I’m sat writing this in our host Dave’s house, enjoying cool monsoon air. I wasn’t expecting to be here now, let alone have a plane booked for Australia in two days time. It was an eventful ride.
Mumbai has the type of rain that can wash away holy cows and eat campers for breakfast.
If you’re British and you think you see bad rain – you don’t. To put it in perspective, in the whole of England’s 2011/2012 winter, there was 330mm rain total. In Mumbai, they had 300mm just in this September.
But we didn’t know this as we cycled out of Mumbai. We knew getting to India in the post monsoon season was a bit risky, but the rest of the tour would have been thrown off by a few months if we’d have replanned. We also thought that ‘post-monsoon’ season would perhaps mean a fair few rainy days, but overall good cycling with cooler weather.
When the polluted dawn began to creep across the sky, I politely declined to get up after only 3 hours sleep to cycle sixty odd miles in Indian traffic. Despite good intentions, we had stayed up until 3 am drinking with a Mumbai Bollywood film set girl (Mumbai is like this). I wanted to cycle next morning and we reasoned one day wouldn’t make much difference.
Unfortunately James’ nose had other ideas, and he began to react badly to the pollution/something in Dave’s flat meaning he couldn’t get back to sleep and woke up with a head full of phlegm.
Post coffee at 11am, we decided to cycle out of the city to give James’ lungs a rest. We thought we could be out of the main pollution by nightfall.
We were therefore introduced to Indian city traffic at a busy moment on heavy touring bikes and were sleep deprived.
We rode in a stampede of vehicles, lanes ignored, lorries squeezed into spaces where I would barely ride a bike in the UK, and we split curtains of black diesel fumes to ride out coughing amid beeping horns. Swerving in and out of motorbikes and tuks-tuks was terrifying, but repeatedly avoiding death is also exhilarating.
Kids on their way out of school stared and laughed, their mothers either glared outright, I suppose at our foolishness, or completely ignored us.
We rode for hours, over the Vashni bridge which was barely visible in grey-blue clouds of pollution which stung the eyes, out onto big industrial roads with lorries and cars, until James stopped and pulled his bike to a sandy curb. I have never seen him so close to crying. ‘Ellie, this is the shittest time of my life so far’. Anyone who knows James will know this is a very unusual level of emotion for him, and I didn’t know how to help except to ride on to better things.
I knew it was sleep deprivation and illness that was making him feel so awful, but it was also the culture shock, the humidity threat of rain and insane driving; in short, things that weren’t going away in a hurry.
But as usual, we managed. We stopped and were looked after with free chai from a building site, where kind men in orange jumpsuits crowded round the bikes and James sat for a few minutes with his eyes closed.
We found some small shops erected out of corrugated iron and timber, and bought rice, some white rolls, some fruit and some instant noodles. Then we cycled into the next village and asked to put our tent up; after 50 people came to investigate for half an hour, I smiled and asked them politely to leave us so we could at least change and rest, and we fell asleep in the humidity. We had at least made it out of Mumbai; the next day the monsoon challenges began.