I am very very late for this post but I have been very busy these past few months working on my photography, building galleries, a facebook page (Boris Lemon Photo) and a website (www.borislemonphoto.smugmug.com). But I still think this is an experience you’ll be happy to hear about, so here we go.
It is still very dark when I arrive in Bangalore, decided to reach New-Delhi hitch-hiking before my mother arrive in India. I have 4 days, 4 days and about 2000 km to cover, which is pretty much what you can do in 2 days on European high-ways.
There was a direct train leaving the 12th (of March) for 850 ruppees (10 euros) and a 43 hours journey but I realized I kind of missed hitch-hicking. I stared at the Indian map and especially at this beautiful highway, the North-South corridor, also called the AH43 and made my mind in 5 minutes. First step, reach it. From Pondicherry it has to be either Hydrabad or Bangalore, it will be Bangalore, which is the very begining of this North-South corridor.
My hitch-hiking experiences taught me that the hardest part of the journey is very often to get out of the big cities, no time to lose and I am already in the bus station, I take a bus to the closest city up North mentioned on my map, Chikkabalapur. It is 8.10am, the 11th when after this hour and a half in the bus and this quick rickshaw lift I am ready to start (the first time in about 3 months). And we are India, so it starts obviously under the local stares. At that point I already spent half of my train ticket fee. It looks like hitch-hiking is not really cost effective in India, but this is not what I am here for. A car and a truck stop quite quickly but when I mention Hyderabad – over 500km away – they panic and leave. Fair enough, next car I’ll just say : North ? Where they are obviously heading to. The next car is a truck which actually goes to Hyderabab and it is only 8.30am. Lucky me ! They are two : the driver Akesh, and… someone else, Ariv, very much useless. The first one speaks a correct English, the other one not a word ! Akesh told me we are supposed to reach Hyderabad at 3 4pm or maybe 4 5pm… It looks like it gonna be easier than I thought.
Even though my 2 « hosts » are very friendly – and Muslims – we are still in India, and not in Turkey or Iran anymore, so I am obviously in charge of the lunch and other snacks. Life is hard here and everyone is fighting for himself, they try to pick up as many people as they can to get a couple of ruppees which gonna enable them (Ariv, the useless man actually) to buy alcohol and cigarettes at the end of the day. While Akesh tells me Hydrebadad is full of jobs, Ariv tells me he does not have one at the moment, and cannot find one… Otherwise he would have been very happy to offer me beers and cigarettes. Maybe. Once again I have the feeling that alcoholism is a terrible problem in India ! On the way people are either super smiling and wave at me or are just staring at me, like if I was from some kind of species they never heard about (which might actually be true). The picture of these long columns of young students in uniforms (obviously among those from those who are happy to see me) heading towards the bus stop at the end of day is enough to make my day and make this hitch-hiking trip a great experience. When we arrive in Hyderabad, it is not 4pm, but 11.30pm, and we didn’t face any problem on the way. How is it possible to be that inaccurate !? A couple of hours of sleep the previous night in the bus plus a 18 hours day whose 14 in a truck, I am dead and very happy to lay down in my room. It is also the first time since I arrive in India – 2 and a half month ago– I am travelling by myself : Hyderabad means resting time for me, all what I need at that point. I am that exhausted that I consider for a bit to give up hitch-hiking and take a train the next day, straight to Delhi.
The next day the clock rings at 8am and I feel « full power ». I carry on. The bus I jump in can not drop me closer than 200km away from Hyderabad, in Armur. The bus driver doesn’t want to drop me out of this fucking city for free, he wants 48 rupees, otherwise he might be in trouble he says. No one will ever be aware about that and we are talking about 1km lift ; I am still a bit tired – and very hungry – and got pissed off. After 2 Masala dosas (one of my favorite food in India) – I calm down and start walking towards the AH43. While I am walking I see the same look on each people face meaning « What the fuck is he doing here ??? ». Indeed, the mall Indian city has nothing to offer. Two men on a motorbike stop besides me asking my name, my country, married or not, blablabla… I finally ask them to give me a lift. Couple of hundred meters further they have to turn right while I must go straight ahead. Bye, bye, thank you guys. I keep walking and 10 minutes later, these 2 guys show up again, they just came back to me to offer me bananas, amazed to hear I am going to Delhi, stopping random cars and trucks. This behavior definitely cheers me up and reminds me to keep in mind that whatever happens, it is for the best. And believe me, when you hitch-hike, keeping this in mind makes your life much easier and nicer. I think it is very much true, even in my daily life.
After a couple of quick lifts (one in an Indian ambulance : really old school), a truck driver stops for me, he goes to Nagpur, once again the furthest destination I was expecting for the day. Amazing ! He also speaks a bit of English and the day passes, between – simple – chats, reading, and contemplating of Indian landscapes and villages at a slow pace. The night comes and as soon as we get into Marashtra (Bombay state), the road – pretty good so far – becomes absolutely terrible. It is supposed to be one of the main highway in India but I am not sure anyone in our western countries would dare to have such a bad dirt road to reach his own place. Incredible India they say. Indeed ! We eventually reach my driver’s place ? small village by Nagpur at 1.30am (and not 10pm as he said 5 hours earlier… Quite accurate that time! No ? ). I sleep in his truck, and when the rain comes I realize that the cabin is not really water proof, I will sleep like a baby anyway.
The next morning he introduces me, proud, to his family and friends from the village before we go together to poo by the river, romantic isn’t it? This morning again, the routine (well, 3 days routine) : rickshaw and city bus to reach the bus station where I’ll find a bus to drive to a small village called Armur, 2 hours North from Nagpur where funerals are taking place. Music, songs and men dressed in white, I was half taking pictures of the musicians, half hitch-hiking when my dreaming truck stop, this big Mahindra, with small square windows on the sides and comfortable « sofa-bed » inside. It is already 12.30am when these 3 funny guys pick me up. Today I am very late, and believe me, I won’t make it up for this « delay ». Maximum speed allowed : 45km/h. I said maximum. Their limited english will drive me towards my reading, thoughts and comtemplation of this amazing landscape – once again – at the slower pace ever. In addition of the slow speed, the bad condition of the truck make them stop each 30 km to fix this, or check that. Once again it was a good and interesting day which give me one more perspective on the Indian culture or I should rather say Indian life. In terms of hitch-hiking efficiency it is not really great though : 230km covered in 14 hours. I let you make the calculation !
Realizing time is running before my mum arrival I decide to stop my hitch-hiking trip here (I did about 2 third of the way from Bangalore to Delhi) and decide to follow them till their city, Jabalpur, when they tell me there is a direct train from Jabalpur to Delhi at 4am. Amazingly perfect, too perfect actually ! The station they dropped me at is not actually not the right one, and even when I reach the right station, there is no direct train. Indian accuracy till the end ! But I’ll make it to Delhi within a day. You never really know how, but you always manage to get any situation sorted. Magic India !
Hitch-hiking in India is possible, « everything is possible » in India as the say. It depends what you are looking for though. If you want to save money, pointless ; but if you want an interesting and unique experience, passing through « undiscovered » villages, share nice, and less nice, time with Indians, and see more than the mainstream touristic India, just go for it ! If I had to do it again, I would definitely go for it! Don’t be in a hurry and keep in mind that the journey is the road itself, the destination is secondary.