Incredible India

Teaser

A big ‘SORRY’ for everybody who thought, that we’ve been in Pakistan until now – Here is the latest update:

Our journey with the VW-Van and the Table-Soccer is over, we shipped everything back to Germany including Simon, just me (Stefan) keeps on travelling, currently I am in Bangladesh. The good news for you: There is still one amazing story (including lots of crazy shit) about our India-trip waiting for you – and here we go!

Ah, just to let you know in advance, this article is very long, , so we will tease you a little what you can expect, once you`ll start reading:

  • hiking in the Himalayas without gear over glaciers including running out of food and eating insects grilled on fire (with picture) :)
  • nearly deadly street fights in Delhi
  • meeting the Dalai-Lama
  • playing table-soccer against the Indian national-team, Gurus, and street kids from “Slumdog Millionaire”
  • and much more … :)

 

What has happened in our three month of ‘Incredible India’

If we complained about India, if we cursed about things happening to us or if we glorified India for its inherent natural beauty, the reaction of people were mostly the same – they started to smile and said: “That’s Incredible India!” After nearly 3 months we most certainly confirm this slogan, especially because India shows you everything, the poorest and the richest, the worst pollution and the most beautiful and untouched nature, most friendly, hospitable and kind people as well as corruption and arrogance.

But step by step. After we nearly witnessed the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, drove the most dangerous highway in the world (Karakorum Highway in Pakistan) and had more military escorts on our way than our German chancellor, we were ready for the next step and entered India at the famous Wagah border station. People call it the “Berlin wall of Asia”. Every day they hold a spectacular ceremony, in which soldiers of both sides march alongside the border and “show off” with their guns and uniforms. The audience loves it and goes crazy – shouting, singing and finally running in the parade to dance. For us the atmosphere felt a little bit like a soccer game, where the one side got fan-support by the Indians, the other by the Pakistanis.

After this spectacle we finally made it – reached the last country of our trip. To celebrate appropriately, we had a glass of good Whiskey (for Indian standards at least) and lighted our “Fat Lady” – a big cigar we took all the way from Germany to India. Aaftab, an Indian Couchsurfer from Amritsar (the first city you`ll run into behind the Wagah border) and a couple of his friends got in contact with us and planed to join in. He called and said: “I will just pass you and horn, so you know it’s me and you can follow my car”. That sounded like a good plan, just that every second driver passing us was horning like a maniac, as usual in India :)

Finally, we managed to meet up, had a good evening and could stay our first Indian night at Aaftabs place. The next day we visited the “Golden Temple”, the most impressing building we’ve seen in India (we liked it even better than the Taj Mahal) and an important religious place for Sikhs. 

1. The Golden Temple in Amritswar

A day later it was time to say goodbye to Simon – yeah you heard right. He decided to meet some of his old school friends in Thailand for 2 weeks and left me alone :( But before he left, I kicked his ass in our most sweaty table-soccer match ever since – having around 45 degrees.

 

That Simon escaped for 2 weeks was not as bad as it sounds, I used the time for some necessary recreation. After Aaftab and me gave Simon a lift to the bus, which took him to the airport in Delhi, Aaftab drove with me to a hospital, where I didn’t really know what to expect. A friend of him was lying in a bed, showing me ultrasonic-images of his knee, filled with many little bullets of a shotgun. 

Shotgun-bullets

What had happened? Aaftab told me his friend’s whole story, which was absolutely shocking. A crazy dude wanted to marry his sister, but neither she, nor anybody else of her family liked this guy, who then decided to force his luck by threatening the family. When threatening didn’t convince the family, the crazy dude tried to kill Aaftabs friend, but luckily “just” shot his knee. This was already shocking for me, but not more than the fact, that the family of Aaftabs friend couldn’t do much about it. I realized that in India as well as in Pakistan it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong. It just matters who you are, who you know and how much money you have. In this case, the crazy dude apparently knew the local judge and had more money to bribe him and the police than the victims – Incredible India!

Surviving the first night without Simon after more than 3 months, the next challenge was already waiting for me. I had to get the car ready, put the table-soccer inside and drive to the next city named Chandigarh. Sounds simple, but not if you have a bad diarrhoea and outside it is just unbelievably hot. I felt like running a marathon, while just doing ordinary packing. Finally I was on the road, but it shouldn’t become much better. A 6 hour hell-ride was waiting for me. When it was getting dark in the evening, I was nearly blind cause of all the far-lights the Indian drivers turned on non-stop. All the subjects without any light on the street (cow, donkey, rickshaws etc.) weren’t improving the situation much and drove me nuts after a while. Exhausted I made it to Chandigarh and luckily the meeting with Rahul, my next Couchsurfing host, worked out pretty well.

Simon had given me his car key before he flew to Thailand, so that he wouldn’t loose it there and I could take care of it. After I lost our third car-key at a gas-station in Hungary, I managed to not find Simon’s key and forgot mine in the car after locking it. It is kind of an experience to break in your own car :)

Anyways, after staying at Rahuls place, Honey – also an Indian Couchsurfer, gave me the opportunity to stay at his place, while he was travelling in Nepal. It was great for me to have some time of my own and having the chance to watch every night from my bed how the same lizard hunts a cockroach half the size of itself – felt like national geographic.

Lizzard vs. cockroach

So I enjoyed being lazy on my own. Balwinder, the trainer of the Indian national-team made sure though, that I was doing at least something. He is this kind of crazy dude it needs to make a so far unknown sport more popular in a country. Without Balwinder, their probably would be no table-soccer at all in India. He invited me to visit one of the schools, where he teaches table-soccer to the youngsters. I had a great time playing and meeting new people, especially the enthusiasm and keenness of the little girls amazed me. They could barely look over the table, but had incredibly powerful shots. In a few years they definitely will kick(er) some asses.

Indian Table-Soccer Team & Stefan

The following days I became friends with Kiyan and Soniya, two Iranian fellows, who live and study in Chandigarh. With Kiyan I had one of my worst begging experiences. Together we were driving to a fast food place in the city. From where I parked the car to the entrance it was probably about 50 metres, but it took me more than 10 minutes to go there. Why? Cause I gave a begging mother at the parking space a little money and out of a sudden many mothers and even more of their little children appeared. Once they recognized, that I had given some money, they wanted more and the mums were standing in front of me, trying to kiss my feet while the kids went down to my legs, hugged them, so I couldn’t walk. I felt so uncomfortable, I didn’t want to get “rid of them” by force; but neither did I want to give them more money. Slowly I made it step by step to the restaurant where a security guy sent them away. This situation and many similar really pissed me of in India. Not because I was annoyed too much by the beggars – they simply do not have much of a choice – but the rest of the society, who is letting this happen. Most of the time the people beg in front of fancy places which are fairly well protected by security and police, cause obviously the companies in these areas can’t have an interest of letting beggars annoy their costumers. So I am pretty sure, that the local police sometimes is part of the begging-mafia, letting them beg and get a little share. And nobody in India seems to give a shit about this happening every day. Everybody knows that the kids often don’t belong to the women, who pretend being their mothers. Instead they are often kidnapped and together with the women forced to beg. And all this happens in the rich areas. So it’s like a crime which somebody is committing right in front of the public, but nobody does something. If a kid would steal something from me in front of a shopping mall, the people and police probably would intervene immediately, if a kid is forced to beg at the same place, nobody cares. I tried to find some organisations, which work against the begging-mafia – without success. Some friends told me that many influential people (including the police) are sometimes somehow involved in this crime. So it’s very hard and even dangerous for other people to change something.

To some happy news: Simon was coming safely back to India, although he told me some crazy “we got chased by a bunch of wild monkeys-story”. Totally exhausted, after two days without sleep and thanks to the monsoon completely wet we picked Simon up from the bus-terminal.

Picking up Simon in Chandigarh

I showed Simon around the town and we were lucky to run into 75 years old Narinder Singh, who’s self-setted aim it is – since 50 years – to show tourists his town and make sure that they don’t get ripped off by other Indians. He is honestly a great guy!

 With our helpful guide Narinder

After a few days in Chandigarh, it was time to move on, towards north and straight into the Himalayas. On our trip we took Isabell, another German girl, and the two Iranians Kiyan and Soniya, which then was the maximum of passengers our car had ever seen. After a whole day of driving we reached the town Shimla and managed to find a parking spot in between the tight mountain-curves. A little bit anger arose inside me, when a nice Indian dude seriously suggested us, that he could park our car in case we feel not able to do it. Yeah sure, we drove over 10000 km and I feel better when a random Indian dude parks our car – you just can’t offer this to a German driver.

Now to the monkeys. The most famous place in Shimla to visit is the monkey-temple. While some of you guys might assume, that a monkey is a cute little cuddle-thing (like on the picture below), Simon already had his scary experiences with these animals and we were just about to walk right into them. “Don’t were sunglasses, if possible” was the advice we got before. I had to wear my glasses anyway, so I had to be careful. The first face-to-face encounter was really funny, though. A monkey showed up in front of us and Isabell, who was very scared that the monkey would jump on her head to steal her sunnies, threw them without a reason on the ground. The monkey took them and walked away. I wanted to stand up like a man and walked towards the thief, claiming the sunglasses back. Not really impressed, the monkey jumped towards me, opened his mouth and showed his teeth. This was enough to scar the shit out of me, we moved on. Lesson learned: never mess with the monkeys.

Monkeymummy with child

Shimla – city of monkeys (see them on the roof?)

We continued driving, had our first and only flat tire, fixed it and showed our Iranian friends how to make a delicious barbecue on a self-made fire.

Fire

The next day we reached Kasol, a Hippie-village full with tourists but also surrounded with amazing nature, which we explored during a nice hike.

Tricky river-crossing

Playground

After Kasol we reached Manali, based on 2000 metres it is a very known place to refresh from the Indian summer for tourists as well as for Indians. We spoiled ourselves with European cuisine, which was fully available thanks to the attraction this place draws to western backpackers. Manali was all over with German bakeries, which strangely were all managed by Nepalese people. After we enjoyed the cool temperatures and familiar food we were ready for some adventures.

Our nice hostel in Manali :)

We did a helicopter-flight over some mountains and water-rafting with the German couple Christian & Heidi and Claudia & Stephan from Switzerland. This was pure fun. While some Indians on other rubber boats didn’t even paddle themselves, but had guides doing it for them (where is the fun about WATER-rafting then?) we paddled like hell, overtaking all the other boots and attacking them like in the good old pirate-time – just by splashing water at them. Unfortunately they never showed any resistance, seemed even to be afraid of the water (again, why then doing WATER-rafting?) It became a little less fun with these easy “victims”.

Helicopter

Rafting

Let the the anger out!

Pirate-Training

After these sportive activities Simon and me got stomach-sick again, just telling this, cause I went to the pharmacy to get coal-tablets which should stop the diarrhoea, but they accidentally gave me cold-tablets. I only figured this misunderstanding out a few days later… Although my stomach problems stayed, I at least didn’t get a cold the next days :) Our original plan was to leave Manali soon to drive all the way down to Goa, but thanks to the monsoon, which was hitting the Southern parts of India at this time, we thought the plan over and decided to do a long hike in the Himalayas instead. After a funny night of exiting planning, our dream-hiking-team was ready:

Christian, Stefan and Simon – will these amateurs make it?

I know our articles are very long and this one is certainly no exception, so better do a break now, cause the next story about our hike over the Hampta-Pass is wild and you might not wanna stop reading, once you started it :) The Hampta-Pass was probably the most craziest and exhausting adventure I so far did in my life, in retro-perspective also one of the most naive things considering the preparation we did (not) have before. Usually the Hampta-Pass should only be tracked during the late summer when the pass is free of ice. Somewhat experienced hikers should than need no more than 4 days to cross it, strongly recommended is a local guide. It was middle of June, so not quiet late summer and we thought we won’t need a guide. So it happened hat the 3 Himalayas-hiking-virgins of us packed our backpacks, bought a map, some food and just started. Our backpacks were amazingly heavy, filled with a lot of stuff professional hikers would probably never carry with them. I carried my fishing rod with me hoping to catch something in the wild rivers, figuring soon out, that there was no fish and my fishing rod might be the first one reaching an altitude over 4500 metres :) We managed the first day quiet OK. Starting at 2000 metres in Manali we caught some rain, saw a rainbow and found a skull of a monkey on our path, a little bit scary if we would have believed in bad signs.

Monkey-Skull

Rainbow

Getting wild.

Making local friends

The second day we left civilization. The last little shop we passed on the way in the mountains offered nearly nothing, not even water, but coca cola. Having not much of a choice we had one before going off the path – into the wild. After a long march Simon started to talk about beer and infected us with his thought, how nice a cold beer would taste now. Facing the fact, that we were surrounded by mountains already and no shop will be nearby, we tried to forget this dream. Then the miracle happened. We ran into a big group of Indians, who had a picnic in the nature and surprise, surprise, offered us some beers. Knowing, that we have a long way in front of us we took some and saved them for the night. A big fire, some beers, knowing we are the only people 5 km in each direction was awesome, especially in India, where these kind of lonely places are very rare. I guess we underestimated the influence, altitude has on the effect of alcohol, so that’s the only way I can explain, why we were already drunk after a beer each, singing songs and eating insects. Wait a second, eating insects? – well, we figured, that some insects liked our fire and came close, being drunk we played “Schnick, Schnack, Schnuck” the looser had to grill and eat the insect, it was not too bad and a little protein won’t hurt.

Dinner

Fire

The third day it went rough. We had to cross freezing cold rivers, saw the first ice covering some of the landscape, the thin air made me sometimes dizzy and it was nearly too high to find some firewood. Just on the other side of the river we saw some wood, so Simon jumped across the fast stream and threw the wood over it to me. When he jumped back, it was too deep, his body was in the water, just my hand was holding his, I managed to pull him out. After this action we were unbelievable cold and freezing like hell, fortunately the wood was enough to make a warming fire.

Simon (right) faces the Gletscher

Simon climbed a “small” one.

Man makes FIRE.

Watching the clear sky with its falling stars, we fell asleep. The fourth day started with a shocking moment – our Nutella was empty!!! We enjoyed the last bit and walked again through an amazing scenery – the most colourful flowers filling the grassland, contrasted by the cold,icy and dangerous looking mountains surrounding us.

Flowers

No trees at all, so in this night we tried our best to heat water for our last food – some noddles – with dry grass we found, not really successful I have to admit. We camped in front of the huge glacier we had to cross the next day.

Night in front of the glacier

View out of the tent

No food beside some biscuits left, we faced a scenery of ice. At the latest by now we recognized how amazingly bad we were prepared. No ice-axe, proper shoes, no ropes, I not even had gloves. However, at this point there was no way back and all of us were keen to “beat” the mountain. It was exhausting! Every 50 metres we needed to stop, trying to fill our lungs with some oxygen, the ice never seemed to end. Then we saw a steep rise, that must be the top of the Hampta-Pass, we assumed. We climbed on it and then there was this big disappointment. We were not there yet, another deep valley of ice was waiting in front of us, followed by an even bigger wall of ice behind it. Somewhere we picked the last pieces of energy together and managed to climb on the pass.

Warming up.

Into the ice

The glacier

 … against small human

You see somebody?

With my hands, knees and feet on the ice I robbed the last metres up, one second not concentrated I lost my footing and slided about 50 metres down. It was not dangerous, there were no ice-cracks, but to motivate me that I can do it again was hard. I held my hands in the sun, trying to warm them up before I have to put them in the freezing ice again. I saw the clouds already coming closer and knew, that it gonna be super-cold in a few minutes. I made it, we made it – we reached the top of the Hampta-pass. A few seconds later we couldn’t see as far as 20 metres, a big cloud made us loose any orientation. And it got cold. Climbing so far with the sun shining, we just worn shorts and T-Shirts, now it felt like 5 degrees and we changed into winter-dresses. I mentioned, that we had no food left, well, that is not the whole truth, I had hidden a Snickers and a Twix for the top which I took out while looking at the happy faces of Christian and Simon as they recognized. So we made it to the top, but as most hikers might agree with me in this point, going up is mostly easier than coming down. Same in our case. We guessed our way down the Pass and just faced steep glaciers and sharp rocks.

Last energy…

 …activated

On the top – no sun.

Where is the way down?

Be careful, it’s steep.

What a view.

Finally we saw a glacier going all the way down into the valley. No rocks seemed to be in the way, so we thought, sliding down this glacier might be safer than climbing down somewhere else. With a lot of adrenalin in the blood we slid down, awesome, the fastest climbing down of my life. We made it safely, luckily – I don’t wanna imagine, what could have happened if we wouldn’t have been so lucky with the weather. However, still alive but without food we were lucky once more and ran into another group. 4 Guides took care of an Indian couple, they had pure luxury. Their guides even carried a whole Pineapple over the Hampta-Pass, crazy. When we told them our story and that we didn’t had a guide at all, they were a little shocked. They shared some of their food with us which was awesome. Although I didn’t fell asleep with an empty stomach, I still was dreaming all night long of my Grandmothers good old German food, yummy. The last day in the wild, there were a few though obstacles left for us. At first a super-cold river, we had to cross, were our feed hurt so much thanks to this ice-cold-liquid. Then we had to pass another river, which was too deep to cross it by feed, luckily we found some ice covering the river and walked over it. I was very afraid, after 6 day my legs felt already like gum, it was not too steep, but if you slide accidentally on the ice and you fall into the water, you are definitely dead. This knowledge in my mind didn’t really help to make me feel more comfortable. Luckily one more time, the guides we met last night saw us and helped us over the ice, holding my hand like a dad bringing his son to school – but at least it was safe :) A crazy bus-drive later, we finally reached civilization again, spoilt us with good food, a beer and fell asleep like babies.

Made it down

If you slipp or slide, you die :-)

Yeah, we beat it.

Back to civilization

This was No trees at all, so in this night we tried our best to heat water for our last food – some noddles – with dry grass we found, not really successful I have to admit. We camped in front of the huge glacier we had to cross the next day.the Hampta-PASS, I can just recommend to everybody, just do it with a guide or have to be in very good condition or as lucky as we were. After this adventure it was time to leave Manali and go on to Dharamshala, the exile of the Dalai-Lama. On the way their we saw 6 accidents, pigs eating marijuana-plants, a girl throwing up out of the bus, driving in front of us and cows lying everywhere on the street. These were more less the highlights we saw, before finding a room and falling asleep exhausted from the stressful driving. The next day we figured out, that the Dalai-Lama was giving a lecture, which is very random, cause most of his time he is travelling. So we made sure that we get “tickets” and had the ambitious goal to play on our table-sosccer with him or at least get a signature. Soon we noticed, that this is nearly impossible, he was protected like a president and private appointments without advance reservation were not allowed. Our reaction on this information was a kind of protest in from of his temple, we build up the table-soccer and played against several Buddhist monks, unfortunately the Dalai-Lama didn’t come out for a game.

Buddhist monks liked our game

Just the Dalai-Lama was missing

We left Dharamshala and drove back to Chandigarh, were we met our friends Honey, Manpreet and Aman again and had the honour to challenge the Indian national-team. The crazy dude I talked about before – Balwinder – organised everything including 4 journalists asking us many questions about our trip. Then the competition began and first we played on our table and surprise surprise – we won against 2 team-members of the Indian national-team, yeah, what a victory.

Practising with the kids 

The last days of our trip had already started and we still had to drive all the way to Mumbai. First spot on this odyssey was New Delhi. We just had one night there, but this night was crazy. Arriving at night we found a quiet parking spot close to a school and decided to walk a few kilometres through the city to the famous Indian Gate. Everywhere poor people slept on the street, than we saw a fight, 3 people beating up a guy, lying already on the ground, many other standing around just watching. We didn’t know what all this was about, but the three attackers went crazy, smashing a glasbottle over his head and the most crazy dude then took a huge flagstone, lifted it over his head ran towards the victim, willing to smash it over him. We stepped in between and held him back, then they ran away. I never saw something like this before, they seemed to be willing to kill this guy. Although he was bleeding and crying he seemed OK, so we went on (calling an ambulance or police doesn’t work like we are used to it in Germany, so we didn’t do it, also he didn’t want it), saw another fight between people and barking wild street dogs showing aggression towards us. Puh, what a night walk. After playing some table-soccer with school-kids, we left Delhi the next day towards Agra, where the Taj Mahal is based.

Dude sleeping in Delhi

Simon vs. Local

Schoolkids playing

Yeah – GOOOAAL!

In the streets of Dehli

How we get the table-soccer into the Taj Mahal? This mission seemed to be very difficult, cause the security standards got much more strict after several terrorist attacks India has faced during the last decade. We tried very hard, building up the table in front of the entrance, but no way, we could not get inside. We decided to just leave it outside, so that the people can play while we having a look inside the Taj, sounds simple, but all Indians around us (30 or more) told us, we can’t do this, it’s dangerous, people will destroy it or steal our game. OK, so just one of you guys is watching the table-soccer while we have a look at the Taj Mahal? – again, not possible. It was a sad to see, how little these Indians trusted their own people and that nobody had the guts to just look after our game for 20 minutes. Frustrated we just left it there. The Taj was nice, but still just a building. We we came out, the table was still there, just that somebody had stolen the ball.

Not giving up on a game in front of the most famous sight of India, we drove across the river to have another try picture Buddhist playing We made it, although the police was not amused seeing us play in front of the Taj. We didn’t care and met amazing people. We played with a local Guru, who signed our table and gave us one of his books. Afterwards we even got invited from some Buddhist people, gathering there and I had the unique opportunity to discuss with them, why it is not even right to kill a mosquito (Buddhism says, you should not kill any animals/insects etc; I said killing mosquito did not matter)

After this nice experience the last big trip was waiting for us – 1500 kilometres to Mumbai. It started good until we got trapped in the city Gwalior – without no map or any clue, how to get back on the highway, it took us about two hours just to find a way out. All the people we asked for the way told us different things. If you ever are in India and not sure if an Indian actually knows the directions your are asking him for, either stop asking suggestive questions or make a test asking absurd stuff which is what I did. I asked the Indians how we get to Berlin or Munich and they just pointed in one direction, shaking their heads and assuring that this is the right way. That was the point we stopped asking.

We drove two days and one night, the monsoon started, everything got flooded, then we reached our final destination – Mumbai. We had to organize a lot of stuff for the shipping of our car back to Germany, but found some time to play a few more times on our table. We went into the Dharavi-Slum, a slum in the middle of Mumbai, which became famous by the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” that was partly shot right there. Once we built up the table the kids got wild, pushed each other away to play and started spinning the hell out of the soccer-poles. Soon, more than 50 kids were watching the spectacle, each of them amazingly enthusiastic. It was not easy to leave the place, but I am pretty sure, the kids and we had a good time.

The next day we drove Bernd – our car, who served us as a reliable comrade for more than 17000 km – to the harbour and parked him in a shipping container, where he was waiting to go back to Germany. We had our last match against curious harbour-workers and battled us One-on One for the last time. Bernd got a beer-shower, the container got plugged – that was it!!! Simon flew back a few days later, while I went on to Bangladesh.

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