Backpackers’ diaries: the ride towards Delhi and a cow-bike calamity

The backpacking adventure in India gets more comfortable with a new bike seat … and then less comfy courtesy of a cow’s kick

I have been in India nearly six months. The rupee has lost 20% of its value. On my first visit to Orchha in 2009, the manager at the Bundelkhand Riverside hotel apologised for the road from Gwalior to Jhansi: a year at most and the road would be transformed into a four-lane highway with central division; the work was under way. I had noticed the work, the machinery, heavy trucks, diversions, part-completed flyovers.

Now, three and a half years later, the money has disappeared, part-completed flyovers sprout thick grass and the road no longer exists – not as a road. It has disintegrated. Trucks weave at a snail’s pace as drivers search for the least hazardous route round and over moguls before dipping into craters that can almost swallow small cars. Broken trucks wait for repairs, suspension, axles or chassis shattered. The only sign of work is a single inadequate grader pushing the surface dirt down a village main street. A dozen or more white trucks are parked idle in a field. The thought strikes that this highway is a perfect symbol of present-day India.

As for me, my butt has been blessed by a new bespoke seat. Where was the knife that twists after two or three hours on any bike? Should I ride further, seek for a time/pain threshold? So on I rode towards Delhi, 400km in all. I was happy as I rode through a small town in search of a hotel, contented, pleased with myself – until a cow kicked me off the bike; not even a cow, a heifer, dark brown, probably with soulful eyes. It was blocking a tractor; the driver pushed it in the nose. I was at the aggressive end. Kindly passersby lifted the bike to its wheels and helped me to my feet. The heifer had scampered off. Sad, as remonstrating would have been good, perhaps entering into a religious discussion. None of that, so I am left with an elbow the size of a tennis ball, a shoulder that requires at least a month’s rest and a broken rib that clunks when I breathe and gives rise to a yelp when I laugh or cough. Ah, well, nothing to be done but head for home.How has it been? Wonderful. Iran next year and all the rest … © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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