8 March - Delhi
"I am alone and unhappy; worse is not possible". So said a friend. And it's pretty much how I have been feeling. If I was at home, I could talk to someone. I am India and so have to write it in my journals. Suffice to say that, for future trips, I shall endeavour to have a travelling companion. In two months, though, I shall be midway through my voyage of discovery; at the start of the home-straight. Five weeks after that will be the anniversary of my arrival in Santiago, the completion of the St Jakob pilgrimage route - a very special time. Up 'til now, I have been on a cycle trip; but now I really think of myself as being on a pilgrimage. The point of a pilgrimage is: 1) to become the person you are, rather than being the person you think you should be; 2) to perceive one's purpose in life, thence to pursue it. Paradoxically, despite being on a pilgrimage, I feel in a state of limbo; maybe in a few months I shall feel less so! ;-)
On a lighter note :-) I arrived in Delhi this afternoon. It was noisy and busy and not as bad as I thought it would be, mainly cos I am more used to the traffic now than when I arrived in Bombay; but also there was not the dirty squalor that was so blatantly on view in Bombay. I am staying in the Tibetan colony, away from the hustle and bustle of the centre. I went past the Red Fort; I'd forgotten how huge it was (I visited it about 25 years ago whilst in transit between Kathmandu and the Middle East).
In the past 10 days I have hurt my left ankle (laying me up (in the very nice, quiet hotel, Natural View) in Pushkar for 6 nights); I have a tender left thumb joint which refuses to improve; I was head-butted on my right thigh by a cow!; I strained my right sacro-iliac joint whilst replacing the back wheel after my (?4th) puncture. How decrepit a figure I am. My ankle is still painful, but need to press on as I am falling behind with my schedule, which up 'til now has been fairly loose, but I have to bear in mind the need to be in Alaska for July and August.
Pushkar was one big shopping bazaar and displayed a commercial spirituality: some tourists being charged ridiculous sums if they wanted to go down to the holy lake. I used my recuperation (3 days bed rest) to read: finishing Slumdog, managing to read all of Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie) and starting on one of many Paulo Coelho books I am acquiring and dashing through.
Tomorrow I should be visiting a centre of The Leprosy Mission (one of my charities) here in Delhi; and I should be being interviewed by TimeOut (India).
9 March - The Leprosy Mission, Delhi
I spent a wonderful day at The Leprosy Mission (TLM) hospital in Nand Nagari and in a leprosy colony, meeting project staff, of the 'Shalom: developing leprosy colonies in Delhi' project, and residents of the colony. The leprosy hospital is one of 18 TLM hospitals throughout India. All treatment is given free, supported by monies raised worldwide through the charity set-up, as well as from non-leprous facilities offered in the hospital, such as orthopaedics, eye, skin.
As well as talking with the Medical Director, Dr Abraham, I spent a considerable time in the Physiotherpay Department with Indranil Ghosh, the chief physiotherapist, sitting in as he saw his patients: some were coming for their regular check-ups: recording their muscle power integrity, checking for damage to their de-sensitised limbs (eg one patient came with burnt skin from smoking cigarettes and not feeling/noticing when the cigarette and burnt down to his fingers), progressive corrective splinting for acquired deformities; others came just having been diagnosed with leprosy, still infectious, for assessment. Such patients are not isolated: only 5% of people will contract leprosy from another person and, as it can be easily treated (as long as it is discovered) with Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT), it is considered unnecessary to isolate. One such patient came in whilst I was there, sent from a private hospital. This was encouraging, as so often, hospitals just give the patient a course of MDT to take away with them, but give no thought to any additional needs, such as corrective splinting or surgery. TLM want all patients to be referred to them so that this can be done.
There are about 30 leprosy colonies in Delhi. I was taken to one of a group of many near the hospital. The Shalom project is concentrating mainly: on the mainstreaming into schools of the children of leprosy parents, against whom there is stigma by association; the provision of improved sanitation in the colonies. Last year, there was success with a local, enlightened principle of a private school who gave scholarships to 15 children to attend the expensive school. Even so, other schools are yet to follow suit. As so often, attitudes may take a while to change.
Variuos centres run by TLM provide employment for leprosy sufferers, thus enabling them to provide for themselves and their families. The products they make are available online or through catalogues. If you would like to supprt TLM, please have a look at their website.
16 March - Agra
The Taj Mahal! A serenely beautiful monument, built in celebration and praise of love. I arrived at dawn, so as to see the changing hues on the white marble over the next 5 hours. It is a sublime view, gazing up the watery avenue to the graceful symmetry of this mausoleum, dedicated to a beloved wife from a true romantic of a husband. Aaaah .... . Doesn't it just send shivers up and down one's spine and make one's eyes well up?
I have been in Agra for the last 4 days, resting my painful ankle. I had left Delhi on the worst day possible, making by far the biggest mistake so far on this trip. It was the festival of Holi, which means that everyone gets brightly coloured paint powders, water and coloured foam thrown/squirted over them.
I had been warned of the festival and to make sure I was not cycling after dark. So, silly me, I didn't even think there were implications during the day. I soon found out, though, that there were. Initially, it was OK, I could cope with the paint and water; but, as the day wore on and people had been drinking, it all came too menacing and really very unpleasant. It was THE worst experience I've had at any time; I felt extremely vulnerable. Even when I finally found somewhere to stop for the night, (camping in the grounds of a tourist accommodation complex - the room rates were too high to take a room), I was confronted unpleasantly by a young guy.
The next day was a very nervous one for me. But, do you know what saved my sanity? My daughter thinks this is pretty sad; but it was seeing a McDonalds and stopping there for burger, iced coffee, soft scoop ice cream + choc sauce, and filter coffee. I never normally choose to go for a McDonalds and for me to do so, voluntarily, and in India!, well that was just too much for my daughter. :-) Another thing that helped me was to read the letters from my children, that they had secreted in my baggage before leaving home and which I take out every so often to read. The combination worked a mirale: back on the road again, I no longer felt the victim.
I was interviewed and photographed in Delhi by Time Out; the article should appear in the next copy in about a week's time. They should be sending me a pdf, so that I can post it on the website.
The hotel in Agra in which I'm staying, the Maya, is slightly upmarket from my usual; it is a little above my budget, even though they have given me a discount on the room and on the food, but it is lovely to be in a clean hotel for a change and, anyway, I feel I deserve to spoil myself a bit. :-)
As ever, I think often of people at home and those I have met along the way.
31 March – Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepal is enjoyable. I arrived 9 days ago, entering from Banabas in India to Mahendrenegar, at the western end of Nepal, then following the length of the country, arriving in Kathmandu about 8.15 a couple of nights ago, 2 hours after dark and in the rain! I made for The Bakery Cafe on Jawalekel roundabout (for those of you who know Kathmandu), one of a chain all run by deaf staff, and was met by one half of my current hosts, Mary and Huw, friends of my friend, Sheila D, in Bristol.
As for the rest of my time in India, it took 4 days from Agra to the Nepali border. I was glad to have cycled this last section in India (I might have taken the train, the way I was feeling), as it was more pleasant than the majority of my cycling in India had been: clean villages, pleasant countryside, friendly encounters, quieter roads, copeable harrassment, filmed interview by a reporter, allegedly from CNN, and his team of 4 assistants (but I realised the next day that I'd not seen any press ID, so who knows), easy cycling; this all served to give me less of a negative experience of the country.
I realised soon after entering Nepal why I had felt so low in India: after saying goodbye to the welcoming sociableness of Gujerat, all
I was doing was cycling along busy, noisy, dangerous main roads; only being able to look forward to grimy hotels at the end of each day! Surely, it is no wonder that, coupled with the other incidents
I have previously mentioned, I had felt as I did. Hence, in Nepal, I made the very conscious decision to camp as much as possible, which I did for 4 of the 7 nights en route to Kathmandu. I
safe-camped the first 2 nights: one on private land, the other by the roadside in a village (honestly, it felt very safe); and wild-camped in the forest for the next 2 nights, scaring myself witless
the first night with over-imaginations of people creeping about and so deafening myself with earplugs the second night to stop these false imaginings. I really enjoyed the camping; SO lovely to be
away from dreary hotel rooms inhabited by mosquitoes and bedbugs.
In Nepal the going was flat for the first few days, then some climbing, until the last 2 days before Kathmandu, when it was all uphill. Great scenery, though, following a river all the way up; sometimes down at river level, sometimes way up at top-of-gorge level. Loads of adrenalin-enhancing rapids on the river; it would have been fun to have seen some boats going down them.
I had completely underestimated the final stretch from Mugling to Kathmandu (I was told it would be flat; I have since learned that Nepali 'flat' is akin to British 'mountainous'; everything's relative). As the day wore on, I walked up most of the uphill bits, had frequent rests, hoped someone would offer me a lift (in the Middle East, I'd have had loads of offers by now), felt exhausted, still great scenery, stuck my thumb out a few times, gritted my teeth, plodded on; no opportunity to camp and not enough cash to stay anywhere, determined , anyway, to reach Kathmandu. I was on the road that day for 12 hours to cover 74 miles; the last 2 hours in the dark along bumpy, busy, broken roads. Eeek. But - I managed it – and without crying! I felt very proud of myself; maybe this trip is beginning to have a positive effect on me. :-)
Mine hosts are really kind; I appreciate staying in a home; I loved going with them to their church on Sunday (first time since that awful service in Turkey on Christmas Day), a warm, friendly, spirit-filled community. And just what I needed after a barren time without Christian fellowship.
The main purpose of being in Kathmandu is to organise my ongoing trip to Lhasa. All indications to date are that it will not be possible to go as an independent traveller; that I should have to be part of group. This is: a) incredibly costly, b) seemingly limited to one direction only, ie. flying to Lhasa, then cycling back to Kathmandu – not particularly helpful for my ongoing route! c) I don't fancy being in a group. Therefore, I am currently looking into arranging a (compulsory) Tibetan guide to meet me at the Nepal/Tibet border, thence to cycle with me for the 3 weeks to Lhasa. In theory, this should be at a fraction of the group cost. Oh, another, 'small' consideration is that the border is currently closed. Hmmm ... . There is talk of it opening on 8 April, but .... well ... let's see, eh?
BTW, I have now clocked up 9004 miles.