Today was day 1 of 40 riding days between Agra and the Southern tip of India. It was a short day -60 Kilometers. Flat. The goal was to make it out of Agra and head to the town of Bharatpur in the district of Rajasthan, home to a bird sanctuary and a magnet for birders worldwide.
We left when it was barely light and headed to the Taj Mahal. The goal was to get a group shot in front of the Taj and then head out before the traffic got horrible. It’s not bad very early in the morning, but becomes difficult by 8:30 AM. We went in a caravan – all 40 of us. Police blocked traffic at some big traffic circles and overall we made it out in one piece. The staff blocked traffic – Ricardo was flinging himself in front of busses to get them to wait –otherwise we would have never made it out together.
On the way out of town, I was concentrating on the road and traffic and not necessarily on what was happening around me. This was essential…because traffic in India has its own rules and the roads require a lot of concentration just to stay upright.
But urban Agra overflows with people and activity. Many of the streets are relatively narrow. The sidewalks are taken over with street venders and motorcycle parking. It’s alive with activity and people are everywhere going about their business. There is real energy here, and despite the filth that is everywhere and makes an immediate – and negative – impression.
The filth is very real. There is garbage laying everywhere. Dogs and cows and livestock roam the streets eating garbage and co-existing with people. Clearly a lack of toilet facilities because it’s common practice to urinate – and I also saw2 people defecating –within feet of the road with little interest in concealing themselves or the waste. That got my attention … no random wanderings off the side of road for me. And no kidding- wash your hands constantly.
The air in Agra is dirty. Snot-blackening dirty –like many US cities were when I was younger before the clean air laws. There is a yellow brown dust everywhere that gets in your clothes. A haze hangs in the air. It looks like an urban area pushed to the limits of its capacity.
As we left the city we passed into country with farms. Huge green fields. Yellow mustard plants in full bloom. Straw houses that dotted the landscape. The air cleared. We would ride through villages and children would come running and adults and children would call out hello. Villages were generally small would almost inevitably have dirt roads through them, and the pavement would continue when you were out the other side. There was still garbage and livestock but it didn’t have the pressed in overflowing feeling of Agra.
As we headed west into Rajasthan, communities became more Muslim. Women would often have their entire face covered. In many ways the feeling changed … less open, more watchful. We were being scrutinized and evaluated, and many were skeptical. It really did feel like through a few kilometers we headed into a place that was very different than Agra or the communities immediately west. Tomorrow and in the next week we will spend a lot more time in Rajasthan.
As I describe this I know I make urban India sound horrible and rural India sound like an ideal, but I don’t mean to leave that impression. That’s a disservice to the complexity of this place. It would be very easy to let the negative overwhelm and not look deeper. But then I think you’d miss the main point, and not understand what India is about.
No Internet for a couple of days now …