24 September 2007

More of Pune

What I did for the rest of my time in Pune…

Watching dance

The local dance group came to do some classical and folk dance for the group at Sangam. The teacher was an excellent dancer. She wore over a kilo of bells on each foot. Some of her dances involved slapping her foot on the floor so it made a loud noise- she said it took her 10 years to be able to make the noise!

Bollywood film and learning to Bollywood dance

We saw a Bollywood film, Bollywood being Hindi language films made in Mumbai. It was called Chake De India about an Indian women’s jockey team. We learnt a bit of Bollywood dance afterwards. It was a lot of fun. I thought it was much like aerobics- good that if you don’t keep up you can just attempt the next bit.

Laughter club

I’d heard of this laughter club being popular around the world. It started in India and an elderly couple ran the session. People get together and do laughing and breathing exercises together to help with stress relief and as a way of making friends. This session was really good. You just do silly exercises then pretend to laugh until it turns into real laughter. Eg pretending to blowing up a balloon and when it bursts you laugh, pointing at everyone and laughing, chanting hi hi ha ha ha ha, laughing when you get on the phone… really fun!

Maharastrian feast

We had a special closing dinner which we all dressed up for. I got my sari back and one of the staff members put it on for me which was good because it’s not very easy to do on a first attempt. It was about two bed lengths long. We learnt how to do rangoli, which is a type of art which involves making patterns on the ground with coloured sand for good luck. We made a rangoli artwork for our setting at the feast. Maharastra is the state that Pune and Mumbai are in, and we had food from that region. We ate with our hands from plate made of leaves.

Ghandi National Memorial
Ghandi was imprisoned in Pune in a prison. They then shifted him off to an old palace where his wife and secretary died. I visited this palace where his ashes are now stored. They had a bit of interesting information about the life of the man but the displays wasn't in very good condition! The palace is quite beautiful though. It's all white and has a big, well- maintained garden.

14 September 2007

Feasts and festivals part 1

I have been shopping in Pune and have bought some blue and amber sari material, some bangles, bindis and some material to make a Pubjab suit. I'm having the Punjab suit made. It comprises baggy pants, a long tunic and a scarf. My sari with blouse is also being made. We'll dress up with all our new clothes and accessories during the closing dinner which will be a Maharastrian feast. Mahrastra is the state I'm in. Idols of Ganesh, some elephant looking god are out for sale as the festival is on soon.

International night
We had an international night where people talked about the places they came from. The Bedfordshire bunch did a real deadpan version of Cinderella. I can't be sure I got the humour! The Devon bunch dressed up as country bumpkins and sang a funny song. They have been telling me all about Devonshire cream teas which come from their town, and about clotted cream. I did some fun Irish dancing and taught the others to do Lao dance.

Doorstep school
I visited a school which is part of an organisation that aims to educate children that would otherwise not be educated. They work alot with the children of contruction workers. Construction workers move around every 3-4 months so their children often don't get the chance to go to school. The might move to an area where they don't speak the language making it even harder for the children to go to school. They work with Mobile Creches also which look after the tiny kids so the bigger kids can go to school.

Dinner with a family
I went to house of family of a local 6-year-old cub Scout for dinner with a couple of others from England. Everone attending the event visited the families of Scouts in area with special housing for employees of the pharmaceutical company. The family took us to a temple which was a replica of one that is in Kashmir. They recreated a 10-metre long cave which had 20cm of water of water in it. Once we waded through the water there was a beautiful shrine at the end. They were so kind to cook us a lovely dinner and show us pictures of special ceremony the boy had.

Manaski Centres ( I think I spelt it wrong)
In India they have a caste system from the Hindu religion. It is technically illegal, but is still practiced and is a human rights issues. The Untouchables, or Dalits are out of this caste system and are only entitled to the really bad jobs in society. We saw a video about the discrimination the Dalits face. Some aren't allowed to use wells and rely on others to fetch their water. Others have to take off their shoes in areas of other villages. Some Dalit children had to clean the toilets and make tea when other children didn't have to. Generally the face discrimination and occasionally violence. There are 250 million Dalits.

This organisation gives Dalits the option of converting to Buddhism to help them overcome the psychological barrier that is one of the factors stopping them from achieving what they can. They have a variety of programs to help the Dalits out.

10 September 2007

Arriving in Pune

I caught a 12 hour train from Goa to Pune. Pune is a few hours drive from Mumbai. The train ride wasn't too bad. There are three tiers of beds so unfortunately you can't really sit up and I was on top so I couldn't look out of the window. I could smell toilet odour for some of journey but couldn't tell whether it was coming from inside or outside the train. When the train stops some people come a board to sell fried foods. Otherwise the train staff come around to sell tea and snacks. I ate some chapatis and chicken drumstick on the train and it was actually quite nice and am happy to have lived to tell the tale.

In Pune I am staying a centre run by Girl Guides/ Girl Scouts to run events for participants around the world. I thought I'd be one of the oldest in this event but I'm one of the younger ones. Most are over 40 and most are from Devon and Bedfordshire in the UK. There are a few people from Canada. The event started this morning is called 'Feasts and festivals' which should be good.


I spent a fun few days in Goa which was an hour plane ride on the coast south of Mumbai. It is not the most beautiful place I have seen, but I had fun hanging out with a psychiatrist from Dubbo and a couple from Parma in Italy who were happy to answer all my questions about ham and cheese.

Goa was once a Portugese colony so it looks rather European and has many churches. I stayed in the capital, Panaji. I mostly just wandered around the town and enjoyed the food they had to offer. I had some delicious Goan style fish with chilli and tomato, lots of Indian style pancakes and breads and plenty of masala tea they call chai. The tea is virtually all made up of milk which is just excellent.

I found a small pub listed in my trusty Lonely Planet. The owner stated in the book died from alcohol problems. It was the most disorganised thing I'd ever seen. No menu. I saw them run out to get food, which I guess isn't too uncommon. The most unusual thing there was the distinct lack of toilet. To go, they close the kitchen door so they can't see you and you use the gutter! Right next to where they leave the dirty dishes.

I visited my first market in a town in India in a town called Mapusa. It was not so different from the markets in Laos. Most of the produce is on the floor and there are many tailors. I also visited the beach because that's something that has got to be done in Goa. It was ok, it wasn't that clean.

05 September 2007

Australian volunteer health check

Five people have visited the hospital in Thailand of the 17 volunteers I came to Laos with.
  • One had a broken arm x-rayed and plastered after a motorbike collision with an intoxicated cop
  • One person was under observation in case their infected throat got worse
  • One case of appendicitis
  • One ankle was x-rayed and plastered as the ligaments in a dodgy snapped whilst walking
  • One fell through some rocks in Thailand and needed wounds dressed

From other Australian volunteers while I've been here:

  • I've heard of one case of dengue
  • I've heard of one case of leptospirosis which is a parasitic disease

Aside from that- I think most people have got food poisoning. Some not more frequent than the locals including me. A fair few people have had general colds including me.


I'm in India! I had always wanted to come here and when I realised it was much cheaper going from Laos than from Australia I decided to go.

I stayed with my friends' relatives in Mumbai for a couple of days. They looked after me really well, cooking me some delicious Indian foods. They seem to schedule their meals so they're served on the dot! Their family have nap time too which I appreciate. I'm glad they could give me some information about India otherwise I would have tried to bargain for taxis and auto- rickshaws before I get in. Auto- rickshaws are exactly like the tuk-tuks in Thailand and Laos but in much better condition.

Mumbai isn't actually as crowded as I expected. Maybe I'm didn't visit the most crowded areas. The city is absolutely huge so maybe it's not as dense as some of the busy areas in cities with smaller areas. I think it's fine to travel as a woman alone. Many people eat alone in restaurants so it's not so weird being alone. The people are generally friendly and helpful. Most people I've met speak perfect English. It's easy to get around- taxis are cheap and you can pre pay for them. You pay your hotel and give a slip to the driver once you've arrived at your destination so the driver can collect their fare from the hotel. The traffic is not really scary at all, I never felt like I was going to die in a taxi.

I haven't found it as overwhelming as I expected- it was probably easier coming from Laos than from Australia. I think I've just been in the tourist areas so I haven't come across much poverty. Though I've seen some of the housing where I'm sure the living conditions are crowded and uncomfortable and it smells from the outside. They look like some of the housing in Laos, but much more dense.

The weather here is nearly exactly the same as it is in Vientiane at the moment. The temperature is about the same, as is the frequency of rain. Mumbai is virtually the same latitude as Vientiane. I'm glad I havesome inner bo bpen nyang (no worries) from Lao to help me get around India okay. I get approached by many salespeople on the streets but they really bother me- I'm actually happy to see enterprising behaviour! I already learnt in Laos to do without toilet paper so I have that challenge covered too!

I have just been wandering around town. I visited some very old caves with stone carvings on Elephanta Island. The food here is as good as I imagine. I've been here 3 days and haven't been sick yet. Though Lao food is virtually fat free so even if there's a bit of butter or other fat in food I feel really full quickly.

I'm off to Goa!