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Call God if you encounter any problems
Kolkata (India) to Aurangabad (India), December 2010

We experience Kolkata as a friendly, beautiful and relatively clean city. And that is something that we hadn’t expected. Because if we thought about Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), we thought about Mother Theresa and consequently about a lot of poverty and misery. And of course, Kolkata has a lot of poverty and misery, like all Indian cities have. But still, Kolkata has something more. A lot of colonial buildings survived the past, and like mentioned before, the people are friendly and the city is relatively clean. Kolkata is also the city where we had to say goodbye to the parents of Ivonne. They travelled with us for a period of two and a half months through Tibet, Nepal and India and we had a great time. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy.

We stayed another week in Kolkata to work on this website, which we neglected during the stay of Ivonne’s parents in Asia. But after this week, we took the 26-hours train that brought us to the city of Jabalpur in the province of Madhya Pradesh. We stayed some days, but our actual destination was Bhopal, another Indian city with a negative image. Bhopal is the infamous city in where on December 3rd 1984, some minutes after midnight, a poisonous cloud of gas escaped from the chemical Union Carbide plant, killing more than 3800 people instantly. But unfortunately that wasn’t it; till today more than 20000 people died as result of this disaster. The catastrophe was the direct result of negligent maintenance, the use of untested technologies and irresponsible cost saving measures. The chemical plant still lies as a silent witness of the disaster in the centre of Bhopal, and when you walk through the quarters that surround the plant, you get geese bumps on your arms when you realise what happened here 26 years ago. Children with innate distortions and growth problems as result of the disaster play in the streets, while many walls in the quarters have slogans painted on them like “Union Carbide, you are responsible for genocide”.

Ivonne is posing with Indian children at the fort of Daulatabad
But as often with this kind of disasters in developing countries, the victims are not compensated for the injustice that is done to them. The culprits don’t admit that they are guilty and the government of the country in where the disaster took place doesn’t dare to fully persecute the perpetrators because they are afraid for the possible negative economic consequences. Of course, some kind of compensation is paid, but it doesn’t reflect the real damage that is caused. And besides that, in a corrupt country like India, most of the compensation probably flows in the pockets of some bureaucrats, which are indirectly paid in this way to ‘drop’ the case. But Bhopal is more than the city where a disaster took place. It is a city in where more than 40% of the people are Muslim and where significant parts of the old city are still there, with some impressive and beautiful mosques as gems. Besides that, Bhopal is not on the tourist trail which means that you have the city all by yourself. People are extremely friendly and children twist out their arms of the sockets when they wave to you. Bhopal is highly recommended.

After our visit to Bhopal we travel to the city of Indore, a typical Indian city with hectic traffic, a disastrous air quality and no real highlights. That’s why we are on the bus station the next morning at half past four to take the bus to Aurangabad which should leave at five. But the bus didn’t leave before six o’clock, which gave us the opportunity to meet an Indian student, who was waiting for another bus to go back to his home village for the engagement of his sister. As with many Indian students, also this student was very self-assured. When we talked about his study he said that nothing was too difficult for him, that he could handle everything and that he also didn’t doubt the success of his future foreign career. This attitude sometimes has the taste of inappropriate arrogance, but we are not sure if that it the intention of the Indian students. All we know is that Indian students are very ambitious and have an enormous drive, something that is unfortunately nowadays quite rare with western students. When our bus was about to leave we had to say goodbye to him. He wanted to exchange mobile telephone numbers, just in case of problems. We could always call him, was his message. But when we said that we didn’t carry a mobile phone on our travels, he was silent for some seconds and responded, “In that case, you have to call God if you encounter any problems”. A call that doesn’t require a phone we assume.

Nope, this is not the real Taj Mahal, but the poor men's version in Aurangabad

We arrived the same day in Aurangabad, in the Maharashtra province. We saw the first foreigners again, since we left Kolkata a couple of weeks ago, who also travelled to Aurangabad to visit the famous Ellora and Ajanta caves. Both groups of religious caves are on the Unesco World Heritage List, as result of their historical and cultural value. It is a must see if you are in this area of India. The Ellora caves are the pinnacle of ancient Indian cave architecture. Over a period of five centuries (600 AD – 1000 AD), Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks carved out spectacular temples, chapels and monasteries in a two kilometres long escarpment. The Ajanta caves are even older (200 BC – 600 AD). The special thing about these caves is that some wall paintings are still in a very decent condition. We weren’t very lucky because we visited the caves around Christmas time. And also in predominantly Hindu India, Christmas time is a period in where many Indians take their winter holidays. So it was busy; really busy. Especially at the Ajanta caves. Sometimes we had to queue at a cave, and when a new group was allowed to get in, the group was too big. Like a herd of noisy sheep, the Indians fought their way into the cave. Most Indians enjoy these kinds of places as an outing and are not really interested in the things they can see. They especially enjoy being out together and make the accompanying noise when strolling around the caves. We realised that the Ajanta caves are very special, but it was hard for us that day to enjoy the beauty of the sight. The atmosphere was just not right (see also the column: It isn’t always fun).

We eventually stayed till after New Year in Aurangabad. We experienced that it became more and more difficult to find a good room now the holidays were approaching. Also the prices went up steeply. That’s why we made a good deal for a decent room in Aurangabad and stayed till after the holidays. And because we still had some work to do, these days were quite useful.


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