick blankets. I start regaining the weight I lost with the diarrhea in (and before) Calcutta. One night I join three Canadians for diner. We all eat similarly priced meals but I alone eat more than them together!

Two days later I race back down the mountains; 65 km's downhill, not using my legs, just my breaks - and that only as little as possible. I plunge myself back into the boiling pool of the not so Great Indian Plains. I love a downhill like that! Along the way I take over on the Toy Train which carefully winds its way down the slope. Down in the plains I make a right turn, towards the Nepalese border. I've longed for this for a long time and finally it is here: the end of the Indian hall. The feeling I got in Europe of cycling through halls and passing at borders through irreversible doors has slightly changed: in India I cycled in a huge room, where there is a party going on that I don't understand. I lost my way and now I found my route again. I'm heading for a glass door with a tiny Nepalese flag on it; will Nepal be better than India?