Category Archives: People

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:

Raksha Bandhan

RakshaBhandan
The winter season in North India delights not only with more comfortable temperatures but with a wealth of traditional festivities. The first I could attend was Raksha Bandhan: a secular Hindi festival which celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters, and more general the friendship between male and female relatives. As a sign of blessing and protection, the sister ties a colored bracelet around her brother’s wrist and paints a tilak (Tikka), a red mark, on his forehead while the brother promises to take care of her for all his life. The family of my colleague Rohan seized the occasion for a relaxed familiar get-together, with karaoke singing, tons of delicious food and Indian desserts and spirituous beverages. Being cordially invited to take part, I soon realized that I had plunged into the intellectual elite of India: originating from the far North East, from Meghalaya, where India touches Bangladesh, Bhutan and Burma, they all reached out to ambitious careers as lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers with an intense intellectual drive of open-mindedness, curiosity and global exposure – everyone had studied, travelled or worked around the world, in Canada, US, UK, even Darmstadt. Some knew Germany and its history better than me. Perfectly informed about the situation on the global stage, we shared interesting discussions about the culture and economy of India in the triangle of tradition, modernity and education.
Later that night, the host Raghav and me scored 96 out of 100 points for our two-voices interpretation of “Bridge over troubled water“. In the following days, people often wondered about me not wearing any bracelet. I kept shrugging my shoulders: “nahi bahan – no sister”.

Night market

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With the heat of the day lowering a bit in the evening, I, for the first time, went for a run in the nearby park, a little spot of green between the housings. From far, I recognized a strange glow in the dark streets – I went there and found the vivid hustle of a nightly vegetable market, the shouting of traders and crowds of people wandering around, tasting, negotiating, debating. I immediately turned back to get the camera…

Lodi Gardens – no place to hide

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After the sightseeing of Qutub Minar and a long march through heavy traffic, I enjoyed to delve into the calm of the Lodi Gardens, where families were having their picnic under the fresh green of tropical trees and at the side of a series of fine medieval tombs dotted among the lawns.
I walked around on quiet winding paths in the mild light of the gently falling evening, when a group of about 6 men attracted my attention, standing in a line on the way and starring into the bushes. I soon realized what they were witnessing: hidden in the shrubs, there were some couples enjoying themselves, touching, hugging, kissing.
While it is quite common to see young men strolling while holding each other’s hands, I had noticed that the relation between the sexes is very discreet, almost non-existent, in public. There is no such thing as casual flirts or active mating behaviour, at least not to my eyes. Couples normally do not live together before marriage and a lot of marriages are actually arranged by the parents. Often, when I am asked about my parents, the first question to come up is if theirs was ‘a love marriage’. In good conscience I feel inclined to affirm that.

Qutub Minar – und der Weg dahin

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Das früheste und zugleich seltsamste Zeugnis islamischer Präsenz in Delhi ist die Siegessäule von Qutub Minar: ein 73m hoher Turm rötlichen Sandsteins mit einem Marmoreinsatz im oberen Turmbereich – eine Materialkombination, die 350 Jahre später typisch werden sollte für den Baustil der Mogulnherrscher, die um 1556 das afghanische Sultanat in Delhi ablösten.

Im sternförmig angelegten Metronetz der Stadt fehlt noch die direkte Ost-West-Verbindung, sodaß ich ab dem Flughafen auf den Bus angewiesen war. Niemand konnte mir allerdings trotz großer Hilfsbereitschaft verbindlich sagen, wo der nun abfuhr. So verließ ich den Flughafen zu Fuß auf der Standspur einer Autobahn; bald schloß sich mir ein freundlicher junger Mann an. Sämtliche Reiseführer warnen vor “zwielichtigen Elementen rund um den Flughafen, die sich die Unwissenheit der Neuankömmlinge zu nutzen machen”, und die genaue Intention seiner etwas aufdringlichen Begleitung wurde mir nicht ganz klar. Tatsächlich sicherte er mir nach einigem Fußmarsch einen Platz in einem unerwartet vorüberfahrenden, gedrängt besetzten Bus, dessen jointrauchender Fahrer großes Gefallen an meiner weißen Mütze fand, und übernahm trotz meines nachdrücklichen Protests den Fahrpreis. Wir gondelten beschwingt dahin und tauschten unter den argwöhnischen Blicken unserer Mitfahrer gestikulierend Angaben über unsere Familien. Als wir nach einigem Umsteigen in ärmlichen Vororten und etwa anderthalbstündiger Fahrt, eingeklemmt zwischen großen Säcken mit allerlei Krimskrams, den Eingang der touristischen Anlage erreichten, brachte er die Sprache auf meine hiesige Anstellung. Ungeniert fragte er nach meinem Gehalt und nahm, auf meine wahrheitsgemäße Auskunft hin, zu meiner Überraschung unvermittelt einen schnellen Abschied.