Wednesday, day 13 – West Zone Cultural Center and some sightseeing

We had our last meeting with West Zone Cultural Center during the morning. Unlike previous meetings this one was mainly focused on West Indian culture, traditions, arts and entertainment. The meeting later evolved into a conversation about both India and Sweden where we talked about both monsoons, cows, snow and nature. We got a private tour around the museum which is located in a beautiful royal house from the 1700s. Our talented guide Yussef taught us all about the royal family, history and fun India trivia.
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Pictures from visit at WZCC

Afterwards we spent the day just strolling around in the beautiful city of Udaipur, drinking chai tea, doing last minute shopping and saying good bye to our newly found friends (both dogs, people and cows). We finished off the evening with a nice dinner at a roof top restaurant. Cheers to India!!!
Tomorrow we leave for Mumbai… we have heard it is supposed to be a bit cold, only 28 degrees!
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Anahita trying to figure out which bedcover to buy

/Stina & Katrin

Tuesday, day 12 – Chai, Seva Mandir and Indian cooking class

Today we woke up early to take a walk before breakfast (we meaning today’s bloggers, Sandra and Frida). The main plan was to catch the sunrise (05:45), but because of our struggle getting out of bed at that time, the plan became somewhat compromised to just a walk in the morning sun. However, that gave us the chance to see a glimpse of the real Udaipur, with the locals focusing on their own lives instead of the tourists. Families gathering by the lake shore, bathing and doing their laundry. They were all very relaxed and we got a very peaceful feeling instead of the usual busy and chaotic atmosphere. Meanwhile the city (including the rest of the group) was waking up, we sat by the water enjoying the day’s first cup of chai.IMG_9686People of Udaiur swimming and doing laundry in the morning

10306237_908788425803721_5923309419388792948_nChai Masters with friend 

After having breakfast at our usual restaurant, we headed out from the city to today’s meeting with the organization Seva Mandir, a meeting organized by Stina. Founded forty five years ago, Seva Mandir has been working with community strengthening with focus on education, health care, women’s empowerment and natural resource development. For example they have an income generation program for people in the surrounding villages, such as Sadhna (that we visited yesterday). We all got the impression that the organization was well established and worked with people’s best interest in mind. They also told us about their work against child trafficking, specifically connected to child labor in the BT cotton fields (BT meaning that the cotton was genetically modified). Their impression was that the government only focused on rescuing and rehabilitation of the children, while Seva Mandir saw a greater importance in protecting the children from ending up in such a situation. Key areas they worked with to improve this situation for children was to make sure they went to school and not dropped out, and by helping families out of economic struggles.

IMG_9791 Group Photo with the spokespersones of Sava Mandir

IMG_9800Another group photo! 

After the meeting, we had some hours free before our cooking class began. Sandra and Fredrik went to their tailor and tried their new suits and we simply enjoyed resting in the sun. By 5pm we were picked up by two autorickshaws who drove us to our cooking class. A very friendly woman greeted us and took us, step by step, through dozens of delicious Indian dishes. We kind of got a wakeup call on what we had actually been eating for the past weeks. That meaning, sugar with some sugar, and some more sugar. Yum. No, just kidding, sugar and some vegetables and oil. The Indian cuisine is a great variety of ingredients; everything mixed together and based on loads of colorful spices. It was the best meal so far and we all felt very proud to have been a part of the cooking.

IMG_9892 Chai in the making 

IMG_0049And finally, the last group photo with our amazing chef, Shashi!

/ Frida & Sandra  

Monday, day 11 – Not only cows but elephants in the streets

After breakfast we went for a walk on the streets of Udaipur. We headed towards the spice market known as the Mandir market. Since it was in the morning the market had just come to life and the stalls salesmen were towering up small pyramids of spices in all the different colours. Everything from huge sacks with whole dried red chilli fruits, wagons covered in green chillies to tea, legumes and big stones of sugar made out of canes could be found. After strolling around the market streets and buying saffron at a ridiculously low price we headed back to the hostel preparing for the trip’s next meeting.

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IMG_7262In the afternoon we went to visit the organisation Sadhna working with creating labour for women. The organisation was created in 1988 and has today 700 artisans (99 % women).  Through the organisation hundreds of women have become economically independent and trained in craftwork making. The women are able to do this work since they can work from home or in closely located factories making it possible to combine it with other house labour. Working groups of 20 women including a democratic elected leader on a three years mandate, reach the purpose to get a greater women empowerment and local leadership. The craftwork that is made is exported to countries such as Japan and the US and the organisation is also in a preface of cooperation with IKEA.

Inside Sadhnas shop
Inside Sadhnas shop

India it is not only people, cars, motorbikes or tuc-tuc that are crowding the streets, so are also the holy and untouchable cow. On our way to the Monsoon Palace, located on the top of a mountain just outside Udaipur, we spotted another animal than a cow eating grass in the middle of the street, it was a real live elephant. An extraordinary sight!

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At the Monsoon Palace we had a fantastic view of Udaipur and it surroundings. We ended the day watching the sun with the colour of a huge blood grapefruit falling down behind the mountains towards Pakistan.

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The classic Happy Jump photo
View over Udaipur
View over Udaipur

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/Fredrik

Sunday, day 10 – The Jain Temple in Ranakpur and the dance performance

Namaste!

Our second day in beautiful Udaipur began with an early breakfast at one of the neighbourhood cafés, before we jumped into a car destined to drive us to Ranakpur where we wished to see the famous Jain temple. Since the car’s AC made the sound of a cat clawing itself to death, the two-hour drive was less than peaceful, but nevertheless we made it to our destination.

Yaaaay, such noise!
Yaaaay, such noise!

The temple itself was breathtaking, with marble pillars and amazingly detailed carvings everywhere. But while it is important to respect religions  – especially if you travel to their temples at own will – we had some issues with the general attitude towards visitors. The fact that you need to cover yourself up and that certain parts of the temple are open solely for Jainists is to be expected; the fact that you cannot enter the building while menstruating is not. I know that this is not uncommon within certain religions, and in some ways it is impressive that they manage to keep things just as they were several hundred years ago. But we felt a bit out of place, and I personally felt like an intruder. But it was an incredibly beautiful place nevertheless.

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After a bumpy and slightly terrifying ride back to Udaipur (we were driving around in the mountains on thin roads with barely anything between the car and the abyss) we grabbed lunch and went for a stroll before experiencing an amazing Rajasthani dance performance. The dance, which took place outside, included great amounts of twirling, drumming, singing and puppet dancing. One woman in particular stood out and did several difficult “tricks” while carrying an increasing amount of pots on her head. To be honest, it was slightly painful to watch – we could tell that she was struggling with the act, beautiful though it was.

Dancing puppet picking up some tip
Dancing puppet picking up some tip
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Rajasthani dance
She initially came out with two pots on her head
She initially came out with two pots on her head and left with a few more than this picture shows

The night ended with some waterpipe smoking (“Shishah”). My references in regards to this activity were previously all from Teheran, where one in a certain part of town can find a mountainesque area with several little cafés that all serve chai alongside the shishah. People sit on Persian rugs, lean back against the tall pillows on the floor, listen to some traditional Iranian music and just have an incredibly serene time.

The joint we went to, however, completely changed my perception of what waterpipe smoking can be like. It was a balcony-type room with blue neon lights, black walls, an enormous poster of a hard rocking Ganesha, an aquarium in the middle of the room and planet stickers all over the ceiling. The chai was replaced by beer and the entire scene felt very high – which, if the readers are interested, seems to be the general vibe in Udaipur. People here are incredibly chill; even the shop owners who call after us don’t seem too stressed out. We even got a confession from one of the Rickshaw drivers, who apparently smokes marijuana every day.

All in all, it was an eventful and fun Sunday. Udaipur is absolutely lovely, and even though I myself grew to like Mumbai quite a lot before we left, it seems as though the group in general prefers Udaipur to Mumbai. I have to admit that it is wonderful to be rid of the insane humidity.

We have barely a week left to go here in India. More posts are promised, so stay tuned!

/Anahita

 

Saturday, day 9 – Beautiful Udaipur

Finally, our how else would I express myself? We are in an extremly beautiful town, amazing architecture and so much to explore!   Also we are away from all the constant traffic jams, pollution and noise in Mumbai. Fortunately, our fear of melting away in the sun, was exaggerated, we could handle the 35 degrees pretty, the dry air and the breeze made everything so much better.

 Hence the more liveable weather most of us felt that a need of change to an AC room was necessary, the night had been really hot. Some of us had crazy dreams (like fever dreams), woke several times a night, and fell asleep again in our own cozy sweat puddles. Me and Maari were lucky getting a room with beautifully shaped windows with a great view.

Breakfast consisted of for most of the group were enjoying the fact that we could eat porridge and banana, just like a home:) After the breakfast it was time to head of for the first major site for the day, The city palace. The place was just amazing, so well kept, you could just imagine being a royalty walking around on the courtyard in your most beautiful sari.  The reason to why the place was so well kept was that the Mewar families last maharana (emperor) lived there until the 1970s and after this it was given to the state as a  part of India’s cultural heritage. Wikipedia this man and you will see that he attended the Swedish princesses wedding last summer.

View from Udaipur City Palace
View from Udaipur City Palace
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Beautiful garden area of the palace

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Inside the city place you could see the queen’s dressing room, the last maharana’s all different costumes and several mirror rooms. After being lost in the palace for myself for half an hour, I found the group and we had some well deserved lunch. We did some shopping, the cities shops offering some great handmade leather products as wells as miniature art and home decorations. Plus, all the “regular” backpacker things.

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Back in the hotel for a siesta, I decided to take on some dirty laundry. I hanged it on the curtain rod and after a while my favorite dress flew out the window and landed on another roof top. The dress was on the middle of a roof, which looked like a pile of crushed terracotta pots, it would have been dangerous to walk out there. It was just for me to wait and hope that someone brave at the hotel could fix it the next day.

Fredrik photographing the group before a boat ride around the lake
Fredrik photographing the group before a boat ride around the lake

Before we went for dinner we went on a touristy little boat ride in the great lake. On the trip we had to wear silly big orange life vest, that didn’t have straps. I guess it was just for the looks. We had a great dinner on a rooftop restaurant just by the lake and we watched the palaces and houses lighting up. It all looked like a scene from a romantic movie.
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We all very happy, pleased, well and less sweaty after our first day in Udaipur!

/Felicia

 

Thursday & Friday, days 7 & 8 – Goodbye Mumbai and Welcome to Udaipur

The day started with a meeting with Majlis, an organization for women and their juridical rights. We met two layers with a wide knowledge about just that, women’s right.
They told us about their main concerns and gave us case-examples. One was about a wife how got hit by her husband a lot. One day she decided it was enough and hit him back, really badly. He got jail and after a few months he was back in the house but he never touched her again.
After a lunch break we took a cab to University of Mumbai where we met with both teachers and students. Together we had a discussion about the largest democracy in the world, India.

Students and faculty at Mumbai University
Students and faculty at Mumbai University

After the two meetings we went to Dohbi bhat, a laundry place where a large part of Mumbai’s laundry is hand washed.

Dhobi Ghat
Dhobi Ghat

The night ended in the fancy area of Mumbai, at the restaurant Olive where all the famous Bollywood stars usually hang. If we saw any? I actually don’t watch that kind of movies so I have no idea.

Travel day!
Before leaving Mumbai we went to Prince of Wales art museum, where they had a lot of sculptures and paintings.
After a quick lunch break we went to the airport, next stop Udaipur.
Being in India, where tourists don’t seem so be an every day thing, you have to get use to staring, shaking hands and getting your photo taken without your own approval…
After a bumpy flight we arrived in Udaipur, which has to be one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen.

/ Stina and Katrin

Wednesday, day 6 – Documentary afternoon and more wandering

 

Wednesday we had the possibility to enjoy a slow morning – we had only one meeting in the afternoon. We had breakfast, bread omelette and chai tea, at TISS cantine and read local newspapers. Mumbai Mirror (local “Expressen”) was the most entertaining one, with its horoscope and sex help parts. After breakfast some of us sat down to update this blog, while others went to do some fruit and Tiger-balm shopping.

Before our 2 o’clock meeting we had lunch at a nearby lunch/take away-restaurant Muktar’s. We all came there together, sat in different tables, were served different times and left separately.

Wednesdays meeting was at TISS at School of Median and Culture Studies, where we met Anjali Monteiro and K. P. Jayasankar, a couple, professors and documentary film makers. They showed us their film Naata (2003), which told us three separate stories. One about them selves, their love marriage across casts and religions, one about Dharavi, the most known slum in Mumbai, and one about two friends: one Muslim, one Hindu and their peace initiatives in Dharavi after 1992. After the film we talked lot about the Dharavi slum, which is also known from Slumdog Millionaire. However, the film shows entirely wrong picture of the slum. In the film there is not even one law following adult. In reality Dharavi is highly organized and extremely productive “mini-India”, where all the cultures meet and almost 200 languages are spoken and its according to them one of the safest parts of Mumbai.

 

We also got to meet some students of their Master program, who had just started their semester. The students had studied their bachelors in different fields and came from all around India. They showed us some of their works from last year and we had interesting discussions about them. They had made music videos and public service ads with theme women & safety to create awareness. Themes included rape, sexual abuses and wives “locked” inside their homes. The public service ads were really thought provoking and well made, as well as the music videos.

One of the school dogs sat through the meeting with us
One of the school dogs sat through the meeting with us

 After our meeting officially ended, we stayed and mingled with the students about the election results and about studying in Mumbai and Lund. Anahita had dinner and went Bollywood star spotting with an Indian student, while the rest of us went to see the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, the biggest in the whole of Asia.

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Lund University and TISS coming together
Lund University and TISS coming together

 

After train station we had dinner – thalis – and went for a sightseeing walk in Fort, the area with old colonial style buildings. We walked past the High court, University of Mumbai’s main building and some other beautiful old buildings. In the end we ended up having beers at the same place as on Saturday.

 

When we got back to TISS, we were all so tired that we went straight to bed!

 

/Maari

Tuesday, day 5 – Centre for Social Action (CSA)

Our second visit was to a NGO, working with development and social issues in the outskirts north of Mumbai.

This day proved to be the longest and sweatiest day so far, with a two hours long bus ride combined with Mumbai’s warmest day in a decade with 38 degrees (you might have noticed publications in the media reporting about 50 degrees in Santacruz). Fortunately the day’s visit was just by the coastline, so we were – somewhat – chilled down by the breeze from the ocean.

CSA is an organization I’ve met and interacted with in Bangalore, two years ago in Christ University. There it was ruled and organized by students, where their main work focused on development issues in the slum areas nearby the school. Those issues consisted of, for example, arranging sponsorship, tutoring, kindergartens and women’s groups for the inhabitants. In Mumbai the organization worked in much the same way, concentrating on the fishing and farming communities living in the areas (called the Dhavali Islands).

We were picked up by our van – named Zundin’s Royal Fleet – together with CSA: s administrative chief who welcomed us at TISS. After an hour’s ride my email contact, and chief of the organization, Mario Mendez joined us (It seemed to me as a strange name, since the man was obviously from India. Though during the day, we met and interacted with a lot of the CSA: s staff and all with the same Spanish indication. We came to the conclusion that it was maybe common between Christians to change their birthnames to, for example Fernandes D’Silva and Antonio Gracias. A bit confusing, but interesting though).

As we left the city (which took approximately 1.5 hours driving) Mario gave us some guiding about our surroundings. Just outside the city, we drove past huge areas of salt banks productions and could for once enjoy a drive without hysteric honking and a pushing crowd. While driving, Mario told us about the environmental issues the area that we were going to suffered. Most urgent was the establishment of Mumbai’s garbage dump, a project which had failed miserably and poisoned the whole area and made nearby farming impossible. The dump was, for some mysterious reason, located on a hilltop and its liquid would therefore flow (rinna) downhill during the monsoon. Its consequences could be easily seen in the river areas, where the inhabitants used to wash their clothes in a peaceful area now found the place a messy mud impossible to wash anything.

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Arriving to the headquarter, we were given a brief introduction about the organization and its establishment. Later on, we went to visit the villages nearby. Our first visit was the most memorable one I believe, where we all entered a big church-like building with a dozens of kids gathered nicely on chairs. When we came in they all started to applaud and greet us while walking, slightly embarrassed, to the scene were we had nine chairs prepared for us. Meeting the children was a great experience, as they are always the happiest and most forward ones to talk to.  

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Our day continued with two other villages, one a fishing community and the other one a farming community. We interacted with a women’s group and walked by the beach were they keep their nets and talked a lot with the locals. Since they all relied on the weather conditions most of them were poor, since their income was most unpredictable. The women we met though were most energetic and even gave us a dance show. That was also a great meeting.

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As the day passed by, we reached home by 8 pm and were all exhausted. It was a short dinner and then back to bed.

The warmest day in Mumbai was over.

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/Sandra

Monday, day 4 – Consulate visit and Bollywood club hang out

The 4th day in Mumbai and we are getting used to the Indian way of doing things. Today we had our first meeting and as custom goes, a visit to the Swedish Consulate was planned. As mumbai traffic goes its crazy and this day, 3 of us decided to have our first Rickshaw Ride (In other countries called TukTuk), previously only going by Taxi. In the 25 minutes it took us to get to the consulate we ended up sicksacking between cars and trucks on the highway, ignoring all forms of traffic rules (Red lights, whats that?), passing by trafficjams by driving on the pedestrian walkways and last but not least driving against the traffic (!). But of our three cars driving to the consulate, the rickshaw team arrived about 10 minutes earlier, so totally worth it.

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At the consulate we met with the swedish consul Fredrika Ornbrant and with a Swedish journalist active in Mumbai, Jonas Hellman. As it turns out they where married and both the meetings went as one, back to back. They talked about India in General and Jonas especially focused on the Economic development in Mumbai and India and how the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India will affect India. Fredrika spoke more about Mumbai and regional politics. She also spoke about the elections and how people in general view BJP (Modi’s party) and the Maharashtra (The Indian State that Mumbai lies within) regional party Shiv Sena that BJP is cooperating with. Shiv Sena is a regional patriotic party in favour of Maharashtrian jobs to Maharashtrain people.

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Jonas Hellman mentioned this building as being one of the most expensive building constructed in Mumbai. Unfortunately it is all empty, due to one astrologist’s bad omens about the building.

After the very interesting meeting we had lunch with them both, said goodbye and then headed out for some Mumbai sightseeing combined with shopping.


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We then topped the day of with what we like to call “Anahita goes Bollywood”. We all went to a bar called Ground Zero (no explanation why). But as it turned out, after we being the only people in the place for the whole time, except the 8 people serving us. This was the place where Bollywood stars (according to the owners of course) go for exclusive hang outs and just this last weekend some of them had been in this place and drinking. So all an all a good day.


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/Oscar

Sunday, day 3 – Elephant island and Indian comedy


Sunday’s biggest project was to explore  one of the main tourist attractions of Mumbai, the Elephant island. A slightly misleading name when the only animals we met were banana-stealing monkeys. Originally, the name comes from a grand elephant statue made of stone, which however now is destroyed. Left on the island are world heritage temples carved out of the mountain, as we walked through the crowds of Indian tourists the sun gave us new experience of the word sweating.


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Oskar and his new Indian buddies.

The boat ride back gave us a nice breeze and a good look at the skyline of east Mumbai. The foggy view made us realise of how much pollution this gigantic city produces, and as we cruised the water we got to see some of all the big oil rigs that lined the coast.

IMG_8447In the evening we had a superb dinner with different tastes of the Indian vegetarian cuisine. We could not have been more amazed of the flavours of these dishes, dishes I cannot even pronounce, more unlikely spell.

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Fredrik was served like a prince.

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Full and very pleased, we went to the National Centre of Performing Arts to enjoy what turned out to be a hilarious comedy show performed by four guys who mixed traditional stand up with music, improvisation and interaction with the audience. Sitting in the front row made the jokes about the Swedes pretty common. Maari even got a song dedicated to her! The day ended with a cold local beer, Kingfisher, before we headed back home through the chaotic traffic.

/Frida