India – bigger than me

Unfortunately I can’t think about much of my time in India without feeling a little bit queasy. I wanted to do it as quickly as possible and I think I did a pretty good pace, even with the illness day, but it didn’t leave much time for reflection. I am now in Bangkok on my THIRD rest day (after eating something bad at Calcutta Airport) and have had a bit of time to think about everything.

I found India really overwhelming! The heat and humidity was too much for me, the constant need to drink water making me feel full and therefore reducing my calorie intake. Through illness and this calorie deficit I have lost 15kg since Istanbul. Once this current illness has properly passed I can start to rebuild, but it’ll be hard since I have to also keep cycling!

I also found the constant attention quite difficult. When I stop on a break or in the evening I am used to being able to collect my thoughts and observe things around me. There was not one break, meal or evening stop in India where I wasn’t approached by several people, which was pleasant at first but became more and more frustrating as time went on. It was made more difficult by me not knowing any of India’s languages and I am sure that a journey by bike through India at a slower pace, perhaps with a friend, would be a lot more satisfying! Come to think of it, when my brother Tom and I cycled over the Indian Himalayas, a dozen years ago now, we had a great time (excluding various illnesses and altitude sickness!).

The GTR (Grand Truck Road) is quite good for cycling and drivers are used to many different forms of transport (bikes, trikes, elephants), so it feels safe. Its also dual carriageway most of the time with a central reservation, so there is no fear of oncoming traffic wandering across. Elsewhere however, on the 24 and 56, the cycling was pretty precarious. It felt like cyclists were low down on the pecking order (indeed someone said to me that only poor people ride bicycles in India); on several occasions I found myself driven off the road by oncoming traffic deciding to overtake. The constant hornblowing is also quite unsettling, especially if like me your driving lessons included the instruction “Don’t use the horn unneccessarily, you will wear it out”. I also noticed that the horns were louder than the sirens used on Indian ambulances; this can’t be right!

If it seems like I am generally down on India, that would be about right. But, its mostly because a round peg does not fit in a square hole: I have to cycle the same distance (or at least try) whether its Spring in Germany or Summer in India. India won’t adapt to my needs so I had to try and adapt to the conditions, which I found very difficult.

Hopefully, easier roads lie ahead. I have had three days off in Bangkok, lying in bed, going to the toilet, writing emails and listening to my excellent medical support team; this is too much static time and makes the challenge ahead even greater. If I can regain my strength, then I can still break the record by a respectable margin.

By James Bowthorpe

My name is James Bowthorpe. On the 29th March 2009 I set out from London to break the round the world cycling record. I am doing this to raise 1.8 million pounds for much needed research into the cause of Parkinson’s Disease. I have been preparing for this challenge for the last 6 months and now I’m on my way! You can follow my progress and see photos, on my blog.

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