Posts Tagged ‘India’

India: Sharing the road / 06.02.13

We’re on the road at first light. 6:30am is a good time to bike because you beat the heat and the traffic. Mornings are even better because they’re quiet- a scarcity in India. There’s minimal honking and the only people you see are off in the distance taking a dump in a field. 

We finish the day by pulling into a town and looking for lunch and a hotel. Sometimes we see other white people and it’s weird, because it’s been a while. We’re in a strange place here because we’re not Indian, but we don’t fit into the typical “tourist” category either. 

When we tell other foreigners that we’re biking in India, their face converts from a smile to an expression of pure horror. “Biking?! On THESE ROADS?! How has it been?!?!” They seem a little tentative for our response.

“Actually, it’s been pretty good!” I respond. “The great thing about India is that they share the road with everyone: people, bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, cars, buses, trucks, cows- you just have to know you place on the food chain! I actually feel safer biking here than I do in America.”

While training for the trip last summer in the US, it was a normal occurrence to receive angry honks or middle fingers. Occasionally someone would stick their head of their window and yell “GET OFF THE ROAD!” or “GET ON THE SIDEWALK! IT’S NOT SAFE!”

In America, or at least Michigan, the mentality is that “roads are for cars.” Bikes should be on a bike path or the sidewalk. Sidewalks are great if you’re seven years old and learning how to ride a bike. Otherwise, it’s pretty dangerous to pedestrians. Bike paths are an ok solution, but I’ve by far had more close calls with cars pulling out of driveways on bike paths than I have riding on the road. 

Over the past 5,000 kilometers we’ve experienced bike paths, bike lanes, bicycle tunnels, small roads, big roads, and some that didn’t seem like roads at all. If you drive by a cyclist biking in the road, please be respectful and slow down, give plenty of space, and you will be rewarded someday for your bicycle karma :)

News clippings from India / 31.01.13

Much of the news in India has revolved around the gang-rape case that happened this past December in New Delhi. Other news topics include President Obama’s re-inauguration, record breaking sub-zero temperatures in North India, the green movement (India is transitioning to cloth bags instead of plastic), cricket, and the ongoing conflict with Pakastan. Here are a few clippings…


PILGRIM NOTES: Mission / 17.01.13

“Taste and see…” -Psalm 34:8

To the ancient Hebrews, creation was a table spread with many delights. We were honored guests, invited by the Creator to partake–to taste and see. Growing up, my family highly valued eating together. This may have owed in part to my father’s delight in watching his kids eat. “Et now! Et now!” he would say happily in his fake accent as he shoveled bacon onto our plates next to steaming stacks of buckwheat buttermilk pancakes, soaking up the butter melting into fresh maple syrup.

And the more we loved it, the more he loved it. He was positively tickled to see us enjoying something he created. Though he usually restrained himself, we could hear him asking behind every offering of food,
“Isn’t it good?!”
“Do you like it?!”
“Do you want some more?!”

Take that image and bring it to where we are today, on a hot afternoon in south India, resting under a shade tree.

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Grigio Shery / 14.01.13

Grigio Shery spoke quite quickly, kind of like an upbeat car salesman who needs to keep the ball rolling. He had his MBA in marketing and was working in the sprawling city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capitol, in business. Now however he was home to his coastal fishing village for a couple weeks for the Christmas holiday. We also happened to be in that same coastal village on our bicycles as we headed south toward the southern tip of India. Shery stopped by on his motorcycle as we were about to enter a small restaurant for dinner. We had already gone through the usual negotiations with the proprieter:

“Do you have food?” [gesture of putting five fingers to lips]
Head wobble Yes.
“What do you have?”
Head wobble.
“Do you have rice?”
“No rice. Paarotha, dhosa, chicken fry…” [fried dough, pancake material, fried chicken]
“Do you have Sambar?” [thick vegetable gravy broth]
“Mmb. Sambar.” Head wobble.
Turning to the others: “He has chicken, sambar, parotha, dhosa… waddyathink?”
We thought we’d stay.

It was at this point in our evening, as we were getting slowly settled around the one table in the small cozy but dingy food joint, that Shery approached. With an excellent English vocabulary and a lilt and bend that was still difficult for our American ears to catch, he began to find out about us and what we might be needing (he doing most of the talking). When he found out we’d stopped for dinner, he negotiated with cook to get us something to eat. Since we’d already done that, we were a bit fatigued with the interaction and “help”; that is, until he asked us where we were staying.

So far we’d scoped very few possible camp sites, and we really had no idea where we’d stay the night. Our plan was to eat some dinner, cruise to the edge of town where we’d find a faucet or a river to bathe in, and camp somewhere after the darkness fell, so as to attract less attention. When Shery found out we needed a place to stay, he offered to talk to the nuns for us. “I will ask the mother superior, and you can stay at St. Jude’s, if she says yes. There they have a room where you can wash, make yourselves comfortable, you can see the children as they are feeding children and taking care of them, so I think it will be no problem for you to stay there, and you can attend mass in the morning if you like, so I will just speak with the mother and we will see. Don’t worry! This is India, and we are a Christian people! We will take care of you!…”

We arranged that we’d meet him in an hour and a half over at the church to find out the low down on the nunnery, and we thanked him. After all, this promised to be not only a place to stay and wash up, but also a pretty cool window into south Indian coastal Christian culture. Earlier that day, as we were winding our way along the coast dodging pedestrians, rickshaws and buses loaded to the gills, we kept noticing that at every small town or village or turn in the road there seemed to be a huge cathedral style church. Sometimes they weren’t as huge, but all of them had that strange mix of ancient establishment meets garish makeup. Many had grottos to Mary outside, but in the absence of rocks they were made of what looked to be gray spray painted fiberglass material. It was strange because we expected to find more Hindus in India, but here we seemed to be in a Roman Catholic pocket (which we were). That also meant that at several of the restaurants we stopped at they only served fried chunks of chicken or beef–not the vegetable sauce you find at Hindu-run places.

When we found him later, he brought us to the nuns’ quarters and introduced us, where were given a room for the girls with attached bath, and the guys were promised we could sleep in a classroom as soon as the classes let out. We showered up and learned that daily mass was at 6:30 a.m., but the bells would ring at 5:00, 5:15, and 5:45. “No problem,” I remember thinking, “we can handle bells.” And the fact that they were to be rung at three separate times made me think that perhaps they wouldn’t be incessant, and therefore somewhat ignorable if we wanted to sleep past the first two.

At 4:55 I remember hearing some bells tolling faintly outside somewhere across the open sand lot. “Not so bad,” I thought to myself, and prepared to drift back into sleep for a bit. But that was not to be. Immediately following the bells, there was a loudspeaker crackling, and then the music started playing. Not quiet, contemplative music, but loud Indian music. It was in its own way beautiful, but seemed glaringly out of place in the cool 5 a.m. pre-dawn darkness.

After mass we joined Shery for a stroll through the houses to the coast, to see the fishing operation. “They catch sharks here,” he told us. “We are shark fishermen. The boats go out sometimes for a month at a time, taking everything with them–packing ice, water, clothes, supplies, rice, oil–you know, cooking things–everything. Most of the sharks go to the Chinese and the Japanese…for medicinal purposes.” He told us how at Christmas all the boats come in to the harbor and it’s a real party.

After that he invited us back to his house to meet his family and have some sweet milk tea (chai). His father had cancer. Shery said it was from smoking and drinking too much. “He is an uneducated man. Already he had [cancer], and taken chemo, and then the cancer went away. But he didn’t listen to the doctor when he told him, ‘If you touch this stuff again you will die.'” Shery told us how he, as the eldest, sat his father down and talked to him:

“You have given us everything. You have worked and now all your children are educated and we have this house–don’t make us miss you. Now we will provide, we are grown.”

“Now if anyone says anything to him, he will just listen. If someone says, ‘Don’t do it!’, he will listen. That is how it is with my father. I have become the father now to him, as the eldest son. That’s how it is in India.”

Shery had two brothers and three sisters. We found out one of his sisters is getting married on February 7, and that is cause for both celebration and some work. He said that for her dowry he must contribute 2.5 to 3 laks Rupees (1 lak = 100,000). This would amount to about $6000. The dowry consists of two treasures. One is the money, collected from the family of the bride to give to the groom. This money is not kept by the groom exclusively, but is distributed among his mother and sisters. The other treasure is the fine garments and jewelry. This is for the couple to keep exclusively.

Even for US standards, $6000 is a lot to contribute for a wedding, and it is difficult to earn this much money in India; especially when you are supporting a family. To make it back more quickly he wants to move abroad and work, then maybe settle somewhere else if he can arrange the visas. The dowry money didn’t worry him so much, because he was also an educated man, he said, and would fetch a nice dowry himself some day.

After he brought us back to the convent, and we had thanked the sisters with a small contribution to their work, we said our goodbyes. It was already past 10 a.m., and we were eager to get on the road. He left us with his flashing smile and a blessing. “Maybe I’ll come to America, and see you there.” Maybe he would.

The Birds / 14.01.13

8 Jan. 2013

Leaving Madurai wasn’t so bad. The traffic was thick as locusts for three kms, and then thinned nicely into a wide two-lane split highway, smoothly paved. Just as we were hitting our stride on this surface, I noticed some large birds circling up ahead. In fact, there were so many of them I thought there must be a garbage dump or something. “Hey Kal, check out those birds — there must be a dump or something… they look like hawks.” Several times in India I’d noticed hawks and crows congregating around garbage dumps, but this was a spiraling cloud of them–at least two hundred.

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Back to India / 05.01.13

It was the end of the hot season in June 2010 and I was exhausted after a day of last-minute shopping and haggling in the dry Delhi heat. A man sitting in a plastic chair asked me for a minute of my time. I had seen him in the exact same place when I arrived six weeks earlier. It was a trap. It was my last day in India before returning home to the US, so I SHOULD have known better to fall into it, but I was weak and plopped down in the seat next to him.
“I’m not giving you any money.” I declared.
“I just want to look at your hand.” He insisted. After a few questions he scribbled some numbers on a small piece of paper. “Yes. Long life. Happy life. Ve’ddy happy. Good love. Ve’ddy good love.” he paused and released my hand “You have good heart, but you are too hard on yourself.” I faked a smile.
“Sure, a nice generic answer that anyone wants to hear.” I told myself.
“You want to know when you be back in India?”
“Yeah.” I tried to withhold my curiosity/excitement.
“You be back- 2012,” I looked up at him and met his eyes “with your man!”


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India: Love/Hate / 04.01.13

Kallie told me that she has a love/hate relationship with India.  She remembers on her previous trip feeling the intensity of amazing overflow of sound and color, smells and tastes, and loving it.  She also remembers feeling sick, tired, hot, and overstimulated, and hating it.

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India: the last two weeks / 01.01.13


We arrived in Trivandrum at 3 a.m. on December 12. The airport was packed, but we managed to get all our luggage and find our way to Kovalam Beach area about 30 kms away. Our newest FBR member, Steve Black, was coming in the next day, and so we decided we’d hang out here for a week and all get adjusted a bit to India before taking off.

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In the news in Kerala / 29.12.12


Interview on the road side.

FBR part II / 11.12.12

Fueled By Rice has spent over a week in the city of Istanbul, enjoying mountains of baklava, heaps of kebabs, and oceans of tea. At this time however, this great crossroads of a city marks a transition for our group. Devin and Tori will be returning to the USA as Kallie, Lindsey, Peter, and I fly east to India. FBR India will gain one more friend, Steve, and proceed as five. FBR Devin and Tori will spend some time in New York and then return to Michigan. It has been a wonderful, trying, spectacular, laugh-filled, stressful, amazing, painful, and miraculous journey so far. I have been privileged to share the road with this team and learn from them, and this continuing on is with some sadness as well as anticipation.

Part One of our journey is closing, Part Two is opening. Thanks for journeying with us! Please stay posted for more pictures, stories, and reflections as they continue to bud and blossom…