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India - continued
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India is extreme - and extremely huge. That's why we need a part two.
GoaDiscovered by the Hippies in the 60s, the former Portuguese colony has mainly developed into an all inclusive tourism destination. While the legendary full moon parties still exist, excessive drug use is now faced with strict anti-drug laws.What's left are huge hotel complexes, night clubs and tourists scootering half-naked through the villages.The Goans themselves seem to take it easy. Still today they're mostly Catholic. The standard of living and average income in Goa are higher than in any other Indian state. Roads are good, people are less intrusive, and in the shops you can buy bread, cheese, chocolate - not only this makes Goa special.Never mind the mass tourism, in a few forgotten bays you can still find something like 'paradise on earth' even today: Fine sandy beaches, lush green hills in the backdrop, sunshine guaranteed and relative silence. Every morning, fishermen sail out for their catch and monkeys chase through the forests stealing coconuts from each other. At night, some turtles crawl their way across the beach while palm trees slightly shake in the wind.A place you can stick to for some time. However, you might want to have a look at the climate charts before heading to Goa (or India in general, really).
Kolkata (Calcutta)Probably no other city's image is linked to poverty and decay as much as Kolkata/Calcutta's.In fact, the endless tunnels of plastic canvas and the wooden shacks on the pavement - even in the city centre - make it look as if more inhabitants strive to live in such accommodations than in solid buildings. Penniless cripples beg for something to eat, whole families share their roof with the rats. You can make a small boy grin widely just by handing him a local Kati Roll snack and a Coke.
On the other hand, it would be unfair to reduce the city of Kolkata/Calcutta to poverty and misery. Putting aside all its difficulties, the city does have its own charm - and seems to get by.Here, too, I make interesting encounters, feast like a champion and spend a few nice days. Due to the pressing, humid heat I treat myself to a hotel room once again. How often do you get the Penthouse suite for 25 Euros?
UdaipurBefore gaining independence, India's states were governed by the Maharadjas (during colonial times under control of the British, however). Relics of those times are the 'Maharadja Mac' hamburger or the city of Udaipur in Rajasthan.Its impressive palaces reflect the city's high importance in the older days. Located along the shores of two lakes, not even James Bond could resist Udaipurs charm. In 1982 'Lake Palace Hotel', built on poles within Lake Pichola, served as a setting for 'Octopussy.'
VaranasiMillions of Hindu pilgrims come here to the banks of the Ganges River to cleanse themselves of their sins or to cremate loved ones. As the symbol of hope and relief, the mystical and almighty river makes Varanasi a holy place. Whoever passes away at this place will be able to escape the circle of death and rebirth. So when the end is near, many Indians make their way to Varanasi. While Hindu heaven is so close, hell is breaking loose on the streets. Pilgrims, traders, holy-but-pitiful cows and a few tourists push each other through town skin-to-skin.On the river banks people wash, bathe, pray, die.If you want to be on the safe side, you have a glass of Ganges water. Being a non-believer, I stick to cola, though. Rebirth, here I come.
Incredible IndiaLike it or not, India is an experience touching all senses. Still it seems as if Indians are numb. Numb with their tongue because they eat dishes that, for European taste buds, are almost inedible due to their spiciness. Numb with their ears because not even tremendous traffic noise and the persistent sound of blowing horns happen to get their attention. Numb with their noses because they are unaffected by the burning pile of rubbish or the cloaca next door.For everyone not numb that means vice versa: India leaves very intense impressions.
After ten weeks in India, my idea was to ship from Bangladesh to Malaysia. But as I happened to find a convoy going from Nepal through China to South East Asia, I happily change my plan. In mid-May I cross the border to Nepal.
INDIA (updated 05/2011)RouteWahga (from Pakistan) - Amritsar - Delhi - Agra - Jaipur - Pushkar - Ahmadabad - Mumbai (Bombay) - Hampi - Panjim - Honavar - Bengaluru (Bangalore) - Chennai (Madras) - Bhubaneswar Kolkata/Calcutta - Varanasi - Gorakhpur - Butwal (to Nepal)Entering via Wagah Border (from Pakistan)No problem, around two hours, customs check (India)Exiting via Bhairahawa crossing (to Nepal)No problem, around one hourFuelThe station network is quite dense. Unleaded around EUR 1/L, Premium EUR 1.05/L, Diesel EUR 0.70/L.RoadsDrive on the left. Road conditions of state highways and minor roads are often poor (curves, potholes, bumps, narrow village thoroughfares). National highways are in mostly good condition.Driving needs full attention at all times (animals, sleeping/drunk drivers, wrong-way drivers). Indians show little danger awareness. Many drivers, including police, bus and truck drivers don't have their vehicles under control, resulting in queues and a very high risk of accidents. After an accident, usually all parties are held by the police until the case comes to court. Due to the substantial safety risks (lynching), some people recommend fleeing the scene and reporting to the next police officer. Stopping or helping at the scene of an accident is often interpreted as admitting guilt.Expect truck queues at interstate borders, factories or railway crossings that may block car traffic, too. Due to a lack of discipline, queues can take several hours. In India, there is no such thing as a road traffic act.Tolls are imposed on national highways (toll gates, expect around EUR 0.70/100km for cars/vans/jeeps, trucks more). Having a German national plate might let you get away for free as staff think D stands for 'diplomat'. Others reported to have shown their Carnet - and gotten away for free, too.Many Indian cities are home to more than a million people. However, they mostly have a village-like infrastructure (true of much of the so-called Third World, by the way). If you don't really want to go into the city centres, using bypass roads might save you hours of traffic deadlock. Having GPS or SAT NAV will be of great help in India.Road conditions in detail: - Amritsar-Delhi (NH 1): four lanes, mostly good, almost completely under construction- Delhi-Agra (NH 2): four lanes, heavy traffic, through densely populated areas - Agra-Jaipur (NH 11): four lanes, good- Jaipur-Ajmer (NH 8): six lanes, good- Udaipur-Ahmadabad (NH 8): four or six lanes, good, the 'Ahmadabad Bypas' takes you through town- Ahmadabad-Vadodara (NE 1): four lanes, very good- Vadodara-Mumbai (NH 8): four lanes, acceptable, heavy traffic- Bypassing Mumbai: Difficult. It's recommended not to shortcut from NH8 to Thane north of Mumbai- Mumbai: heavy traffic, apart from that no worries- Mumbai-Pune (Super Express Highway): as the name points out: Super. Express. Highway.- Pune-Hubli (NH 4 and NH 4A): mostly four lanes and good- Hubli-Hospet/Hampi (NH 63): two lanes, heavy traffic, bad- Dharwad-Panjim: Dharwad-Londa very bad, Alnaya-Khanapur-Londa (NH 4A) acceptable, Londa-Panjim acceptable, east of Londa there are always trucks blocking NH4 at a factory, avoid.- Panjim-Karwar-Honavar (NH 17): in Goa good, in Karnataka acceptable, hilly and winding- Honavar-Bangalore (NH 206): up to Sagar partly very bad, up to Tumkur acceptable, up to Bangalore (NH 4) four lanes, good- Bengaluru-Chennai (Bangalore-Madras): Southern Bangalore bypass and on up to shortly before Chennai: four lanes, very good- Chennai (Madras) bypass: time consuming, heavy traffic, right through town- Chennai-Calcutta (Madras-Calcutta): mostly four lanes, very good, bad stretches near Guntur (AP) and in Southern Orissa, border queues- Calcutta-Varanasi: four lanes, good. Varanasi is time consumingCampingIndia is not a camping country. It is the curiosity of Indians themselves that makes it mostly impossible to find a quiet, nice spot. You will be surrounded by the whole village within minutes having to give interviews. Indians also like to knock on your vehicle at five in the morning just because they want to have a chat. In over two months, I found only a few truly beautiful spots - find them in my Camp Site List.In addition to that, the deserted Reliance petrol stations, often in connection with “A1 Plaza” rest areas, have proven to be acceptable several times, being mostly empty, level, covered, without annoying people but with a watchman (about EUR 0.75, pay in advance or get a free wake up call at 6). Reliance petrol stations and A1 Plazas are also shown in Mapmyindia's SAT NAV.MiscellaneousRule of Law is mostly not in place, as corruption and lynching are widespread. Expect only a limited amount of help from police or authorities. The populace exhibits little inhibition regarding the use of violence. At tourist sites, foreigners pay entrance fees up to 20 times the Indian price. Western ideas of 'good manners', friendliness and respect are only common among a few educated people. Foreign visitors are met with limitless curiosity (positive and negative), sometimes also with confusion and rejection. Check climate charts when planning a trip to India.All information subject to change (note time of writing).
This way back to India, part one.
Goa comes pretty close to paradise on earth... (Agonda/Goa)
Home by the sea (Agonda/Goa)
They still exist, the scenic bays. (Agonda/Goa)
Portuguese town houses from colonial times (Panaji/Goa)
Open air church (Agonda/Goa)
Changing drive shafts during incredible heat (Panaji/Goa)
Shopping district (Kolkata/West Bengal)
Victoria Memorial (Kolkata/West Bengal)
Victoria Memorial (Kolkata/West Bengal)
Governor's House (Kolkata/West Bengal)
Park Street cemetery(Kolkata/West Bengal)
On the streets of Kolkata
Every ten minutes the taxi driver needs to refill coolant.(Kolkata/West Bengal)
Always keep calm...(Kolkata/West Bengal)
In the 11th century, this giant football (now turned into stone) landed on the roof. Since then, Indians prefer cricket. (Kolkata/West Bengal)
Remember 'Octopussy'? Lake Palace Hotel (Udaipur/Rajasthan)
My suite. Next morning I was asked to leave, as next door the ceiling had come down. (Kolkata/West Bengal)
City Palace (Udaipur/Rajasthan)
Big balls (Kolkata/West Bengal)
City Palace (Udaipur/Rajasthan)
Varanasi at dawn (Varanasi/Uttar Pradesh)
The Ghats are the place to be for bathing, praying and cremation. (Varanasi/Uttar Pradesh)
Steet scene (Varanasi/Uttar Pradesh)
Nightly ceremony by the Ganges (Varanasi/Uttar Pradesh)
Thousands attend the ceremony. (Varanasi/Uttar Pradesh)
Warm and cozy (Varanasi/Uttar Pradesh)
Depending on which philosophy you consult, the water of the Ganges supposedly has wonderful or harmful powers. (Varanasi/Uttar Pradesh)
Another place to clear your soul: holy Pushkar Lake (Pushkar/Rajasthan)
Nasiyan Temple (Ajmer/Rajasthan)
Nasiyan Temple (Ajmer/Rajasthan)
Vishnu Temple (Pushkar/Rajasthan)
Receptio hall of the Red Fort (Delhi)
A lot remians mysterical. Like this bus. Who painted it pink? What makes it a 'love man coach'?(near Agra/Uttar Pradesh)
Inside the Red Fort (Delhi)
Rajpath - India's grand boulevard (Delhi)
If you visit India in spring or summer, make sure to carry a pool. It will get hot. (near Gorakhpur/Uttar Pradesh)
Train lovers be warned: They're only empty when not going anywhere. (Mumbai/Maharashtra)
A big thanks to Hannah Zarkar for proofreading this translation!