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En ting jeg har funnet ut er at indere er veldig hjelpsomme! Hvis man stopper og spør noen om veien, gjør de alt de kan for å hjelpe deg. Hvis ikke de vet veien, så henter de noen som gjør det. Ofte ender man opp med en gjeng på seks stykker hvor alle kan litt og tilsammen får man den hjelpen man trenger. For eksempel en dag vi kjørte tuktuk, så visste ikke sjåføren helt hvor vi skulle og vinket inn en som kjørte forbi på motorsykkel, altså i fart, og han stoppet for å hjelpe oss. Fasinerede! Norge har noe å lære av inderne akkurat der!
En annen ting jeg har funnet ut: India er globalisert! Pizza hunt er borti gata og Dove såpe, nestlè kaffe, lòreal sminke, barbie colgate tannkrem, nutella sjokoladepålegg, har alle inntatt plass på det lokale supermarkedet her i Pondicherry. Men Mc`ern har jeg ikke sett enda da… må nok vente til de større byene tenker jeg… har hørt man får ris til Big Mc`en her, så det må nesten sjekkes ut! Dopapir, btw (mamma, det betyr by the way…) er luksusvare og er veldig dyrt. Kanskje dyrere enn Norge til og med. Det er vanlig å bruke enten venstre hånd (derfor skal man ikke hilse eller spise med venstre hånd) eller skylle seg bak med minidusj, som pleier å henge ved siden av doen (ja jeg regner med de lufttørker etter skyllingen…)
Alle kremer, hudkrem, solkrem man får kjøpt her, inneholder blekingsmiddel (inderne vil bli hvitere, har hørt at de ser på seg selv som skitne fordi de er mørke) mens vi hvite vil bli brune, så jeg hamstra kremer hjemme fra Norge før jeg dro…. Man må alltid sjekke dato på det meste man kjøper her nede, både produkter og mat. Masse har gått ut på dato og ofte for lenge siden. De selger for eksempel solkrem som har gått ut for mange år siden, noe som betyr at effekten er mye svakere.
Det finnes ikke søppelkasser her! Det er frustrerende! Når man er ute og har noe søppel så må man gå rundt med det i hånda, veska eller kaste det på bakken, som da alle inderne gjør. Jeg vil helst ikke å gjøre det, så som oftest blir jeg bærende på det og kaster det i søpla når jeg kommer hjem til leiligheten. Hvorfor det ikke finnes er fordi de ikke har et velutviklet infrastruktur som tar seg av søpla som i Norge (søppelbiler, gjenvinning, søppeldynga). Forresten, det finnes noen få søppelkasser nede langs stranda, i et finere/rikere område…

På fredag var vi ute og spiste velkomstmiddag alle sammen, 50 stk. Vi leide hele restauranten og skolen betalte måltidet. Kos 🙂 Etterpå hadde vi en liten fest på «roof top» hvor jeg bor. Eller, fest og fest, vi hadde ikke høytalere så det ble ingen musikk, og det skal være stille etter kl.00 så det ble mer rolig, snakke-bli kjent sosialisering =P
På lørdag hadde vi «riddle race», eller Pondicherry amazing race som det egentlig var. Vi ble delt inn i grupper på fem og fikk et ark med ulike oppgaver og steder vi skulle finne og samle inn bokstaver. «Dra til buss terminalen» «Finn Gandhi statuen», «kjøp en chai te og finn ut hva det tamilske ordet er», «dra til Ganesh tempelet, finn elefanten og hva den heter» etc. Mange morsomme oppgaver, vi måtte spørre lokalbefolkningen om hjelp. En fin måte å bli kjent med byen på! Vi hadde vår egen guide på turen – vi fikk en tuktuk til å kjøre oss rundt, hele runden, og han ble med oss og tok bilder og sånn. Vi stappet oss inn i en tuktuk, som normalt bare har plass til tre, men «indian style» kjører man fem i en! Jeg har sett mange tuktuk som blir brukt som skolebuss (!) og da snakker vi sikkert 10 stk i samme tuktuk.

Gandhi statuen bak (dårlig bilde, jeg vet =P)
Det er regnsesong nå mens vi er her og det merkes! Det har ikke regnet så mye, men når det først regner, tar det helt av! S-T-O-R-M! Det har foreløpig kun regnet om kvelden/natta to dager, så vært heldig foreløpig… planer om å skaffe meg en regnponcho…
Avslutter denne gangen med å si: Formen er fin. Frisk som en fisk. Bakteriene har ikke knekt meg enda…..

Fire stk er vanlig å kjøre på moped!

Basseng på skolen 🙂
Kuer i gata….

Pondicherry er en «liten» indisk by (les 1 million innbyggere) i sør-øst India. Jeg har en mixa følelse av de første dagene… Ble litt satt ut da vi landet på flyplassen og det stod sykt masse folk utenfor og ventet, ropte, og stirret. Skulle tro JB was in town (JB – Justin Bieber…. ja…). Alle disse menneskene var taxisjåfører som ville ha kunder. Vi hadde heldigvis bestilt taxi, så det gjorde det enklere for oss ihvertfall. Kjøreturen tok 2-2,5 time inn til Pondicherry. Klokken var 05, så jeg hadde planer om å sove i  bilen, men det klarte jeg ikke da det var så mange inntrykk på veien! Så masse folk som var våkne kl.05 og gjorde alt og ingenting, folk satt langs veien i grøfta og gjorde fra seg, crazy trafikk på veien, folk kjører forbi alt uansett, og jeg hadde ikke sikkerhetsbelte i bilen… så jeg følte for å holde meg våken (og godt fast!) Welcome to India! Oh yes!
Førsteinntrykket av India er ganske blandet. Jeg er litt satt ut av alle menneskene og alt kaoset; masse søppel i gatene (det finnes ikke søppelkasser!), kuer, løse og skadede hunder, tiggere, folk sover og ligger ute i gatene, folk tuter på alt og alle (bokstavelig talt). Sykt kaos i trafikken! Sykler, mopeder, biler, tuktuk (også kalt richaw), mennesker, kuer, hunder. Man må virkelig passe på når man skal gå over veien (og ofte er fortauene overfylte av jordhauger/søppel/mursteiner slik at man må gå langs veien itillegg, og det er litt skummelt). Men men, begynner allerede å bli litt vant med det =P Jeg hadde hørt at dette var en «rolig» by, så når jeg ser hvordan det er her, lurer jeg virkelig på hvordan det er i de store byen, som New Delhi! Skal reise rundt i India etterhvert, så det kan bli meget interessant!

Jeg bor på rom med Hannah-Marie som jeg kjenner fra før, og vi deler leilighet med fire andre. De er alle søte, kjekke jenter så det er good =) Vi er seks stk som deler to bad og et kjøkken, på Maison Raja, som er et av tre leilighetskompleks her for oss fra kulturstudier. Vi er ca 50 stk her tilsammen som går to ulike fag. Jeg bor øverst i komplekset, the «roof terrace», noe som er veldig kjekt fordi det er utenfor her oppe at det blir arrangert felles sosiale happenings etterhvert (filmkveld, fester, leker, bollywood aften etc).

Alt er sykt billig her! Vi spiser middag ute hver dag siden en middag koster rundt 10 norske kroner! Da er det helt ok å slippe å lage noe selv! Frokost og lunsj får vi på skolen hver dag. Skolen ligger på Kailash Resort som er et fem stjernes hotell! Det var kjempelekkert, med svømmebasseng, hengekøyer, strand og klasserom ute under stråtak (eksotisk, jepp!)
Ellers er det veldig varmt, klamt og fuktig her! 30-35 grader. Dusjer kanskje to ganger daglig for man er konstant svett! Slitsomt =P

Idag hadde vi første skoledag. Det var kjekt å komme igang og spennende å få et innblikk i hvordan dette semesteret kommer til å bli. Etterpå dro vi på shopping. Trengte litt klær, siden det er så billig (koster rundt 20-50 kr pr plagg) og siden man skal dekke skulder og knær. Vi skal også kjøpe sari (indisk nasjonaldrakt 😉 Etter det prøvde vi oss på Bollywood dans! Det var gøy men jeg eier jo ikke danse-skills what so ever, så det så ikke helt bra ut! Haha, skal prøve meg noen ganger til før jeg gir opp =P

Legger ut noen få bilder nå, men kommer flere snart….
Camilla

Welcome to Pondicherry!

 

Søte Hannah-Marie med en spennende Indisk rett

 

Klasserommet vårt 🙂

 

Tuktuk – taxi rundt i byen, koster ca 5 kr

 

Her ser dere litt av gatene i Pondicherry

 

Bollywood dans

Da var jeg her! Fremme i Pondicherry, etter to flyturer og et døgn i Midtøsten! Kom frem tidlig lørdagmorgen, kl.07 etter en 7 timers flyreise fra Qatar. Jeg fløy sammen med Hannah-Marie og Ingvild, og vi mellomlandet et døgn i Qatar, overnattet på et fancy hotell og fikk opplevd hovedstaden Doha en dag, før vi fløy videre til Chennai i India. Qatar var sykt varmt, ca 40 grader, og man må dekke til skuldre og knær, så det var heit! (les svett). Ellers stilig by! Var inne på et stort kjøpesenter med skøytebane (fancy fancy)… vi orket ikke være ute i varmen =P Her kan dere se litt bilder fra flyturen og Doha:

Hannah-Marie & Ingvild koser seg 🙂

Camilla

Jeg reiser til India 23.august, teller ned dagene! Er superklar for å reise og gleder meg helt vilt 😀
Jeg er godt i gang med forberedelsene! På bilde ^^ kan dere se masse lesestoff som jeg «lånte» med meg hjem da jeg var på den indiske ambassaden og søkte om visum 😉

Vaksiner er tatt, flybilletter er booket og andre praktiske ting begynner å komme i boks!
Før studiet i India starter, skal vi skrive en engelsk hjemmeoppgave på 5 sider ut ifra ulike artikler på rundt 300 sider. Jeg er ferdig med å lese all stoffet og skrive notater til alle artiklene, så nå gjenstår det bare å sette sammen oppgaven. Mye spennende stoff å lese, spesielt artikler som handler om Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr 😉
Haha, en ting til jeg må fortelle… Jeg har meldt meg på deals i Pondicherry! Jeg er medlem av alt sånt her hjemme (groupon, lets deal, sweet deal). Jeg fant «yum deal» (som det så fint heter der nede) ved at jeg googla «skydive pondicherry» (for det har jeg planer om å gjøre!!) og da poppa det opp «yum deal» som tidligere hatt et tilbud på skydive i Pondicherry, så da måtte jeg jo melde meg inn! Så nå satser jeg på at de kommer med samme tilbud igjen! ;P

Camilla

The days are now gone and over. We have all survived the tsunami, the spicy food, the street dogs and the nauseating heat. For some it is time to return to the arms of loved ones back home and to witness the unfolding Spring. However, for most it is the start of new adventures, new stories, new experiences and new travels. By now both classes have received their exam questions so there will still be an annoying pinch of concentration and studying in the week(s) to come. But these will be over soon. All 70 of us or so are extremely grateful for the intriguing knowledge learnt, the contemporary facebook friends and the fresh close friends scattered about in both India and in Europe.

Below are some snapshots by Camilla Anderson from one of the parties we have organized at Satsanga.


Many of the students are and have been blogging on their own blogs. So if you want to read some alternative bloggers whom have described their stay in Pondicherry with KulturStudier and will most likely blog regarding their travels, then there are two great ones to choose from below. There are many more I am sure, however, these were the only two I could get my hands on during these chaotic last days.

Jedi Anniken Randem: http://mittasia.blogg.no The Bear Bjørn Zäll:  http://indianwaterparks.tumblr.com/

I can definitely recommend this course. You have to remember that it is one’s own intuition and enthusiasm which will shape the course for yourself. Students have had countless of roof-top parties, organized trips to misty hill stations and big metropolitan cities, engaged in various activities, practiced yoga at dawns light, done challenging field work for their papers, met and made local friends and so forth.

I have even met two different Norwegian individuals whom are both ex.

Kulturstudier students. One was a man at a club in Pondi and he had been with Kulturstudier six years ago. The other was a young lady whom joined us at our farewell party at Kailash, and she had been with Kulturstudier four years ago. Both Pondicherry and Kulturstudier has left such positive impressions on them that they have come back, and I am sure many from this course will do that as well.

Towards the end we were invited to go on a pilgrimage. Unfortunately I do not have the full details of specifications of the event other than it is called the Girivalam path and occurs every Full Moon, 14 or 15 km or so around a Mountain and attended by millions all night long.

Very impressive and exhausting!

Almost done!

Karsten


Some three weeks ago we had our long weekend. This weekend truly symbolizes how vast and diverse India is especially after reading and hearing about all the picturesque places the students have gone to. Below are a few descriptions of some of the many destinations written by various students.

Kerela:
– Renting a houseboat in Kerala, what is there to say? You rent a sort of floating house that somewhat resembles a boat for a couple of days. And who did this? There were 13 of us, spread over 4 compartments of the finest sleeper seats the indian railways could offer. Our trip from Chennai, the home of glorious malls, to Alleppey/Alappuzha, the home of floating homes, lasted a mere 14 hours and we naturally decided to head straight to the Indian Coffee House, a communist chain of coffeeshops which are owned by the employees and offer cheap eats and swedish tasting coffee. The next thing to do seemed to be to rent the above mentioned houseboat, thus we went with the first and best hustler to the harbor were hundreds of boats were docked. The average houseboat seemed to have at least 2-4 bedrooms with adjourning toilets, a sun deck, dinner area, maybe air condition and of course your very own chef, captain and machine master. As always we were prepared to bargain our asses of, but with a starting price of a mere 1000 rupees per head per night it was hard not to jump onboard the first and best boat with megaphones and the whole sjabang. We managed to resist the urge, instead we boarded a slightly more cockroachy boat were the crew offered bonfires and guitars.

After filling the frigde/icebox with beer, rum and other loot we set sails for the backwaters of Indias most literate state. Life at sea mostly consisted of playing cards, guessing names on pieces of paper on foreheads and enjoying the many kingfishers that bless the backwaters with their presence. There were also a few birds. To make the trip a bit more cultural we visited a fish marked, crabs and prawns in a box, and a church, a church. There were also the bonfire where we danced the macarena, sang songs of coffee and awkwardly learned to play drums.

After two days and two days the boat threw down anchor were we started (and passed by at least a few times) and the remainder of the day was spend drinking pinko coffee, eating tomato omelets and dividing bills.
The trip home on the Alleppey-Chennai Express proved to be something of an experience, as it included being kicked off the train, sleeping among more cockroaches, taking a few busses and missing out on the magnificent malls of Chennai.

Bjørn Zäll

Bangalore: the City of Blinding Lights
– For the long weekend a group of us decided to go to Ooty for two days and spend the rest in Bangalore- the shopper’s paradise. A long journey became all the longer because we were mostly travelling nights- turning our 4 day weekend into a seemingly 6 days one :D, all worth it in the end!

The first thing we did in Bangalore was meet Sudha, the lecturer for the Peace and Conflict group in her amazing apartment. Set among tall buildings and equally tall pine trees, it was a cool oasis, quite literally! After an amazing breakfast and conversation, we left to explore Bangalore feeling exceptionally well welcomed to the city. The main reason sane people like us go to Bangalore is to shop- so no surprises that our first stop was Shopper’s Stop! Afterwards, laden with stuff that we would or would not use in the future, we went to meet some friends who were based in the city and used that as an excuse to try a variety of food (spicy of course).

Then came the part that I was looking forward to the most- meeting my cousin (whom I hadn’t seen for three years)! Most of the two days in the city were spent cooking traditional Nepali food and experimenting (hacking off my hair for instance, and buying a bean bag). However, in between bites, we explored Commercial Street as well as other shopping areas around. Those places are famous for ethnic wear, accessories, beauty products, international brands, shoes, furniture or I can just sum up and say everything you might want under the sun (except happiness that money supposedly cannot buy :D) When one is in Bangalore, you cannot help but notice how small the buildings make you feel. Coming back from Bangalore was a race against time- because we needed to catch a bus back but were stuck in a traffic jam for an hour! Thanks to the warnings of friends we had left a little early, so despite everything, we did make it on time!

To sum up the Bangalore journey- to me it was all about the people I love, hospitality of people I had no reason to expect it from, amazing food, tall buildings and amazing prices.

Ritika Singh

Goa:

– The first stroke of thought that crossed my mind when getting of the plane in Goa was the cool air compared to back in Pondicherry. When out of the airport we, the 6 girls from Raj Maison, sat down on the sidewalk and discussed if we were to go to Palolem, a city in the south with yoga and bonfires, or Arambol, up in the north with Goa’s most beautiful beach (according to Lonely Planet) and more of a partyscene. We decided on Arambol. The first thing that happened when we got out of the taxi in Arambol and started our search for cozy beachhuts, was that we were attacked by happy Holi-celebraters and got all covered in different colours. And so we walked the rest of the evening covered in these colors and enjoying all the «happy Holi!»-greetings we got.

Arambol was really an amazing place to forget about reality. The beach lived up to its reputation, with kilometers of white sand, pittoresque little fishingboats that would provide all the beachresturants with fresh seafood, palmtrees, colorful houses and beachhuts that cost almost nothing to rent, and perfect waves. We spent everyday first eating breakfast on 21 coconuts (the best breakfast resturant where we soon were well-known) and then just laying and enjoying that amazing beach.

Goa is really a tourist place. Unlike the rest of India you can walk around in singlets and short shorts, and the streets are lined with tourist shops that all sell about the same thing. At night we’d have dinner on one of the resturants on the beach, with our feet in the sand, candles on the table and the stars above us. Afterwards there were several nice bars and clubs to discover, and we met a lot of other tourists to mingle with.

On saturday night we went to a huge Night Market in a city halv an hour away and afterwards we went to an even bigger club called Club Cubana were we could dance the ants out of our feet and afterwards take a dip in one of the pools if we felt like it. The lazy sunday-evening that followed we found a resturant that showed «The Beach» and «American Gansgter» which felt like the perfect way to spend that evening.

We went back to Pondicherry on a tired tuesday and we all felt completely content with our long week-end, we wouldn’t have wanted it neither shorter nor longer.

Over all Goa was an amazing vacation spot and we all really enjoyed it, but if someone wanted a taste of real India, or see something unique, I wouldn’t recommend it. 🙂

Agnes Brusk

New Delhi – Jaipur – Agra – New Delhi:

– India. Verdens mest multikulturelle land. Og de gir oss fire dager langhelg på å oppleve så mye som mulig. Fire dager er mest sannsynlig ikke nok til å oppleve nabobyen til Pondi engang…
Men under disse forutsetningene begynte vi altså å planlegge, noe som fort resulterte i reiseruten New Delhi – Jaipur – Agra – New Delhi.
Ettersom vi lever i indisk tid, var det ingen overraskelse at flyet fra Chennai til New Delhi var forsinket. Dette resulterte bare i at vi gikk inn i kvinnedagen med en nattkaffe på flyplassen i Delhi, etterfulgt av en natt på teppegulvet.

Tidlig følgende morgen tok vi flyet til Jaipur. Jaipur viste seg å være en by som bydde på alt. Den gamle bydelen, bedre kjent som «the pink city», var fylt med mennesker, farger, lukter og søppel i de trange gatene, mens den nye byen bydde på renhet, store bygg og fine veier – ikke fult så mye folk. I tillegg til alt som måtte ses i den todelte byen ( for eksempel Jantar Mantar- astronomiskeinstrumenter fra 1700-tallet, eller Hawa Mahal – et bygg der vinduer ble konstruert for å kunne spionere ned på gata) finnes det også store fort rundt byen. Vi besøkte amber fort, og dette ble en storslott opplevelse på alle mulige måter – delvis fordi vi ikke hadde store forventninger til det, og delvis fordi det rett og slett var et fantastisk bygg der det strakte seg over fjellet.

Som du skjønner var to dager alt for lite for å oppleve denne byen, spesielt med tanke på at den ene dagen var holi (fargefestivalen som Karsten snakket om i sitt forrige innlegg). Holi dagen ble feiret på et statlig arrangement med musikk, dans, latter og selvfølgelig en masse farger. Resten av dagen ble brukt inne på hotellet; vestlige jenter i en ukjent by under en festival er ikke det lureste.

Neste opplevelse kom i Agra. Målet her var å få med oss Taj Mahal, noe som resulterte i at vi 05:30 stod klare foran billettluken. Igjen merket vi den Indiske tiden ettersom vi slapp inn en time senere, og fikk oppleve (siste del) av soloppganga.
Når vi kom oss igjennom sikkerhetskontrollen og forbi en bråkete apekatt, gikk vi igjennom en slags triumfbue – og midt i buen fikk vi se det vi var kommet for; Taj Mahal. Det var umulig å ta øynene fra det hvite mesterverket. Det var ikke bare størrelsen på bygget, men også arkitekturen med dets flotte detaljer som overrumplet oss.

På dette stedet var vi typiske turister, og der fulgte også typiske turistbilder . Vi fikk også her oppleve mange flotte indere som med sin gebrokken-indiske engelsk spurte «Can we take a picture with you?». Den eneste måten (som det senere viste seg) for å få dem til å gi seg, var å svare «Ok, hundred rupees!». Men så mye var vi altså ikke verdt!

India setter også satt sitt preg på magen, noe som laget en liten krise på Taj Mahal. Krisen var selvfølgelig til stor latter for oss alle, med det faktum at ei spurta over hele Taj Mahal plassen for så å bønnfale toalettvakten om å slippe inn uten å betale (man tenker ikke på penger når det er krise!). Hun rakk frem i tide, men det var helt klart tidenes mest komiske situasjon.

Etter den magiske opplevelsen etter Taj Mahal, dro vi videre til Delhi. Vi fant et hotell midt på grensen mellom New og Old Delhi, og hadde dermed god tilgang til begge sider. Det lå rett med togstasjonen og den største bazaren, så var superfornøyd med stedet, ser man bort fra kakerlakkene. Den første dagen så vi Delhi-fortet med sine nydelige bygninger inne på selve plassen, og deilige grøntområder vi kunne sitte på. «Ok, hundred rupees!» ble brukt flittig her også. Det som er fint med en slik kommentar er at både oss og dem som ønsker bildet bare begynner å le, derfor skaper det bare morsomme situasjoner istedet for irritasjon.

Etter den ekstremt varme turen på fortet var vi klare for mat. Vi er alle blitt glad i både masala, nan-brød, gobi osv, men når man har vært i India i to måneder og man tilfeldgivs kommer forbi en McDonalds – da går man inn. Etter vi hadde fylt opp magen til bristepunktet med kyllingburger (de har selvfølgelig ikke kjøtt som inneholder den hellige kua), var neste serverdighet på menyen: Indias største moske. 

Det var litt av et mesterverk, men jeg synes det var litt spesielt at moskeen var åpen for turister samtidig som det ble brukt som til bønn og tilbedelsessted av det lokale…
Etter den hektiske og varme dagen endte vi opp på kino, en skikkelig bollywood film. Det var en fantastisk opplevelse selv om vi ikke skjønte hva de sa (filmen var på hindi, uten undertekst). Jeg begynner å forstå at man faktisk kan finne ut ganske mye av å bare se en film.

Morgenen etterpå var vi tidlig oppe. Denne dagen skulle vi hjem, men vi hadde et par ønsker før det. Vi kjørte i en halvtime på hovedveien igjennom byen (denne byen er stor!) til et lotusformet tempel. Her slapp vi dessverre ikke inn – vet ikke hvorfor det var stengt. Videre ble vi kjørt til en grav (jeg husker dessverre ikke navnet) som i arkitekturen egentlig lignet litt på Taj Mahal – bare litt mindte, i en annen farge og et helt annet mønster. Vi fikk med oss Indiagate (en slags triumfbue til ære for falne soldater) før vi dro tilbake til hotellet.

Etter en rask tur på hovedbazaren og en time i taxi var vi på flyplassen igjen. Denne gangen var det ikke indisk tid, så det ble løping frem til gaten.
Det tar lang tid å fordøye en slik tur med både opplevelser, reising og krisesituasjoner. Vi sitter alle igjen med glede, flere venner, nye kunnskaper og en del latter. India er magisk. Multikulturelt og mangfoldig. Jeg kunne bodd i India i ti år, og enda ikke fått med meg alt jeg ønsket. Uansett så får jeg begynne i det små – og det burde du også gjøre.

Marie Sandnes

While in India it is a splendid idea to check with our assistant managers; Kavitha and Senthil, for upcoming Indian festivals. Whether they are religious festivals or purely tourist attractions – most are intriguingly enjoyable and India has many to offer. During this semester’s long weekend, one could experience two big festivals – Holi and the Jaipur Elephant festival.

Holi is celebrated throughout India and is the festival of colours.

The mythology behind it, briefly, Is as following – actually now that I do a bit of research it seems like there are many legends and myths behind Holi. You can check them out here:

http://www.thecolorsofindia.com/holi-legends/

One thing is for certain – it’s a vivid and colourful spectacle! Most Hindu restaurants, shops, services etc. are closed, leaving cities (at least Jaipur) resembling evacuated ghost towns, but with a twist; as they are full of people scattered about in purple, red, green and blue hazes. However  “purple haze all in my brain”, as Jimi puts it, will most likely be what the average festival participator will be thinking to themselves, as a lot of the individuals are dreadfully drunk or high on Bhang lassie – or a combination. This leaves very few women out on the streets except if in a controlled environment. So be aware ladies! Below to the left is a quick snapshot of some kids on my street, gazing at me and making my lovely white shirt look like the contemporary art of a two year old toddler.


Elephant Festival in Jaipur

Then I was at the annual Elephant Festival in Jaipur, which I used as a case study for my report. Below is an extract from my field report:

“I arrived ca. one and a half hours before the festival, hoping to be able to get some “behind the scenes” footage (such as interviews, pictures, initiation ceremonies etc.) however, at least 50 other tourists and photographers had the same idea. It was held at Jaipur’s main polo stadium and had seats for the audience (separated with a “foreigner” and “Indian” section,) a stage and to the left, long four meter tall canvas, where, behind them, the elephants were slowly beautified (not that elephants aren’t beautiful naturally, but beautified to the standards of the festival.) It was quite chaotic with the thirty or so elephants (with more arriving) shuffling around – some eating from the sugar cane, others receiving colourful make-up.

The sun was giving us her fullest, while there were dust particles in the atmosphere. At times you could hear individual elephants trumpet their trunks while there was a constant yelling of the mahouts, commanding the elephants from left and right. Photographers were starting to fight in frenzy for the best pictures, pushing and shouting egoistically while many of the mahouts were already demanding money for pictures. As I finished patting many of the elephants, I retired to my seat and waited for what seemed to be tourist-procession to commence. An initiation ceremony took place on the stage where the minister of tourism and other important local figures played some drums for a full thirty seconds (marking the grounds sacred?) and the parade started. The elephants marched as the flashes flashed. The parade didn’t only consist of elephants but also dancers and musicians from different parts or Rajasthan and camels – for example traditional dancers from Shikwa province. Throughout the whole event there were two commentators, describing and reporting the festival as if it was a football game. Some of the phrases which they kept repeated were “sacred drumming” and “traditional elephant procession.” They did mention some historical information regarding the kings, but nothing clear. Soon after the parade, the eager tourists flocked into the main grounds to take closer looks at the elephants, more pictures and then certain performances were performed on the stage. Games were played, such as tug of war (foreigners vs Indians; seemed to be a lot of segregation at this festival,) and the winning elephant was announced (there was a secret jury, however, I did get a glimpse of a scoring sheet which was out of 50 points, where three of the categories were “creativity,” “beauty of elephant” and “elegance of mahout”.) About now it was around six in the evening and it was getting dark. The last main event was the “start of Holi,” where dozens of ‘lucky’ tourists could mount some of the less decorated elephants and play Holi – throwing dyes at each other and the public. After they (the luck tourists) had played in their own little world for thirty minutes or so, it was time to say farewell with fireworks and a parking lot full of autos and anarchy. “

Visiting an Exorcist temple

On my last Saturday I was accompanied by two Norwegian girls and we took a spontaneous three hour drive to a so called Exorcist temple. None of us had ever been to anything like it, and having visited many Hindu temples already – it was surely something unique. Before we arrived I jokingly told the Norwegians that it would be the closest place to hell which we would be, and it turns out that so far, it has been. As most other temples – vendors, shops and restaurants had developed in its periphery to accommodate for the herds of people who desperately go there to give their prayers or to get rid of their evil spirits. It was extremely crowded and filthily foul. From at least twenty meters away we could hear chanting and yelling. We were amazed as we saw the lines of people – resembling sheep, trying to squeeze their way through a metallic maze leading towards the temples main chamber with the Hanaman deity. These thousands of people had been waiting in line all day, slowly advancing towards the deity. On the outside there was a sign stating the rules of conduct – including that women couldn’t enter alone and possessed individuals couldn’t enter alone either. There was also a big screen with a loud speaker, playing Hindu hymns and showing live exorcists (if any were taking place inside.)
There were individuals from all parts of the social sphere – rich business men, poor rural families offering their savings with no regret, yogis with dreads falling to their feet, security guards and literally no western foreigners or tourists. In all the crowded chaos, if one just stood still for a minute and observed, one would start to notice the “possessed” individuals. Many were almost seemingly unconscious, being dragged along by family members, while others were wandering about swaying from side to side with a stale abyss in their eyes.  Not wanting to stand in line amongst all the bodies and all the trash and sewage water, we went through a hidden back door and got into a room on top of the temple. This is where the elites get VIP passes to get into the temple. This was no pleasant sight either. It was similar to a cross between an abandoned hospital and an abandoned school; Empty naked rooms with decaying walls, hand marks all over the walls (not sure if it was from some mud, blood or feces) and an uncomfortable atmosphere. From this position we had a bird’s view of part of the lines below, where some waved while others didn’t care at all. We got our VIP passes, went downstairs and attempted to get in.

We were told to wait one and a half hours, so we had some sweet chai masala and some Indian toffee sweets. Once we returned we were guided to the Hanaman deity which, in my opinion, was illustrated extremely disturbingly. I don’t want to go into its descriptive details as it is highly ambiguous. After our quick deity visit, we found ourselves in the back where most offerings took place and where the possessed stayed to get rid of their unwanted antagonists. Before we entered our ‘guide’ asked us to not be afraid, that no one would do anything to harm us. During our presence there weren’t the most extreme cases – a woman chanting while rocking back and forward, dipping her fingers into a glass of water like a sewing machine, a family (who first greeted us all) singing and applauding while the last member was in the middle, vigorously thrusting her body down to the ground and singing loudly. Others were in absurd sleeping positions and some doing the detailed offering ritual. We were told that sometimes individuals would inflict head wounds on themselves, become violent and go into seizures. In a sense we wanted to witness the worst possible, however, simultaneously I am glad that no one had to go through that while we were there. According to our guide, mostly rural Hindus believe that if one is very unlucky, you can cross paths with a wandering lost spirit, which will then possess your body. The degree of extremity of ones possession varies according to the spirit. There are not many temples like this one and therefore thousands flock to them. The main offering station, adjacent to a cliff, was sprawling with monkeys fighting over the divine food. And I wonder, will there be full of elephants at Ganesh temples?

It is important to respect any rules within any temple at all times.

We are mere audiences, vicariously observing an alien customs. Every temple which I have been into have not permitted photography, so none were taken or even attempted at Balaji. And of course, some might say that this description of the temple is a hyperbole, while others an under-exaggeration. It is all up to how the individual perceives it. I have personally lived in African countries and been to black-magic markets, seen witch doctors and so on, and therefore am very cautious and would never question the authenticity of such things. Below is an exorcism video of Sundri Reshami:

The Pink city of Rajasthan is a lovely and charming destination. If you go there try to catch a wedding as they are majestic; with elephants, horses and thousands of guests. A days drive away takes you to deserts and other great destinations in Rajasthan (the blue city, Agra, more sand dunes, more unique temples and so on,) so it is highly recommended.

Karsten

The weeks are going by extremely fast and the ones who have been out with Kulturstudier before, know that one must take advantage of the weekends and exploit them to the fullest. (One can read and work on train rides, bus rides, flights etc!) This weekend eight of us hired an old 4×4 and drove some ten hours, westwards. We missed our main attraction on the way and proceeded to Ooty. We had to almost drift our way through the snaky passages of the Nilgiris Mountains, avoiding the over packed buses and tiring trucks. As we drove the sun was rising and we saw the jewels of the forest start to glister to the sun’s rays of light, clearing away the mist, which had been submerging the mountain valleys. We tried to spot wild tigers and elephants on the way (as there were warning signs of the latter,) however, we were only blessed with grey monkeys and school children. Soon Ooty unfolded before us in between the Nilgiris Mountains. The first thing we noticed was the crisp and fresh air, as opposed to the moist and warm air of Pondicherry. We found our accommodation – a Christian guest house with a chapel and multiple pianos (which some of us utilized dearly,) and explored Ooty. We did some sight-seeing, a lovely trek through the town and visited their “House of Horror” and “Mirror Maze”. One of the aspects which Ooty had in common with Pondi was that it seemed to be a mix of different worlds – charming eastern European looking slopes with sheep, crowded Indian markets, patterns of tea plantations and dense pine forests. The people were as friendly as anywhere else in India and on the way home from our trek, some of us were invited on top of an over-populated truck full of laughter, live music and dance.

On our departure we tried our luck with the main attraction and after much patience and standing in multiple of lines; we got seats on the famous Nilgiris Toy Train to Mettupalayam. Such trains are not for the faint hearted or claustrophobic, as it is a struggle to keep one’s personal space and a struggle to prevent new passengers from entering the already fully populated train compartments. Like a river of steam, oil and steel, we proceeded down through the Nilgiris. The some three-four hour journey proved itself worthy with it’s spectacular views of the dense and lush vegetation, the faceless mountains and the scattered villages appearing as small clusters in the horizon. On the way the steam train would stop to refill it’s water, while even more grey monkeys would emerge and even more people would try to squeeze on. As we arrived in Mettupalayam, greeted by our driver, we had to play Tetris once again inside our 4×4 (I forgot to mention that we were eight driving a seven seater car) but this time we had to play much more delicately, as many of us soon became extremely car sick. Whether it was the vodka or some bad street food, I am not sure, however, it was the first time that I  had to vomit outside a car’s window at a speed of around 80-100 km/h – making Mats waking up puzzled, asking “Is it raining?!”

Karsten

Our time in Pondi has passed by unnoticed as we have adjusted to our new environment and habitat. To take a break from the intriguing readings, the sandy beach and the dazzling pool, many have committed themselves to certain local weekly activities. This, many believe, is a wonderful way of learning and experiencing a new culture. If the activities offered by KulturStudier are not enough, then there are plenty of other things to do in Pondicherry. Below are some of the popular activities described:

The young men in the video above, vigorously spinning the bamboo staffs in almost perfect circles, are demonstrating the art of Silambam. This martial art derives from Tamil Nadu and is used throughout other Tamil Nadu communities (Sri-Lanka and Malaysia.) As most other martial arts it takes years for one to master, however, I am sure after a few weeks with our enthusiastic and very patient trainer Velo – we will all be fighting crime in the streets of Pondi, creating our very own Ninja Turtle group!

Tabla Drumming is an ancient drumming technique originating from India. It consists of two drums which are both played by ones’ palms and fingers. Tabla is often played in classical Hindu music and within devotional temple music, however, as Pintoo Dan, our tabla instructor (Above left) has taught us; one can easily play jazz beats and, well, pretty much any other beat on the tabla (except for double pedal), to groove and jam with others. Every lesson begins with a cup of sweet tea and an Om, which Pintoo Dan elegantly draws on the top of each of our new pages in our notebooks (Above right.) The Om symbolizes Brahman – to give us godspeed during our lessons and to thank the gods.

Bollyhop is what our dance instructor, Lovely, calls it, and is a fusion between Bollywood dancing and jazz/hip-hop. This is great fun and a great workout, leaving most of her students soaked in sweat, as our bodies explode into movements, synchronizing with the beats and rhythms. The new dance moves acquired will definitely make each and every one of us dominate the dance floors back home!

After our first bollyhop class last week, a few of us were invited to Lovely’s wedding day. It was a beautiful spectacle at the exotic ceremony, with the bride and groom dressed as an Indian king and queen, while the guests dressed as Indian royalty and nobles. The ceremony itself included a lot of chanting, talking, fire, camera flashes, children racing around, some pink mint drink, and a film crew. Oh, and of course a delicious lunch afterwards. The party must have been hectic.

Other activities includes Mama Rani’s (from Raj Maison) cooking classes, Classical Bollywood dancing and weekly cultural nights where Indian documentaries and Bollywood movies are played at our home cinema.

Karsten

Dear parents, future students, current students and other curious individuals, we’re three weeks into our stay in India and it’s fabulous! No one has fallen victim to the so called “Three-weeks crisis” while the worst case scenario has been a fractured foot from Bollywood dancing!

We were all warmly welcomed by the staff at the beautiful coastal Kailash resort where we all participated in a Hindu ritual, honoring the gods: Ganesh – god of food and new beginnings and Saraswati – the godess of learning and knowledge. We were given a quick miniature tour of the beautiful environment and proceeding to have our first lecture on India, by Sudha Ramachandran. After the intriguing lecture and a spicy lunch, we soon scattered about, finding our favorite hammocks, the pool area and of course the lovely near-deserted beach. The architecture of the buildings at our study center (Kailash) is truly peaceful and pristine. The owner explained to us how he had purchased authentic and almost antique building materials from destroyed temples and forts, which had been passed on from owner to owner throughout South Asia. And of course, finally in his hands, so he could rebuild them and restore them to their true honor and virtue. Below are a few pictures from the resort

An ancient granite statue of Ganesh surrounded by lush vegetation outside the Religion and Power classroom.

A North Western view of the Kailash resort.

And if you’re extremely lucky, one might spot a group of dolphins at our very own beach!
Many of us have already fallen for India and her incredible culture(s). We are greeted with vibrant and vivid smells from the:

chicken masala street vendors to the fresh fruit shake blenders, the cow shit to the human piss, the blossoming jasmines to the incents used during rituals, the human sweat to the open sewage and the masala chai to the spice markets. One is curious with the religious symbolism painted on each smiling forehead (three horizontal lines: Shiva worshippers, a U: Vishnu worshippers,) and ones’ eyes are gifted with religious parades, cows and buffalos walking down the streets, chaotic yet efficient traffic and the beautiful saris of the women. In the morning one wakes up to the morning prayers, the churches’ bells and the Hindu temples’ chanting.

It seems that there is much more purpose in life down here.

The students of the Religion and Power course had a great and solid start with Knut Jacobsen who took us on a Religious Pluralism Tour in Tamil Nadu for a fruitful 17 and a half hours. We visited the most significant Mosque, Hindu Temple and Christian Church in the region, first handedly encountering a lot of the literature which we are reading and even witnessing and participating in certain religious rituals and processions. Below is a video showing a Karadi Procession – a ritual where individuals dress and act as the gods, in this case Shivu – the god of destruction and his wife Parvati, accompanied by drummers (to mark that the place is sacred) and later men dancing with hooks to display extreme devotion to the gods.

Karsten