Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pictures Tamil Nadu

From India - Tamil Nadu

My trip to India is over. As I settled down in my apartment, I felt astounded by the tranquility and silence that prevails here. Things that you learn to cherish after a visit to a land of 1+ billion people. The trip home was uncomplicated, and I got a whole day in Frankfurt, where I visited the Film Museum and saw their H. R. Giger-expo, among other things.
Please enjoy the pictures from Tamil Nadu.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pictures Bangalore & Mysore

From India - Bangalore & Mysore

More pictures from India!

I am now writing from Velanganni, Tamil Nadu, on the east coast of the continent. I have arrived here in the company of my father and his three students. They are going to remain here in the area studying projects of post-tsunami reconstruction.

In the next days, I will head north along the coast until reaching Chennai, then head back to Bangalore and begin the journey back to Sweden.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

First days in Mumbai

From India - Mumbai

First day in Mumbai

After breakfast, I hesitated leaving the hotel. The rain was already pouring down and I didn´t know how to approach the unknown city outside. After pacing the hotel room a few times too many, I decided it was time to get out there.

As is the case many times, it was not as difficult as I thought. Just outside the hotel I found a row of taxis and a driver who seemed nice, and we set off to check for train tickets, which was my first priority. I´m staying in the tourist-friendly sector of Colaba, and a ticket agency was not far away. As I entered the office, my driver waited on the sidewalk chatting to some friends under a marquis. Half way through my booking procedure, he popped his head in and offered me tchai, an extremely sweet tea with milk. It would not be the only tchai I drank this day. As the seats were few, I bought mine right away. A 24-hour (at best) train trip to Bangalore.

Next stop, a clothes shop. The moment I stepped out of the cab a portière held an umbrella over me. It seemed I was receiving some kind of special attention, most probably part of an agreement between the driver and the shop. Entering the boutique, 5 well-dressed men awaited me, and as soon as I uttered the word "trousers" a measuring tape was laid around my waist. "Please, sir, sit", I was asked, and a variety of elegant garments were presented on the counter. The pair that I chose to try on first fit perfectly. What I wanted was the kind of light clothing most men were wearing. Eventually, after reaching the cheaper selection, I left with two pairs of pants and two pairs of shirts.

My driver asked me what I had bought and for what price, and gave some inside tips on bargaining. On our way to some sight-seeing he told me many things about himself. "You know, I am married, and I like to have sex every day", he shared with me. At first, the phrase sounded strange to me, but later I realised that it was necessary for him to point out that he was married, since sex outside marriage isn´t good. I said I thought it sounded healthy. He continued explaining that this ability came from eating 50 g of nuts and drinking whisky every day. "You know these nuts?", he asked holding up an imaginary nut. I assured him of it in my most convincing voice, hoping to leave the subject.

We drove around the rainy city, stepping out occasionally to see the waterfront. The ocean was high and unwelcoming, and no ships were allowed to sail.

After lunch at Leopold´s, Colaba´s most popular café among foreigners, I returned to the hotel for some rest.

On a side note, Leopold´s was one of four sites that were hit by the terrorist attacks against Mumbai in November last year. At first glance, there are no indications of this tragic event. The crowd consists of locals and tourists, and the room is filled with chatter. At a second glance you notice a glass pane perforated by automatic fire. The memory is still fresh.

Curiously, there was a message for me in the hotel reception. "Mrs. Karen (...) expecting your call, staying at Kashna Guest House". I don´t know any Mrs. Karen, but asked if she had called me personally. As with my previous consultations, the hotel staff just added to the confusion, with a mix of smiles and unintelligible english.

Outside my hotel room, I acquianted myself with some fellow travellers. Among them, a Kenyan young woman by the name of Beatrice. She invited me to join her sister and her for dinner, and I gladly accepted.

By the time we walked out, the rain had gone from heavy to torrential. And it was not going to pass any time soon. We were asking ourselves: Is this normal?! The next day the Mumbai papers said we had received 154 mm of rain that day. And it was not normal, despite monsoon and all.

After a meal at a humble-style restaurant (I had rice with vegetables and a bread with vegetarian stuffing - spicy!), we went to see a movie. Going to the cinema is very popular here, and as you may know almost all movies include singing and dancing and a love drama, and are about three hours long.

Before the movie began, a message on the screen read "Please stand for the National Anthem". The entire audience were on their feet in less than a second. A huge Indian flag waved on the screen while the song played out. After this, the movie could start. The feature was called "New York", about Indians living in that very city, their family life, love and terrorist activities. Most of it was in non-subtitled Hindi, but you managed to follow the story anyway. Bollywood is huge, even bigger than Hollywood from what I´ve heard. And the fact that this big-budget movie was shot in New York, with Indian actors speaking in Hindi, certainly confirms that claim.

At the time we walked back, the downpour had ceased and the air held a promise for a rain-free next day.

Second day in Mumbai

From India - Mumbai
Beatrice, Chep and I set out with our taxi driver to visit the most important tourist-sights of the city. The rain had taken a pause as we had hoped. The citizens of Mumbai, on the other hand, were hoping for more rain since the lakes that provide the city with its fresh water are nearly drained, one with only 30 days worth of water left.

First stop, the Hanging Gardens, a lovely park with red soil and exotic plants. And an impressive amount of butterflies. As we strolled around, the guards approached us and started quizzing me on my origin, place where I was staying, which hotel, etc. "Sweden? *too rough accent* Olof Palme! He was here once!" Very nice guards, however a little unsettling when they follow you around.

From there we continued to Gandhi´s house in Mumbai (between 1917-1934). It is a quite spacious three-stories-high white building with a wooden staircase. Inside was a collection of photographs from his life, his possessions (a few small personal items), quotes from him and dioramas showing the decisive moments. One quote was a reply to if he feared being murdered: "If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling." Eventually, this was how he ended his days in 1948 at the age of 78 years.

Altogether, it was a deeply moving place.

Another place of interest was the huge open-air laundry, where as many as two thousand workers clean the clothes of hotels in a completely manual way. It is a sight to behold, and makes you think of the differences in culture of east and west.

The final stop on this tour was the Victoria Railway Station, built by the British in the gothic style. The building is majestic, with a huge ornamented cupola. While admiring the station, a man came up to me and began the now familiar inquiry. Where are you from, where in Mumbai are you staying, at which hotel, what do they charge for a room there, are you here for work or tourism? I replied tourism. - WHAT IS THE PURPOSE? ... I had to smile a little at this funny question. Replied, "to see India". Are you travelling alone? At this point, Chep decided to take part and said I was married to them. That stumped a short man who had listened in: "Two wife, one husband? Very rare in India." At this point the querying man was satisfied, shook my hand and left.