In Pushkar I went for a bicycle ride, made a friend and got bitten by a dog, although not in that order. Along with missing fresh air, my family and ginger beer, I also missed riding my bicycle and Pushkar was the absolute perfect place to go for a ride so I set my mind to finding a bicycle to rent and then, as luck would have it, I met Dinesh.
Dinesh runs a kind of ‘all you need’ general store right outside my hotel and every morning he greeted me with the largest smile (even by Indian standards) I’ve ever seen. On top of his crazy smile, he had an absurd sense of humor (imagine Jim Carey, but he’s Indian) and it was inevitable that Dinesh and I would become friends. I asked him about renting a bicycle and he told me not to worry and less than 30 minutes later there was a knock on my door. ‘Hello my fren! Look, bicycle for you!’. I was delighted to the power of a billion but the bicycle looked a little worn, even by Indian standards. Still, I was grateful for this gifted horse and inspecting it would have been rude. After I thanked Dinesh I jumped on the black bicycle (old school, with a red saddle and a bell) and raced down the street. Ten meters later, going down a hill, surrounded by cars and motorbikes, I discovered that the brakes didn’t work. Indian traffic has taught me to expect the unexpected and I didn’t panic but I was heading straight for a truck just a few meters in front of me and I needed to stop fast. Instinctively I planted both my feet onto the ground and screech myself to a halt like they do in the cartoons. Within seconds Dinesh was there apologizing as if he’d just killed my dog. He took the bicycle (death-trap), mounted it, told me to ‘wait 2 minutes please, my fren’ and disappeared around the corner. True to his word, Dinesh was back within minutes with another bicycle. I could imagine him knocking the nearest kid off his bike, yelling ‘emergency!!!’ and bringing it to me.
This time I did a brief inspection. Only the back brake worked and when I kicked the tires they both buckled a little but it would have to do. And then, for the second time, I was off. Just like my first ride with the Yamaha, my first ride on this bicycle was terrifying at first but ultimately liberating and after a while I moved in harmony with the chaotic traffic and through the dark, narrow alleys with skill I did not know I had. I rode for hours (hours!) and had to stop only because it was already dark and I couldn’t see the road anymore.
I took the bicycle back to Dinesh and thanked him. What a great day. I missed riding my bicycle. It’s funny how little things in can give you so much joy. I started thinking about what else I was missing back home. I miss the African sky. I miss anything Afrikaans. I miss Table Mountain. I miss hugs. I miss grapes. I missed the World Cup. I missed my father’s 70th birthday (I missed many birthdays but that one stung). I missed my brother falling in love.
Now, about the dog. Dogs in India, like the cows, are lame, placid creatures that locals tend to ignore but after my experience with the cow in Varanasi, I should have known better. One afternoon, I went for a walk through the streets when this specific sleeping dog woke from his slumber and growled softly at me. ‘What the heck was that?’ he must have thought. Nobody, including me, paid any attention to him, dogs are only dangerous at night, when they’re awake and moving in packs but when I passed him the second time he growled again. I ignored him again but the next thing I knew he snuck up behind me, bit my ankle and then ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. It wasn’t really a bite, more like a pinch, it didn’t even break the skin and everybody who saw it, including me, was more amazed that the lame little mutt had the courage to do that. As for the dog, he was long gone.Despite my near-death experience on the bicycle, my run-in with the dog and having caught a severe case of melancholy, it was hard for me to leave Pushkar. It was definitely the kind of place where you can get stuck and never want to leave but when you travel by bike the open road is always whispering in your ear that its time to move on. Next stop, Jodhpur, the Blue City.