After our failure to cross the border we had to sleep at a motel near the border. With the help of Mr Singh, he got us a room for a decent price. Mr Singh had worked in Singapore for 7 years so he can speak Bahasa Malaysia quite fluently so communication was not a problem. He also brought us back to his house for some delicious home-cooked dinner and also to meet his family and we are very grateful for his hospitality. The next morning, after a few cups of tea on the house and picture-taking, we said our goodbyes to Mr Singh and proceeded to the border. It took us an hour and a half to settle immigration and custom procedures on both sides. We crossed into Pakistan at midday and from the border to Lahore it was an easy 30km ride. One thing I noticed after crossing into Pakistan, people on this side are friendlier. People just smile, nod or just wave to you. I guess they are just pleased to see tourists in their country, after the decline in tourism, no thanks to the western media portraying Pakistan to be a dangerous country.
So far our stay in Lahore has been very pleasant, thanks to the hospitality shown by Mr Sajjad Hussain, the manager of Lahore Backpackers. If you plan to come to Lahore, please do check out Lahore Backpackers. The rooms are clean and spacious.They also provide facilities like Internet/wifi, 24/7 hot shower, kitchen for cooking, and also a rooftop garden with TV room. Mr Sajjad is also a tour guide. He is very knowledgeable with all the historical sites and knows the ins and outs of Lahore. He is a very honest and friendly guy and is like a brother to me now.
So far I have only visited the Badshahi Mosque and the outside of Lahore Fort (there was an entry fee but didn’t feel like paying) I was also very lucky to visit Sajjad’s village where I met his uncle and other family members. Life in the village is very simple. Sajjad’s family rear livestock, like buffaloes and cows for their milk and also grow roses and other flowers to sell. He also brought me to his friend’s farm, where they grow guavas, wheat, parsnips and other vegetables. Sajjad also showed me something interesting. In the countryside, it seems that Cannabis grows wildly. When in the summer, I was told that the fields would be full of them and they grow up to 6-7 feet. But to the villagers they have no value as they cannot be sold, so they use it for medicinal purposes and also consume it in liquid form (by boiling it), something similar to’ daun ketum’. There are also people who take the opportunity to produce Hashish to sell, but that is illegal.
I had a slight flu a few days back and just recovered from it. I also had my tooth extracted today and will need to recover so that will take a few days. So far our stay here has been a wonderful experience and I hope it stays that way throughout Pakistan.
Our stay in Delhi was not so interesting other than staying in the room and just walking around the Pahar Ganj area. We didn’t go around much. The only place we actually visited was the Malaysian High Commission. My father’s visa was expiring and we were told trying to extend it would be risky as the process could take a long time, so we were advised to get to the India-Pakistan border as soon as possible. The staff at the high commission were very helpful and booked 2 bus tickets(night coach) to Amritsar. We had to cycle for 10 km to the bus terminal which was in Old Delhi and it gets dark fast during the winter so we didn’t get a chance to take pictures of the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, which was a shame. I was recommended by a friend to visit Karim’s, a very famous Briyani shop, near the Jama Masjid. Karim’s has been around since 1913. When we entered the premise it was full of locals and tourists waiting in line for their tables. We had to wait around 10 minutes before we could get a table but it was worth the wait as the briyani was out of this world.
The bus ride from Delhi to Amritsar took about 13 hours and when we got there it was already midday. As soon as we got our bikes off the bus we started cycling towards the Wagah border and we had to cover about 30 km. Some of the locals told us the border closes at 5pm so we just took it easy. When we reached the border it was 3.40pm and we were told the gate was already closed and would open at 10am the next morning.
The ride from Agra started at 7 am and it was a cold and foggy morning. Our ride out of town was smooth as it was early and there was no traffic. It took us a good 15km before we actually got out of Agra town and on the so called Highway. Their highway is just a normal 2 lane road with a shoulder for motorcycles and bicycles. Our first 5km on the highway and suddenly we saw a truck coming from the opposite direction on the shoulder, which was a real shock and the driver was honking at us, so we had to give way. So after that incident it we had to be very alert for oncoming traffic. It was quite a challenge cycling on Indian roads! Imagine lorries and buses overtaking on the left lane barely inches away from my bike. We rode for 120km before we stopped for the night somewhere in Hodal spent the night at a petrol pump. The manager was kind enough to let us sleep in his staff’s quarters.
The next morning we started at 6.30am it was even colder(with very thick fog) it was about 10c and with the cold wind we were making very slow progress. It took us 1h 30m to cover 10km but when the sun started to come out and the temps got higher we made good time we didn’t even stop for lunch. Reached Delhi at around 3pm and it was back to the city(traffic) madness! Tired and hungry we made our way to Pahar Ganj. This is where the budget tourist’s or backpackers come to stay there are hundred’s of guesthouses here. Our room was quite cheap cost us 350 rupees(you will have to bargain) if you are adventurous and like to rough it out this is the place to be.
There is nothing much to write about Agra, except that it’s a place for tourists and that is because of the famous Taj Mahal. The whole town around the Taj Mahal are mainly hotels/guesthouses, restaurants, cybercafes, and gift shops. I was a bit reluctant to visit the Taj Mahal as the ticket price really is a turn off. The price is a whopping 750 rupees (really mahal!). It may not be that expensive once you convert it to Malaysian Ringgit but the locals only pay 20 rupees. But it maybe the only time for me to see it in person, so I paid for the ticket with a heavy heart. If you want a clear photograph of the Taj just try to get in after sunrise as the place will be packed with visitors after 10am. Kind of hard to admire the beauty of it with so many people around you, but the Taj Mahal really is a magnificent work of architecture, no doubt about that!
After arriving in Varanasi, with my father’s wallet lost and the bikes missing, I was not in the mood for anything. In fact my father and I were both down. We didn’t even bother to eat our dinner that night and just slept the whole day. On the second day we went to visit the Ghats(temples by the Ganga/Ganges river) to take some pictures and to just get a feel of the place. There is really nothing much to do in Varanasi. Most tourists come here to visit temples, bathe/purify themselves in the Ganga or are here to learn about Indian arts and dances or learn how to play their musical instruments.
India has a 80% majority of Hindus and finding halal food can be quite a challenge especially in Varanasi. You have to ask around for Muslim restaurants, or usually just walk around until you find a Mosque and there will be Muslim eateries around. But in Varanasi the Muslim community is quite small so finding a proper restaurant can be quite a challenge. The only halal restaurants we could find were a few stalls that sell briyani rice, naan bread and only one stall which sold skewered meat(mutton), each stall has a very small dining area which can seat about 8 at any time, they eat and then go off no time for chit chat or relaxing. Life here in India is very hectic and fast paced.
Kolkata is a huge city, and is also very congested as it has a population of about 4.5 million. It is also a city with a lot of poor people and it is very common to see people sleeping by the sidewalk. You also see whole families camped or just sleeping out in the open. It is just heart wrenching. As a lot of people here are homeless, they also don’t have their own toilets, so they just urinate or do their business on the side of the streets. One more thing I noticed is that most restaurants or street vendors here still cook with charcoal or kerosene stoves. Everything about Kolkata just feels so old. It’s just like stepping back in time as most of the city hasn’t changed for the past 50 years.
So I have been in India for over a week now (currently at Varanasi) and already a few unpleasant things have happened. First my father’s wallet was pick- pocketed at the railway station in Kolkata and the second thing was our bicycles went missing for 3 days, after the railway authorities failed to unload them upon our arrival at Varanasi. We were down in spirits for the 3 days. But now that we have gotten our bikes back we are good to go.
My fathers Indian visa will expire in 10 days so our India leg is quite a rush, we won’t be able to do much cycling in India. But cycling in India is really not easy as the streets are so congested it is just too dangerous to cycle you have to battle it out with pedestrians, people on bicycles, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, motorbikes and motorcars. If you are in their way they will honk at you till you let them pass! I pity the rickshaw riders (mostly elderly folk) as they get honked at the most especially when they are carrying passengers.
Will write more about Kolkata and Varanasi in my next post.