Hindustan continued: Delhi Belly in Amritsar and the real thing in Delhi (India)

Day 1,919 since October 10th 2013: 168 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.   

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross of which I am a Goodwill Ambassador for) 

You would think I had a strong stomach by now

Pano

Strong stomach? Nothing beats INDIA! Everyone succumbs to that sooner or later. Do you know what I have been eating over the years? My stomach is usually fine or at least manageable. India had me chained to the toilet for a while. But India is much more than that. India is…everything!!

Vasco Da Gama was pretty much a pirate although he worked for the Portuguese Kingdom. He is credited for finding the way from Europe, south of Africa to India. It used to be the Silk Road until then. However now there was naval connection. Da Gama reached Goa which is 1,749 km (1,087 mi) south of Delhi. Delhi is far from the most northern part of India and Goa is not even close to the southern tip of India. India is massive!! Back in 2010 I had the pleasure of making my way through a lot of the country on a Royal Enfield motorcycle. I did that next to my Aussie friend Cam from Melbourne. We met up in Chennai and rode those bikes from east to west and from south to north. We spent around two months in India, ate with our hands, shared the cheapest rooms, explored unbelievable fortresses I never knew existed, saw stunning sunsets, were breath taken by the landscape, cooled off at hill stations and believe me the list goes on! It was in India that Cam and I met Bernhard who was on his own solo motorcycle journey. I mention Bernhard because some of you may remember that I met him again last year as he and his girlfriend drove me from Aqaba to Amman (Jordan). My point of telling you this is that I have seen a great deal of India already. And to see all of India would be a project on its own. As the 7th largest country and more than a BILLION people you can just begin to imagine the incredible amount diversity. Those in the south hardly have much in common with those in the north: they look differently, speak differently, eat different food, the traditional music is different, culture is different etc. I bet however that everyone takes selfies, has Facebook, cares about family, wants safety and loves cricket ;)

derelict

Some of the more recent history of India's more than 8,500 years of civilization. 

Cricket is a sport to people like me. To Indians it is nearly a religion!! They live for that game and worship the players. The rivalry across the country is mindboggling!! It is a passion. It is a force. Did you ever think about that it was India which gave name to North American native people? Christopher Columbus was looking for another way to navigate between Europe and India. That led to the European discovery of North America and the people who lived there. We know they are not from India but here 500 years later we still call them Indians. There is no shortage of ignorance across this planet ;) Some Indians don’t even call India for India. They say Hindustan. Hindustan is what the Persians called India and today it can refer to the landmass which was historically ruled by the Mughal Empire and included what is today Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Hindustan can sometimes just refer to the northern part of India. And then sometimes Hindustan is just synonymous with today’s clearly defined borders of India. Oh well…maybe not so clearly defined as India’s government and military seem to continue disputes with Pakistan’s government and military. Meanwhile all the Pakistanis and all the Indians I have spoken to have told me that the dispute is with the “higher ups” while the general population on both sides recognizes that people are just people and on both sides of the borders the people are brothers and sisters. Go figure…

walktour

I highly recommend the Amritsar Heritage Walking Tour organized by City on Pedals!!

Let’s talk size for a moment. Not only does India have 22 major language groups spoken across the nation…it has a hard to believe amount of people!! I’m from the great kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe. Up there I have almost 6 million Viking brothers and sisters. 6 million! So neighboring Germany with around 80 million sausage happy people seem to be a lot to us Danes. I mean…6 million? I went to a school with 325 students and I didn’t know everyone. 6 million is what it is but 80 million is a lot. The USA has some 330 million people!! Wow!! Considering the gap between the German population and the Danish it is just such a crazy unbelievable large amount of people! 330 million!! If my great nation makes a mistake then I suspect government can adjust and have us back on the right course in just 5-10 years. It would take the Germans a lot longer. The USA might need several decades. 330 million!! Now think about this: India has a BILLION more people than the USA! Boom! There goes my brain.

Sagacards

The new Saga cards are out designed by Parth Nilawar as usual. I hope to see him in Mumbai soon.

If you can think it up then it probably exists in India. The country is incredibly diverse and rich in so many ways. In other ways India has me scratching the back of my head thinking: “why?!?” While some Indians I have met are just like me and I have no problem relating to them…others are like complete aliens to me. They will do things which I cannot find any reason for. In my experience they walk pretty much like they drive. Time and again I have experienced someone walk directly towards me as if they are being drawn in by a magnet. Then just before walking into me they deviate and walk past me. Often I need to slow down to avoid a collision. It’s not that they didn’t see me. The behavioral pattern is just alien to me! A common phenomenon for western foreigners in India is that an Indian will approach and ask if they can take a photo with you. It has happened to me countless of times. These people are noisy people. Why are you so noisy India? What is the point?? Automated drums and bells banging away at Hindu Temples. Deafening endless uncoordinated symphonies of horns in traffic. What is the point of it? How does it not drive you crazy India? I measured the decibel to be a constant dB 95 at one intersection. It’s comparable to that of a lawn mower, a blender or a food processer. Loud music. Loud conversations. Loud voices. It is super noisy. I have been staying in a dorm room in New Delhi for a few nights and it’s easy to compare behavior. During the night westernized guests will use the light from their phones, whisper, open and close doors carefully, pack in the evening and generally be careful not to wake anyone up. Indian guests have a slightly different approach! Turning on the light, talking loudly with their friends, having loud midnight telephone conversations among people trying to sleep, shout at someone in another room, pack as noisily as possible at ungodly hours, slam the door or leave it open… That particular dorm room behavior is one I also noticed with Latin Americans. I sort of contribute it to growing up close to others and sharing rooms vs. growing up in separate rooms and being more sensitive towards noise. What do I know? Maybe I’m just getting old.

Swastika

If this offends you then you may be ignorant ;) The Swastika symbol is more than 7,000 years old and the literal translation is "good fortune" or "well being".It is a sacred symbol within Hinduism among other religions.

There is a lot to love about India and Indians though. Earlier this week I was in Amritsar with my fiancée. Discovering the history of the city, state and people was interesting. Going from one food parlor to the next trying things of the menu we didn’t know. Walking in old narrow streets. Looking at people. Speaking with people. I had to repair my jacket so we went out to find a tailor. Once he finished sowing it for me he refused to take payment. Granted, it was a small job which only took five minutes. However I would happily have paid for a job well done. But that was out of the question. I was a guest. The same thing happened to me in Pakistan a week earlier as another tailor was repairing some of my stuff. An Indian saying is “Atithi Devo Bhava” (Guest is God). I know the meaning of that saying to be true amongst many Indians. Across container ships I have traveled on, employees at offices, followers on social media and those whom I have met here in India. I am welcome and respected. So many have gone completely out of their way to help me. Indians are proud people. They will fight each other internally but stand united as a proud nation. And it is not without reason. Indian food is a favorite delicacy around the world. Indian spices and fabrics have conquered the world. India is the world’s largest democracy. They have the world’s smallest meat consumption per capita. During WW2 India produced the largest “volunteer army” in the world and contributed with 2.5 million men. In 2016 India planted 50 million trees in just 24 hours! And India has contributed with a large number of innovations within math, physics, metallurgic, medicine and health.

foodtour

I also recommend the amazing Amritsar Street Food Bicycle Tour also organized by City on Pedals!! They have pre-chosen safe vendors for the tour. great stuff!! :)

They are generally masters of dance (not everybody) and thoroughly enjoy music. Family is important to nearly everyone. I have found people to be somewhat emotional. Being rude seems more offensive than many other places I have been. In return they often show great emotion if receiving a gift and I have found that smiles and laughter comes readily. People around the world are generally driven by the same forces in my opinion: security, safety, love, entertainment, pleasure. This I can relate to. I generally find that I can relate to people all over the world wherever I have been. I generally find that I can understand what people in various countries want the world to know about them and how they feel misunderstood. It feels a lot harder for me to understand India. Maybe it is as I move further east and the culture shifts. Maybe the culture is just vastly different? I see young men in fancy shoes and cool jackets. I see women in traditional dresses. I see modern cars. New infrastructure. Modern buildings. Filthy alleyways. Massive malls. Parks. Sculptures. Markets. Parks. Temples. Students. Businessmen. Couples. Poor people. Middle class. Upper class. And then I see a monkey. Why is there a monkey running across the road? Oh yeah…I’m in India.

WC

Ironically the last meal my fiancee and I had together was at a five star hotel in Amritsar. I'm not saying that the food from there got to me...but it was my last meal before...

My fiancée had to head back home and I was too sick to accompany her to the airport. It started the evening before she left as I felt nausea. During the night it felt uncomfortable in my stomach when I turned in bed. I had gas and wasn’t quite sure if I was going to vomit. In the morning I was ties to the toilet. Great stuff. Fortunately it doesn’t happen to me very often. Eventually she had to leave towards the airport and I stayed in bed. I didn’t make my bus to Delhi that night. I spent another night in Amritsar and gained strength. Should I have spent two nights? Was I ready for the eight hour bus ride? I’m in the habit of pushing myself. Sometimes a little to hard. I personally believe that the Saga would never have gotten this far if that wasn’t the case. It is too easy to get comfortable and lose sight of the objective. It is too easy to stay in bed. It is too easy to keep watching YouTube videos. It is too easy to say no. It is too easy not to change. It is too easy… I got on the bus at 10pm and hoped that my shorts would be clean the next morning. They were. But I did not sleep at all that night. Indians drive like they walk.

bus

Maybe it was to early to get on the bus to Delhi?

New Delhi. Called that because it’s a new part of the city. Delhi has been the subject of a lot of history even long before it was called Delhi. In 1911 the British Empire moved the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. New Delhi is the administrative part of Delhi with among other things the Parliament. The streets and lanes of New Delhi are a lot tidier then in Delhi. Delhi has ancient architecture, old structures, the old city wall and the famed Red Fort. Delhi and New Delhi have grown together and it is hard to say where one begins and the other ends. And it doesn’t matter anyway. I call all of it Delhi anyway :)

Delhi

These are administrative times for the Saga. I need to work out some stuff. Originally I thought I’d be applying for the Chinese visa in Delhi. So I got all the documents ready, filled out the forms and went down on the streets and found out where to make copies and print documents. I researched other peoples experience and generally spent a lot of time preparing. The next morning I spent time reaching the Chinese Embassy and then debating with the auto driver if we had moved into a 100 rupee zone or if I should just pay the 50 we had agreed? No debate for me though. I got out, paid the 50 and walked the rest of the way. A lot of hustles and scams are to be found in Delhi. People need to make a living and for some tourists are an easy means to extra income. A scam could be a driver telling you that the hotel you have booked has burned down but he fortunately knows a great one for you. The driver gets a commission at the “great hotel” and there is nothing wrong with the one you originally booked. Simple stuff like that. Some scams get a lot more complicated though. Anyway, the Chinese Embassy told me to walk around to the back to gate four: the consulate. At the consulate I was told that for ordinary passports (not diplomatic etc) I had to apply at the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre. So then I had to spend time getting there, getting in line, going somewhere else, passing security and waiting for my turn. I was called to desk number three and spoke to a bright and helpful employee. Making a long story short I needed to apply for a special tourist visa. A process of lengthy bureaucrazy and a waiting period of three months.

Autos

Auto rickshaws go by many names around the world. Quite commonly people refer to them as tuk-tuk’s but in India they are known as autos.

Meanwhile I received an email from a tour company in Nepal, which I have asked regarding transport across the Himalayas to Tibet and onward to Beijing. They informed me that their last tour before the snow closes everything off would depart around January 25th. The next one would be in April. And yes: I need a tour company to take me across as there is no public transportation. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Me wanting to go through a mountainous passage and it being blocked off by snow? Are these mountains somehow conspiring to stop me? Oh well – it’s not the end of the world. It is relatively easy to reroute from India. However this project has been a learning experience for me and there are two things within this which I despise: A) Having to postpone the Saga for months (wait until April) and B) change the original plan (not go to China after Bhutan and Nepal). I should be the king of adapt and improvise by now and all things considered I have an act for it. I just don’t like adjusting the original plan. Regarding the Chinese visa my main issue is that I am unable to produce a ticket proving how I will enter China. Most people just show up with a booked flight. Technically I could buy a refundable ticket and present that to apply for the visa. A little dishonest as I’m not flying but it gets the trick done. Here it wouldn’t matter because there was no way I would get the visa, visit Bhutan and reach Nepal in time to join the tour. No Himalayas for me this time. Hours later I had the new route more or less worked out. India – Nepal – India – Bhutan – India – Bangladesh – India – Myanmar – Thailand – Laos – China – North Korea – China – South Korea etc. Good thing I hold a multi entry visa for India – huh?

China

The Chinese Visa Application Service Centre has style ;)

Do you know that I have traveled more than 240,000 km (150,000 mi) over land and sea in an unbroken journey completely without flying? The distance to the moon is on average distance to the moon is 384,402 km (238,856 mi). Do you think we will make it all the way? 240,000 km is equal to traveling six times around the equator or 11 times the length of the combined Great Wall of China. On average I cross the border to a new country every 11.3 days but in reality in much fewer days as I revisit several countries several times (like India four times). Constantly packing and unpacking. Looking for a place to do laundry. Meeting with the Red Cross or Red Crescent. Booking accommodation. Researching. Looking for meals. Managing all social media (FB, IG, Twitter, YouTube, blog). Writing articles. Looking for sponsorship. Applying for visas. Meeting people. Taking photos. Pushing forward. This is every day of the past five years and three months. It is work. Nobody would get this far by accident ;) I spend a lot of time cursing what I do. I feel that I enjoy far less of it than I dislike. I recently heard Arnold Schwarzenegger say that he loved every training session he did in his youth because it got him closer to his goal. Maybe he did? Maybe I will someday stand on a stage and proclaim that I loved sitting at every embassy applying for visas because it was getting me one step closer to home. What a lot of good all that work did for the Chinese visa. People are just people. And people lie to themselves all the time. While I am “not having fun” with this project and I am not “enjoying” it as much as people seem to think there are definitely moments of fun and joy. I’m sure there is for you too while you study at school, apply for a job, dress your children, go to work, pay your taxes, commute, get stuck in traffic, buy groceries, pay the bills, work overtime, lose your job, run out of gas, miss a train, lay sick in bed and live your lives. Because as corny as it sounds: flowers tend to grow in the most peculiar places. You may see a flower in a desert or out of a wall. You’ll find a laugh on a stressful day. You will have a moment of joy in an ordinary situation. Isn’t that just life? If you are happy all the time then good for you. For me it’s more like small islands of happiness which occur every now and again. If I can remember them then I can look back at them and that gives an overall sense of happiness.

cow

Cows do what they want, where they want, when they want...

Two days ago I sat with my laptop on my lap (see how appropriate the name is) and was researching the new route. I was feeling healthy and had been eating regularly without a worry. Like lightning from a blue sky my stomach sent me new notice: ALARM!! I thought I was well. I made it to the toilet and had another 24 hours of fun, fun, fun. “Everybody gets it in India” they tell me at my hostel. Yeah? But do you have any idea what my stomach has been through over the past five years? I’ve been in India for less than two weeks and I’m down on two occasions now. Somehow it is no surprise. India is not exactly a clean country. There are piles of rubbish in crowded neighborhoods and it is common to see a man taking a leak on a wall or across a pile of waste. Cows and wild dogs walk freely and do their business wherever they want. As you probably know the cow is a holy animal in India and free to do whatever it wants. Apparently cows like to block traffic and eat garbage from the side of the road. What can you get “Delhi belly” from? Touching money, shaking hands, poor hygiene in the bathroom, food, water – anything really. India is everything. Incredible !ndia.

Mohit

Mohit wanted to meet up. He offered accommodation long ago and has been asking how he could help financially since a year ago. I only had half an hour but that was enough for us to drive around and talk about everything. He's a great guy who has worked his way into the bitcoin ATM industry. I did not know there was such a thing? When we parted he handed me 26,000 rupee ($369 USD)!!

I’m working on a few things. I have not lost hope in regards to finding a new financial sponsor. Someone out there must be able to see the light. Imagine that every post on social media ended with: “powered by XXX”. Imagine every interview I did and every conversation I have regarding funding contains: “the financial sponsor is XXX”. I’ve seen lesser things than the Saga get sponsored so it is pretty frustrating. However I might not be the man to sell it. The way I see it is that I will create a new crowdfunding platform which runs until the Saga reaches the final country: Patreon for everyone and MobilePay for the Danes because they really care about that ;) I’m toying on creating a webshop where you can buy a sweater, t-shirt, cap etc. which reads “a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before” or perhaps “let’s keep on keeping on”. Something like that. Then that could help fund the Saga. It was always my intention that the Saga should be free for everyone as long as it took me to reach the final country. And I will stand by that. But if you want to help me cover all the costs I have built up since we lost financial sponsorship, then I will make it possible for you to do so. Other topics right now are Bhutan and until recently North Korea. North Korea recently went from country number 172 to 176. And we are at 168 right now so that is less urgent. Bhutan will be from the start of February and is easily done through an agency. Three days, two nights, will run me $820 USD. I’ve known that before I left home. It is just still a little…well…oh well…whatever gets me home. The Saga’s budget is fine and on track though. I’m on a $20/day budget to cover meals, transport, accommodation and visas. On average we are doing fine and over five years $820 is not going to make a visible dent in the big picture.

IMG 6653

Getting it done with Rakesh (left), Yuvankit (middle) and Mahendar behind the camera. I randomly asked them at Delhi Central Park and they were game! Day nine: 23 push-ups ;)

Well, I’m up and about again. I haven’t been to the toilet since this morning. It is Friday now for me here in India. It is 01:21am and I still have a few hours to go before this is online. I have a meeting with the Danish Embassy at 10:00am and with Lene from the Danish Travelers Club (DBK) at 4:00pm. I should try to visit the Bangladesh Embassy in between to ask a few questions. I did my 24 push-ups as per schedule. If you don’t know about that schedule then it’s because I challenged everyone to follow a push-up schedule with me for 30 days of January. We started with 15 and will end the month with 40. I’m pretty weak right now due to how my stomach has been but I managed to do my push-ups TWICE today (or technically yesterday) because the guy filming made a mistake. I post the videos across FB, IG and Twitter every day and have been tagging it #OUAS30DayChallenge. So…if I can be weak from “Delhi belly”, reroute the Saga, do my push-ups twice, get the blog ready for Friday morning and overall not give up after five years of pushing through ANYTHING which has stood between me and where I had to go…then I guess you can find the strength within yourself to do what you need to do too. Let’s keep on keeping on ;)

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Parting is such sweet sorrow. Miss her already.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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2019: Incredible !ndia and a tolerance for noise!! (and my fiancée visits)

Day 1,912 since October 10th 2013: 168 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.   

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross of which I am a Goodwill Ambassador for) 

An ultra-short blog

pano

Hey there people of the world. I hope you arrived safely into our bran new year: 2019!! What an achievement of us all!! For an entire circle around the Sun none of us fell of the planet and we are now ready to start a new year where we all are a little bit older. Hopefully wiser too.

My fiancée is right next to me while I write this. So I’m not going to waste the time we could otherwise spend together. Where is here? We are in Amritsar, India. So that tells you that all went well in Pakistan at the High Commission of India in Islamabad. I picked up my visa and left with a smile. Then a bird pooped on me in a park in Islamabad. Good luck people say? How come so many people across so many countries think that? I guess that’s some common ground for all of us. Minutes later another bird pooped on me and with two bird droppings on me I had enough and I left the park…how much luck does a man deserve...

Fort1

Lahore Fort, Pakistan. Early morning before the city woke up.

fort2

The famous Alamigiri Gate of Lahore Fort.

I spent a night in Lahore, got up early and visited the famous fort. Then I crossed the Wagah border into India which caused me some problems in regards to leaving. I had been told at the 'Directorate General Immigration and Passport Headquarter' in Islamabad, that my visa did not need an extension as I had a “14 day grace period”. I believe it was the Director General himself who told me that. It was certainly the one who had the largest office. At the border immigration had heard of no such thing and just focused on that my visa was one day overdue. My fiancée was about to land in Amritsar airport so I was in no mood for that kind of nonsense. I puffed up my chest a bit and made myself clear. That momentarily seemed to backfire on me but after a 20 minute delay the Pakistan immigration at the border ensured me that I was their guest and that they would do whatever they could to help me. Moments later they made an extension for me and I was stamped out of the country. I guess it also helped a bit that I could show them the interview on GNN TV (watch it HERE).

india

168 countries in an unbroken journey completely without the use of flight.

Across the border I quickly reached a taxi, headed to the airport and we have been together ever since. This is the 19th time she visits me since October 2013. Amritsar is famous for the Golden Temple so we have been to see that...four times. We have also made our way to the superball of border closing ceremonies: the Wagah border. I’ll try to make a video for you but there is really no shortage of videos across YouTube if you want to see how entertaining and interesting that is. Amritsar is much more than just the Temple and the border. We have enjoyed walking the old narrow streets, we have definitely enjoyed the food which often fills us up for less than $4 USD and we have stumbled across www.cityonpedals.com which is a hostel that offers incredible tours which are an absolute MUST if you come to Amritsar. They come highly recommended and get two big thumbs up from my fiancée and I as well.

tea

The Sikhs serve free tea for us at the Golden Temple. Free food and accomodation too if you want.

train

When the boom gate is down people wait for the train...or not ;)

food

The food is uhm good!

border

At Wagah Border minutes before the daily closing ceremony begins.

newyear

Fooling around New Years Eve. We watched Harry Potter and decided to drink when they said a magical spell while we ate cake every time they said 'Harry Potter". That kept us busy!!

newyear2

We went back to the Golden Temple for the third time on New Years Eve. It was jam packed! Special atmosphere. Memorable New Year.

There is much to be said about India. There is much to be said about Pakistan. There is much to be said about the past week but please have me excused as I have other things to attend to right now :) India is what the tourism slogan says: Incredible! I mean that in every sense of the word. At times you will get incredibly frustrated over a number of things. The level of noise can at times be outrageous and you would hardly be able to tell if you were surrounded by regular vehicles or if every moving object on the road was an ambulance with the sirens blasting away. Then it all changes. You recognize how easily people smile. How they love music, food and dance. And you might just fall in love with that too. I’ve been to India before. That was back in 2010 on a motorcycle adventure with a good friend from Australia. This time I will be here for at least three weeks as I get us ready for Bhutan, China and North Korea. Look forward to the next entry. Welcome to 2019 ;)

final

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - closer to home.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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The last entry of 2018. The land of the clean and heading east.

Day 1,905 since October 10th 2013: 167 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.   

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross)

Mission impossible looks less….impossible.

pano

I have been away from home for 1,905 days now. Before you get a headache trying to calculate that in human terms then I’ll help you: 5 years, 2 months and 18 days. In that time I have on average had to pack my bags and go to a new country every 11.4 days. We have put 167 countries behind us and have 36 more to go. Three rules make this project nearly impossible: 1) spend more than 24 hours in each country, 2) do not return home until you reach the final country or quit and, 3) do not fly under any circumstances. I guess five years ago I had no idea what that would entail. I certainly do now. And by my best calculations I am on track for bringing us to the last country just 12-13 months from now. There is light ahead…

I have had it up to here (see my hand at eye level) with visa applications. It truly shines through how vast the difference is between applying for visas when flying and when not. I’m trying to meet my fiancée in India in a few days and she had her visa within hours of filling in an online application. I had to go to a designated visa agency last Friday, have a form filled in and received a receipt. Then nothing happened during the weekend. Last Monday the agency passed my application on to the High Commission of India and Tuesday was a national holiday. Wednesday I had my fingers crossed but I didn’t receive a phone call or an email. Yesterday, Thursday, I did all in my power to call the agency and the High Commission of India but during several hours didn’t get through to anyone. Well, that is not the full story…we will return to this in a bit…

tivoli

Near Islamabad Zoo.

The Royal Danish Embassy in Pakistan has been amazing!! I have been socializing with Saleem who is the Communications Manager and Bente who is the Deputy Head of Mission. Saleem is from Pakistan and Bente is Danish. They have both gone to great extent trying to help me in various ways. Saleem has coordinated several interviews including a really nice one with Dawn Media Group which you can read by clicking HERE. For the interview I sat down with Saleem from the embassy and Jamal who is the Sr. Staff Reporter. Dawn is among the largest English speaking media groups in Pakistan. No small thing when you’re dealing with a country which has more than 200 million people!! Saleem has also introduced me to several of his friends, to a few social media influencers and he has also shown me a bit around Islamabad. He is an all-round amazing guy who is very passionate about creating positive results – and he reaches them! We had a few of our meetings at the residence of the Danish Ambassador who was back home in Denmark during the Christmas holidays. It was nice to visit his residence and see the Danish artifacts and paintings which decorate his home.

nerds

I had some fun with @thenerdtwins who have a great socialy responsible presence across instagram.

xmastree

Danish Christmas with Bente :)

xmasfood

xmas1

I took a wrong turn in Islamabad and came across this which felt rather special on a Christmas night.

And thanks to Bente I had a Danish Christmas in Pakistan! Bente is an accomplished diplomat who has worked all over the world. She invited me for a delicious homemade Christmas dinner with white potatoes, thick brown gravy, brown potatoes, duck, red cabbage, meatballs, prunes, apples, Danish Christmas music and great company. Afterwards we had some Pakistani dessert which was just as amazing! In Denmark December 24th is the big evening for Christmas: waiting in anticipation, gift wrapping the last presents, dining with family, dancing around a decorated tree (yeah - we are weird), singing songs, handing out presents...I haven’t been home to do that in five long years. But I got the second best thing together with Bente. She is a brilliant chef and she has amazing stories from her interesting life across the globe. With Pakistan being somewhere around 95-98% Muslim there weren’t too many Christmas trees to be seen across the capital. However as those of you who read my blogs are spread out over some 120 countries I’ll say seasonal greeting and Merry Christmas people! May you have a peace wherever you are. Bente also tried to reach out to the High Commission of India but had no luck speeding up the process. It takes as long as it takes.

traffic

Most often you need to look for traffic in Islamabad as the capital is only Pakistan's 9th largest city and traffic flows just fine. However it does happen.

My past week has frankly been quite administrative. That’s not unusual this far into the project. Some things do get easier however other elements get more demanding. Social media is certainly demanding. There are more interviews which can also be enormously time consuming. Applying for visas simply takes as long as it does and these days I’m grateful when it can be done online or if I don’t need to do it at all. South Eastern Asia will be very generous towards me and my Danish passport so I’m looking forward to that. Meetings, research, the RC movement…my beard has grown long too. My fiancée only has four days left of her vacation for 2018. The ideal thing would be to combine it with weekends and holidays to get the most of it. You might think that the Danish corporate vacation calendar starts with the beginning of a new year but it doesn’t. It ends with April 30th and begins with May 1st. So in other words she has four days of vacation she can spend between now and May 2019. That makes it tricky. We were hoping to get the most out of Christmas and New Year’s but I cannot guarantee when I will be able to leave Pakistan and enter India. Two countries that by the way do not get overwhelmingly along, which is just odd as they are pretty much the same people in terms of language, appearance, culture, history, food, humor etc. The religion does differ between India and Pakistan though. So that adds to different religious customs and holidays. Cows are safe in India and pigs are safe in Pakistan. However on both sides of the border they eat chicken and I figure we can all start with that ;)

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Telling about the Saga and taking questions. Good questions! ;)

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The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) was pretty amazing! And it became the final National Society I would visit in 2018. In total I have reached 23 for 2018. I’m thankful for all the kindness the movement has shown me on a nation to nation basis. The PRCS picked me up and brought me to their HQ in Islamabad which was buzzing from activity. Sandar Sami Ullah Abbasi greeted me. He is the Program Coordinator for youth and volunteers and asked if I would make a presentation for staff and volunteers about the Saga. Of course I would! It became the 76th presentation I have made since I left home and the last of 2018. Interestingly I have only made seven presentations for the RC (Red Cross, Red Crescent, Red Crystal) from the 163 National Societies I have visited. It went well and afterwards I was guided around the Blood Donor Center which is fully equipped to handle donations of blood, plasma and blood platelets. They also have storage facilities and are grateful for all the donations they receive. However in light of the ever increasing demand for safe blood, the PRCS would be grateful for more donations in order to meet the needs. That is you! ;) I donated as often as I could back home in Denmark and I will keep it up once I return home if they still want it after everything I have been through. You can definitely donate in your country ;)

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I was then shown around the PRCS museum and told a story or two about the PRCS history which officially began at Pakistan’s independence in 1947 but has traditions which go back long before then. The Society has its branches in all five provinces of Pakistan and through these branches, and 92 district level branches, the PRCS coordinates its field operations. This vast network is managed through a dedicated team of staff and volunteers drawn from a wide cross-section of the society. Pakistan is a country with 200 million people, mountains, rivers, ocean, desert, forest and mega cities so you can only imagine the extent of the work they carry out!! I met Khalid Bin Majeed who is the Secretary General and a very busy man! His smartphone wouldn’t give him a break!! That led us to lunch which was nothing short of absolutely delicious. Pakistan knows a thing or two about food!

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Please visit PRCS website to learn more. Click HERE.

As is the case with many National Societies around the world they are not always known for what they do. I mean that in the sense that the RC always does far more than most people realize. The PRCS is e.g. known for blood drives, for first aid and for responding to natural disasters. However let me list which areas they are involved in and you might just see what I mean: restoring family links, cash transfer programs, climate change and disaster risk reduction, community based risk education, youth and volunteers, integrated community based risk reduction, school safety programme, disaster response, logistics support, first aid training, water and sanitation hygiene, healthcare, community based health and first aid and emergency ambulance service. Yes…that is “just” the PRCS alone. And they are one of 191 National Societies around the world. So just think about the massive commitment to humanity on the global scale!! Keep thinking…keep thinking…keep thinking…okay now, back it up a bit! You overthought it for a second. Yeah…right there. That’s fine! ;)

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In 2018 Once Upon A Saga became the greatest attempt in history to unify the entire Red Cross Red Crescent world in a single journey. This seems to have gone lost on various administrative levels however it is nonetheless true. In 2003 Gerard Starck, an ambassador of the IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent), passed away after colliding with a car in Kyrgyzstan. He was on his motorcycle and had at the time reached 148 National Societies over a period of six years. In 2018 I have brought the Saga to twenty-four new countries and ten revisits. In other words I have been to thirty countries this year, some of them twice, some of the thrice. And now that I have visited National Societies in 163 countries the Saga has become the greatest attempt to unify the entire movement in a journey.

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Here are the countries I took us to during 2018:

Lebanon (2 times)

Syria

Egypt (2 times)

Jordan

Iraq

Kuwait

Iran (3 times)

UAE (3 times)

Oman (3 times)

Yemen

Qatar

Saudi Arabia (2 times)

Bahrain

Israel (2 times)

Palestine

Turkey

Georgia (3 times)

Azerbaijan

Armenia (2 times)

Afghanistan

Turkmenistan

Uzbekistan

Tajikistan

Kyrgyzstan

Kazakhstan

Russia (2 times)

Mongolia

Ukraine

Pakistan

India (keep reading)

The saga has now clocked up 242,000 kilometers (150,372 mi) across 167 countries on five continents over more than five years. That is furthermore in a single unbroken journey completely without flying. Mountains of bureaucrazy and oceans of logistical challenges lie behind us. What is yet to come?

 

Here’s a story for you which is nice because it is true! It happened a few days ago:

I’ve had my fair share of Pakistani food and it is delicious. However that night I wanted a pizza. I found a nice place, sat down, ordered and waited for it to arrive. At the table next to me there was a family: husband, wife and daughter. And we soon began a conversation. They were from Peshawar just 177 km (110 mi) northwest of Islamabad and were in town visiting family. Really nice people. We mostly spoke about the Saga and the husband had a hard time deciding if I was enjoying what I do...or not? I revealed that reaching every country without flying is hard work for me: visas, bureaucrazy, logistics, research, interviews, social media, tickets, bookings, meetings etc. I do enjoy a lot of stuff though. However it has been rough lately and on top of the last few weeks of madness I can’t be with friends and family now during the seasonal holidays. So...you know...

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The wife suggested that I could join her husband in visiting Khewra salt mines which are the second largest and the oldest in the world. Unfortunately I already had plans the following day so I kindly declined the generous offer. The family finished their meal before I did and got up to leave. We said farewell and they wished me well on reaching the last 36 countries. Five minutes later I was ready to leave and asked for my bill. The waiter smiled, pointed at the now empty table and said that it had already been paid for. Kindness, humility, hospitality and thoughtfulness seem to be dominant trades across Pakistan no matter where I go: Taftan, Dalbandin, Quetta, Jacobabad, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad... Never underestimate the kindness of a stranger. And thank you so much for your kindness dear family from Peshawar.

I hope you liked that story. Most of the world we find around us is in no way represented in the media outlets we have available: friends, social media, news, movies, songs, blogs, commercials etc. It just isn’t. Because anything ordinary becomes un-newsworthy. When is the last time you told someone about that time you were standing in line and nothing happened? Never. Why the heck would you tell a story like that. However waiting and standing in line is such a great part of the time we spend alive. So is studying, searching for work, doing your job, being part of a family, doing various sports, entertainment, dancing and an endless list of other stuff. Even in conflict zones you will find people falling in love, getting married and children playing ball. The perception of planet earth is for most people rather far from reality. And for people perception becomes reality. So what have I done in 2018? I have tried my very best to alter the perception of hundreds of thousands of people. If you could see what I have seen. I you somehow could know what I know. Oh well…let’s get back to the Indian visa story…

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Uber taxis have been my preferred way to get around Islamabad. Some rides have been as low as 95 rupees ($0.68 USD). The Pakistani Uber drivers are slightly annoying as they don't want to pick me up before I say where I want to go although they have already accepted the ride. The reason is that they don't want to go to "Pindi" (Rawalpindi) which is much more dense and crowded than Islamabad.

I got my polio vaccine which is required and applied though one of the appointed visa services. To the best of my knowledge they handed over my application to the High Commission of India last Monday and then Tuesday was a national holiday. Wednesday I heard nothing. So yesterday, Thursday, I tried calling the agency several times but I never got through. Then I called the High Commission several times without luck. However I kept calling and eventually I got through. I reached Mr. Davender Singh who is the second secretary of the embassy. He found my application which was a good start. I then explained that I would like to know if I could expect my visa soon or if I should apply for an extension of my Pakistani visa which would expire on December 28th (today). Mr. Singh then asked me to come for an interview at 3pm the same day (yesterday). At 2.30pm I was in yet another Uber taxi on my way to the High Commission. Little did I know about the high level of security of the area wherein the embassy lies!! It is called the “Red Zone” and that is how I will forever remember it.

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The Presidents Palace.

The driver and I reached a gate just 600 meters (600 yards) from the High Commission of India but security would not let us into the area. We had to proceed to another entrance on the far side of the Red Zone. That was pretty far away and it took some time to get there. However the driver was once again told that he could not enter…but I could. I said farewell to the driver and was pointed towards the shuttle service which was just a few minutes’ walking distance away. Once at the shuttle service I had to pass security to enter. Then once I was in I had to approach a desk and inform where I wanted to go. Then I received a ticket which I brought to a counter. At the counter they charged me 500 rupees ($3.58 USD) for their shuttle service. That amount is not the end of the world but it is expensive compared to the taxi I arrived in and furthermore I’m not sure why I’m paying for a government issued shuttle service? Then I had to hand in my phone. That is slightly problematic given all the information it holds. What if I needed some info while at the High Commission? Oh well…it got me nowhere trying to explain that. I made a call to Mr. Singh letting him know that I was at the Red Zone but would be some 20 minutes late due to security. No problem. Then I proceeded to the shuttle service vehicles and was told to get into the back seat. There were two other passengers. First we dropped a guy at the Bulgarian Embassy and then a lady at an intersection. Finally it was my turn. The entire area looked like a mix of run down military quarters and posh embassies with lush gardens. It was a huge complex!! We passed by the most impressive US Embassy I have ever seen. It was like a village!! Not just one of their ordinary large embassy complexes.

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The second entrance to the Red Zone. The one where the driver dropped me off.

We finally reached the High Commission of India. I walked up to the guards who wanted to know my name. A few questions later and I was shown into the High Commission. Then I had to confirm that I did not have a phone, a gun, a camera, a laptop nor anything else. I was searched and had to explain that there was money in my wallet and paper in my folder. Then I was finally welcomed into a courtyard with five windows and no people. After knocking on the windows and saying “hello” louder and louder for five to ten minutes I returned to the guards to tell them that there was nobody there. I was then told to wait another ten minutes. After ten minutes a man appeared at window number one and after a while of ping pong between us he had spoken to his manager and told me to go to window number six? However there were five windows and no doors? Then I was told to go back to the street, turn left twice and come back to the building and approach window number six. Now even though the guards outside saw me come out from the first area and escorted me to the second I still had to go through the exact same security procedures (with the same guards). I reached window number six, was shown to the door, went through security procedures once again and was finally shown inside to a waiting room. Then Mr. Singh arrived, shook my hand and everything was pleasant from that point on. We had a nice conversation about who I am, what I am doing, about Pakistan and then he left me for five minutes to see what he could do for me. When he returned he told me that I could come back the following day (today) at noon to collect my visa. So at this moment of writing it looks like we will be including India in the countries we reached during 2018 ;)

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Zaineb is a charming colleague of Saleem at the Danish Embassy. We met up and had some local snacks.

The bureaucrazy of Pakistan is certainly heavy. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with it and maybe the new leadership will even lighten it. Most security I have encountered has seemed slightly over excessive as Pakistan is not at all the country it was just a few years ago. Pakistan has become far safer than its daunting reputation. How long will it now take the world to realize that? Pakistan is a country which has everything!! Poor people, middle class and rich people all live here. The world’s second highest mountain, and not by much, is called K2 and is part of the Pakistani Himalayas. If you come then you will discover amazing trekking, white water rafting, ancient history, cool cafes, malls, cinemas, universities, museums, fashion shows, desert, forest, monkeys, dolphins, camels…it is all here. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will no doubt bring a lot of prosperity to Pakistan in one way or the other. The plan is to connect the western part of China with the Arabian Sea through Pakistan. A huge port is currently being constructed and Balochistan is at the center of it. Many have high hopes for Imran Khan who is the new Prime Minister (and former superstar cricketeer). Great things are potentially at the doorsteps of Pakistan. In fact Forbes has featured Pakistan among the top ten coolest places to visit in 2019! I know I will be back some day…

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Pink tea anyone? ;)

I wonder about a great many things. I hope that this year has helped you overcome difficulties, that the saga has inspired you in various ways, that you have been motivated, that you’ve learned something new and that I have kept you entertained. If you are Danish and want to join a travelers club then I recommend De Berejstes Klub (DBK). I’ve been a member for years now and the network is outstanding. You can be a part of the DBK traveler’s community in various ways and do not need to have been to a lot of countries. For those of you who are not Danish and still have the travel bug I would recommend Nomad Mania. Across several sites I now rank among the 400 most traveled people in the world. And for me travel is hardly the most important part of the Saga ;)

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Now everyone can stop asking me if I went to Margalla Hills!! I did!! ;) Saleem and his friend Yasir took me.

In October I mentioned I had a challenge brewing which I want as many of you as possible to participate in. It is a push-up challenge where we start with 15 and after a month we will end with 40. If you can do 15 push-ups then please do this challenge with me in January 2019. I plan to make a video each day and upload it across social media. That should be interesting :)

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I challenge you! (and me). January 2019!!

Thank you for all your amazing support throughout 2018!! Family, friends, fans, followers, partners and supporters alike: you have been amazing!! This is a lonely job I have created for myself. I do make many friendships and meet many people. However it is a lonely endeavor. Since you are kind enough to take the time to read my blogs I am sure you have far more insight than others in terms of what it has taken me to get this far. Most of the social media doesn’t reflect the truth of the achievement. Many will only see the success but reality also demands persistence, failure, sacrifice, disappointment, dedication, hard work and good habits. Much of which is hidden and what I suspect most do not see. These are however elements of achieving anything in life so you may very well be familiar with it :)

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My roommate at my $8 USD hostel in Islamabad gave me this. I guess we are ready for India now! ;)

 

 

That is it folks. See you across the border. Let’s keep on keeping on! #KOKO ;)

 

Happy New Year.

 

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - About to shave ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

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