world map

India

On four wheels to “the largest museum in the world”

date of entry 22/10/2005
mileage 507,088

capital Neu-Delhi

area 3.287.469 km²

population 1.210.569.573

GDP 1.676 Bill. US-Dollar

official language Hindi/English

India isn’t just a country: it’s a subcontinent, a mutiracial nation of more than a billion people. Gunther describes it as "the world’s biggest museum, and I mean that in a nice way." It has countless historical and cultural treasures. Gunther, Christine and Otto visited in the autumn of 2005, and spent eleven weeks there, covering a distance of around 14,700 kilometres.
  • India has more relaxed relationships with its other neighbours, such as Nepal to the northeast.
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  • Gunther, Christine and Otto visited India for the first time in the autumn of 2005. They covered almost 15,000 kilometres in this densely populated subcontinent, despite the chaotic traffic.
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  • India is a multi-ethnic state with a population of around 1.2 billion. Only China has more inhabitants. Not surprisingly, the Holtorfs were rarely alone during their eleven weeks on the subcontinent.
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  • The trio couldn’t help attracting attention wherever they went
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  • The most banal of events, such as a break for drinks, could draw a crowd
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  • Maybe Otto was simply a welcome diversion for many people. India is one of the world’s poorest countries. The majority of its inhabitants survive on less than two dollars a day.
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  • Gunther sometimes found it hard to find a parking space in the narrow, crowded streets. But they always got there eventually.
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  • Even the rivers teamed with activity. This is the Ganges at Varanasi. The steps down to the water are known as ghats.
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  • A funeral ceremony on the river. The Ganges is sacred to Hindus
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  • Rivers serve not only as transport routes, but also as laundries, bathrooms and toilets. "Sometimes, all of these are just 200 metres apart," Gunther points out.
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  • Around 800 million people earn their living from agriculture, mostly as smallholders surviving on the bare minimum of income. Most do without modern technology, and this tea plantation in the state of Sikkim is no exception. "Basically, it hasn’t changed for 100 years," Gunther says.
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  • Others earn their living from equally backbreaking toil, like this woman working in a quarry. She had to shovel, balance on the slope and carry her child on her back, all at the same time.
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  • These roadworkers have to carry their own stones, taking care not to get run over by traffic. The site has no protection.
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  • Any surplus produce is sold at the markets. The range of items varies with the seasons.
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  • Women on the beach in Goa carrying their shopping home on their heads
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  • This is something we tend to associate with Africa, but it is also common in India and other Asian countries
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  • Schoolchildren are often taught outdoors in the countryside, except during the rainy season.
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  • Animals are a common sight in the streets of northwest India. Otto sometimes had to share the road with a herd of camels …
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  • … or an elephant.
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  • The pachyderms are still a common means of transport on the subcontinent. "No one spared them a second glance," says Gunther. "Otto attracted a lot more attention."
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  • Cows are sacred to the Hindus. They are regarded as a source of sustenance, and may not be harmed.
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  • Many poor people let their cows roam free to feed off rubbish in the street. Crossing the border into Bhutan.
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  • India has a rich and varied wildlife, including more than 250 species of snake. A large proportion are poisonous.
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  • Indian traffic is a world of its own. Goods are often transported in colourfully painted trucks, which Gunther describes as "underpowered and overloaded,"…
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  • … and whose progress through the streets is slow.
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  • In Calcutta, workers shovel refuse from the streets onto two trucks, but these are so full that it simply falls off again.
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  • A clear hierarchy operates on India’s toll roads: The president and the armed forces always have priority
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  • The country is full of countless historical and cultural treasures, and Gunther describes it as the world’s biggest museum
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  • This vast land is generously endowed with architectural masterpieces. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is the supreme centre of Sikhism
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  • Sikhs wear turbans. Their shape, colour and the way they are wound say a great deal about the wearer, including their caste.
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  • The world-famous Taj Mahal in the northern city of Agra. This mausoleum attracts up to four million visitors a year. "When I visited in 1970, I was the only person there," Gunther recalls.
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  • The facade of this temple is a spectacular portrayal of many Hindu gods...
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  • … who are invoked and worshipped on specific occasions
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  • Uneasy neighbours: Since vehicles are not allowed to cross the border between India and Pakistan, goods must be carried by hand. There is only one crossing point on the heavily fortified 3,000-kilometre border.
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The Holtorfs visited cities like New Delhi and Bangalore, but spent most of their time in remote rural areas seldom visited by travellers. Their journey brought them face to face with a land of contrasts: traffic chaos, unyielding bureaucracy, … but churning out engineers, computer programmers and consumer goods for the entire world. Eight hundred million people, the majority of the population, still slave away in the fields and scrape a living, just as they have done for centuries. Rural poverty made a particularly big impression on Gunther. "It gets relatively little media coverage," he says. "But the vast majority of Indians live like this."
  • Video 1: Population
  • Video 2: Traffic
  • Video 3: Bureaucracy
  • Video 4: Borders