Predatory Evangelism

Before getting into this controversial issue I would like to emphasise that I am not against evangelism, but it should be within the bounds of decency. A lot of Indians like me have seen evangelism of the brash American/Western sort being pushed in our faces here. This makes us uncomfortable.

For the sake of brevity, it should be plain and clear to people when others say ‘NO’ once. However, people of some faiths seldom stop at that and continue to push their agendas even going to the the extent of threatening violence and intimidation.

The recent case of an American missionary being tragically killed on an isolated island in the Andaman Island chain is the trigger for this topic. Refer Google for this, it’s a few days old. The Andaman islands have seen plenty of evangelism of the ‘forced’ kind under British rule and then voluntarily under democratic Indian administration too. The Government here has made it pretty clear that the North Sentinel Islands* in the Andamans are off limits and this is because of good reason i.e. the isolated tribe there has refused outside human contact. They have also previously attacked and killed people who tried to get friendly with them. However this loud and resonating ‘NO’ probably hits a wall with some people.

The media here has wrongly portrayed this as laxity on the part of Indian authorities. Authorities can do little when people try to sneak up to the islands behind their backs. The isolated tribe is at great risk when they do come into contact with outsiders who can carry germs and infections against which the Sentinelese do not have any immunity. But, that again doesn’t reach up to the heads of some folks.


Getting ready for scuba diving early morning, Havelock Island, Andaman

By the way, we are trying to preserve this microcosm of a prehistoric culture; by some calculations as old as 60,000 years, on the Sentinel islands. So it would be deeply appreciated if people stop being saviours and just be human instead. Also the rest of the Andaman islands are worth visiting and there are some good scuba diving spots there. I completed my SSI Open Water Scuba Diving certification from DiveIndia, Havelock island, so I can vouch for the pristine beauty of the Andamans and the excellent dive spots there.


Andaman islands from the air, on the way to Port Blair, Veer Savarkar airport. Port Blair is the administrative capital of Andaman Islands.*

Garbage Recycling

It was always a pain to watch litter strewn across roadsides, rivers and waterways. Most of it is of course — PLASTIC, the ubiquitous cancer of this world. Besides plastic there are beer, soda cans and everything else you can imagine. Most of this is thrown out by vehicle/motorbike drivers who couldn’t care less if they had to throw it across your face. They are that brazen !!

For a cyclist like me, it is more painful cause I have to slog several kilometres to get to a scenic spot, only to find it soiled with garbage. Hence, I decided to put some of this garbage to good use. Maybe, people reading this can clean up some of the mess that humanity is getting into. Be a recycling champ and save some money too !

Soda Tin can being used as a electronics tool container, logo blacked out.

Plastic soda/sweet soft drink bottle being used as a wire container, cut up at the top. Logo blacked out.
Beer can being used as a container to hold various electronic tools and wires

Most soda/beer tin cans are thin enough to be cut with normal scissors, but you do need a craft knife to cut out the top. Please be careful while cutting tin cans or you may end up getting a nasty nick, the cutting has to be even and scissors can be used to get an even finish. Jagged ends can be taped as a safety precaution. 

Lawless Highway Code

Imagine huge 5-10 tonne beasts roaring loudly, racing past each other on an asphalt tarmac. The ground trembles under the combined assault of this gigantic pack, racing at speeds reaching 80-120 kmph.*; the beast overtaking the others nearly breaks out of the tarmac and leaves behind a plume of dust and debris. Thankfully, there are no collisions and the winner rushes ahead oblivious of the tremors that it created. The dinosaur pack vanishes into the distance; and out of the swirling dust and debris emerge tiny beings choking in the wake, bewildered and disoriented.

*kmph. — kilometres per hour 

Sounds like a Hollywood thriller featuring gigantic beasts battling to control the world ? Err .. No. Welcome to the real life Indian highway traffic. This is almost a daily routine here. At risk are the inconsequential cyclists, the tiny beings, like me, who have to keep a constant watch in the rear view mirror and be ready to dive out of the road. The thought of being plastered on the front view of these speeding beasts keeps gnawing in the mind of those like me. There are no rules on our national highways linking states and cities. The unwritten code here is : The bigger and noisier the beast, the more it deserves to be respected, traffic rules be damned !

If you haven’t guessed it, the dino* beasts are buses, trucks, lorries and dumpers; at the head of the traffic food chain, then the middle sized SUV’s**, mini-trucks and pickups with the cars and then the motor bikes completing the hierarchy. Our highway traffic follows it’s own rules based on the hierarchy above. Cyclists like me are the lowest vermin with no rights on the highways. Since there is almost no traffic rule enforcement, I won’t even discuss the highway patrols here, and focus on the unwritten lawless highway traffic code.

*dino – dinosaur, **SUV’s — Sports Utility Vehicles

Let’s get down to business and start with the pirate code; for starters your vehicle size matters. The bigger the beast you ride, by big I would say it’s both weight and size, the more you can flex your might on the highway. At the top of the food chain would be the beast trucks hauling several tonnes of load and often overweight. They are to be feared as they can just about do anything, including crush you like a mosquito. In the nights these beasts become true predators, with their liquor soaked drivers driving them into a speeding frenzy. Their presence can be heard from a distance, with crude music blaring from their driving cabins and the roar of their engines. To be fair most of the trucking drivers here are underpaid and overworked, and they do have an obstinate, dangerous streak about them as they drive these monsters. If you want to survive, keep your distance from this top predator.

The middle tier of the food chain is populated by swanky SUV’s, pickups and mini-trucks. The SUV’s are the things to be watched out for. The new ones have a fast acceleration and can zip up to 120-150 kmph. without breaking a sweat. The drivers of these beasts are often not concerned with the world outside, locked up in their own air-conditioned cocoon often with stereos belting out desi aka vernacular music. To add to this it’s common for the SUV drivers to talk on mobiles and have a hearty chat with the other occupants, while zipping on these things. This leads to predictable results. For a lowly cyclist like me, SUV’s are a terror. They can weigh a tonne and have a sizeable girth. One kiss from this baby and I could end up with Saint Peter. Which leads me to the other beasts in the middle tier.

The pickups, mini trucks and vans make up a dicey mix. They are often loaded up to the brim with stuff intended for local markets. Like vegetables, bread, milk and maybe sacks of flour. The main thing to remember is that they are in a tearing hurry to get that load to the market. Add that to the reckless driving culture with the load that they are carrying, and the picture is complete. The early morning ones are the worst. If that does not horrify one, let’s add more spice to the mix, most of these vehicles are not road worthy. I saw one whose chassis was inclined at such an angle that the vehicle looked like it was travelling sideways. It’s best to bail out of the bicycle if this beast heads for us and needs to brake to a halt. Braking is a no go with these vehicles, with the speed and the load that they are carrying. By the time they will halt it would be game over for the cyclist.

This brings us to the cars and the mobikes*. These are the fastest ones on the highways, zipping in and out, weaving to and fro between the dinosaurs. A Formula One driver would be put to shame at the manoeuvring undertaken by the warriors behind the steering wheels on Indian roads. Again, when the split second calculations fail, it’s a sad end. Cars treat dino trucks as slow trolls, weaving between them and zipping away. For the cyclist, this means keeping a watchful eye as there is no lane discipline when cars try to overtake a heavy. If they hug the outer lane where we travel, it’s best to drop off the road.

mobikes — motor bikes*

Mobikes are the fastest, with the latest ones running faster than most cars. They pose the least danger as they have to be careful too, being just a rung above the cyclist. Most mobike riders will often slow down for a friendly ‘on the road drive-as-we-chat’, which I have found to be a bit disconcerting as well as comical. Cyclists have to maintain a lateral as well as vertical balance without any motor power and chatting while cycling is tough. Then there is the traffic following on behind us that keeps blaring their horns to break this impromptu conference on the road. In some cases, I had to stop at the roadside if the conference continued for too long, just to let the traffic behind pass through. Fun facts apart mobike riders will get nasty if a cyclist is stuck in a traffic jam, cause the hierarchy kicks in when it’s jam time. The mobikes get priority while the cyclist has to wait for the jam to clear.

Moving on to the other rules in the lawless code; there is no such thing as a cycling lane. Cyclists travel on the outer fringes of the road, inside clearly marked side lanes on highways. But as lowly vermin we have no ‘actual’ lanes, speeding beasts will often hog the whole road while overtaking and cyclists have to take the dirt track next to the road, when that happens. Then there is the unique Indian highway traffic phenomenon of a wrong side reverse traffic flow on the ‘supposed’ cycling lanes. Mobikes, jeeps, auto rickshaws and passenger loaded tempos will often travel on the wrong side using the cycling lane with their headlights on as a sort of warning to the incoming cyclist. If we do not heed the horns and the headlights, it’s game over as they travel on the wrong side at high speeds. This mostly happens near small town settlements but is in no way restricted to such, and one has to be always on the alert.

Once all this sinks in, we are ready to tackle the highways. Helmets are very conspicuous here as most Indians think they have a head made of unbreakable titanium alloy. A cyclist with a helmet is considered as rare as a Martian, since even mobike riders on highways here don’t use one. It’s advisable to wear one though. The post is not meant to discourage prospective cyclists. Many of us out there are actually doing it despite the insurmountable odds. Drive slow, drive safe and be alert.

Will keep adding more to this post, so do check back and try to take up your cycling, you won’t regret it !!

Long Distance Cycling Tips

This is for cyclists like me who travel on a self-support basis, as lone wolves. Cyclists travelling in groups have a different profile. It is best to travel in buddy pairs but not always possible. The idea is to get from point A to point B, as comfortably as possible. The fact that we have to cycle all the way means that we need to have a certain level of fitness and the proper equipment.

If we plan on covering something like 500 kilometres (km.) and above, then we need to cover at least 110-130 km. daily. This may vary according to terrain, steep hills can restrict the cyclist to 70-80 km. ; and it is important not to over stretch oneself, injuries can mean ditching the bicycle altogether and making it back using some other transport.

Carry along stuff should include a first aid kit, our clothes specially undergarments. A few chords just in case we need to extra strap our luggage. Our smartphone ( ahem ! ) and the charger. Moving on, we would definitely need bicycle spares like an extra tube, puncture kit, lubricant and bicycle cleaning stuff. On longer journeys, an extra chain and gear freewheel, along with brake and gear wires would definitely help. Spare rear and front derailleurs could make life easier.

We would also need a toolkit with wrenches, spanners and tools to open the gear flywheel or other stuff. A spoke tension tool would also help. An odometer helps to set our pace. Lastly, a strap on air pump is a must. The air pressure in the tyres must be on the higher side to avoid punctures, throughout the journey. I have never had a puncture on any of my long trips because of this.

Did I miss something ? Yes ! A helmet, rear view mirror, warning tail lights and a front light, are a must to go along with a loud cycle bell here. Battery operated lights are more convenient. Hydration is another issue and bottle holders/hydration bags are always welcome but there is a limit to what one may carry. 

My region has a lot of vehicular pollution, so I wear anti-pollution masks and good cycling eye wear to protect against flying debris. Padded cycling shorts will make our life bearable as our behinds are rubbed raw after hundreds of kilometres. There is the issue of toe clamps or cleats to bind our feet to the pedal. People swear by it but other cyclists do not like it. Personally, I wear shoes that lock in to pedal cleats. However, one must be very careful with this. A mistake can mean a good fall.

This isn’t an exhaustive check list by any means and I may keep adding to this, just so that everyone knows this is going to help me too !