The subcontinent of India, as people so wisely call it. We’ve entered it, and left my 60th country, which Pakistan was as I recently discovered, behind. We’ve left new friends behind, met, held and waived goodbye an old friend. For Ruben it was a coming back here, with endless gushes of recognition. His first big out of Europe trip brought him here. And now we get to discover it together. This country, of which I’ve expected the absolute worst, this big, weird but beautiful, chaotic but captivating, extremely polluted but deeply spiritual country, it embraced us.
After our big beautiful trip to the north of Pakistan we came back to Lahore, the place to be before crossing borders to India. We intended to stay just a few more days at Guliafshan and Haider’s place, to meet them one more time, to sort our things, do our laundry, recover from the long days on our bikes and to find some hunger for riding again. After such long, boring days of devouring kilometers I can tell you, you’re gonna be done with it. I’m not allowed to say that, I know. I should be only thankful for every kilometer I can make, but hey, even on a trip like this it’s only life 😉 It was lovely to spend some more time with the people that in such a short time grew so close to us. The weekend flew by. We even threw a pre-surprise-birthday party for Gul, as we all are not going to be there on her real birthday, the first of January. And, don’t tell, Haider could actually really use Ruben’s ideas of how to properly implement it. Which made me realize just a little more how happy I am with a boyfriend capable of such romance. By the end of the weekend, the day before we wanted to leave, life decided to teach us once more that it isn’t really plan-able. Our stomachs went upside down. Or actually Ruben’s stomach went upside down. We decided to stay for one extra day, like this a border crossing would be an outright nightmare. Only to find out the next day that my stomach really loved to match with the one of Ruben.. Ruben, sweet as he is, pulled himself together to take care of me. Maybe he’d better not done that. I recovered quickly and after a few days I was able to move around again and keep some food in, but Ruben worsened again. Long story short, it took us nearly a week to recover. Or kind of recover. As we were going to meet my friend Marta in Delhi before she would fly back home time became kind of short. We had to go, otherwise we’d miss her. So Ruben, once more, pulled himself together.
On an early Friday morning we started packing our stuff. Actually I slowly packed our stuff, while Ruben was curled up on the bed because of his stomachache. I really didn’t want to leave with him feeling like this, but he convinced me that with all the pain killers and diarrhea stoppers he’d be able, that we really had to go. So finally we found our ways back to our saddles and my hand comfortably touched the throttle again like meeting an old friend. A week off the bike had done good to me, I’ve missed him. I pushed the button and the engine roared to life below me. My bike felt swift and light as we curved up around the first corner. I loved his souplesse. I realized how weird it is that this little monster, even without a roof attached to it, has become to feel like home to me. How much we’ve learned from each other, or let’s be honest, how much he taught me. And how for has he brought me…
I didn’t know if I was ready to leave it all behind, the country I’ve grown so fond of. Not knowing if or when I’d return. On these last kilometers I sentimentally tried to soak up all the details, as if I could hold it with me, just a little longer. One more time we passed the guards on the safety posts of the cantonment, one more time we passed the road that became so familiar to us, leading us out of Askari 11. At the border of the district the orderly world changed into chaos. Rickshaws fully loaded with Pakistani families raced past, exhausted donkeys with orange henna paintings of their manes and fur pulled old fruit loaded carriages and beggars with drugged babies on their arms or without limbs asked for money. The smooth asphalt was exchanged for a road of potholes, stones, dirt and bumps. The vibration of it I could feel throughout my body. After hugging Gul goodbye next to her office, we found our way over small country roads in the direction of the Wagha border, to India. I drunk it all in. The complete families packed on small motorbikes. A man relaxedly squatting next to the road (how do they all do it?! We, chairpeople, can never understand I’m afraid) while smoking his sheesha. The small shops with all kinds of weird prepacked food. The old crappy bikes that wouldn’t even get stolen if they’d be unlocked on a Dutch train station. The milkmen transporting fresh milk in bronze cans attached to their little scooters. The super cute fluffy baby donkey next to the road. The herd of water buffaloes on the asphalt, one of them, with piercing blue eyes, lazily trotting straight in the direction of my bike. Laughing I came to a halt. Further on another herd decided to honor their name and take a little swim in a super dirty canal next to the road. My smile didn’t fade, though the idea of being in that dingy water gave me shivers. I even inhaled the scent, the air of which the whole world seems to know how polluted it is. Ever since Iran the skies haven’t been clear, and here it even seemed like a monotone layer of smoke had filled the air. That is one thing I definitely look forward to, though this might have to wait till the next continent: fresh air. Pakistan. I soaked it all up, one last time. It’s a fascinating country, so different, contradicting, with its flaws, but extremely welcoming, and beautiful, so, so beautiful.
We went straight to the first hotel we found on IOverlander (an app that’s really useful for people traveling overland, as you might be suspecting). And after too many hours Ruben was able to collapse on a big, fancy, white sheeted bed. His condition didn’t improve so we decided to wait it out for one more day in the hope that he would be feeling better after some more rest. While he was asleep I visited the apparently very famous Golden Temple of Amritsar. Always nice to see the places you went later in a lonely planet as one of the biggest must sees of the country. It dazzled me, how clean the actual center of the city was, certainly after all the crap we’ve seen beside the road. Apparently it’s possible for Indians as well to keep things clean. Fascinating. It felt independent, adventurous and a little lost to be undertaking things on my own again. Even though at some points I’ve been screaming for me-time. Het is ook nooit goed, it’s never good, as we’d say in Dutch. Just before entering the temple, when I took my shoes of but had no idea where to put them. A serene old man with a head wrapped in his tulband guided me all the way to the shoe-drop place and showed me where I could pick up a scarf to cover my head. He must have sensed my a-little-lost feeling. Once inside I slowly strolled around the water, where in the center the golden temple was shining brightly. It was as if an immediate ease came over me. The music that was playing everywhere was monotonous but enchanting. I was fascinated by all the people, crosslegged in a focused mediation along the sides. By the men, who with their big bare bellies rose from the, probably holy and not even incredibly dirty, water. There even was a separate women dipping section, inside a small building build over the edge of the water. I couldn’t help but take a quick peak inside, to find that nothing really fancy was there to be discovered. And I unfortunately decided not to take a dip myself.
The next day, Ruben still wasn’t recovered. But we had to go, otherwise we would mis Marta. Early morning even before the sun peaked over the horizon, we left, half of us again fully stuffed with medicine. The long ride of 500 kilometers was tiresome. It was the longest ride on a single day we had up until now. And I gracefully thanked ourselves for not speeding up like this the entire trip like some people do. We’d miss out on so much. Delhi, and especially its traffic, was something we didn’t look forward to. But honestly, these Indian cities are far less worse than expected. The roads are busy, of course, but mostly quite well organized. To be honest, to me it was an actual relief after the craziness in Pakistani and Iranian cities. We arrived at the same hostel where Marta was staying, and Ruben was, once more, finally able to collapse on our big bed. I didn’t tell her we’d stay there too. So when, after some hours, she walked up the stairs to find me there she was absolutely stunned, and couldn’t bring out anything. It was lovely to meet again, to hug, to talk about our journeys, our lives. It all felt so natural that it just felt weird to be on the other side of the world. Like Delhi was the joke here. But it wasn’t. And the next day, after putting Ruben finally on some antibiotics, we went to explore some of this weird city. I was dazzled by the noise. People really can’t get their hands off their horns here, and my ears will absolutely be the last to like it. We strolled around, had some street food (didn’t die!) and explored a bit of the city. It was a delight and the day flew by before I knew it. Before we found our early ways to our beds Marta couldn’t stop talking about how much she looked forward to the forest next to the city we used to live in, with all its autumn touched leaves, to the uncountable little lights decorating Breda now the Christmas season is coming up again, to perfect oat milk cappuccinos in the nicest little coffee shops. To give her life some structure again, finally have a place of her own. And for a tiny little while I felt sad. Sad because I couldn’t join her, jump in her backpack on the way to the Netherlands and take it all in, hug all the people I love and quickly return to the adventure before everything goes back to normal again. Sad that after we met for such a little while we had to say goodbye again. In the middle of the night I woke, to waive her and Leo, the guy she’s been traveling with, goodbye, as the taxi that, Indian style, came late safely escorted them to the airport. It was an absolute privilege to waive her goodbye at Schiphol, at the beginning of her trip, and now again in Delhi, at the very end of it. In the cool midnight breeze I ran up the stairs of the hostel again and found my way back to the bed, where I cuddled up to the person I’d never want to waive goodbye to.
The antibiotics did their work, and after some much needed maintenance on our bikes in the fanciest (and shockingly probably most expensive) workshop we’ve seen after the Netherlands, we drove over a stunning perfectly maintained highway down south, to the icon of India. To Agra, home of the Taj. We’ve pretended to be normal tourists for a few days, enjoying the food (I have to admit it’s finger licking good, at least it was after I got a little more used to the spiciness) the rickshaws and of course one of the seven wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal. I was slightly frustrated by the fact that we had to pay 30 times the amount a national has to pay, but hey, couldn’t linger on that for too long. Normally I have to admit I do not fancy those typical highlights that much, but this one, I suddenly understood the fuzz, it was absolutely breathtaking.
We followed the road until Jaipur, a red-colored, tourist filled city. Our bikes could be parked at the patio of the hotel we went to, so we were told, but we had to enter through the backside. After a highly irritating ride through the super small streets behind the main street we ended up on a little square in front of a small gate. It was certainly too small, our bikes would in no way fit. Shit. I even kind of forgot that our bikes have a little more mass than one of the small ones standing inside the patio. Why didn’t I check the entire entrance to see this? But it’s India, so a solution is found for everything. And after some hassle, with at least a 100 people gazing upon us in the little square filled with bags of scenting herbs and dried fruits, the owner of the hotel decided to treat our bikes the way they are: very precious 😉 He commanded one of his ‘boys’ to clear the entrance of a closed shop, stuff all what was left inside to the sides and with one of the panniers taken of and a lot more hassle we could just fit our bikes through. What an entrance.
After many more tourist activities I was really done with it. How can people spend complete world-journeys on visiting yet another palace, a new temple, some fancy 500 year old star gazing structure? It’s definitely not my style. We caught our breath again in a place that gave us a little detour on the intended route, as one of our fellow travelers advised us not to skip Bundi. Luckily we didn’t and we got to enjoy the relaxed, island-like atmosphere this little village has to offer. And we found out that the famous lakes and surroundings are absolutely saddening. The streets were filled with trash, and numerous cows were dumb-looking chewing on some piece of plastic. At least most of them don’t end up in the food chain of men, but that was the most positive thought I could find. The village looked, in some places, more like a permanent dumping ground. And those lakes, filled with everything you probably cannot imagine. Layers of plastic, paper, wood and oil were hovering in the water, while waterbirds carefully searched their way over it all. Apparently it hasn’t sucked all the life out of it yet.. How hopeless this all seems, it caused a wringing knot in my belly. Where are we going with this world? What difference does it make when we try to avoid the use of plastic, when we don’t eat meat, when we do not travel the world or don’t put any more children on it? Where will we be in 50 years from now? How are we ever going to resolve it? Can we, even? The knot didn’t loosen.
We had one long last stop in front of us, before we’d reach the capital. Ruben decided that it was time to celebrate my birthday in a city he’d briefly adored before: Udaipur. He had a cliche but romantic few days for me in prospect. We arrived at the fanciest hotel we’ve ever stayed in, with a spacious foyer carpeted with marble, high ceilings and thick wooden doors. A heritage building, as I understood. Ruben had arranged, without me noticing of course, the best room in the hotel. A cozy wide-windowed alcove in the corner of our room which perfectly overlooked the lake that stretched out beneath us. It was absolutely stunning. There even was a box of chocolates waiting for me there, wishing me a happy birthday. That evening we had a pre-birthday dinner, by candlelight, on the very corner of the roof top terrace of our hotel, beautifully overlooking the lake and town below us. How did he even think of all those details, I wondered. It was perfect. The next day, my actual birthday, we spend on more fancy dinners, scarfing down some delicious cakes, receiving what apparently was an Ayurvedic massage, finding front fork oil that was leaking from the KTM, cuddling straydogs and strolling around town. It always is a moment to reflect for me, the end and beginning of another year. A moment to be thankful, for sure, for the time I have received. To reflect on what life has brought me, and to think of where I want to go. I am far away from family and friends, that’s for sure. But somehow they feel close. Probably I can thank that to the technology which has developed a great deal since the last big journey I’ve made. I certainly do not feel alone. It is wonderful that in these past few months the world have become our home, our bikes the perfect little hideaways. That the world has shown that it isn’t by far the scary, devouring place you sometimes imagine it to be. I am so grateful that, together with my boyfriend, I have the possibility to explore all of it in such a special way. That we share the opportunity and will to go. That finally I am free, no more society obliged study binding me in any way. Free to find and amplify the life I’ve always dreamed of. I realized just how much I feel connected, loved, and free.
And now we are at the beginning of a new chapter. Settling down in the bustling metropole of Mumbai for two whole months. Ruben will pick up on some of the modeling he’s done here before, and I try to be a good housewife (HA!) in our teeny-tiny little see-view studio. A time in which I can concentrate on my yoga, and spend an overwhelming amount of time to practice meditation, before I send myself off to the everything-forbidding 10 day meditation course. Or at least I can try when I’m not gazing at my sexy personal model rushing in and out. It is weird to experience a life that’s so different from what we went through in the past 5 months. Often, my mind and moods cannot really control the situation yet. I suddenly have so much time to spend, but nothing around me that is familiar. There will be no more packing the bike, no more endless rides and new landscapes to be discovered. No horse to ride or forest to get lost in. But it’s an adventure in it’s own way. It’s lovely to slow down, find a little peace, catch our breath after 20.000 kilometer. To have the possibility to spend some time apart from each other, and learn to see each other in a completely different light again.