With India Bike Week kicking off, my thoughts have been meandering in that direction this morning. I started to think about the people you meet along the way and how so often they will surprise you. I was also thinking about how dangerous preconceived ideas can be; about how important it is for a travellers mind to be wide open. This episode popped into my mind.It was a steaming hot day, well up into the 40s, and my girlfriend Birgit and I were heading along India’s Grand Trunk Road. This historic road stretches across northern India and up into Pakistan.
In front of us was a bridge across a wide river. We approached it with a certain amount of trepidation.
Many bridges had unofficial toll keepers. But often, motorcycles were let on through without paying a fee, official or not. This time though, we were flagged to the side of the road by a man who was obviously going to brook no argument. “The boss wants to talk to you!” said the man.
He took us to the back of the battered building, and into a small, dark, cool room. If we were going to get a demand for money, at least it’s going to be done in the cool, I’d thought to myself.
It turned out that the boss and his friend only wanted to invite us to drink chai with them. My concern couldn’t have been more wrong. After a few moments of relaxed conversation, the boss man paused and looked across at us. “You know, he said. Is it not a fine thing that here we are, a Hindu, a Muslin and Christians, drinking chai together.”
He was right. They had made us feel welcome and had appreciated the fact that regardless of religion, we were people first. Strangers made welcome.
You’ll find many more tales of the road in my book Under Asian Skies. Asia? Perhaps the most colourful and culturally diverse part of the world.