It was nine days, but packed the punch of twenty and passed by in what felt like just a few. Our journey – or the East India Express as me and Lauri called it – started in Delhi, proceeded South to Agra, from there East to Varanasi and finally to Kolkata, the nation’s former capital. Our method of transportation was by train.
We came up with the idea for this trip back in Helsinki, over a few cold ones nine months ago. Varanasi, that ancient and often mentioned city by the holy river, was instantly agreed as a must-see. And what a place it was: we’ve walked down narrow alleys, on broad marble courtyards, deep in crowded bazaars and along river banks.
As with my other journeys during my stay in India I’ll have to let this one simmer for a while. Let the impressions settle a bit and find their rightful place. But rest assured, there are stories to tell and photos to show – all in good time.
While exploring the alleys and narrow sidestreets of old Varanasi, we were going down this particularly quiet street. Almost no one around – some footsteps could be heard somewhere further down.
We walked by this modest bakery. Behind the low counter, on the floor in the dimly lit interior, sat an old man. He was calmly preparing pastries and pieces of paneer. He was in no hurry – in fact he had an air about him of dignified deliberation.
As we were passing by my sixth sense started tingling: photo opportunity. I slowed down and asked Lauri to wait. I didn’t want to be blunt and just go up in the baker’s face, wielding a camera. So I decided to work my way into the situation, find my place in that bubble.
I walked up and said hello, asked him what he was preparing. He didn’t speak English, but we understood each other. There were pieces of paneer floating in one bowl, and in another I could spot some galub jamun. That’s my route. So I asked for two, and a cookie to boot. I was handed a styrofoam cup and a wooden spoon, and the baker fished out a couple from their sugary bath.
We sat down on a wooden bench across the alley and I dug in. The gulab jamun was saturated with syrup, I swear it was sweeter than pure sugar. Almost too much to bear. As I was struggling with the stuff I told Lauri about my plan, that I’d ask the man for a photo if I survive the sugary shock. He’d get a few too.
I hope you appreciate this, I said to him, I’m taking one for the team here. I’m going to get diabetes from these, so make your shots count.
After I was done I thanked the man, pointed to my camera and asked if it was ok if I took a few. He straightened up just a little bit and gave a slight nod. I took two photos, showed them to him and told him he looked handsome in them. We had a laugh about it and shook hands.
After Lauri got his we waved goodbye and continued down the street – one of us maniacally wide-eyed on a sugar high for the next half hour, but happy with the result.
During my trip to Mumbai, last weekend, I did some more walking around on the countless small streets near the bazaars – something I’ve grown fond of. This time I headed to the area north of Victoria station. On one of these streets I came across this small gang of some level of thugs. The Bhasta Gang they called themselves. According to themselves they operated within the recreational field. I interpreted that as drugs, but didn’t go into specifics.
After chatting a bit I asked if they’d be willing to do a group photo. Yeah, the guy in the checkered shirt exclaimed. The rest of them seemed quite preoccupied with whatever they were doing – especially the guy reading the paper, he was so cool it gave me the creeps.
I’ve heard that, unsurprisingly, Mumbai is filled with these kind of small gangs. They often have small turf wars, occasionally escalating to gunfights in broad daylight. These were perhaps not that hardcore, but an interesting bunch to meet nevertheless.
I showed them the photo, thanked them for their time and continued on down the narrow streets.
Yesterday’s bull session left me feeling like I had a few cobwebs in my head this morning, so I decided that I needed to get out and do something. Pashan is a small town on the outskirts of Pune, a bit South from Baner. I’ve been there once before, and have since then wanted to explore it a bit more. Today was as good a day as any, so I grabbed my camera and a bottle of water and headed out.
If you look at the map, you’ll notice that this little rural town has some interesting, off-limits areas, such as: a Military Area, a Defense Research and Development Organization and, my favourite, the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory. Which sounds like a place waiting for a catastrophic experiment failure, resulting in a rift in space-time by creating an inter-dimensional black hole and thus irreversibly changing life as we know it. This has, to the best of my knowledge, however not yet happened.
Anyways. Pashan has some nice small market streets and alleys. Not that different from other parts of the Pune perimeter, but nice nonetheless. Good place to bike to when you need to move around a bit and happen to have your camera with you.
Today we had our off-site day with the work crew. Sidd had planned some sightseeing in nearby Lonavala, a hillstation turned weekend vacation spot.
Our first destination was Tiger Point, a cliff-top up at 650 meters. The view was quite nice, and as you’ll notice in the selfie video below, it was quite windy out there.
After that we headed down to the Bushi dam. Instead of pointing my camera at the dam – it looked pretty much like a regular dam – I decided to steal a few snapshots of the jolly teenagers playing around by the lakeshore:
We also visited a wax museum, a not too big establishment filled with wax versions of famous Indian people past and present. Most of them I didn’t recognise, but this one was an exception:
The day ended with early dinner at the Upper Deck restaurant, featuring a nice panorama of the surrounding valleys: