A German couple in India
Let´s first introduce ourselves. We are Christa Neuenhofer (55) and Hans Neuenhofer (68), a German couple, who came to India in 1994 for the first time and then got “infected by an Indian virus” that makes us come back at least once a year.
In the following we are going to answer a few questions that we have been asked again and again.
“What fascinates you so much that you keep coming back to India?”
This is a question we heard not only in India but also at home in Germany. And we could talk about it for hours and hours.
One very important aspect is certainly the warmth and hospitality of the people. We also visited other countries, but there are not many places where people meet you with so much friendliness. Whoever you address, the first reaction is practically always a smile.
Thus we were invited to stay in Mr Gupta´s villa in Agra and dine with him and his family, although he is a tour operator who organizes tours for hundreds of tourists every month. On the other hand we sat around a fire in a hut of a former headhunter in the Tirap District of Arunachal and together we drank his rice-beer. And we enjoyed that, too, and never feared that our heads might be good trophies and would be shown around in the village the next day.
But apart from this kindness, we have also become more and more interested in the diversity of the people and their cultures in India. So by and by we have also developed an ethnographic interest and have visited different tribal areas in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal and Nagaland. We learned to know the Ghond, Bhil, Apatanis, Mishis, Nishis, Idu Mishmi, Nagas and some others. It is extremely interesting to learn about their traditions, cultures and religions.
But of course we are also interested in the cultural highlights. Among many other places we saw and admired the Taj Mahal, the Red Forts in Delhi and Agra, the temples in Khajuraho, Konarak, Mount Abu, Ranakpur, Belur, Halebid, Hampi, Bhubaneshwar, Madurai, Tanjore, Trichy etc, the rock temples in Mahabalipuram, beautiful stepwells in Gujarat, the caves in Ajanta and Ellora, the fantastic stupa in Sanchi, the prehistoric paintings in Pachmarhi and Bhimbetka and, and, and….
Furthermore we enjoyed the Indian classical music and dances. In a small theatre in Cochin we saw a wonderful Kathakali performance, on the beach in Mahabalipuram a beautiful lady danced the Bharata Natyam, near Puri young boys astonished us with their artistic Odissi dance and in Kolkata in a cultural centre there were no tourists except us. So the company danced all evening for us alone.
But also the practise of religious life is fascinating. In Germany there are only few people who go to church regularly. But in India it is a part of daily life. So we did not only experience the temples as cultural documents but also as places of worship. Again and again we were witnesses of religious ceremonies of Hindus, e.g. in Varanasi, Haridwar, Ujjain, Puri and Madurai. Similarly we saw religious places of Jains like Palitana, Mount Abu, Ranakpur and Sravana Belagola, temples of Sikhs in Paonta Sahib and Delhi, mosques of Moslems in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bhopal and Aurangabad and Buddhist temples and monasteries in Sarnath, Dharamsala, Sikkim, in Ladakh and in the Nubra Valley.
And we were also in India, when there were some festivals, which is always an exciting experience. We did not only get our faces painted during Holi, but watched the Ram Lila during Dussehra, saw lots of lights and painted cows and goats at and after Diwali and we spent several days among the Apatanis in Arunachal during Myoko, a festival they celebrate for one month at the beginning of the agricultural cycle.
Last not least we traveled in very different landscapes in only one country. We were in the Himalayas, where we crossed passes at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres, we were in the desert of Rajasthan, in the salt desert Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, on the Ganges and the Brahmaputra and on the backwaters in Kerala. But we also relaxed on the beaches of Goa and Mahabalipuram.
“Why have you never learned Hindi?”
This is a good question and we have heard it dozens of times. Why have we not learned Hindi, although we have already visited India 14 times and the flight tickets for number 15 and 16 have already been booked? - The answer is, we are traveling all over India and are trying to get contact not only with the learned and well educated Indians.
Our first tour went to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. With our guides we could communicate in English, but most of the people in the villages that we visited understood neither English nor Hindi. Here we would have had to learn Malayalam and Tamil. - During our next tour we went to Kolkata (Bengali) and Orissa, where we did not only admire the sun temple at Konarak but learned to know the culture of different tribes. It was April and wherever we came, the roads were blocked, because the tribal people wanted to collect a few rupees for a festival. How much hard work it was to carry big branches or even heavy stones under a burning sun onto the road and then from the road again just for a few paisa. And then they even showed us their tribal dances on the roads. We could only communicate with them via our guide. Here we should have known Oriya or even better: some of the tribal dialects.
And it goes on like that. We went to Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Sikkim and Darjeeling. And four of our journeys led us to Northeast India, where we visited Assam and the different tribes in Arunachal and Nagaland. We need not mention all the different languages and dialects that are spoken there. You know it better than us.
Only very late we came to North India, where Hindi would really have been a good help: Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh (J&K), Rajasthan and of course Delhi.
When talking about the different languages and dialects, we also mentioned the places where we have been. You can see that only very few of the bigger states or districts are missing.
“Who organizes your tours?”
Our first tours were still organized by a German agency, but for many years we have now worked together with different Indian tour operators. Some months before we start a tour, we make our plans here in Germany and decide where we want to go. Then we book the long distance flight tickets. After that we mail our itinerary to an Indian travel agency which works in that region. Together we make changes in our ity if necessary and then agree on a price.
As we normally do not have so very much time, there is no stress during the tour, because everything has been organized in advance (hotels, car etc.) Nevertheless we have lots of time for all the sights. No group is pushing us.Where others stay only for one or two hours, we can spend a whole day, if we want to.
“Where do you stay and how do you travel in India?”
Well, this depends a lot on where we go. So we traveled by plane, by train, by boat and ferry. This is an exciting event on the Brahmaputra, where the car has to be driven over two rather short and narrow planks from a steep riverbank onto a small ship. And the nervous tourist fears for all his belongings, because he is convinced that the car will roll as fast from the other side of the ferry into the water as it gets onto it. But most of the time we travel by car, always with a driver who takes us safely to all the places (even though we sometimes have to remind him that Christians do not believe in reincarnation and that we only have this one life and would like to keep it). Sometimes a guide accompanies us.
There is also a great variation in the accomodations. Wherever possible we like to stay in good hotels. So we even spent some nights in a maharaja palace or a five-star hotel. But in “touristic areas” we are mostly in four-star hotels. And after our sightseeing we relax in the rooms by watching Bollywood movies on TV.
But very often we are in areas, where there are hardly any tourists or no tourists at all. And consequently there are no good hotels. So we have also slept in circuit houses partly without electricity and running water and in tents. Correspondingly the quality of the meals was very different, although not always the best hotel offered the best meals. We have still not got used to the very spicy meals but prefer the Kashmiri taste. Generally we like to try everything, though we have refrained from trying dogmeat in Nagaland and rats in Arunachal, though our guide tried to convince us that they taste really delicious.
Have your travels to India also any impact on your life at home?
From our journeys we brought back lots of video films and thousands of photos. They are now in albums that we show everybody who is interested. Hans writes long reports about our tours with quite a lot of background information spiced by some photos for our homepage ( http://www.neuenhofer.de/guenter/Indien/indienreisen.html ). Often we get emails from people who have read those texts and now want to go to India themselves and therefore ask for additional information.
Together with the “travelbureau” in Agra we even organized a tour for friends to Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa.
We got to know some Indians here in Germany and if we are not just in India take part in a big Durga Puja in Cologne in October.
We have acquired a great collection of CDs with Indian classical music that we often listen to.
And our house has become “Little India” with souvenirs bought in India and gods and goddesses that tell us to go back to India soon.