The ridiculous cycle tour of India: A Kiwi’s Guinness Record attempt
24th February, 2016 – 22nd March, 2016
While some cyclists prefer the fast time trials and bmx-ing in their grandmother’s yard, others like the old school tour biking. Carrying all your possession on panniers and riding on the road for an infinite period of time. This is story of one such tour. This is the story about Tim Chittock’s attempt to break a Guiness World Record by cycling around the Indian Golden Quadrilateral(5846 km) under 20 days. And about my very very relevant chai making skills.
It all started on the steps of IHCs amphitheatre. I was there with Myra to watch a play being put up by college. Myra invited another friend, Debjit, who decided to bring along an Australian woman he had recently befriended, Lyn. Too bad for her, the play was entirely in Hindi. After the play ended we discussed the play and tried to explain to Lyn as much as we could. Conversation flowed and we spoke about what drives us and all the jumbo. We spoke of interests, passions and what we looked forward to most in our lives. I blurted out that I enjoyed cycling, in as modest a way as I could. This prompted a huge smile on Lyn’s face and she went ahead to tell me about Tim, a Kiwi she’d met a few days ago. She said something along the lines of ‘world record…nice guy….looking for crew….’ I made up some story about college work and that I’d give it a thought. Back home, I initially felt it was stupid, unplanned and entirely impossible. A few hours and multiple Youtube fringes later, I felt this was my calling. I still thought it was unplanned, impossible and stupid. It was also very unreal.
I met Tim at a cafe in Hauz Khas and discussed everything about his little adventure. It wasa strange meet and greet. He was a 25 year old college student with no idea about India, and I was a 20 year old college student with no idea about crewing. It was the ideal partnership. While I thought I was the one questioning the credibility of his plan and what my involvement would be, it was really him interviewing me. He was looking for the perfect candidate. After a few laughable questions from either end, we parted ways. He texted me a few hours later and said he’d like to have me on board.
Friday. Two days later. We found ourselves in Hauz Khas market, grocery shopping for the next three weeks. I couldn’t understand why he refused to buy rice or dal and just bought all the oats in the store. I stopped eating daliya in Class 5. We then went to Sadar Baazar in Army Cantt. My go to place for home appliances and everything else I wouldn’t find in Galleria. We picked up a 5kg gas and a stove,some utensils and one big fat map of India. Then to the New Zealand Embasy, to meet Mark, the High Commissioner to India. He fixed us up with an Innova taxi, and a driver. His name was Happy. The most chalu guy I’ve come across in while. His personality definitely lived up to his name. Right then. We had three men. We had a boat. All we needed now was a subway cookie to kick things off.
Saturday. 4:30 am. I got to the Embassy only to find all of Tim’s new friends waiting at the gate. Lyn, Tim 2 (another blog post would be required to describe this man), Michael (yupp, another blog) and a few others. It was also Tim’s birthday.
We clicked a few photos, Tim performed the famous Maori celebratory dance and we all had one big laugh at this huge guy in body-hugging lycra shouting in native Maori and thumping his palms on his thighs. It was an amazing flag-off.
Delhi – Calcutta
Our first destination was Calcutta. About 1400km from Delhi. We planned to cross Agra on Day 1 and complete 300 km. The basic idea was to cycle 300 km everyday for 20 days and get 6000 km on the odometer. We were dramatically stopped by Highway patrol on the DND Expressway. No two wheelers on this road. This one of Tim’s many attempts to rationale with Indians in the coming weeks. He just didn’t understand some of our rules and norms. We called it a night in Jaswantnagar, UP. I spoke to a dhabawalla, introduced him to my white friend and his fancy bicycle, and he agreed to provide us with two khats for the night. We bathed in the open, while being heavily stared at the villagers and had a lavish oily dinner. First major error. Tim got a little emotional about his grandmother, who had expired a few weeks ago. We spoke about her a long while and considered ourselves lucky to be where we were. Happy washed his car, which he considered his little baby, and passed out in the car. Tim and i shared a room with two baby goats and a lot of mozzis.
Early next morning Tim complained of an upset stomach. We started off at 5am, but Tim looked pretty bad. We kept stopping for dump breaks. My mum told me about some medicines, the recipe for khichdi and gave Tim his first pep talk. By dusk, we were much behind schedule. The third morning Tim still looked shaky. Things got better when he came out of the bushes abusing me and ordering me to boom some music in the car. His dump had improved. He described it as ‘firm’. Crisis averted!
Most of my conversations with Happy were about trucks, cars and taxi drivers. I once tried to tell him about Kendrick Lamar and David Bowie, but he didn’t seem to care. I on the other hand had been educated about all types of trucks, the ‘Great Indian Overweight Fraud and how to steal cars. Yes. Happy was a man of many traits. I often tried to make him laugh and make sure he’s having a good time following a cycle on a national highway and pacing at 30kmph. But he was very content with the 20 phone calls he got from his fiance’ back home. Over time, I knew close to everything about him. He was a short, stout sardar who has cut his hair. His little ponch and sense of humor always seemed to cheer me up during tense moments. Tim and Happy never spoke to each other directly. So I was the de facto middle man between the two.
By the end of Day 5, we had entered Bihar. I was very excited to finally visit the state where my family was originally from. It wasnt a very pleasant experience. Along the way we had slept a night in a farm near Kanpur; we were provided hot water in containers and the usual open bath system prevailed. Tim compared these to the ‘freedom showers’ he used to take on his tour of Australia, which were showers by the side of the road with a bottle of water. We slept on the hardest beds ever, just a plank of wood covered with a sheet. I really felt sorry for Tim, this was not the best thing for his back. When we crossed Varanasi, I got to spend 5 minutes exploring Varanasi while hunting for a cooker. I vividly remember enjoying a memorable picnic lunch under a banyan tree somewhere near the Up-Bihar border. Happy got to have his share of tadhi, a natural alcoholic drink made from date trees. He looked pretty bombed after gulping down two bottles. He started telling me about the art of squeezing wet jute sacks to improve muscle strength. He was in his zone for the rest of the evening.
Somewhere on the way to Dhanbad, Tim stopped us and told me to step out. I looked at his odometer and it said 999 km. He had a ritual of walking the last meter and have a celebratory dance. We walked the last few steps and jived to some Punjabi hip-hop. Calcutta was now about 450 km away. Jharkhand had been a better experience than Bihar but we still struggling with the smog and heat. We entered the outskirts of Calcutta by Day 7, 6 pm, and I found Tim drifting behind trucks. He seemed to be gliding on the road at 55 km/hour. I also realised I could spend some time on the roof of the car to break the monotony of sitting in the car the whole day. Onlookers often got a wave and a big fat smile from me, which was seldom returned. We put the bike in the car and drove into Calcutta at the end of Day 7. The first week hadn’t been easy. We were a day later than planned and Tim had no motivation to carry on. He was disgusted with the traffic, the smog and the endless other things. We had a meal at PeterCat and decided to call it quits. In the morning I was on the IRCTC site looking for trains and he received a call from him mum. She explained to him that he could come back home but he would always look back at this moment and wonder, what if? This thought bothered us both and we were back on track with the second pep talk from our mothers. We were no longer gunning for a record. We just wanted to finish. We had been clocking 250 km on average and decided to stick to that.
Calcutta – Chennai
Next stop was Chennai. This was also the day I lost my phone somewhere in Orissa. Fell out of my pocket while I was climbing onto the roof. It was very frustrating. Anyway, Chennai was about 1600 km from Calcutta.
The way till Chennai was also a lovely week. We had a swim in a pond near the highway somewhere in Orissa, spent enough time talking about why Indians take a dump on the highway and not in latrines. He was strangely very fascinated. We had 3 punctures in a day and Tim struggled to open chips packets. His hands had gone numb and he complained of nerve damage. We got interviewed by Indian Express in Vishakapatnam and had our second 999 km walk. Chennai was in our sights. I spent an hour in a supermarket and refilled our little kitchen. I remember having a conversation with Tim about photographs and memories. He felt a photograph gives you a fixed perspective about a moment, while the memory could go any way. His brother and him usually took a dump to commemorate a scenic experience. Sunset dumps et all. I think I’ve spoken too much about our gastronomic learning.
We struggled with a lot of punctures from there on. About 8 punctures this week. We had no idea what was wrong. We had a scare when we ran out of usable tubes. We went tube hunting in Vijaywada and got some expired tubes. It worked. At one of my highway cooks, I got bullied by a middle aged woman about the art of making omelletes. She snatched the spatula from me and flipped the omelette and completely ruined it. I shooed her away while Happy laughed at what he’d just witnessed. By Day 14 noon we were in Chennai. I caught up with my college roommate, Nikhil and went straight to the closest bike store. They gave us complimentary servicing and fresh tubes. Tim’s tires had completely burnt out and they weren’t in very good shape anymore. That’s when our man revealed he’d used these tires across Australia and down New Zealand. What a guy.
Chennai – Bangalore
Next destination was Bangalore, about 550 km. We left Chennai post lunch and stopped for the night just short of Vellore. Day 15 was one of our toughest days ever. We were just beyond Vellore, and the car started making whiny noises. It soon stopped moving and we were done in. Happy managed to crawl to the nearest mechanic, but Tim had no idea what we were up to. He had left his phone in the car and was probably 50 km ahead of us with no money, phone, food or water. Happy went hunting for parts and I tried to locate Tim. I called Mark, Ramita and Noor. The embassy connects. I sent messengers to find Tim down the road. I eventually got in touch with him.
He was at a dhaba getting treated to a free meal and drinks. Meanwhile, I got my first lesson in the anatomy of a cow at a nearby butcher’s. The heart, brain, liver and every other body part hanging in all its glory surrounded by flies. Two hours went by just waiting for the right parts for the car. I was just worried about losing time. We eventually got moving and made it to Bangalore. We spend the night at Hari Menon’s house. He is an ex-dosco, Tata house, and an enthusiastic cyclist. He read about us on Facebook and offered to host us. We ogled his fancy Colnago road bike for as long as we could and called it a night. Him and his partner, Vicki, had a duathlon the next morning. I was very glad to have met such inspiring people completely out of the blue.
Bangalore – Pune
Next up was Pune. 746 km. Early in the morning we bumped into Venky, a road cyclist on his way to a time trail event. He rode alongside Tim as far as he could. Till date his Facebook posts keep me entertained. Week 3 was all about stealing mangos from these beautiful groves, getting caught and bypassing some of the best diverging roads not taken. Towards Goa, Hampi…you get the gist. We reached Pune by Day 18 and were hosted by Shantanu, a friend from school. Tim was just jumping in excitement when New Zealand beat India in the T20 World Cup while I caught up with Shantanu and his mum.
Next stop was Bombay. About a day of cycling. We really enjoyed the Pune expressway, going through tunnels, up and down the Western Ghats. Tim was too busy dodging patrol cars all day. He had picked up a few tricks of deception since that embarrassment in Noida. I whined about finishing my novel and not having anything to do. So I started with Shantaram, Marks birthday present for Tim. We entered and left Bombay on Day 19. All along the bypass. By now Happy had started sharing jays (family filter is on) with me and I had started enjoying Punjabi hip-hop.
Bombay – Delhi
Day 20 we were in Gujarat. Just being on the same road as I was last December gave me goosebumps all along. I was taken back to the amazing memory of my first solo tour. By noon, we started seeing signboards for Delhi. The first one was 1207 km. We got stuck at the Narmada river bridge because of a bottleneck and once again i had lost sight of Tim. Yes, his phone was in the car. I opened my facebook and saw an SOS he had sent out. He was at Hotel Hilton, and he’d had an accident. Just as fate would have it, we were tucked between two trucks, and the hotel was just behind us. Never felt luckier. He was again being treated to nimbu paani and maaza while he waited for me. Tragically, the rear derailleur had come apart and we needed a replacement. We decided to turn back to Bombay or to the nearest bike store and get the parts replaced. Luckily, Happy saved us some time and found a store in Surat. We got a Sora RD (excuse the jargon) and got our first glimpse of the Specialized Tarmac, the Ford Mustang of bikes. Shortly after, Tim had his second fall. He slipped and got a few burns. Nothing too scary. We’d also run out of gas, so most of my stories in Gujarat are about gas hunting.
Day 22. We crossed Ahmedabad in the morning and made it to Udaipur. By now I had become a professional oats maker. I had carefully calculated the perfect combination of water, oats and honey. I’d also made a name for myself in the car for cooking the fastest omelettes. That’s about it, I think. You already read about my tea exploits.
The Udaipur-Ajmer was surely a delight for all of us, and i like to come back and have a go on these roads. Rajasthan had definitely been the peak of our cultural experience. I also got fleeced by the gas wallah near Ajmer. So stupid. we shared a chill-umm with two retired cops and got a tour of their farm.
The rolling hills cam to an end as we approached Ajmer. Over dinner on Day 23, we decided to pull an all nighter. Tim seemed very confident and we both wanted to make it in time for my friend Angad’s birthday. Just to have something to push us on, really. He started at about 9 pm, and soon wanted to take a nap. That nap was followed by a puking session. The food and night riding didn’t seem to be working out. He slept on for a few more hours while I stayed awake. Happy also needed to get in some sleep. I cant put to words how hard it was for him to keep his eyes open and follow Tim through the night.
The rest of the day was smooth. We made a pact to never participate in RAAM (Race Across America)in any capacity. We will never be so foolish again. We crossed Jaipur, Neemrana, Manesar, Gurgaon and finally entered Delhi at 1 am. We were at the Embassy at 0250 hours. The ride was over. We got a few snaps, did a bit of the Maori dance, and made our way back to my house.
These 24 days have been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I made two new friends who I would never forget. Happy invited me to his wedding next year and Tim offered to host me in New Zealand. It was overwhelming to bid goodbye to Happy. He really kept us going for the entirety of this trip. Koi tension nahi hai, Happy!
I have had a rough few months since I came back and it has been tough to settle back to the previous life. It is weird to think of not being on the road. The idea of living on the highway for a month would seem so foolish to me a year ago, but now my perspective of a lot of things have changed. I learnt a lot in these three weeks. From cooking right down to managing someone’s life and making sure all he had to do was pedal. I met many people on this journey and I still remember most of them. The others are penned down in my journal. Even though it was just the three of us circling the country, we never felt alone for one moment. Friends and family were always calling and keeping track of our movements. Our mums helped more than anyone else, and that too at the most crucial moments when our decision making skills weren’t at their best.Most importantly, I got the chance to get to know the legendary Timothy ‘Timmy’ Chittock. You have inspired ‘Bhramin Boy’ to achieve more than he has made plans for. Tim, you are a real inspiration mate! The climbs of the Himalayas await us.