Triplogue - Maharashtra I:
Jalgaon to Ahmednagar

18 December, Jalgaon to Fardapur (Ajanta), 60km(a)

"Stop the train! Stop the train!" we yelled impotently from the dark platform at Jalgaon as the train, still holding our bikes, slowly rolled off into the night. It seemed to confirm the apprehensive feeling I had about taking this whole last segment of our trip, organized at the last minute, mere hours after American forces bombed Iraq. Did this mean we’d never see our bikes again? Would we have to take the next train back to Bombay? Was this the abrupt end of the BikeBrats?

We both felt completely worn out, which only compounded the demoralizing nature of the luggage man’s screw-up. It had been a long journey to get here after all. The train from Ahmedabad to Bombay had left in the wee hours of the morning and was cramped, sweaty and overly long. We didn’t arrive in the metropolis until two hours past scheduled, and we felt a bit on edge as we had no idea what to expect from the largest of India’s cities. After a slow weave through some outrageous traffic and checking into our hotel, though, we were out on the streets and marveling at the relative spaciousness and civility of Bombay (now known officially as Mumbai).

The old parts of town, called Fort and Colaba, didn’t look like they’d changed much since the time of colonial rule, right down to the black taxis plying the streets. Facing the imposing Victorian confection known as VT (for Victoria Terminus) stood the most unlikely sight we’d seen in all of India: a McDonald’s sign. Of course no beef is served, but the lamb burger was pretty tasty, and the fries were from God. The terrace where we ate was full of wealthy-looking Mumbaiites, noshing variously on lamb- and veggie- burgers (there are two separate kitchens and lines so as not to offend any rabid vegetarians). After dinner we headed towards the tourist district of Colaba down a long arcaded street full of sidewalk vendors pushing all kinds of tacky goods. Vendors addressed us in English –the lingua franca of much of Bombay—yet no one seemed particularly surprised to see us, which was mighty refreshing.

Eventually we made it to the Regal Cinema, which was showing an American film. We eagerly bought tickets for the late screening before heading onwards for the Gateway to India, a Bombay landmark and fabled cruising spot. Not much was going on besides people setting up for a fancy wedding, so we tried to find the next place on our list: the Voodoo Pub, allegedly the only gay bar in all of India. The address we had was rather vague, so we enlisted the aid of a young Muslim street urchin called Rahul who had first addressed us with the standard Colaba greeting call of "Marijuanahashishcocaineyounggirlsorboys." He led us to the door of the place (still empty) and then back to the movie theater, where he declined an invitation to join us but happily accepted a small monetary token of our appreciation.

The film was forgettable but the cinema was spectacular, virtually unchanged since the 1940’s. Fred bailed on the bar outing, too tired to think of anything but sleep, so I went alone. The Voodoo Pub would class as a third-rate queer bar anyplace else in the world, but after nearly two months in strait-laced India it was like coming to an oasis in the desert. The blend of depraved expats, tourists, transvestites, poseurs and preppies was pretty much what I had expected. I met a pair of adorable young students –roommates in the dorm and sometimes boyfriends—as well as a dancer ("you know, in Bollywood films") who’d obviously been around the block a few times. When the bar closed I headed to the nearby "wall" along the seaside across from the Taj Mahal hotel. This is where the real homo scene seemed to be going on, but I was too beat to do anything beyond chat a little with a muscle queen visiting from Bangalore.

The next morning we got up early to reserve a train out of town. In the special foreigners line we met all sorts of people, including a clueless Argentinian who’d just flown in and wanted to go to "Pewn" (i.e. Pune, normally pronounced "Poona") and an elegant NRI (non-resident Indian) couple from Mauritius. A charming but rather vulgar woman from Goa worked the line, providing all sorts of advice. "You’re staying at the Grand Hotel?" she asked us incredulously, "well that place is fucking expensive if you ask me. And if you want to go to Jalgaon the overnight train leaves from Kurla, an hour or two away by taxi, depending on the fucking traffic." She had made our decision for us. We’d leave that night and save our further exploration of Bombay for later.

Just outside the station a headline on a newspaper for sale on the sidewalk caught my eye: "Americans Bomb Iraq". For over a year now we’d been joking that a possible title for our book could be "Have We Bombed Iraq Yet?" since it’s been kind of a leitmotif throughout our trip. Was it even prudent to plunge off into the hinterland? The towns we planned to pass through –Aurangabad, Ahmadnagar—didn’t they sound Muslim? A hasty decision was made: we’d test the waters and see; if it felt at all dangerous (not at all unlikely here, where the majority of Indians already resent the U.S. over our policy on Indian nuclear tests, not to mention the perceived moral turpitude of l’affaire Lewinsky). We whiled away the rest of the day by walking around and familiarizing ourselves with this crazy town. Fred was nervous about traffic and the time we’d need to recover our bikes from one station (Bombay Central) and check them in at another (Kurla) so we left in the middle of the afternoon for a ten o’clock train. Amazingly, our bikes were easily found (with the assistance of a baksheesh-begging porter) and strapped onto the rack of a decrepit cab. On the long, long ride out to Kurla I kept marveling at how positively huge this city is, seemingly endless and without any real plan to it.

Of course there was plenty of drama at the station. The luggage king first stated that the train was an express to Calcutta and there wouldn’t be enough time to unload the bikes in Jalgaon, but after we stood around moping for awhile, trying to figure out what to do next, he came up with a plan. "Well, if you wake up one station before Jalgaon, at 4:45," he said, "you can go to the luggage car and remind the guard that your bikes will be coming off. That might work, but I’m really not sure." We decided to risk it, since going back into Bombay seemed hopelessly complicated, and settled into the noisome first-class waiting room for a brief rest before dealing with our berth assignments. After wandering up and down the platform (for the train was already there) I learned that Fred and I had been assigned to two separate compartments, seemingly miles away from each other. How is it that we have such bad luck with trains in this country?

Nevertheless, the friendly old conductor woke me up at the appointed time. I waited at the door of the train to hop off and have a word with the luggage guard, but the train didn’t even stop at the station where I was supposed to do this, so I figured I’d wing it, a little miffed at being cheated out of a half-hour’s sleep.

Jalgaon. I leapt off the train while it was still rolling and headed straight back to the luggage car, immediately behind mine. The guard was unloading bags from his little office and when I asked about our bikes in the luggage bay, he informed me lazily, "There was not enough room in the car; they were not loaded in Bombay."

"But we saw them going on just before the train pulled out!" I pleaded with him, "Can’t you just open it and see?"

But at this point there was no point in arguing, even with Fred huffing and puffing at my side. The whistle had blown and the train was slowly pulling away into the night. The luggage nazi merely shrugged his shoulders and leapt back aboard. --"Stop the train!"

Right next to us on the platform was the office of the assistant stationmaster. Amazingly, it was open; so I marched right in and told the first person I saw of our plight. I spoke so fast that I wondered if he even understood me, or if I was addressing the right person at all, but the information was relayed to a suave-looking guy in the back office who immediately picked up the phone and began barking into it. Hanging up the receiver, he looked at me and beamed. "Your bikes will be unloaded at the next station and sent back here, arriving at about 8:30." I thought to myself: "I’ll believe that when I see it," half-afraid that the bikes were still somehow in Bombay, but he seemed so confident that now all I could think of was getting a little shut-eye.

The "Railway Retiring Rooms" just above were full, so we made our way outside, where a deserted street was lined with little hotels, each less savory than the next. Most looked positively closed for the night, but one had a buzzer at the door. A sleep-rumpled man let us in and showed us to an immaculate little room which featured –God be praised—a television set. We ravenously turned it to BBC World and learned about the bombing before falling into a deep, deep slumber. I had a particularly vivid dream where we biked into war-torn Baghdad for the day (on my cycling map I discovered with delight that it was only a short distance away), aware that the bombing only happened at night. We met up with ex-pats packing up their U-Hauls and indulging in last-minute cocktail parties as well as one Anne Waters –mother of a good friend of mine—who complained about having booked a vacation here at such a volatile time.

It was well past eight-thirty when we awoke. Neither of us really expected the bikes to be waiting for us at the station, but there they were at the platform, watched over by a couple of unwashed underlings from Indian Railways (largest employer on Earth). Fred noticed immediately that his bike’s rear rim was severely bent, and he wanted to fill out a complaint. I convinced him that this was a waste of time and suggested we have breakfast and visit a bike shop instead.

--Which is precisely what we did. On the sidewalk terrace of our hotel/restaurant we packed our bags onto the bikes with hardly any audience at all (are Indians less curious here, or simply more polite?), chomped down some dosa and headed off to a recommended bike shop. The shop looked better-equipped than most we’d seen and was run by a prosperous Jain family. The father and his two sons kept plying us with questions and advice. "You really should not eat meat," advised the father, "it is not good for your soul or body. I myself have never tasted the flesh of any animal. My family are Jain, which is the most perfect religion which exists, you must admit." Meanwhile, one of the two sons was showing me an Indian mountain bike and invited me to ride it, but I declined once I saw how the handlebars were irreparably loose. He asked me how much I’d paid for my bike and when I told him (revising downwards by 60% or so) he told me I paid too much. "In India you could get the same bike for less than half that." The family also owned a hotel in Aurangabad, where we’d be in a few nights, and we promised we’d check it out –though I wondered how much more pontificating I’d be able to endure.

Fred was a little leery of the way they had fixed his rim, but he had to admit that it was perfectly aligned and at least temporarily rideable. Jalgaon was bigger than we had first thought, and far more prosperous. Riding out through the suburbs –full of light industry and a shopping mall or two—I had the odd impression of being back in Del Rio, Texas, half-expecting a Wal-Mart to appear on the horizon. Yet soon we were in the familiar countryside, albeit a countryside with a nicely paved road running through it. Our route climbed gently through lushly cultivated fields, orchards, and sweet-smelling rose plantations. A colorful human feature of the landscape were the many gypsies we saw, dressed in Gujarati style and plying the roads in their animal-drawn wagons when they weren’t camped out somewhere in tents or teepees. From what we could ascertain, these people are migrant field workers who follow the sugarcane harvest.

Perfectly quiet, smooth, tree-lined roads led us all the way to Fardapur, the jumping-off place for the nearby Ajanta caves. I had taken an instant liking to Maharashtra state, wondering if all of it made for such superb cycling. As we rolled through the little village a kid on a bike came up to us. In uncannily good English he told us his name was Philip and asked if we were looking for the MTDC hotel, which in fact we were. Luckily we had him along to point it out to us, since we would have pedaled right by otherwise. In a hurry to get up to the caves before sunset, we bolted down a thali lunch and jumped into an auto-rickshaw.

The caves –a misnomer, since they’re actually cliffs carved out by hand—were nothing short of stupendous. Excavated from the 2nd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D, thirty of them line a beautiful curved river gorge tucked into some desolate hills, a million miles from nowhere. Most are viharas featuring huge carved images of the Buddha along with intricate and well-preserved wall paintings, while others called chaityas have huge sphere-crowned monoliths in the center, said to represent the Buddha. Dormitories for the monks were also carved into the rock, and the story goes that they initially came here to seek refuge from the monsoon season and carved the caves in order to have a place to pray.

We visited every cave, the more spectacular of which came complete with a reflector wallah who lit up the rear recesses with the aid of an aluminum-covered board. As with the Taj Mahal, we had come on the one day of the week when no admission is charged, meaning that the place was crawling with Indian school groups. Many of these followed us from cave to cave, asking the usual questions and posing us for photos. The leaders of one group from some town in the southern part of the state insisted we come visit them there if we passed through and queried us on our opinion of Clinton. "We just cannot understand how your people allow such a bad man to be your leader," one of them said, "and now he goes and attacks Iraq. In India this man could never be president."

We rode back to Fardapur in a rickshaw full of locals. After dinner we went out in search of chocolate. Young Philip found us and said he knew of a place. He proceeded to lead us down a narrow dark path into what looked like the heart of the village and told us about his background. Though he never went to school he learned how to read and write from his parents, and picked up English by talking to the tourists who passed through. "A lot of them come on bicycles," he added, "about twelve hundred a year or so." The so-called "chocolate" he found us was nothing of the sort, but I bought some so that he wouldn’t lose face. As he led us back to our place he said he’d see us tomorrow, which I understood to mean that he’d be expecting some sort of backsheesh.

Jalgaon rim job

 

General view of Ajanta

 

Demonstrating a cave's musical properties

 

 

 

Gateway to the old town of Ajanta

 

 

Office building cave

 

The awesome Kailasa Temple, a.k.a. Cave 16

19 December, Fardapur to Ellora, 109km (f)

My legs felt strangely weak and rubbery beneath me as we pedaled out of Fardapur towards our next cavey destination. Was I out of sorts? Or was the end of the trip so near that I was running out of energy and motivation? It could have been that the cycling was more challenging then what I’d become accustomed to. The first forty-five minutes of the ride went straight up a ghat (ridge or mountain range). It had been ages since we’d climbed more than a few hundred meters in a day. At the end of today’s ride we had racked up nearly a thousand, riding along the upper reaches of the ridge, rolling up and down through fields of cane.

There were some great moments riding. At one point as we passed a peasant driving an oxcart loaded with sugar cane. The driver flagged us down in order to cut chunks of his sweet juicy harvest for us to chew on. I bungied the excess on the back of my bike and shared it with some appreciative school children we met further down the road.

Often the last kilometers of the day take the most effort. Beaten by the exertion of the day they drag off into infinity and make it seem as though will never make our destination. Not today; we whizzed down the last hill reaching speeds of over fifty kilometers and hour passing traffic on the way.

Though tired and achy after our ride I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore the caves. The caves here in Ellora were reported to be even more fantastic then those of the day before in Ajanta. Ellora’s caves have few surviving paintings but the carvings inside the caves are far more intricate than Ajanta. In Ellora there are three types of shrines. The oldest are Buddhist, middle Hindu and most recent Jain. We decided to attack the caves starting with the oldest first. Each of the first eight caves housed an inner shrine with a seated Buddha (viharas). Some of the later caves sported an inner shine whose walls were a collage of hundreds or thousands of carved seated Buddha images surrounding the massive Buddha image. The latest cave of this series was completely different. Its hall was not square, but was carved in like an oblong baroque chapel with stone pillars supporting a raised all carved within the cliff. Instead of featuring an image of Buddha this one enclosed a crowned sphere like those found at Ajanta.

The next series of caves (Hindu) had uninteresting exteriors. I likened them to office buildings with square cut windows on three levels looking all-too-boring and symmetric. Inside they were far from boring. Each gallery on every level was carved with the stories of the trials and triumphs of the Hindu gods. We could have spent hours in each temple, but we were anxious to see the most impressive of all the temples here and perhaps elsewhere.

The last of the day was number 16. When work began on "cave" (not really a cave at all) number 16 carving, simple caves out of the cliff was no longer a challenge to the Hindus, a more ambitious project what the gods ordered. There they carved a freestanding temple out one piece of solid rock. The edifice-cum-sculpture stands 40 meters high, one hundred meters deep and 40 meters wide, making it the largest monolithic sculpture on Earth. Full-scale elephants guard the rear and huge tigers race around a disk atop the temple. Every other surface, interior and exterior, is carved with animals, gods, the kama sutra and anything else that captivated the designers’ imagination. It is said that it took 70,000 workers one hundred and twenty years to complete the carving. I have never seen anything like it before and expect to see nothing like it again. As the sun began to set we hiked along what remains of the cliff above it and watched the red light reflect on the rock carved tigers below.

Hiking down and out of the park we ran into some disgruntled Australians. They’d planned to enter the park with their didgeridos (a long tubular instrument used by aboriginal Australians, make a weird other-worldly noise that sounds like the noise a spring makes in a cartoon. Didgeridon’t be in our dictionary, so help us out if you know how it is spelled) Thankfully the park guards prohibited them from entering with their instruments, sparing us their noise and delivering us a peaceful day at the caves. I was curious why someone would travel with a do so I asked them about it. Naively I thought the instrument would be heavy and ungainly. The dos I’d seen before were constructed out of wood. "No, its much more practical these days. In fact, you can buy them here in India constructed out of light bamboo. And the sound is the same!," he replied excitedly. "Or, you can even have one made out of PVC, very practical for travel." I was unconvinced of the practicality or interest in of hauling a six-foot stretch of water pipe on my vacation but I admired their enthusiasm all the same.

The next day we were tourists once again. We visited a sacred lake where Shiva is said to reside at night. Those who take a dip in it are sure to find a place in the heavens, have all their ails cured and problems solved. I thought about diving in and living a life of bliss, but couldn’t deal with the immediate problem of how ill one might become swimming in the putrid waters. And if this was such a holy place why had dogs, monkeys and humans defecated all over the rim of the stone stepped lake?

Later we stepped into a temple where it is said that Shiva’s consort Parvati rubbed red pigment onto her hand. Fire leapt from the powder and the fire was installed in the rock of the shrine. This temple is one of the twelve "self-orienting" temples in India. We still have no idea what "self-orienting" means but we do know that we had to take off our shirts and shoes in order to enter the sacred shrine.

At lunch we met an Indian/American couple. They’d been traveling in the south visiting their Indian family. Arvind is Indian and works for Monsanto in America. There he’d met his wife fallen in love and married. Now that they’d been married for over a year they were visiting India to meet his family for the first time. She was wearing a baby blue sari looking Indian in every way except for her skin color and her bright white tennis shoes. We rode out to the Jain cave/temples in their hired Ambassador with them and explored the site together. Arvind and his wife had to catch a plane to Udaipur (where they later told us Arvind had been treated like her manservant) and left us to explore on our own.

Andy went back to see the earlier temples once again while I decided to hike to see the sacred bathing spot of Sita. Sita’s sacred bathing spot is a series of rock pools fed by a brook all above the cliff-carved temples. I followed the babbling brook several kilometers passing water-worn temples to Shiva, cows and no other tourists. Opting to take another route home as the sun began to set I began to regret being alone and that I wasn’t wearing long pants. I got lost in the thick underbrush trying to cross a ravine in order to return to the road and back to our hotel. I arrived at temple 16 as the sun dipped below the horizon and hiked back to the hotel in time to share a twilight beer with Andy as darkness fell over Ellora.

After our cocktail I went to the office of our hotel to ask the manager a question. There I met Carmel. She’d been here in India for thirty years and was an expert on the caves. We dined with her. She told us of her experiences in India and about her books. Feeling oddly out of touch with America, our culture and society she asked us how she as an American should deal with various familial situations. I felt a little awkward giving advice to someone so obviously more experienced than me. I would have felt more at home if she’d offered me advice.

21-22 December, Ellora to Aurangabad (and around), 57km (a)

Today’s twenty-five kilometers hardly qualify it as a riding day. Our principal goal for the last remaining days of our Indian odyssey –and our whole trip—is to snag some relaxation, some vacation—before heading back to the cold and gray. Right this moment we’re sitting by the side of the cleanest pool we’ve seen in India (which really isn’t saying much), getting a concentrated dose of R ‘n’ R before hitting the long road to Pune and Bombay.

Today began like almost any other BikeBrats day, at dawn. We saddled up relatively early for the warm-up pump up the ghat, the hill leading to the plateau above. It wasn’t bad at all, and I was pleased to learn we could go faster than a horse up such a grade. First tourist stop du jour was in the Muslim village at the top of the hill (Khuldabad), strewn with impressive Mughal-era chunks as well as the simple tomb of Aurangzeb, last of the Mughal emperors. Apparently his religious fervor and asceticism caused him to reject the idea of a tomb like his parents’ (i.e. the Taj Mahal) in favor an ordinary little grave financed entirely by the proceeds of caps he knit and sold himself. While the story has a charming quality to it, the actual tourist site does not. What with the screaming crowd of schoolboys all asking us our "country name", insisting we pose with them for photos, and begging us to autograph their hands, it was a monument we ought to have skipped.

Far more interesting was the amazing fort at Daulatabad, considered to be the most impregnable fortress ever constructed, and site of another folksy tale. In the fourteenth century, Mohammad-bin-Tughlak, ruler of Delhi, forced the entire population to move here and proclaimed it his new capital. Thousands of people died on the 1500-km trek, and who knows how many died on the way back, after Mohammed-bin-Tughlak realized his error.

Now the old walled city contains mostly pasture land, plus one small village, but the fort remains largely intact. To get to the top you have to penetrate several sets of walls, cross a deep moat cut into the rock and trudge up dark bat-filled passageways where invaders used to get drowned in boiling tar. We wished we’d had some tar, too, to try it out on the hundreds of the most obnoxious schoolboys we’ve seen anywhere. They simply would not leave us alone, grating on our nerves and causing us to appeal to their minders. We often had to seek refuge in some dark cubbyhole just to get away from them, thus considerably lengthening the hefty ascent.

While hiding out from the agouti swarm at a pavilion near the top of the hill, we met a gregarious Dutch woman named Claire, whose waiting father we had already met below. We chatted for a long time before heading up the last steps to the top, where we found ourselves miraculously alone to enjoy the panoramic view. On the way down Claire regaled us with tales of her time as a summer school student at UCLA and experiences of her time on the road in Morocco.

After beating off a battalion of persistent souvenir vendors, we climbed back on the bikes and rolled gently down towards Aurangabad under a canopy of banyan trees. We haven’t actually seen Aurangabad yet, since we deliberately chose a place in the countryside on the Ellora side of town. It’s called "The Meadows" and features sanitized concrete bungalows set in a 15-acre compound with a pool (too cold to swim in, but like I said –clean), a gym, a jogging track, a conference center and a superb restaurant where Fred and I just gorged ourselves for lunch. It sure doesn’t feel, look or smell like India here. My first impression of the place’s layout, architecture and general feeling of abandonment reminded me of a communist-style French suburb, but Fred hit the nail on the head with "kibbutz resort", a bizarre hybrid which we actually experienced –what?-- thirteen months ago in Israel.

…Now it’s the next day and I’m feeling fantastic after what is perhaps the best massage I’ve ever experienced. Poor Fred has been feeling lousy so we’ve extended our stay here in Aurangabad. I went out exploring on my bike today, first to the Bibi-ka-Maqbara, a.k.a the "poor man’s Taj Mahal". It was built by Aurangzeb’s son Azam Shah in memory of his mother, constructed on the pattern of the Taj. Inside I was befriended by a group of portly Indian businessmen visiting from faraway Gwalior, one of whom shocked me by begging for a "souvenir from your country." From the Agouti Mahal it was a pastoral uphill ride to yet another series of caves, cut between the 6th and 8th centuries. While less impressive than those of Ajanta or Ellora, they had the advantage of being absolutely deserted save for a few local ragamuffins. I also checked out a strange attraction known as Panchakki, part of an ancient water-management scheme and entirely without interest to the non-Indian tourist as far as I could see. An extended pedal through the town itself made it clear that Aurangabad is still very much a Muslim town, full of mosques and women wearing chaddors. I stopped at a couple of government-run tourist agencies for information about the route ahead –a total waste of time. No one could tell me anything about the road from here to Pune, and while everyone’s heard of Ahmednagar –tomorrow’s intended overnight stop—no one could tell me the first thing about it. "It is not a place for tourists" was the verbatim response I got from both the state and federal tourist authorities. I suppose we’ll see when we get there…

Claire with admirers atop Daulatabad Fort

 

 

Aurangabad's "Mini Mahal", the Bibi-ka-Maqbara

 

Inside Aurangabad's caves

Billboard on the road to Ahmednagar

 

 

Crossing the mighty Godavari river the hard way, on a piece of styrofoam with only hands for paddles

 

 

 

23 December, Aurangabad to Ahmednagar, 115km (f)

My "down-day" in Aurangabad should have been a relaxing one, but the evil stomach gods intervened. It was torture to have a stomach ailment when the food was so incredibly good at our resort/kibbutz/bunny farm hotel. Our hotel looked like a little model of Irvine, California. Cute white bungalows set on immaculate green lawns amidst winding cement sidewalks plunked down in the middle of a rural Indian environment seemed out of place in Aurangabad. There was one other anomaly at our hotel in Aurangabad that wasn’t immediately apparent. At our first meal a shorthaired and panted Indian took our food order and disappeared into the kitchen. After she left Andy and I looked at one another realizing this was the first and only female waitperson we’d had in India.

Andy had asked the front desk to call a doctor for me at 10 am. When he did the clerk lectured Andy about our president’s behavior, quoting the Koran. At four in the afternoon, when no doctor had arrived I summoned the last of my strength went to the office and gave them more to fear than Allah. Trudging back to the room with the clerk and his manager chasing after me with a flurry of apologies I nearly blacked out. Soon afterwards the doctor arrived and proclaimed that I had amebic dysentery.

The next day, against the doctor’s recommendations, we were mobile once again. We left late, neither of us feeling 100%. We considered taking a non-bicycle form of transportation and rejected the idea. The riding day was lost in a fuzz of anti-amebics. What I do remember of the ride is that it was painless, on a smooth road with little traffic.

We were both exhausted when we arrived on the outskirts of Amednagar, opting to stop at the first hotel we saw. There was no hot water, but the hotel provided us with a few buckets of hot water to wash with. (This is often the case in India, where hot water is only provided in the mornings and evenings.) We both felt refreshed, ready to see Amednagar, off of our bikes. We tried to hire an autorickshaw with little success. For the first time since Delhi the drivers were trying to rip us off. We dispensed with bargaining and started to hoof it. A few meters from the hotel we flagged a horse cart, negotiated a price for a tour through a helpful bystander and were trotting through the streets of Ahmednagar towards the massive fort.

As the sun set we turned back towards the hotel onto the main road. Gripping the cart I watched trucks and cars dodge us on the busy highway. I’d regained my appetite, it seemed that the drugs were working. We were at the restaurant too early to eat dinner so we snacked lavishly. It was hard to concentrate on our food because we were again, big surprise, the center of attention. An extended family was also eating at the restaurant and the children kept changing tables to get a better look at us. When we began to play cards they stood over our shoulders giggling until their parents dragged them off into their vehicles and left us to eat our dinner in peace.


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