India 2013 – Part 1: Letting go of the fears in Kolkata

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When I was still working in Nicaragua, my mother told me she wanted to travel with me as soon as I got back to Sweden in September. She wanted us to go to Istanbul together, but as she would have two entire weeks of vacation, I had her reconsider and think bigger, and she picked India and the Taj Mahal. I had already been there in 2010, but this was going to be very different. First of all, I was going to let my mother lead and plan everything – it was her trip. Also, she wanted to see everything. More buildings, less spirituality. I was going to let somebody else decide where I would be going and not travel alone for the first time, she was going to have to trust me on the safety issues and discover the hardships of India. It was going to be a challenge for both of us.

Kolkata, or as many say, Calcutta, was our first stop in the country after a really convenient Emirates flight. We landed under heavy rainfall and found a hotel on Sudder street where travellers often choose to live due to its convenient location. It wasn’t really tourist season in September as the monsoon period had just started, so we were almost alone in the hotel apart from a group of very nice Japanese guys that we spent an evening with. During the days, we basically walked around looking at monuments my mother wanted to see – and ate. My mother had no issues with trying food in different places, so that was wonderful. She was already loving the Indian cuisine after one day and I was thrilled. On our second day, we met Bose, a guy who insisted on showing us around for hours. My mother was nervous, “Why is he so nice? Are you sure this is the right direction? Where is he taking us?” but she finally gave in when I told her to try to let go of her fears and trust her instincts instead, and Bose was indeed harmless and genuine – he took us to his favourite places and showed us his secret shortcuts and little temples. He made sure we weren’t harassed by vendors and refused accepting even a soft drink from us. In the end, my mother kindly forced him to accept for us to pay for his lunch. The way a Polish mother does best. We had enormous plates of Chicken Biryani, we spoke about culture, Indian history and Bose’s plans for the future, and we had a lovely time.

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Henna and Kali

I know I haven’t posted many photos from the trip to India I did with my mother in September. Things have actually very hectic since and the most sad part about it is that I have lost many of the names and details that went along with the photos. Anyhow, I will share them little by little.

The permission for this photo was given with an elegant little Indian head-wobble by this girl, very sweet and proud, and eager to ask us questions. She didn’t speak a word of English though, so a friend we had met earlier was translating. Unfortunately I don’t remember her name.

We had been looking at a little private temple depicting the Indian goddess Kali when the girl came out of the front door of her house to see who was there – the temple belonged to her family – many households in India tend to have small temples. This one was the favourite of the friend who had brought us here, because it was peaceful and secluded – and anybody was welcome to pray by it.

And guess what, Kali is the goddess of Time and Change.

Mrs. K and her radio.

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Found this radiant woman sitting on a streetcorner close to our hotel here in Mumbai. She was listening to her radio, laughing and singing along to some kind of radio theatre show. After having her picture taken, which she happily posed for, she eagerly told me that she used to be a dancer. And a singer.

We’re leaving India in a couple of hours, but Mrs. K will get a copy of her photo sent to her – she lives on the first floor in the house just next to where she was sitting. And I got her address as she speaks and writes perfect English.

It would have been so easy to misjudge that laughing lady sitting on a streetcorner. But she was not crazy, not homeless, not begging for money. She was just hanging out, being happy.

Glimpses of Pushkar

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One of the holiest of cities, Pushkar also shares the first place (with Varanasi) of my favourite places in India. Very small, very friendly, very personal, and not as loud – Pushkar is the place where I for the first time since coming to India felt that real euphoria again. It was when walking around town on the first day and a big group of people celebrating Ganeshas birthday walked by, women in colourful saris clapping, cheering and singing, that I felt that I was filled with love again. It didn’t last long – we kind of had to go – but it had been there and my eyes had teared up a little, if only for a moment.

To my mother’s delight, we stayed in an absolutely wonderful place in Pushkar, Seventh Heaven Inn, with fresh rose petals in the shower, service worthy a first class hotel and amazing attention to detail in every little piece of furniture, plant, candle and fabric.

Pushkar is very differeny from the rest of the classic India experience in the way that it almost completely lacks the pushing and ruthless bargaining that you come across everywhere else. You are welcome to look and touch, you will be shown other variations, but you can also freely walk out again if you wish – and you will be given a reasonable price to start the bargaining from. Comfortable, I bought little pieces of jewellery and had some things custom made for me, we walked around, had lime juice with mint, and I sent out some job applications now that the Internet connection was reliable.

Pushkar was like a break in all the running around. Less temples, castles and big impressive English buildings to pose in front of for a photo. More people who really wanted to have their photo taken just for the sake of it and not for money, than beautiful litte lake in the moddle of town, Ganeshas birthday celebration all over, and small spontaneous decisions. Less planning, more being.

The Pink City

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We were in Jaipur for a total of two days and saw more palaces and mesmerizing little mirror-rooms than I have ever seen before. My mom has a thing for sightseeing and cool buildings, so I’m tagging along.

And then we went to Amber Fort, of course – and did a retake of one of my favourite photos of me.