What do Chennai people envy about Bengaluru
Three weeks of traveling in Northern India felt like a journey into another world - full of challenges, experiences and, above all, new friendships.
First stop: Delhi
It started with a long train ride to Delhi. The trip in the 3AC class has less charm than the sleeper class with the open windows, but the further north we drove, the more grateful I became for the closed windows and the blanket to snuggle up to. On the morning of my third day of travel we reached Delhi. I wanted to take advantage of the twelve-hour stay and have planned a decent sightseeing program. Since my connecting train was supposed to leave from another station, I kept my luggage with me: a very bad idea for a walk through India's capital, as I discovered later.
Before I could start, however, I had to put on two layers of clothing, because I was no longer used to temperatures below 10 ° C.
Thanks to the metro card from my new fellow volunteer at TOM, which he generously lent me, I could take the metro quickly and easily and began my tour of the Lodhi Gardens. Very peaceful mornings and there are many monuments from the time of the Lodhi dynasty to marvel at.
Overall, I was very impressed by the multitude of monuments and historical sites that you can marvel at in Delhi. A big difference to Chennai, whose relevance for culture- and history-hungry tourists stagnates somewhere at the lower end of the scale.
My way led me on to Humayun's tomb, also an impressive building, although I restricted myself to the external view.
Meanwhile, the dragging of my suitcase was getting on my nerves a lot and I decided to make my way to my departure station with a stop at India Gate and to deposit my luggage there for the afternoon.
Since I left, I felt constantly stressed out for fear that something might be stolen from me again. Also, the thought of traveling this far all by myself made me quite nervous.
My worries were not entirely unjustified. At the rather overcrowded India Gate, a group of girls in school uniforms walked behind me and thought it was quite funny to unzip my backpack without my noticing at first. So it's high time to stow my luggage safely.
However, “just getting my suitcase to the train station quickly” would be an endeavor of several hours. I did the math without the capital city traffic and was stuck in the bus for two hours. Then the ticket seller noticed that the bus was not going to the train station and started an excited discussion with the driver at the other end of the bus. This would also make the other passengers aware of me and I would be stared at from all sides. Finally the bus stopped at the roadside, I was kind of thrown out and someone showed me the way to the train station. At least I guess, unfortunately I don't understand Hindi. Thanks to modern technology, I arrived at the train station on foot half an hour later and was pretty exhausted.
On top of that, I wasn't so sure about the safety of my luggage at this station either. A rather seedy place and the thought of waiting here for my train at 10 p.m. didn't exactly amuse me.
Nevertheless, I decided to go to Old Delhi and have dinner on the famous "Parantha Wali Gali" street Parothas and finally to see the Red Fort. Sitting next to me in the completely overcrowded restaurant were three young people with whom I had a conversation. One came from Delhi and the couple was visiting from northeast India, the so-called Tribal States. In the end they invited me to the Parothas and we went to the Red Fort together. On the way, with foresight on the shopping streets of Chadni Chowk, I bought a hat and gloves that I should hardly take off in the coming days. I was very grateful that my spontaneous acquaintances also had the same route to the metro station and that I didn't have to walk around alone as it got dark. It is quite possible that my insecurity came only from me and not from external circumstances, but society has calmed me down a lot.
From the metro station it was still a bit to the train station and numerous TukTuks as well as cycle rickshaw drivers were waiting in front of the station. I had never seen this before in India. I vaguely remembered a debate about banning human-powered rickshaws, so I hesitated at first to address the intrusive rickshaw drivers. The curiosity won out, however, and in retrospect I found out that the profession of "rickshaw wallah" is only illegal in some Indian cities, as it is considered a backward and inhuman relic from colonial times.
It was getting colder every hour at the train station, and apart from a headband and gloves, I had no clothing suitable for these temperatures. Meanwhile there was a WhatsApp discussion between the seminar participants, whether we should take the narrow-gauge railway through the idyllic landscape to Palampur, the next largest town from the Sambhaavnaa Institute, or take a taxi from the long-distance train station in Pathankott. Allegedly the train route would be very nice but a bit risky due to lack of maintenance. I finally decided to go with Kavya, another participant, in a taxi that her parents had booked in advance. For the simple reason that I was terribly cold and wanted to take the opportunity to get warm clothes on the way. I doubted whether it would be worth it for two weeks in the north, but I soon discovered that these jackets and sweaters were a very worthwhile investment.
The comfortable taxi and also the restaurant, where we stopped for a breakfast break, should already be the first clues to the social class in which I would frequent the ten-day seminar: wealthy (and somewhat spoiled) students from the more expensive universities in India. Admittedly, we have a similar financial background. Despite our different countries of origin, we were pretty similar in terms of our standard of living - and in the course of the seminar we were often confronted with our privileges in an unpleasant way.
Second stop: Sambhaavnaa Institute, Kandbari
In total we would be a group of 26 participants, mostly law students. One participant came from Afghanistan and one participant from Sri Lanka, so luckily I wasn't the only one with no knowledge of Hindi. The Sambhaavnaa Institute is a political educational institution and offers seminars for all age groups. I felt very much at home on campus. Plastic waste is only allowed in emergencies and then disposed of in our own incinerator. The organic waste is used to fertilize your own beds and fields. The food comes from our own cultivation and our own cows and chickens contribute at least part of the animal products. The in-house jam and tea that grows wild on the premises can also be bought. The houses are made of mud and cow dung - and have no heating. So we wore our winter clothes day and night, even if the sun shone quite strongly during the day. The constant cold caused frustration for many - but thanks to the last-minute shopping I was well equipped and enjoyed to the fullest not to break into a sweat every time I moved. To be honest, I had the feeling that after months in the heat of Chennai I could finally breathe deeply again. That's why I was probably the only one who could always get up to "Shramdaan" early in the morning. Shramdaan - literally translated as "donated work" - should on the one hand offer us the opportunity for fresh air and exercise on the long seminar days and on the other hand we should get to know the physical work on campus. So, for example, we chopped wood and dragged stones for the floor plan of a new building.
The food was another highlight for me. There was alternating filled parothas or roti for breakfast and rice and rotis for lunch and dinner. It also felt good to know where the vegetables in the Sabzjis and curries come from. Another highlight was the amount of tea we consumed in the three daily tea breaks. On the last day I was with one of my closest friends from the seminar in Palampur and brought samosas with me for the “good souls” from the kitchen, which I was thanked for with a reserve pack of the tea I picked myself. So now I can always think back to the days at the Sambhaavnaa Institute while drinking tea in Chennai. My high opinion of the food was not shared by everyone: after just three days the first complaints came: too one-sided, not spicy enough ... Some have got used to eating chicken, momos, pasta and pizza in the only café in town in the evening .
Against the background of the seminar topics and the personal stories we heard from the speakers, I found this fussyness to be pretty brazen. The title of the winter school was “Nayi Dishayein (New Directions) - Rethinking Development“. So it should be about the term and our current understanding of “development”. It is mostly associated with progress or prosperity, but who really benefits from economic development and what consequences are hidden behind it? Since weltwärts is a development volunteer service, I was already familiar with a few of the topics from the preparatory seminar in Münster. But in India they have a completely different relevance and there are even more problem dimensions.
The seminar started with an exercise called “Privilege Walk”. Each participant takes on a role, represents a group in society. For example, I was a single mother in my mid-30s. All participants line up at a starting line and statements are read out such as: “I can freely decide which job I want to pursue.” “I feel safe when I go out alone at night. “Those who agree with the statement can take a step forward, those who do not take a step back. In the end, a rough picture of the social structure of a society emerges: who is at the front, who is behind? I already knew this exercise from Germany and it was exciting to compare the results. Categories such as caste, religion or gender have a completely different status and professions such as latrine cleaners or garbage collectors in India do not even exist in Germany.
In the following days, units on environment, caste, gender, nationalism or social movements were on the program. Sometimes I was quite overwhelmed. For most of them, it opened up a new perspective on well-known topics - I had never heard of these problems and topics. Whenever we have heard films or lectures in Hindi, someone has always tried to translate, but it has still been difficult to follow. Even if half of it passed me by, I've already learned an incredible amount. In addition to lectures, we also approached the topics with games and group work and films. The trip to a hydroelectric power station was also exciting, where we - or rather my Hindi-speaking group members - also interviewed the local population.
We had a tight program from morning to late evening and little free time for community activities, but I still made incredibly good friends over these ten days. In the end, every night was like a big overnight party among friends and I enjoyed to the fullest to really socialize with people again. My apartment will seem even more lonely to me. In any case, I will keep fond memories of all acquaintances and will miss the joint tea breaks, film evenings and a walk to the small river on the edge of the campus.
Third stop: Amritsar
Fortunately, my journey did not continue on my own right away, because then I would have been quite helpless. Piyush, a political student from Delhi, had the same idea as me and wanted to end the year with a short trip to Amritsar after the seminar. Our bus left at 4:45 a.m. on December 31st. At the bus stop, all those waiting had gathered around a fireplace. The bus was of course too late, if only I would have panicked a long time ago and I wouldn't have been able to ask anyone for information in English.
We reached Amritsar late in the morning. Piyush wanted to stay one night at the hotel while I wanted to stay with a Couchsurfing host for three nights. I was a little nervous about living with a complete stranger, but from the start he made a very positive impression. He picked me up and at home his mother made tea for me and I was able to take a warm shower. He also had plenty of tips for things to do and of course the best food in Amritsar.
I had arranged to go sightseeing with Piyush and with a bit of luck we got the last bus that afternoon to the Wagah border - the border between India and Pakistan only 25 km away. The city and the street were completely overcrowded thanks to New Year's Eve. A unique spectacle awaited us at the border: The large border gate was opened and the soldiers on the Indian and Pakistani sides perform a symbolic dance duel before the respective flags are brought down for the night. The spectators sit in large stands and are constantly called to patriotic battle cries.
After dinner I could understand why the food in Sambhaavnaa was criticized as "boring". The filled “Amritsari Kulcha” (yet another type of bread) in the Bharawan Da Dhaba is heavenly and an explosion of flavors.
For the first time in my life, I deliberately went to bed before midnight on New Year's Eve, because Piyush had the fantastic idea of getting up early in the morning and watching the sunrise in the Golden Temple instead. The Golden Temple is the largest sanctuary of the Sikhs, a religion of around 25 million people worldwide. Half of them live in Amritsar and the state of Punjab. I felt guilty about having to wake my host at 5 a.m. to unlock the gate for me, but the temple experience was well worth it.
Due to the New Year, the temple was mercilessly overcrowded and believers who wanted to visit the actual, gold-plated main temple in the center of the complex had to stand in line for at least four hours. So we limited ourselves to exploring the temple complex around the temple pond. Although we couldn't see the sun rise properly due to the fog, it was a spectacular sight to see the temple fully lit in the dark and then at dawn. Then we went to the Langa for breakfast. In this large hall, rows of people sit on carpets on the floor and get chapathi, dal, curry and then rice pudding from voluntary helpers on the plates. Everyone is welcome to help out in the kitchen, serving food or washing dishes, so Piyush and I took the opportunity to start the new year with a good deed. We washed plates in a large hall for an hour and then got tea.
After spending almost five hours in the Golden Temple, we went to see the Jallianwala Bagh memorial. Thousands of people protesting peacefully were shot dead by the British army in this park in 1919. The background of the massacre and the subsequent events up to the independence and division of India can be understood in the Partition Museum. Even if, as a foreign tourist, I had to pay 25 times as much admission as Piyush, this extensive and beautifully designed museum was very worthwhile. We surprisingly spent almost three hours there and were quite hungry afterwards.
We satisfied the first hunger with a lassi, also a specialty in Amritsar, and then again had a delicious lunch in a dhaba. Then we had to say goodbye as Piyush wanted to take the bus back to Delhi.
In the afternoon I continued my exploration tour on my own and went to the rose garden a little outside, in which I did not see any roses. On the way back I walked through the market district and once again I was thrilled by the large selection of vegetables, fruit, spices, fabrics, shoes and sweets.
For dinner, I met my host and his friends in a restaurant. He was also friends with the restaurant owner, so we got a place of honor in the restaurant. Everyone was a bit upset that as a German I don't drink beer, but I think they all drank a beer for me.Accordingly, the evening would be fun and long and I was quite overtired when we got home. However, I then talked to my host for a while and he told me a lot of funny anecdotes about his couch surfing experiences, but also the rather personal story of his arranged marriage and the relationship with his wife and children. For such private insights into a practice that is so incomprehensible to us, I sometimes do without a few hours of sleep.
However, my sleep deficit made itself felt when I woke up the next "morning" at 12 o'clock. So after tea and a warm shower, my host and I drove straight to lunch. Another specialty of Amritsari cuisine wanted to be tried: "Bheja Fry" is the sonorous name for roasted lamb brain. After two weeks without meat, it was of course a tough start. But it was nice to go out to dinner with someone who knows good meat dishes. In Chennai, due to my predominantly vegetarian environment, I am not that familiar with the “non-veg” cuisine.
Then we went to Sadda Pind (Punjabi for "Our Village"), an amusement park that recreates a typical Punjabi village from the 20th century. There are demonstrations of Sikh martial arts, there are rides, and free snacks are available on every corner. The highlight are the authentic, traditional houses of the fictional villagers and the workshops of the craftsmen: You can watch a carpet weaver at work and make clay pots yourself.
The final highlight of my last day of travel (excluding the two-day train ride) was dinner. I will definitely miss the North Indian cuisine, but on the other hand I'm also looking forward to Idli and Dosa again.
The next day I had to shiver a little, because my train to Delhi was delayed due to the morning fog. Finally, I got my connecting train there and was able to spend the last 36 hours of my journey comfortably with Netflix and my e-book.
Last (and least) stop: Chennai Marathon
When I returned to Chennai, another journey came to an end: my path as a runner in India. Since the beginning of my weltwärts year, I have tried to prove that it is possible to do sports every day in India and to earn kilometers running. Despite the heat, despite the stinking "beautiful" running routes, despite the reservations about girls and sports. But who did I have to prove that to and why? The pressure and stress that I felt in the past few weeks was really only from me. For fear of returning from a stay abroad as fat, unsporting Sarah. I have received so many compliments on my weight loss and at the same time I have been warned that I will gain weight in India. But do I really feel better since I'm thinner and who should mind if I put on weight? Actually, when I lost weight, I got a little more into exercise and diet with every pound less and, in addition to losing weight, I also lost vitality and optimism. In Germany I was able to go through with the running program, but I underestimated the burden of moving and the climate in India. For the first third of my year abroad, I have "persevered" with running in India and have proven to myself that it is possible, but it's just not fun.
That's why I'll try it for the next third instead, having fun and then decide what I think is better.
The Chennai Marathon, which I registered for the half marathon distance some time ago, should serve as a successful conclusion. After three weeks without running training due to my trip, I was really worried that I wouldn't even make it to the finish line, but more than exceeded my own expectations and achieved a time of 2h 18m. I take this symbolic time as a further sign that I should leave running behind in 2018.
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