Indian Cyclists Network

Went on a tour of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan last weekend - had to cut the tour short b/c of a knee injury, but one eye-opener for me was the completely different side of Rajasthan that was revealed by bicycle.

Let's face it - for general tourism, Rajasthan may have a lot of beautiful forts and monuments, but the people experience leaves a lot to be desired. Aggressive behavior (esp towards women), scammers, pushy touts, etc.

This time was a completely different experience. Polite friendly people, genuine conversations with no ulterior motives and generally, a very laid back and relaxed time.

Examples:
- Truck drivers who waved hello as they passed (giving me AMPLE room on the road)
- A schoolteacher who came by and wanted to know what was different about my bike - a conversation that evolved into a discussion on manufacturing advantages of China vs India
- A cyclewallah who refused to accept money for helping me adjust my rear brake
- A shop owner who took me to the back of his house so I could douse myself in cool water after a few hours of the mid-day sun
Etc etc.

It made me realize that THIS was the real Rajasthan - not that phoney baloney consisting of decorated elephants taking tourists up the hill or the Lonely Planet recommendations.

I need to go back (although at a time of the year when I do NOT have to do 100km a day in 44C sun).

V.

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Nice. Although this applies to most places in India. What the brochures sell you is a different India. Cycling truly allows one to create his/her own roads and explore. Exploring is so much better than touring.
well said Amit...!! There are different aspects of cycling, serious competitive might be one, but I really like the touring types, where you move at your own pace & pause for a while to admire & absorb the natural beauty & the local customs. En route you will shed a lot of false myths as you pass through the thriving veins of the local culture & explore the vibrant pulse of the place you are touring.
True enough, Amit. In most places, it is possible to get a sense of the real culture alongside the touristy show. Less so in Rajasthan, I have found - which made this experience so much more pleasant.

As for the distinction between "exploring" and "touring"... mmm. Not sure I agree with that. It reminds me a a little of the distinction made by backpackers about being tourists vs being travelers. The main thing is mindset - how it is labelled is irrelevant, IMO.

A lot of backpackers to India feel that traveling on a budget, and immersing themselves in poverty is somehow a more "authentic" experience - completely ignoring that fact that hanging out with other backpackers, eating chocolate pancakes and following the Lonely Planet approved trail doesn't exactly constitute authentic anything.

Where you go, how much you spend, etc is not very important, I feel.
i totally agree about touring vs travelling.
i call it the lonely planet bubble (that even th most adventourous back packers remain in...) that allows tehm only a very superficial experiance and in fact ends up creating it's own world so disconnected from it's surroundings, and almost identical to every other lonely planet bubble everywhere else in the world. the worst of it is how it changes the people and how it changes the way they interact and connect with each other!!
cycling does give one the chance to get under the skin and in this country is the best way to break down barriers
Vandit, You are the one of the few exceptions of good travelers I have come across in my life even though it is still confined to the forums:-)

But we Indians are the most notorious travelers in the world and in a recent survey showed up in the top 5 of worst travelers (arrogance was one of the criteria). The list was 'won' by the French. It is true to a certain extent what you mentioned about the western backpackers but if we look on our side, most Indians are happy strolling the streets of London. I have hardly seen any in more interesting places as they are not willing to put with the hardship of travel.

I am aware of the few exceptions but the vast majority is happy in Paris, London and Florence.
Lucky that you had such a great experience with the people of Rajasthan. Most places I visited like Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, they were warm to my traveling partner who was white but suspicious of my darker skin and often wanted to know my caste before serving me a drink!!!
I remember traveling with my then-girlfriend a bunch of years ago; had gone to buy some tickets and came back to find a guy grabbing his crotch and sticking his tongue out at her from a few feet away - she, not being Indian, didnt quite know how to react and no one around seemed to care. That was the one time in my adult life when I have swung at someone first.

I get asked me caste a lot in Rajasthan as well - the only place in India where it has happened.

Indians in general are indeed not very popular where they go either. Some of it is a culture of obliviousness and not being considerate to others; some of it is an inbred attitude of arrogance towards people of Asian and dark skin.

Anyhoo, I look forward to meeting up with you in December and having a pint of beer or two :)

V.
Hi guys…very interesting thread…

I think… (& strictly my personal opinion) traveling is a very personal embellishment of soul… often you set out traveling with an itinerary planed… (even if you don’t have a plan…that is your plan, which is often termed as exploration…). So you pick out how & what want to do out of a million options available for that one destination.
For most people traveling is a graduating process… probably starts with a guide book & internet bookings for their first trip, to moving towards becoming more & more adventures with every other trip.

Also for most people how you travel & what you do is often dictated by the Time & Money you have in your pocket. Though I personally don’t believe in this myself as Time is a self created hindrance & Money is more of a measuring tool than anything else. Atleast not applicable for India… i have been on road for the last 15 odd years (not on a bike though) & been to 25-27 states… there’s always someone to feed you or give you a ride or even put you for the night… I guess it can only happen in India... you can be literally penniless & still tour this country with smile on your face (without feeling poor about it) & come back with bags full of memories & anecdotes to tell your children & grandchildren for many many years to come…

Once again this is strictly my personal perspective & experience. I really think that you always have an option & what you choose is a matter of what you really want (the heart thing…) or what you really need (the mind thing…) that point of time in life…

Also what is called what is a complete waste of life...:) really doesn't matter much..

Most importantly no matter how you travel… be it a package tour or a guidebook steered trip or an exploration into the unknown…Its never a waste of Time or Money or Experience…there’s always something from every journey for everyone…That your Money cant buy otherwise…

Keep traveling…Its important…

Sorry for the deviation fellows...as i have not done much biking to write anything about... :)
Ashraf, I am not sure I agree that it doesnt matter how you travel. In some ways, that is true, but only on a selfish level. There is plenty of travel that ends up being disruptive, unwanted and even bordering on exploitation (financial or cultural). If all one cares about is what s/he gets from the travel with no care for the impact that they have on the place that they visit, then they are basically nothing better than a vampire with a suitcase.

Here, I am with Divya. One of the worst forms of travel is the Lonely Planet bubble. It is understandable in some ways - young kids traveling through the world and learning about it need a security blanket and a more familiar "base" from which they can develop their experiences. It is a rite of passage and most people who love to travel and explore pretty much have to go through this phase before they gain enough life experience to travel in a way where they can experience a new location in a manner which is socially and culturally responsible.

As an example - a few years ago, I spent about 4.5 months traveling through eastern and southern Africa, and among my experiences included being invited to attend a Maasai wedding of someone I met while on a public bus - however, I was able to make this connection with that guy b/c I had done the Lonely Planet route after college and was now looking for a different experience - preferably one without beer pong. Had I just done package tours, I would not have been in a position (physically, mentally, etc) to have had that experience.

I guess it is a little hypocritical to complain about the Lonely Planet bubble after this - however, after seeing how parts of the Andamans seem to be becoming yet another generic Lonely Planet Destination (full moon parties, beachside cafes, etc), I can't help but taking this a little personally. I guess what bothers me is that a lot of people dont realize that the Lonely Planet route is but a first step in learning how to travel... it ends up becoming the de rigueur of travel.

But I do agree that money, etc doesnt matter.

Makarand - you are right, the aggressive behavior is more prevalent in cities but primarily b/c cities tend to have more tourists.

V.
I have used the Lonely Planet for 12 years in over 15 countries. I have never let LP set the tone for my travel. Most times I do the opposite of what the book suggests (experience I guess). It takes a certain amount of skill to interpret the book. None the less it is an interesting book that I cannot do without. I think it works a lot better in Asia than it works for Europe or the US.
I agree that the LP is indispensable for some purposes - I always keep one to figure out shops, restaurants, hotels, logistics, etc. What I dont do... and I suspect you don't either... is use it to figure out *where* to go. Helps avoid all the sheeple.

Of course, we are in the Lonely Planet and that contributes to my bike-and-travel-fund, so I shouldnt mock it too much, eh? :)

V.
th lonely planet is just a tool... finally the impact of the travellers as you said is the important thing... it is finally the "sheeple" (i love that!! :-)) that dont care how they impact th place they go thru or change how the people their feel about visitors/tourists that are responsible. in that sense cycling is very condusive to low-impact travelling and building meaningful connections with people! even in a larger sense of course that we are but travellers on this earth... cycling is THE low-impact way to go!!

as far as money goes... i have to agree with ashraf... in this country one can survive without a paisa in one's pocket on the generosity of the poorest!! and if one is willing to cycle tehn take it a step further and be willing to do some labour alongside tehm.... nothign can be more humbling and enriching at teh same time!!

i went on a cycle yatra with a group of friends, part of an organisation in rajasthan this feb. we were out in the rural countryside out of udaipur for seven days.... the thing is that we travel with NO MONEY wahtsoever, not a single paisa, no camera, no mobiles, none of th urban trappings!! and certainly not on fancy imported cycles but teh black atlas "doodhwala cycles"...

the philosophy is of freeconomics or gift economy. we worked/laboured with the local villagers to earn our food and pretty much slept wehrever, under the banyon tree, on the school verandah. work varied from hard field work, filling water from the wells, clearing cow-dung, to churnign butter and washing vessals. while i've been doing this for years but with a small sum of money, on my own, trusting in the innate goodness of the people of my countyr, .... this experience was phenomenally liberating!!

one of the most touching moments for me, out of all the numerous instances of generosity i recieved was on our fourth day out, in a village that we had not had chance to build relationships in as we arrived late in the evening and slept in a temple on the outskirt. as it is we had a lot of issues to deal with related to the cycles, most were really old, in dilapitated condition, rented at the rate of rs 25/-by people from out of udaipur. one of the bikes had a broken spoke, and that as spokes will do, had caused a couple of others to come undone. we were carrying puncture repair kit but could not repair this.

i was assigned teh task of getting it repaired. finally located teh village repair shop... a normal indian roadside outfit... and expalined the situtaion and very embarrasedly (untill then we did not ask for anything in exchange for working) asked if he would consider repairing it in exchange for wahtever work he reqd done. of course he not only repaired it free of cost but shared his chai with us!! the thing is he did it so matter of factly! most times we had to insist that we would only eat if we had worked to earn teh food, people were more than happy to treat us a guests!! teh only village in which we saw any cynicism was one which, because it is known for its sculpture sees a fair number of tourists.

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