Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

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!


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!