Getting a bike here has been easy. Mention the idea to Ashish (we live on his family’s rooftop), he brings by old bikes for me to try out, or goes to check them out himself, because if I go with him, “they give no indian price.”
I took one for a second test ride today, a little further out to the BHU campus, the university in Varanasi (the largest residential university in Asia) – through the madness of Assi Ghat, Assi Road, a few traffic circles, to the relatively serene ride through jungle flora lined streets and, if you listen, the sounds of birds in the trees!
Intense concentration, 20/20 peripheral vision, and the occasional hold-on-tight, pedal-fast, and just-go-for-it-attitude – all essential. But, so far, what a high!
A few lessons already learned:
Lesson #1. Stay LEFT. Easier said than done.
Lesson #2. There is a lot of stuff in your way.
Including, but certainly not limited to, other bicycles, women carrying bricks on their heads, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, the occasional actual vehicle (beware!), men holding hands, children running afoot, cows, buffalo, goats, chickens, holes the size of cows, piles of garbage, manure, piles of rocks, fruit carts, spread of vegetables on blankets, men pushing/pulling carts (carrying furniture, tires, other men, cream cans, propane tanks, mobile dance parties, etc), and millions of motorcycles.
Lesson #3. No helmets, no lights, no safety vests, no reflectors.
Lesson #4. Get a bell.
A bell (or a horn in the case of an auto rickshaw) replaces everything in driving etiquette. It means, with no way of deciphering a difference: I’m turning, I’m stopping, I’m going, you can go, do you want a ride?, you can’t have a ride, i’m-going-straight-through-this-intersection-and-I’m-not-stopping-for-nothing, and, of course, “get the hell out of my way.”
Lesson #5. *SINGLE most important lesson* Try not to hit stuff in front of you (at least not too hard) and the stuff behind you will (hopefully) try not to hit you.