From France to India on a Bike

Andjali and Camille shared with us their cycling adventures from France to India. You can see their full blog at jitvb.travelmap.net

The Plan

Andjali wanted to go to India because she has family there. It’s been 11 years since she last visited the country with her parents and her brother. Andjali was eager to see her grandfather’s land once again.

I (Camille) didn’t want to take a plane, first of all, for environmental reasons. I also thought it would be an opportunity to visit all the countries between France and India.

The original plan was to find a way to get out of Europe as cheap as possible. Should we do hitchhiking, cycling or taking public transportation? Cycling appeared to be the nicest solution.

While we were gathering information, tools, bicycle parts and so on, the idea of cycling all the way slowly came to our minds.

A few years back, Camille cycled from Norway to France with two friends and was very happy about the experience. Also, cycling has been our main way of transportation for both of us to get to work or to go around the city. But we were not cyclists! Andjali barely knew how to change gear!!

We are ready, aren’t we?

It was June 2015.

Our bikes were ready! They were second-hand bikes with an aluminium frame, suspended fork (which is not what cyclo tourists would recommend) and fully loaded.

As we had decided to start very slowly, visiting our families before heading East, we were not in a hurry. That appeared to be Rule n°1 of our journey!

Actually, no!

The most important thing for us was to get along well together, and we would always keep in mind that nothing else mattered more than our relationship.

It was OK to be slow; it was not so important to visit that very famous monument; and it wouldn’t matter much if we missed that particularly beautiful road, as long as we tried our best to be happy to travel together.

It was also important to respect our rhythms. It took us almost two months to find the right balance, which would be Andjali in the front and I was right behind enjoying the wind protection!

Packing

As we wanted to be able to communicate, at least a little bit, with local people, we had in our panniers small conversation books. They helped us to get ready going to a new country by learning the basic phrases:

  • Hello
  • Water
  • Tent
  • Thank you
  • Good bye
  • Internet cafe!! (an important one)

Yes, we decided to travel with as few electronic devices as possible. We had only an old bike computer, a small digital camera and a very basic cell phone. We needed Internet cafes to check our emails and look up information for the countries to come. Sometimes it took hours to find one. In a world where almost everyone has a tablet or a smartphone with 3G, Internet cafes have nearly gone extinct!

Budgeting

When we left France, we knew we had to be back for Andjali’s brother’s wedding in one year and two months. We financed the whole journey with the money we saved for a few years, and we had to make it cheap to travel as long as possible.

We slept in the tent almost every night and cooked our meals (except when the local people invited us). In the end, what cost us the most were the two flights we took, a few trips using other ways of transportation other than bikes, and the cost of various visas.

We chose not to ask for sponsorship because we wanted to be free to change our route and not be compelled to give anything in return during or after the trip. Also, we weren’t confident enough to ask people to pay for our holidays!

“Don’t go there; they are criminals!”

People are friendly and welcoming everywhere! The closer we got to Asia, the warmer their hearts were! Although, that is not what they think of each other. It happened many times that people from a country warned us about people from the next country we would go through. They say things like “Don’t go there, they are criminals!”

We then decided to tell this story and explain how amazing the neighbours had been to us. Most of the time it made them smile! All this suspicion was probably coming from tensions or past wars between the neighbouring countries.

We didn’t know much about the countries we’ve visited. Even if we had learned the recent historical events at school, we were (and still are) quite ignorant. We had a lot of prejudices, although we always tried to be as open as possible and asked a lot of questions! That was sometimes frustrating to realise, and we determine to learn more beforehand for our next trip.

Along the roads

We met many other travellers, and everyone had their way of travelling. Even amongst cycling tourists, we did it differently. Some make it cheap (like Andjali and I); others go to hotels every night. Some decide to cycle all the way and don’t take any bus, train or flight at all; others fly over the hardest parts. We met people who had travelled for years as well as ones who had only been on the road for one week or two. Some visit all the famous monuments, others prefer to go off the beaten tracks.

We are not good at visiting touristic places ourselves, and it can be quite challenging with two fully loaded bicycles, so we skipped some of the “must-sees” with (almost) no regrets. It is certainly not our style to go from a touristic place to another in a bus full of other tourists. We enjoyed discovering the beauty and diversity of the countryside!

We didn’t have major issues during our journey. It’s probably due to our luck. Also, we were quite calm and didn’t react strongly to what happened to us. We always tried to see the positive side of every event and never considered an incident as a serious problem. We’ve heard several times friends relating a situation we’ve been through together. Even though we were also there, they would have experienced it very differently and most of the time much harder than us.

In Uzbekistan, someone stole our tent. We were invited to eat and sleep at a worker’s house and had lowered our guard enough to let our bikes in the doorway, unlocked, with our panniers on. We only took our passports and money with us. The thief could have stolen everything, including the bikes. In the morning, we had no other option but to keep cycling to the next city and try to find a replacement. The nights were freezingly cold, and we only found a reasonably good tent one month later. Once back home, we realised this was the worst experience we had and felt quite lucky.

A continuity

It’s August 2016. A few more kilometres and we would be home. It felt good to hear French and to recognise the landscape. We were eager to meet our friends and family and eat our favourite food again.

So, what’s next?

Some people have a tough time when they come home after such a long trip, or at least that’s what most people expect. We were very happy on our bicycles, and we were very happy to be home. For us, travelling was continuity.

Before the trip, we were already kind of “nomads”. We are seasonal workers and don’t have a house. Now, six months after coming back, we are still going from one job to another, living at our friends’ house. And, there’s no big depression!

We are convinced of cycling travel. It is environmentally friendly, and it allows us to meet people easily. It offers a perfect balance if you want to go far, but not too fast. We would choose it over other kinds of travelling.

Actually, I don’t think that we can travel any other way but on a bike!

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