Loves Bangladesh India

"111 reasons to love India"

India has long been considered the epitome of mysticism, a foreign place of longing that has always sparked the imagination of travelers, seekers of meaning and writers.
India is much more than just a country. On an area almost ten times the size of Germany, it is more of a separate continent full of diversity and contrasts, with countless languages, peoples, philosophies and religions.

When I first set foot on Indian soil, I was barely prepared for what to expect. Because India is no wonderland full of enlightened ascetics and probably never was. The myth of India has always been exaggerated in the West, there are only a few countries in the world that we have so many images in our heads and actually know so little.
India is a constant challenge, sometimes extremely arduous for the solo traveler to travel to. "Mother India" does not reveal her treasures at first sight. The traveler must first learn to find his way in a world that functions completely differently, to embrace chaos, to expand his patience considerably and to meet the unexpected and bizarre with humor. Only the curious, who surrenders to India and tries to penetrate it, a second glance opens up between approach and alienation, which opens up an instinctive, sometimes absurd love for the contrasting country.

Recently the image of India in the world has changed fundamentally. In the last 25 years in particular, market liberalization has ensured that capitalism has hit India with full force and that materialism has massively gained in importance. While India was briefly seen as a competitor to China on its way to world power, as the upcoming IT giant and with its call centers as the center of the global service sector, the focus in the world has shifted more strongly to the major problems of India: The rural population remains in great poverty, the lack of land reforms prevents fundamental development. The rural exodus is becoming an ever greater problem. For many people there are hardly any opportunities for advancement. The caste system has been officially abolished since the founding of the state of India, but has had a massive impact.

Women are seriously disadvantaged in Indian society; the old traditions, such as the Kamasutra, are frozen in a prudish, patriarchal attitude that encourages or even justifies violence against women. Female fetuses are still being aborted for fear of the debts the family will have to save as a dowry for the wedding. Many families therefore only welcome sons, only they can support the family later. In rural regions where there are hardly any toilets, women have to relieve themselves on the edge of the fields before sunrise. Rape happens again and again. The disadvantage of women is a central problem in Indian society.

The enormous population of India and the consequences that arise from it are always noticeable. As I said, children still play a major role in pension provision - a social system is hardly developed. In the 70 years since India's independence alone, the population has increased by almost a billion people, an incredible number! Almost every sixth person living on this earth today is an Indian. The population density is thus well above that of Germany and just below that of Holland. However, areas such as the Himalayas and the Thar Desert are sparsely populated. People mainly cluster in the cities of the plains. Due to the large population, the ecological problems are also growing steadily. Environmental protection cannot keep pace with economic development. So far, the ailing infrastructure has prevented it from becoming a global economic power.

It would still be wrong to reduce the country to these problems. Even if India does not make things easy for the newcomer, it is worth exposing yourself to. Because there is so much to discover. It is important for the traveler to find a balance and, after strenuous forays through the densely populated and stimulus-flooded cities with their streets and markets bursting at the seams, to indulge in peace and quiet in smaller oases. It takes a lot of time to process what you have experienced. The less populated regions of the high mountains and the coasts in the south offer relaxation. So Goa became one of the longing places of the hippies, and the flair still attracts tourists from all over the world to the relaxed beaches. But there are also pristine spots - no wonder with a coastline of over 7,000 kilometers.

 

 

In India you can admire testimonies from many epochs. From one of the first advanced cultures in the Indus Valley to the Buddhist Ladakh in the far north, the gardens and magnificent buildings of the Mughals, the palaces of the Maharajas, temples, churches and mosques of Hindus, Jaina, Buddhists, Parsees, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs or the legacies of the British colonial rulers.

The cultural highlight of India is certainly the city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges. Nowhere does the view into the innermost part of the Indian soul reach deeper. Here the striving of the devout Hindus for the accumulation of good karma and the hope for redemption from the wheel of rebirths and the entrance into moksha (analogous to nirvana) becomes particularly visible.

 

 

But my experience with India was mixed. And so, when I received the offer for this book, I asked myself: Do I really love India? Is it possible to love India at all - especially in view of its extreme contrasts and the blatant injustices that still prevail? Even if I don't really like the word: Perhaps in my case I should have to speak of a "love-hate relationship". As I said, India is not an easy country to travel to, even experienced travelers are always surprised. India is completely unpredictable which is what makes up a lot of its appeal. The often improvised Indian everyday life offers plenty of bizarre things - I often shook my head, then a broad grin played over my lips, fascinated by the unreal thought that what was happening before my eyes actually had to be from this world: I met Sadhus, the "holy men" who told me fervently about Bruce Lee and how I could awaken the inner tiger, I drove in junk-worn buses on breathtaking roads that defy description.

 

 

 

 

Wherever I got there were tugs waiting to take me away. Sometimes it was very difficult for me not to get infected by their bustle. At a completely overcrowded intersection in New Delhi, I saw a huge elephant majestically striding across the street. The ascetics on the streets are just as omnipresent as festivals and religious processions: For example, on Diwali the whole country is illuminated with candles, on Holi everything and everyone is bathed in color. The many independent regional kitchens, which differ considerably from each other, are part of the fascination of India: To this day, the smell of a freshly prepared Masala Chai makes my heart beat faster. Life in India is constantly seething, it is difficult to penetrate and difficult to grasp with your senses. India is an addicting drug, but one should be careful not to overdose.

I chatted with India for a long time, it wasn't love at first sight. Sometimes it made me despair, the next moment it appeased me, and a little later I thought I was back in the most beautiful and unusual country in the world.
In my case, I put extra weight in my backpack: I had quit my apartment and got out completely to look for my own way - the departure for India was charged with hopes and fears and an existential search for a happy life. It was a difficult experience at times, but in the end it was a tremendously educational and horizon-broadening experience.

On this first major trip to India, I had originally planned to travel entirely by land, but the potentially revolutionary events in Iran in 2009 had thwarted my plans. So I drove via Austria, Italy and Greece to Istanbul and from there I had to fly to New Delhi. But one day I will make up for the overland trip to India.

My first trip in particular was a disaster in many ways. No sooner had I arrived in India than I got involved in a windy travel agency with hardened professionals, who very cleverly persuaded me to travel to Kashmir. After eight days of horror, including coercion and threats, I traveled tense and almost traumatized through India without indulging in the much-needed peace and quiet in one of the oases. I drove overstimulated in rickety buses through the Indian plains and the overpopulated cities, sometimes I felt like I was in a tumble, as if I was being swept through the subcontinent. India was too loud for me, got too close, robbed me of sleep, drained me and sometimes brought me to the brink of nervous breakdown. In the beginning, I was particularly unsettled by the penetrating stare that many Indians practice. This curiosity is a blessing and a curse, it enables uncomplicated encounters, sometimes it robs you of any privacy. At the British triumphal arch, the India Gate in New Delhi, the young Indians behaved like true paparazzi and took countless snapshots of me.

I was particularly shocked by the ubiquitous poverty. To be followed over long distances by a pleading beggar who pulls on clothes and complains of his suffering is difficult to bear. Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with the misery, hope, despair and trust in God of the disadvantaged. Of course one can understand the slums as places of hope; with which the newcomers from the country come - attracted by the few success stories of those who have returned. But one should be aware of the catastrophically cramped and inevitably unsanitary conditions under which people have to live and that only a few actually make the hoped-for ascent into urban society. It is not easy to distance yourself from misery without being ignorant. However, it is crucial to learn quickly, to say clearly "no" and to avoid situations that threaten to slip away. At the beginning I was not able to do that well enough, so I had to pay the hardship.

I was also very saddened by the devastating environmental pollution. The smog of Delhi destroys the health of its residents, the industrial areas with their unfiltered exhaust gases defy description, many rivers are completely polluted and poisoned, the garbage stinks to the sky or burns at the roadside and from there spreads the acrid stench of burning plastic. The emerging Indian economy is hungry for cheap coal. In the mines in and around Dhanbad, the seams have been burning uncontrollably for 100 years under the poor dwellings of the miners, who are always in danger of being symbolically torn down into a pit of hell along with their very existence.

Society's awareness of the environment and the catastrophic working conditions is increasing only slowly. India is on a rapid move into the modern age. Nevertheless, it will be decisive whether the rural population can be given a share of the prosperity and the rural exodus can be stopped. But in modern India, the interests of industry are often put above the rights of the indigenous people. This development has led to a little-known civil war between insurgent Maoists and the government in eastern India.

But the encounters with locals, inn owners, sadhus, beggars, fellow travelers, traders, officials, self-appointed leaders, aspiring business people showed me different perspectives.

 

 

Moved, I followed invitations to other people's living rooms and to pujas, talked to total strangers, was naturally fed by locals when I was traveling, I only rarely experienced rejection. But especially at the beginning, the farmer catchers, neppers and crooks in the touristically significant places strongly distort the impression. A healthy level of skepticism and inner calm are extremely helpful in busy places. It is particularly important to take time out from time to time in rural locations or by the sea!

 

 

And although on my first trip to India I thought of breaking off my long-awaited trip, I was at the same time full of curiosity about what to expect. India was a frenzy of colors and smells, every corner offered discovery, every foray was a walk through the centuries, nothing seemed too crazy to not really happen. Everything could be improvised, yes, had to be improvised because something was constantly breaking. This unpredictable force hypnotized me and opened up a completely different, often surreal world that I instinctively began to love. At every intersection I wanted to indulge in thousands of impressions and let my imagination wander - if everyday Indian life wouldn't require all of your attention.

I have often perceived India as a large mirror that shook my convictions and forced me to deal with myself even more intensively. The culture shock that India caused on every trip was enormous. But even when I returned to Germany, I hardly felt any better - Germany suddenly seemed quiet, almost sterile. As much as I valued cleanliness, I missed the cows on the streets and everyday Indian life, which never stands still, even if I often found that to be unreasonable. But after returning I missed the background noise and the unpredictability of everyday life in India.

So I returned from India just two months after my first departure. Two more trips followed, mainly into the mountain world of the north and along the Ganges. The long lonely hikes in the remote mountain regions of the West Himalayas shaped me particularly, always followed by strenuous stages in buses and trains through the plains and the heart of the continent to relaxation on the tropical beaches and craggy rocks of the Arabian Sea.

 

 

I spent a total of a year in India and read everything I could get my hands on since I made the decision to travel to India in 2008. I have always been particularly interested in "old" India. I am generally skeptical of the uncritical belief in progress that has spread around the world. For some, my view of India may be overly critical in some places. I, on the other hand, would feel that it would be a deception for the reader to only pick out the good things. It is precisely the contradictions that make India such an exciting country.

Of course, it makes a huge difference whether you experience India as part of an organized tour group or as a backpacker and what budget the traveler has. As part of a tour group or with a competent guide, you can travel much more relaxed. However, my perspective is that of the solo and individual traveler. I rarely traveled with company, but sometimes I found a place where I wanted to stay longer and used the time to share experiences in India with other travelers. Otherwise I let myself be driven through the country, sometimes I was driven more. This is certainly the most exhausting method of traveling to India, but it also enables many direct insights and encounters that the package holidaymaker often misses, and that are even shielded from him.

Every time I need my time to get used to the deafening noise of the cities and streets and the intensity of everyday life in India. Then my head begins to "wobble" in the Indian way, as if by itself.

I would now like to take you, dear readers, to India, which has enchanted, disturbed, attracted and repulsed me, an encounter that will shape me for the rest of my life. And my next trip to India is only a matter of time. There is still so much for me to discover, especially the east of the country I want to get to know better. But the focus of this book should be on the people, religions and cultures of India, supplemented with their own experiences.

In the following weeks I will introduce you to five reasons to love India that are particularly close to my heart.

“111 reasons to love India” was published by Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag in Berlin and has 336 pages. Premium paperback with two colored picture parts.

 

Oleander Auffarth

Boundless curiosity about foreign cultures and the search for a new essence for myself and the world drew me to India in 2009. Since then, I've been addicted to travel and the magic of search.

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