We aspire to travel all around the world without a plane. Simply to see a lot more of this beautiful planet. We always knew that it’s going to be difficult and meanwhile we’ve learned it’s impossible with our bucket list and without taking unnecessary risks.
India and Nepal have been on our bucket list for a long time. We were close to get to Nepal by road in May, when we were admiring Mount Everest in Tibet, but the monsoon stopped us from doing so. The good news is that the monsoon is coming to an end soon, which triggered us to go there afterall. But how? The Indian-Myanmar border is closed for foreigners, unless you have your own vehicle, which we obviously don’t have. There is no ferry and sailing an ocean without any experience is costly. We did find a cargo ship, but it first goes ashore in Pakistan. A country with an ‘only essential’ traveling advice. Don’t think ‘traveling without a plane’ is classified as essential… The final option is to go back to China, Tibet and cross the Himalaya’s to Nepal this time around. But we’ve been there, done it and so we’ve chosen for the convenience of a plane :).
Before take-off we spend a couple of days in Bangkok. We stay in an Airbnb condo, or better said Airbnb box, where we try hard to ignore the ads to tell us that the place is illegal for tourists. Well, as long as the security guards welcome us with a cheerful ‘sawasdee-khaaaaa’ it should be fine. But still.
Bangkok. We’ve crossed the city in all directions, but the city does not really touch us. We miss the buzz. Even the famous and notorious Khoa San Road (watch Hangover to get an idea) was pretty quiet, since it has been cleared a month ago. It’s not how I remember Bangkok as it was 15 years ago. Madness. Everywhere. Anyway, at the end we were ready to go, packed with a huge bottle of disinfection gel. We couldn’t wait to jump on the plane for a new adventure!
The flight to Chennai, with transfer in Mumbai goes smooth. Our first Indian impressions are the slums just before landing and the luxury terminal in Mumbai where you easily pay 5 USD for a beer. What a contrast. With some delay we arrive after midnight in Chennai. A complete strange city with over 8 million people in the middle of the night. The only life we see are a few people and cows living on the streets. Mmm, not exactly how we’ve planned it, but we eventually arrive safely in our ‘hard-to-find’ hostel, thanks to our patient taxi driver.
We are in India! How cool. Our first days in India are fantastic. Chennai is a bustling city with an incredibly wide beach. Food stalls are spread across and people enjoying the shoreline and the waves of the Bay of Bengal. The city is busy but somehow relaxed. We are enjoying every second. The smells (ok not all, but most), the colors, the food, the people. It’s real.
Our first interactions with the Indians are great. So kind. It helps that most speak fluent English as we don’t speak any of the many languages spoken in India. We do need to get the hang of the Indian head wobble. It’s a mystery for us, serious! This head wobble looks like shaking no, but it’s not. It’s more like moving your head along an infinity sign in a smooth manner. For us it looks like ‘no’, but mostly it means ‘yes’. At least, we think. A local explained it can mean anything. Also ‘I don’t know’ or ‘maybe’ and even sometimes ‘no’. I see… I think this head wobble is going to lead to some funny situations!
India has a huge train system with over 7.000 stations and thus we can add on the hundreds of hours we’ve already spent in the train, since we’ve left The Netherlands. Getting a ticket is, however, not so easy. There are many classes, some you better skip if you like a little comfort and it is often sold out well in advance. Luckily, to encourage tourism, they keep a few tickets behind. The online system though is a nightmare, so we take an Uber to the train station. With some help of a few men we find the tourist counter on the first floor, but no tickets are sold. “Go to counter 23”. Ok, it’s just that counter 23 is not in use. We finally end up at a counter “for ministers”. Bit weird, but we do get hold of two aircon seats to Bengaluru! Yes!
I don’t know what your idea is of Bengaluru, but I always thought of a dusty, boring and busy metropole in the middle of India without any reason to visit. The city fascinated Wouter. He even once applied to work here. And now we are here and can see Bengaluru with our own eyes. And in fact, it’s a modern progressive city with lots of green and a pleasant climate. Bengaluru is the so-called Silicon Valley of India. It’s a good place for business with a nice atmosphere. We like it.
We learn a lot more about Bengaluru and India on our night out in a local rock bar with a few Indians and a German girl. About politics, economy and the culture. This country is really fascinating. 1.3 billion people, slightly less than China (the biggest population in the world). India though is only one third of the size of China. There are provinces with over 250 million people! Can you imagine? People everywhere. Our new Indian friends explain us how uncomfortable they felt when they were in the US, driving a road and not coming across any other car. Or when they were in the nature, listening to complete silence. They are so used to the bustle and noise. They can’t live without it.
1.3 billion people, all bonded together in India. In reality, the differences between regions are enormous, the guys explain. Differences in languages, culture, beliefs, political systems, economy. We are all ears. Do they feel Indian? Do we feel European? “Bengaluru is not India”, they tell us. “Go up North and you will understand.”
We can’t wait to see more of this beautiful and interesting country!