Whilst my parents had come out to visit me, my sister had also followed and we were all, for the first time in India together. Whilst there in Delhi my main plan was to get a second passport sorted out as the one I had, had been water damaged to the point of no return, that even using it for general ID was becoming impossible. Not to mention I was going to need a lot more pages for visas to finish the journey to Australia. So began the tedious process of applying for a new one. A process that would take me to the brink of insanity and back.
A few weeks spent with the family and time flew, spending our time going to see some sites and catching up with things happening back home, over drinks and lovely meals, in no time at all it was suddenly time for my parents to return home and a week after that my sister followed them to return home too.
The hunt for a new passport proved to be a battle of wills between me and the British embassy, or more likely the passport office back in Liverpool. Just to dispel any mystery or suspense, what should have taken 6-8 weeks ended up taking 8 months. They sent the initial application back to me to begin with stating they needed additional proof of address. Eventually once the processing was underway they would leave it 3 months, quoting “security checks” each time I called enquiring, before sending me curious letters to my address in Delhi, asking me questions such as why I had put my permanent address down as one in the UK. As well as why I had asked for someone else to pick up my passport for me, which isn’t even an option on the form, so I would have needed to write that down specifically. Just to let you know at no point did I have an out of body experience or suffer from any kind of delusional episode and on a separate piece of paper write this request down, you’ll just have to take my word for that.
So many weeks later whilst it was processing I would decide to start walking to get some kilometres under my belt for when my passport finally arrived (how wrong I would be).
Joining me would be the budding adventurer I had met whilst applying for my passport renewal… Billy. He was a welsh guy I had met in Delhi, they are a rare breed in India and I can honestly say I’ve never met another welsh guy in India, let alone one who could also speak hindi better than me.
You may be asking why would he want to undertake such a task and I was equally curious. The truth was that many people had begun to show an interest in walking with me, with glancing mentions from different people here and there, of joining me for a few days or a week. He had shown a keen interest to walk with me and whenever I got tired of telling my story again and again to new people, deflecting their bizarre questions, he would take the reins and tell my story for me. He enjoyed it, so why not have him join me and he could make it his story as well. We set off with the idea of getting about 600kms done from Karnal to Lucknow.
The walk began and he was carrying with him in his rucksack two bottles of water, a roll mat, fly netting and a change of clothes. The first few days were ok, we managed to get a decent amount of kms done, and we would sleep in a mixture of places from camping, motels and roadside cafes. His hindi made him a success with the people of India. He was an anomaly in a country obsessed with light skinned Europeans. It was hard not to be a bit jealous to begin with. It was safe to say that even though our backgrounds were similar, both of our experiences in India could not have been further apart from each other. If I spoke Hindi people would laugh because my grammar was off, if he spoke Hindi they would give him free stuff, praise him, in that environment I challenge anyone to not feel the injustice of the situation. With that said it seemed people were willing to put up with more with him about, as long as they were allowed to talk to him we were allowed to sleep at these “dhabas” (road side cafes/restaurants/bars), wash and leave the next day. With them having exchanged numbers with Billy in the hope they could stay in contact with him. (This, I would get a dose of, but not till the north east part of India, where a lot of messages sent to me would weirdly be comprised of questionable picture messages from sexually frustrated soldiers living in military camps).
We met loads of people, saw strange things and I think he was glad he came, that was until his body began to entertain other ideas. Such as, does his foot really have a need for toe nails. He had got blisters during his walk and there isn’t normally anything you can do for them except let them run their course. So he was greeted with the, normal for Kieran and I, the first 50 metres of pain each time you begin walking from a break, until it becomes bearable and you could walk like a normal human being again. Walking behind him I couldn’t help but smile at the familiar sharp inhaled and exhale whilst swearing into the air “fuck, shit, fuck” coupled with his infamous encouraging catchphrase, which I don’t know if he knew I could hear or not, “come on, stop being such a mincer”. I think back now and smile at the time we spent together walking. He helped take my mind off the irritation that was the passport situation and watching him in what could only be described as his ideal environment, talking to people, entertaining them, shouting “Tinder?” at girls walking by and holding hands with elderly men whilst walking down the street. It’s safe to say that Billy’s India was a magnificent place to witness.
A few kms away from a town one late afternoon we were stopped by a man on a motorbike who asked where we were from, he then asked what religion we were. I told him sikh and billy told him none of the above. He replied, that because I looked like a hindu or muslim not to go through the next town because there were tensions between the two and bad things would happen. We tried to reassure him and he seemed unsatisfied by our casual attempts, offering us a lift through the town on the back of his bike, for obvious reasons we declined. But I did offer Billy the option to take the lift and to meet me on the other side of the town, he declined and we settled on trying to find a camping spot (the first whilst Billy was with me), before the sun went down, instead of walking through the town at night. We found a spot just off the road into a field that had been partially harvested, leaving us a nice right angle of crops to camp behind, hiding us from the road and other people who were maybe walking. But behind that about 40 metres away was a small stream that looked like it doubled as a quite well worn path. Safe to say Billy didn’t get much sleep that night. I think I was used to sleeping in those conditions, but with it being the first night camping I think threw billy off his stride, along with the heat, the uneven ground, the stream path and his white mosquito net, being completely visible in the moonlight.