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