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Memories of the trip so far: Week 7

There's so much to love in and about India, but there's a lot that spoils it too. The beauty and variety of the landscapes I passed through was incredible, some buildings were exquisite, some foods divine, some of the people I met were among the warmest and most interesting who can exist, the birds and monkeys were beautiful, the history endless, and it all cost very little. To appreciate it I just had to look up from the loo, over the filth, around the truck heading for me, past the men constantly fiddling with their genitals/spitting/smoking/littering, ignore the mosquitoes, forgive the general lack of manners and greetings, and forget the final insult of the airport bureaucracy.

Half way through my Indian traverse, in the beautiful city of Jaipur I got another dose of the trots. I kept cycling, the riding got slow, short, and was done in a daze, but it got done. Reducing the mileage gave my saddle sores and other aches a chance to recover though.

Earlier in India

On the road to Agra I stayed in an old palace converted to hotel. As the only guest, before dinner I was invited to join the staff in their meditation to the goddess wife of Shiva. They opened a cupboard which revealed their shrine, put on some meditative music, lit candles and burned incense. Then there was singing and ringing a bell to wake the goddess. It was great to see this sacred part of their lives.

Agra was my first stop in Utter Pradesh, and I found the change between states very gradual this time. The eastern planes of Rajasthan after Jaipur were harvesting wheat and building up a supply of 'dung cakes' - cooking fuel made of poo. Very much the same things were happening in Utter Pradesh, but maybe the countryside was subtly greener.

The next few days through Utter Pradesh felt like a distorted form of time travel. I moved gently back through the growing season until the wheat was still green in the field. I also travelled back decades, centuries even, in terms of economic development. The road-side cafes became dirt floored shacks with just tables or beds, no chairs, and for the next 700 miles very few served anything but dodgy water, dhal, and roti.

The city of Allahabad was a great surprise with some pleasant people, beautiful buildings, less dirt, and a very nice hotel. Itís a sacred place, the meeting of the Yamuna and Ganges rivers, and I think the inhabitants treat their city with a little extra reverence because of this.

Just down the road is Varanasi, one of the oldest cities on earth and it is also sacred - but it's a dump populated by morons in my limited experience. I hung around long enough to have 4 punctures and raced out of there for some fresh air.

I was heading along the 'Grand Trunk Road' NH2, south east. I'd been told it was dead flat for the 800 miles I'd see of it, but then I entered the state of Jharkhand. The hills rose up all around, and the road soon joined in and climbed. The hills were forested, which was a huge change after all the farming I'd been used to. I loved sweating my way up the hills there, even through the smoke and greater heat of small forest fires. My improving health and the change of scene overcame those hills easily.

I rode good distances for the last few days in to Kolkata, helping to drag up a rather disappointing average for this leg of my trip. They were miles which coated me in grime; coal dust one day, sand another; whatever the majority of trucks were carrying I'd be wearing and coughing up. I raced into West Bengal, my final state in India, and battled a headwind through its humid paddy fields and past the banana plants to reach the airport looking forward to another change of scene: Thailand!