The thing which I have found hardest about cycling through India is dealing with the entirely different rules of etiquette here. The concept of personal space seems to be alien.
As an introvert, this has been very tiring. Here are a few examples from our experiences so far. Please do share any stories of your own or advice on how to deal with it.
1. Quietly observing us for an hour
Sitting down by a river reading our books, we notice a head peering down from the bridge above. We’re not sure how long he’s been there but he looks pretty relaxed. We say hello, have a brief conversation, return to reading our books and the man remains staring down on us for another half hour.
2. Mobbed in every town
Cycling through a small town centre we pull over to buy some bananas. Before this simple 30-second transaction is completed, a mob of 30 people has gathered and surrounded us. Slowly emboldened, they are testing my brakes, pushing buttons on my cycle computer, tapping my ukulele case and squeezing my tyres. I say hello/namaste and am ignored or looked at like a nut job. I shout bye-bye with a smile and move to wheel my bike but rather than disperse the crowd just reshapes to move with me and I have to nudge my way out.
3. Stopping off to stare at the freak show
Collapsing under the shade of a tree at the side of a deserted road – it’s 40C in the sunshine – we eat our lunch of biscuits and bananas. A moped pulls up within 3-feet of us, stops, and its two passengers silently watch us. We greet them, get a nod in response, then continue our snacking whilst our visitors – now joined by another boy dropped off by a passing motorbike and a farmer who’s downed tools and walked 100yds to join us – stare in silence.
4. Coming into our hotel room
To escape the constant attention and to gain some personal space, we check into a guest house. Unpacking our bikes to move in, three youths and the hotel manager gather around the door to our room and observe. We thank them and close the door only to find a head pop up at our window to watch. We smile, gesture that we’re going to change, and close the shutters – just as a boy we’ve never seen before opens the door, walks into our room, flicks a few switches then walks out again leaving the doors open.
It’s obviously just a different set of norms rather than rudeness but it is so different and so suffocating that it can be really hard to maintain decorum and keep smiling when you’re tired, hot and hungry. Add your anecdotes or words of wisdom below.