This is our last…

June 26, 2014 at 18:27

Okay. We are at that point now. For every thing we do, we always comment: “This is our last time doing this”. Whether it is eating at our favorite lunch place Le Pain Quotidien (ok, that one we will honestly visit a few times more), having a beer at Chillies with friends, paying the gas bill, or whatever, sadness seems to creep slowly and steadily over us. Granted, some things I won’t miss that much, like the incessant honking, the humidity and extreme heat, and… Come to think of it, that sums up the large of it.

There are quite frankly so many things we will miss when we leave India. The many friends we have met here, who along with a million things have contributed to the one thing we’re stuck with: that India is an almost magical country, that have left us with impressions and emotions to last us a lifetime.

On the other hand, we have so much to travel home to! We haven’t seen our friends and family for so long, and we miss them so much. Whether it is Monopoly in the evenings, a game of chess in the lunch break or getting my butt kicked in FIFA14, or dinners and parties, there are so many things I can’t wait to pick up with our friends and family. Oh, how we miss them all. My parents are moving home after four years in Belgium almost on the same date as us, so this is really going to be a family reunion!

And while I’m on picking up tabs, it will be good to get back to work in Norway. I’ve gotten a position on the Norwegian side of the project I’m at here with the Norwegian postal services. This summer will definitely be spent sitting down and reflecting on all the things I have learned over the past six months. I mean, how does one effectively use, and communicate, such a unique experience. Luckily, finding that out is actually my field of work: Information Management. I’m looking forward to presenting what I have learned to Capgemini Norway. What that is I will spend a good time churning out in my mind. For now, I only know, more than ever, that Capgemini is the right place for me.

Best regards, Marius

Cricket at Wankhede Stadium

May 11, 2014 at 21:34

Right on Marine Drive in Mumbai, you will find Wankhede Stadium, the home ground of the cricket team Mumbai Indians. They have had a struggle this season, and for last years winners of the Indian Premier League – IPL, two wins so far simply isn’t good enough. We felt in the depths of our stomachs that this statistic was about to change, as we hopped on the train at Vikrohli Station and headed for Churchgate. Andrea and I had just bought our Mumbai Indians jerseys, and we felt like real Mumbaikars when we boarded the train southwards with our two good friends. They had been nice enough to invite us to the game, and had arranged for tickets with some really good seats.

image

On the local train

The trip landed at 10 rupees per person, which is around NOK 1. Affordable in other words. We luckily missed the big crowds, and as such had plenty of room in the car. We mostly stood soaking up some cooling wind by the always open doors on the Mumbai local train. I have to say, few things give the “real India feel” (from a firangs perspective) like taking the train around Mumbai. It is like everything you always pictured.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, cricket, right? We jumped off at Churgate, like I said, and walked back up Marine Drive to gate 4 of the Wankhede Stadium. We had tickets on the Sachin Tendulkar stand in the northern part of the stadium. If you don’t know who Sachin Tendulkar is, just know this: Mention his name to a Mumbaikar and you will summon the biggest smile you didn’t think possible. He is the greatest cricket player who ever lived – or as simply put by Indians: He is the God of cricket.

We got there early to avoid the big crowds, a strategy that panned out well, as we were close to the only ones on the stand when we arrived. After a few cold drinks and a bit of pizza, we we’re ready for the match. We got a good view of both the pitch and of the Chennai Super Kings cheerleaders – total entertainment, as our friend so aptly put it.

image

The view

After some things I didn’t understand, it was decided that Mumbai would bat first. And so they did. We looked on in excitement as they struck fours and sixes like their life depended on it. The cheerleaders cheered for each one, a little less like their life depended on it. Chennai forced six outs during the half, in which they played 20 “overs”. An over is basically a segment of six balls being “bowled”. It will always be bowled by the same guy throwing. That means the first half is done after 120 balls are bowled or the defending team manages ten outs. An out can be achieved in several ways. Firstly, it can be made by bowling the ball past the batter and hitting the “wickets”, or three sticks lodged in the ground. It can also be made by catching the ball after a bat without the ball touching the ground first. Thirdly, it can be made by throwing the ball onto the wickets while the batter is making his “run”. One completed run – both batters cross to the opposite side – is one point. If the batter strikes the ball out of the field, he is awarded four points, and if he does so without the ball hitting the ground first, he receives six points.

That’s about it as to what I understand of cricket, which I guess isn’t too bad. Anyway, Mumbai batted first and hit an impressive 157 points in 120 balls. Unfortunately, even though the suspense filled the air in the stadium, Chennai managed to get more than that during their last over, and was crowned victors.

Although disappointed after the loss, there was really nothing that could take away from the incredible atmosphere at Wankhede. We even got on TV, so our fifteen minutes of fame are up. It’s funny, because I guess nearly ten million people saw us that night, and I’ve had people I haven’t even met come up to me and ask if it was me who was on TV during the match.

Us on the TV screen

Us on the TV screen

We concluded our trip to Wankhede with a stroll down Marine Drive and a cup of chai from a one-armed guy serving from the back of his bicycle.

You really got to love India.

Best regards, Marius

Sunny days

May 8, 2014 at 10:50
20140514-121612.jpg

Playing cards in the park

Hi! Okay, so I haven’t updated in a while. I’ll blame the weather..? The temperature here is about 35 degrees Celsius now, but the “felt” temperature circles around 42. Going outside is like stepping into a bakers oven and it will leave you apathetic. The feeling I get at around +35 degrees here is in other words much the same feeling i get in -35 degrees in Norway. Of course, the heat is not excuse to sit inside in the air conditioning all day. As any true Norwegian would stress, there is no such thing as “too hot”! So we took a trip to the park the other day to play some cards in the sun. The sun, being a relative term in this sense, because we got about 5 minutes in before we were surrounded by a group of kids who wanted to take our pictures and show us some card tricks.

The days spent in the office are very good these days, and very productive, we’ve blasted through most of the obstacles on my project, and are quickly nearing a finished solution. I hope our customer will be happy! Luckily there is really good air conditioning at the office, so we bless our time there. And we drink all the mango juice we can get our hands on. It’s mango season now, and boy oh boy, do I enjoy it!

Fresh mango juice

Fresh mango juice

Best regards, Marius

Even fairer than Verona… Goa!

April 26, 2014 at 19:15

We traveled to Goa for the week of Easter, and what a trip it was! Previously, Andrea and I have traveled to northern Goa, more precisely Anjuna. We loved it back then, but this time, heading south to Agonda… Well, what can I say? It was probably one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever been to. And what more: We had a stretch of probably 5 km of white sandy beaches pretty much to ourselves, if you don’t count a few cows, some dogs and a batch of newly hatched sea turtles.

No people!

No people, just cows!

We stayed at the Mariposa Beach Grove. I haven’t tried any of the other hotels/beach huts in Agonda, but I find it hard to believe that any other could match this one. We stayed at rs. 2250 (NOK 225) per person in rather luxurious beach huts with huge comfy beds and roofless bathrooms – for showers under the starry sky, or the searing sun, whichever is preferable.

The huts at Mariposa.

The huts at Mariposa.

A view to the sea and bar area.

A view to the sea and bar area.

The insides.

The insides.

Bathroom under the open sky. Our toilet even housed a little frog - which the staff where nice enough to set free.

Bathroom under the open sky. Our toilet even housed a little frog – which the staff were nice enough to set free.

Mariposa is as far from a resort as you could come. Basically you rent one of five huts next to the owners house. They do all their cooking at home and the bar and restaurant area is pretty much just an extension of their house. This gives a feeling that you are staying at someones home at the same time that you enjoy your own total privacy. The “homey” feeling is increased immensely by the sincere hospitality they show you. I wouldn’t call it service – it’s just plain friendliness. But they really do know how to keep their guests. Lunch and dinner was dictated by our own wishes, as the owner asked everyday what we would like to eat, and based on our answers headed to the fishermans village next door to bring back a newly caught delicacy. Whether it was red or white snapper, calamares, king fish, prawns or lobster, they always made a delicious meal, which we ate with some beer, wine or champagne on the side (all from Sula, of course:-).

Some unfortunate freshly caught lobsters on their way to becoming a delicious meal.

Some unfortunate freshly caught lobsters on their way to becoming a delicious meal.

Fresh seafood!

Fresh seafood!

We generally floated the days away on our sunbeds, everyone but me getting a healthy tan (at least I didn’t get red either), or just out in the ocean body surfing the waves. One morning we even managed a bare feet biathlon along the beach, which I lost because I have eaten way to much Indian food since I came here! The evenings went by with too much good foods and drinks and a great deal of card playing – which pretty much is a description of what I consider a perfect vacation.

That is not to say we did nothing on our five days. We had one day of boating where we went to some other beaches and had a bit of dolphin safari. We managed to see lot’s of dolphins, even though they were a bit camera shy. The other beaches were really beautiful, but we felt really fortunate as we all came to the conclusion that we had settled on the best one.

IMG_4776

Dolphin safari!

Maja had her birthday when we were there, which we celebrated with cake and champagne. Mons also took her to a spa at The Lalit futher south. All in all, I think she could have done worse for her birthday than Agonda :-)

We enjoyed our week very much, although I had to spend a bit of time working from the sunbed. It wasn’t too bad – if you need to work, Agonda is probably one of the best places to do it!

IMG_4855_3

Andrea wasn’t complaining. And how could you, when you look like this.

Best regards, Marius

Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow…

April 21, 2014 at 17:06

Our friends left our fair Verona this weekend, leaving us in a state of sorrow for missing them. But we shall not be sad for too long; there are yet many things we need to do here and before we know we are home with them again. We’ve passed halfway in our visit here, marking a milestone on our way to a better understanding, new friends, great experiences and a richer life.

It has truly been great to have our friends here. Andrea and I will follow up with some posts and pictures over the next days to show you what we have experienced. A short recap for now: We spent the first couple of days in Mumbai, where we put two feet in different worlds. First by visiting Dharavi like we did with our former guests, to see the “grassroot” of the city. I’ve detailed that earlier here. After the visit, we decided to head to Aer Lounge on top of the Four Seasons Hotel. We had some food and drinks and watched the sunset from the 34th floor of this insanely luxurious place. The day after we took a trip to the beautiful Elephanta Island in the Mumbai bay.

For the week we headed to Goa. Although I had to do work, I had the fortune of a 7 hour battery life and resort-wide wifi, so it’s safe to say I got the chance to tan (unsuccesfully I might add) at the same time. We stayed in some beautiful straw shacks at the Mariposa Beach Grove, with a 5 km stretch of beach pretty much to ourselves. It was the perfect week. The food we ate, prawns, calamares, lobsters, king fish, snappers and a bunch of other delicious sea-faring creatures were all bought from the fishermans village next door based on what we felt like having that same day. I would recommend everyone to go to Agonda! We even managed to get some dolphin watching in!

image

Well back in Mumbai, we jumped right back into the urban life, with visits to the national park here, and we also managed some shopping before I came close to a heat stroke because I wanted to show off and run to the top of the Kanheri Caves. Not my best move.

image

But alas, the times are over. Our friends have left, but I’d dare say we are closer than ever before, and we have shared some amazing moments over the last week.

Needless to say, we miss them and look forward to seeing them again. But first, we need to stock up on some more of Incredible India.

Look out for some detailed posts and more pictures the coming week :-)

Best regards, Marius

Dharavi

April 1, 2014 at 19:54

We had a day of sightseeing around the city the other day. More specifically, sightseeing in Dharavi. We don’t have any pictures, as picture taking is not allowed in there, of respect to the people who live there.

Dharavi is a slum lodged north from the intersection of, and in between the western and central railroads in Mumbai, west of Bandra and Mahim. Sporting an impressive million people over two square kilometers, it is arguably the biggest slum in all of India.

We had a tour with Be The Local. It is a fantastic little company based in the center of the city-within-the-city. The founder is a student at a Mumbai-based college who was finding himself rather tired of trying to find a part-time job to pay his dues through college. A Dharavi local himself, he got a brilliant idea: Arranging tourist trips into the slum areas! Your first thought may be that going on such a tour is making commerce on frolicking through other people’s misfortune. But that is where you would be dead wrong. The tour is all about showing what Dharavi is truly about, an area with huge industries, people working, children playing, schools, doctors, shops, restaurants – you name it.

I admit that in the beginning I thought the tour would be a sort of “sunshine-trip” through the good parts of the slum. I was wrong. The slum itself is a good place, and I’m thinking that from now, I won’t even call it a slum.

We started our tour at the ticket office of the nearby Mahim station, where our guide Ahad picked us up. We walked on, crossing the overpass into this fascinating area. The first part we saw was the recycling plants. People working on sorting, crushing and working plastic waste into small pellets that can be reused. They also recycle aluminum through a rigorous process, creating large bars that are sold off for profit. Both materials are either gathered around Mumbai, or bought from people who gather it. They say 40 % of all recycling in Mumbai is done in Dharavi.

Further inside, we got to take a look at the biggest industries in the area, pottery, textile and leather. It was really amazing to see that the prejudiced ideas of a slum with the apathetic faces of the poor and sick was replaced with the reality of smiling and skilled craftsmen and -women creating high quality goods to be sold to an international market. 80 % of all leather made in India is from Dharavi, and it is the chief export in their – yes, you will not believe this – 1 billion dollar economy.

We walked through the housing quarters as well. That was amazing almost to the emotional. We crouched through narrow corridors between the houses just wide enough to fit a person, and not quite high enough to keep the power cables and steel bars a safe clearing from the top of our heads. It was dark and warm, but on both sides we passed apartments where people were sleeping, eating and just plain living. The most peculiar thing was that in the midst of these dark and clammy alleys, were very high quality and clean, though small, apartments. They are actually available for rent from as low as four dollars a month.

We went on through the area, and there was one thing that we all agreed upon. Never anywhere before have we seen children so happy. It was amazing to see how the children blissfully roamed the streets laughing and playing cricket or tag.

We also visited the main office of Be the Local and got to meet the guys behind the concept. The company aims at giving part-time jobs to Dharavi locals who are studying at the universities, by having them guide tourists through different tours of Dharavi, or Mumbai in general. It’s strictly a for-profit business with the fortunate side effect of giving back to the society. Our guide Ahad was a third year student at Mumbai University, on his way to a bachelor in accounting and finance.

We finished the tour shortly after, an amazing experience richer, and with a good deal of presumptions hacked away. I for one, knowing that most of the people of Dharavi are not rich, will never ever address them as poor either.

Thank you, Dharavi, for giving us a day so full of good experiences. We are definitely never going to forget the vibrant life that you hold!

Best regards, Marius

Daily life

March 13, 2014 at 21:27

This is it! :-)

We finally had a few days in a row that were more or less routine. We’ve been running up and down mountains for the last month+ trying to get everything sorted with the apartment, paychecks, work, phone, internet access, you name it. Our free time has generally been spent exploring new restaurants, areas, temples, shopping malls and other fun stuff. But these last couple of days we have been able to just quietly sit down and reflect on the matter that we are actually living in the second biggest city in the world.

Up until now, it has felt a lot like a vacation in some regards, like we haven’t really been able to set any sort of roots. I think this week was for exactly that. I’ve gotten into things at work, and Andrea’s research is coming along well. We’ve spent some evenings just watching True Detective (which, I have to say I give 10/10, even though it disappointed me in the end – I think that says a lot) and relaxing.

I think Matthew McConaughey is racing towards one of the very best actors in Hollywood history! (courtesy of truedetectivequotes.blogspot.com)

So, we are basically settling into life here quite nicely. It’s been good to get a few days to breathe, because it won’t be calm for long here. Next week, on Monday, we have Holi coming up. It’s that festival where they throw colors at each other, the very same festival that is featured on every camera commercial in the world. :-)

Holi! (Courtesy of t2india.us)

Oh. And I need to find out how to pay my bills here. You would think you could just go the bank and pay them, but nooo. I have to get to a Vodafone shop to pay my phone bills, Airtel shop to pay for Internet, somewhere else I don’t know to pay for gas, and a different place yet again to pay for electricity.

… Incredible India!

Best regards, Marius

Slumdog Millionaire

March 7, 2014 at 06:27

During breakfast this morning, we were watching TV and the movie Slumdog Millionaire came on. We came in right around the scene where Jamal and his brother are sitting in an unfinished building looking out over their old slum, and we were like “Whoa!”, that looks familiar. We didn’t quite catch the exact whereabouts of their location, but it definitely looked like our home area, Hiranandani Gardens.

A shot from Slumdog Millionaire looking out on Hiranandani Gardens

We did some Googling and came up with this picture. Lo and Behold – this is almost the exact same view that we have from our apartment. In the bottom middle of the picture you can see a green area, that is the Heritage Park, in which I do my running in the morning. The two tall buildings you see center, are the same two buildings between which we took a picture of the fire a couple of weeks back (notably, the one on the right is Octavius, where we originally got our heart set on moving in). All the way to the right, behind Jamal’s back, is the Nomura building, where our neighbor works. Given, the movie was shot some years back and Hiranandani is evolving at a crazy rate, so there are a few more buildings now Most notably in this picture, there are now three more buildings to the far left. I dare say that had the scene been shot with the camera pointing in the other direction (left) you would have seen the building we live in (I don’t know if it had been built yet, though).

The view from our apartment

The view from our apartment

You can see from this picture the two buildings in the center, the heritage park, the Nomura building, the tiny slum, and the ridge in the background. In addition, you can see the three new buildings on the left. I took this picture out of the window in our bedroom this morning just to illustrate how close the two viewpoints are.

On further scrutiny we gathered where the picture was originally taken. I can’t really decide which of the two building in the following picture it is, but it has to be one of the two on the right, and my guess is the one in the center, Torino, and that Adonia, on the left hadn’t been built yet, as you can see straight “through” it to the Nomura compound.

Avalon and

Avalon and Torino, with Adonia on the left. This is also a view from our bedroom, only from a window in the other direction.

We thought it was rather fun, so I wanted to share it here:-)

Best regards, Marius

JASHN 2014!

March 4, 2014 at 17:53

This weekend was a weekend of festivals. Following our trip to Suvarna Temple on Thursday, we headed to Capgemini’s own festival on Saturday. It’s for employees and their families only, and it gathered an impressive 16.000 people in an outdoor complex in Bandra, a little south of where we live. Quite the contrast to the max 150 people that Capgemini-parties in Norway gather! To think that they host these types of parties at every major city Capgemini is represented in makes the whole idea mind-numbingly huge. There were fashion shows and talent competitions with singing and dancing, all with only Capgemini-employees on the stage – apart from the two hosts – one guy who is a Bollywood actor and a girl who is an anchor on a TV-station here.

The stage.

The stage.

Another thing there was an abundance of, apart from people, was foooood. They served everything from Sheesh-kebab to Chaat to sugar-cane juice. I ate till I was close to exploding, and then we had some ice cream :-)

Pressing sugar canes...

Pressing sugar canes…

... into this refreshing beverage.

… into this refreshing beverage.

Sunset at Jashn

Sunset at Jashn

After the sun set, we decided to head on to a bar, as it was our Indian friend’s birthday. We headed in a cab, south, towards Worli, along with two Indian friends and another Norwegian colleague of mine who is here to work for a month, driving over the bridge that connects Bandra and Worli. Of course we went Indian-style, with six people in a taxi. We even got pulled over, but our Indian friends told the police that we were tourists just looking to see the city, and they let us go without any hiccups:-)

The gang who notoriously raided Mumbai on Saturday.

The gang who notoriously raided Mumbai on Saturday.

The choice for club fell on Hard Rock Cafe where we had some more food(!) and beers (and unfortunately, tequila). After this, we headed around the corner from there to Shiro, a club which we, funnily enough, got thrown out of the last time we were in Mumbai. It is a semi-formal club, and the last time we were there, we were actually looking for Hard Rock Cafe, which of course is around the corner. But that time, we thought that Shiro was the place (it’s rather poorly marked and signs are pretty non-existent). We were told at the door that we weren’t properly dressed to go in, and as such had to leave. We though it was kind of strange, as we had never heard of a dress code to get into HRC, but I remember us thinking that “Oh well, India is a strange place after all!” Haha! We did find out at a later date though, courtesy of our taxi driver, back then, where the actual entrance to HRC was.

Anyway, we danced the night away at Shiro – which is sort of strange for me, as I don’t really dance – but hey, that’s what tequila is for, right? After Andrea had, unsuccessfully, tried to wing man our friend into hooking up with what we found out was a bride-to-be at her bachelorette party, we decided enough was enough, and headed out for some more fun. We took a taxi even further south, past Haji Ali Mosqué, and to Marine Drive, where we jumped of and went for a nice night-stroll. Along the way, these guys with huge cans of chai on the back of their bikes sold us some hot refreshment, and we bought some fresh fruits from some kids. I almost choked, as I found out they put spices on the fruits. Like, really, really, really spicy spices. After walking around for a while, we decided to say good night to South Mumbai and Nariman Point and head on home to hit the pillow sleeping.

Best regards. Marius

Maha Shivaratri

March 1, 2014 at 09:22

On Thursday there was a celebration at the temple here called Suvarna. They celebrated Maha Shivaratri, or The Great Night of Lord Shiva. The festival is to honor Lord Shiva, of course, although I haven’t gotten a clear image as to what makes the particular day special. Reasons I have found range from it being Shiva’s favorite day of the year, to the day he saved the world by drinking a lake filled with poison, turning his throat blue. Another reason is that it is said to be the day when Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya, or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction.

The entrance

The entrance

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple, so I haven’t got anything from that for you, though. Anyway, the second we walked into the temple, we were greeted like long lost children or something. I’ve said earlier that Indians are really proud of their country and culture, and they love to share it with everyone. That impression hasn’t lessened after our visit to the temple! We had barely gotten our shoes and socks off when the baba, who set up the temple in 1957, took us in and showed us around. Of course, that was a rather difficult task. He is much revered in the temple, and for every step he takes, there is someone laying down in front of him, bowing, touching his feet and then their head or heart, to signal that he is above them, in some sense, and within them, I guess. He of course patiently blesses each and every one of them.

Just inside the temple

Just inside the temple

Outside the temple

Outside the temple

His name, as I understand, is Shree Shree Shree Suvarna Baba. He is quite the fellow, with the biggest smile you will ever see. He explained to us that this temple, although Hindu at heart, was for all religions; “Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, all the same”, he said, drawing the symbols for each of the religions on the wall with his finger. “One caste, one religion”, he continued, underlining that everyone was welcome into the temple. He showed us all parts of the temple and explained all the God-figures as we passed them. He handed us a special sort of food they gave out there, which was a candy of some sort, and really tasty. Finally he sat us down on a sofa in the back of the temple grounds and had one of the other babas open a coconut for each if us to drink. I really couldn’t believe that we would be welcomed like that. Shree Shree Shree Suvarna Baba had of course a whole temple full of people to attend to, so he left us there in the hands of some of the other babas, both him and us smiling from ear to ear.

We walked around the temple grounds for a while, just looking at the symbols, architechture and people. Satisfied, and our hearts filled with the joy of looking and talking to all the happy people at the temple, we headed home where we had to step over this little cute puppy dog.

image

So, that is the story of how we experienced Maha Shivaratri, thanks to our friend Ashutosh, who was nice enough to give us a heads up about the holiday.

Best regards, Marius