After a change of flight plan (I was meant to go via Jordan but my first flight was delayed so I would have missed my connection meaning I instead went via London) I finally arrived in Mumbai, India at the 10th of June a bit after midday! I excitedly made my way through customs, taking in the distinct smell, the distant whir of the traffic, the heavy heat and the combination of colourful sari’s and black burkas. Just stepped off the plane and already my every sense was being heavily stimulated! I waited patiently to get a position along the far too small baggage carousel and finally made my way out into the heat and found the smiling driver patiently waiting with my name written on a piece of paper. He must have easily recognized me from a distance, as I was looking around like a lost puppy and there was only one other foreigner, an older businessman who exited at the same time as me. We hurried to the cool comfort of the car and then crawled through the hectic traffic of Mumbai. The roads were mainly filled with the distinct, black and yellow cabs and 3 wheeled auto-rickshaws and despite seemingly like there were no formal rules, everyone seemed to mesh together and beeps and toots melded into a sort of rhythm.
We passed by endless slum buildings, some three stories high and I lost count of the number of men urinating on the side of the road! Everywhere I looked was complete visual madness and I was almost glad that my camera was locked away in the boot, as I would have missed so much if I tried to focus for a moment. As we made our way out of Mumbai, my exhaustion slowly got the better of me and I drifted in and out of sleep during the 2 hour drive to Pune (pronounced Poonah).
Pune is the eighth largest city/metropolis in India, the second largest in the state of Maharashtra, after Mumbai and is known to have existed as a town since 937 AD. Today, Pune is known for its educational facilities, India’s first Prime Minister, Shri Jawahar Lal Nehru had called Pune “The Oxford of the East.”
It has had well-established manufacturing, glass, sugar and forging industries since the 1950-60s and is proud of its growing industrial hinterland, with many information technology and automotive companies setting up factories in Pune district.
I have arrived just in time to benefit from the respite that Monsoon Season is bringing after one of India’s hottest recorded summers. The monsoon lasts from June to October, with moderate rainfall and temperatures ranging from 10 to 28 °C. Most of the 722 mm (28.4 inches) of annual rainfall in the city fall between June and September, and July is the wettest month of the year.
When i arrived at the beautiful, spacious home in Pune, I was SO excited to finally see my friends who will be my hosts for the time I’ll be here in India. The warmth and generosity from the outset meant I knew Id found yet another ‘Home in a Foreign Land’. I can confirm without hesitation the stereotype about the incredible hospitality of the Indians. Maybe it comes from sharing their country with more than 1 billion people or simply wanting to share and help foreigners discover their fascinating and diverse nation. Whatever it is, I like it… ☺
I was determined to stay awake until after dinner to help re-adjust to the different time zone. I showered, unpacked my stuff and then delivered a rapid onslaught of questions about India to my unsuspecting hosts! As you probably gathered from the previous post there is so much I am curious about when it comes to India. It’s therefore no surprise that I plan on making the most out of the incredible opportunity to live and travel through India with an Indian family over the next few weeks. I’ll be living with them here in Pune for about a week and then we’ll be visiting Mumbai and afterwards, Dehli, Agra, Jaipur and Varanasi! But back to my first afternoon, after taking the dogs for a walk beneath the beautiful Banyan trees the line the streets of this residential area,
we went out to pick up some things at the local grocery shop. A great insight into Indian life. If you ever want to get a general feel for a culture upon arrival in a new country – go to their shopping centres!
Where in Italy and France there are aisles dedicated to cheese, olive-oils and pasta varities, in India these aisles are filled with spices, an amazing mix of lentils and beans, an extensive range of vegetable oils and more surprisingly – Syrups! Indians love sweetness just as much as they do chilies and exotic spices! At home there is a draw brimming with spices (that offers an intoxication smell when it is opened) and the centre piece is a box of the ESSENTIAL spices pretty much used in every dish (Chili powder, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, and a masala mixture, ) and they take everywhere with them when they travel and plan on cooking throughout India!
Also interesting, instead of testing the firmness of a product or the used by date as a gauge of it’s quality – everything is smelt! This was a great way to wet my appetite and I was definitely not disappointed come dinner time – it was DELICIOUS! We had kebabs with onions, casipcum, potato and pani (a tastier version of tofu) marinated in a melt-in-your-mouth-while-putting-it-slightly-on-fire sauce On a bed of golden saffron rice ☺
Straight after dinner at about 9 I collapsed into bed with a very full tummy and was in a deep sleep until my alarm sounded at 8:30 the next morning. I rose wearily and looked outside to see one of the first showers of the monsoon
After breakfast we relaxed a bit and played with the beautiful dogs
–I can’t believe I haven’t introduced you to them yet! Everybody, meet the lanky Great-Dane Leo (who despite his imposing stature is actually very timid!) and his gorgeous retriever companion Joey ☺ They are both 1 ½ yrs old and the great dane in particular is mad as a meat axe – they combine to make a hilarious pair. Growing up i’ve had both a great dane and a retriever so my heart melts whenever these troublesome two approach!
That morning on our way into town we stopped at a shoe vendor to buy some matted slippers that are invaluable as they are light and comfy (though probably won’t last beyond my stay here). And then went to one of the new malls and went to a Indian boutique designer to marvel at the incredible fabrics and embroidery.
Afterwards it was time for the markets!
and my eyes were almost bulging out of my head with fascination at all we past
I also loved the way the operations were carried out in the main food pavilion – the stand owner sits cross-legged atop their cart, surrounded by their produce and uses the old balancing scale to weigh and price whatever the customer has selected and handed to them in the tin bowl. Isn’t this lady gorgeous!
There was a shrine to a variety of gods at each stand with incense generally burning and around the corner from the vegetables was a slightly less appealing sight and MUCH less appealing smell…. The meat section… The ice that i saw earlier being dragged along the ground was laid beneath seafood produce and cages of chickens were lined infront of ‘chopping’ benches. I didn’t get closer than 20m to that area… and happily returned to the fruit section!
I loved the mango sorter picture below on the right covered in a yellow glow from the light coming through the yellow tarpon above him. He saw me taking a photo and a smile lit up his face and his friend eagerly grabbed a mango to pose for a photo
And then I got in on the action aswell!
With a healthy appetite we made our way to the “Great Punjab” a favourite local restaurant of my friends where we had a North Indian feast! (Northern India uses much for fats and oils in it’s food and is accompanied with Nan bread whereas as the South is known for being slightly healthier, primarily vegetarian and is served with rice) I left the ordering to them and before I knew it was using the various types of nan bread to scoop up the different types of curries and dahl. They were pretty damn spicy but so good I just couldn’t stop!
Back at home we just relaxed and I had my first proper Indian Chai Masala! I’ve been addicted to Chai tea in Australia for several years now and since first discovering it’s origin – India – I was anxious to try the ‘real deal’. MMMmmmmmmmmm! Unlike in Western versions, cinnamon isn’t used (as it overpowers the other flavors) and instead there was much more ginger and citrusy tastes combining with the cardamom and probably a range of other spices!
I was warned, but didn’t fully comprehend, how much focus we will be having on the delicious (mainly Indian) dishes throughout my time here. If i’d realized earlier i wouldn’t have slurped down so much pasta in Italy!