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A smile is worth a thousand words

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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