‘These white people, they will kill me!!!’ We were in a corner of the remote state Bihar, not far away from Farakka, close to the Indian border with Bangladesh. In a place with good views over the Ganges river we stopped for a break. Soon after, many people, young and old, but mainly men, hurried themselves to take a closer look at the two whites on their fully loaded Royal Enfield.
From our perspective, but not different from other times, the few dozen people were standing (really close in front) and staring at us. ‘If they are staring at us, why not make a picture of them’ is what Mandy must have thought when she took out her camera from the bag. One of the Indians was a beautiful older and wrinkled man with a turban, a perfect target for a close up. Immediately when this man spotted the thing Mandy was carrying in her hand and now was pointing towards him, he dived away before running of in his Dothi. This scene made all the youngsters around us laugh their asses off, while they shouted at the man this was not a gun, but a camera, what this white girl was holding. Perhaps the man had lived through colonization, but most probably the older people in this remote area hadn’t ever seen a camera before.
As you may know we went to India for a roadtrip on a Royal Enfield. We already posted some pictures and you can watch our roadtrip movie. But we also wanted to share our experience with you. This roadtrip story started with ending up in a 40 hours bus ride from Kathmandu to Delhi. We had been living in Kathmandu for a few months and wanted to do a motorbike trip through India on a royal Enfield. The motorcycle we wanted to buy in Delhi. From there we would drive up north to the source of the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalaya. The idea was that the Ganges river would guide us as a thread through the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and finally West-Bengal, where the Ganges flows into the sea. A trip of around 2500-3000 kilometers. What we beforehand liked about this plan was that this was not a touristy route, but had a good mix of exploring India and on the other hand cultural highlights along the route like Haridwar, The Taj Mahal, Varanasi and Bodh Gaya. As ever we were late with planning our transport from Kathamndu, which left us with one option: the bus to delhi.
The Ganges Delta in northern India is what we came to know a beautiful and cultural diverse part of India, but also has it’s dark side. This side of India is describes by Aravind Adiga in his unsurpassed and funny, but on the other hand realistic book, The White Tiger. In this book, Adiga has a name for the Ganges Delta: The Darkness.
A place where people forget to name their children ….this is not a timeof day I talk about, I’m talking of a place in India, at least a third of the country, a fertile place, full of rice fields and wheat fields and ponds in the middle of those fields chocked with lotuses and lilies, and water buffaloes wading through the ponds and chewing on the lotuses and lilies. Those who live in this place. Those who live in this place call it the Darkness. India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and a India of Darkness. The ocean brings light to my country. Every place on the map of India near the ocean is well off. But the river brings darkness to India-the black river. Which river I’m talking of-which river of Death, who’s banks are full of rich, dark, sticky mud whose grip traps everything that is planted in it, suffocating and chocking and stunting it?
(Quoted from the White Tiger)
Although we were just passengers and therefore missed the deeper layers of society, we recognize some aspects of the Darkness, as described by Adiga (The main character was born in Bihar in a village along the Ganges). A India of vast fields, agriculture, small towns and weird road users. It’s like being throwback in time a hundred years, on a classic Royal Enfield, that should actually be classified as ‘modern’, according to the surroundings of this part of India. It’s easily to be seen that life in this place is very basic, but poverty, hopelessness and imprisonment of a cultural system was witnessed during a visit to Yuwa. Yuwa, a NGO in Ranchi (Jharkhand), is combating child marriage and girls trafficking through football and education. What we learned is that in Jharkhand six out of ten girls drop out of school and become child brides, Jharkhand has some of the highest incidents of human trafficking, the worst sanitation situation in India with 92 percent of households lacking access to a toilet, the fewest teachers per government school and more than half of its children below the age of five malnourished. Read and see more about our visit to Yuwa here.
Light in the Darkness
On the other hand we see light in the Darkness. Surely, the Ganges Delta is not at the heart of the Indian economic bubble, but for instance the roads were often okay. In areas that looked like they were living a hundred years back there was sometimes a perfectly paved road. We also saw a lot of road and housing development works. Hotels were better than we expected and even small cities had a few decent hotels to offer. Not tourist kind of stuff hotels and restaurants, but if you like a to go off the beaten track this is the place to be! We don’t want to claim things are going well in the Ganges delta, but for a traveler it is definitely not a place to avoid, the contrary even. (we’ve made two photo blogs about our trip along the Ganges.)
The opposite of non-touristy is Rajasthan. After we had seen the Ganges and all its rubbish flow into the Bay of Bengal, it was time to go home. In this period that was Kathmandu. We drove the Enfield into Nepal, and after a few months Nepal, we returned to India to do a Rajasthan tour. Off course you can do and have whatever you want in Rajasthan, but it is a tourist state, more probably THE tourist state of India. It’s just what it is. Cruising around Rajasthan we reckoned that we were lucky to have our loyal iron stallion with us. A own ride gives the opportunity to go your own way. One of the best things in Rajasthan was driving the motorbike in the desert and on its empty desert roads. Read and see many more pictures from our visit to Rajasthan here.
This roadtrip marked the beginning and not the end of India for us. We’ve seen a bit, but only a little bit of this huge country. The next time, southern India, or the north-east, or the Himalaya’s in Jammu and Kashmir, or……. is on the agenda. This trip was a handshake with India, the next time we hope to get to know you better. Wherever that is going to be, it will be on a Royal Enfield hired from the renowned Lalli Singh.