Delhi to Agra
They say great odysseys begin with great planning.
So, with these lofty ideals in mind, we carefully plotted the first stage of our motorcycle journey through India. Delhi to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
An early dawn exit to beat the horrendous traffic was at the top of the list. With darkness still cloaking the district of Pahar Ganj -the backpacking haven of New Delhi- we packed our 500cc Royal Enfield motorcycle to the hilt with all our crap. As dawn broke through the haze over the city, we were ready to rock and roll.
It was a great feeling.
As I mounted the bike to move it off its stand with a theatrical flourish, my right foot landed and smeared in a huge pile of cow dung. Our triumph disintegrated immediately and continued on its downward spiral for the next two hours as I huffed and puffed, attempting to kick start our machine.
In the midst of my sweating and swearing, we had several spectators. A sadhu (holy man) stationed himself in front of the bike for about a half hour muttering blessings. At times his face was so contorted it seemed his sheer will power would start the thing…Not so. Three young boys also offered their expertise, pointing out where the throttle and gas cap were. As cute as they were, their enlightening advice also failed to help our cause.
Meanwhile, skinny bicycle rickshaw drivers complained loudly. I was blocking the narrow alley which was their lifeline to busier streets and thus their livelihood. By now, of course, we were horribly aware that the slumbering giant of Delhi had awoken. The streets would be a mess of activity.
Finally two men on a Vespa pulled up. The driver watched me critically for a moment then dismounted and approached. Try as he could to hide his attitude, the pity on his face said it all. With a gentle, graceful gesture he offered to give the engine’s crank pedal a shot. With three delicate pumps, the bike roared to life. I glumly swallowed my pride. I searched for some consolation internally. At least by now the crap on my shoe was dry. But the reality of a bike that actually worked set in…adrenalin began to race through my veins again. It was going to take us out of there, onwards, onto the endless possibilities that India had to offer…
Well, not so fast.
Indian roads are in a realm of their own.
The romantic notion of asphalt is a fantasy. The idea that roads might be marked or have lanes is a dream. Besides black smoke-belching trucks, battered buses and cars blaring their sanity-shattering horns, there are countless other entities to deal with; motorcycles, scooters, bicycle rickshaws, motorized rickshaws ( three-wheeled-propelled metal bugs ) , horse / oxen drawn carts, wandering camels, cows, goats, monkeys, elephants, dogs, cats, humans, and anything else you care to imagine that defies description. Remember, India is the most populated country in the world and at 9am that morning I swear everything and everyone in the great continent conspired to be on the very same road we were attempting to escape on.
Anyway, somehow, some way, hours later we had managed to slide through the madness. Delhi was a dusty smudge on our rearview mirror and we exalted in the freedom.
By early evening we had passed through arid, rural landscapes and gazed at weathered faces that looked so ancient the thought occurred to me that time must have stopped long ago. Miles before Agra, our dirty motorcycle rolled into Mathura, a small town said to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna, one of India’s most revered figures in the Hindu Pantheon of religious beings.
We spent the remainder of the evening mingling amongst thousands of devoted pilgrims paying homage at Krishna’s sacred temple. We were the only foreigners. Lill’s blonde hair played out like a beacon of light amidst the sea of black haired nationals. As the day drew to a close, the intensity of those early dawn hours was forgotten. We found a moment to ourselves, away from the throngs of chanting souls. We sat down on the terrace of an old temple and basked in the delicious rays of a gorgeous sunset.
I closed my eyes.
We were in India!
It was tough going at times, for sure. But that’s the stuff that travel is made of.
I opened my eyes and looked down at my dirty shoes, my grimy pants, my grubby hands. I looked at Lill. She was a mirror of me. I closed my eyes again and let my thoughts drift away to some place that didn’t fuss over the next day, didn’t worry about trivialities like motorcycle blues or logistics of road maps or where the road would even lead us…
Suddenly the sound of a woman singing swam magically through my senses. I breathed in. The aroma of incense seduced me.