Mark on one of the long, flat, narrow lanes running through Rajasthan. That’s a mustard field behind him, if you care.
Osian to Jodhpur, Jodhpur to Rohat, and Rohat to Jojawar for a rest day and a police report, but more on that later.
Along with our first day to Osian we’ve ridden for four days now and they’ve all been good rides, some really good. Mostly it’s been quiet country roads, what would in the U.S. be really just a one-lane road though here they manage to squeeze in traffic going both ways. Our second day of riding was mostly on a bigger highway which was easy but not very interesting. After that, though, it’s been almost exclusively on quiet country roads. Mostly reasonably well paved but then every so often you’ll hit five miles or so of really rough road. Not nearly as much fun.
Rajasthani roadside sights
As I said, day two was mostly on a reasonably major road into Jodhpur, just a bit over 30 miles. Mark and I had been here just a couple days earlier and, to our surprise, the hotel we were staying at with Grasshopper was immediately next door do the place we’d stayed. And lunch was scheduled for On the Rocks, the same place that we’d loved during our stay. After riding into town, cleaning up, and having lunch, the group headed up to the Jodhpur Fort. For us that was back up to the Jodhpur Fort, as we’d been there just three days earlier, but this time we went into the museum and so we saw quite a different perspective of the fort.
The Jodhpur Fort, lit up at night, from the main market area
Afterwards we walked down into the market – always interesting – and then off to dinner. For Mark & me dinner was coming up too soon – less than four hours after lunch – so we opted to go off on our own later and, not surprisingly, ended up back at On the Rocks. We had been curious about one thing there: there was an indication that, because it was a family establishment “single men” would not be served at the bar. Did that include us? Whether it was intended to or not, it didn’t. In fact, there were only men there and they were the only tables available for dinner near heat (it gets pretty chilly at night so I needed the artificial heat). At any rate, the meal as usual was great.
From Jodhpur we rode on to Rohat, this time a little less than 30 miles, into what seemed like a nothing little town. As we rode through the town toward the hotel I found myself thinking “Jesus, what kind of place are we going to find here?” Turned out an exceptionally beautiful place, just an amazing oasis in an otherwise ugly, dirty town. So amazing, in fact, that Madonna Herself apparently stayed here a few years ago and loved it. And then we learned that just the day before Brooke Shields had been there. Based on the photos the staff showed us, she’s still looking pretty good. So we loved our little Rohatian oasis.
The kids love us as we bike through their tiny villages. As I said when we first started this ride they give a whole new meaning to the term “tourist attraction.”
Next stop then was Jojawar, another pretty nondescript town after a long 55-mile ride. The hotel here – like so many of them built in an old royal palace – was nice but nothing to get too excited about. The excitement was that we had a rest day, well-earned after four days of biking. First, though, after arriving in Jojawar we were going to go on a “human safari” which, we learned, was heading out in a jeep into a really, really remote village to meet some really remote people. This was truly out off the grid, just a tiny compound of an extended family, part of a small religious minority in the area. Then it was into a very small village where we watched and participated in an opium ceremony – yes, opium tea – where the local men chant and do all that religious stuff and then share some very, very, very weak opium tea. We all tried it and ultimately it was pretty bland. I don’t think any of us became addicts.
The family patriarch and a local guide on what they called the “human safari”
As part of the opium tea ceremony you drink the tea directly from your cupped hands. Even if it weren’t so totally diluted you probably just couldn’t drink that much of it.
The next day we had a morning activity, an hour-long drive through the hills of Rajasthan – the first hills we’ve seen – to an old railroad station. The activity was just to ride the train through the hills, enjoying the views and seeing how the locals live and travel. Fun enough. From there back to the hotel and lunch.
Hanging out on the train. Don’t worry, it was stopped, though when it was running these doors stayed wide open so you could enjoy the breeze and the views.
On of the stops along the way. The cows ultimately were unable to board, but this gives you an idea of the quality of train we were riding.
After a bit of rest I decided to go for a walk. Yes, it was a rest day, but I wanted to get a little exercise in. So I took off into the little town and quickly found myself out on a small road leading, well, who knows? But I like walking out in the country so off I went, past a cricket field with a couple teams playing and then on out, just to get some fresh air and see what was there. I’ve done this dozens and dozens of times, and this road was no different from the roads we’ve been biking on.
Ah, but it was different. While the small number of people I would see on their motorcycles were typically friendly, waving at this strange foreigner out for a walk, one group of guys on a bike – three of them, to be precise – started hassling me. I wasn’t sure what they were up to, but it wasn’t just the usual friendly banter; it was menacing. Eventually they sped on and I continued. But then they came back, maybe a little more menacing, so this time I turned around and headed back to town. They rode away but again were back in a minute or so. This time one of them got off the bike and started challenging me. I didn’t know what was going on, though it was obvious whatever it was wasn’t good.
We’ll stop the story here for the cutest picture ever, a shy cat in Jodhpur…
Pretty quickly I realized that the word he was almost chanting as he circled me was “Money.” Over and over, snarling, growling, as the other two guys started chanting it with him. It was starting to be clear to me, especially when the second guy got off the bike and I saw a big rock in his hand. OK, there’s something of a language barrier but I get the point: I’m being robbed at rock point. I took out my wallet and quickly extracted all the cash in it; I wasn’t going to try to play games by keeping a few bills. Sadly, just the day before we’d stopped at an ATM and I’d taken out 10,000 rupees, about $160, and hadn’t yet given any of it yet to Mark, meaning I had about $180 on me. I gave them the money and got out of there as fast as I could.
Not fast enough, though, as they quickly circled back and then started chanting “Phone!” For some crazy reason – as Mark points out, they were obviously amateurs – they believed me and left. And that was it. Never got my credit or ATM cards, didn’t take my iPhone, didn’t even seem to notice the AppleWatch. Amateurs. As I started to walk back to town a group of guys who worked at a nearby power plant and had heard something going on came out. They were sympathetic but by then the evil trio were long gone. I remembered that I had our local guide’s phone number, though, and called him to report what had happened. He and the hotel were out there within five minutes at most.
From there things went surprisingly well. The manager, who you can imagine absolutely hated the fact that one of his guests had been robbed in town, got the police on the line and soon enough I had three or four police officers asking questions, taking notes, all that stuff. They explained that because we knew almost precisely when it had happened – my call to the guide was time-stamped on our phones – they could look at a CCTV camera on the road leading out of town to see if they could identify anyone. Before bedtime I had a call from the superintendent of the regional police saying they were on it and they would find the guys.
And to my enormous surprise, they did, before even I left town the following morning. There was all sorts of paperwork and signatures and stamps and all that during the evening and I was incredibly bad at giving them any description of the three guys at all: I had been focused on surviving, not taking mental pictures. And yes, as they were driving away the last time it occurred to me that taking out my iPhone to take a picture wouldn’t have been smart. I thought it was pretty unlikely that I would be able to identify anyone if they could pick up a likely suspect.
The next morning, though, as we were getting ready to leave for our ride, one of the cops pulled me aside and, with our guide as translator, pulled out his phone, showed me a picture, and asked if I recognized the guy. Absolutely, without any doubt, it was the guy who’d been driving. He explained that they’d figured out the night before who it was, went to their houses, and all three guys were out and didn’t come back. At some point, though, they’ll come back and the police will be ready.
I asked the cop who had this photo on his phone if I could take a picture of the picture. So there he is, the evil SOB who was driving the motorcycle. What’s funny is though I didn’t recall his facial hair, the second I saw this I recognized him. The one thing I did remember, and told the police, was that his hair had a slight, unnatural reddish tint, which you can actually see here.
Of course, I’m not getting my money back. And to be honest, I’m not sure I care what happens to them. I suspect, though, that they won’t get away scott-free. The hotel manager was genuinely upset; I believed him when he said that had never happened before. And I think the local and regional police hated it that a foreign tourist was robbed in their cute little town. To their credit, and in massive contrast to an experience in Rio years ago, the hotel manager, the police, and the Grasshopper staff were extraordinarily helpful and responsive. I mean, they had IDed the guys within just a couple of hours. That’s not bad work.
For the second time in my life, then, I’ve been robbed. The first time was in Rio 12 years ago or so but hell, that was Rio. You’re surprised if you spend time there and don’t get robbed. You don’t expect it in rural India, where the people have been almost impossibly sweet and kind and friendly. At one point I realized that until now, I hadn’t been carrying my wallet at all; everything is paid for by Grasshopper so you really don’t need to have a wallet. I’d grabbed it as we left for the train ride, though, in case I wanted to buy a snack or something, or in case I’d misunderstood the directions and we had to pay for the train tickets. And when you think about it, it would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t had my wallet. Who would believe that a Western tourist didn’t have any money at all? They would have likely tackled me to get the (non-existent) wallet and who knows how that would have ended. Most certainly with me one less iPhone and probably a bit of spilled blood. Losing a bit of money is OK when you put it that way.
In the end, then, not the worst thing that ever happened. Now it’s back on the bike and off to high-fiving more cute little seven-year-olds who are just grinning from ear-to-ear seeing these strange aliens on bikes.
Sunset in Jodhpur
An Indian woman at the Jodhpur Fort. Her face is covered by a veil, indicating that she observes “purdah”, a religious practice of both Hindu and Moslem women in northern India to cover themselves. The colorful clothes and relatively thin and translucent veil makes it seem somehow less oppressive than the thick black burqas seen in other Moslem communities.
Tony & Sharon, from Adelaide, were celebrating their 30th anniversary with us
Our intrepid leader Blair, from Scotland. At well over 6 feet and with a big reddish beard he must look like something of an alien to these Indians.
Women in the rural compound on our “human safari.” The large nose ring indicates she’s married.
Jim & Anne, another Aussie, on the train ride
Steve, a sweet American employee of Grasshopper but doing the ride with us on holiday
Strange street scenes along the ride
At one point on the ride we stopped at this shrine. It’s a motorcycle shrine. The story is that some guy was killed in a motorcycle accident back in the 1990s. The cycle was brought into town but every time they did it would drive itself back to the site of the accident. So they built a shrine and left it there. Color me a sceptic.
It’s hard to overstate how challenging and medieval almost their lives can be. Over and over you see women and small children carrying firewood so they can cook their meals.
Jim and a cute kid
Kids playing a game, as kids everywhere do