Road travel can be a very educative experience. For example, in our case, it brought vividly to us that India is a huge and diverse country. We were cycling across the Hindi heartland and only some 750 km. The sense of diversity was ever-present. Pure Hindi was rarely the language we got to listen those six days. We started our trip with Banarasi Bhojpuri which turned into Avadhi and its variants as we approached Allahabad. This metamorphosed into something reasonably similar to pure Hindi (khadi boli) as we got closer to the Kanpur area. This progressively changed in texture and tonality turned into pure “jat”-speak as we moved into Western UP on our way towards Haryana. I read later somewhere that in India dialects change every eighteen kilometers. That could be an exaggeration but I heard with my own ears those changing texture of “Hindi” during the six days and five nights I was on the road.
The trip broke another stereotype of the aggressive, uncouth North Indian. The North Indians we met were uniformly helpful, friendly and courteous. They would unfailingly deliver messages from one of the group to the others. They would politely direct us to the next big dhaba which served the best food in the area. And when one of our friends cycled off the highway into someone’s sugarcane field, he got rewarded with a hipflask-full of freshly crushed sugar cane juice. The flask got passed around the group that early winter morning and we happily sipped off the elixir! Cold, sweet and very, very, invigorating!
I have digressed from the sequential description of the trip. Well, for those who like the facts, from Sikandara we made it to Shikohabad for our night four. The police station hosting us for the night was in the heart of town. Which meant we have a proper meal in a restaurant. There is this side-story of one of our group getting into a scrap with the local people. But I do not have clear memories of that.
From Shikohabad we left for Mathura. This was to be the last halt before Delhi. Once we reached Mathura, we were tempted to cycle even further so that we could be as close to Delhi as possible next morning. And we found ourselves sleeping in Jaint police station. Yet another of those non-descript police affairs in Uttar Pradesh.
It was a usual early morning departure from Jaint and then a stop at Palwal, Haryana, for lunch. I still remember the lunch at Palwal. It was the first time ever I had some beer. One whole glassful! Since I had read somewhere that beer is had chilled- and my beer was not- I had insisted upon ice cubes being added to my glass. Much to the amusement of my more knowledgeable companions.
The entry into Delhi was smooth. We had covered 750 kms from Varanasi to Delhi without any major hitch. Not even a single puncture. Imagine we had together travelled something like 4500 man-kilometers over the previous six days and not one puncture. The puncture kit which was first on the list of must-have items when we were preparing for the trip went totally unused!
The only source of amusement was when the only Delhi-wallah member of our group decided he had had enough of cycling when he entered Delhi (at Sarita Vihar). He just chucked his cycle into an auto-rikshaw (called a “scooter” in Delhi) and went off!
The remaining travelers, all non-Delhi-wallahs asked their way around the mysteriously identical-looking roads of South Delhi and managed to reach our planned location for our stay, one of the hostels (was it Karakoram?) at IIT Delhi at Hauz Khas.
Three days of rest and recreation and we were ready for the journey back to Varanasi. Not on our cycles, of course, but on a train. The cycles were loaded into the parcel van of the train. Thankfully! As we readied ourselves for the practical exams!
PS: A few months after this expedition, one of the fellow-cyclists and I were returning after seeing a movie. Nigh show, of course! And then we realized that Los Angeles Olympics 1984 was starting a couple of days hence. We were feeling sorry for ourselves that we could not catch the inaugural ceremony live as those days (July 1984) Varanasi did not have any TV station. Suddenly it struck us, Allahabad did have TV facilities. And that Allahabad was only some 130 km from Varanasi. As we peddled hostel-wards, we had made up our minds!
Early next morning saw us peddling on the familiar highway on our way to Allahabad.