People with metal pots full of holy water

Kawarias

Nearly two years in India, and there are still religious festivals I’ve never heard of. At the moment, thousands, if not millions of “Kawarias” or devotees of Lord Shiva fetch water from the Ganges River, which is believed to be sacred.

It is the month of Shravan, so they actually trek bare food (or in trucks with loud blaring music) from their towns and villages in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to the river. Most of the devotees try to get to the Haridwar Neelkanth Mhadev Tempel to fetch the “ganga jal”, and then walk (or drive) back to their local Shiva temple, carrying the often decorated metal canisters on their shoulders. Back home the water is offered, that means poured over a phallus symbol, called the lingam.

Our photographer says never before has he seen so many people on the road for this pilgrimage. The routes are dotted with tents, where volunteers provide food, water, medicines and a resting place. National highways are closed so the devotees can trek along, these days everywhere saffron robes can be seen. “There are too many people who have nothing to do, really, so they go on a pilgrimage,” the photographer added.

For why exactly the devotees are undertaking the journey, what the purpose is – for that I didn’t get a satisfying answer. As always when I stumble upon religious rituals and ask: Why?

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Why Delhi can’t use its sweeping vans

A man stood in the middle of the road, a shovel in his hand. He worked on a new lane, which was a little darker than the rest of the tarmac. Repeatedly, he walked up to a heap of a mix of tar and pebble, put something on his shovel, walked back, threw it on the ground, and tried to level it out. No roller, weighing tons, to solidify the sticky mass, no level, for a smooth surface, no measurements.

flyover in front of my colony

Since then, the ride over the flyover in front of my colony is even more bumpy than it already was. In fact, Delhi’s roads are so potholed that according to this article, the municipal corporations had to take their mechanical sweepers off the roads.

28 of these big vans were bought into the ciy only three years ago, but the machines, developed in Germany, didn’t work in India: the tarmac is too uneven, many parts of the roads constantly dug up, cars parked everywhere, heaps of sand and bricks for construction sides, and so on. Also the garbage dumps on footpaths, which appear everywhere in the city, were not removed.

The result: After the high-tech sweepers went through a road, manual sweepers had to clean up behind them. Now the expensive machines were put to rest.

One place, two worlds

In the midst of nowhere in Rajasthan, somewhere behind Alwar, lies one of the sought-after Heritage Hotels. A fort from the 14th century had been transformed into a palace for royal experience. Every stone there exudes luxury. Or, in the words of the hotel’s PR guys,it is  a “monastic spaces to detox you from the world”.

So I sat on my balconies, one of them being in a bastion with only shooting-slits to see the barren land outside, I swam in the pool, ate regional delicacies in AC cool rooms, listened to Rajasthani folk music in the lush gardens, and watched the stars from the rooftops.

The scene changed immediately when I stepped out from the fort early the next morning and wandered through the fields. Water buffalos dozed next to one-story huts built from bricks, women cooked in the open spaces before them, or washed clothes at the hand pump, men were sitting or sleeping on charpoys, kids ran  between heaps of dried cowshit and stacks.

When I came to a field where women were cutting buffalo fodder, they put their sickles aside, came over and started questioning me relentlessly. Curious, they wanted to know what I had stored away in my bag, and took one strange item after the other out.

They tried the fan, the earplugs, the cream (which they thought was whitening), the lip balm (but were disappointed when it didn’t colour their lips red), the pen, the lighter – and laughed a lot. When one put on my sunglasses, she removed her scarf, and straightened her hair, before I was allowed to click a picture.

Hand in hand, them carrying heavy loads on their scrawny bodies, we finally walked over to the village, where a plastic chair was organised from somewhere, and I was placed next to a group of men for some talk. As my Hindi is very limited, I excused myself pretty soon, and started climbing the hill (which was the original idea for the morning walk).

While coming down, I was greeted by more than 40 kids – called together from every nook and corner of the village, I suppose. They not only ran after me, but also shoved me, pawed and groped me, and even made some sexual comments. None of them being older than twelve (and looking like nine), I guess.

When it all became too wild, I walked off, but they followed me. Until a villager, who’s buffalo was scared of the mob and threatened to tear the rope it was leashed with or even the pole that hold it, intervened with all his authority and told them to get lost.

Nearly two years in India – and beleaguered by children for the first time.

Where is the news?

I somehow got accustomed to the fact that the front page of many Indian newspapers often is occupied by a full size advertisement. The second one, too, of course, screams some brand name in colour, so the third page (or at least the upper half) carries the most important news (or the ones most money was paid for – see for example here). But today I found also page four and five covered in ads. Except for one little news item that stood its ground.

Maybe this was meant as a riddle. Who can spot the article?

Times of India news

Three ways to arrive in Delhi

There are three ways to arrive in Delhi, the travel author Helge Timmerberg writes in “Shiva Moon”. “The dead cheap version, the horribly expensive version, and the «La Sagrita».” (the bumpy translation obviously is my work)

He explains: “The dead cheap one is in proximity to the train station and costs five dollars per night (in fact, it can be even cheaper, but maybe he gets cheated every time, even though he claims he has been in Delhi 100 times). The room has a small balcony towards the street, where people sleep and dogs bark and cats roam. It isn’t clean, but the staff is nice, and they organize warm beer, no matter when you arrive.”

Timmerberg continues: “The second way of arriving in New Delhi, is the «Imperial». The most beautiful hotel in the world, a mixture of Mogul and colonial, maharaja and officer, turban and crown, elegance and might.”

The third option is always fully booked, Timmerberg says. Always.

As my temporary roommate had read the book before coming to Delhi, we decided – after we had already explored the unnerving Paharganj area next to the New Delhi train station after his arrival – to venture to the «Imperial» for his departure drink.

Timmerberg gives no further advise on how to conduct oneself in the – we have to admit – truly astonishing palace. (The author drinks three Gin Tonic, then likes the receptionist behind the mahogany counter, therefore books a room, but then doesn’t describe the best corners of the lavish building further (maybe he has a headache). He only mentions his discomfort of constantly having to tip everybody.) (<- stupid guy: tipping is not necessary in India, fewest of all for the guy who twirls his mustache at the entrance)

Anyway, my roommate and I ended up spending the evening in the «1911 bar», with leather chairs, period portraiture, stained glass roof and wood panelling.

There even was a saxophonist, but he was on the other side of the huge glass window, inside the restaurant. No one was sitting there, and he was apparently not allowed to come over, as we had soothing lounge music, so he just shrugged his shoulders and left.

1911 bar

500 varieties of beverages in the «1911 bar», and no one to – exept us – to sample them

 

 

What a sad hospital

What a sad hospital, where flowers are not allowed.

What a sad hospital, where flowers are not allowed.

But other than that, the Appollo Hospital in South Delhi is pretty impressive. Staircases are spot clean, the receptionist knew what she was doing, and I didn’t have to wait for a minute. The central hall feels like a mixture of shopping mall and the waiting area in front of gates at an airport.

Except for the huge pharmacy, of course, which had a perfectly organised system, where one gives the prescription at one of five counters, gets a token, and can collect the medicine some minutes later when the number is announced electronically at the cash counter.

When a man on the counter next to me didn’t stand in the two-people-long line, but walked up front and made some space for himself at the window next to the first one in line (as most people would do anywhere else in Delhi), the guy who’s turn it was told him to stand in queue! And the bold one apologised!!

World Cup final in the Embassy

There is no publicity option the current German Embassador to India would miss out on. So when the German football team reached the World Cup finals, he opened the gates – literally.

40 minutes before kickoff, a huge crowd had assembled in front of the main entrance to the embassy. It was by invitation only, but someone must’ve sent out a lot of invitations. The head of the press department stood in the middle of it all, his nerves at breaking point, constantly exclaimed there were 80 TV camera teams already inside. Many of them going live.

Whoever was wearing a tricot, was sure to be captured.

Whoever was wearing a tricot, was sure to be captured.

Seemingly over-worked embassy staff tried to form a line out of the throng at the gate, first on the right side, then on the left side, but failed. Some of them hectically went through the printed invitation lists to tick off names, but while finding one person, twenty others had made their way past them already.

Nothing was moving really. Reason being: The ground has a double door, with a thoroughful security check in between. Only one door can be opened at a time. Normally, passport details are taken down. And mobile phones are not allowed inside.

In Germany, we call live  public screenings of football matches "public viewing" (with exactly these English words)

In Germany, we call live public screenings of football matches “public viewing” (with exactly these English words)

But that night nothing was normal. When the embassador came to the gates and saw for himself, that under no circumstances would the crowd be inside in 40 minutes, he weighed the options before him: On one hand a PR disaster, which surely would feature in all the national media, already assembled at the place, as the Germans – with the organisation skill predicate attached to them – couldn’t handle a crowd of a few hundred.

The other option included a security risk. He chose the latter and declared the doors open – while the security staff stood stunned next to him, their head shaking in disbelieve.

Kickoff was at 0.30am, so many people were hungry again after they have had dinner

Kickoff was at 0.30am, so many people were hungry again after they have had dinner

Once in, everybody was munching away the Sauerkraut and Wurstl and Berliner, while grabbing as much drinks as possible. Because during the semi-finals, the embassy ran out of beer ten minutes into the match. Only after a while they again had managed to bring boxes of non-cooled, different German brands (from god knows which cellars in the embassy or staff living close by).

To prevent this, the embassador announced on the mic we should go easy on the beer. Otherwise it wouldn’t last the whole night.

Lucky us, it did. The rest was joy.

a happy lot of South Asian Correspondents

a happy lot of South Asian Correspondents

 

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