Sometimes translations are cute, aren’t they? „Fernweh“ and „Reisefieber“ definitely belong in that category. Especially „travel nerves“ and „travel bug“ dramatize the (positive) joy when preparing your next trip even more than the German word. Seems unusual. Anyway, I have nerves and bugs and everything because my departure date moves closer and closer. I am thrilled, excited, can’t wait. GAdventures officially told me „Your are good to go“. I have a printed e-visa for India and a visa for Nepal neatly glued into in my passport. As a western hypochondriac, I am vaccinated against horrible diseases like cholera and typhus although I am not backpacking through rural regions. A checklist for what to pack lies on the table next to my (too heavy) handy recorder and the microphone. I cannot help it. I am a journalist. A journalist who hopes that border officials do not ask too many questions. Shouldn’t be forbidden to record bird chants as a vacation souvenir?
It is all about the detours: The mystic Auroville
How did I get this far? Stefan, an old school friend, is to blame. We haven’t seen each other in almost 15 years but he always said: Come visit us one day. He lived in Delhi with his family for many years and then moved to a city I had never heard of: Auroville in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, a three-hour-flight and quite a car ride away from Delhi. I did not plan to go to that region but once I read a report about this city I changed my booking. Stefan, here I come! Auroville is meant to be a kind of Utopia. Its claim is „The City of Dawn“. How does that work? Who lives there? Dropouts? Idealists? Auroville is multinational and people were obviously drawn their by a common wish: Living in an alternative way with respect and care for each other, independent from religion and race, without losing yourself in consumption but contributing to the community and develop a new concept of modern life. It sounds like a mixture of grassroots democracy, communism and reverie. Stefan says: Auroville does something to you. He tells me about the experiences his wife and him had at the center of the city: the Matrimandir. The temple was built in worship for „The Mother„, the mind behind Auroville.
„For those who are satisfied with the world as it is, Auroville obviously has no reason to exist.“ (The Mother, 1966)
What Stefan describes sounds like an epiphany. Overwhelming feelings, overwhelming energy, tears. My journalistic rational thinking cries: Come on, really? My heart cries: Hopefully!
Stefan recommends a book to me – as a preparation: „Sri Aurobindo or the Adventures of Consciousness“ by Satprem. No easy read, especially once you get deeper into it, but after being through half of it, I am running out of post its.
Some of my favorite quotes:
„For truth and knowledge are an idle gleam, if knowledge brings not power to change the world.“
„Yoga is not so much about learning but unlearning inescapable habits.“
„Nothing in our consciousness or nature is fixed once and for all, all is but a play of forces or vibrations.“
„We fall down and get back on our feet. The only sin is to lose heart.“
„Bad inner state is contagious: a certain kind of company always attracts accidents or troubles.“
„Every negative is necessarily the other half of a positive. Every rock bottom of ours is the surface of something else.“
So, Auroville is about awareness, mindfulness, spirituality. I have a picture of chilled Yogis in mind, working as less as possible and musing about life. But every time I have Stefan on the phone, he seems to be in a zest for action: Traveling to the next coaching, organizing family life, working on concepts for an alternative schooling system. So Auroville does not seem to be about „chilling“ but „doing“ and following your dreams.
Everybody is expected to contribute to the community with his or her competences and capacities. There are volunteer programs, study programs, architecture projects, cultural projects, action groups. This place must be full of energy. But Auroville is also an industry. There are thousands of tourists. And only about 2.400 inhabitants. Has reality outpaced Auroville?
Preparing for the cultural shock – or will it be one?
Apart from the excerpts of Stefan’s life and the reading I was fascinated by the personal but critical, humorous but sentimental documentary „My India“ with Joanna Lumley on ARTE. I learn about the excessive gap between rich and poor, the stupefying caste system, murders, violence and, on the other hand, the magic of the country, the believe in good fate and that in a cow there are assumed to reside more than 300 million gods. My mum recommended the documentary to me because she was captivated. She never made me watch a documentary before.
A question I asked more than once is: Will I be save in India? Stefan encourages me. „I booked you my driver to get from the airport to us. With him I feel save, and you will as well.“ I do not plan to stroll around alone too much. „Do not drink any water that somebody offers to you. Even if they say it is filtered“. For Delhi he promises to lend me a face mask. In winter in general and especially during something like the fireworks of Diwali, a national holiday comparable to New Year’s or Christmas in Germany, the air in Delhi is so bad that people die. Stefan offers to lend me a face mask once I leave him for this major city. „Oh and: Do you know it’s rainy season?“, Stefan texts me one day. „We have pouring rain here in Auroville when you will be here, „but it is so beautiful“. Five days before my departure Stefan all of a sudden suggests to have earplugs and they are „hard to find in India“. Interesting. Although I always (!) travel with earplugs he insists on buying them online for me and sending them to Germany. He did not take no for an answer. It seems urgent. Whatever this means, I am curious. And nervous.
Nepal in a nutshell: This journey is doomed to be too short, but anyway
What do I know about Nepal? Almost nothing. The Mount Everest region is a fragile natural preserve. The Sherpas live a life dictated by tourism (divorce rates are high) and are critical about the national park area and its rules regarding forestry and fuel. The majesty of „Sagarmatha“ (as the Everest is called in Nepal), with 8848 meters the highest mountain on earth, can make trekkers and mountaineers cry. Will I, as a non-trekker and non-mountaineer, feel that way? Louisa, a girl from Kathmandu I met in Indonesia, said: „India might shock you. The people. I am curious how you like it. In Nepal, for sure, everybody will just be so happy that you are there.“ One in four Nepalese lives in extreme poverty. 2015 the country was hit by an immense earthquake. Nevertheless, Louisa tells me, the people try to keep their spirits high.
My GAdventures itinerary sounds intense, although it seems that I will only see a fraction of both India and Nepal.
I chose a comfy travel standard which includes sleeping in hotels. Once, we will have an overnight stay in a Buddhist monastery. I hope we will also see places and people off the beaten tracks – as far as that is possible while traveling in a rather luxurious setting, with private drivers, organized meals and extra activities such as: fly over the Mount Everest. At least, the journey includes items on the agenda labelled „GAdventures for good“. Thus, we allegedly support a street kid project, a project against human trafficking and an organization of women who help female travelers get around safely.
Clock’s ticking. In five days, I will board an Air India airplane heading to Chennai, stopping in Delhi. Business Class. I admit it. The first (and probably last) time I can ever afford to „pay“ for an upgrade. Thank you Miles & More.