Back to work

April 28, 2014 at 14:21

After a fantastic Easter vacation followed by half a week of Delhi belly, it’s surprisingly nice to be back at the office. Marius was back at the office immidiately after our trip to Goa, but I stayed home for an extra week, firstly because my mother and little brother still stayed with us, and then because I joined my brother in getting sick on their last day i India. However, now I’m all better and ready to pick up my project where I left it. And better still, I have had lots of time to really think through all the things I have to do to make my project a success.

Me thinking about my project in Goa

Me thinking about my project in Goa (haha)

Time truly flies by when you’re having fun. Soon it will be only two months until we have to pack our bags and head for Chhatrapati Shivaji. And that reminds me… Chalo! Back to work!

- Andrea

 

South Mumbai sightseeing

April 27, 2014 at 15:52

One of the first trips we made with our friends and family visiting over Easter was down to South Mumbai. Colaba and the Gateway was our first stop, as we had plans to take the ferry over to Elephanta Island. It takes just about 45 minutes to drive from our home to this busy centre of Mumbai, but Marius and I rarely make the trip. Sure, this is where Mumbai really happens. The South has most of the best restaurants, clubs, stores and hangouts, but I find it just oh so crowded and touristy sometimes. I think it is the hillbilly girl in me that just loves green surroundings, peace and quiet. And boy, was I happy when I found out that you actually can have that that inside one of the World’s biggest cities. Powai really feels like a home in that sense. Anyways. As I was saying, we headed down to Mumbai’s most visited tourist attraction for our first stop.

The Gateway of India

The Gateway of India

The Gateway looked great as always and was surrounded by tourists as always. Since we hadn’t been to Elephanta Island in six years we couldn’t remember where to buy the tickets for the ferry, but luckily for us we met some grumpy expat Norwegians who helped us out. And by the way, the reason why I call them grumpy is because as Marius was introduced to them as a Capgemini Mumbai employee, they responded with a blunt “Why? Is he hired as a driver?”.

 

Nice Norwegians in the middle, grumpy ones to the left.

Super cute Norwegians in the middle, grumpy ones to the left.

The Gateway and Taj Mahal hotel from the ferry

The Gateway and Taj Mahal hotel from the ferry

The ferry ride took about 50 minutes, and when we arrived we were met with – do you believe it? Crowds! However we eventually made our way up all the sweaty stairs to the top, and it was definitely worth the workout. The Elephanta Caves were even more beautiful than I remembered.

Inside Elephanta Caves

Inside Elephanta Caves

Our friends taking photos

Our friends taking photos

Beautiful rock carvings

Beautiful rock carvings

Back in Mumbai we decided to go straight for lunch. As every visitor to Mumbai have to experience Cafe Leopold, Marius and I decided to bring our friends there, after a small detour to a Colaba Market back ally with a couple of the cutest swindling children I have ever met. Eventually we sat down at an unusually loud and crowded Leopold’s, I got my back and my bag dripping wet from a Bailey’s leakage just behind my chair and we got moved to another table by the always very helpful and friendly staff at Leopold’s. I got through my ten minutes of “South Mumbai hates me” frenzy, and we enjoyed some tasty dishes of biryani, garlic naan and tikka masala.

On our way from Colaba Market to Haji Ali

On our way from Colaba Market to Haji Ali

After this we all jumped into some taxis to experience Haji Ali at Worli. This place really make a big impact on tourists in many ways. Your first impression of the place might not be too positive, as the pathway to Haji Ali usually is filled by beggars, people with severe illnesses and handicaps and – maybe worst of all – quite a lot of children and babies are sitting or lying there to make some rupees from the people passing by. It is a really sad place in that way, and I know it made a big impact on our friends and family. Even though we made a few ‘donations’ here and there on our way to the beautiful mosque, we know it’s not enough. You really feel both privileged and helpless as you walk past these people, and it’s not a good feeling.

Pathway to Haji Ali

Pathway to Haji Ali

Sunset at Worli

Sunset at Worli

Haji Ali

Haji Ali

When we reached the Haji Ali however, the beauty of this mosque was even more apparent after dark. The way Haji Ali lights up in the dark is quite symbolic, as it is an important place of worship for very many people. Well inside the gates you get another completely different impression of this place, and I think our friends and family thought it was well worth the trip.

- Andrea

 

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

And then there were two

April 22, 2014 at 09:24

Our friends left on Saturday and Sunday, and tonight we have to say our goodbyes to our two last visitors at Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport. My mom and my little brother have stayed with us for two weeks, and before we let them go home, we have plans to spend their last day in India by the pool at Renaissance Hotel.

My mom and little brother at Sanjay Gandhi National park

My mom and little brother at Sanjay Gandhi National park

- Andrea

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

Waiting..

April 10, 2014 at 13:47

20140410-181247.jpg

Our first group of visitors are flying over Turkey now, and I wish that airplane could fly just a little bit faster, ’cause we just can’t wait to greet them at the airport. This has been the slowest day ever… Come on, come on, come on!

- Andrea

10 things I love about India

April 8, 2014 at 05:10

The other day I came across an about.com-article called 10 things I hate about Norway, and I was surprised on how irritating I found criticism about my own country and our neighboring countries by a foreigner living in Scandinavia. (So I guess she’s right about number three…) Anyways, as an expat myself, I can understand how customs, traditions and behaviors are different from each country, but then again I honestly can’t find one reason to hate India. If I did, I probably wouldn’t live here in the first place. So I decided to write my own list: 10 things I love about India. So here it goes:

1. The people! Indians are some of the most welcoming, friendly and helpful people I have ever met. The people working in shops, restaurants and hotels are extremely service-minded. Also, if you would find yourself lost in Mumbai, you’d be sure someone will stop and help you. And if this person couldn’t help you, he or she would probably stop a bunch of other people to ask them. If you’re invited home to someone you can expect to be offered plenty of amazing food and drinks and have a great time. Indians make great hosts and friends. And they smile – a alot!

Making new friends

Making new friends

2. The food! Don’t even get me started on Indian food. I can probably never get enough garlic naan. Curries, raita, biryani.. Just bring it on! The spices and herbs are like nothing else, and Indians even make European food better. Ever tried Indian french toast? If not, do it now! And if you’re a vegetarian you will be very close to heaven in India, as the veg food here is just amazing. And I haven’t even tried someone’s mother’s food yet, which I hear is the best food in India!

I love Indian food

I love Indian food

3. The nature. India being a huge country have almost every climate and landscape you can imagine. From the mountainous north to the tropical south. Beaches, jungles, mountains, oceans and deserts. There’s so much to see. Even the urban jungle of Mumbai has it’s own beaches, lakes and a national park. That’s just amazing. Also, heaven on earth is actually situated in India – in Kerala to be precise! And don’t forget about the animals who live in India’s nature. They have both tigers AND lions here! And if that wasn’t enough they have monkeys and elephants too.

Juhu beach in Mumbai

Juhu beach in Mumbai

4. The culture. Of course there isn’t one single culture in India, and as a student of anthropology I know I really shouldn’t use such a blurry term. But what I mean by culture in this list, is the varieties of religions, foods, dances, spiritual places and practices, arts, languages, music, rituals, myths and ceremonies, which all come together in an atmosphere that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. It is colorful, it is fun, it is spiritual and it’s like nothing you have ever seen before your first trip to India.

In Powai

In Powai

5. The weather. I can’t believe how we Norwegians survive our cold winters and the darkness which comes with it, and then when we think it’s all over, our summers just rain away. In Mumbai however, we have had sunny days every day since we first arrived in January. And January is actually part of India’s winter, which is like a very nice Norwegian summer. Now it’s starting to get a bit warmer, but I still enjoy it very much. I can’t believe I live in a country where my worries about the weather are centered on whether it can be too hot. In the Norwegian language that would usually translate to the weather being to good.

Sunny weather in Mumbai

Sunny weather in Mumbai

6. The society. India is known as the World’s biggest democracy. And when you think about it, it’s quite remarkable how they arrange their elections here with 814 million voters. It is a six week process which started yesterday. According to the Indian Constitution, every person in India should not have to travel more than two kilometers to vote, which means that election boots sometimes get rigged up for one person only. I love how that says that every voice counts in a country of over 1.2 billion people.

Powai

Powai

7. The history. India has such a rich history. And there’s so many historical places to visit. From ancient Buddhist caves to colonial buildings. And I think it’s safe to say India is home of one of the World’s most famous historical persons as well. How many of you have never heard or read a Gandhi quote? No? Just log on to Facebook.

Kanheri Caves

Kanheri Caves

8. The diversity. In everything. From food, to language, to religion, to culture to landscape. India is truly a land of many colors, and the various regions of the huge country are all very different from each other in these ways and truly unique. And of course the different places within the regions differ greatly too. In fact, a total of 1600 different languages were detected in India in 1961, and more than 30 languages are spoken by at least a million people.

In Jaipur

In Jaipur

9. The colors. The clothes, the dancing, the festivals, the movies are all just so colorful. Indians are known to be a colorful people, and it’s for a good reason. Just after I moved here I realized how boring my clothes are. Black, blue and white. Where did my pink, orange, purple, red, yellow and green clothes go? Also, the festival of colors is just an amazing experience. I think I will have to bring some of these colors back to Norway and throw them in the faces of my friends next year. Happy holi! 

The festival of colors

The festival of colors

10. Incredible India! All the points in this list combined makes India one of the greatest countries to visit as a tourist. The country has something to offer for every taste. You can go on a luxurious city shopping trip to Mumbai, travel from Vuitton to Gucci to Louboutin to Choo, while eating at some of the World’s best restaurants and have your cocktails with a view of the Mumbai skyline. You can go skiing in the mountains or climb the Himalayas in the north. Or how about a relaxing beach holiday in Goa, spotting for dolphins while doing your morning yoga by the ocean? You can also have your honeymoon on a river boat in Kerala, surrounded by peace and quiet or go on a romantic wine tasting trip to Nashik’s beautiful vineyards. If the urban jungle is more your taste, you can go museum and sightseeing hopping in the World’s second largest city. Or why won´t you just go find yourself on a spiritual trip to an ashram, getting advice from gurus and holy babas or go for a pilgrimage to a holy place. Maybe it’s one of your dreams to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the beautiful Taj Mahal, or travel to Varanasi and experience the holy river Ganges with all it’s rituals and ceremonies. You can even go on lion and tiger safaris in the jungle, visit ancient caves and spot monkeys, snakes and crocodiles from an elephants back.  The list goes on and on and on. Best thing about India? It has got it all!

- Andrea

Oh no!

April 6, 2014 at 18:40

India lost against Sri Lanka! That’s such a shame. I am just starting to learn the basic rules of cricket, and I must say I enjoy the matches on TV these days quite a lot. But not tonight, though. I am of course a fan of the Indian team!

20140406-225812.jpg

Cricket on screen

We watched the game at Café Mangii, where we also enjoyed mezze and some really tasty iced tea.

20140406-230840.jpg

Mezze platter at Cafe Mangii

Now, we’re back home watching The Nanny from our sofa, giving each other foot massages. Haha. There’s nothing like Fran Fine’s voice on a Sunday. Let’s hope the next three days will go past really quick, ’cause we can’t wait until Thursday and Friday!

- Andrea

Great week

April 5, 2014 at 13:28

We have had such an amazing week with our visitors, my father and Marianne, here in Mumbai. In a relatively short time we saw, heard, smelled, tasted and experienced a great deal of this city of contrast. In Mumbai you have everything a tourist could wish for from luxurious hotels, restaurants and shopping malls, to temples, mosques and other spiritual places, to extreme poverty and slums, to beaches, oceans and jungles. Maximum City has got it all. And our visitors had an eye opening experience in many ways during their week here.

Luxury at Renaissance Hotel

Luxury at Renaissance Hotel

At Suvarna Temple in Powai

At Suvarna Temple in Powai

In Powai

In Powai

When we asked them what was the best part of their vacation, they hesitated before they both answered ‘Dharavi’. Coming from a small place in little Norway, they were of course blown away by the massive global city of Mumbai with all it’s luxury and modernity, but the one experience they will remember forever was to get a look inside the place known as Asias biggest slum. Like Marius wrote about in the last post, Dharavi has got some negative associations to it’s name, and it was really great to see Dharavi for what it really is and get our preconceptions challenged. Again, a big thanks to the wonderful guides of Be The Local.

My dad, me and Marius

My dad, me and Marius

Now that our visitors are safe and sound back in Norway it’s really quiet and lonely here in our apartment, and we miss them already. Luckily, however, it won’t be quiet for too long, as we’re picking up a total of five new guest at Chhatrapati Shivaji already next week! We can’t wait!

- Andrea

 

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