IANS - Indo-Asian News Service– 8 December 2010

We felt safe when we stepped into India: German traveller

By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar

He made a long journey from Hamburg to Goa in a Volkswagen Bulli, along the same route the first German hippies took when they came here 60 years ago. Niels Melves, a teacher and avid traveller, says having crossed countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, he felt safer the moment he stepped into India.

Niels, who is in his 50s, has become the face of the Indo-German friendship week that began Wednesday. He said right through the road journey from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran was the one place where he felt the world changed to an “all male” and “bleak” reality.

“Passing through Iran felt like a country in ruin and reverse. There were no women on the streets. It was dramatic in a very oppressive way,” said Niels.

He took five weeks for the Euro-Asian journey along with his wife Anka, daughter Maya, 5, and Florian Surya, 3, who incidentally was born in Goa on an earlier trip to the beach state.

“I did not feel safe in Iran. We were escorted by an armed vehicle when we passed Afghanistan, but we were glad when we passed over into Pakistan. Plus, the drivers in Iran are worse than those in India. They are crazy. The worst in the world,” said an emphatic Niels.

The German said while there was no obvious drama or scandals on the journey from Germany to Goa, the relief of stepping into Indian territory was worth cherishing.

“There was no drama. We were not captured by the Taliban or anything like that, but we all breathed a sigh of relief when we stepped into India. From an oppression-filled environment into a country where you don’t have to be scared to say something. We felt free when we stepped into India, at the Wagah border. That’s the magic of India,” Niels told IANS.

Niels also said for a German who has seen the Berlin Wall the Wagah border theatrics unnerved him a little bit.

“It would have been a great spectacle if both these countries (India and Pakistan) were not nuclear powers. But it’s a scary prospect now if one looks beyond the theatrics of two countries with nukes to back them,” Niels said.

At Anjuna - a popular village in coastal north Goa, 15 km from here, where the first German hippies landed 60 years ago, incidentally also in a Bulli - Niels along with the Indo-German Friendship Society Goa (IGFSG), will hold an exhibition of photographs taken by him on his journeys.

“I have travelled in my motorcar in all continents (except America) over the last five years. I have been from Canada to South America. I have also driven across Australia and New Zealand. China I haven’t driven in yet because it is very expensive to drive your own vehicle,” he said.