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food / travel

Traffic Jams And Yoga, A Skeptical German Ventures To India

Just go, leave everything behind and relax. We sent our reporter to Jodhpur, India's blue city, where he is desperately trying to disconnect with all his worldly stress.

A view of Jodhpur, India's blue city.
A view of Jodhpur, India's blue city.
Michalis Pantelouris

JODHPUR — Measured against India's other urban centers, Jodhpur, known as the "blue city," is relatively small, with 2.8 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area. Still, on your first encounter, it suffocates you with both heat and noise. Soon enough, however, you will also be breathing in the most beautiful colors and most intoxicating scents of curry and saffron, cinnamon and cardamom.

It is called the blue city due to its Brahman houses that have been plastered with a mixture of indigo and whitewash to keep out the heat and insects. There is aggressive traffic like you have never seen, which may make you feel as if everyone is out to get you on two, three or four wheels — and legs.

If relaxing means slowing down your day, you won't find it here. But if it means making the day yours — and seeming to stop time altogether — then this is the right spot. Your senses are bombarded with so much information that you are forced to give up from sensory overload.

Motorized rickshaws and endless motorcycles whizz in between each other, and around everyone else. I was driven around Jodhpur six times in one of those motorized rickshaws — and, yes, we managed to hit two people on two different occasions, once a motorcyclist with a soft, metallic ping and a pedestrian, who yelled at us furiously. But we did make sure to give the holy cows a wide berth.

Even that is a bit too much, all these rules, religious ones, what is considered unclean, the Gods, the symbols, the chanting. Feet are unclean, your left hand more than anything else, one well is reserved for Brahmans only, and if someone from a lower caste were to drink from it, he/she might be torn to pieces within minutes by an angry mob. But just a few meters next to that same well, rats are frolicking among the torn rubbish sacks thrown out onto the street. Dirty and unclean are two very different things in this country.

The right hand is clean, you eat with your right hand, and only with your right hand, which means that you will have to tear your flatbread with one hand as well and that is surprisingly difficult, and you use the flatbread to grab the solid pieces within curries that taste like everything you ever hoped for and thought of when thinking about India — foreign but also lush and exciting, like a thousand little adventures rolled into one.

From the rooftop

You shouldn't be here if the only criteria for your journey was sensible leisure. My editors sent me to do my best to relax, and that's what I had in mind, sitting around and people-watching, or preferably on the beach, the ocean lapping at my feet. But an ocean is the last thing you will find in this desert-like city of Jodhpur.

I did try to relax one morning, while sitting on the roof top terrace of one of those so-called "Haveli," former aristocratic houses that have been turned into hotels. I just sat around and starred into the blue sky. But the sky is full of flocks of birds, and five eagles were soaring above the old Maharaja's Fort and Palace Mehrangarh, in which the respective Maharajas wielded power.

It seems so close from down here, and yet the Maharajas lived in a world that was completely removed from the city below. Every window arch, every wall has been finished with craftsmanship and attention-to-detail unbeknownst to us nowadays. Fort Mehrangarh, the "majestic fort," is a magical place. But the current Maharaja is living in an even more beautiful palace outside the blue city now, part of which has been transformed into a luxury hotel to pay for all the opulence since the Maharajas' principalities were dissolved in 1956.

At one point, a group of three parrots landed nearby as I sat on the roof terrace. While they came to have a drink of water, I noticed that the neighboring roofs were crowded with apes who were lounging around delousing one another. One of the apes was holding his leg in the air while grabbing his foot so effortlessly that any yogi would have been envious. I certainly was.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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