India in a nutshell

Almost six months of traveling are behind me. A journey from Amsterdam to Bangalore, through Sri lanka, India from south to north, Nepal and back.

As for most of you who can’t read Dutch I conclude my travel diary with the highlights of my travels in English.

So where exactly have I been? After the OURmedia conference in ‘traffic city’ Bangalore the trip went to rainy Trivandrum and Kovalam, a paradise-like beach place but so spoiled by package tourism, the vibe was bad. I was happy to fly to Colombo a few days later and headed straight to Hikkaduwa with Tanja, who I had met at the airport. There the beach was nice and the waves were huge, so swimming while keeping the swimwear on was quite a challenge. We also tried the beaches of Unawatuna. Both villages where completely rebuild after the tsunami, contrary to Tangalle where I went later. Not many houses and hotels survived, ruïns along the shore, sad people, sad stories. At the coastal areas of SL you can see many refugee camps: for how long will the people have to live there, I wondered…

I’d spent the Christmas holidays amongst the “happy few” in Colombo, where I joined a dinner with investment bankers, had coffee in the Hilton on Christmas eve, and saw some temples and shopping malls, which is pretty much all Colombo has to offer. I explored the hill regions and celebrated NYE 2005 in the countryside, including a bonfire, with some Dutch, Italians, Sri lankans, Canadians and a Frenchman.

Back in India I’ve rebalanced my body and mind through an ayurvedic treatment in Varkala, and made lots of friends at “doc’s”. We mainly enjoyed sunsets, coconuts and Tibetan food. I visited Amma, a guru known as the hugging mother, and got my hug as well. Then I made my way to the east coast, Chennai. I encountered lots of journalists, traffic, bureaucracy, muslims and the white screen, on which I made my first appearance as a nurse;-) Then again to the beaches of Mamallapuram, Pondicherry and I underwent the Auroville-experiment. In Hampi I saw some impressive ruïns and temples, suited in stonehenge-like landscapes. The bustrip to Goa was one of the worst ever, as I got really sick on the way. In Arambol I recovered, but I was unable to fully enjoy the surreal beach carnival and the illegal parties… However I did some yoga with a 73 year old baba who made us stretch like none of my former Indian yoga teachers did. With João I went for a Rajhastan tour full speed ahead starting in Udaipur (the white city), with a lake and a huge city palace. Next was Jodhpur (the blue city) with again an impressive fort and palace. Then on to Jaipur (the pink city) where the palace wasn’t so cool, neither the city. Jaisalmer (the golden city, or actually sand-colored) was a fort itself with again a palace, but we came to go on a camel trip. It was one of the biggest highlights for me: feeling like a nomade, sleeping under the stars, trying to speed up the camels and guides who thought us some “interesting” rajhastani words! We went on to Rishikesh for some more yoga, playbacking gurus, a dip in the Ganga river, rafting and unfortunately another doctors visit for me.

Sahara Air flew us into Kathmandu, and already the next morning we were on a bus to the Annapurna region: officially the world’s most beautiful trekking area. On the Poon hill trek we encountered a.o. rainforests, waterfalls, snowpeaks, cornfields, chickens, mules, butterflies, lots of kids, lots of Koreans, buffalos (no yaks at this altitude level), rhodondendrons, dal bhat, hot springs and the amazing Himalayas were there all the time. It was wonderful, deep, high, low, fun, beautiful, serious, emotional, everything!

Back in Kathmandu, reality put my feet back on the ground again. Due to King Gyanendras unreasonability people went on strike, this time longer than usual. This made the King impose curfews. No one was allowed on the streets, although there were demonstrations and violence was increasingly used by armed police forces. I joined a peaceful demonstration, but even tourists had to be careful, sadly some have been arrested. However I’ve been able to see some religious ceremonies (that required buffs with their heads chopped off), and some interesting temples, holy places and a monastry in the Kathmandu valley. I also had time to learn about Tibetan buddhism, shop for souvenirs and decorate one of my feet with a tattoo.

I did a flash visit to Delhi, the giant that offers you only its pollution with physical side-effects for free. My last destination was Kanda, a rural village in Uttaranchals Kumaon hills. Here I was staying at the Verma family as an ecotourist/volunteer for one month. Because of a lack of funding there were no particular projects to work on as a volunteer (they have done many of these in the past, check www.rosekanda.info). Instead I occupied myself with merging into this Indian family and helping with organic farming, cooking, washing and I attended some religious ceremonies, weddings (it was the wedding season), made a trip to beautiful hill station Kausani, created some handmade, recycled paper and helped to improve ROSE’s (ROSE is the organisation) international network in order to receive more volunteers and funding in the future. It was sad to leave the family behind: Jeevan, the head of the family from who I learned so much about Indian politics, rural life and these people’s community; daughter Renu, who will be married against her will by July but wants me to come to her wedding anyway; ever hard-working mother Hema, just as Gunja, Jitendra, Chanda, Sagu, Ruthie and last but not least the two other volunteers I’d met during my last days here, Carlin and Kelly.

As a very brief conclusion, what can I say, as you all may agree India is such a diverse country. Somewhere halfway my trip I said: in this country you will not find what you’re looking for, but it gives you what you need. Now, I don’t know why I it was necassary for me to become ill four times, but I do know that I gained some peace of mind: so important in the West! Furthermore I practiced my patience, I can eat with my hands, make chapati’s, I know how a moviestar must feel when walking the streets, I can squat and remain seated that way, I confirmed that I will never understand Hinduism, I fell in love with Nepal, I see the point in the teachings of many gurus, I became a vegetarian because of the good food… India has so much to offer. Not only pleasant things, but as long as you like to meet the challenge it will only make you stronger, so I found. There are many places left that I would like to visit in this country, especially in the North. But, the world isn’t always a small world, there is so much more out there yet to be discovered by me…so next time, next decade probably ;-(

In the meantime I will try to make the world a small world by using and studying media, the web and its applications, and giving some support to minorities or individuals in developing countries.

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