Category Archives: Experiences

At the shores of Ganga

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A fresh wind blew from the hardly recognizable mountains when I was half-way above the Ganga. Reaching Rishikesh by midnight, the last cab driver had dropped me at the steep stairs to the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge. On the other side, I found myself meandering through small streets on the desperate search for the booked hostel. The next morning proved that the village was home to even more tourists than cows: countless road stalls sold yoga mats to foreigners in wildly coloured buggy pants, large loudspeakers treated the pilgrims on the ghats with meditative music. Wise white-haired men sitting on little tables in the water performed prayers and pilgrims took dips in the holy water of the goddess, thus washing away the sins of their past. Since I was not completely sure about its immaculacy, I limited myself to a little refreshment and went for a cup in a nearby restaurant instead. Only after I found out that I had drunk holy tea: when I saw them washing the dishes a bit further downstream.
Roaming around in the village, I met Marisol, a yoga student and world traveller from Chile, and Björn, in Germany a yoga teacher, who was following a strict fruit diet imposed by his Ayurveda Guru. A somewhat strange ascetic, he was serving his guru already for several years as guinea pig for the test of new Ayurveda practices, involving applications of ghee into his eyes and vomiting in front of some larger conference audiences, as he phlegmatically explained.
One early morning, at the ghats, I was approached by Anil, a young mendicant, asking me to buy a costly ghee for his prayers. A longer conversation along the lines “why don’t you work? why do you expect society to pay for your personal faith?” – “finding work is not easy” – “life is not easy. life is a struggle” left both of us a bit perplexed, obviously living in very different worlds.
The bus ride back to Delhi, passing the crowded pilgrim city Haridwar, became a rather rough experience: sitting on the driver’s lap for about eleven hours for these hardly 220km since someone had cut a tree blocking the main road for several hours. One specific picture was stuck in my mind though: on the way to the bus stop, I had walked through the poor areas in the outskirts of Rishikesh. There were children playing in front of their tent housings, and they had kites high above in the sky.

Jaipur

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Early morning train from Kota to Jaipur. People sleep in simple berths, while sellers pass the narrow corridors calling out tea, coffee, ice cream and snacks. Reaching Jaipur rather tired, I find myself immediately surrounded with “local guides” offering to show me around. It was this continuous obtrusiveness of dubious people which gave me a rough ride for the next two days and which made my strolling around a somewhat tiring experience this time. Despite all defense, I ended up in so many shops of some “cousins” or “uncles”, trying first politely and then more and more desperately to sell me jewelry, cloths, scarfs, dresses, tailor-made suits, handicrafts, souvenirs.
One of the train station guys kept following me, he spoke a quite good English and even some Spanish and had a somehow wild savvy which made me trust him. In those two days together we developed a mild sense of friendship for each other. I tried to explain him some Hindi writing and to convince him to abandon the huffing of the glue-soaked rag he carried with him (with both I presumably failed), and Daya took me into little courtyards, Hindu temples, a Hindu service and narrow streets and hidden corners of the old town hardly ever seen by a tourist’s eye.
Just before leaving, on the very way to the main bus station, I -“eyes wide shut”- fell victim to a little scam of two Orientals, seating me overpricedly in a random local vehicle. After a few hours, I was still not sure to be in the right bus and desperately tried to decipher the road signs. Suddenly, in the middle of the highway, the driver stopped and turned, causing a considerable jam behind. For about ten minutes -people screaming, arguing and praying- he directly steered against the traffic to the next exit where we continued the travel on flooded mud roads through spooky little villages. At midnight we finally saw the first lights of Delhi.

Live recording of the worshipping in a Hindu temple in Jaipur:

Trip to Kota

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Business trip to Kota, my first time out of Delhi and my first train ride in India. No people on the roof, but I spent hours on the open doors: Impressions from another planet. Other passengers, fascinated by my camera, insist on pictures and comment on my regrets over missed photo moments: “fast-fast”.
After a night in the comfortable guesthouse of the client company and a day of friendly meetings, my colleagues dropped me at the pre-booked hotel near the train station and left. But the clerk at the reception refused to let me in: “too much hassle registering foreigners”. As soon as I left, the gentle rain turned into a waterfall. A moment later electricity was cut, the chaos of the streets lay in complete darkness. Sprint to the next hostel in some small street, very simple for 300 rupees (=4€), toilet just a hole in the ground, bed used before.
A considerable amount of mosquitos flew in through the defective net at the window’s place. Different to the European mosquitos, they come in total silence, they never rest on the walls when you desperately switch on the light and they don’t have any respect at all for German repellents. It was definitely becoming a hard night.
Lying on my trousers I was already dozing off, when someone knocked on the door – half naked I opened: police! They simply could not believe that a respectable westerner checked in into this kind of hostel. My ancient greeting phrase “aie, aie, tashrif laie” (“come in, come in, bring honor”) then swept them off their feet. Deeply embarrassed, they asked for proof of identity. I showed them my business card. Later, I went down to the reception to ask if everything’s alright: police still there, completely stunned, invitation for tea, friendly conversation about life in Kota and life in general, selfies in various combinations.

Promenade in New Delhi

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Today, I went for an afternoon stroll in the New Delhi, the posh quarter of the city, with the foreign embassies and the homes of parliament members on splendid green grounds behind guarded fences. Built for twenty years between 1911 and 1931 by the British architect E. Lutyens, this administrative district was the attempt of the British to assert their Imperial credentials, rivaling the great city quarters of the Moguls and Delhi sultans. But as the old saying goes “Whoever builds a new city in Delhi will lose it”, the colonists had to leave the country shortly after. They left behind the central plaza “Connaught Place“, now serving as the upmarket commercial hub with streets radiating in all directions, the magnificent buildings of the viceroy’s residence, now home to the Indian president, the pompous arch of India Gate and the boulevard Rajpath. On the lawns at its sides families spend a relaxed time enjoying picnics and spontaneous cricket matches.
Coming from the Gandhi Smriti museum, I was followed by a group of youngsters. Since I did not know what they were up to, I stopped and confronted them with my few Hindi greetings. Shy in the beginning, they soon started taking selfies with me in their middle until the whole Rajpath gathered around for pictures. Having had my shot on fame, I continued to Jantar Mantar, the outdoor observatory built three hundred years ago for precise measurements of solar and lunar calendars and the planetary movements. While probably no one understands their exact function any more, these monuments appeal for their figurative shapes.
In the streets around this site, people had put up beds, indefinitely fasting for the freedom of Tibet. While passing their manifestation, an ôto-Rikshaw driver kept approaching me: he prided himself with the German word his tourist passengers always utter in his car: “langsam, langsam!” (slowly, slowly!). Since I was not sure if he really understood that word, I preferred walking.