India is a place of paradox, of contradiction, a place of commerce and spirituality, chaos and tranquility. I’m in a small yet busy town in the northern crease of the Himalayas, the emerald river Ganga runs majestically past the hard knees of many towns and it’s devotees. The constant buzz of traffic and squawkers is interrupted with pockets of meditative, hypnotic sounds spilling from the hearts of temples and ashrams. Audible evidence of sacred practice kept alive in these mountains. There are real gurus smoking hash among the Ganga here.
I rest by bike against a tree and down onto the sandy banks of the river. People around seem deep and sentient. The evening breaks out with mantras from the temples and people migrate from the narrow streets down onto the shaws for that final golden, sacred hour. They sit and play music, meditate, give out prayers, contemplate.
To sit alone beside the Ganga in twilight is to experience undisturbed tranquility, a very powerful place and time to be alone. It is a truly peaceful experience that can lead to a sort of inner centering. The river flows as it has done for thousands of years and like it will for thousands more when I have gone. Like many rivers around the world the movement continues with or without me. The transient beauty inspires my sense of time and space, it brings me into appreciation of the joy and power of now in a serene and sedate way. I contemplate where I am in the world and how I got here. What a rich, beautiful opportunity taken with both hands, I feel so grateful to be all the way out here!
I sit in a languid stoop, my tight and strong legs folded underneath me and dive into thought, a deep reflection helped by the flow of the river. I contemplate on where I am in the world and how I got here, the journey so far, the amazing challenge, the daily novelties, the new found enthusiasm for my incredible life on the road. I turn to see monkeys jumping between mossy arms of a pine tree. The first wave of thoughts already wound round the corner of the river, lost forever taking with it soil, debris and ash and along with it, hopes, dreams and gratefulness. Everyone has their spot and time to sit and think on the banks of the Ganga, India’s holiest river, where millions of prayers are dashed out to it everyday, feeding the hearts and mouths of so many millions who devote and depend upon it.
Just like the pace of India, my journey can often be quick, flashing past intricate sections of life, a thousand stories and lives pass by every day; a face behind the trees, a man in tattered suit and hat under a palm, a group of children crossing a bridge holding hands.
All these details and wonderful intricacies of life in India surround me everyday, surrounded by so much noise and activity, beautiful silences in the whirling chaos of India.
They are people in their moment, their own little fragile worlds. I am most fond of these moments, they provide the most wonderful, short lived experience of the real people and moments of the journey, caught in the quick flash of the eye. Just two individuals passing through two different lives, each one so vastly different from the last, our circumstances so different, our cultures so different, our attempts at life, so vastly different.
I filter down through the rough, winding track of a cold forest, and into an old mining town where a few small bazzars selling only chai, omelets and cigarettes are sitting in the constant shadow of the valley.
From above a busy bridge I look over and down on to the banks of a river, its flanked by a surface of ragged rocks on one side and dense, over spilling forest on the other. A woman in a bright orange lungi walks down the steps to the river and lights a candle in a dried coconut husk, there’s a guru smoking in the sun perched on the crumbling lip of a temple balcony. Across the river an old paunched man with his worn body is praying in the water, lifting his hand in the air and bringing them back down to his heart. All the while, rickshaws, and rattling, chocking lorries and buses steam over the bridge and pass by noisily and relentlessly.
Diggers and men with chainsaws smack and saw and rip through metal, stone and wood in a nearby quarry. Life here, eve in the most remote of places is industrious, loud and dirty. A great pall of black smoke rises from the construction area and drifts up and into the arms of the tree-armored cliffs surrounding me. India is so alive and I feel grateful to see it’s ever changing face, and the worldy different lives and intricacies that life within its ancient lands.
Later on that day, while descending rapidly though a stretch of forest in the northern slopes of Himachal Pradesh, I tie together beautiful, smooth sweeping s-bends and lean into the corners, feeling the weight of the bike shift underneath me seamlessly. The sun streaks through the tree line and warms the side of my face, giving it a warm glow. I stop for a moment and enjoy the fingers of amber light breaking through the trees. The trunks are covered with soft moss and alive with the nesting habits of small birds.
I see a movement across the path. An adolescent girl is combing hair on the balcony of a small, stony house on the side of the road. Her back arched slightly, head titled to the side as she brings the mass of wet, black hair into a knot. It's a beautiful site. The wall behind her is turquoise and peeling like old stucco, smudged black with smoke and grease like an old Cuban fresco.
Behind the chaos, the mess and the struggle, India is a place full of beauty, and cycling allows me to capture these beautiful moments as they unfold naturally.
‘Just because you’re curious doesn’t mean that your going to do something that’s valid, but it does motivate you to go out and start looking and trying. We’re all running curious, because in that lies the roots of creation’ North Face
In my zest for solitude I agreed to turn my back on a lot of structural qualities that framed my current life, turn my back on security, comfort, good money, from the arms of assured career success, from predictability, from a life that could of easily been drawn out beyond me in a rigid, horizontal line. Instead I would trade it all in for simplicity, adventure, perspective and curiosity.
I just didn’t see the appeal of working like a mule all week, and getting drunk on the weekend as making the most out of my time.
And by virtue of my escape I would at least, by the bold and feverish surges of excitement that I once felt, experience the wholehearted liberation and impenetrable feeling of freedom I so desperately craved.
When someone is curious there’s often a level of ignorance involved. Being curious will lead you into unknown territory and provide a chance to explore something new, to learn and to grow in strength, experience and wisdom. I would tell people of my plans to cycle the length of India. Many would be buzzing with excitement for me but of course some would ask, ‘Isn’t it dangerous? Where would you sleep? What will you eat? I would always respond naively by remarking that I’ll I have a tent and I can sleep anywhere that I could, on the side of the road or in field, that I have no idea where or what I’ll eat but I’ll eat whatever’s available and deal with any danger in the moment. Some people looked at me with pity on their faces. There’s a definitely a stubbornness involved whatever I do, if someone says something too hard or too dangerous, it simply evokes in me a need to do it more, to prove them wrong and to prove myself that I can and not to be discouraged by other peoples limitations.
Where there’s negativity and doubtfulness around you in whatever you do, there’s always an opportunity to turn it into positive challenge, a character building adventure to be attacked with confidence and enthusiasm.
The crux it seems of curiosity is that we are never satisfied, that once we get a taste for that exciting world outside the boarders of our comfort and knowing, then we get hooked, and the feeling multiplies. Something greater that mere success is created, we shift our ignorance, we enrich our lazy minds, and feed on the milk self-discovery. I thought maybe this long, testing journey would satisfy the constant squeeze of curiosity I was experiencing, would simmer it down to a gentle bubble.
In reality in did the opposite, now the heat has been turned up and waters of adventure-tinged inquiry are over spilling. Now every map I look at the blueprint plot for an exciting new story, I imagine myself far fetch places across the globe, I point at random and think to myself what would it be like there, what stories would I have from cycling or walking through that country, or that mountain range or that incredibly long coastline. Extreme distances become playful thoughts to juggle with, what would it be like to walk the length of Russia, cycle the length of Africa or kayak around the Greenland? My whole attitude becomes stimulated with provocative quests and new experiences. Curiosity doesn’t just rest in the search for hardcore global exploration, it spills over into the mind of an individual, curiosity, adventure, it’s an attitude.