Robyn and Bruce encounter secret to true wealth in NE India

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 31, 2016

Before resuming her cycling trek across northern India with her husband, Bruce Roberts, Robyn MacKay receives farewell hug from their overnight host in a small tribal village in Arunachal Pradesh in far northeast corner of India.  Photo by Bruce Roberts

Another chapter in the cycle-trekking adventures of Robyn MacKay and Bruce Roberts has come to an end, but the memories will linger for a lifetime.

As described in my Feb. 25 column, the Cochrane couple’s current trek across northern India began in mid-February with visits to sacred shrines and pilgrimages, famous fishing holes, and unplanned overnights with total strangers who became instant friends.

Since that column, they travelled as far northeast as you can go in India to the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Assamese are a people of unimaginable charm, kindness and enthusiasm, Robyn said in her latest email. “Men ride beside us on their motorcycles and bicycles, slow down in their cars and roll down the windows to chat as we glide along. People leap from vehicles to wave us off the road to ask how we like their country.”

The 26 tribes of Arunachal, on the other hand, are more reserved but no less hospitable, she continued. They live in communities “tucked into valleys and teeter on ridges of mountain tops in the most remote areas of the Himalayas. . . . Traditional huts on stilts cling to the cliff edge overlooking a drop of thousands of feet to a bottom you actually couldn’t see.”

Back in Delhi in preparation for their March 29 departure for home, Robyn and Bruce reflected on their journey.

“When cycle touring I always trust the roads will surprise me over and over again – good and bad, big and small,” Robyn said. “This tour is no exception, but the surprises have been beyond our imagination. Every morning when we head out one of us says: ‘Well, what is the surprise of the day going to be?’  I think roads are the veins that make the heart of cycle tourists beat. They propel us forward into the unknown and create trust in what is to come.

“The roads we have pedalled have created unforgettable memories and friendships that have changed our lives.”

In big urban centres, such as Delhi, too often the worth of a person is measured by financial wealth, and walls of caste division are obvious, Robyn added. “For Bruce and me, the real human wealth is in the compassion we share with each other. With the people of NE states of India, we experienced an abundance of caring, happiness and acceptance. That is priceless prosperity that can't be bought.

“The amazing people of the NE were always there at every bump and corner. It is absolutely remarkable that some of them had never seen a white person,  let alone two crazy old people on bicycles, and they still offered absolutely everything they could to make our journey happy and include us in their lives.”

To illustrate their experience of acceptance, Bruce sent me a photo of a memorable moment in a small tribal village in Arunachal Pradesh.

“The family took us in for the night, fed us, and as you can see, they sent us off with lots of love,” Bruce said. “No one spoke English, but we were able to communicate just fine. Robyn and this lovely lady hit it off with ease and enjoyed each other's company. She showed Robyn all of her tribal jewelry and clothes, trying them on Robyn for fun.

“It was hard to ride away in the morning!”


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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