India

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Golden temple of the Sikh, in Amritsar Iíve been five times to India. The First time for four weeks, as part of a travel from London to Kathmandu with Encounter Overland. The following 4 times were to Bangalore, for my work.

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The Encounter Overland travel trough India was very beautiful. We came in from Lahore in Pakistan to Amritsar. The latter is famous for its golden Sikh temple. From there we went up to Jammu, and through a long and wet tunnel we went to Srinagar, in the cool district of Kashmir. Srinagar is famous for its lakes and the houseboats on it. The Indians surrendered to Britain under the sole condition that no building will be erected in Kashgar by the Brits. And they didnít, but packed the big lake near Srinagar with houseboats, which are technically speaking not buildings. Kashmir is still in turmoil, as the majority (95%) is Muslim. Politicians still try to upset the people by proposing they should be part of Pakistan, and other politicians fight hard against this. In 1947, when India became independent, the country was split in India, East Pakistan (nowadays Bangladesh) and West Pakistan. People could vote whether they their district to be Indian or Pakistani. When all was settled in what you could call a bloody way, many Muslims left to Pakistan, and many Hindus to India. The only exception was Kashmir, as they never voted. The Sikh maharadja Hari Singh decided to ally with India, regardless the wishes of the population. Pakistan invaded Kashmir, but was kicked out in 1949 by the UN Until today some politicians claim a final vote, by force if needed to. The sad thing is that most Kashmiri donít give a damn and are thrown in a war they donít want.

After Srinagar we went to Ladakh, in the middle of the Himalayas. The road to Leh is breathtaking. High passes (4500 mtr), steep slopes, driving in caravans which go up in the morning and down in the evening, as the road is way too small to let cars been overtaken. Passing pastries, desert, glaciers, all in an impressive scale that makes you realize how small you are. Leh is its capital, and many Tibetan refugees from China reside in this dirty small town. There are many Tibetan temples and stupas around, all very impressive, and an occasional yak really sets the scene.


Taj Mahal in Agra From Leh back to Srinagar and then down to New Delhi, which is a busy but nice big city. The Red Fort is definitely worth a visit, but there are many other cultural attractions. Then the famous tourist circle to Agra, known for the Tai Mahal, Jaipur (house of the winds, and a beautiful castle), Fathipur Sikri with its magnificent Mogul-palace. After that to Khajuraho, known for its erotic temples. The artists really had a great imagination on how wonderful life is in heaven, and you can learn a lot over there. From there to Varanasi (before known as Benares) with its famous ghats (stairways from the shores down to the Ganges). After Varanasi up to the Pokhara valley in Nepal.


In Leh I took my girlfiend out for a cup of tea. In India youíll get tampered at any artisan shop, and youíll find many of these. So as it started to rain, we went to a shop with Hindu statues of all kinds and sizes. Visiting a shop like this takes half an hour at least, as the owner tries to identify what youíre interested in, and then collects all similar merchandize so you can pick the nicest. Only then heíll start talking about prices. As this takes so long, and itís more educational than a visit to a museum, heíll make sure thereís a constant supply of tea and biscuits. In Leh they serve butter tea, made from butter which comes from yak milk. A yak smells like yeck, its milk and butter too, and so the tea was yuck. The shop owner quickly ordered normal tea, and we had a great time. The rain stopped, so I told my girlfriend that we had other things to do, and the masterpiece I selected was way too expensive at US$ 160. ďMister, your final offer?Ē ďUS$ 40Ē, as I wasnít interested. ďAh, that is not enough.

India is a country of extremities. Everywhere youíll find ďguidesĒ, with gold watches, fat Sikhs etc., but also people who donít have anything at all. On day in New Delhi, on the modern Connaught Square, I met this ďguideĒ. He explained me a lot, amongst others the broom guards. Poor families without a house tend to sleep in the gardens of the rich. The broom guard will wipe them off the garden, with a broom. The guide also told me about this family who went to sleep on a hard shoulder in the middle of a big street, after being wiped off a garden. They were all killed when a truck was overtaking at the wrong moment.

He also told me about the beggars. Normally thatís forbidden in the modern center, but after paying a bribe to the local police, itís not that illegal anymore. I saw a beggar with a small baby, even though he looked like fifty. The guide explained. This beggar visits the slums every morning, to hire a baby. Many mothers are looking forward to this man every morning, to let their baby. He only picks the most pitiful baby, as this stimulates the people to give a baksheesh. Some mothers amputate the arm of their baby with an iron fiber, as mutilated kids are more precious for the beggar so he will pick their kid instead of someone else.


old centre of Bangalore Iíll never visit Vanarasi (Benares) no more. It was terrible. First I got up very early, to see the sun rise over the Ganges, and then a boat trip. There was a lot of acivity on the shores. Many people bathing and praying, and every couple of hundreds of meters there was a temple with loud religious music. All very colorful. To visit a monkey temple I went on shore and passed small alleys covered in filth. Chicken eating the remains of a dead dog gave a bad after taste to the chicken tandoori I ate the day before. The monkey temple was inhabited by wild monkeys, very irritating, aggressive and all big thieves. I was happy to be back in the boat. Then we visited a crematory, where dead bodies were put on a pile of wood. Hey, thereís a dog with something that looks like a human under arm. The sweet sickly smell of burned bodies made me close to vomiting. Glad I smoked, so I could inhale fresh tobacco odor. I was even more happy to return to the boat.


Fatihpur Sikri The shipper noticed my bad mood, and visualized his tip reducing. So he tried to improve the atmosphere by telling all kinds of facts. Do you see that small gray package floating? Thatís a baby corpse. Huh? Well, somewhere in the slumps thereís this baby born. But the mother has no way to feed it. She puts her foot on the baby until it is dead. Then there should be a cremation and spread the ashes in the Ganges, but you know, with all these cremations in Varanasi, there is hardly any wood. So wood is very expensive, and the mother cannot afford that. So she wraps it in together with a big stone, and throws it in the Ganges. But after a few months, the cloth deteriorates, the stone falls out and the baby starts to float. That is was we see here, now.

I saw a big motorized boat with a pack of Americans, armed with a dozen Hollywood size movie cameras aiming at the gray package. This is not a place where I want to be, I travel for fun, and not to be confronted with this kind of misery.

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