The second day in Varanasi was spent bike shopping and eating and drinking our way through the city. We started out listening to some live Indian music at 7 am. These people get going early. Looking around, once again we were unsure of the protocol. In one area there were only women sitting and the other men and, yet another, mainly men with a woman or two. Some had shoes on and some didn’t. We weren’t really sure what to do, but it seemed fairly apparent that we weren’t from around these parts, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of being nervous about my ankle revealing pants and mismatched anklets. Indian ladies don’t let anything slide, as their continual disapproving glances suggest. Our guide from the previous day had given me the insiders scoop – mismatched anklets are laughable. After the tunes we went down to the chai man back at the old ghat and had a couple of tall boys with some college kids puffing some ciggaloons. After chai, it was time to search for the bikes. We had wanted to get some used ones to ride from Varanasi up to the border of Nepal. In Nepal we would ditch the bikes since we weren’t going to make much use of them in the mountains, and they would certainly slow transportation trying to bring them along.
Locals told us “no problem” getting them on trains and buses, but they pretty much tell us that about everything so the reliability of that information seemed questionable. We checked the handy dandy terrain feature on the map and it looked pancake flat all the way to the border, so we would be fine there, and the GPS on our phone was working well, so navigating some smaller roads seemed easy. After stopping at two or three bike stands we learned quickly that used bikes were hard to come by and new bikes would only cost 15 dollars more each. After a drop of deliberation we caved and bought the new bikes, one Neelam and one Hercules(this is all the man actually had in stock – it wasn’t like we had a choice in the matter).
He wouldn’t let us size them up either. The bikes, with all accessories(bell, double stand, carrier, basket, and lock), as the man proudly announced, ran us exactly 101$USD. We left a deposit and headed back out into the rambling wonderful alleyways of Varanasi for street food and lassis while the crabster built up the bikes – really while he read the paper and his mechanic prepared the bikes. At the lassi place you could watch people march the prepared bodies down to the ghat for cremation – they were tied to a bamboo stretcher and wrapped with metallic orangey-gold cloth, topped with flowers and garland.
I soon had my first terrible bout of urgency so we had to hightail it back to the room past, like, 40 ghats(the sets of steps heading down to the Ganges, each with a different name), and not a second too soon. Phew! After some post relief hang out time in the room we headed back for the bikes and took a spin around the town. Riding bikes through the streets felt like the craziest cyclocross race ever, with all manner of vehicle – motorcycles(called bikes), cycle rickshaws, cars, bicycles(called cycles), cows and pedestrians, with everyone honking and weaving madly in and out of traffic going both ways. Pure (organized) chaotic insanity and fun, and certainly not for the tentative rider. No, this would suck so bad for the tentative rider. We got back to the room and the kind fellow running the hotel allowed us to store the cycles in his residence, which was the first floor of the hotel. We went for some advice, and were disheartened when another gent informed us that he would not recommend we do the ride we were planning on. The towns and villages we would pass through weren’t set up for tourists, they wouldn’t know what to feed us, and there would be no place to sleep. It was hard to say what he really meant but he was pretty adamant. I’m sure religion played in, though, one way or another, which seems quite like the norm around here. Like, bad karma if anything bad happened to us or something. He did assure us that it wasn’t dangerous, just without amenities, which made us feel a bit better. We went to bed anxiously and with sort of sunken hearts, but we were going to damn well do it anyway. We didn’t sleep great that night and awoke at daybreak, anxiety in our bones. We loaded and mounted the cycles and, in an effort to beat some traffic, rode like hell out of Varanasi.