I have made it out of Kolkata, but I haven’t quite made it out of India. The reason is a good one though. I woke to the sound of my 5.30am alarm and hit snooze twice. Taking my time to prepare, I started pedalling at 8am. Being back on the bike again felt amazing. I loved being back on my observation seat, watching Indian life pass me by. The traffic wasn’t overbearing and I only got run off the road by a careless driver once. After about 15km the traffic petered out and I could focus more on the spacious surroundings and less on the traffic rushing me by. I made a return to eating Indian street food when I came across a busy stall dishing out bowls of vegetable curry for 10r (AU$0.20). It was delicious and has so far proceeded through my body without any nasty surprises. I rode on until I reached Habra, where my real adventure began.

I stopped to have a cool drink and a rest and was instantly swarmed by curious Indians. Among them was one friendly guy who called himself Futu and invited me to have a tea with him. Later he told me he had wanted to rescue me from the crowd. Despite accepting the tea he offered, I hadn’t given over my complete trust when he offered to give me a quick tour of the town on his motorbike. He showed me a place where I could leave my bike and said not to worry about it. I trusted my instincts and decided a quick jaunt wouldn’t do any harm, but I insisted that it could only be for five minutes because I still needed the afternoon to get into Bangladesh. On the way back to my bike (after seeing some pandals that were far more impressive than the ones I had seen in Kolkata) he invited me to stay at his home. The fun began.

He led me to his house, where I parked up my bike, had a bath and met the family, which included his younger cousin, daughter, wife, uncle etc. The girls demanded selfies, which became the first of about a hundred taken through the rest of the day. I had an hour’s nap then Futu took me for a longer tour of town via more very impressive pandals. We made several trips through town as the afternoon passed into night. It was the last day of Durga Puja, so everyone was making the most of it and staying up late to party. Futu’s young cousin brought her friends around and I joined them (a super friendly group of guys and girls) for a walk around town. They treated me to a sweet ice cream drink. One girl made it clear she liked me. I thought she was a bit alright too, though we were basically being chaperoned by Futu, who whisked me away when he thought we were getting a bit too friendly (and by friendly I just mean chatting).

On the evening walk we caught the end of a concert by a beautiful woman singing traditional Bengali folk songs as a crowd watched and young guys danced. The suburb’s representative invited me on stage and I was asked a couple of questions about how I liked Durga Puja and what I thought of Habra’s celebration. I could honestly say I was blown away by their pandals. I congratulated them on making such amazing displays. I later found out that it is not the local people that construct the pandals; rather, they pay outsiders for the work. While my general appearance in the town had captured a lot of attention from everyone, my on-stage appearance took it to a new level and I was swamped with requests for selfies. I escaped to home and Futu and I chatted about all sorts of things, both learning about each other’s cultures. I took note when he told me he had welcomed two travellers into his house before but he had never heard from them again and this had hurt him. It reminds me to stay in contact with others who have shown me kindness. It doesn’t take much effort to send out the odd email but it can mean the world to someone.

The whole time in Habra today has been a fascinating insight into Bengali culture. I love it. Gone are the beggars of Kolkata, who only look to you for money. Here everyone is full of such energy and joy (though having five days of fun festivities might have something to do with that). Everyone is really curious about meeting a foreigner and all so keen to extend their heartfelt welcome and display their culture and be good representatives of India. Such warm, friendly, caring people. I’m going to bed now and I’m very happy except for one thing: a gate providing access to an outside toilet is locked for safety reasons. Futu said if I need to relieve myself in an emergency, I’ll have to on the balcony outside the room I’m in. I’d rather not do that, but my stomach is still not settled yet…

Day 559 (pic)

Habra stage show

Accommodation House of a friendly family
Distance ridden today 48.72km
Average cycling speed 15.6kph
Total distance ridden 14,388km