Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer in the City - Flu Season in Mumbai

So this is going to be one of the less cheerful posts – probably the least cheerful since arriving in Mumbai as I have discovered one of the low lights of life in India (n summer). Being ill…

Being ill sucks wherever you are but as it turns out it sucks a lot more in 35 degrees than it does in European flu season. Before I give you the low down on what it has been like I do want to say that despite it not being fun, we are obviously very spoilt with being able to receive excellent medical here which so many people do not have access to. My workplace even has a doctor on site that you can just go to when you do not feel well.

Here is being ill – London vs Mumbai

1)      Starting to feel ill
a.       London: Go to Boots and stock up on non-prescription items like Ibuprofen and Lemsip. You probably can’t face the idea of trying to get a doctor’s appointment so let’s just hope it gets better
b.      Mumbai: You can go to the doctor (without appointment) and they are likely going to see you very quickly and happily prescribe you all sorts of medicine, however not Ibuprofen as there seems to be a general conception that it’s not good for you in India. So Paracetamol it is. In the end it doesn’t make much difference whether you have a prescription from the doctor as pharmacies pretty much hand you out anything with a bit of asking. Indiadam already managed to get some antibiotics for me once without prescription or looking ill in any form
2)      Get some rest
a.       London: You go to bed, get under the duvet and sleep. Sleep a lot or at least lying in bed or on the couch to recover and gather some strength again is really your best bet. Plus it’s quite nice lying in bed in winter when it’s cold and dark outside. Being ill could be worse
b.      Mumbai: Yes it could be. It could be 35 degrees and even walking outside for 10minutes leaves you looking like you have gone for a swim. Cooling down the whole flat takes quite a while and with our helicopter-sound-AC it is the trade off between sweating and severe headache. Mumbai has taught me one thing: there is no such thing as “sweating out a fever” – it only gets worse
3)      Get some fresh air
a.       After staying in your flat all day, something that used to really help me was go out and at least to the shops or around the block for 10mins, breathe in some fresh air
b.      Fresh air… Mumbai… Not happening. Apart from the fact that it’s too hot anyway. So we are back to the tradeoff of hot “clean” air with open windows or “cold, articificial, LOUD” air from the AC.
4)      Food & Drinks
a.       London: Lots of tea (nice to warm you up), chicken soup (warming and healthy) and fruit (vitamins)
b.      Mumbai: One tea (it’s so hot it doesn’t even steam, last thing you want to drink), water (about 5l to compensate for the sweat loss), chicken soup (just feel weird eating soup when all you want to do is jump in an ice bath), FRUIT – very nice, lots of choice!
5)      Not getting better
a.       London: Although you don’t want to, you end up having to go to the doctor. Your local GP has an appointment in 5 weeks time so you decide to go to the walk up clinic where you wait for 2h. In that time you manage to pick up the one virus you didn’t have yet, see the doctor who advises you against taking antibiotics and suggest that ibuprofen and lots of fluids will sort you out
b.      Mumbai: Back to the doctor with no wait time who will offer another dosage of antibiotics as well as a long list of other stuff (on a piece of paper, pretty sure I could write that at home)
6)      Picking up medicine
a.       London: In Boots, handed over my prescription: Please wait for 15mins (what for exactly?!), your prescription put on a massive pile. 15mins later, get your prescription in a nice bag, sealed, pills counted, pay your 7 pounds. Out you go
b.      Mumbai: Any pharmacy with your piece of paper and a long list of medicine. No waiting time, get as many pills you want and best thing: Keep the original prescription (no signature, stamp or anything). You might have the same thing in a few months so just re-use it. Or your neighbor might be ill…

Over a week after first getting ill, I’m still coughing a bit but luckily feel much better. And as said before, we are incredible fortunate to have access to the very good medical care in India that most people don’t.

However, I really did not enjoy being ill in Mumbai summer one single bit so will do everything I can to avoid it going forward. Considering I am a bit of a wimp with the heat and AC combination though, it probably won’t take long until I write the next grumpy/ill post.

Until then, Hals & Beinbruch (look that ones up)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mission Impossible - Flat hunting in Mumbai

In some of my previous posts, I have eluded to the fact that finding a flat has been a little bit “tricky” in Mumbai. During our marathon flat hunt, I was so annoyed by it all that I could not be bothered in any way to write about it.

Now that we have actually found a home, and a nice one, I feel like I can share a few of the high- (i.e. low) lights of our flat hunt in Mumbai, aka Mission Impossible 1-55. 55 because that is what some agent told me was the number of flats that I ended up looking at. FIFTY SEVEN. That excludes seeing various places two or three times. You can imagine the fun we had. If like Ethan Hawke, I had had the chance to not accept the mission, I would have. But then we all knew he didn’t really have a choice not to accept it and neither did we.

So here are a few sequences from our very own Mission Impossible, set in Bandra West, Mumbai

Scene 1: “Furnished or unfurnished – that is the question”
As we were moving from our very tiny but very cosy flat in London where the only thing we really owned were three Ikea shelves, we quite wanted a furnished place. Unfortunately, I was told during the briefing that Mumbai was one of the very few occasions where my company did not support furnished flat hunts under any circumstances. Great start, I did not really fancy spending a couple of grand furnishing a flat the other side of the world. Turns out when we came to Mumbai, that rule was basically completely flexible (i.e. ignored) which many rules are in India. We were even shown flats that had cutlery, coasters and the cousin’s sister’s socks in the draws. So we saw the whole range – from flat with bare brick walls and hold where windows should have been to fully furnished.

Scene 2: “Everything is possible”
This is the quote every agent would tell you when I looked at an apartment and said I did not like the kitchen, the sofa, the wallpaper or the rock solid mattress that Indian beds seem to come with. The agent would promise any change in the flat within seconds. Sound proofing an apartment, completely renovating the bathroom – nothing seemed to be a problem. I was quite surprised they didn’t offer to change the view of an apartment “Don’t worry Ma’am, we will move that building right outside your bedroom somewhere else”. Again, reality of somewhat different. All the apartments we started negotiating on, we would have liked some furniture removed and even though they were all places where we were told “it would be no problem at all”, no landlord actually was keen to change anything and very few agreed to any changes at all. One of the reasons our living room in our flat now looks like my grandma’s flat and will so for the foreseeable future.

Scene 3: “You will talk to agent A, who will speak to B who knows C who will get in touch with the target”
Too many people involved! That probably sums up the main issue with our flat hunt. We had a relocation agent who would put us in touch with real estate agents (who we are not allowed to talk to directly) who operate in a mafia of real estate agents by suburb. So your agent will arrange viewing through other agents who then know the lawyer of the actual landlord. Who probably is the cousin of the first agent. We must have lost weeks within this ridiculous network and knowing who actually was the decision maker was once again impossible. When trying to actually close on a property, it became even more convoluted with the company’s legal, relocation and facilities team starting to get involved as well. The time we finally met the landlord (which was more or less when the deal was closed), you could feel the relief on both sides to actually be talking to the right person.

Scene 4: “Same same but different”
One of the flats we really liked was on a small quiet street (something you really appreciate in Mumbai), on the 5th floor with quite a nice view, generally in good nick, modern bathrooms and some decent furniture we were happy to keep. We started negotiating, more or less were willing to pay the price asked, so all was good. We were told discussions with the landlord were progressing well up to the point where we got sent a summary of the current inventory. That inventory sounded very different to what we had seem. Making that point various times, it turned out it wasn’t the flat we had actually seen but the one in the same building on the 2nd floor (which we had never properly seen as all rooms were locked). It’s the same floorplan as the 5th floor one but obviously with completely different finishing and furniture – in a state we were not interested in. Our various agents could not understand AT ALL why we would not consider this one. It good old South East Asia tourist scam manner – same same but different.

Scene 5: Trust no one but yourself
This sounds harsh but is unfortunately true. We had situations where we had agreed a deal with the landlord, shaken hands and agreed that both sides would stop looking only to find out a few weeks later they had pulled out of the deal again. Until you have it in writing, nothing is certain. As part of the complicated communication loops we had to jump through, it was very difficult to find out where things had gone wrong. You would speak to three different people and get three different stories, each of them making sure to point out that it was ABSOLUTELY not their fault it all went wrong again. Blame gets passed from A to B very easily and everyone’s main concern seemed to be to keep face rather than actually getting anything done. I want to clear thought that I do not see this as a reflection of Indian society in general but just was very much the feeling we got in that’s specific house hunting “situation”.

Scene 6: May God be with you
Surprisingly, parts of Mumbai have very large Christian communities. This includes Bandra. For one flat we liked, I was asked whether I had a baptism certificate. Not that I have ever actually seen it but I was pretty sure that somewhere in parent’s cupboards back in Germany there would be baptism certificate. So when the society (which is basically what the people who live in the building and organize all the admin) asked for, I just got my Mum to whatsapp a picture of the certificate over. Only to be told that they needed the original. After some discussion, they agreed to accept a certified copy which my Mum got couriered to India. At that point I thought I would just mention that I am Protestant rather than Roman Catholic (as I had heard somewhere that some societies are strictly Roman Catholic). Well, guess what. Protestant is not acceptable and despite a fully certified baptism certificate being on its way from Germany, there was no way we were going to move into this flat. Apparently all the parties involved (see scene 3) seemed to think Baptised = Roman Catholic – when I tried the line “does it really make that big of a difference” I was told “But you and the Catholics hate each other”. That left even me a bit speechless…

Scene 7: Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine it’s not the end
This famous Oscar Wilde quote has been reused in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and luckily, it also held true for our apartment search. Finally, we are in a really nice flat and even if the furniture looks like my grandmas, the AC units make the sound of helicopters and the parrots that I found so cute when we first saw the flat have turned into loud monsters at 5am in the morning, I love the flat and it’s just such a nice feeling to have a place to call home after nearly 6 months. Putting up our pictures, buying bits and pieces and exploring the neighbourhood has been lots of fun and even though there were moments where I thought we would never get there, it has been worth it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Warming up for the Euro... Cricket World Cup in India

Turns out we timed our move to India quite well – particularly from Indiadam’s point of view as only a few weeks after his re-arrival in Mumbai, the cricket Twenty20 World Cup kicked off in India. Being a supporter of nearly any sport that England are more or less (usually the latter) successfully participating in, Indiadam was very excited by the whole thing.

From my side, I have to admit that cricket still hasn’t made it into my top sports to watch or follow even after 5 years in London but I am very thankful for these 5 years as at least it means I arrived in the land of cricket with a basic understanding of the sport. I don’t call the stumps poles anymore, I know you score runs not points, and I have learned key terminology like “declaring” which I once described as “when you do the thing where you say you are going to win the game anyway”. There are still significant knowledge gaps and not all the stats that get thrown at you, particularly when watching on TV make much sense to me but I can say that I have started appreciating the sport. Coming from mainland Europe, cricket is quite often dubbed the most boring sport in the world – you play for 5 days and it’s a draw.

Which is quite often true is test cricket to be fair… So it is not surprising that my favourite form of the game is Twenty20 (why is it not TwentyTwenty or 2020 by the way?). I have watched a few Friday night Oval games. Though the focus there is much more on the booze and making the longest “beer snake” out of empty cups. A very English approach to a Friday night sports event where everyone seems to compensate for the missing alcohol at football games. Let’s say it can get a bit rowdy and the cricket is not always the focus point. Even before the WC started, I could sense that this is very different in India. First, the sport is taken VERY seriously (as it also seems to be the ONLY sport people are interested in, no hedging your bets between football, rugby, tennis, handball etc). Second, people drink less if at all and no drinks are served in the stadium.

So the World Cup was coming to India – but how were we going to get tickets? I vividly remember the hours I spent in front of a computer trying to get tickets for the London Olympics or Tottenham games, only to be told after ages that my session had timed out or tickets were sold out. The catch was also that two weeks before the start of the world cup, tickets had not even gotten on sale yet, venues were being changed and the Pakistan team was even considering not showing up at all due to security concerns. So let’s say a rather unusual approach (in my German eyes) to the biggest sporting event of the year. Somehow it all came together though and we (or Indiadam) were lucky with two England fixtures being in Mumbai. Through some England-cricket-fan connections, Indiadam managed to get tickets to both – I opted for only one of the two. It’s still not football after all J

The first game was against the West Indies which England lost after Gayle more or less beat them on his own. I definitely didn’t expect either England or West Indies to make it to the final in the end (which probably shows how little I still know about cricket). So Indiadam came home sad and beaten that night with a bit of a “typical England” summary. Two days later we are making our way south to the Wankhede stadium (still can’t pronounce it without making it sound utterly wrong and rude) for the second Mumbai game. England – South Africa. We meet some other English and South African guys in a very cool rooftop bar called “Dome Bar” close to the stadium. I’m quite happy sipping my G&T and watching the sunset that I don’t mind going a bit later to the game – it’s not like you might miss the only goal of the game in the first 5mins. One of the advantages of cricket… With Indiadam and a few of his mates keen to “hear the anthem” though, we make our way to the stadium. You would think outside the stadium is the perfect location to sell some fan gear. I’m thinking shirts, flags, scarves. Apparently not. Apparently what EVERY cricket fan wants before a world cup game is a rainbow coloured wig – hundreds of them are being sold everywhere. Either I missed a new fashion trend (not unlikely) or it’s a cricket insider outfit joke that I don’t get. Anyway, I don’t buy a wig, it’s still 30 degrees at 8pm so I’m hot enough without wearing a wig.

We arrive when it’s just getting busy – there is a long queue leading up to the stadium which quickly changes into a mass push for the gates as people start overtaking and just walking up beside the queue (me included, finally no English queueing). All fine until we get to within 20m of the entrance where security has just stared closing the gate because of people pushing too much. While the logical reaction would be to now wait, the Indian reaction seems to be to push even harder. It’s probably one of my least favourite moments in Mumbai so far being squashed in a mob of mainly Indian male cricket fans which gets me more attention than I really want. Indiadam comes to the rescue and 10mins later we have made it safely into the stadium. Which is half empty.

With time, more people start arriving though and Indiadam says it is actually much busier than it was at the Windies game. The atmosphere is good, there are lots of guys running around trying to sell all sorts of snacks though as expected, no beer or beer snake as a result in sight. I have to say some people seem like they are as crazy though without the alcohol – one guy next to us in particular breaks out into the most ludacris dance moves every time the music goes one. Noone in England would dance like that even after drinking a beer snake. Cultural differences, hey. But very entertaining. I won’t bore you with the match details mainly because I would still not be able to describe the highs and lows of a cricket match in adequate terminology but it was a really good match and tense unrtil the last minute. Made even better by England winning by 2 wickets with 2 balls remaining thanks to an amazing performance by Joe Root. So Indiadam and the rest of the England supporter crew are very happy when we head back to the Dome Bar (which might have also been thanks to the rather drunk girls in short skirts dancing by the pool, just like any UK nightclub).

I do have to say that not only Indiadam had a good time but I really enjoyed the game and even though I will always miss the football, tennis and other sports from Europe, cricket is actually good fun – both in England and India although the experience of a Twenty20 match couldn’t be more different. One thing that they have in common is that they both lost to the West Indies which is a shame as I would have loved to see India – England in the final. Though that at least didn’t have to face the choice of who to support...

So after learning a bit more about the game and seeing some (apparently) very good cricket live, I can say - it's not a boring sport. But then I also have to say that I am now looking forward to the actual sports highlight of 2016 - the Euro 2016 in France! Oh an the Olympics... Come on Germany :)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Namaste Mother (in) India!

After the first guestblog on hopsnspice by Indiadam, here is the second by my Mum who has just returned to Germany after a two week holiday in India which took her and my Dad not only to Mumbai but also a hill station, Rajathan and Goa. And it's even in English!


To be honest when I first heard Ju and Indiadam were trying to work and live abroad for two or three years, my first thought was: hopefully not India!
But as they got best offers in Mumbai they moved there in the beginning of November
(as readers of this blog already know :-)
So I  had to start changing my opinion - and of cause  prejudices -  against India by reading books about „Mother India“, by talking to people who have been there and by planning to take the next chance we get to travel to Mumbai.
Easter holidays came and we started our trip well prepared with facts, a lot of medicine – just in case- and looking forward to it a lot.

We arrived in Mumbai Airport and were picked up by Ju and Indiadam and their driver. Immediately we got an idea about traffic in Mumbai, although it was a Saturday night. Horns are a kind of conversation between all cars, rikshaws and even bikes. So even if you think, there must be lots of accidents, there a only very few.
We spent our time at a very lovely hotel in Powai, which was a great start to discover Mumbai and to start our India route, because we could easily relax after enjoying a couple of hours in town. So we discovered Mumbai Central with a very nice guide from „Magic Mumbai“ and Bandra, a really nice part of this town guided by Ju and Indiadam.

Crawford market
South Mumbai by night

After two days we took a little break from noise and traffic in the Mumbai mountains. Just  two and a half hours ride from Mumbai we stayed  in a very beautiful treehouse – the Canopy-  in a kind of  jungle (surely even more expressive after the monsoon). Big surprise: because of barking wild dogs with the full moon and a lot of wind the night was much louder than in the Mumbai hotel :-)

During our Easter day and the Indian Holi we flew we all flew to Rajasthan to enjoy Holi in Jodpur and then go to Udaipur by car.
Holi was a really great experience! Don´t know on how many pictures  we are to be seen with young Indian guys. After about three hours of fun we decided to go back to the very  quiet and beutiful Balsamand Lake Palace – it took nearly the same time to get clean again!

Jodhpur Fort
The colours of Holi

On the way to Udaipur I got one lesson concerning prejudices.: During our first hour in the car we had several discussions with the driver to pay more attention to the streets than to his mobile, dealing with new jobs. He seemed to be a bit annoyed by us and vice versa.
By the way, a short time later he stopped on the „Indian highway“, got off and showed us one broken wheel. So what to do in the middle of nowhere? He made us leave the car, walk about 500 metres along the road (don´t worry, cows do the same) turned  round (don´t worry about wrong direction) and promised to be back in 15 minutes.
Our luggage, including camera, Ipad and our passports with him! To be honest again, I was worried – and even Indiadam was not really relaxed. Time to think about something I have learned reading about India: In the end everything will be ok, and if not, it is not the end!
And after 20 minutes he returned, picked us up and apologized for the problem. All in all, we had a safe trip to Udaipur with him, even if he took us for lunch to the only really bad Indian dinner.

Udaipur is the prettiest town we got to know on our first India trip. Surely because it is less loud, less dirty and there is less traffic in the old town because of very small streets. Also, over there is the very pretty Lake Pitcho (if you don´t know it yet: watch  James Bond Octupussy), the Jagdish Temple,the City Palace, several very nice shops and markets, even a German bakery and a lot of wonderful rooftop bars and restaurants. When we had dinner on Easter Sunday we enjoved a magical view and really good Indian food and felt a bit like being in Venice. Sorry to compare!


Lots of shopping

If you are thinking about where to stay: Staying in the Jaiwana Haweli Hotel with a view of the most beautiful (and expensive) hotel on the Lake Pitcho instead of being in it is worth thinking about!

Last days in India. Time to relax! We went to Goa to enjoy the Arrabian Sea and a very good Boutique Hotel – the Chanti Morana in Candolim with a spa, very well cooked Indian food and a great garden and pool. Both beaches we visited were great: Candolim Beach with lots of shacks, happy hour cocktails, beach restaurants and a very long sandy beach (indeed we did two walks despite of the 35 degree- heat); Morjim Beach with a lot of coconut palms, huts to eat and to stay and young Indian women offering jewelry, scarfs and treatments and as well nice talks about the  European and Indian way of life!

After two weeks we returned to Mumbai for a last dinner with Ju and Indiadam, before we went to the airport again, even more familiar with the no traffic rules, the honking conversation and the friendly driver calling us Madam and Sir.
During our stay we decided to look for (and we have already got a good one!) a serious organisation  to spend money for poor children in India. So it was easier to react like this, and better not to react to the people knocking on our car window hoping for some coins.

In our luggage were a lot of scarfs and others Indian souvenirs, and even more importantly,  a very good feeling about India, Indian people and the way those people manage their life – which is very different to ours.

To us India was not only good in the end -  we had a great beginning and we are looking forward to coming again next year!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Joggers Park - walk the walk

We have a home! I haven’t really shared much of our never ending house hunt as it has been frustrating to say the least but I am delighted to announce that we have found a home in Bandra. Bandra (as I am told) is the THE suburb to live, it’s where all the cool kids live. In Mumbai that means the Bollywood stars and now Indiadam and me. Being a fierce South London lover, I feel a bit disappointed in myself having moved to what sounds like the Shoreditch of Mumbai but here we are and I will share some more stories from Bandra soon.

As mentioned before, one of the things I miss in Mumbai is exercise. So when we found a flat close to “Joggers Park” I was very excited that I could step up my curry consumption another level once we move to Bandra as I would be burning the associated calories while running in Joggers Park. It’s located right by the sea so I was picturing myself running in Mumbai’s Battersea Park but rather than being next to the Thames, it would be next to the Arabian Sea..

The sea view did not disappoint

On morning #3 in the new flat, I get myself to set the alarm a bit earlier so I can be out on the road and on my way to Joggers Park by 7am.

It looks like a lovely morning and running through the streets surrounded by palm trees where people are going about their morning routine is a really nice feeling. After living in Mumbai for nearly half a year, I am also less bothered by having to run on the street as the pavements are covered in loose cables and I don’t get freaked out by the rickshaws whizzing around and hooting at me at regular intervals. By the time I arrive at Joggers Park (max 5mins from my house), I have “warmed up” considerably – even at 7am in the morning it is already around 30 degrees which is about 10 degrees more than any weather I would go running in when in London.

However, the prospect of running a few laps amongst like-minded sports men and women before most people even wake up in Mumbai keeps me going. Arriving in Joggers Park, I realize that you actually have to pay to get in. 2 rupees which is 2p but I obviously don’t have any money on me. With full sports gear and a determined German pokerface I get in anyway (don’t worry, I will pay double next time). Charging some money is actually not a bad idea I think as it means the place is kept quite well and they even have a water fountain (which I haven’t dared drinking from yet) and some very nice flowers.

As I walk into the park, I start to realise this is different to what I expected. NOONE IS RUNNING. The park is made up of a running track (which is apparently is 400m but looks a lot shorter than that) and 99% of the people on the track are casually walking in a circle. Walking in Joggers Park. This is made even better by the sign at the start of the track welcoming you as well as saying which direction to WALK around the JOGGING track. Feeling a bit too keen for the running community in Mumbai, I still start JOGGING in a circle overtaking everyone else on the track who are more or less in sports gear but clearly not interested in any serious exercise.

This is one of the advantages of living in India. I am quite sporty but I am not a runner. I find it quite boring and tedious but like it for the fresh air (the irony of that moving to Mumbai) and getting my head clear. When running in Battersea Park back in London, I would be in the slower 50% (if not 25%) of the runners in the park, I would get overtaken a lot more than overtake and would only really push myself when I went with a friend of mine who was more into it. On my 5 laps in Joggers Park, I did not get overtaken ONCE. No one, not a single time. So if your sports ego ever needs a boost, do move to Mumbai. Unless you play cricket (where you won’t have a chance) you will feel like you are in the top 1% of the sportiest people in the city. Not a bad feeling but then I do know that if I went back to Battersea Park tomorrow, I would be even slower than before.

In everyone’s defense – it is fair to say it is too hot to run even at 7am in the morning. While running in Joggers Park with a light breeze it is just about bearable at 7am in the morning but as soon as I got back home and stopped outside the house, I understood while everyone was walking. It’s so hot. Looking in the mirror I very much resembled a tomato dipped in oil and even after a long cold shower it took more than 30mins to actually cool down and stop sweating (very nice, I know).

What rounded off the rather odd exercise morning was that while running back to the flat, at least two rickshaw drivers slowed down next to me, signalling me the "do you need a ride" question. I am not sure this was because I look so exhausted or because most Indians only reaction to seeing someone run around is: They are in a hurry so why are they walking/running and not in a car. I like to think it is the latter rather than me looking like I needed a lift :)

It did feel nice having exercised in the morning and I will definitely try and run again in the morning but I might try the promenade instead of joggers park – running slalom in a circle isn’t that much fun in the end and even though you would never expect it – I did feel like I was in the wrong place jogging in joggers park. If I ever meet anyone of any importance among the cool and influential kids in Bandra, I will suggest renaming it to Walkers’ Park. Walk this way!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hyper famous Hyderabad

Do you know where Hyderabad is? I didn't until a while ago... Never mind, it's only about the same size as London with around 7m people living there according to good old Wikipedia. No big deal...

So when I heard that I had to go there for a work conference, Indiadam and I decided it would be a good opportunity to plan a weekend there and explore the 4th biggest city in India. Flights were cheap as chips (or cheap as naan?!) - we had some jet airways miles and Indiadam got a return ticket for £15.

During our three day conference, I had already seen some parts of Hyderabad during a rather rushed treasure hunt. However this mainly included frantically running around a museum or palace trying to find clues for the tasks we had been set so not really much time to take it all in and most time was spent at the hotel. During those days however, I learned from various colleagues what Hyderabad is famous for... And I can tell you it's very famous for many things. Biryani, cookies, pearls, bangles, a 11km flyover (a bit like a highway over the city) and I probably have forgotten a few other ones by now. So lots of things that got added to my list of things to do over the weekend though most seemed to evolve around food. Which is fine with me...

So on Saturday morning, Indiadam and I set off to explore the city. There are quite a few sights but unfortunately, they aren't close together but dispersed across the city. So we need some way to get around... Options are flagging a cab or rik every time or getting a driver from the hotel. My initial choice would always be the rik but Hyderabad is a bit less used to foreigners than Mumbai which means you get ripped off a lot more... The night before every rik driver insisted that the meter was broken when we tried to get a ride to the hotel. So you end up negotiating and even though it's still very cheap, it is a bit of hassle and just annoying. So we decide to take the easy option on the first day and get a driver with an AC car which is another benefit considering it's about 38 degrees.

Off we go to the seven tombs and the fort... I won't bore you with the history too much as Wikipedia will know better anyway if you are interested. The tombs are quite impressive and there is literally no one around, apart from a few guys chilling under a tree who according to themselves aren't tourist guides but professors. We decide that we will survive without a professor and have a little explore before heading over to the fort. Our planning probably wasn't at its best - we arrive at the fort around noon and it is VERY hot and sunny. I buy some oversized blue "Ray Bans" for a quid at the bottom and we start the long ascent up the fort. There is a quite well maintained path up that leads through some old halls and arches which are my favourite part because they offer some much needed shade . Unsurprisingly, the Ice Cream sellers on the way up are making an absolute fortune and we soon decide to support them as well. Views over the city are quite nice and although there is nothing major to report from the fort, I'd recommend it if you ever find yourself in Hyderabad.

After that we are pretty knackered though so a break in an AC restaurant sounds like the perfect plan and we had to "Paradise" - THE most famous Biryani place in India. It was pretty good! The "real' Biryani is cooked in a copper pot that is then covered with a thin layer of dough which you need to break into before eating the Biryani. I love adding lots of cucumber raita, kind of yogurt with cucumbers to it, particularly if it is a bit spicy.

From one famous food place to the next so on the way back to the hotel we stop off at the "Karachi Bakery" which has all sorts of sweets, biscuits and cakes. They did look amazing but the selection we tried wasn't anything out of this world. After dinner in our hotel, we decide to go for a drink at a bar close to the hotel, called 10 Downing Street. It's about a 100m walk from the hotel according to Google Maps so can't be that difficult to get there right? Well it was.... To get to the bar you need to cross a street that has 4 lanes going each way with no traffic light in sight. We have gotten alright at crossing streets in India as in general the rule is: Walk and the traffic WILL stop. That is ok when it's a small street but this street looks big. We make it halfway and then bottle it and go back just to flag down a rickshaw to do a U turn in 500m and take us to the other side. In the bar, the cricket is on and it's Pakistan against India. I could compare it Germany-Netherlands or Germany-England in the football but I don't think anything comes close to the rivalry between those two... Either way, India win and everyone in at least that bar is happy.

I took a "break" on this post a few weeks back and only getting back to it now. And I'm struggling to remember what we did on day two. I'm getting old... But as my memory comes back, I do remember that we basically did all the things I had seen briefly during the conference already. This includes Chowmahalla Palace - a very nice place with lots of buildings and garden where the Nizam's used to live. Nizams were the monarchs that ruled Hyderabad and made it one of the richest cities in India but they also were very involved in improving education and starting up universities - quite cool guys. We also climb up the Charminar which is a mosque but more of a monument - it's a pretty busy place with lots of small stalls around and I buy a very yummy pomegranate for 10 rupees (10p) which is even cheap for Mumbai standards.

After that we have some spare time so we decide to have a look at the zoo - it was one of the best zoos I have ever been too. Zoos are a bit funny, on the one hand I love seeing the animals but on the other hand it makes me really sad seeing them in cages. Hyderabad zoo has an huge variety of animals and we only saw a small part of it but I did see my first tiger - and there was even a white one. Doesn't really count though for ticking it off the bucket list...
Indiadam would insist on me mentioning that we even got ripped off as the "white tourists" going to the zoo. There must be very few foreigner going there but we were still sent to some dodgy back entrance where we had to pay 3x the price (still only a pound but wtf?!).

The afternoon program is a bit more chilled as I have booked Indiadam and me into the Falanurma Palace, the most famous hotel in Hyderabad. Unfortunately a single night there would have blown our budget so the booking is only for afternoon tea but we still get to go to the hotel (which is otherwise not allowed) and even get a tour of the palace. The enthusiastic guide is not short of facts why Falaknurma is THE most famous palace in India in beyond. Indiadam met a lot of his "facts" which English rolling-of-the-eyes but here are a few nice ones
- the first bath IN THE WORLD could be found in the palace
- it has THE longest dining table (100 people)
- is is voted one of the 5 most beautiful palaces in the world

THE longest dinner table

I have admit, the place is tres nice so if you ever have some spare cash to burn, probably not the worst place. Afternoon tea is a bit average but we get to stay and hang around the garden for a bit longer until our flight leaves so for an hour or two we hang out around people with too much money which is quite entertaining when those people think you have that money as well (despite us looking sweaty and wearing dirty shoes).

After that, we are off to the aiport and back to Mumbai we go.

So even though Hyderabad might not be on many people's list for a weekend trip, there is lots to keep you busy for a few days (we by far didn't do everything). There even are some Bollywood studios and a snow dome nearby which with a very heavy heart we decided to skip.

Either way, Hyderabad is more famous and maybe a more fun plan to visit than you might think - check it out one day - just don't expect any rik meters to work...

Friday, March 11, 2016

Mahindra Blues - Feel the love

I'm currently sat in the hotel bar of a very nice Taj Hotel in Hyderabad where I have spent the last 3 days with work, waiting for Indiadam to arrive and move to a much more budget hotel version and a weekend exploring Hyderabad.

So while I am sipping on my even-for-London-standards-expensive second G&T, I thought I'd better finish of part 2 of my Mumbai culture blog as I am sure there will be some new adventures to be reported after a weekend in Hyderabad.

As you will have noticed, Indiadam has made it back to Mumbai after two months. This doesn't just mean that the hotel room we are still (!) staying in is tidy for once but also that exploring India together is finally back on the cards.

The weekend Indiadam came back, Mumbai was hosting the "Mahindra Blues Festival" at the Mehboob Studios (is it my bad German humour that makes me giggle at the name?). I got very excited when I saw that Joss Stone was one of the headlines but as she was playing the day Indiadam arrived at 10pm which happened to be a Sunday night, that wasn't really an option. However, Saturday had a full afternoon/evening of acts on and although I had never heard of any one them (which doesn't mean much as my music knowledge is mediocre at best), it sounded fun and after finding some other people interested, I was off to the Blues. Compared to the races, tickets were quite expensive for Mumbai standards at 2500rs (25 pounds) but considering they had 4 live bands playing on 4 different stages it really was quite a good deal (one good think about London, very few places will feel expensive after living there). And the phone can come for free!! Bargain...

So we arrive at the boobies studio and the whole thing is set up very nicely. One stage in a garden, food stalls with tables and cushions, an old fashioned vinyl store... All very professional. First stop: Bar. After a pretty shocking headache from some Indian white wine the day before, I decide to give the wine a pass and check out the remaining drinks menu. A VERY attentive waiter keeps suggesting the "special" cocktail to me - some Indian Vodka mix. Not really knowing what I want and quite impressed by his enthusiasm, I decide to order the super-extra-special cocktail. Less than 30 seconds later, the realisation comes that I have made an error... the Vodka is some Indian special variant of Absolute Vodka and although the bottle looks very pretty indeed, I have a feeling my European tastebuds prefer the normal vodka without Indian Masala. Only gets worse when the waiter pours some green looking gel of a weird texture in it... It is worth mentioning that while Mr Enthusiastic is mixing my poisonous looking cocktail, the other 10 (!) waiters behind the bar are too occupied watching him mix that they completely fail to serve anyone else for about 5mins. I get handed my drink and it's vile. The gel has made it thick like a milkshake and the taste is.... I don't know... definitely not for me. I try to dilute it with 50 ice cubes over the hour to something more drinkable but fail miserable. Next time, I'm back on white wine and will deal with the headache if I have to.

By now the music has started and we go and see the first act called "Soulmate" - apparently a regular at the festival. It's a local Indian band and they are pretty cool, the main singer is a woman with an amazing voice and although I am still sipping my disgusting drink, I'm having a really good time. A small anecdote is that we managed to sneak into a VIP area for about 5mins until we got called out for having the wrong wristband (so many wristbands) and back to the normal world we are...

Next up is the Heritage Blues Orchestra, not local but all the way from the Unites States of Amerrriica! Full on band with two amazing guys who are wearing stylish suits, hats and sunglasses. Very smooth... One of the other singers is one of those super talents that can play the guitar, the harmonica and probably two other instruments at the same time. Very impressive but also depressing for the unmusical likes of me who didn't ever manage to play ONE instrument to a half decent standard. Either way, the atmosphere is good and they get the audience involved - unfortunately, we are stood right next to an older gentleman who loves responding to their requests very enthusiastically but cannot pronounce the "v" - so it goes "L" "O" "WE" E"... Still, I can feel the love for Blues and Mumbai.

Before the main act, some upcoming band is playing in the garden but we decide to get some food instead. Not sure the mini pizza is worth the fight in the 30min queue but at least it's something to eat before THE main act (I am still sad I am not seeing Joss Stone the next day).

The main act is Keb Mo and even though I have never heard of him before, he's good and we enjoy the last set. His performance is quoted than the orchestra but then I guess he is on his own.

I decide not to stay until the end as its really busy by the end and getting out of Bandra on a Saturday night is painful enough without the blues festival. On the way back in the car, the Bollywood music is back ok and somehow the Blues feel like part of a different world... A world I miss from time to time in Mumbai but the I've also discovered that Mumbai culture has lots to offer that is different and can keep up with what some of the big cities around the world have to offer. And the good thing is that getting tickets for anything is much easier than in London... So watch this space for further updates. For the more sports culture interested ones, the cricket World Cup is on soon so hoping to be able to report back on some live action.