Expedition India Part 2 (pictures)

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Traveling from Goa to Gir via Ahmedabad

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.

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We saw five Asiatic lions in Gir National Park.

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.

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Josefine by the fort in the former Portugese colony of Diu.

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.

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Rishikesh is known to be one of the yoga centers of the world and is beautifully placed at the foot of the Himalayas.

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”.

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We spotted a sambar deer in Rajaji National Park.

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.

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Jonatan by the Lotus Temple – Bahai House of Worship in Delhi.

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.

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This is the Jain temple that we visited in Delhi and we were lucky to be shown around throughout the temple and its bird hospital.

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!

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Paharganj in Delhi is situated just next to New Delhi railway station and you need not walk more than ten meters to encounter the first guest house. Beware of the many scammers here.

It feels good to be back in the cold winter of Sweden where the white snow lightens up the every-day life.

Expedition India Part 1 (pictures)

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We were invited to a large Indian wedding in Agra where we were at the center of attention.

On 4 December I set out on a five and a half week journey in the land of tigers, Hinduism and vegetarians to learn more about the culture, the people and the animals. Enter India. My awesome travel companion for the trip is Josefine.

The expedition started in Delhi where the intensive Paharganj took us by storm and we managed to avoid the first scams thrown at us by the infamous rickshaw drivers and their packs. The incredible bazaars at Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi were a marvel and entire streets were designated only for sarees or cloth and some stores were only big enough to barely fit one person sitting while others were combined sleeping quarters for entire families. Getting a train ticket in India turns out to be a benefit and the que to the tourist ticket counter took us on an interesting three hour wait where we got quite familiar with our que-buddies.

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The Taj Mahal in Agra is a beautiful building and in the three hours we spent there we had about 50 portraits taken of us by various Indians.

We traveled south-east to the city of Agra where we were at the center of attention at a big Hindu wedding. The party and adjoining parade was hard to miss and was heard throughout the city. We were almost constantly surrounded by between ten to twenty people at the wedding taking pictures with us, wanting us to dance or just shaking our hands and wanting to chat. A visit to the grand Taj Mahal didn’t only let us see the majestic building but we also got the opportunity to pose for more than 50 portraits of men and entire families. Be tourist and be blond and you are sure to have a group of either men or old women with children come up to chat or take pictures of you once every other minute. We also glimpsed the more impressive Agra Fort while in Agra. Via Lucknow we later headed further east i into the vast country.

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We stopped in Lucknow to change trains and had some fast food at the train station. This food (or more probably, the water) later made me ill.

“She was both my wife and my friend” an Indian man in his fourties tells me as we watch the corpse of his wife burn at one of the Ghats in Varanasi. The Ganges, and especially in Varanasi, is the holiest place for a Hindu to be buried. His 25 year old wife was one of more than a hundred corpses being burnt that day. Seeing this end-of-life cycle has been one of the strongest impressions left on me during this expedition.

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Josefine at the hotel by the river Ganges in the holy city of Varanasi.

Varanasi is known to not be for the faint-hearted and I quickly realised why. The pressing smell of urine everywhere, incense, cows, dogs, cow poo, food being cooked on the streets, beggars and other scammers wanting your money, corpses being burnt at the ghats (a ghat is a stairway to the Ganges) and people just about everywhere are just some of the things that makes this city special. Out of all places in India, Varanasi is the place where you do not want to get your stomach ache. In short, mine came just as the train closed in on the city. Not getting a stomach ache in India is something as unknown to tourists as are honest rickshaw drivers. Likewise it is one of the daily topics discussed with most other foreigners and travel companions. Luckily I was able to recover quite quickly from the worst illness.

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Early one morning we took a boat trip on the river Ganges in Varanasi seeing people bathing and washing their clothes.

After dusk the nighly dew slowly breezed in over the city. We rarely had more than 20 degrees in daytime during our stay. After a few days in the holy city we jumped on a train south.

“Tiger! There is a tiger!” our guide bursts out. We are in Bandhavgarh National Park. First sneaking up behind a large stork the big Bengal cat then prawls past our jeep just a few meters away. The Bengal tiger is one of five subspecies that have managed to survive, four others perished in the 20th century, the Bali, Javan, Caspian and South China subspecies will never be back. Even the remaining subspecies are likely to die out in the coming 30 years since they are poached for the traditional Chinese medicine industry and their natural environments being ever-encroache upon by industries. The park also offered the hard-to-see jungle cat as well as the barking deer, sambar and spotted deer. Yes, the big tiger is a marvel to behold and you might want to try to see one in the wild before they disappear altogether.

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A big male Bengal tiger walked past us four meters from the jeep in Bandhavgarh National Park.

Next stop was Mumbai where we got a chance to see the city for our nearly full stop there. We visited the home of Mohandas Gandhi and a Jain temple. The Jain religion is known for being pure vegetarian and anti violence plus for equal treatment of all living beings.

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We visited a Jain temple in Mumbai.

Spending a cold and noisy night on an AC Volvo bus driven by a crazy driver (or possibly the standard of the Indian roads) we finally reached the vast beaches of Goa in the country’s west coast. Spending a full week in Goa’s Arambol Beach was a warm and relaxing experience with people playing drums on the beach, practicing poi and good and varied food. I tried out surfing for the first time and other than this it was mostly a good and relaxing experience (save for Christmas Day when our beachside hotel decided to have a trance party until 3 am). Everybody in Arambol greeted me with “Privet!” and for some reason though I am Russian (the beach seems to be very well-visited by Russians and a lot of store-owners have even learned to speak the language).

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A girl practices her poi as the sun sets over the endless beaches in Goa.

After having been soaking warm for a week we got up early in the morning to take an overcrowded bus to continue the adventure.

This page is updated with pictures 2013-01-26. Please see part 2 of the adventure.