Grounds of the Museum. Beautiful but sharing the same air as the rest of the city.

Our last stop in India was in Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay. In some ways it was a big change: it’s a massive, global city after our schlep through Rajasthan and to me, at least, it has more in common with southern India than the north where we’ve been up until now. In most ways, though, it was similar to what we’ve been experiencing; crazy, chaotic, dirty, smoggy, and fascinating.

I’m familiar with Clear, Cloudy, Rain, Snow, whatever. Never seen Smoke before….

We spent only three days there and, to put it mildly, you can’t remotely see Mumbai in three days. I mean, it’s more than twice the size of New York City and no one would spend three days there and say they’d figured out the Big Apple. So we didn’t even try to cover it significantly. In fact one day we spent just lazy around the hotel and shopping at a nearby mall, distinctly atypical behavior for us. (And alas, we’re terrible shoppers; neither of us bought a damned thing.)

Sadly, the most memorable part of the visit may have been the air quality. After Delhi I didn’t think anything could surprise me but this was all but unbelievable. Just a heavy haze hanging over the city much of the day, bad enough that the weather app we use showed the current condition as “Smoke.” Seriously. Bizarre and I assume pretty unhealthy.

Although we had limited time there we weren’t total Philistines, we spent much of one day at few of Mumbai’s good museums. The most important is the improbably named Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Once upon a time it was the Prince of Wales Museum, named after the future Edward VIII in honor of his visit to Bombay. (Edward, you will recall, spent a lot more time as Prince of Wales than he did as king, given that he abdicated so he could marry Wallis Simpson, but that is a very separate story.) When India was busy changing Bombay to Mumbai (and Madras to Chennai and Calcutta to Kolkata; you get the idea) they also renamed the museum for a King Shivaji. As that name is too difficult even for Indians it’s nicknamed “CSMVS” but as that is both stupid sounding and still too long for people to really remember these days the museum is mostly just known as … the museum.

So we spent a few hours in the museum, a museum of India’s history. Mark is reading a (long) history of India and he in particular appreciated the layout of the exhibits, tracking surprisingly closely the structure of his book. One could argue that we should have toured the history of India before we spent five weeks there rather than on our last day but hey, we got there eventually.

This tiny bronze figurine, known as the Dancing Girl, dates from about 2,500 BC and is considered the iconic artifact from the Harappan Empire of the Indus Valley, contemporary to the great Egypt and Mesopotamian civilizations.

That was the big museum but right in the same area were two smaller art museums so we stopped in at those as well and they were both fun. Short, quick stops with some interesting art, just the way I like it best.

A piece from an exhibit called Tribal Beauty. Sadly, I forgot to capture the artist’s name.

And that was it, time to leave India. It is an intense place and it took me longer to warm up to all that than it did on earlier visits but eventually I got there. We had scheduled the five weeks in large part because we were afraid we would just need to get away at that point. In fact I’d be happy to have had more time to see more of the country but apparently we’ll have to save that for another visit. I won’t miss the dang dynamic currency conversion scam we have to watch for like an eagle and I’d be OK if waiters quit insisting you can’t eat Indian curry without rice or bread (you can). For now, though, it’s south to Sri Lanka!

The view from our hotel room. Thought I was kidding about the air quality?

After our museum wanderings we were looking for a place to lunch. As we walked past one restaurant Mark’s face lit up: “I think I ate here in 1993,” he said. As we entered it was more clear that indeed, he’d eaten here on his first trip to India nearly a quarter of a century earlier. Weird.

In a welcome break from Indian curry – we love it, but five weeks is a lot of curry – we had this amazing plate of sashimi

Indian modern art

And this piece called “Still Chewing.” That red stuff is the artist’s rendition of chewing gum holding her from the ceiling.

If you paid attention you could see grand colonial architecture along, of course, with the more mundane modern apartment blocks

Strange sight – apparently this is the laundry district, just acres and acres of laundry drying

And of course, like presumably all Indian cities big and small, there is always a street scene

Enjoying one of our three fabulous lunches at the White Terrace

We ended our Rajasthani bike trip with a day in Udaipur and while the rest of the group flew to Delhi and then on toward home we – since we don’t have a home – stayed in Udaipur for three more days. We checked into a luxury hotel to recover from all that biking and – having toured the City Palace with the bike group – had a pretty chill couple of days.

Separated from the Thar Desert that we’d been biking through by the Aravalli Range that we biked over, Udaipur is quite different from the Rajasthan that we’d become familiar with. In fact, it has lakes, something we definitely had not seen a lot of. Accordingly Udaipur is known as the City of Lakes, though based on my experience it would never be confused with that other City of Lakes, Minneapolis. Still, those lakes give Udaipur an attractive quality missing in the other Rajasthan cities we visited.

Lake Pichola. Mark found himself wondering what birds did before humans discovered electricity and started stringing electric wires….

To be clear, though, the peace we found there was overwhelmingly the result of staying at the Oberoi hotel. Acres and acres of beautifully landscaped lawns and gardens. A pool for Mark to hang out by and a hammock for me to read in. We’d just hang out in the morning, then go into town for a great lunch at the White Terrace (if you’re ever in Udaipur it’s definitely worth a visit). I’d go back to the hotel for some more hammock time while Mark would explore the city a little on his own.

My view from the hammock. Outside the hotel grounds Udaipur is a typically chaotic, noisy, dirty city but in here serenity reigns.

And that’s it. Relaxing and calm, though we were both annoyed by the way hotel staff had been trained to engage guests, inquiring constantly if everything was nice, if we’d slept well, if the food was good, and on and on and on and on. If your biggest complaint is that there are too many staff members doting on you your life is probably OK.

Mark’s perch at the pool

More of the hotel grounds. Acres and acres of calm.

Outside, though, you were right back in India

Mark used to drive a tractor just like this when he was a kid in Michigan

A street scene

We were almost always too excited by the food to remember to take pictures but managed to restrain our urge to feed long enough to get this shot

Meeting the locals was always a highlight of our days

All good things must end, and this bike trip was definitely one of those good things. After our rest day in Jojawar we rode to Ranakpur, Kumbhalghar, and finally Udaipur, our final destination. As we left Jojawar the scenery quickly started changing; while up to now the terrain was pretty much flat as far as the eye could see, suddenly big hills loomed. Nothing we had to tackle yet, but there they were.

The penultimate day, then, Ranakpur to Kumbhalghar, was all about the hills. Not the biggest hills we’ve ever seen but after several days of almost entirely flat countryside these were definitely hills. First a couple big, long climbs and then a series of rolling hills. Now, “rolling hills” may not sound like much but here’s the problem. When you’re biking in rolling hills you may end up biking hard uphill for maybe five or 10 minutes, then down for one or two, then up again. It feels as though you’re biking almost entirely uphill. Eventually, though, we made it up and over what here in Rajasthan they call the mountains, though to be honest they’re just big hills. From there it was mostly downhill toward Udaipur and our farewell meals.

The hills of Rajasthan, from the Kumbhalghar Fort, that we rode over and through

First, though, there were a couple worthwhile cultural experiences, something Grasshopper is pretty good at scheduling in. In Ranakpur we went to a beautiful Jain temple. Or, I should say, Mark and everyone else went to the Jain temple; I needed a little “Jim time,” plus I was finishing Red Notice, a great little exposé about Russian corruption and the successful efforts of a hedge fund manager to extract a tiny bit of justice. At any rate while I was wrapping that up they were learning more about Jainism, a religion of maybe five million people worldwide, mostly in India, that places non-violence at its center.

Mark loved the Jain Temple. Kept telling me how great it was. That’s OK; I got to see the pictures.

Another shot of the temple

The next day in Kumbhalghar it was up to the fort. Blair, our leader, made it clear that this was the best fort of the trip and pointedly indicated that I shouldn’t miss this one. So even though I’d already told Mark I’d seen enough forts for one trip up I went with the rest of them. Was it the best fort ever? No, not even close. The views, though, were pretty good and it’s probably a good thing to be social even if I didn’t entirely feel like it.

Mark with Andrew (a veterinarian) & Ingrid (a physician) from Newfoundland. Ingrid stayed busy investigating various aches and pains we were experiencing.

And finally, then, it was on to Udaipur and the end. First, though, one last tour, this time a walking tour of Udaipur and the City Palace. There’s a reason, it turns out, why Mark & I almost never take a guided tour of a city; we just prefer to explore it on our own. Too bad that a great bike trip ended on what was, for us, a boring note.

The rest of the trip, though, was anything but boring. Great rides, nice hotels, some genuinely lovely people to share it with. I had been a bit frustrated with our last Grasshopper tour – the requirement to all ride together seemed unnecessary and distinctly suboptimal – but this one restored my faith in them. As you can tell from the pictures we loved all the kids who would line the ratty little roads running through the villages as we rode through. It was almost enough to make me like kids! And just watching people go about their lives, seemingly unchanged over long periods as they carry firewood and herd goats and all that. Of course, things do change of course. At one point during a rest break we watched a tall, thin woman walking what must have been a pretty long walk given how far she was from anything with firewood on her head. “Things just never change,” we said. Until we noticed that while she was balancing the wood with one hand she was talking on a cell phone with the other. Even two flat tires and a little robbery couldn’t cast a shadow on a ride like that.

Did I mention kids?

Mark & I weren’t the only ones charmed by the kids. Here’s Vonnie (short for Yvonne, though I’m guessing at the spelling) using her iPad to take a selfie with a little cutie.

Oh yeah, that robbery. The morning we left Jojawar, the day after the rock-point robbery, they’d shown me a photo of the guy they thought was the ring-leader. There was no question it was the guy who’d been driving the bike. The next morning, in Ranakpur, we heard from the police that they’d identified all three and sure enough, the picture they sent of the little mean one who’d wielded the threatening rock was spot on; again, no question they’d identified the guys. So far so good.

By the end of the trip, though, the story got even better. The police actually recovered some of the money. Apparently it’s harder to spend $180 in rural India than you might expect. The manager of the hotel we’d stayed at in Jojawar collected what they recovered, topped it up to the total amount they’d taken, and sent the whole thing to our guide. In other words, I got my money back. To be honest I still felt somewhat vulnerable on the last days of the ride, just a little nervous when older guys would cluster around as they did for the local “tourist attraction,” but in the end things worked out OK.

This little kid is keeping the cows moving round and round, drawing water for irrigation from what they called a Persian Well. Yes, things change but some things don’t change a lot.

From here we’re staying in Udaipur for a couple days R&R while the rest of the group flew on to Delhi for their farewells. Then we have three days in Mumbai before we fly down to Sri Lanka to start a whole new adventure. Exciting!

Encountering locals on our ride

Making masala tea for us during a break

Sometimes our breaks were just abandoned spots along the road

Mark & Sharon adorned with fresh flowers for the final stretch into Ranakpur

These dogs, sleeping in a trash pile in the middle of an intersection, represent an almost infinite number of dogs found in very similar circumstances

The crew that made things work for us. That’s Blair, a giant Brit and the Grasshopper guide, on the left and Ashok, our (absolutely great) local guide in the middle. If you ever want a guide in India you couldn’t do better than Ashok.

Outside a temple in Udaipur during our final day walking tour

And lastly, a shot of the Peacocks. Yup, Ingrid and Andrew’s last name is Peacock which led to no end of fun in a country where the national bird is the peacock. One of the great memories of the trip was Blair ready to go when they weren’t and hearing him shout “OK Peacocks, on your bikes!” That joke just never got old.