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India is extreme in many ways. One billion people, spread across a nation that could hardly be any more diverse. Between the Karakoram in the North and Cape Comorin in the South, you can find any form of landscape imaginable (except maybe the arctic desert). India consists of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Bahai - and only quite rarely do they turn against each other.Rich and poor often live only a stone's throw apart from each other, with a caste system tying down social disparities, sometimes in a crucial way. While officially equal rights are granted to every citizen by law, in reality, the lower castes typically don't have a voice. The relative social peace within India seems remarkable: It is a rare occurrence that the poorest of the poor rise up against the injustice they face. There seems to be a widespread acceptance of the established circumstances.Most Indians seem to lack belief in the state and the judiciary. They either take care of alleged justice (example to follow) and their fate themselves, or they lapse into shrugging lethargy. However, what they like most is to wobble their heads - roughly meaning 'yes', 'maybe' or 'it will'. Indian heads seem to be mounted on a ball bearing rather than on a spine.The gap between the educated and the non-educated is as big as the gap between rich and poor. Millions of farmers who have never visited a school are working very hard. Yet, they manage to survive only with the help of their families, no matter how hard they work: Owning a fan, riding a motorcycle or drinking bottled water remains a luxury.Meanwhile, in the cities many very well-educated specialists earn their money in service and the IT industry. They sit in the parks, typing on their iPads, cruise through town in air-conditioned vehicles or fly on vacation every once in a while - as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It is also mostly this group of people that you can have good conversations with in English.
Welcome to IndiaMy personal experience is so-so. The first Indian I meet after the border tries to beat me to death. For the mob the situation is clear: In a traffic accident it's always the rich foreigners fault. There's no use pointing out that it was the local guy who - kamikaze-like and without looking left or right - pulled the scooter, with his family on the back, across four lanes right in front of my van.However, the second Indian I meet should be mentioned, too. As an eye-witness, he tries to hold back the mob and finally helps a lot by testifying to the police. Unfortunately, no photos exist to document these unforgettable first impressions. Nobody on the motorbike gets injured, by the way.Most Indians I meet afterwards prove to be neither life-threatening nor life-saving. Some of them will remain in my memory as being very warm and welcoming; most of them as being extremely curious.
AmritsarWhen travelling overland from Europe, your first stop in India is Amritsar - only 30 kilometres after the Pakistani border.This city of one million people is the centre of the Sikhs - followers of a religion somewhere between Islam and Hinduism. From all around the world they come to orbit the Golden Temple, ideally in silence. But, as we are in India, burping, spitting and trying out ringtones is tolerated, too, of course.The temple is an overwhelming building, during daylight as much as at night. It is here that you finally get the feeling of having arrived in India - also thanks to the excellent food.
On the roadIf you want to see at least a little bit of India, you need to cover long distances. Locals prefer train or bus because driving is expensive. Also, a normal car only offers space for about, say, 25 Indians. Listening to the experiences of other travellers, I am not particularly sad to have missed out on a train journey through India.It rarely gets boring on the highways either. Mostly it's even very exciting. Many Indians drive as if they are steering a tank. Unfortunately, they firstly don't, and secondly, don't know how. Everyday you see severe accidents - the tarmac soaked in diesel, oil, blood. Sometimes you can even foresee them, and you don't require a crystal ball for that. After a crash, you better get lost while you can no matter if you've been involved or not.After a long day behind the wheel, there's nothing like a quiet, cool camp spot in the middle of untouched nature. At night you sit down and relax beside your van, have a drink and listen to the silence of the night. The next morning you get woken up by, well, nothing really. Simply great.While that might happen, maybe, in Denmark, it surely won't in India. Here a typical camp spot looks like this: A petrol station right beside the highway - it is freaking hot. You open the doors, keep your nose to the wind and sniff petrol and diesel. By doing so, you invite a cloud of mosquitoes for dinner. Thereafter, you fight them with a cloud of chemicals. Meanwhile, your arsenal includes eight different weapons - from the simple fly swatter to killer gas, which makes the beasts just fall off the ceiling.Especially in rural areas, many Indians have never ever seen a foreigner, not to mention a foreign car, not to mention one that you can live in. So often the village community gathers around the alien and his spaceship. Everything must be touched or tried. Then everyone sits down on the floor around the van and stares at you. That's it, mostly. The concept of privacy just seems to be widely unknown.The next morning, around 5.30 the night watchman slams against your car. He wants his money and then heads off. It is already freaking hot again. As you have breakfast your mind wanders again... Denmark!
DelhiYou can divide the capital into the typical-Indian old centre and the more modern New Delhi, planned and laid out by the British colonial masters of the time.In the hurly-burly of old Delhi, simple buildings are squeezed wall-to-wall, enormous crowds make their ways through narrow lanes, various animals are vegetating, mosques and temples stand out of a sea of houses.On the wide boulevards of New Delhi, fancy cars rush to the next shopping mall, luxurious mansions hide behind dense hedges and high walls. New Delhi also houses the government district as well as embassies and international organisations.
Taj Mahal, AgraIt's probably the most photographed building on the Indian subcontinent - and an incomparable monument of love. In 1631, Indian ruler Shah Jahan had European marble carried to Agra in order to build a splendid mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna river. He constructed this monument in honour of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died while giving birth to her 14th child.The pure and perfect outside appearance of the Taj Mahal contrasts with the inside: Apart from the coffins of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, there is nothing to see - it is empty.
Mumbai (Bombay)Greater Mumbai is home to more than 20 million people - and many of them don't make it from slum dog to millionaire. It becomes visible in the shanty towns of Mumbai's northern outskirts. On your way to the touristy centre of downtown Mumbai you pass them, nestling between smoking industrial estates and rather cheerless satellite towns.The South end of the peninsula is where the economic heart of India beats. Millions are made in the financial, service and media centre of the country. In addition to that, the glamour of Bollywood shines its light onto rural India, attracting even more migrants to a metropolis already struggling to keep up with the stream of new arrivals from the countryside.
Downtown Mumbai seems open, neatly arranged and well taken care of - thus, creating a nice atmosphere. India's most expensive real estate houses banks, hotels, shops and colonial relicts of the English. People with time and money play cricket on the city's large green grounds or stroll along the Queen's Necklace - nickname for the long Ocean Drive boulevard facing the Arabian Sea. People with time but nothing else collect rubbish from the streets and sleep in shacks beside the railroad tracks or directly on the pavement.
HampiWhat is a small village today used to be the capital of an Indian kingdom about 600 years ago. Thanks to its well-preserved temples the place is now a UNESCO world heritage site.River landscapes around Hampi paint a poetical picture of harmony. Impressive man-made structures and natural granite rocks blend just perfectly - almost like a deserted movie set.
Main characters nowadays are the countless monkeys, occupying the best seats to watch tourists without being knocked out by the merciless sun.India continued - part two
The Western Ghats range (near Mahabaleswar/Maharashtra)
Workers dwelling near an industrial compound (near Dhanbad/Jharkhand)
The movies (Delhi)
City beaches in the midday sun (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Railway bridge across dried-out Mahanadi river (Cuttack/Odisha)
'Hellooo friend! Where come from!?' (Delhi)
Indians are incredibly curious. Only watching cricket can distract them. (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
The Golden Temple by night (Amritsar/Punjab)
Silence is always relative in India. (Amritsar/Punjab)
True highlight: The Golden Temple (Amritsar/Punjab)
Late afternoon north of Kolkata (near Bardhaman/West Bengal)
Business as usual on the highway (near Vijayawada/Andhra Pradesh)
Rush hour (near Udaipur/Rajasthan)
The guys from 'Achtung Security' (at a highway toll gate, near Vishakhapatnam/Andhra Pradesh)
Indian traffic jams can take days. (near Brahmapur/Odisha)
Typical overnight stop(near Mau/Uttar Pradesh)
Curious (Nautanwa/Uttar Pradesh)
Professionally loaded(near Kolkata/West Bengal)
Breakfast news: One massacre, one ambush, one grenade attack, eleven people dead - all within 30km. (Bokaro/Jharkhand)
And another petrol station camp (Bokaro/Jharkhand)
President's Palace (New Delhi)
View over old Delhi
Motorickshaw captain (Delhi)
Lotus Temple of the Bahai (New Delhi)
Young Muslims (Delhi)
Ghandi's last steps (New Delhi)
Connaught Place(New Delhi)
Ghandi's dream of India (New Delhi)
Taj Mahal (Agra/Uttar Pradesh)
...and that's just the entrance gate. (Taj Mahal, Agra/Uttar Pradesh)
Marine Drive, Mumbai's ocean front along the Arab Sea (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Welcome to Mumbai
Mumbai's laundry since the 1850s: Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat
Evening at Chowpatty Beach (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Machine wash not available (Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Cricket players in front of the university (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
India wins the Cricket World Cup. (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Horniman Circle Gardens (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
'Victoria Terminus' station (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Fishing boats and fishermen's huts against the backdrop of luxury condominiums (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Bypass above the sea: Worli Sea Link (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
Achutaraya Temple (Hampi/Karnataka)
Tunghabhadra river (Hampi/Karnataka)
He made it to the top. (Hampi/Karnataka)
Vitthala Temple from the outside...
Garuda Shrine, Vitthala Temple (Hampi/Karnataka)
... and from the inside (Hampi/Karnataka)
Rocks and temples - that's Hampi.
Racism 2.0 at the cashier's (Hampi/Karnataka)