From Mumbai on ... km 22,304
From Mumbai (formerly Bombay), we wish you all the best for 2007! May you feel like a million bucks, have the energy and determination to live your wildest dreams! Don't be disappointed but no postcards from us this time. However, we thought you might like a few glimpses of the everyday images we see on the road, images both varied and unexpected, that will probably stay with us the longest, and that are one of the real goals of our "balladavelo".
In Rajasthan, a painted elephant looks insistently at Christine, who, for obvious reasons, feels small and short on memory!
A young Rajasthani girl carrying wood for cooking. Her colorful clothes set off her gentle smile.
And suddenly, I am proud that Christine often says to me, "what an old camel"!
Take a long, hard look at this photograph.
This child's submissive look really pained us. He was laughing when he asked us to take his picture. I took out the camera and suddenly conscious of his caste, he lowered his head and his smile dissolved. In spite of my insistence, he could not be brought to lift his head! Servility and submission are bred into him. The wall in the background seems to cry in his stead.
Will he ever rebel?
In the little town of Pushkar, Christine strikes up a conversation.
Out of respect, this picture was taken discretely from a long distance with a telephoto lens. It's an image from a culture very different from our own. Here, the dead are cremated in the street. The body is wrapped in fabric, the head is delicately positioned at the top of the pyre, and the fire is lit at the feet. Approximately 400 funeral pyres are lit each morning in the sacred city of Varanasi (formerly Benares). Only men are present at the cremations, for crying is forbidden here. Mourning men and women shave their heads, leaving just a small mesh of hair on the top of their skulls.
I've never been a big fan of hairdressers, but Daniel manages to cut my hair…a bit! He is a hairdresser in London and well known in the fashion world. He is a true scissor virtuoso! Needless to say, Christine took full advantage of the situation!
Indians love to be photographed--look how proud she is!
Marya, the manager of the Diamond Guesthouse wouldn't return to Europe for all the tea in China; now India is her home. She is such an excellent cook and welcoming host that we have trouble leaving the sacred little city of Pushkar.
TV reporters show up at our hotel one morning for an interview and a short film of us on our bicycles. Afterwards, two journalists catch up with us as we pedal off, hoping to get interviews for their newspapers.
Quite a few former hippies from the 70s stayed in India; this one is a French emigré.
Following the printing of the newspapers, we are introduced to an Indian family that has gone around the world proclaiming peace. They made their trip from 200 to 2002. They logged 15,000 km, going through countries they wished to visit. Their daughter was 9 at the time and pedaled behind her father on a tandem bicycle. The mother learned how to ride a bike at 30 years old. We had a lovely time over a meal with them. Let's give them a big round of applause!
Yvan is a French classical dancer and choreographer who has staged large-scale shows the world over. Ah, if only my daughter had been here!
These big monkeys like the city life. They are beautiful and full of mischief!
Clean drinking water is a serious problem in India. Women and children often have to go great distances to fill their water jugs.
We travel down the road together for a bit, they hear the word "photo" and they put on the brakes, though this clearly isn't what we wanted!
Christine overtakes a horse -- she's incredible, that Christine!
In Rajasthan, women wear bright colors and the older they are, the brighter the colors are, even getting into fluorescents. It's hard to overlook a comparison with our travels in Muslim countries.
Baby is sleeping soundly.
We overtake these strange cyclists twice. They are a father and son--barefoot!--who have embarked on a tour of India. They have a small bag and a blanket on the back, a radio in a basket, sunglasses, and four feet on two pedals! Perfect: one holds the handlebars while the other reads, talks on the phone, or sits back and relaxes. A shiver of shame goes down our spines!
Jainism is a religion that was founded in India in the 6th century BC and the ultimate goal is to reach Nirvana. Its founding principal is non-violence towards all creatures.
Jain extremists live entirely naked and cover their mouths in order to avoid accidentally inhaling, and thereby killing, small insects.They also sweep the path before them in order to not step on these same potential victims.
Bicycle tourists do sometimes get their directions from strange sources!
Their reputation precedes them: Claude Marthaler is known in the bicycle tourist world. He has spent 7 years cycling around the world, he is the author of several books, and an experienced lecturer. Nathalie Pellegrinelli, his partner, is only just discovering bicycle tourism--just like us! Claude et Nathalie left Geneva in October 2005.
Thanks to the Web, we set up a meeting in the little town of Dhandhuka in Gujarat, at the halfway mark for both parties. There's no hotel, but luckily there is a beautiful tree with some shade under which we can camp. We swap stories, which are drawn out and similar, and end up blending and here in the middle of nowhere a strong bond is formed, as well as a new friendship. The morning seems bland, with last night's stories still fresh in our minds. Breakfast lasts almost until noon. The bicycles are ready and the team takes off, but our hearts aren't in it. We cycle together for 810 meters, to the nearest restaurant. At 4PM we go back to camp under the same tree--we talk, we listen, we laugh and goof off (especially Claude) all night. The next morning, we have to say goodbye. Though they arrived from the South, and us from the North, they leave towards the West and we to the East! Same take-off and same goal, but -- something seems a bit off! But as bicyle tourists, we know that an invisible hand shows us the way and we have to follow.
The following days, it was hard to think of anything other than that wonderful encounter full of exchanges and complicity, during which a friendship was born. Just a small detail to clarify: How can this insatiable cyclist stop pedaling after 810 meters? Has he really gone around the world as he claims! We have reason to doubt these claims! If, like us, you question his claims then go ahead and buy one of his books (Editions Olizane - site : www.yaksite.org); you won't regret is and it'll make you say goodbye to any doubts you might have.
Though it's being the Road that decides, we are sure we will run into each other again!
Yet more pleasant, rural encounters
Thanks to Bollywood, Indians are the biggest film producers in the world. Do you think they also invented the g-string?
Speaking of g-strings… we think of Catherine, whom we have met in India 3 times in 3 different places. This girl travels hundreds of kilometers to bring us care packages from Paris. We celebrate the new year together in Mumbai. She's charming, pleasant, she wears g-strings and yet...she's and old maid!
Smiling with dried cow dung for the fire on their heads.
Sugar cane is harvested families, who also ensure the delivery!
Hard to believe this family is Indian!
In India, the subject of poverty is still a little confusing, but it does, indeed, exist!
The hip and happening youth of Mumbai.
Our sponsor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, welcome us to Mumbai.
Our alarm clock is a couple of singing budgies.
Thank you for reading this sample of our serendipitous encounters on the road, which we offer as others would a Christmas card. We reiterate our best wishes for 2007; may this new year bring you much happiness.
Our computer is on the blink and has made our site quite out of date. We will update as soon as we are able.
(Text translated by Maia Demorest)