We have visited quite some places in India, but it all started in Delhi. And Delhi, what a dump. No documentary, no guide, no book, no previous experience of any friend has prepared me for real life Delhi.
How different it is when you are in the middle of it versus being told. When you stand knee deep in poverty, surrounded by noise and desperate people, street kids that walk around like Zombies from sniffing glue, the smell, the constant movement, the smog and THIS CHAOS. Rough cities in Vietnam or Taiwan are like Switzerland in comparison. Sounds good, show me more
Especially after polluted Delhi, RishiKesh is so very nice nature-wise. Beautiful lush greenery, split by the crystallic clear and clean Holy Ganges, perfect Trekking tours, with the Himalayas as a backdrop and the air quality as pure as in the French Alps (or close enough).
What a nice break from busy Delhi you would think. And you are right, if it wasn’t for the army of Space Invaders in this place.
In Sanskrit Pushkar means blue lotus flower. A small town of barely 15.000, easily overlooked amongst all the other, more familiar sounding places in India on the map, but not for Eva. She wanted to go so we went. We found that instead of Space Invaders, cows are roaming the streets and camels the nearby desert.
Both often make for better company and a far more pleasant sight.
Take a look
Amongst all the places in India, Mandawar comes in 2nd best in our travels so far. It’s just a very different style to what we have seen and it really is a beauty of its own.
Mandawar, is located in Radjasthan, was founded in 1756 and has a population of about 25.000. It is best known for its Havelis,- mostly traditional townhouse, mansion or merchant buildings from ancient times, that are decorated with paintings. The word Haveli itself is arabic, meaning “partition” or “private space”. And while I’m aware this all sounds as exciting as a bible lesson in 4th grade, I was
really surprised of Mandawar’s appeal.
Damn Udaipur, just how beautiful you are.
So very bold in your colours.
So likeable in your poverty.
So humble, almost shy about your treasures,
So rich in your mix of cultures, mirrored in your sights, sounds and food.
So perfect with all your little imperfections.
What a beautiful, beautiful place you are.
In Mandawar I was talking to a Dutch guy who was obsessed with India. He came to the country for the past 8 years and had one of these heavy motorbikes from “Royal Enfield” that you can see in every Indian city. I asked him, if he had to point out his favourite place in India, his absolute Must See, what would it be? Without hesitation he said Kochi. So Eva and I booked a flight for around $30 to go there from Udaipur. Funny thing is, there was absolutely nothing remotely interesting to see in Kochi. Nothing!
Ok, but I wanna see it anyway
The one good thing about Kochi was that it is close to Alleppey and while Alleppey itself isn’t particularly exciting, from there you can do Backwater trips and our Homestay Host did organise this nicely. I also had my first Volunteer job in Alleppey:
For hours and hours picking mangoes from a mangoe tree at 40C, while fighting off Furious Indian Jungle Mosquitoes (FIJMs).
Eva had to go back to Germany for a couple of weeks, but before that and in anticipation of the long flight, we decided to have a week of quality time at the beach, eat seafood and maybe do some Meditation and Yoga instead of roaming the streets in the heat.
Varkala is perfect for this. It has a gorgeous beach, it is off-season, meaning less tourists and everything was just a bit cheaper, from the already cheap prices.
This way to the beach
is like a snake that is slowly shedding its skin and I can’t help but wonder if the old skin is not to be preferred.
It feels like a city in transition, transitioning into something eerily familiar and known, maybe losing a bit of its character in the process like so many cities in the west have done before.
And yet there is so, so, much to like about Mumbai with its respect and safety for women, its creativity, the beautifully diverse population, full of unique characters and some insanely intense areas.
Mumbai – Inside Dhobi Ghat
It took me more than one hour to understand that it’s worth taking it slow when entering the world’s biggest open air laundry.
Coming in from a crowded-signature-Indian-train-ride, all hyped, it’s just the wrong state of mind to be in and amongst all the places in India, for once I instantly had the feeling that I wasn’t welcome here.
Dhobi Ghat with its wet, slippery and narrow corridors, you want to walk around in slow, predictable movements to not be in the way. Try to blend in and don’t criss-cross people’s ways. Be aware of your surrounding so you can adapt. Acknowledge and respect the people of Dhobie Ghat and take yourself out of the picture as much as possible is what I’ve learned in a nutshell.
Mumbai – The people of Dharavi
When I read, that Mumbai was host to the second biggest slum in all of Asia, the third biggest slum in the world, with a million people crammed into less than a square mile and being one of the most diverse places this world has to offer, I really wanted to see it. I just wasn’t sure how to approach Dharavi.
How best to enter this massive slum and how would it spit me out in the end?
Eva was still back in Germany and in my head, I was convinced that if I get lost in this slum, well, that would suck. Most pictures I got back when I searched Dharavi on Google simply didn’t boost my confidence. Big area, dark and narrow alleyways between run down shacks, an overcrowded, unknown territory and no idea about the slum’s vibe.
Mumbai – Dabbawalas – Feeding Mumbai
[A guest commentary by Eva]
It’s noon and you are on the streets of Mumbai: If you see a guy with a white shirt and a little white hat, packed with loads of bags, frantically pushing his way through the crowds – You better get out of his way.
He’s got a reputation to live up to. About 5,000 Dabbawalas are roaming the streets of Mumbai every day. Delivering lunch boxes to workers at their offices. Nearly 200,000 boxes a day, it is said.
Let’s see how they are doing
Dharamsala – McLeod Ganj
It’s funny how you sometimes imagine a place to be and then you go there and good old reality kicks in.
The beauty is, when the place manages (after some time) to be that place that you imagined it to be all along.
Dharamsala is such a place. Only better.
We are back in Delhi, where it all began and we will be leaving the country tomorrow for Thailand, where access to the country we are really interested in – Myanmar – is a lot easier and cheaper.
I have arrived in Delhi, this taxing city, exactly 3 months ago, pretty much to this day. Eva has arrived here 4 months ago and given the places in India we have seen since, we can now say that we have at least scratched a tiny bit of the surface of a great, great country. A country that is so very different everywhere you go. It really is like a 1000 countries in one.
That we stayed a lot longer here than we had planned, says a lot already. But despite its beauty and hospitality, let’s not gloss over the incredibly annoying things that also make India. These are not many, but the ones that are there are intrinsic and persistent and worse maybe, there is little hope that they will stop or change anytime soon.