Sonntag, 20. November 2011

God´s own country

The monotonous motorsound of the boat we are sitting on has found its way into the sunconciousness, allowing me to take in the impressive pictures of nature. Slowly but steadily we slide through the calm water of backwaters making our way up North from Allepey to Ernakulam. In this jungle of palm trees and water canals one is far away from the buzz of Indian cities. But the area is not unpopulated, quite the contrary. Signs of civilisation are everywhere. Workers busily transporting coconuts or cocunut fibre, people taking bathes and houses hidden in the lush green. Even one of the most famous ashrams of India is to be found here.
Our boat stops at a small dock. There are little stands offering chai, bananas and pastries. People here are not curious, they are used to the daily stream of forgeign visitors. Kerala must be one of the most beautiful places in India. No coincidence that it is now know as "God´s own country, as locals proudly call it.

Samstag, 9. April 2011


It is busy in and around the temples of India. Families, pilgrims and tourists patiently wait at the entrances. They carry flowers, coconut shells and money which they will offer to the Gods, of which there are many. Whereas there are six main gods and goddesses, their many reincarnations count up to 300 million. Often each family worships its own distinct God. Religious music streams from speakers, penetrating voices sing in Sanskrit and create a trance-like atmosphere. Clearly religion in India is not limited to the older generation. Old and young alike visit the temples with an attitude of implicitness that is long lost in Western cultures.
Easily one can become invisible in this buzzing temple life, where the pilgrims rush from altar to altar expressing their gratitude to the Gods paying little attention to everything else. One can observe elephants giving blessings in exchange for coins, people taking baths or simply gaze at the incredibly detailed stone carvings which decorate the temples. The endless stream of worshippers leaving uncounted amounts of money in the temples without spending much time there might seem somewhat questionable. But much less even than in other cultures is religion in India about money and power. It is the backbone of society uniting a gigantic nation that otherwise could not be more diverse. 
I leave my shoes at the entrance, hoping to find them there on my way out. I can feel the cool marmor tiles under my feet as I enter the dark temple, allowing myself to get swallowed by the mystic atmosphere.

Montag, 28. März 2011

India by land

India is more than Goa, Backwaters and the Taj. While these places rightfully attract hordes of visitors day after day, it would be a mistake to travel inbetween by plane. The most impressive moments lie on the road. They are those encounters that are most unexpected and least planned for. Sharing a train department with an Indian family, using a Rickshaw to travel 120km through rice fields or taking the overnight bus hitting the ceiling whenever there is a pothole – experiences that are unforgettable. Inbetween Kanyakumari and Delhi lie more than 2200km. We travel mostly over night, by bus or train. One night we wake at 3am to realize the train has stopped. Heavy rain had lead to landslides, the trails are blocked. We have to get off and look for a bus. In the middle of nowhere, at this time of the night? But this is India, one hour later we sit in an old, overcrowded bus towards the beaches of Varkala. We drive through forests of palm trees, overtake Rickshaws and at one time even a man riding an elephant. Trains can be dirty and loud. Every now and then vendors make the round selling tea, food or newspapers. People stand in the open doors as the train rattles through beautiful landscapes in one moment and urban slums in the next. Riding on the trains´ rooftop is prohibited, fines of about 2 Euros are imposed. At one time we rent motorbikes to explore the archaeological sites of Hampi. We are stopped at by patrolling police and realize we did not carry our licenses. The officer asks for a fine of 5 Euros from each of us. Some minutes of negotiation later one of us pays 5 Euros and we all can go. The roads of India always offer surprises and so it is about travelling and not arriving. Forget about the Taj, forget about New Delhi. The exciting India lies inbetween.

Sonntag, 13. März 2011

A modern country

Sometimes, if one only admits the thougt, a visit to India can seem like a journey in time. Life in and around the temples, on the markets, in the villages - India shows attitudes towards life that Europe has long forgotten. Unlimited devotion to higher powers, reliance on manpower instead on machines, village councils. To us, all this is a foreign world, that of foreign cultures or that of our ancestors. But as present as these attitudes are in todays India, as unknown are they to large parts of the population. Modernity has come like an unstoppable wave embracing every part of society. Indian entrepreneurs have grown into global tycoons, companies have compounds so big that visitors are driven around in golf-carts, ads are painted on the walls of houses everywhere, palaces are illuminatd with countless chains of light bulbs, Rikshaws compete for space with the latest Mercedes, and village farmers get information about current cattle prices on their cell phones.

India, like so many other countries surprised by the wave of globalisation, is a country of contrasts. A day could start with a brunch at the most modern café and end with a visit to a centuries old temple. Inbetween one has stopped at a local market to buy some fruits, but not without having noticed the big plasma TV the vendor is using to watch cricket. Nevertheless, India is different. Poverty and wealth have found a way of seemingly unquestioned co-existense. Those who have, think about those who don´t. Countless organizations with social purposes fill gaps that government can´t reach. Slums, at least visibly, don´t exist. If they do, they are alive with economic activity. India has taken on the challenges of modernization, embracing international attitudes and protecting its local ones.

It is stunning to see the pace with which this country develops. And stunning to see how at the same time old rituals and customs are not forgotten. India is a modern country, but it has redefined modernity instead of merly adopting the ready-made solutions that globalisations has on offer. It will be exciting to see what India will offer to the world once its unparalleled pace of change has led it to the top of development.

Man painting a beer-commercial on a wall in Varkala
Illuminated Mysore palace in the evening

Sonntag, 27. Februar 2011

City in Blue

To the newcomer, India is a vast and overwhelming mix of colours, scents and noises. There are colours everywhere. Women wearing saris, golden jewelery in the shops and piles of spices and powders in many different neon-shades at the markets. Imigination does not halt there, even houses are painted in seemingly random colours. But than there is Jodhpur, a small city in the North of India. As if it had rained paint one day, the whole city is covered in one colour, blue. Often Jodhpur is simply refferred to as "the blue city" and the sight alone makes worth the vist.

Montag, 14. Februar 2011

In the Crowds

No single step is lost in thoughts. Rickshaws go past and I can feel them slightly touching my cloth. A man carrying heavy iron tubes shouts from the left, a boy on a motorbike rushes at me from the right. Loud horns everywhere, people shouting and greeting. The air the smells of smog, then of cooked food; I step in mud and then swiftly circle around a lazy cow. In the narrow streets of the cities often not a centimeter is wasted. Pedestrians mingle with bikes, rickshaws, cars and animals, all fighting their way from nowhere to somewhere. It is plain chaos and yet these roads are far safer than they seem. It is because nothing goes unnoticed, there is no single move without thought, micro-seconds of eye-contact mean whole conversations and mutual respect is the unwritten law. India without its roads would not be India. (Pictures: Delhi & Bangalore)

Samstag, 12. Februar 2011

Desert Scenes

Deserts are magic places. One drives through bushland until all of the sudden the landscape changes and sand dunes emerge. Leaving the car behind, one makes the way up onto the first dune, excited to see what lies behind. But one arrives on the ridge just to find oneself infront of an even bigger dune. Stumbling, the feet sinking into deep sand,  one runs down and fights the way up onto the bigger dune. Every step on the steep, sliding side of the dune is exhausting, much more than one would imagine. One reaches the top almost crawling, craving for a good view. And there they are, countless more dunes stretching all the way to the horizon. One turns around to see that there is nothing but sand. For a moment it is freedom in endlessnes. Sand, sun, the self, and nothing else. But quickly it can get scary. The masses of sand seem as endless as powerful. Easily they could swallow someone as tiny and helpless as a human being, if they only wanted to. So one is left to wonder and admire the magic spell that dominates this place. (Pictures: Thar Desert, Rajasthan)

Dienstag, 25. Januar 2011

Children in the Plains

We are sitting in an open jeep, 80 kilometers outside of Jaisalmer. The road continues straight up to the horizon, left and right of us is nothing but plain land and bushes. But then we take a left and a set of grey stone houses appear out of nothing.

"This is my village", says the driver. "Come, we´ll have a chai and you will meet my kids." A moment later we sit in one of the stone houses on something that appears to be a bed. Giggling, the children of the village gather at the door, trying to catch a glimpse at their foreign visitors. They are shy at first but soon come closer. Sitting there we wonder how these people live here. Close to the border of Pakistan, surrounded by hardly arable land, with little cattle and at a safe distance from modern society. And clearly we are an attraction, a not so common change in their daily routines. The children stare at us with wide eyes, excitedly pose for pictures as they see my camera and come after the jeep, running and waving, as we speed off half and hour later. Moments like these are precious, because they give insight into a world that one normally does not see, the rural India, where still more than two-thirds of the population lives.