Cycling in India was fantastic but there were many ups and downs. The experience was a bombardment of the senses that was, at times, both pleasant and unpleasant. There was the divine smell of incense burning in a temple or delicious spicy curry cooking. On the other hand, there was the repulsive smell of an open sewer or revolting, rotting rubbish in the street.
India shaped me, literally. I lost a stone, even though I was eating a cyclist’s diet which consisted of a huge amount of curry and syrupy sweets. The combination of illness, hot climate and an increased intensity of life was another level of existence I had never experienced before.
The place pushed my mind into strange and profound places. My experience was not only one of travelling the physical landscape but also the mental landscape.
Each interaction effected my experience whether a handshake, smile or a misplaced joke when I was tired that put me in a bad mood. It was a continuous dialogue between myself and others, often not in spoken language but in smiles, glinting eyes, gestures and atmospheres.
My time in India was like being immersed in an incredible energy that carried me along in the flow. At the same time, trucks threatened to squash me into the road, monkeys jumped on my bike and people followed me everywhere. Places with open space felt weird because they contrasted the highly populated areas. Peaceful places such as temples and mosques took on a heightened spiritual quality in contrast to the bustling streets. I remember visiting a temple high up on a hill somewhere in the desert and looking around at empty plains. It was a good place to reflect as much as to gaze at the impressive landscape.
I laughed at the often ludicrous nature of my situation whether visiting a temple made of ghee, thirty people following me on bikes one morning or sleeping next to the police sergeant in Rajasthan. The imagery of the Hindu religion is full of cartoon-like creatures and larger than life stories and I think it rubs off on the people.
I felt angry at the hypocrisy of the rich living next to the poor workers on the streets. I felt ashamed of myself as a ‘tourist’. I wondered what the heck had happened that made me need to be thousands of miles away from loved ones and my own culture. India made me assess my own desires because it touched on all of them. Take the seven deadly sins - wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. India made me more aware of all of them. No other place did this quite like India.
It made me look at myself and what was driving me. It caused me to become critical of my culture and it’s idiosyncrasies which were hidden from me by my familiarity with it. Being able to reflect on the culture where I was from compared to India was a valuable experience.
Mumbai caused me to become intrigued to live in a city. This was because of its complexity and plethora of different kinds of spaces, environments and their juxtapositions. When I walked around, I allowed the sights and sounds to wash over me. I felt anonymous walking around a city like Mumbai which was weird compared to being followed and surrounded by in rural areas.
After dwelling somewhere for a while, it was possible to dig deeper and to find new things to focus on and new ways to see. Consciously varying my experience led to an endless array of different adventures that would take many lifetimes to explore. That was something that was clear in India. Every aspect of human life was refracted like a kaleidoscope. There was too much to take in in terms of trying to document, report or describe all my observations. It forced me to know that I couldn’t know anything objectively, I could only give my subjective take on things. That added to the interest because it made me more aware of the plurality of human experience.