No Reporterglück

Journalists often have something they call Reporterglück, which translates into reporter’s luck.

Something like when a tram was stuck forever in Hamburg – and my former Chief Editor, Wolfgang Büchner, was inside and able to email a picture of people in the dimly lit wagon to us, so we could sent in on the wire (here).

But sometimes reporter are not lucky at all. Like I was today. Here’s the story.

There is a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh called Ramnagar, in the District of Mainpuri. A man who is accused of raping a women in Delhi in his taxi, booked via Uber, grew up in this place.

Indian newspapers reported that everyone in the village knew that the man was roaming around, harassing and raping women, but no one did anything, except of telling the women to stay indoors when he was visiting. (here)

It was also written that a women who claims was raped by him had to leave college and was married off because of the crime against her. Another of his victims apparently wanted to report him to the police, but they told her not to file the case. (here)

In a frenzy, I decided I had to go there. So I looked it up on googlemaps, (and was pleased to see a river close to the place pointed out, as I had seen a river bank in one of the video interviews with the parents of the accused), booked a cab, roped in an interpreter, and off we went.

According to google, it would take us 3 hours and 49 minutes to get there. According to the taxi company, it would take 5 hours. It took us 8 hours.

When we reached the pin on my map, it was pouring. We hopped from one tea stall to the other, where villagers were waiting for a spell in the rain, but only got vague answers. Finally we made out a direction, and continued on the ever narrowing road, between fields full of blooming mustard, cow chips, and hay stacks.

After asking around at more tea stalls, and families gathering on the veranda next to their buffalos, and women at a school, and a man with a tractor, we found Ramnagar. But there, no one knew the man we were looking for.

It dawned on us we were in the wrong place. “Is there another Ramnagar?” we asked. “Many,” we learned.

One, we were told, was close to Chhachha, where we drove next. There we heart it should be more like towards Fatepur. Or back to where we came from?

By that time, my colleague in Delhi had figured out that the Ramnagar we were looking for falls under the Elaau police station. So we called the officers up, and were directed somewhere.

Which turned out to be false again.

Even though we had started at 7.30 am, it had gotten dark by the time we were sent from one point to the other – just to locate the police station. Let alone the village.

So we called it a day.

Needless to say googlemaps failed again when we tried to get to our hotel in Agra. It gave the wrong place, and navigated us in such a back lane, that the car grounded and could move neither forwards nor backwards.

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for us.

Veg jain meal or veg raw meal or hindu meal?

A fruit salad, another fruit salad, a presumably soy pancake with hot fruits and a bread bun with fruity jam was what Lufthansa presented me as the vegetarian breakfast on the flight from Delhi to Munich. Why this didn’t include eggs or milk or yogurt or butter I don’t know. Maybe they just have one option for all kind of vegetarians and vegans and people who eat kosher or halal and are lactose intolerant.

Air India, the loss-making Indian flagship carrier, does it exactly the opposite way round. When you book a flight, you can choose between a

– bland meal

– children’s meal

– diabetic meal

– fruit platter meal

– gluten intolerant meal

– hindu meal

– infant meal

– kosher meal

– low calorie meal

– low lactose meal

– low salt meal

– muslim meal

– veg hindu meal

– veg jain meal

– veg lacto-ovo meal

– veg oriental meal

– veg raw meal

– vegetarian vegan meal

If you now think it can’t get more interesting (and time-consuming) while booking a flight, surf to the webpage of IndiGo. There, after choosing your meal, you also have thea “Karma Option”, with which you can “share a pie to help children in need”. I would have guessed these children need a roof above their head or good schools or rotis and fruits, but no, pie is what they get, if the (often fat) middle-class has a heart to click.

IndiGo also has a “Clean The Air” option: “Reducing the carbon footprint by funding low-carbon initiatives in villages”. Okay, I thought, this sounds reasonable, let’s contribute something. But I wasn’t allowed to do so: Only Indian flyers can clean the air, the option is not available for foreigners.

Stranded in India

I went to the Delhi High Court today to help as out as an informal interpreter. And to give moral assistance. And also because my journalistic instinct was awaken when I heard the story of this man. And I just couldn’t believe what was happening.

An 80-year-old German went to Kenya last summer for a safari. In a group of friends, he travelled around, saw a lot of wild animals, and enjoyed his time. One evening, when they were all sitting together with the owners of the guesthouse they were staying in, one of his German’s companions asked what weapons they use in self-defence in the savanna. A rifle was shown. A cartridge was handed over as a present.

The holidaymakers went back to Germany. Half a year later, in the middle of January, the old man and his wife boarded an airplane to India. The couple landed in Mumbai, flew over to Jaipur, and later on to Delhi. Never during all these flights did anyone complain about the live cartridge that was still stored away in the luggage.

But when they wanted to leave India on January 29th from Delhi, they were stopped at the gate, shortly before boarding the flight. The luggage had to be opened, and the munition was found. So the two had to stay in India, while the airplane flew without them. For eight hours, they were sitting at the police station.

The next day, the 80-year-old’s wife flew home. (The cartridge was in his wife’s suitcase, but he is the man. It’s not atypical in India for the senior men of the family to shoulder the responsibility for other family members. Whenever I fill in a form – for example to get access to the High Court today – I have to give my father’s name. There even is kin liability: Last year a girl in Mumbai posted a negative Facebook comment about a politician, and members of the politician’s party got angry, and what they did was not to harm the girl, but to destroy the girl’s uncle’s dental clinic.)

Anyway, the octogenarian stayed back – and that without knowing any English. He also had a heart surgery scheduled two days after his planned landing in Germany, which he missed. When he was complaining, he was sent to doctors in Delhi instead. But they either knew German but had no clue about hearts, or they were heart specialists but didn’t know any German. So he refused to examined there, and booked himself a room in the posh Leela Palace instead.

But the nice lodging doesn’t prevent boredom. The old man feels he has seen every corner of Delhi now. And he tried to reach out to every German person living in the city – with success. as someone (not the embassy!) finally found him an interpreter, and others help him passing the long days. 

The case is now dragging on for nearly three weeks already.

UPDATE: It is the 6th of March, five weeks after his scheduled flight, when the 80-year-old finally arrives back in Germany. According to a local German newspaper, he had to go to Court eight times, then he was so fed up that he pribed a policeman to get his passport back and flew out illegally.

Snowboarding in Gulmarg

We were greeted by incredible powder, when my cousin, her boyfriend and I reached Gulmarg, which is considered to be one of the best ski resorts in the Himalayas.

We plunged into the deep snow, skidded around, walked through the small village, looked up into the sky for a sign of weather change – and had innumerable snowflakes fallen on our faces.

The second day, we rented snowboards. Because there actually was too much snow – 1,5 meter of fresh powder, I would say – the gondola remained closed. So we hired a guide and a pick-up and ran down through the foggy forest to Babareshi and Tangmarg several times, to be brought up in fun, skiddy rides again. But the whole day, it kept on snowing.

And then, finally, the morning we left, the sun came out. Sigh.

How to keep warm in Kashmir

People in Kashmir’s mountains have to keep themselves warm in long, chilling winters. So they carry around a basket full of hot charcoals, known as Kangdi, and fit it underneath their long, woolen coats. The basket is either hold around the stomach or the back – an extremely effective heater, I was told. But is it safe?

scene in Tangmarg

A scene in Tangmarg, where tourists have to change from normal cars to jeeps in order to reach the ski resort Gulmarg. The ride uphill is nearly as much fun as downhill, as there are no cars with 4 wheel drive and some go with just one (!) snow chain

Sad Story

This is the story of a fellow couchsurfer. A lovely and creative guy, a part-time student und full-time poet, a young man who likes to talk calmly – and therefore maybe a good victim.

I found him one morning on my rooftop terrace. Neither of us knew how he got there. When I asked him questions, his mind was working so slow it was something else than the sleepiness that was holding his thoughts back.

Turned out he went to the tourist spot Red Fort the afternoon before. Someone befriended him. They had a drink, and my couchsurfer swore black and blue he opened the can himself and never put the drink out of his reach.

But something must’ve fallen in it. Because he instantly fell asleep in the park where they were sitting. And when he woke up again, his bag with camera, purse, passport, smartphone and my keys were gone.

The next hours, he tried to find a police station. But due to his sedative state of mind, he never managed to see one, even when the auto rickshaw drivers pointed them out. How he paid the drivers and how he finally came back to my place, remains unknown. Even his climb on my terrace is a miracle to me.

One more weird thing: From his phone, someone sent a message to his mother in Singapore, saying the bag is at a particular police station. A remorseful thieve? Turned out he wasn’t. The bag wasn’t there.


A visit to the widows of Vrindavan

Difficult task: Peace concert in Kashmir

press conference

ambassador Michael Steiner (m) after the press conference

Zubin Mehta and the Bayerische Staatsorchester (Bavarian State Orchestra) will give a peace concert in the crisis-ridden Indian part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. I’m really curious what kind of people are going to comprise the audience, especially if, how the german embassador to India, Michael Steiner, put it, “people from all walks of life” are going to come.

One of my concerns is: What they will do if there is a bandh, meaning a complete curfew, as there are so many on so many days in Srinagar? Will the orchestra still play in the Shalimar Bagh, Mughal Gardens, with hardly anyone listening as travelling on the streets might be impossible?

Other questions also arise. According to the official statement, Steiner said (he actually didn’t read it out this way, but anyway): “Music is a universal language. Music connects. With the magic power of music, crossing geographical, political and cultural borders.” But what kind of boarders – can this music actually cross the India-Pakistan border, when people can hardly get to the other side? Will the normal, “all walks of life” people from Pakistan really be allowed to come over for the concert?

For me there is also the problem of how to cover the event. I’m not capable at all to write about the musical skills when listening to the works of Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky. So do I focus on the conflict between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, who have fought two of three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947? Or the communal and religious tensions in the Indian part, which over and over again turn into violence?

Jaipur & Amer @TheMonsoonFestival

On the second day of our “Monsoon Festival”-Trip, the early hours of saturday belonged to the morning darshans at the Vaishnava temples: Govind Dev ji, Radha Damodar, Vinodilal and Gopinath ji, where we saw countless devotees who offered marigolds and roses, sang devotional songs, threw themselves on the floor, got Prasad from the priest and passed it on to others. (for a veeeery colourful online pooja at Govind Dev ji, click here).

Then we further explored the city, went shopping in a lane full of metal work and another one full of bangles, where I had a paper egg exploding on my head so that green powder dusted me – festival of Holi all over again.

In the afternoon light we saw the beautifully restored Jal Mahal, a pleasure palace in the serene artificial Mansagar Lake, built around a rocky island. A few years back, the lake was a waste dump and the palace neglected, with crumbling walls and a jungle growing on top of it. Now the light yellow walls and chhatris are shining again, the hallways are beautifully decorated, and the huge rooftop has been re-transformed in an impressive marble garden with carved niches, trees and scented flowers.

Built 300 years ago by Jaipur’s founder, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. as a festive gathering place for the royal family, it is now supposed to be open to the public for the first time. But it still wasn’t in August when we came, as some infighting is going on and the permission hasn’t been granted. But we, thanks to our guide Himanshu, could already ferry across in one of the animal barges and get a glimpse.

Amer, the capital of the Kachwahas until Jaipur was built in 1727, was the last stop on our tour. We gave the impressive fort a miss and explored the impressive temples and old royal houses. My favourite: a baoli or stepwell still in use, with monsoon water naturally flowing into it and young people bathing in the water as their ancestors might have done it hundreds of years ago.

Bye, bye Bhutan

prayer flags

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