How we finally got back home

First, the air condition stopped working. Then the bus went kaput.

Not because it was old or we rolled onto nails or someone ran his car into it – but because the drivers forgot to stop at a petrol station.

At this point of time, we had already been sitting ten hours in the bus. It was supposed to bring us from Escape Festival at Naukuchiatal back to Delhi – a distance of mere 300 kilometers, which my german, autobahn-thinking mind calculated at 3 hours.

But the roads more often than not were either congested, too small for the bus to pass through, in repair, detoured, or very hilly. So most of the time we only crawled along.


Initially the bus was supposed to leave the festival at 8am, so that everybody could dance through the night, pack the tent and then stumble into the vehicle. But when I woke up at 8 in the morning, no one else was to be seen around the camping site. And the few figures I could make out somewhere in the distance didn’t seem to be keen on dismantling tents (only by falling into them, maybe).

So I went back to sleep. At 9am, Franzi and I stepped out to have some breakfast. At 10am we saw other living creatures. At 11am, some news about a bus leaving soon arrived. At 12pm we hopped onto a bus. Not the one we were supposed to be in (for festival goers), but the one for the organisers and musicians. But at this point of time, we didn’t mind anymore.

All went well then, we had lots of breaks for food and chai and smoke, even though we were allowed to smoke in the bus – so to say. If it was allowed, I have no idea, but you know: artists.

But hen, suddenly, the bus rolled onto the side stripe. The road was already wide here, only 35 kilometers before Delhi, with two heavily trafficked lanes in both directions.

One of the three (!) drivers set out to fetch petrol. With a plastic bucket. When he came back, he had already lost some of the liquid on his way. More was spilled as the men tried to fill it into the tank without having a funnel. One of the musicians helped by halving a huge plastic bottle with his swiss army knife.

It turned out we still couldn’t start. Because it wasn’t petrol but diesel that the bus was swallowing – and driving a diesel engine to the last drop isn’t a good idea. So the three bus drivers opened the cover lid and pottered about the motor. To no avail.

Then they came up with the idea of push starting. So the 50 or so musicians and painters and “project” people went out into the night to test their muscles. We got the bus rolling – but the engine wouldn’t start. We tried again. And again.

When we pushed the huge bus for the fourth time or so, someone called: “Wait, there’s no driver!” But it was too late. The bus crashed into the guard rail, and Franzi could only safe herself by leaping backwards over this very rail.

We had enough. Luckily, the second bus (in which we actually were supposed to be) had arrived by this time and stopped behind us. Frantically we fished for our luggage in the belly of the bus and tried to get away from the cursed machine as fast as possible.

As the second bus was also filled up with people, plus all their luggage, it became a little cramped. But we didn’t mind, smoked some more, got the guitar out and sang.


Parrots on the Catwalk

smoking“Do you guys want to walk the ramp?”, he asked. Franzi and I looked at each other – and laughed. We’re no models, that’s for sure. But apparently we didn’t say “no” decisively enough to the catwalk idea, because half an hour later he came back with the fashion designer in tow. So we ended up being listed for the show at the Escape Festival.

We presented clothes from the Indian label Bhootsavaar – “cool, funky and very edgy”, as the designer describes his dresses, jackets, shrugs and tunics himself, for “youth who are energetic, rebellious and free”. Prominent feature of all his designs: colours. At least under UV light.

Among all the rebellious looking tags and quirky shirts that were lying on a bed in one of the houses at the lakeside, everyone of us chose two sets. Then we got painted and sprayed and dabbed to match the energetic clothing. Glowing mascara, shining lip gloss and bright hairspray definitely were our most important utensils this night.

The show was postponed over and over again and our tensions rose sky-high. Finally the last puff of hairspray was administered, another head gear with wild horns distributed, and more and more instructions given on how to line up, how to move, how to look. Finally the music set in and we started walking.

coloursLuckily the catwalk that was announced never was built. So we made our way through the people on the dancefloor, moved eccentric to the beat and enjoyed the space between the colourful lit sail above our heads and the grass under our feet.

Food for thought by designer Nitin Bal Chauhan:

“There are some who spend hours cracking a riff,

while others who can’t stop their feet when they listen

to a beat, a few who can spend days locked up watching

flics, while others who wait for hours to capture a perfect

click. There is one who ponders for days to write a line

that can release and another who practices endlessly to

paint a stroke that helps him express what he feels.

Each individual has a passion, which helps him express

himself, touch freedom & experience madness.”

under UV light

Escape the City!


View from the “Soul Garden Stage” onto the lake


“Escape is an idea that promises to take you far away from the routine, … , the mundane, the expected, and the ordinary,” the makers of the Escape Festical promised us. And it was true: For a few days, Naukuchiatal at the foothills of the Himalayas became out escape.

Surrounded by like-minded souls and picturesque mountains, Franzi and I discovered all kind of expressions of art: live music (Reggae, Jazz, Ska, Rock from different corners of India), electronic dance music (at the aptly named “Magic Forest Stage”), short films, photographies, paintings, fashion designs, hairstyles and so on.

A festival wouldn’t be a real festival without tents no one understands how to set up, fellow campers who always have a beer at hand and some nature, this time represented by a group of bold geese and a cat that is everyone’s pet and loves to sneak into the tents and surprise the unaware.

As most of the Indian people we asked at the festival site couldn’t swim, Franzi and I set out alone in a pedal boat to explore the lake. A corner of the water body, with a lovely jetty, became our spot to sun bath and play backgammon.

Our relaxing point looked serene before we came – but when we took off our clothes and showed the bikinis, all of a sudden there were rowing boats and pedal boats everywhere. So we escaped again and took shelter under some low hanging trees.


peacock Kota

Once this was a Maharaja’s palace

n-IMG_3165Nowadays Umed Bhawan Palace is a heritage hotel in Kota with massive rooms, and by massive I mean more than ten meters high and also at least ten meters on each side. The bathrooms alone are the size of what you would get in a standard room in any modern Hotel. Once this was the palace of the maharaja of the region and his descendents still live in one of the wings. The walls and decorations scream grandeur everywhere – and also screaming are the dozens of peacocks that live in the garden and forest around the beautifully carved sandstone building. Such a pity our money only lasted for a coffee and a beer.

Lotus Flowers


Men’s work, women’s work

equal pay

Here the men are handling the machines and chisels and are definitely sweating more than the women who are carrying away some broken stones every now and then.

But according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) India is among the bottom 10 countries in the world in terms of women’s participation in the economy.  An average woman’s pay is less than one-third of the average man’s pay in India in the corporate sector.

As with so many other injustices in this country, there actually is a law aainst it. The Constitution recognized the principle of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ for both men and women, and ‘Right to Work’ through Article 39(d) and 41. But I heard of a European company which –  despite the fact that in the home country, employees get the same wage for the same work and qualification -, here in India doesn’t do the same, but hands much more money to the men. Because, according to the manager, it would go against cultural norms and traditions if they would apply the same principles.

Swaping the hammer for a pen

school in mine area

More than half of these kids had been cutting stones when they first came to this school at the age of seven or eight or nine. If the age, that was given in the forms, is correct. But who knows. Most of these kids, daughters and sons of migrant workers in the mining area of Kota, have not been born in a hospital. And no one bothered to note down the date. If someone present was able to write.

They helped raising the income of their family. For one cobblestone the families gets Rs 1 and a family might not be able to cut more than 150 stones a day. This amounts to not much more than 2 Euros. The houses are mainly made out of the solid stone that is abundant in the region, but lack everything else. No electricity, no water, no toilets.

stone quarry

Can’t be overlooked: child labour

Even before we reached the mining area out of Kota in Rajasthan, we saw two boys, maybe ten and twelve years old, handling sand with a shovel and bowl. They did road work – not for some exploitative business man, but under a government scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This scheme guarantees rural people unskilled manual work for one hundred days every year for which they get Rs. 120 per day. But until I saw these kids I thought the scheme only applied to adults.

Not only did they – migrants from another part of Rajasthan who lived in tarpaulin tents in the midst of this dry and barren land – work for a central government road and no one cared. Also there apparently wasn’t any inspector to check on all the kids that worked the stones in the mindes and on the rubble, sitting just meters away from the highway, their hands holding chisel and hammer instead of pen and paper.

On tracks and on the road

The people in my train to Kota weren’t the only ones moving along the tracks. Others walked back and forth the rails like being on a well-trodden path, they crossed here and there not heeding the danger, relieved themselves on the banks and hanged their clothes on the pillars that supported the cables.


fit to drive?

When I reached the dry heat of Rajasthan, I boarded a small car we and off into the wilderness on a national highway. The banks of that paved road often were broader than the tar – but it was just wide enough to accomodate all the families on the way to the next settlement, plus the broke-down trucks, and the women who walked miles to fetch water. Furthermore the children who, bottles and tiffins in their small hands, were on their way to work in the stone quarries or beween the mountains of rubble, to break cobblestones.

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