Friday, March 10, 2017

Driving in India

In Europe, the basic unit of traffic is the lane. Here it's any space big enough to squeeze into, at any speed, without making the next vehicle brake too hard. It's ok because people honk madly while they do this. It's also ok to make a U-turn on a divided highway and going against traffic. All this in a mêlée of cars, huge overloaded trucks, bicycles, pedestrians pushing carts, cows, farm engines pulling big bulging loads, ox carts, tuk-tuks, and everything in between. For extra excitement, there are often vicious speed bumps and pothole fields.

At night, most cars and some trucks have rear lights. The rest relies on bicycle reflectors, or a guardian god of their choosing. In the case of gas tankers I hope it's a premium god on 24-hour duty. Twisted wrecks lie on the side of the road, or are stacked in piles. And in case you are wondering: the first truck really is leaning, and the truck with the broken axle is loaded with as many butane gas cartridges as would fit, and then some.

Hill Station

Britain is an often cold and wet island somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean, and that is how the British like it. So when they find themselves ruling a place like India, where temperatures can get close to 50 degrees C, they build hill stations up in the mountains. One of the largest ist Mussoorie, a long village stretched along a ridge with great views of the valley to the south and the mountains to the north.

At the western end is the Library, now a little shopping mall, and in the east is the Picture Palace, now a games arcade. I was wondering how they get so much honking traffic onto Mall St, which connects the two, but I am told it's actually quiet now. The place really fills up in May and June when the lower altitudes heat up.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Once again I am in the Himalayas, my favorite mountain range. Not the high peaks, these are a long way to the east, but today's trip took me to Chambra at 2000m. It's a long narrow road along the edge of the mountains that consists only of curves.

Chambra itself is a nice town, but I was lucky to get invited the a small village a hundred meters down a steep and narrow footpath. I got the grand tour; everyone in the village is related. Everything here is 300 years old, low pleasant houses built from wood and clay with no concrete anywhere. The view of the fields in the valley and the steep mountains around from the front porches is glorious. The houses rest on a ground floor tight was once use for animals, but is now storage. All the doors are very low.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Home of the Hippies

Rishikesh is a town further up on the Ganges. The town has a split personality: the larger part is a fairly generic busy town full of markets and honking traffic, a narrow footbridge over the Ganges connects it to the smaller part built up a steep hill. The bridge is not too narrow for motorcycles because nothing in India is too narrow for motorcycles, but the other side is still mercifully quiet.

This is stereotypically India. Long-haired barefoot hippies, who have elsewhere mostly died out, study yoga and meditation in countless little ashram hidden behind large advertisement signs in the narrow alleys. Not sure how legit this is - they also offer quick courses to become a teacher. Big business.

But up from the top of the town, there are good views of the Ganges and the hills. I am approaching the mountains now.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Gate of the Gods

Haridwar means Gate of the Gods. It's a town on the Ganges, up the mountains where Ganges water is still clean, in eastern India. At the ghats - waterfront stairs - people go swimming in the holy Ganges because it's a shortcut to Nirvana, i am told. The river is flowing so fast that people hang on to chains hung in the water. There are almost no tourists, I have seen six today, but vendors of plastic canisters to take holy water home, official-looking people insisting on voluntary donations, and all sorts of sadhus - holy men - selling holy smoke or just pictures. A number of sadhus with bright orange faces, looking like a Chinese Monkey King or Trump or both, have hit on the racket of dabbing red powder on the forehead of anyone not ducking fast enough and charging for it. Haridwar is very clean, which cannot be said for all Indian cities, and beside the ghats seems to consist of narrow market alleys filled with people and madly honking motorcycles. On sale are mostly religious items like arm rings, starues, and colorful powders. Hindus have 33 million gods, but the most conspicuous one here by a wide margin is blue-skinned Shiva. They even have a 26 meter tall statue on the riverside. Sorry about the small pictures, here it's much easier to get a connection to Shiva than to the Internet.