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13 Apr

India – haven’t been there, you haven’t seen the world

India was a lifetime wish. Every time I saw it on TV or in a magazine, I got goosebumps. I had to wait 50 years until that dream became reality. Colors, smells, noise, massive crowds of people – I enjoyed everything and every minute with all my senses. My friends were split – one half said “oh, I want to go there, too” and the other half was “oh, I would never go there, to dangerous, to unsafe, afraid of Delhi belly, to loud, to dirty, …”

The schedule of that journey was very ambitious. 14 days, 9 different beds, three flights, train and 2.000 km on the road. Ground transportation was organized from a travel agency in India, that helped a lot. The driver was always there and at every stop we had a tour guide who told us about India, the forts, the museums, the temples and he often was a translator when we wanted to ask the locals about life, fruits or habits.

m art v sion india impressions temple 2

Delhi – Leela Palace was our first pillow after a 9 hrs flight from Munich. Arrival late in the night 01:15. We woke up and looked out of the window: Our first ape was jumping from one tree to another and from one roof to the other in the neighborhood. I could not believe that people crossed the massive crowded street in patience. But later got the explanation: walk the street like a holy cow, if you cross like a chicken you are dead. 10 o’clock the guide picked us up and we drove from New Delhi passing the presidential palace, the Gate of India to the old part. Mosques, temples, house of Mahatma and Indira Gandhi, National Gallery of Modern Art, you find everything in your guides. But the first surprise was that life was never hectic – shanti, shanti so to say. Again apes in the streets and at the first untouchables – well today they say “scheduled caste” “Dalit” – which does it not any better for them. I travelled many poor countries before, but here for the very first time in my live I realized that there are people not only living in dirt, they even are dirt. They have no valuation to nobody. If they are sick or die, nobody ever cares. Also the children, no school ever, no chance ever, just the day by day anxiety to get some rice. Some children came to the car or displayed with their empty faces their hunger. I do not know if I find the right words, but it I followed the advice I got from everybody: do not give anything, but be friendly.

m art v sion india impressions street 2

Varanasi – mother Ganges and all the myth gather here at that holy place. Still there are dead bodies burned at the Gaths. But it is a religious habit and we are just visitors of a ritual that still means a lot to the faithful. Here we got an deeper experience of small alleys and cows, dogs, apes, in-between. Again unbelievable crowded, loud, colorful. But also unbelievable easy to walk through, and the guide said do not worry that somebody will snatch your bag “that will not happen”. Well pickpocket – yes. But we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable on the whole trip. Back to the total quiet of the Nadesar Palace, it felt unreal, knowing that millions are on the other side of the garden wall.

Khajuraho – we were the last plane debarking on the old terminal. The very small city is very relaxed and quiet. Some tourists all curious about the erotic figures at the temples. But there are only less then 10% erotic the other are “fully” religious. But it is worth going there. We were lucky that at that time the famous dance festival took place where we were invited as “guests”. Also a little handcrafts market took place.

On the way to Orccha and the Janshi train station we passed a “secret” enchanted Maharadsha palace. It was like back 300 years ago. Only a few parrots. All quiet. Back on the road through various villages we saw again people living just under a blanket, in small huts, old and deteriorated house, but always with a smile on their face. Sitting on the street and waiting for customers to buy at least a chewing tobacco. Blacksmith, carpenters, doing their work. In-between cows eating paper or carton, pics nuzzle in the garbage that is dumped everywhere – I mean everywhere. Children playing, grown-ups washing themselves right next to the street at one of the very few water pumps, or facilitating themselves in-between. The maximum “toilet” is a garden wall or a on the street side open concrete box. Things I saw for the first time of my life and unsettled me, but back to reality 1.3 billion live like that and somehow they manage it, so I am not a judge, just a tourist, a guest in that country.

m art v sion india impressions family

Well the train from Janshi did not leave, there were riots a few miles further the rails and all of a sudden the whole station that was massive crowded before with its typical class segmentation was empty. So a driver got us to Agra. There truly is only one hotel to stay: Oberoi Amarvillas. Every room has a beautiful view to the Taj Mahal. A building everybody from us has seen on a picture. After a delicious indian meal we went to bed early. Alarm clock at 5:30 to be at the gate at 6:15 a few minutes later we saw the in the morning sun shining white marble of the Taj Mahal. It is big, it is mystic, it is a must see.

The riots were still on so we could not go to the Ranthambore National Park where we hoped to see the tigers. We only made it to Fatehpur Sikri and back to Agra. At Fatehpur Sikri mosque area it was the only time we experienced a very awkward beggars asking for everything and offering apparent help. One more night at Agra was not unwelcome.

After discussions when, where, how we decided to drive on a detour to Jaipur. After 10 hrs !! drive through “real” India where we again saw smallest villages, colorful markets, cows, pigs, camels, elephants and, and, and … we arrived Rambagh Palace and again the welcome ceremony was special. Amber Fort is huge, but you get to see only a part of it. I would recommend not to “arrive” by elephant. Another “disappointment” is that contrary to Tuscany palaces the indian forts and palaces are nearly “empty”. No ancient paintings or furniture. You have to imagine how it might have been when maharadshas, the maharanis, the harem, the soldiers and servants lived and how vibrant it must have been. Of course the guide wanted to show us the jewelry bazar, but we asked him friendly but undoubtably that we want to see the bazar where the Jaipur people live and so he did, despite the fact that he has lost some provision of some traders. The city palace is worth going, plus spend some more money (for charity) to get to the inside. The house of winds is one of the massive crowded roundabouts and much smaller than you have it in mind. But again it is fantastic, that the traffic flows, even with camels and elephants crossing.

m art v sion india impressions camel

Of to Jodhur. The drive through diversified landscape was entertaining and not only because our driver had Wifi on board. The driveway up to the Umaid Bhawan Palace is very special. It is massive in its measures. The staff again is exceptional friendly and service oriented. The view in the morning, at lunch, during sunset to the fort of Jodhpur is unforgettable. In the city was at that time a music festival which we joined for an glimpse in one of the gardens of the fort. But again, just 200 m from the terrace where we choose between exquisite fish, meat or vegetarian meals, Indians cover just with a blanket and suffer. Nobody did choose in which part of the world he or she is born, it is just by accident.

Jaisalmer is the next destination. We stopped at our “hotel”, which it is just some 20 tents, but to name it tent is somehow not quiet right. Air-condition and a bricked beautiful bath with a little pool behind it made it comfortable. It was wonderful to hear thousands of birds waking up at 04:30 in the morning and experience the silent evening atmosphere in the out of nowhere sitting next to a fire was special. The city of Jaisalmer is a backpacker city, tidy, and with hundreds of little hotels, guesthouses and temples. We had a nice walk around and a rooftop view over the city.

m art v sion india impressions street 1

Udaipur – well another 10 hrs. drive, but we got some sleep and had a break at Ranakpur temple. After 12 days we slowly suffered from the AFT Syndrom (wright a note and I will explain). Than the landscape changed and we felt like in the alps. It must look wonderful during rain season when everything is growing and blooming. The monkeys were waiting for an apple or a banana that tourists throw out of the window. We got excited to get closer to the Lake Palace hotel. Again everybody knows that from 007 Octopussy or from indian brochures. It is not best maintained, but the colorful wall decoration, the nice, cosy little rooms – some direct on the waterline – and the pool area with the view to the city palace that gloomed in the sunset was our last indian emotion. The city and the palace is worth visiting, but not India as we experienced the last days. It is to clean, to touristy.

Well, India is a country that you can explore easily, but be aware that so many impressions will hit your five senses.