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