Just click on one marker and you get the links to the respective blog posts. Not all blog posts are in there, just the ones where I could associate a location with. And, these are only the places I wrote a blog entry about :P
I probably put more effort into this than I could have. After all, with Google Maps > My maps, one can conveniently create own maps with own markers, lines etc. I chose to do it the "proper" way and use the Google Maps API to have it a bit more flexible for me.
This is a the report for my local AIESEC chapter of my 6-month internship in India:
Before I came to India, the term “culture shock” didn’t mean anything to me. “What, shock? Is that some kind of medical emergency? Nah, something like that won’t happen to me…”. To prepare myself for India, I read a lot of blogs and reports. What I read was all very interesting and shocking but totally didn’t make up for the actual experience: Despite the name, culture shock has precious little to do with a medical condition. The travel to India was my first real trip outside central Europe, so India hit me hard. “India is in your face”. It is dirty, it’s unbelievably crowded and noisy.
Over the time, I got used to the permanent horn concerto on the roads; Or, to put it another way, the continuous battle of the cars who has the loudest horn and thus gets the most attention to push forward. In towns, to move forward was actually a challenge because the cars need to share the road with a whole lot of pedestrians, all kind of rickshaws, tired-of-life bus drivers and even some more exotic vehicles like horse carts. Docile cows in the middle of the road are contributing to the situation as much as the non-existence of lanes or the enforcements of any traffic rules. Well, actually there is one “rule”, and apart from about 100.000 traffic deaths a year, it “works”: Give way to the bigger one.
Paharganj, the area where I arrived, looked like a pile of god damned ruins in an end time novel where nobody seems to care for maintenance and the people nest in little holes and corners or use them as a rubbish dump. A friend who visited me later said that Old Delhi looks like the typical third world chaos only more extreme. Overall, “grossly fucked up”.
But don’t get me wrong here. In this report, I actually want to advertise going to India. It’s this thing,… somehow you can feel that this city is alive. It is unhealthy and hard to live there, but while I lived there, I felt more alive than ever. This is one of these magic things about India. A friend of me once said that while you are there, you hate it. But as soon as you are home, you want to go back to India. This is true for me, too. It’s some strange kind of hate-love with India. It sure is exhausting in India but it just gets boring in Germany after some time.
So, Germany has some downsides, too: There are no taunts here who try but fail to trick you into something all the time; You don’t and can’t bargain here; Our buses don’t look like artwork and you can’t travel on their roof, despite the great view; Everything is in order and quiet, you have to use your turn light and driving mirror all the time instead of just using the horn; You can’t bribe officials to bend the rules for you; And moreover, you are not the centre of all attention any more. This was really bemusing when I came back home… ;-)
I was one of the few people to do a technical traineeship with AIESEC. Most of my housemates were really cool people, we partied together, we travelled together and along the way, now I have friends and contacts all over the world. Many people who come to India shorten their internship because they are not content with their internship or because they want to have more time to travel. (I fall into the second category here.) But I haven’t met anyone who regrets to have come to India, for India is already worth the experience alone in my opinion. I was lucky and I am really glad to have done this internship at CueBlocks, I even made friends with my boss who is a really funny guy.
Now, I wouldn’t want to live in India permanently, but there is truly a lot to discover. I can’t say that India is beautiful, at least not in a classical way. What makes India worthwhile, is the whole thing, the India, the different ways of life, how things work (or not work). It’s damn fascinating and sometimes shocking. One thing is their religion which is so different, exciting and alive. Religion in India is very colourful, even cheesy. Hindu temples for example don’t feel holy, they feel like… a fair. As a Westerner, a materialist and logic thinker, it’s really difficult to understand their religion and to grasp how they think… probably even more for a religious person. I know some people who like to stress the contradictions in the bible. Let me take a laugh at them, for they have no idea that for Hinduism, you need a much much bigger cup of goodwill to believe in that. There are some things which are so obviously … totally unbelievable that nobody seems to bother to argue about it.
Once I talked with a local about religion. After he explained to me that he is a devotee of Shiva because he is also known as “the one that is easily pleased” (so it’s more easy for him), he asked me about my belief. He didn’t ask me if I am Christian but if I am “a devotee of Lord Jesus”. In Hinduism, it doesn’t matter to whom I pray. I could believe in “Lord Jesus” and be a good Hindu :-)
If you plan to go to India, you should see it as an experience, an experience that will rock your life.
…But then, by chance, I saw a PCO (phone booth), quickly I looked up the number of the FRO and called them. I resolved to shout at them, threaten and assure that these people, my boss and AIESEC MAY represent me. A SMS arrived at that point which I only read after I finished the phone call:
13:39 Vikram Their office closes at 5 and I dont think theres any bakshish u can give them to stay after 5
I was just reaching the point where I made clear that I am on my way to Chandigarh, yes, but will NOT be there in time but at about 5:30 PM…! …when he interrupted me and said “OK we will wait for you”. That… after this much stupefying stone-hard bureaucracy was what I expected the least. Startled, I said “OK thanks” and hung up. There was surely a lot of triumph in the following SMS.
13:46 Tobias I just called them from a PCO. They will wait for me. Im not sure if they just said that to get rid of you phoning them. Plz plz plz go there before they close and see that they dont. There is too much in the game right now that I want to take any risk.
13:54 Vikram Ok. They close at 5, Ill be there at 4:40 so that they dont close. What time will you reach there?
13:55 Tobias 5:30 PM
Then, the display of my mobile showed “battery low” again and I turned it off. Now, I just had to get into no traffic jam in order to not come too late. Luckily there was none.
27.03 17:15 — 15 mins after the FRO closed — 20 km to Chandigarh!
At about 5:15 PM, planning to delay things by sending a SMS like “I am nearly there” (which wasn’t true), I turned on my mobile again and promptly got a SMS:
17:06 Vikram Theyve given me your exit permit. Please call me
And really, they did. After all this, they decided to just give it away to someone?! After saying again and again that I have to appear there personally, personally!, personally!!?? This could have been a joke but it wasn’t! I was so furious but at the same time so relieved after three days of worrying that I started to laugh. Finally it was over, I got that paper. Shit. Never again.
When I arrived in Chandigarh, I had even some time left, so I ordered a pizza, packed my stuff and had a chat with Jens and Joern who just came back from Pakistan and had a lot to tell. After saying goodbye, see ya in a few days etc, I got on a bus to Delhi. I was so jolly that I even sang in the bus for a while ;)
28.03.08 02:00 — 4 hours till departure
From the bus stand in Delhi, I fetched a rickshaw to the airport. I still didn’t sleep really and was still ill but somehow your mood adds to your state of health. However, finally I reached the security controls at the airport – where one has to show the passport and visa. That was about the limit…
Before I reached the airport I noted one thing about my so-valuable exit permit paper (which was just a filled-in cloze with stamps on it): The last sentence said “His
/ her recent photograph is affixed herewith.” and instead of a photograph from me, there was just this little box with a red cross on it.
Because I was not sure if the officer would bitch around about this, after all there were official stamps on it. On the other hand, he looked very grumpy. So I first only gave him my passport and flight ticket, watching him closely… Well, there was not too much to watch, he barely looked at the visa for 3 seconds, stamp, done.
He didn’t even wanted to see it?! AAARGH, didn’t he know how much worry, stress and work was in that, how valuable this paper was for me… how can he just stamp that away??
Man, now I really want to see my face back then. Speechless, I grabbed my passport and went on to the baggage controls. Wow, why is it soo random? Well, the most important thing was that I could bord the plane. Whatever.
28.03.08 15:00 — 3 hours till the flight to Hamburg
I did not fly to Hamburg directly but with a 6 hours stop in London Heathrow, Terminal 5. On the flight to London, even though it was 8 hours, I did not sleep because the entertainment was just too good ;). Everybody had an own multimedia entertainment computer with a whole lot of movies and music on it.
What I didn’t know when I arrived at Heathrow that Terminal 5 was just opened the day before. And naturally, there was a lot of chaos, even a lot flights got cancelled and delayed during the first days. The flight to Hamburg was luckily only one hour late, so I got home the same day. At Heathrow, I again didn’t really sleep, only took a nap for one or two hours. The terminal 5 was just too interesting – very new, nice architecture, displays everywhere, a brandnew shopping centre built in… after India, this felt like science fiction. And if not for the countless big TVs in the spacy waiting halls showing BBC news, I wouldn’t have noticed that Terminal 5 was supposed to be chaos. There were issues with the baggage processing system… By the way, do you know this Monty Python Song? Kinda fits :D
Anyway, after I arrived at my parents home and was about to go to bed, I calculated that I was more or less awake now for about 100 hours!
After I dozed off, I did not get up for one and half days… :)
(The End ;))
In deep shit
27.03 07:00 — 26 hours to go
The virus didn’t want to wait. The train is very full (as expected) but despite that and two babies in the vicinity that cried all night and shit into their pants, I got a few hours of sleep [after all, it’s supposed to be a night train]. The train is two hours late so far. While I don’t think it will arrive much later than that, I still tremble whether there will be a traffic jam on the way to Chandigarh. I need to reach the FRO before they close, otherwise I can’t get that exit permit!
27.03 13:00 — 5 hours till the FRO closes — 216 km to Chandigarh!
I am on the bus to Chandigarh. The train wasn’t 2 hours late after all… but fucking 6 hours!!! At one stop, it stopped for more than half an hour, letting past 2 other trains to New Delhi, driving me insane! When the train, short before reaching Delhi, stopped at each suburban stop (like an IC stopping at Stellingen, Elbgaustraße, Diebsteich, …) for more than 10 minutes each [letting pass suburban transportation, actually] and otherwise drove with barely 15km/h, it got personal. As if he is doing that just to mock me, to get even more ridiculous late!
I had to think fast. Otherwise I am done for, I would be stuck in India, paid nearly 400 Euros in vain. All because of fucking Indian not-working and random bureaucracy!
Of course I had no connection for my mobile during the whole train travel, leaving me disabled, not being able to alarm anyone. After the train arrived in New Delhi, I got a bus to Chandigarh in record time – went out of the main railway station into the metro, just fetched it to Kashmere Gate [bus stand], got past some touts who wanted to sell me Deluxe busses to Manali and went through a short cut directly to the departuring busses, ignoring a security control1 and got on the leaving bus. All that in 15 minutes.
If my situation wasn’t bad enough, the power of my mobile was low since I argued so long with the FRO via phone and I had no possibility to load it somehwere. So I sms’ed Sarthak, my boss, crying for help. Trying to tell him the core problem and what he could do now to save my ass:
12:38 Tobias I am in huge trouble, I need a regist. conf. from FRO Chd. today but I cant reach before it closes. After calling lots my batt. ran out. Can u call them in my name and ask them to send it via fax to ur office? They wont let me fly out of india if I dont have it – u would really save my life man! Sry its short Ill tell u d full story later
…so I can collect it from Sarthak after the FRO has been closed.
27.03 15:00 — 3 hours till the FRO closes — 151 km to Chandigarh!
Let me tell you what happened in the last two hours:
Sarthak delegated the trouble to Vikram, an AIESECer. He called me and I told him that my battery is nearly empty and briefed him very shortly. After that, we sent SMS to each other:
13:04 Vikram Tobias I spoke to the foreign registration office. They say you need to come in person for collecting exit permit and they cannot fax it. Please call me
13:08 Tobias No btty. But they even said they would! WTF. They know that I worked for Cueblocks, Cueblocks should be able to act as a proxy!
13:12 Vikram Yes they know. But they still say you need to come to collect it. When is your flight?
13:14 Tobias Tomorrow 6 AM. I think someone has to go there and kick their ass to get into their brains that it is a fucking emergency and that it was their fault in the first place! We are talking about exceptions here!
13:23 Vikram Ive called them again and their saying youll have to come and they cant fax it. Maybe youll have to get your ticket postponed
While I wrote the following message, my mobile showed “battery low”. My time was running out. All my tiredness and stress of the last days turned into pure anger. I was furious. So short before my goal stopped by some even more ridicolous random stone-hard bureaucracy?! I couldn’t believe it. I had the impression that Vikram was not really trying, only forwarding what they said to him to me. One thing I learned in India that if you want to get something done, you have to act as if you own the place and offer bakshish a lot. Vikram was definitely not acting like that. I only wasn’t sure if this kind of behaviour will have an effect on government people but one could try at least…
13:28 Tobias Not possible anymore. These assholes! I think we can only achieve sth with those dickheads if a representative (AIESEC, Cueblocks) turns up there personally to kick their ass! Tell them who you are, whats at stake, the consequences! Perhaps we can make them have open longer (for some bakshish?)
Short after I finished the message, the bus stopped. I saw that we stopped at a rest stop to have some lunch. My plan was to jump into another bus that goes to Chandigarh and leaves here earlier to get there about 15 minutes earlier. If I remembered correctly, the FRO would close at five – our bus was supposed to arrive at about five, too. I read where the other busses were heading (blessing the fact that I can read Sanskrit now) but unfortunately our bus was the only one going to Chandigarh….
1 It beeped when I went through that door, but the security guard somehow hesitated, my body language was definitely telling him something like “OK if you want to search me, do it NOW, bring it on!”. Well, and his body language was telling me “Whatever. I don’t care, go…” then… so I went. That was fast.
During Holi, I was on a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara I jumped on pretty spontaneously. Suddenly I remembered that I forgot my change of clothes in the laundry (in Kathmandu!)- the spark fell when my clothes got all wet and colorful by waterbombs with colored water which have been thrown into the bus by kids. During my stay in Pokhara I thought about and calculated if it is worth it to take an eight hours detour back to Kathmandu to fetch my pants or not. However, because I was pretty low on money back then and I calculated about four days transit to return to Delhi airport anyway, I decided that another half a day wouldn’t matter too much. I know, it sounds a bit ridiculous and telling you that it was not only my pants but also some underwear and a shirt doesn’t make it sound less stupid… let’s just say… principles – you can justify a lot with principles ;)
But before I left, another problem called for my attention: I heard by chance, that the registration office in Chandigarh should have given me a registration slip and the info that I need to deregister before I leave… Of course they didn’t. However, I was told that I need to sort this out before I am at the airport because otherwise they won’t let me get on my flight. Argh. Assholes. Since I didn’t get any telephone connection in Nepal, I decided that I will have to do this in transit.
So much for the introduction. During my return home, I wrote some kind of log. My flight was on the 28th, early in the morning. Things in these brackets […] are comments I added later. So here it goes:
Travelling after my pants
25.03 06:00 — 73 hours to go
Gotta catch the bus to Kathmandu to travel after my pants. I see that I am getting ill… not good, still got 73 hours to go. I travelled on the roof of the bus with an American student and a Portuguese dentist. The bus conductor gave us weed to smoke (just because) [an Indian would never do that!] and we had a great time and view otherwise.
25.03 21:00 — 58 hours to go
Nearly missed the only(?!) bus to Sunauli [town near the border] after I had lunch, played a game of Tiger & Goat and fetched my laundry (of course). The stress of getting me to the bus stand in time gave me the rest… I am sick… and still 58 hours to go. Dirt and mosquitoes are making everything itch like hell. My eyes feel sore and my head hurts. It’s cold and uncomfortable in the bus… not getting any sleep.
26.03 07:00 — 48 hours to go
Reached the border, changed money, got immigration stamps. Now for the taxi to Gorakhpur [train station from where I wisely pre-booked the train to Delhi]….
A kinda feel like a travel-zombie now, not being really there but somehow managing to get on…
26.03 12:00 — 43 hours to go
Fuck! Gorakhpur is a shithole, so fucked up place, I don’t believe it. Tired like hell but it’s too filthy that I can sleep here. My train leaves in 5 hours. But at the same time, I kinda missed India already, despite the utter ugliness. It’s good to have back some things I got used to:
1. Cheap working internet and mobile connectivity
2. M.R.P prices [max. retail prices – fixed prices for all shop items in all shops, no bargaining]
3. Cheap(er) transportation
4. The certainty that the people here are really not to trust and are downright greedy and egoistic [I was referring here to the taxi driver who got me into Gorakhpur. He managed to stuff 12 people in and onto his jeep from the border, collecting 100 Rupees from each person which is the normal price if there are four people in the car]
26.03 18:00 — 37 hours to go
The train didn’t arrive yet. Half an hour late so far. I found an empty dormitory restroom inside the train station which was tidier than all hotels around and had even a shower. Just took a short nap and had a shower, later paid a bit bakshish for that :)
The bad part: Since I got connection again, I called the FRO [foreigners registration office] Chandigarh (plus FRO Delhi Airport) a lot. They all told me that it is not possible, they have enough work to do etc. and that I need to turn up there at least 3 days before departure, personally [my flight was on the 28th early morning]. They didn’t really care that it was their fault in the first place. After over half an hour phoning around, he agreed to have the exit permit ready by tomorrow and that he will give it to me when I arrive in Chandigarh. I nearly had a nervous breakdown though – now perhaps everything will be alright if I reach Chandigarh IN TIME! (less than four hours late in total!) Still panicky…
Almost forgot that I was supposed to be ill. I guess the virus has to wait until I got rid of the government bureaucracy.
I arrived in Nepal a week ago and while I didn’t have time nor money to do the things that people normally do when they come to Nepal – Trekking and adventure sports I had quite a nice time there. Compared to India, Nepal is so much more relaxing – there is space, there is nature, there is no(t so much) garbage and people are more normal there. Even though Nepal is supposed to be a poorer country than India, it looked much wealthier there. Perhaps it’s just because the Nepalese put more love into what they do… I dunno.
Jens and Joern left for Pakistan. Since I had no and didn’t want to afford (the time and money to get) a visa, I instead went to Nepal. The last city we visited together was Mumbai (Bombay) – my last bastion of fear – the city I heard worst things about in western media. I imagined the biggest city in India (13 million) as some kind of urban hell which could as well come from the imaginations of cyberpunk author. A hopelessly bloated city in an ongoing and permanent traffic collapse. More than half of the population lives in slums. Even our travel guide talked about certain horrors travelers may encounter and appealed to not judge the city too fast.
So, after a rather exhausting overnight-bus-trip from Bijapur we were dropped off supposedly somewhere near the central. It was before dawn, we were tired from the bus trip, no clue were we exactly were or where we could check in: All hotels we called from the bus were completely full – a normal situation for not totally overpriced accommodations. Well, we managed to get a local bus to Colaba and found a place to stay pretty fast considering that we got lost once or twice.
As I said, I was prepared for the worst, something more fucked up than Old Delhi – that’s why I was pretty shocked and surprised, that central Mumbai turned out to be the most cosmopolitan and westernized, one of the most wealthy and cleanest cities I have seen in India. Compared to Mumbai, Delhi is much worse. Mumbai actually reminds me of London: Even rickshaws have been banned from central Mumbai and are replaced by those cute Ambassador taxis (with meters!). And, Mumbai has proper bars and clubs, thus a nightlife worth mentioning (which is special in India).
Overall, there is not too much to see in central Mumbai, it’s just a very relaxing place and surprisingly un-Indian (western) place to be. After Bijapur and Badami, it felt like a vacation.
I wrote in the article About Rollercoasters that Hindu temples (that are still frequented) feel more like a fair than like an ancient, mythical temple. Well, this is not entirely true… India has such ancient structures of past ages which are not just “forgotten” in the sense of “badly maintained till it crumbled into a ruin”.
The place where we have been is called Hampi… just have a look at the photos…
We decided pretty quick that we all want to go to Goa and the South first. After about two days and countless chais1 in the train, we even arrived there at last. I don’t want to bore you with too many descriptions about Goa – it’s just fantastic. A tropical paradise. And compared to rest-India much cleaner and the locals here are just more relaxed. Goa is very much isolated from rest of India, by swamps and mountains, by culture and by rigorous immigrant policies. And the roads are good and – almost more important – the landscape is astonishing. It gives you so much freedom to drive through this landscape, through these little towns and past forgotten Portuguese mansions, over bridges going over mighty rivers and swamps… But if you don’t know India, it looks like Goa has seen it’s best days and everything is crumbling into ruins now. But this is normal for India(n maintenance) and just adds to this unique atmosphere of “undeveloped paradise”. (And to be fair, not only the Indians are to blame for the bad condition of their buildings but the monsoon, too).
However, on the way to Old Goa we were sacked by the traffic police for driving without license and without helmet and after bargaining, we still had to pay a lot of bakshish. But at least we got an “official” receipt. Joern said, he will enframe it and hang it on his wall as soon as we are home ;)
The beaches are all cool too, of course. After all, this is the main reason to come here. But everything except the South2 is full of beer-bellied package tourists. We spent most of the time in Benaulim (mostly old package tourists but a nice village flair), Palolem (backpacker and hippie stronghold) and Agonda (less crowded and more calm, will be like Palolem in a few years I figure).
1 Jens: “During the peak times on the train from Delhi to Goa, hordes of tea-sellers were running around in our compartments; perhaps as many as a German commuter sees in half his office life. On one morning, I even saw a traffic jam of tea-sellers. They were blocking each others way when they came from opposite directions. Cause they shout what they sell all the time, we could hear them from distance already.”
2 Goa is not a town but a state.
When I travelled only on the weekends, I had pauses from travelling where I could review and write down what happened. Now, these two weeks of travelling India are so busy and so much is happening that I have barely the time to write it all down.
Anyway, after the courses in Rishikesh I went to Delhi to welcome Jens and Joern to India. We didn’t make any plans where to go so after some days in Delhi, we visited my place (traineehouse) in Chandigarh first to unload some stuff. We wanted to travel light, only with a small backpack. As for me, I don’t even have a towel with me ;) It’s interesting to see how they see Delhi and India as I feel that I begin to think that everything is very normal here. My brain starts to ignore certain things on the street to let me concentrate on the things that matter – I remember when I first came to Delhi I was so overwhelmed that I even didn’t really notice what the shops in Paharganj were selling. I guess my culture shock was bigger than I thought. Jens and Joern did already travel in other countries in South Asia so I guess it was not so much of a big deal for them. Joern said that Old Delhi looks like the typical third world chaos only more extreme. Also, they were surprised of how dirty, smelly and full of garbage India is and how unnerving and aggressive (not physical) people on the street are. In summary, how “derbe abgefuckt” (“grossly fucked up”) it is here. But very amusing.
Actually, we made so many jokes about Indians, their maintainance policies and customs (“lets just sit down and shit in the middle of the street”) that Joern joked that we have to watch out to not return to Germany as a Nazis ;D