Bicycle trip from Delhi to Kathmandu – Day 2
Got some kids to get the bottles from a nearby village. Gave them a ORS packet as a return gift. Tweeted @ 12:58 PM
When I woke up, there was no electricity and I had to stumble around while getting dressed. I started at around 6:30 am with a sky which was yin yang with clouds. It seemed it was unable to make up its mind whether to grill me or not. After a while it did decide and the clouds were gone. Even for the morning hours, it soon got very hot. So when I noticed a tubewell running ratta-tat, pumping a thick snake of water, I could not resist. Jumped out of my clothes, to my cycling tights, and into the tank. It already had 3 naked kids, bathing, who graciously made some space for me. They even offered their lifebuoy soap for my use.
One thing which makes bathing under such a high horse power pump delicious, is the force with which the water comes out of the pipe. If you have pain in any part of the body, keep that part, just where the water falls. The pummeling it will get is better than any massage you can get. Compare it to the power shower machines seen in glossy magazines. The ones which have advertisements of nude girls, showering under multiple jets of water. Off course all the jets are targeted at strategic spots on the girl, as they also have to be printed in family magazines. These water pumps will make the power shower machines eat the dust any day. Off course since this takes up huge amounts of water, it will be impractical at homes. My suggestion is whenever you get a chance, do try bathing under a heavy duty pump. It is one of the things you should definitely do before you die.
A bath like that re-invigorates the body. The effect of which lasts for an hour or so. And if the road is as boring as the road to Moradabad, then it only takes about 20 minutes to be hot and sweaty again. On both sides of the road were small businesses catering to truck repairs, weldings and other heavy duty stuff. And like a non rotten cherry on the runny cake, there was not a single tree in sight. It was also dusty, and as Moradabad neared, there was heavy traffic to boot. Traffic consisting of small lorries, tangewalas, tempos with people standing out the doors, and pedestrians. When I was about to say “I’ve had enough”, I saw a road branching out. This was the bypass road to Hapur. After the chaos of last half an hour I did not dare to get into Moradabad, and so chose the bypass road.
This road looked great. It was newly built, as there was a newness shining on everything. The tar looked dark black without the accumulated dust of days which change its color towards lighter gray. Gradually the road ascended like a flyover to a height of 50 feet and then stayed at that height. Both sides of the road sloped down towards the farms below and were paved with rocks. To ensure that no speeding vehicles go astray and tumble into the semi-abyss on both sides, there were rails along both borders of the road. Needless to say there were no big trees for shade. Although treelings were planted on both the slopes and hopefully if I cycle on this road 10 years from now I would get some shade.
There were no cycles, and almost no two wheelers. And because the road went in the flyover mode for as far as I could see with no intersections, the cars and trucks whooshed past. The sun was at its best. I took a break under an excuse of a tree. Mixed myself a drink of tang. And realized that my water stock was about to get exhausted. I had two of two liter bottles and a 750 ml bottle. On the first day the 4.5 liters had been enough for almost the whole day’s ride. But today I had drunk 2.5 liters in about 4 hours. Maybe because, there were clouds the day before. Till now all along the way I could find dhabas or shops with water almost every few kilometers. But this seemed like a new terrain. A sort of desert stretch on the highway. I still had around a litre of water, of course I could cycle 15 kms on a liter, I thought. After stretching my legs and making myself as cool as I could, I started again.
Then I met these 3 men who were standing on one side of the road, holding a green embroidered Islami chuddar with religious embroidery, asking for alms. Normally I never give alms, but this time I gave them a rupee. They had seen my water bottles and asked if they could have a swig. Now with that heat and at that place it would have been inhuman to refuse. Still I knew that I had precious little water for the rest of the stretch and if I gave any I would be in trouble. Seeing my hesitation they said, “Bus vo aage hi hai sarkari nal vahan se bhar leejiyega.” I tried to look at the place they were pointing out, but couldn’t see anything. Trusting them I gave them the bottle. One of them took it and proceeded to wash his face, including behind his ears with a handful. Then he took a big swig. The other two did not indulge in any washing, only had a swig each. Maybe due to the stare I had given to the first guy, showing my disapproval. Then they gave the almost empty water bottle to me. They again reaffirmed that there was indeed a handpump just a 100 meters or so ahead.
Brushing aside fears of dehydration, I ventured forward. Around 300 meters ahead and still with no signs of water, I stopped. I saw two kids flying a kite. It was almost surreal. It was so hot that the tar on the road had started to melt. These guys were as comfortable there, as a princess in a garden during spring. I only had to call them once and those two ran towards me tying their kite to the rails, to unravel the mystery I was to them. After the initial burst of questions as to my bike, the gears it had, and where I was headed, I told them my problem and asked if there was water nearby. They pointed to a hand pump some 300 meters perpendicular to the road. There was no way I could take my cycle with my luggage over the rails, down the slope to the pump. On the other hand no way I could leave it back here on the mercy of these kids. More than the chances of any theft, if they started playing with the gears something could go wrong and I would get stuck in the middle of nowhere. I hopefully asked them if one of them could get the bottles filled. One of them silently came forward, took the bottles and climbed down. He walked slowly towards the pump. He tried pumping it for some time, but apparently no water came out. I was disappointed when he stopped trying, but instead of coming back he kept walking still farther down the road. The guy with me explained that the handpump might have gone dry and so the boy was going to the nearest house to get me the water. I was thanking them in my heart and wishing them all the happiness in the world. Now I understand why it is said that quenching a thirsty mans throat was one of the most pious things one can do. While we waited for what seemed like ages, I saw the boy coming out of a gate with both bottles full. He walked his lazy walk, and what seemed like another age, passed. While I was fixing the bottles to the bike, they saw the ORS packets which I had kept on the top. I usually had 4 of these each day to replenish the essential salts I had lost. It had pictures of oranges on its packet. I knew that it tasted almost the same as normal ORS. Infact it did not taste anything like oranges. Maybe it was to entice kids to drink it. They asked me if it was like rasna. I saw the anticipation in there eyes, said ‘yes somewhat’ and gave the boy a packet. On which he asked if his buddy could have one too. I gave him one too. Surely they would try it and be a little disappointed, but that would be later. Right now both of them beamed from ear to ear.
After tying the bottles to my luggage carrier and saying tata to my friends I took off again. Around half an hour later at 1.40 pm I came across a dhaba. Not just any dhaba – a trucker’s dhaba. Parked my bicycle in the shade of a tree and stretched on a cot. After giving an order for lunch, I went to the handpump at the back and had a bath. The water was cold and I was refreshed. When I returned to my cot, the food was already there. I gobbled everything up, the speed of my eating reduced as my stomach filled. When I was reaching the end of my meal and had contentment written on my face, the owner started talking. He must have restrained his curiosity till now seeing the harried me. After hearing my basic plans, he was rather nonplussed. He jokingly asked me how much mileage did my bike give me. I was in a happy mood too, and replied pointing at the food, “this is the petrol”.
After eating I stretched my body in what is called in hindi as a “dulhan ki angdaai”. For the uninitiated it means the yawning and stretching of a newly wed bride during the daytime, because she does not get any sleep, during the night. I stretched my legs and closed my eyes. But after 10 minutes I realized I was not sleepy, just tired, and diverted my attention to what was playing on the TV. It was an old hindi movie with a smuggler and police after him. More than this movie, there was this child waiter who was grabbing everyone’s attention. He was such a smartass, pulling everybody’s legs, especially the senior waiters’ and the cooks. The kid and the cook were really like tom and jerry. Once the kid made him so mad that he came running to beat him up, ladle in hand. Like jerry, the kid slipped away, giggling. And his style was so amusing that you couldn’t help laughing if you were not the butt of his joke. And if you were, then you could either laugh or be laughed at. The owner had a soft corner for the kid which the kid knew and his immunity strengthened his confidence. After seeing the kid with one eye and the old movie with the other, I slipped into a semi sleep for about an hour.
After washing my face at the handpump, I started again. It was then that I noticed that the water those kids had filled for me looked like orange juice. I remembered that the water was clean when the kids gave it to me. Now it looked yellow, which indeed seemed very mysterious. I emptied both the bottles and filled them with the hand pump water again. Why hand pump water again? Why didn’t I buy mineral water, you ask? I could pretend to be eco friendly and not want to add to the trash already there in the world. But eco friendliness is not the only reason, main reason being that I really don’t see the need for it. I have had water from the dirtiest of places and came out unscathed. Thanks to my mom who breast fed me for almost two full years, I can say without any modesty that I have a strong immune system. On the other hand I think drinking bottled water regularly actually weakens your immune system. This would seem like an unsubstantiated statement, but let me propose a scientific experiment that any doubting Thomases can perform themselves, to prove this. You need an NRI for this experiment. Conditions are that you should have known the NRI before he left the country. Also that NRI should be a fan of street food before he left India. When he or she returns, observe what happens during the first few days. If it is the first time he is coming home, he would go on a non stop spree of hogging street food. And it will not take more than 2 to 3 days for his stomach to get terribly upset. Why is it so? Why does the same ‘dirty’ food he had eaten a few years ago, did not affect him then, but it shakes the hell out of him now. Replace the NRI with a western tourist. Browse any tourist forum on the internet and you will find this in every list of tips, “never drink any water other than bottled water in India”. Delhi belly is so famous among travelers that there is a movie under production under the banner of Aamir Khan. So the hundred rupees question is, why don’t locals suffer as much? Because their guts have been trained by drinking slightly polluted water, that’s why. On the other hand it is like walking a tightrope between drinking water which might be dangerous and the one which is. Till now I have just had one bout of jaundice, during my stay in Mumbai, and during a period when a few of us raided the local very tasty but also very dirty, muslim dhabas in Andheri and Bandra.
I have only told you the benefits of drinking, ‘potable’ water out of taps and hand pumps. What are the downsides of drinking bottled water? For one, your immunity goes down because it is not constantly challenged by bugs. Secondly even bottled water at many places is just tap water filled in bottles. Scientists have also found in bottled water contaminants like estrogen, the main female sex hormone, which feminizes boys. Apart from hormones other more dangerous contaminants, like heavy metals, have also been found. Even if you find a brand which is truly safe, it is nearly impossible to ensure that you always have that bottled water. When you go to a regular restaurant and have salad, what do you think the vegetables or fruits are washed in? Regular tap water off course. So the chances of contracting a disease, increases. You realize the practical difficulties, don’t you?
Back to the road, after our trip through the valley of bottled water. I changed roads from NH-24 to NH-87. This road was much better, as it had trees on both sides.
Reached Rudrapur at around 7 pm. I was thinking of taking a cheap guesthouse somewhere, to keep the trip expense to a minimum. But this was just the second day and my body was just getting used to this kind of hardship. One part of me wanted luxury. Luxury won in the end and I took a room at Sona hotel. When I say luxury, think of luxury as a subjective word changing from individual to individual, and situation to situation. But it is a fact that this room cost about as much as I spent during the whole trip on lodging. After a beer and a mutton biryani, I found just enough energy to call my friends and crawl into the blanket.