Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dunking Ganesha!

Last week Tom and I visited the famous, most popular Ganpati Mandal, in the centre of the city, Laxmi Road. We left the house at 9pm and biked the 20 minutes to the centre of town. As we got nearer and nearer to Laxmi Road, the more and more people there were around.

The road that led to Laxmi was closed by the police, so we had to drive about a mile away from it and walk back through the crowds of people towards it. The closer we got in, the more people there were! It was crazy, there must've been at least 200,000 people squeezed into the small streets that led up to the Mandal. Practically down every side street, there was another Mandal. I wanted to go and see them all, but the crowd kind of dictated that we kept moving forwards toward the main one.

At every crossroad there were police who were controlling the flow of people with a long length of rope. This meant that as we were stopped, waiting to be let further down the street, more and more people were backing up behind us and as soon as the police lifted the rope, there was a massive surge forwards and I was nearly swept off my feet! It was a bit scary!

After taking about an hour to walk down a street that should normally only take 3 minutes to walk down, we finally reached the Mandal. It was humongous! It wasn’t just some corrugated metal shelter that had been erected for the event, it was a whole building! It looked like it was made of cardboard and was painted and decorated with lights. It was amazing! It even had huge elaborate chandeliers inside and the large Ganesha statue looked so fabulous inside!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop to look at it for very long as the crowd was so huge and we were just sort of getting swept away past it. Tom did manage to get a few pictures of it for me though.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Ganpati Bappa Moriya!

At the moment it is Ganpati Festival which is a festival that celebrates the Hindu God of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune, Ganesha and runs for 10 days from the 1st September. All over the city within people’s homes, are shrines beautifully decorated with lights and flowers dedicated to him. The main focus of the shrine is a special Ganesha statue (traditionally made of clay) that sits in the middle. The statue is treated as a guest of honour for the duration of the festival and it is worshipped daily and offered gifts of delicious food, flowers, sweets and fruits.

All over the city, there are huge themed Mandals that have been erected for the festival. Some of them are amazing, with huge fibreglass figures in them. One near where I work has a massive fire pit in the middle of the floor where, during worship, ghee and curd is thrown into it. There are some specific mandals, where it is claimed that your wishes come true and people travel for mile to, just to worship there. Apparently, a big famous one in Mumbai had a 12 hour queue for people wanting to get up close to it.

Huge Mandal near my work with a fire pit in the middle. The group of people sitting
on the floor are sitting around it.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

New Toy!

So, after leaving me alone in India for two weeks whilst he went back to the UK, Tom returned on Monday. It was brilliant to see him and I really missed him, but I was also very excited he was back because he brought my birthday present with him - a new camera!

It’s a red Pentax K-r and amazing! I love it! I’ve never had a DSLR before and I’m really excited to use it! However it has so many settings and controls, it’s going to take me an age to learn what each one does!

Watch this space for future pictures that I take with it! Hopefully they will be good!

Camera with wicked new camera bag!

Top view.

Front view.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Dahi Handi

On the 22nd August it was Janmashtami , commonly known in Maharashtra as Dahi Handi, which is a Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of the Hindu God Krishna.

The festival is celebrated with an event where large groups of people, usually young men and boys called Govindas climb up each other to create a human pyramid in order to reach and break the Handi (clay pot) which is full of buttermilk and is hung up high above the ground. There is usually a huge amount of prize money to be won and practically every year someone dies or is seriously hurt when falling from the pyramid.

All over the city, many Handi’s were hung and lots of groups of Govinda’s travelled around as many as they could in order to win lots of money.


I had been invited away for the weekend to a place called Panchgani, which is about 3 hours away from Pune, by a group of people that I know through my volunteer work at DGS. There was Anurag and Sharish, (volunteers for Wake Up Pune), Annie (Susannah’s housemate) Bradley, Liam and Josephine (all students from Canada studying in India and friend’s of Annie), we were later joined by Joe (a previous DGS volunteer who now works for an English volunteer company Development In Action).

On the Saturday, we all met at Swargate bus station and boarded the 5.45pm bus to Mahabaleshwar (Panchgani was on the same route).

The bus ride was long and very bumpy and by the time we arrived at our destination it was 9pm and very dark. The bonus was though that the whole journey only cost us 109 rupees (Less than £2)!

Panchgani is a small typical Indian town with one main road that has shops and a few restaurants on. As we were all starving, we stopped at one of the restaurants and ordered loads of Indian dishes to share. It was actually really delicious food; however, Liam did chip one of his teeth on a lump of glass that he found in his food! Oops!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Mixing with the stars (if you know who he is)

Susannah (friend from Deep Griha Society) had heard that one of her favourite pop stars from the UK -Jay Sean, was going to visit a friend’s charity, Sahara Aalhad, the other side of Pune and she really wanted to go. I was persuaded to come along with her even though I didn’t really know who he was and only vaguely knew one of his songs. As we didn’t really know how to get to the charity, Paul (a volunteer for Wake Up Pune) kindly offered to come with us and show us the way.

‘Sahara Aalhad is a 28 year old organisation whose mission is to empower people facing difficult situations due to substance use and HIV/AIDS. It has implemented a range of strategies to empower people, strengthen communities, to encourage safer behaviours and to aid in the reintegration of people into society. It has 36 projects most of which address substance use and HIV/AIDS and is run almost entirely by former substance users and PLHA.’

Sahara Aalhad is also a beneficiary of ‘Keep a Child Alive’ which is a charity that provides ‘life-saving AIDS treatment, care, nutrition, support services and love to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India by directly engaging the global public in the fight against AIDS.’

Monday, 29 August 2011

Conquering the chapatti!

Tom had gone back to the UK for a few weeks, so to alleviate my loneliness, I was invited round to Susannah’s (a friend from DGS), Annie (her Canadian housemate) and Severine’s (her French housemate) flat for an Indian meal. They live in a really nice apartment in Koregaon Park, just a short walk away from me.

I had been trying hard at home over the previous few days to make Indian chapatti’s and the meal was a great excuse to practice and make some more. I was responsible for making them whilst Sus and Annie cooked Moong Dahl and Paneer Makhani.

Annie rinsing the Moong dahl.

Independence Day

Independence Day on August 15th was a national holiday, however at Deep Griha Society there was a morning ceremony to raise the Indian flag.

I arrived at 8.30am and all the staff were standing outside the building along with children from the Adhar Kendra Programme (sponsored children).
All around the flagpole was rangoli art and flower petals, it was beautiful.

Rangoli art and petals.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Creating awareness and changing lives

The Wake Up Pune initiative was started in 2006 by a few HIV/AIDS charities throughout the city to promote the issue of HIV/AIDS in the English speaking section of the society. Deep Griha Society already has an HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment programme called DISHA which works amongst the Marathi and Hindi speaking sections of the society and Wake Up Pune was a way that they could make sure that every section of society would be targeted. However over time, Wake Up Pune has now become solely run from Deep Griha Society. With the help of overseas and local volunteers, Wake Up Pune runs awareness events all over the city in shopping malls, restaurants, bars, on the street and in Corporate settings.

The first big event that I was involved in was when we took over a shopping mall, Gold Adlabs, in Kalyani Nagar, Pune for a whole day. We joined forces with Deep Griha Society’s DISHA programme and created awareness through disruptive theatre, fun games, knowledge surveys and just being a general presence in the mall talking to the public.

Disruptive Theatre.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Dancing like Loons!

Deep Griha Society’s teachers that teach at their English Medium School at their City of Knowledge Programme had a day of teacher training. Instead of giving all the children the day off, all the volunteers were asked to spend the day entertaining them with lots of fun activities such as painting, singing, games, storytelling, movie time, dancing and science experiments.

I was in charge of dancing and I’d spent a few days beforehand gathering my music together in order for the children to have some fun songs to dance to.

It was an early morning start and we left Pune at 8 am, arriving at the school by 9.15am. We were all split into our various activities and given areas of the school in which to do them. I was given the help of another volunteer, Judy. I was quite glad to get some help as I knew that with the children being all very excited, they maybe a handful to control and it would be easier with two people.

Our programme began at 10.15am and all day we had small groups of each year group rotating around the different activities.

With the younger children, we danced to ‘I am the Music Man’, ‘Superman’, ‘The Hokey Cokey’, ‘The Conga’ and ‘The Birdie Song’ all by Black Lace, which was a real blast from the past! With the older ones, we danced to ‘Follow the Leader’ by The Soca Boys and we even taught them ‘The Macarena’! It was brilliant! The children loved it and to be honest, so did we! Even through our lunch break Judy and I were dancing around together like Loons regardless of the fact that we were so hot and worn out!

'The Conga' with Judy in the yellow!

Lavasa trip

For my birthday weekend, I wanted to go away somewhere, just to get out of the city so we went on a bike trip to a place called Lavassa. Lavassa is India’s first purpose built hill station resort about 60km to the west of Pune. It is still under construction and won’t be completely finished until after 2020. Regardless of that you can still visit and it is already popular with Puneites looking to get out of the city into the countryside.

We set off about lunch time from our flat and using google maps on my iPhone, navigated our way out of Pune. The roads were really busy and it seemed to take us over an hour to get to the outskirts of Pune and we only got lost once, which is good considering I was the one reading the map!

The ride out of Pune was really beautiful as it was so lush and green everywhere. There were lots of rice fields, farmers and small villages everywhere. The air was really fresh and it was so nice and quiet!

Surrounding views on the trip to Lavasa

Sunday, 14 August 2011

More celebrations!

The day after Deep Griha Society’s 36th Birthday, was another important day for the charity. It was a day of celebration with two ceremonies taking place, the first was the ‘Breaking the Ground’ ceremony at The City of Knowledge –Vidyanagari and the second was the ‘Inauguration of The Chapel’ at The City of Child.

The Breaking the Ground ceremony was to celebrate the beginning of the construction of a new school building at The City of Knowledge English-medium School.

Everyone who works for Deep Griha and people associated with them were all invited to be part of the celebrations. The ceremony took place next to one of the ruined buildings located on the 15 acres of school land. The focal point was a small square section of ground that was surrounded by Rangoli and covered in Marigold flowers.

Breaking the Ground Ceremony.

Friday, 12 August 2011

My first Sari, feeling glamorous and partying!

It was Deep Griha Society’s 36th birthday in July and they threw a party for all the staff and friends of the charity. The party was an all day event which took place in Abul Kalam Memorial Hall in Koregaon Park, Pune. It was a special day and everyone had to dress up in their best outfits.

A week or so before the event, all the volunteers decided that we would all wear a Sari to the party. As we didn’t yet have any, this meant going shopping for some. So one Monday after work, Kassie (an American volunteer), Susannah (an English volunteer) and I decided to go to Laxmi Road to buy one. Laxmi Road is a 15 minute auto rickshaw ride away from the charity office and is a crazy, busy shopping area in Pune where you can find practically everything you want, for good prices.

It really is an experience going Sari shopping. There are so many shops to choose from and you can’t really see what they have without going inside and having a good hard look.

Before you enter the shops, you have to take your shoes off and leave them at the door. This is very important, not only for cleanliness but it is also a sign of respect. Once inside you are faced with thousands of folded Sari’s on shelves that cover the walls from floor to ceiling. You are usually approached by a sales person who invites you to sit on the soft cushioned floor whilst they start pulling out Sari after Sari and throwing them on the floor to show you. At first it can be bit overwhelming due to the sheer amount of different colours, fabrics and finishes of the Sari’s to choose, especially if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. 

Beautiful Sari's

Thursday, 4 August 2011

My daily life

So what do I do with myself here in India? A while ago, I mentioned that I visited a charity called Deep Griha Society to see if I could volunteer with them. 

‘Deep Griha – meaning ‘Light House’ – is an independent charitable organisation working to better the lives of people in the slums of Pune (India) and several nearby villages. Through a range of family welfare programmes encompassing education, empowerment, health, awareness building and self-help projects; Deep Griha Society (DGS) helps thousands of beneficiaries to give them the skills, confidence and support they need to improve their futures.

Deep Griha Society now runs centres in three slum areas in Pune - Tadiwala Road, Ramtekadi and Bibvewadi. Additionally, Deep Griha Society also runs rural development programmes, through its two major set ups; City of Child in Kasurdi village and Vidyanagari - City of Knowledge in Choufula village. Currently Deep Griha Society’s programmes reach out to 68,527 people. '

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Marathon - Day 10

The last day of our Marathon started with our longest drive of the trip back to Delhi 264km (164miles) away. We stopped at a small road side cafe for a break and something to eat about halfway there. I was feeling better, but I’d completely lost my appetite, so I just had some dry papad (popadum) and watched everyone else eat.

It was so hot so the restaurant staff decided to turn on the air conditioning units that were in the wall right next to where we were sitting. However, they were quite ineffective and kept spitting out horrible mucky water from inside onto our food! It was all a bit gross and put everyone off the rest of their meal! Yuck!
We arrived back in Delhi late afternoon and were taken back to the same hotel that we had stayed in for the first leg of our trip, Star Rocks. As we were all so tired from the long journey, we took it easy and relaxed until dinner time, when we decided to walk to a local restaurant. Once again, I didn’t have much to eat, but I did manage to eat some potato wedges.

Mum outside the road side cafe

Monday, 25 July 2011

Marathon - Day 9

Our next day in Jaipur we had to be up and out of the hotel by 8am in order to ride an elephant at The Amber Fort. I was really excited about the elephant ride but I really wasn't well. Something I’d eaten had meant that I’d spent most of the night in the bathroom and I was feeling incredibly week and ill. However this was our only opportunity to ride an elephant and see the Fort, so I had to pull myself together and drag myself away from my room.

We drove a short way through the pink streets of Jaipur and picked up our guide outside the Hawa Mahal where we got out of the car, crossed the very busy street and looked at it from the other side of the road. The Hawa Mahal is a unique five-storey palace made of red sandstone, carved like honeycomb, with 953 small windows called Jharokhas that are decorated with intricate lattice work. It was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh and was originally designed so that the royal ladies could retain their modesty and be hidden whilst watching and enjoying processions and other activities on the street below.

Jawa Mahal

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Marathon - Day 8, Part 2

After visiting the Taj Mahal, it was still so early when we got back to the hotel we were able to catch the breakfast buffet before we set off on our long journey to Jaipur, 230kms away.

We checked out of the hotel around 10.30 ish and hit the road again. About an hour out of Agra, we stopped at our next sight Fatephur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri is a walled city (which is now deserted) that was built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar (Akbar the Great who also built Agra Fort and Sikandra). Popular legend has it that since Akbar was without an heir for a long time, he made a pilgrimage to the renowned Sufi saint, Sheik Salim Chisti, to seek his blessings and he was told that his Hindu wife would give him a son. When a son (Jahangir) was in fact born, Akbar built the new capital to mark his birth.

The city comprises of a series of palaces, public buildings including  Diwan-i-Am (the Hall of Public Audience) and one of the largest mosques in India, The Jama Masjid, as well as living areas for the court, the army, servants of the king and room for an entire population. The city remained his residence for about 15 years but it was later abandoned due to the lack of easy accessible water.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Marathon - Day 8, Part 1

The day of our visit we woke at 4.30am in order to be ready in time to arrive at The Taj Mahal entrance for when it opened at 5.30am. The drive there was short through the tight cramped streets of Agra, which were, at that time of the morning, deserted.

We arrived at the visitor centre where we bought our tickets for 750 rupees each (£10.40) and we were each given a small paper bag that contained a bottle of water and shoe covers. The entrance to the Taj was a 4 minute journey on an electric float/bus that carried about 20 people at a time. It was a bit like being at Disney World in America where you get picked up from the car parks and taken to the theme parks in groups.

Once through the gates, after we were searched by security we headed down a long walkway with red sandstone buildings and walls flagging either side that were covered in groups of monkeys. At the end of the walkway, it opened up into a large courtyard, with grassy areas and a large sandstone and marble gate which was The Great Gate or Darwaza-i rauza and it was the main entrance to the gardens and the Taj Mahal.

Our guide Ghopal walking down the entrance walkway

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Marathon - Day 7

The next day, we woke early and set off about 9.00am in our Toyota Innova Car for our 4 and a half hour journey south to Agra 205kms away.

Mum and dad’s luggage was tied to the roof of the car with some rope and we all were a bit worried that as we were driving, it might come lose and we’d see their underwear and clothes strewn across the road behind us. Every time we pulled up next to a reflective surface, e.g. the side of another car, building or bus, I had a quick look to make sure it was still there on the roof.
I was so glad to be getting out of the car and stretching my legs when we arrived at our first sight of the day at 1pm; but I was very quickly hit with the urge to dive back in as it was so unbelievably hot!

The sight was a place called Sikandara which is in the outskirts of Agra and on arrival we were greeted by Ghopal, who was to be our guide for our whole stay in Agra.  He spoke perfect English, was very knowledgeable and looked like a really tall Michael Jackson from his pre surgery ‘Rock With You’ era (minus the huge afro).

Sikandara Is the Tomb of Akbar the Great who started the build but it had to be completed after his death by his son Jahangir in 1613. The tomb is surrounded by large gardens which are enclosed by a large wall that has four grand entrances. The largest and grandest of the entrances is the south gate which has four marble minarets. All the buildings are constructed mainly from red sandstone, enriched with features in white marble, black slate and semi-precious stones in beautiful geometric, floral and calligraphic designs.

South Gate.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Marathon - Day 6, Part 2

As we had eaten a massive lunch that day at a random restaurant, (that I can’t remember the name of) we decided to skip dinner and go to see the daily Light and Sound show at The Red Fort. We had about an hour to kill before we went to the fort so we went to see the Houses of Parliament, the Presidential residences and the India Gate.

The whole area around the Parliamentary building reminded me of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. There was a really long tree lined road that had the President’s house and Parliamentary buildings at one end and the India Gate at the other end, which also reminded me of the Ace de Triomphe. The surface of the road was so smooth and well kept so that (according to our guide) in an emergency, it could be used as an aircraft runway to evacuate the president or other such important people that needed to be taken to safety.

The closest we could get to the President's House