"Oh, sir this is big problem in India now," rolled the words off a shopkeepers tongue in that peculair twang of English found on the subcontinent. He clasped my hands softly in his palms. "You realize in India now we only have 450 million> farmers left?" I chuckled mightily. Just how many did they have to begin with?
Despite its population of over a billion, the vast majority of India is rural, beautiful and bikeable. Go there between November and February, after the rains have ceased. During this cool dry season the fields are tilled and planted, and all of india resounds from the cries to the livestock to pull ever harder at the yoke, so better to sow the seed. The cyclist can spend thousands of kilometers down a narrow, treelined road: a causeway in an ocean of green.
The road between Lahore and Amritsar is a prime example. There is no way to describe the scenery than to say it over and over again: simple, dignified beauty. The green fields, broken by small 'islands' of shrubs, trees, and often houses, stretch to the mists on the horizon. Often a fresh breeze carries the smell of tilled earth.
Not that the cities do not exist. I found the cities in india, like Pakistan, to be a bizarre melange of mayhem and majesty. No better examploe is there than Amritsar, home of the golden temple and holy city of the Sikhs. Millions of pilgrims visit the temple every year. Dormitories and kitchens on the temple grounds feed and house a great percentage of the faithful. There is a special dormitory for us foreigners, partly to minimize problems of theft but also because the rest of the site really IS for religious pilgrims..not just world traveling cyclists. I ran into a crazy photographer ther I had seen in Pakistan..he was producing a photoessay on the Taliban, and I nicknamed him "Talibanman." He pointed out that the Gold Temple is especially beautiful at sunrise. I certainly could believe that, as it is quite beautiful enough in ordinary daylight. The whole grounds are full of music, singing, or chanting in praise of Guru nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Sikhs are easily recognizeable by their beards, long hair and turbans, as well as their culture and kindness. Sikhism, a remarkable religion (or composite of the worlds religions, in a way) was founded by Guru Nanak several centuries ago. Sikhs are an important religious minority in India and a vastly disproportionate number of its military forces. I will produce a special page on Sikhism in a few weeks.