Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

India quick-fix November 26, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:50 pm
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Among all the things I appreciate about India, is how everything can be fixed, just like that. No fuss. No it-might-be-difficult. I arrived in India with a belt bag that had become too big. I like my belt bag, bought in Goa some years ago, made of genuine leather. So what to do?

You don’t have to walk long before you spot a shoemaker on the streets in India. They sit there quietly with all their well used tools around. We explained the problem, he put aside the work he was doing and without a word spoken he fixed my belt bag in five minutes. For almost nothing.

Smart and Hollywood, couldn't get better...

A week later, in Mumbai, I bought a jhola (a simple bag made of cloth). Joan and I was walking up and down Colaba Market, because I wanted that particular jhola, but the seller wouldn’t give it to me for 150 rupies and we thought – let’s find the same jhola elsewhere. Because that’s what very often happens; the same things are sold by various stalls. But, there seemed to be only one jhola of this kind…. Actually, we made it on our third try because Joan really knows how to bargain. But the next day, the zip broke down….and off to the nearest tailor I went. Because tailors are also found everywhere. I chose one I was familiar with; Smart and Hollywood (!) opposite Jehangir Art Gallery.
My jhola was examined, a zip was found and we agreed that I would come back a little later. The zip cost med 50 rupies (6 kroner), the work was free.

Colorful dresses at aseesa!

When you buy clothes in India, the magic word is alter. My favourite clothes shop in Colaba is aseesa. A tiny, tiny shop, always packed with people. They sell colorful dresses, every one a dream. I tried one, but found it to be too tight under the arms. – We can alter it Madam, no problem. Then it will fit perfect. We examined the seam, and well, I realised I would have to buy it if they altered it. But I said yes… So she whisked it away to a young man who disappeard to the back of the shop and asked me to come back in 20 minutes. Simple as that…. Everything can be made bigger, smaller, different – for free. So that you always get what you want…………


Coffee – in two different ways… November 25, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 9:20 pm
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It happens – when in India – that you need a break from everything… The heat, the traffic, the pollution, the people, the noise. It just happens. I always feel in need of decent coffe at some point every day, so I go to a Barista or Cafe Coffe Day – Starbucks look alikes and very good they are. They sell all kinds of coffees, sandwiches, muffins and the bigger ones, at least Barista, sell good Italian food.

Theobroma, South Mumbai.

But on my last day in Mumbai I came to notice a place called Theobroma at Colaba Causeway, the main thoroughfare in Colaba, South Mumbai. It was incredibly hot, I had hours to spend before my plane left Mumbai after midnight and I realised I had to stop shopping – which is easily done because 1) the shops cool you down and 2) it whiles away the hours. So I stepped into Theobroma, another modern western style coffebar I quickly realised – and entered another world. In fact, it could have been Norway. But there is one major difference, staff is more plentiful than guests and customers. In fact I thought I saw a new guy every two minutes and was thinking where on earth do they come from… And yes, only male staff. All with hygienic plastic gloves.

The coffebar cum bakery was small, but the interior very nice. Four or five small square tables fit for two people and some more tables along one wall. The menu was extensive, it was in fact difficult to chose. The counter had a variety of tasty food on display; typical French bakery, smoothies and even cup cakes. On the menu was sandwiches, salads… on the shelves bread and a lot more for sale… For a moment I forgot that  was in India, this could easily have been Ostehuset or Food Story in Stavanger. Absolutely nothing reminded me of India, as we mostly think of India.

No doubt... it's cool!

Even the clientele was different from most people on Colaba Causeway, saris were few and far between. In fact, during that one hour I sat there, only one woman who came in was dressed in a sari. The rest of the customers and guests were dressed in western clothes. Jeans and a t-shirt. A lot many girls and women do dress in jeans of course, but very often with a kurta as a top.
The food was delicious, the coffe tasty. But you pay a price.

As I sat there I came to think of a coffee bar in Jaipur. It was that time of the day I just needed what I call a decent coffee. We had hired an autorickshaw for the day and asked th driver to take us to a Barista before we paid and left him. Well he did, but only too late did we realise that the Barista was shut down… so we started to walk and search for another coffee bar. What we found was the Indian Coffee House, a business found all over India run by cooperatives. It was simple, to say the least… But very retro. Close to cool! And incredibly cheap, a cup of coffee cost 10 rupies, equivalent to 0,21 Dollars or 1,5 kroner. They might as well give it away! But to be frank, it was not drinkable. The food on the other hand, was good.
The coffee house had two kind of separate chambers for woman and families. In India, the society very often sees to that women can sort of withdraw a bit. Like Mumbai trains have women’s compartments. But the few women who came in, preffered the main area. Strange then, that the toilet was for both sexes. The first thing I saw when I opened the door were the pissoirs, but no men… Well I didn’t venture futher though.

The staff was dressed in immaculate white and Gandhi caps!

The coffee and food at Theobroma was good, but this is what you get everywhere these days. The atmosphere at Indian Coffe House was memorable!


Bazaars of South Mumbai November 24, 2010

People tend to hate guides, I don’t quite understand. Yes is can be nice to roam around with no head and tail, but sometimes it’s nice to have somebody to ask and get first hand information. That’s why I had booked a tour with Mumbai Magic, to do their bazaar walk. It was me and Max from Australia and famous Crawford Market was our starting pont. The market houses a wholesale fruit, vegetable and poultry market. One end of the market is a pet store. – YUK – Imported items such as foods, cosmetics, household and gift items are plentiful as well.

Fruit in abundance...

Because of Diwali, all the fruit sellers were busy making fruit baskets – a popular Diwali gift. In fact I was rather surprised to see this, as sweets seem to play an important role during Diwali. I didn’t want to see more poultries-ready-to-slaughtered, but I managed to see some of the puppies. And well, they seemed slightly better off than the poultry I had seen in Colaba market some days earlier.

It was 11 am when we met and the inside of Crawford market was manageable. No sun and not too crowded. – It’s still quite early, the guide said reassuringly. But when we, after some time, came out and ventured further on to the cloth market  it was as if the whole area had exploded. Even the guide was overwhelmed, but after all – we were in the midst of Diwali. Just think about Stavanger or any other place the day before Christmas eve, people shopping like we were close to the end of the world.

I never tire of the colors....

But then we escaped into the Mangaldas cloth market, a world of colours. Again we got shelter from the sun… The market sells all kind of  fabrics – preferably wholesale. Having a stall here is priceless. As I was in the hands of a guide, AND a man…., there wasn’t really time to stop and admire and spend – something I hadn’t really expected. I just wanted to get an overview, and go back on my own some time because we had a tight schedule.

I was very curious about Zaveri Bazaar, the market for gold, silver, diamonds and precious gems. And again, it was Diwali and people were buying gold, as well. And even more so, this was The Auspicious Day for buying gold. The street was a little bit more than crowded, it was absolutely packed with people, cars, carts, bicycles – and the odd cow. Jewellers were lining the street. – Look around you, said the guide. – Do you see any police, guards, security? The shops have gold worth God knows how much, but security is scarce.

Pure gold... Anybody who wants to marry me???

A few years back I wouldn’t have given Indian jewellery even a quick glance… And if so, I would have said too much. I tend to like simple things made of silver. Something has changed though…is it called assimilation?
Have a look at an Indian bride, all dressed in red, red and white bangles, fabulous jewellery – it’s quite overwhelming, and I can understand Indian women’s addiction for gold. Myself I could never extinguish an imitation from a real peace of jewellery. But imitations are very common. An imitation would probably start to itch on my body though….
– Indian women think about gold as their birth right, the guide says. I’m thinking of adopting this birth right!

From gold to lotus....

I couldn’t resist asking the guide about beads…. even though I realised Max wouldn’t bee so keen… But we easily found beads in this area and I got a card from an interesting seller, promising myself to come back…. next time (when you already have 1,4 kg of beads in your suitcase, you simply do not go for more….). So we visited the Mirchi Galli (spices market), the Phool Galli (Flower Street),  and finally Mumbadevi Temple. Inside the temple area I came across a shop selling incense and what is called dhoop: incense powder. I got some really nice dhoop and have already asked friends in Mumbai for more…. Can one be addicted to a smell? definately!

Selling dried fruit, and isn't that little man just edible as well...?

What really made an impact was the cow shelter… the Panjra Pole. A shelter for homeless cows, where else than in India would you find such a place? They were well kept, sweet (!), all were named after godesses and came when called for (ie. they recognised their name). We fed them, admired the young ones and well, thought about the homeless people on the streets of Mumbai… How could we not! They were even protected from paparazzis; no photos allowed.

And then we came across a sadhu; a holy man.

These markets are really fantastic, don’t go for the markets aimed for tourists. This is where real Indian LIFE unfolds. I spotted a wedding taking place right there, on the street. A barber on the street. A cheerful group of women enjoying a cup of chai, – in the middle of their Diwali shopping? And an outdoor chapati bakery.
People are in general very nice, they don’t push goods upon you, you can really enjoy being the observer. After almost 4 hours I felt drenched, all I could think of was a shower. But wow did I enjoy…………….

Happy with today's shopping?

How can anybody resist buying mouth freshner from these smiling people?

Must be more fun to do your job out in the open than indoors! Chapati spot on!

Indian quick-fix on the street...

Specialises in green....


A glimpse of Rajasthan November 23, 2010

Most people who visit India for the first time, do a “Golden Triangle Tour”. Which means Delhi, Agra (to see the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan. I have been to both Delhi and Agra earlier, now I was curios about Rajasthan.

I flew to Delhi 23 October and teamed up with my friend and colleague Ram – already on holiday in hometown Delhi. Sunday at noon we entered a bus that took us to Jaipur, known as The Pink City. The best thing about Jaipur was …… the hotel. The Umaid Bhawan is definately the best hotel I have ever stayed in. The house itself is not really old, but the furnitur, the decor – everything – makes you think of old money. It’s incredible, and not at all costly. I dreamt about a Kingfisher on a beautiful roof top restaurant, exactly what I got!

Detail from beautiful Umaid Bhawan, a hotel gem in Jaipur!

Jaipur has heavy traffic, the roundabouts are crazy. All means of transportation in every possible direction. The old part of Jaipur is painted in pink, thus it’s called The Pink City. So is that why tourists go to Jaipur?
Well Rajasthan has numerous old forts and palaces. After five days in Jaipur and Udaipur I got the feeling we saw them all….

But in between all that history, we were searching for beads. The search took us to back alleys that reeked of the stank of urine. We were talking to numerous people, beads beads beads – where to find? We found… in a basement. And left with 1,4 kilo, simple as that.

Beads, and more beads....

Jaipur is a shopper’s paradise: streets lined with shops selling colourful textiles – and everything else under the sun. But as a tourist you’re constantly attacked from every possible angle, and in the long run shopping doesn’t seem like a very good idea. Walking the back alleys, where the natives go shopping is more fun!

Colours of India.... found in a shop in Jaipur.

Next on the agenda was Udaipur and we decided to take the night bus. A good bus is often known as and equivalent to a Volvo. Good branding, Sweden…. And yes, the trip was comfy enough! Bt we arrived in Udaipur at five in the morning, quite tired and the bus station seemed cold and unwelcoming. Also, it took some time to wake up the hotel: The Krishna Niwas, run by three brothers, two of them artists.

Colorful Rajasthani shoes and slippers.

Udaipur was different from Jaipur. We were staying in the old part of the city, narrow and hilly. Udaipur seemed small, in a way. But when we took an autorickshaw to a Barista – because I desperately needed a decent coffee – and further on to a pizza place called Uncle Sam (because I desperately needed a pizza) – I realised that the city was not so small and cramped after all. But, not unlike Jaipur, with Western tourists just about everywhere.
Udaipur has lakes, and thus some really beautiful views. Hotels market “lake view” hard, but how often did I look out of my window in order to enjoy the meagre lake view? It was nice though, the Picola Lake, and fortunately Rajasthan has had quite a lot of rain this year (doesn’t happen too often) and thus all the city lakes were filled to the brim. Very often the lakes are dry.

Sari embroidery in the streets of Udaipur.

If we were looking for beads in Jaipur, Udaipur took us to numerous shoe shops. Ram’s wife wanted mojaries, Rajasthani slippers. It was fun, the shoes are very colourful and we went to the local markets, not those for tourists. But we did do the City Palace… the heat was intense and we decided that enough was enough! Instead we intensified the search of mojaries.

Our hotel didn’t have Umaid Bhawan’s grandeur, but lots of charm. The narrow building had no lift, we were constantly climbing stairs. The hotel had a small shop selling leather books and binders of all kinds, they were even produced on the second floor. All over the old part of Udaipur these types of books were sold, very nice handiwork. Also, miniature painters seemed to be plentiful, art galleries were everywhere – also in our hotel.

So what was my first, second and third impression of Rajasthan….. If I had to chose between – say – Rajasthan in the west, Kerala in the south and Uttaranchal in the north – Rajasthan would come third. Maybe it was the swarms of tourists everywhere, the dryness and the heat, the overwhelming historical tourist attractions. Well who knows. But I enjoyed every minute of the stay, and if I get the chance to stay at the Umaid Bhawan in Jaipur once more, it would be hard to resist!


Mumbai taxi ride November 5, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 3:48 am

There is basically two ways to ride a taxi in Mumbai, the hard way or the easy way…. The hard way is going by the black and yellow cabs with no AC. They can be of all sorts. Some old and battered, – Once I sat in one with a big

You see them everywhere, the taxis of Mumbai!

hole in the floor.  Or fairly new ones, not yet worn out by the streets of Mumbai. Well those are good for short rides, they manouvre the traffic amazingly: Like every other car zig zagging their way through the traffic with great confidence. But drivers can be choosy, sometimes they just won’t take you from one place to another. But there’s always another one, and another one, and another one… Mumbai has about 60 000 taxis, but then again – the city has close to 20 million inhabitants.

Going a long distance with these cabs can be a trial sometimes. With no AC it gets hot, when the traffic comes to a standstill you want to open the window and get some air. Instead you get outstretched hands form beggars. As well as the fumes from every other car around. I did one and a half our last night, not until we got to the Worli-Bandra sealink – a new bridge cutting short this distance with sometimes as much as 40 minutes – was I able to breathe freely. But, after passing the bridge at full speed the havoc started again. Slow traffic, honking horns and heat.

Tonight I did 2 hrs in a Meru cab, a fairly new company – and a very proffesional one. One can see quite a few of them in the streets, but not nearly as many as the black and yellow ones. They are green with lots of ads, their drives impeccable and you’ll find a proper meter and a modern display quoting customer and where from to. Instead of feeling drenched after two hours on the road, beating several bottlenecks and struggling through the sea of cars and auto rickshaws and what else, one feels quite OK. Sit back in a train of thoughts or study Mumbai life, and especially now – enjoy the festive Dwali lights!

Going by auto rickshaw in Udaipur.

And then there are of course the three wheelers, or auto rickshaws, or autos or ricks…. There is total 246,458 auto rickshaws in Mumbai. They accomodate three people, and well, perhaps not the most comfortable means of transportation – but it works. In terms of safety – well it depends on which standard one relates too.. They are good for short journeys and cost little. I once took one for more than an hour together with my friend Joan, sometimes squeezed between two buses I didn’t know whether to laugh and cry. It was an experience for sure. They are not allowed in the City, but has to stick to the suburbs.


Mumbai people November 2, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:59 pm
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I take photos almost all the time when in India, but not of people I really pity. People with no dignity. There are lots of them in the streets of Mumbai.

The first time I came here, I was intrigued about the number of people sleeping on the streets, at all times. No shelter, just there, on the pavement, their only belonging a sack perhaps. Chappals have to make do as a pillow. In the city, the south part of Mumbai up to Mahim where the suburbs start, people mostly sleep on the pavements. I haven’t yet seen so many families who live their life on the pavement – but they might be there. The City is quite nice, especially in the morning. Colaba, Khala Goda, Fort, Nariman Point…. – lined with great buildings put up by the Britishers – and the green maidans. Still, the many poor people remind you constantly about the hard life of Mumbai.

People tend to walk not on the pavement itself but along the cars in the street. Now I do the same. The pavements are fully occupied with stalls, hawkers, vendors …. and sleeping people at all hours.

Aman sleeping on the streets of Mumbai.

In the suburbs you get to see all sorts of living conditions. Big areas of slums. Shacks lined along the pavements. But many are those who just live on the pavement itself. They sit around a small fire, eat some food, half naked childre crawling around or going to the toilet just there. Going by car through Mumbai on a late evening is an emotional rollercoaster.

I have never seen so many deformed people anywhere. Limbs are missing, or totally deformed – here you can see every disorder possible. Very often they move among and around the vehicles on the roads, begging for money. They search out tourists, come to our cars. It’s heartbreaking, but if you start giving money you’ve got yourself a full time job.

I couldn't resist giving this little girl some money, she was sleeping on the street. We even managed to get her to smile, after some time.

Children is another story. Many work for the mafia. They are brought from the outskirts of Mumbai into Dadar (I’ve been told) and spread around the city in order to beg all day. Strike up a conversation with a native about these issues and very often you will feel he/she doesn’t really pity. -They live a simple life compared with ours, a friend told me. – They have no rent, no maintenance, no work to worry about. They just beg and eat and sleep… Maybe you have to grow up in Mumbai to take such an attitude, for us it’s impossible.

This little girl was in a hurry, but stopped for a pose AND without asking money...


Mumbai local trains November 1, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:46 pm
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Most tourists don’t travel the local trains in Mumbai. Taxis and autorickshaws come cheap, and one doesn’t really bother to get to know the system of the trains. But if you really have to save money… or if you just want to have som fun… have a try.

There a re two railway lines running through Mumbai, Western Railways and Central Railways. The system carries more than 6.9 million commuters on a daily basis and constitutes more than half of the total daily passenger capacity of the Indian Railways itself. It has one of the highest passenger densities of any urban railway system in the world.

The women's compartment.

Together with my friend Joan’s son Tash we started out from Churchgate, the southernmost station, on a seemingly quite Sunday at noon. The trains have women’s compartments, but since we were a mixed couple we had to opt for the mixed compartment. Incidentially I saw a sign just as we we were boarding; some compartments are reserved for the handicapped and for cancer patients.

The train was filling up as we went along, every time I thought the compartment was absolutely packed, 50 more people boarded in a rush. I was lucky to sit, squeezed into a corner. Indian men tend to stare openly, so I had put on a cardigan which made me boil.

People wating at the station.

The train ride was no hassle really, but when Joan and I returned later in the afternoon, the fun began. We had boarded a wrong train and had to change only after one station. As the train came rolling into the station, everybody started to run along the train. And as we were going for the women’s compartment, a horde of women kept running…. and then jumped on the train before it had stopped. In open sandals and a long skirt I think I did nicely – for a beginner. At the same time people were getting out. The trains stop for only two minutes, so people are just frantic – to be in or out.

The compartment was really packed, – in my opinion, and most women were chatting away. According to Joan, the compartment was nowhere near packed…….
The good thing about India and its train culture, is that there is always space for more people. Nobody should be left out, the rule is – there is room for everybody. How good it is in terms of saftey, well…
The trains have no doors, that’s why you see people hanging almost on the outside of the trains. I was standing in the opening myself, allowing the warm air to embrace me. I never thought it wasn’t safe.
A lot of people live along the tracks in poor conditions. Defecating along the tracks is normal…. as well as walking along them – or on them. And children are playing. One has to see for oneself, really.

Women are shopping at local trains to kill time...

I can’t remember which station, but suddenly almost everybody went off – like a cowherd they were fighting their way out of the compartment. Indian women must be tough!

All sorts of bric a brac are sold on the trains; simple jewellerey for example. One easily gets bored on a train ride through Mumbai that takes more than an hour depending on if it’s a fast train or not. One might as well by some earrings for 20 rupies.