Harry Schlo▀macher

Half Year Asia Adventure // PART--8



Hippies and houseboats
The houseboats anchored here are mainly inhabited by hippies, who rent them for a small fee. The number of said boats is constantly growing and with it also that of the little men and women who - clad in a minimum of fabric - loll on the roofs of the houseboats in the blazing sun and dream of a more beautiful future, which is called Goa . (Goa is the former Portuguese colony on the west coast of India and is now "hippie paradise"). Typical of the religious tolerance of the Hindus: a Hindu temple on the Ganges stood directly between an Islamic mosque and a Christian church!

Back on land, 'Mr. Imingan', where we had found accommodation, to the world-famous Indian cremation site. From a distance we saw a narrow, almost vertical column of smoke. Singing, as well as peculiar music produced by drums, whistles and a kind of tambourine reached our ears and soon a foul smell hit us. We were now standing in the immediate vicinity of the cremation site. We stared spellbound and shocked at about seven more or less burned, partly charred corpses. They lay on larger piles of wood and the fires would blaze until the last remains of the corpse had been burned. The ashes are then thrown into the holy water of the Ganges.

The relationship of the approx. 450 million Hindus to their dead is quite unproblematic: the corpse lies exposed and only decorated with flowers on a stretcher, which is carried on the shoulders of four men, followed by the deceased's closest relatives and friends. Like a triumphal procession, they then march - mostly at a run - singing, making music and dancing through their home town. For the European who sees such activity for the first time, it is a truly extraordinary, spooky scene, like the cremation itself.

We also did not miss a visit to the oldest Buddhist temple in the world in Sarnath, not far from Benares. Then we went into the final phase of our monster tour. We drove over the "Howrah bridge", a massive steel construction with such gigantic proportions that the "Severinsbrücke" (Cologne) looks like a footbridge in comparison! It was built by the English and French and is the only connection between Calcutta and the rest of India.
 I was surprised by the fact that Calcutta is not on the Ganges - as is said in Germany - but on its mighty tributary Hugly.
Ever since West Pakistan "tested left-hand traffic" we have thrown ourselves into the hustle and bustle of the city of millions. As in Delhi, the countless "Ambassadors" - mostly taxis - dominated the street scene. The "Ambassador" is the only car made in India!

Only in Calcutta.
In Delhi and Benares there were so-called "bicycle rickshaws", which could not be ignored with their shrill ringing - so thousands of rickshaws, pulled by strong men, filled the streets here. You won't find them anywhere else in the world, we're told, only in Calcutta. It's amazing where these black-skinned, lower-caste Indians get the strength to do this. They only allow themselves short breaks and walk through the city all day long, carrying up to two people. A really tough job!

In the heaviest traffic they pass unmolested the pointing policeman - make their way on sidewalks unimpressed by the largest stream of people and can be found practically everywhere: India's sacred cows. We had happily escaped the "eye asceticism" in the oh so conservative Muslim countries. Is it any wonder that we now enjoyed the sight of numerous dainty Indian women clad in colorful silk sarees?

Not a car in sight In the weeks and months that followed, we experienced a consistently implemented general strike (no car was to be seen in the huge city; no one dared to go to work) and the festival of the Indian goddess of learning . Music blared out from loudspeakers on every street throughout the day. Curious: the illiterate in particular put themselves in a state of intoxication while dancing ecstatically - in honor of the goddess!


(to be continued)


 
 

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Published on e-Stories.org on 06/29/2023.

 

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