Multan / Amritsar
399 km. Total distance travelled: 8,283 km
The appointment with our escort is set for 7.30am but no one turns up. After waiting for about fifteen minutes … we decide to leave. Behind us is Multan, but seeing the number of roadblocks along the way, we are well aware that it would be easy for the Authorities to intercept us. Instead everything goes smoothly. We travel peacefully all the way to Lahore, while maintaining a good average. The prospect of crossing a city with more than 11 million inhabitants concerned us a little. We actually find that the city has an excellent freeway system which allows us to stay on the outskirts. We challenge the good start to the day by entering a stretch of motorway that is banned to motorcycles, but almost immediately we are stopped by a police patrol … which then leaves us grumbling after we plead to be allowed passage. Even in this case, fate favours us, as we are allowed to travel which means we arrive at the frontier half an hour before closing, scheduled at 15:30 and not at 17:00 as had been indicated in Multan. The Pakistanis are fast and we pass through the border in minutes. Then we collide with Indian bureaucracy, which stops us for two hours, while officials carry out a detailed control of our documents and our motorcycles. In the end, we receive the stamps needed and we are able to leave. It’s late in the afternoon but we can quickly reach Amritsar. Tomorrow we will travel north from Yol, where Marco’s father had been a prisoner for 6 years during the war.
Amritsar / Dharamsala
397 km. Total distance travelled: 8,630 km
We were happy to leave the chaos of Amritsar to head north east along a smooth 4-lane carriageway. The Indian roads are far better than the roads we found in Pakistan but the driving is awful. After about 100km, the road narrows to two lanes and begins to climb, turning into a twisted route nestling amongst lush vegetation. It would be a very enjoyable motorcycling route, if it wasn’t for the possibility of finding an Indian driver trying to overtake the wrong way on every bend! Riding very carefully we reach Dharamsala, most commonly known as the current Headquarters of the exiled Tibetan Government. During our final stretch, unfortunately, the rain decides to keep us company. From Dharamsala we climb a narrow sloping road up to McLeod Ganji, 1,750 m above sea level, home of Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Marco continues for Yol, a location where during World War II, the British held captive a large group of Italian officers that had been captured on various fronts of battle; one of those captured officers was Marco’s father. Tomorrow we will head south to New Delhi. We do not have a precise goal, but we will try to cover as much distance as we can.
Dharamsala / Delhi
480 km. Total distance travelled: 9,110 km
And so arrives a monsoon. It rained heavily all night and the rain, knocking on the roof of the hotel, disturbed us. After travelling in our waterproof suits, we find ourselves on a somewhat sticky road, which we face with caution. After one hour, the sun returns and the asphalt dries quickly. After taking off our waterproof suits, we manage to increase the pace. The first 200km are challenging; we descend from the Himalayan buttresses to the plains along a narrow, busy path. We will need 3 hours of continuous bends to reach the plains and take the freeway. At 18:00 we are close to Delhi. We have travelled almost 500km in uncomfortable damp heat that made us sweat. By now we move well amongst the Indian traffic and we have learned to predict the behaviour of local drivers. Tomorrow we expect to reach Agra, to the South of Delhi, to admire the famous Taj Mahal mausoleum.
Delhi / Agra
360 km. Total distance travelled: 9,370 km
Delhi has a decent motorway system but bottlenecks are common and a good degree of chaos is ordinary, but we manage to leave the city quite quickly and after a few kilometers we hit a 3-lane, payable but not very busy highway. In a short time, we arrive at Agra amongst beautiful countryside that is mainly cultivated with rice and corn and dotted with small villages. We see mostly women planting rice, bent over in the sun. Once in Agra we schedule a day to allow us to visit the Taj Mahal, which has always been considered a unique architectural pearl; in 1983, UNESCO appointed this mausoleum and the Red Fort of Agra as World Heritage Sites. The Fort owes its name to the material used for construction: red sandstone. When Agra was the capital of the region, the Red Fort was also the palace of the Moghul King. Tomorrow we will head east to Jaipur, in the heart of Rajasthan.
Agra / Jaipur
261 km. Total distance travelled: 9,631 km
Jostling our way through thousands of Tuc Tuc we leave Agra and a 4-lane carriageway brings us quickly to Fatehpur Sukri. This is a typical example of a Moghul walled city, with well-delimited private and public areas and imposing entrance doors. The architecture combines Hindu and Islamic style and reflects the political and philosophical view of the emperors and their way of governing. After leaving Fatehpur, we stop at Abhaneri Village to admire the Chand Baori, a well-pitched stairwell which is one of the deepest and most extensive in India.
We take a final journey to Jaipur, where a comfortable room at the Ramada Hotel is waiting for us. “Adopted” by the owner of a Tuc Tuc, we are taken on a night-time tour of the city where we see the famous Windmill Palace (the Hawa Mahal) but we return to the other attractions the following morning. In the afternoon, we will move onto Bikaner: our visit to Rajasthan continues.
Jaipur / Bikaner
344 km. Total distance travelled: 9,975 km
The capital of Rajasthan did not disappoint us. With its 3 million inhabitants, it seemed a little more orderly than other cities we had visited. Many motorcyclists carry a helmet, there are less crazy drivers in the streets and less littering. Our “trusted” driver is scheduled at 7:30am, this time with a car equipped with air conditioning. It is taking us to the Amber Fort, the UNESCO World Heritage site located 11km outside Jaipur. Surrounded by tall walls, the Amber Fort was the residence of the Maharaja Raiput and his family. On the way back, we stop at the City Palace, home of the Maharaja of Jaipur, a huge and complex palace with many courtyards, two museums and an armoury.
In the afternoon, we get back in the saddle. The usual city chaos is followed by a fairly sloping road along which the panorama changes a little. From the lush green of Jaipur, we are now immersed in a pre-desert environment with little vegetation. At Bikaner, we will stop tomorrow morning for a visit to the famous rats’ temple. Then we will move onto mythical Jaisalmer.
Bikaner / Jaisalmer
335 km. Total distance travelled: 10,310 km
Today we will pass the 10,000km mark, covered in just over a month, including stops. In our eyes, we still have images of unique Bikaner a sacred place in the world, where rats are respected. Thousands of rats worshipped and fed by followers as if they were Gods. Legend has it that one day, wise Indian Karni Mata, asked Yama the God of Death to bring back to life her son Laxman, who had drowned in a lake. Yama, who had previously been unmovable, gave up on the woman’s pleas by allowing the boy to turn into a rat and this concession was extended to all the male children of Karni Mata. We spend the afternoon reaching Jaisalmer, immersed in an ever more deserted landscape, with very few crops and many acacia trees among which numerous cows, which are sacred in India, are increasingly thinner and they dice with danger with their sudden road crossing. After travelling 335Km, we reach Jaisalmer. Here we stop for one day … aware that this magical place deserves a longer stay as there is lots to see. For many centuries, the “fortress town” served as a shelter and a stopover for caravans and travellers along the Silk Road, one of the main trading routes between East and West; over the centuries, its ramparts have been the backdrop to many battles. Surrounded by mighty walls, Jaisalmer is still home to 4,000 people. Tomorrow’s stage is Jodhpur, another interesting city in Rajastha.
After spending 42 days travelling 12,850km on a motorcycle and crossing 6 states, we arrived at the Orsoline Sisters Mission in Kannur, Kerala, India. Upon arrival, we found all 7Milamilano friends who shared this project with us, and who travelled to the Mission using different means of transport. But most importantly on our arrival, we found dozens of smiles and the mission children had eyes full of joy. We could not disappoint them.
And we forgot the fatigue, the heat, the dust, the rain and the traffic that challenged us during the entire journey. But now we are convinced that it was all worth it and that the help of so many people and sponsors will enable the visual arts project to become a reality.
Many thanks to all.