Mar 05

A smile is worth a thousand words

by in India

From Jodphur I headed north on Hwy NH65 to Nagaur. The scenery from here was extremely dry, scrubby and dusty, much as I imagine parts of Africa to be. Sand mining was happening straight off the side of the road with large tractors and trailers working continuously. I followed the NH89 to Bikaner, then on NH15 still heading north to Suratgarh and Ganganagar.

Sometimes things have a way of happening that make you realize the world really is a pretty safe place and that despite media reports, most people in most places are kind and generous.
When the maintenance man at the tired old Hotel Sunsil, Ganganagar kindly covered my bike with a plastic sheet I was able to return the favor by sharpening his chisel with my file. Then at one stage three men pulled alongside the bike indicating they’d like me to stop to take a photo. One of them was wearing a huge dagger and a bright orange turban. Both of these things signified he doesn’t take meat or alcohol. His friend dressed in darker clothing said it was the highlight of his life seeing the bike and meeting me and touched my boots many times and namasted. I later found out this is a sign of high regard and was very moved.

From Ganganagar the road veered east on NH15 to Abohar then for some unknown reason, (read this as no signposts), I ended up north west at Fazilka. I was now only about 10 kms from the land that borders Pakistan. At the petrol station the owner who spoke good English, instructed a worker to ride 10 kms out of the village to show me the way to Firozpur following the Pakistani border. I found this such a kind gesture from a total stranger. From here the landscape changed to very green due to the canal systems that were installed centuries ago. Acres of orange trees and mustard seed for oil grow in abundance.

At the lunch stop a man looked at my map & suggested I take a short cut east to Zira on an unnumbered road. It was, as he’d said, a great road and a beautiful ride. Then I went directly north to Amritsar stopping at Tarn Taran for the night.

Many people pull up alongside during each day and ask me to stop for photos or follow them somewhere for a cup of tea. While they’re alongside chatting excitedly, their vehicles sometimes unintentionally force me onto the verge. Often they’re speaking Hindi and I don’t get a word they’re saying, but the smiles & signs of encouragement make up for the language difference.

I’ll often stop if I’m due for a break, but usually a smile, a wave and the word Australia is enough of an acknowledgement, otherwise I’d never cover any distance in a day. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wants their photo taken with the FN, standing very posed and holding onto the bike or embracing me like a long lost relative. At a police post I drove on through, much to the annoyance of the policeman who was waving his arms around and shouting. Stopping isn’t always easy and this was one of those occasions. A little further on people gesticulated to go back. I thought it best to oblige and turned around. The guy looked gruff & insisted I park alongside the police station, shifting a crowd of people out of the way and instructing me to sit down in the police post. Concerned I was in for a lecture and likely to have my paperwork scrutinized, I was surprised when he simply asked if I’d join him for a cup of tea!

I’ve mentioned before the trouble I’ve been having with my boots, mainly because I have to use force on the road when I stop in heavy traffic. One toe was turning septic so while stopped in a small town I took my boots off and put on my sandals. Amongst the crowd now gathering was a young student who expressed concern and suggested I seek medical attention. He took me to a pharmacy but the pharmacist insisted I go to a doctor. My young friend led me to a nearby surgery in a simple concrete building with only the basic amenities. The doctor proceeded to wash my toe in hydrogen peroxide and applied iodine, binding it in a fresh dressing. He refused payment, insisting I was a guest in his country. Again, this has been a very humbling experience. The teenager who had been so concerned, called me two nights later to ask if I’d changed the dressing and eaten the bananas I’d bought at his store!

On another occasion I was looking for an Airtel office to top up my phone card and saw the name written on a building. It turned out though to just be a general store. The proprietor asked where I was from and when I said Brisbane, Australia he immediately called his daughter who coincidentally lived there and he gave me the phone to speak to her. Ruby was probably being woken up in the middle of the night, but without hesitation she said she was instructing her father to give me any assistance I needed. When the call was finished the man sent his son with me on the back of his bike to the Airtel office. But somewhere in the translation the story got lost and he then took me to the bus station. When I asked him why, he said, “You’re going to Amritsar & the bus is best.” I then had to convince him to take me back to the bike at his father’s shop where I was offered chocolates & other treats and when I tried to pay for a soft drink this was refused.

At gas stations the attendants never begin filling the bike until I’ve acknowledged the pump has been zeroed. When I’ve left my gear in the care of others, they insist I check it to make sure everything is there. Sure there’s poverty, pollution and some things that are pretty challenging if you’ve come from the West. Perhaps there’s others who have not shared the my positive experiences, but I’ll be leaving India knowing it rated up there with the best of them in terms of honesty, friendliness and generosity, especially from those who have very little.

I loved this Tata Trucks slogan and it could be used in a different context to how we treat others –
“Accidents bring tears, safety brings cheer.”

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14 Responses to “A smile is worth a thousand words”

  1. From Jonathan Salken:

    Wow….you inspire me…although I have done over 100,000km of riding since finishing university 10 years ago I am still an armchair reader of the adventure riders that I read about on that web site….which one of the posts had a link to your website…it makes the cannonball endurance race of last year in the states seem easy in comparison to what you are doing…love the posts and photos…ride safe … I am inspried to never stop riding and if you have a dream follow it….even in your mature years! God Bless

    Posted on April 2, 2012 at 1:58 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Jonathan

      Good to have you along for the ride and glad you’re enjoying the blog. Sounds like you’ve had plenty of adventures of your own. It’s hard to ever give it up, even at my age!
      I’d never heard of the Cannonball endurance race so look forward to following it when I get settled again, where ever that might be. Enjoy the roads where ever you are.

      Caio, Ron

      Posted on April 3, 2012 at 1:46 am #
  2. From Bob Agombar:

    Hi Ron,fabulous post,how do you find the time? I hope some of the racists read it and learn to be more tolerant of others with a different culture and skin colour.You are fast becoming an international hero. Good luck and hope your toe heals soon. regards Bob.

    Posted on March 9, 2012 at 10:26 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi again Bob
      Have to let you into a secret – messaging to my wife via the iphone and skype calls from her each night mean I can relay all the day’s news and she can transcribe it into something legible. You’re right, there isn’t much time between rides. In India we’d spend a few days together and write up all the notes so they’d make sense. I soon lost track of them after a few days with new experiences fresh in my mind. Hopefully she can meet me again soon once she gets visas sorted – it makes a big difference. I think I’ll lose the toe nail, not the toe thankfully and if I can avoid crowded cities where my feet become brakes, I have a better chance of it not getting infected again. There’s always plan B – take a rickshaw!

      The Old Bloke

      Posted on March 12, 2012 at 5:35 am #
  3. From Denny Gibson:

    An excellent post with the bonus of reminding us that, by and large, we humans aren’t really such a bad lot. It’s easy to forget that.

    Posted on March 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Denny
      My sentiments exactly. Lynne & I have found that where ever we travelled over the years most people we met shared the same needs as us, – to have a job, put food on the table, educate their kids and keep the family safe.

      The happy old bloke

      Posted on March 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm #
  4. From Di:

    I love reading about your journey Ron, and yes it is wonderful that so many people are only too happy to help, you realise that meeting you will be the highlight of many family gatherings all over India, you may even reach celebrity status!

    Posted on March 7, 2012 at 12:15 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Di, Not sure about wanting to be a celebrity but the FN is definitely a rare sight. Nothing much I’ve seen since i left Australia goes back further than the 1930’s. Had 3 TV crews filming yesterday and today, everyone keen for westerners to see a different view of Pakistan than what we’re used to. I’m blown away for with the hospitality and kindness of everyone I’ve met here in the past few days and I’m eating so much, (thanks again to the hospitality) that I can let my belt out at last!

      Caio, Ron

      Posted on March 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm #
  5. From Tony Herd:

    Dear Ronnie,

    What a beautiful posting on your incredible journey. Each time you write, it is just getting more and more enjoyable and more and more real – I can almost smell the diesel fumes and spices of the street vendors and hear the endless cacophony of horns.

    Clearly the joy and happiness you continue to bring and share with those around you on this journey, and as you have so selflessly done all your life to your friends and family, is the well spring of the good fortune you are now experiencing each and every day.

    Relax and enjoy my friend, you have well and truly earned these bountiful rewards and it is now your turn to be treated in kind.

    And when the going does get really tough, as it always will from time to time, just remember those wonderful words….”And this too, shall pass”.

    God Speed Ronnie.

    Tony

    Posted on March 6, 2012 at 9:44 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hey Tone
      Thanks for the kind words my friend. it’s good to know you’re enjoying it, diesel fumes and all. I’ve had only good experiences everywhere, so no complaints. Lots to write about in the coming days – you’d love it here. Good to see green again.

      The Old Bloke

      Posted on March 11, 2012 at 11:12 am #
  6. From wally jay:

    I have worked with A lot of people from india and I also found them to be friendly and polite. (I wonder If bananas are good for septic toe’s)

    Posted on March 6, 2012 at 9:19 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Wally

      LOL. Not sure the bananas are helping the toes but they’re a great food source and cheap. I know what you mean about Indians being polite. I get called “sir’ all the time and have to remind everyone my name’s Ron, not sir. Then I get, “Yes, Mr Ron sir.” Finding people in Pakistan friendly also and very generous. Shame more people don’t get to visit this part of the world and see for themselves.
      Caio, OBOAB

      Posted on March 11, 2012 at 10:54 am #
  7. From Billi:

    Dear Ron,
    What an amazing journey. I totally agree with you it seems the poorer the people the more generous & ‘happy to help’ us humans are. I love reading about your adventure. Well done Dude.
    love & hugs Billi

    Posted on March 6, 2012 at 3:32 am #
    • From The Old Bloke:

      Hi Billi,
      Glad you’re enjoying ride. I’m looking forward to the next stage which I think is going to be pretty exciting. Thanks for your support.
      The Old Bloke

      Posted on March 11, 2012 at 10:38 am #

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