Continuing the five and a half week expedition we grab a local bus from Arambol to the city of Mapusa and another bus from there to the city of Thivim. We have a few hours of wait there before our train leaves and we say good bye to the former Portugese colony of Goa.
We head north, and this time we have 2AC seats/beds which are more luxurious than the Sleeper Class seats we have had before. The train takes us to the city of Ahmedabad where we change trains to go westwards into the state of Gujarat. We pass by Rajkot and get off at the city of Junagadh where we grab a more-than-usual overcrowded bus which takes us to Sasan Gir.
Sasan Gir is the entry port to Gir National Park, the home of the last remaining Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) in the wild. Earlier, you could find lion from Greece up to central India but they were killed off by humans and now only about 400 are left in the Gir Sanctuary. Spending two and a half days in Gir we are lucky enough to see a total of five lionesses of the subspecies. So far in India I have managed to see tiger, jungle cat and lion which is pretty good considering that I have only been one full day at Bandhavgarh and one and a half day of safaris in Gir.
After having an early morning safari seeing various birds and crododiles we grab a three hour local train where we meet a very nice Gujarati family. I gave them some mints and in return I got peanut candy. We get off at the final stop and grab a rickshaw to the former Portugese island colony of Diu. Diu is an amazing shift from the normally overcrowded Indian cities. For the first time in India I see a clean street completely empty of people. The temperature is a good 20-25 degrees Celsius which is much more humane than Goa where we averaged 30-35 degrees Celsius. We visit the fort in Diu and stroll around on the streets looking at things and studying the different Portugese-inspired architecture. On the third day we have a nice bath in the Indian Ocean and practising some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the beach.
We take a local bus to the city of Veraval. In Veraval we grab a train back to Ahmedabad and on from there far north to Haridwar and then on to Rishikesh. The whole journey takes two full days.
Rishikesh is known to be the yoga center of the world and even the Beatles came here to an ashram. The city is located at the foot of the Himalayas with the holy river Ganges running dividing it in two. The temperature is chilly and nights are cold. I am happy that I brought my long underpants from back home. One day we bathe in a waterfall and walk up a steep high mountain to have a great view over the rivendell.
On the fourth day we grab a local bus which takes us to the small village of Chilla which is the entry port of Rajaji National Park. We have a very cold afternoon safari in the national park seeing Asiatic elephant, several kingfishers, vultures and many other animals. Our hopes were to see the elusive leopard but, alas, we were not so fortunate. Catching another local bus we get to Haridwar and spend four hours at a restaurant drinking tea and playing cards before our train arrives that will take us back to Delhi.
Coming back to Paharganj in Delhi, where our five and a half week journey started, is an odd feeling. Having learned so much about the country, its religions, its people, its culture and how everything works (and not works), we feel like experienced backpackers carrying more than the items we have purchased in our rucksacks.
In the last two days in Delhi we, by chance, come across the oldest Jain temple in Delhi. Taking our shoes off and making sure we carry no animal products, we enter the temple. Jainism is a fascinating religion which is strongly anti-violence and for equal treatmens of all animals. The followers are all pure vegetarian meaning that not only do they skip meat but they do also not eat egg. Some followers promote veganism. We meet a very nice couple at the temple and they show us around in even the most inner parts including the meditation room and a bird hospital in the temple where they save birds that have been injured in Delhi’s immelse traffic and by the countless ceiling fans in buildings. Everywhere in India you see a lot of swastikas, the infamous symbol used by Nazi Germany almost a century ago, but in India this symbol has a much more peaceful meaning, and Jainism uses the symbol as their “logotype”.
One day we visit the amazing Lotus Temple – Bahai House of Worship. The Bahai Faith is a new world religion which sees all the religious messangers as part of the same great whole so in the Lotus Temple all religions are allowed. We also pay visits to the Red Fort and stroll around in the amazing bazaars in Old Delhi, where some shops are only large enough to barely fit one person.
India is everything and much more. It is intense. The smell of incense, urine, cow dung, food and spices mix with the constant sounds of cars, rickshaws, bicycles, people talking, chatting, screaming, selling things and dogs barking and howling. There are people in just about any corner of the street you look and you are lucky if you can cross the street without being hit by anything in the first few days. At first glimpse all the food served has the traditional masala curry but after a while you start seeing all the small food stands which sell food that you could never have imagined existed.
The majority of the population is vegetarian and seeing meat in the menus of restaurants is a rare sight. Being vegetarian in India comes without saying because you would think twice about eating any of the meat being served anyway. Being vegan in India is a little bit more tricky because a lot of food comes with milk, cheese (paneer) or butter (ghee). Most people in cities speak English to some degree but sometimes it is very difficult explaining that you do not want animal products in your food.
All in all, traveling India has been an amazing experience.
To top it all off, we stayed at one full day, between airplanes, in the richest country in the world – Qatar, and its capital Doha. Strolling around huge skyscrapers and unnecessarily large four-by-fours and Porches could not have produced a larger contrast. The entire country is based around oil and gas money and in one mall there is both an ice hockey rink and a large amusement park – inside the mall building!
It feels good to be back in the cold winter of Sweden where the white snow lightens up the every-day life.