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Let’s talk about the need for toilets in India.

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Have you had the toilet conversation yet? If you’re traveling or living in India it’s bound to happen. Here you’re totally allowed to talk about what goes on in the loo. Everyone feels the need at some point.

How does that water spray thingy on the side work? Is it really better to squat than to sit down? No toilet paper, really?

The Indian loo raises a lot of questions for foreigners, but since a few years toilets have become a topic for Indians too. Or rather, not having a toilet has finally become a topic. Over 600 million Indians are forced to defecate out in the open, because they don’t have a toilet in their house. Public toilets are few and the ones that are there are often poorly maintained. Slum dwellers prefer to find a spot in the bushes or along side the railway tracks.

Recently I was invited to spend a day with Dr. Pathak of the Sulabh Foundation. His foundation has been the leading force, for many years, behind bringing toilets to every Indian household. The Indian government has recently adopted this goal. Prime minster Narendra Modi has dedicated himself, going by his campaign speeches, to have a toilet in every home by 2019.

Dr. Pathak and I spend a day in Himathala, a village that didn’t have a single toilet until about five years ago. But now, thanks to Sulabh International, every household has at least one toilet. Dr. Pathank thought I should talk to the villagers to see how much difference the toilets have made to their lives.

The village is about an hour and a half away from Delhi. This gave Dr. Pathak time to share some of his life’s stories with me while we were on the road. When talking to Dr. Pathak it became very clear to me how he is not just a ‘toilet man’ Dr. Pathak is a human rights advocate above all.

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A house in Himathala that now has a toilet attached as you can see on the right side.

Life story

Growing up in a Brahmin family household the harsh reality of the Indian cast system did not go unnoticed to Dr. Pathak. He tells me about the time he touched the maid – just out of curiosity because it was something a Brahmin should not do according to his mother. As a punishment she fed him cow’s dung to clean the sinful act from his body. ‘The experience was traumatic,’ Dr. Pathak tells me, one he never forgot. It only made him more determined to give dignity to the people that clean our houses, streets and toilets.

In India a separate group of people within the caste system have – for decades – been responsible for cleaning human waste. These untouchables would not be allowed to drink from the same village well. Or be in touch with other people from higher castes in any way, the work that they did was unclean after all. Modern-day Indian law forbids this practice, but the stigma on this group of people prevails.

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Dr. Pathak welcomed by the village leader and some women.

When Dr. Pathak made the choice to dedicate his life to clean toilets for everyone and thus eradicating the practice of human waste collecting he sacrificed his pending marriage. He could not have both, which decent Brahmin bride would think of marrying a man that spend his days talking about toilets?

Dr. Pathak chose his career, but talking to local government leaders about the need for toilets wasn’t much easier than talking to his family about them. ‘Toilet Talk’ was something that was reserved for after the chai was finished he was often told. Such unsavoury words should not be spoken before.

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In the village of Himathala I found that people loved to talk about their toilets and the change they have brought to their lives.

‘I don’t have to get up six times at night to go with the girls out to the fields to relieve themselves’ Says Shakuntala who lives with six women in her household. For security reasons the women would never go alone at night. It meant Shakuntala hardly got any sleep on some nights.

The head of the village tells me there where days during monsoon when you couldn’t walk through the village. Rain would spread al the excreta and turn the lanes of Himathala into slippery paths. I can only imagine the health hazards that must have caused. According to Dr. Pathak the number of diseases in the little village have gone down drastically.

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Shakuntala and some of her family members pose with Dr. Pathak.

 

The two pit toilet Dr. Pathak invented himself allows human excreta to turn into compost. The composts can be removed safely after a few years and used to firtelize the lands. How long a tank of human waste is turned into harmless compost really depends on the size of the tank and how soon it is filled up. There are two pits so when one is full the toilet waste is directed to the other. It’s a completely closed off system that leaves no room for harmful bacteria to escape.

I felt lucky that I got a chance to see how Dr. Pathak was welcomed as a hero in the village. The women of the village showered him with gifts and hung flower garlands around his neck. There was singing and lots of dancing. The importance of something that we take for granted in the west, having a clean toilet inside your house, really hit me that day.

Next time I talk to someone about toilets in India, I’m surely going to tell them about my day in Himathala and the great work Dr. Pathak and his team do.

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Like any big event in India. There should be some dancing involved. So we danced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love and sex in Khajuraho

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The ‪Khajuraho‬ tempels are not only about kinky sexsual positions. There is space for some humour as well. The temple is decorated all around with straight-faced elephants, except for this one. When he turns to his left he sees a sight that brings him so much pleasure you can see the laugh wrinkles near his eyes. He can’t look away, even though his mahut desperately tries to stop him by pulling on his truck.

 

Drawn by the promise of explicit sex scenes carved from sand stone, millions of tourists come to Khajuraho every year. The temples of Khajaraho weren’t discovered until the British ruled the country and an English man was sent out to map India’s most central state; Madhya Pradesh. Thanks to T S Burt’s discovery in 1838, shopkeepers, restaurant owners and rickshaw drivers today can make a living from the hordes of tourists that come to this otherwise sleepy town.

I can only imagine what it must have felt like for this proper English gentleman to uncover the carvings from thick jungle branches. Did they make him blush? For even the most liberal thinkers some scenes are quite shocking. Even the little book that I picked up for 60 rupees at the entree seems to struggle with promoting the monument. Out of all the pictures of the temple in the book, not one of them shows a couple having sex. Though there are many on the temples and all the tourist try their best to located them.

To make sure that I wasn’t missing out on any of the scenes I decided tot get a guide. To source out the most knowledgeable one – anyone can print out that little ‘official tourist guide’ pass after all – I put them through a little test.

What is the reason for the sex sculptures on these temples and why don’t we see them anywhere else in India? (At the time I didn’t know there are a few other tempels that have rather explicit scenes on them, still not as much as the temples of Khajuraho have) I asked them.

After some vague answers in broken English it was Anshu that gave me the most satisfying answer. Till this day no one is sure about the real reason behind the Khajuraho carvings. But there are three options.

  • Firstly; and my favourite one.. The Goddess of lightning is a single lady. To prevent her from striking the temple they wanted to make her feel so uncomfortable that she wouldn’t dare come close. According to the ancient Indians a single lady couldn’t be more terrified of anything else than couples having a lot of sex. The lightning conductors of the sides of the temples refute this silly idea, thank god.
  • This was Anshu’s favourite explanation. The temples were building to teach the people about the learning’s of Tantra. Yes, that includes the Tantric sex. But this philosophy is about all aspects of live. Study, eat, breath or clean with full dedication and hundred percent commitment. I didn’t buy this explanation, since the sexual part was given a clear preference by the sculptures. Nowhere do I see anyone clean with dedication.
  • This is the most likely option in my view. The temples were built to educate the people of the kingdom about sex. Educate them about the many things you can and cannot do. This education was needed because the kingdom’s inhabitant’s numbers were declining fast. More babies needed to be born and lots of sex needed to happen for that.

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Through out the tour of the Western side of the complex my guide Anshu always gave me various angles to the stories that he tells. He says for example, about the destruction of most of the 85 original temples, that it could have been Muslim invaders. But it could also have been local people unaware of the importance of such historic sites. Anshu is able to see the best in any religion and acknowledge how the religion that he follows benefitted from some and was influenced by others.

(In the last year that I’ve been living in India it seems that this ability has become less and less common among India’s citizens.)

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Greek Mythology for example influenced the way the sun god Surya was portrayed. In India the sun was always depicted as a round disc, never as a god in human form. Not until the Greek came to India and carried with them statues of their sun god. On the side of the Lakshmana temple – the first on you’ll come to if you follow the main route – you’ll see Surya wearing boots. You don’t see this with any other Indian god.

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When we come to side of the temple that has to be the kinkiest carvings of all of the temple’s decorations Anshu points out a rather disturbing scene. Two sandstone men are having a lot of fun with a horse. But if you look closer you’ll see a person behind the horse covering his face with both hands in shock of what he sees. And my amazing guide points out the little fire that is carved out on the left side of the scene. This means that the fun happened in the evening.

‘There are many things you can do, but it doesn’t mean you should. Even when you reserve those actions for the nighttime, they might shock others’ Anshu explains.

I’m happy to see that the ancient Indian artists were open-minded enough to depict scenes that they might no agree with. Yet they were not too conservative to acknowledge the fact that it does happen.

Thankfully Anshu doesn’t look too surprised when I spend a long time taking pictures of all the sex positions that he points out to me on the temple.

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With all this talk about the significance of explicit sex positions our conversation takes a detour after a while. Anshu also has an opinion about the meaning of love in modern day India. During our tea break in the middle of our tour he opens up about his own love story.

At 29 years old he was recently married to a woman he found online. After dating the girl that he loved for 8 years it became clear to him that his Brahmin family wouldn’t accept her as his wife. She was of a lower cast then him. According to Anshu his girlfriend was very understanding about it when he broke up with her. Even she needed to marry someone from her own cast, he tells me. After that long relationship Anshu decided the quickest way of finding a fitting match was to go on Facebook. From her last name he could tell she was of the same cast as him. Though I’m sure her profile picture had something to do with his choice as well. They chatted for about four months before they decided to get married.

He married his wife in her hometown of Varanasi. Anshu tells me with a big smile that he used to dislike the city, but because of his wife he has learned to love it. I guess when it comes to marriage there were many things Anshu was willing to change his mind about. When I ask him about it, he insists that boys and girls of his generation – he’s 29 years old – are free to chose their own match. Foreigners always believe we have arranged marriages, he says, but that’s no longer the case in India. I say that I don’t think he was free to choose at all, because his mother told him point blank that she would only accept a Brahmin daughter-in-law. But Anshu tells me it’s simple, he could choose between his family and the girl. He chose his family, because he felt that bond was stronger.

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It amazes me how he can talk so emotionless about the story of his lost love. But he doesn’t see it as a loss at all. He’s extremely happy with his wife and their new-born baby boy, a perfect little Brahmin family.

As for the temples, they are one of the most beautiful temples I’ve seen in India s far. Khajuraho can easily fit it to your golden triangle route Delhi-Agra-Jaipur if you want to.

Are you planning a trip to the temples of Khajuraho and you liked what you’ve read about my guide Anshu? Then do give him a call to see if he can help you out. You can call him 9893717795 or email: anshuawasthi65@gmail.com

On a separate note.. apart from the temples I loved the real stone oven pizzas and warm apple pie at Mediterraneo. It’s a bit expensive considering you’re in India. But after traveling around for a while you’re happy to pay for good pizza, I found. 

Did you like this article, or do you want to tell me about your visit to Khajuraho? Feel free to share your thought in a comment below or email me at devishikha@gmail.com. Thanks! 

xo Devi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Udaipur’s cenotaphs remember lost loved ones and cruel traditions

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A Cenotaph is structure that is build to remember someone after they die. It doesn’t actually hold a person’s remains. It’s meant as a beautiful memorial. I didn’t know this before I visited the Cenotaph site in Ahar located less than three kilometres away from Udaipur’s city centre. Hardly 15 minutes if you take a rickshaw from the City Palace, you’ll find this amazing place filled with white marble structures of different sizes and designs.

When a member of the Maharaja’s family dies they are cremated here. Since five-generation Mr. Ravi Rathore’s family has had the honour to prepare the cremation of the royals of the Mewar Kingdom. Today Ravi is the site’s caretaker and incidental guide if you catch him at the right time. After wondering around with my camera for about an hour I was lucky enough to run into Ravi. His stories made these old structures and the people they commemorate come to life for me.

When the Maharaja -Udaipur still has a royal family- or one of his family members dies Ravi is one of the first to know. He has to hurry to make the necessary preparations for the funeral pyre. He goes to the market to buy sandalwood, clarified butter and coconuts. The quantity in which he buys them depends on the wealth of the person. Wood, especially sandalwood doesn’t come cheap in India.

The sandalwood burns intense and leaves behind a comfortable sent to mask the smell of the burning body. The clarified butter, or ghee as they call it in India, makes it easier for the wood to catch fire. Lastly, the coconuts are added to the pyre to give the deceased a good send off. Coconuts have a sacred meaning in Hinduism.

It takes up to three days, according to Ravi, for the flames to turn the full body to ashes. The family leaves after some hours when all the rites are completed, but Ravi is stays to make sure the fire keeps burning.

Detailed ceiling of a cenotaph

Detailed ceiling of a cenotaph

In the days after the family comes back to claim their loved one’s ashes and to clean up the burning site. This is important says Ravi, out of respect to the next family that comes here. It’s part of the cycle of life.

When the ashes are brought home the family members invite friends and acquaintances for a big meal. But before the guests are served a small part is kept aside. A dog, a cow and a crow should be given a taste of the meal first. Then a small part is offered to a picture of the deceased. Only then it’s time for the guests to eat. When the food is finished a small part of the family stays behind to talk to the direct family. They have business to discuss.

Each of the family members gives an amount of money to the eldest son. He is given the donations as start-up money, the first step to creating his own wealth. In turn he asks his family members to take up positions in his new venture.

One of the bigger cenotaphs

One of the bigger cenotaphs

The size of the cenotaph directly relates to the son’s success.

‘If he’s a loser in life he won’t have much money to build one, but if he does well he’s able to construct an impressive memorial for his father’, Ravi explains.

It can take many years before the cenotaph is erected. Only when there is enough money the son will start talking to designers and builders. It isn’t uncommon for a cenotaph to take dozens of years to get finished.

In Ahar 250 structures stand side by side on a piece of land hardly bigger than a football pitch. Nineteen of them are made for previous Maharajas. On the left side of the entry their name is inscribed in the marble together with the period they ruled.

Ravi, explains that the shape and the statue in the centre of the cenotaph tell you something about the people that are remembered. The dome like roof structure for example tells you the deceased was a respected person. Like the colourful turban Rajastani men wrap around their heads. In the back of the field there’s a small line of cenotaphs without this typical roof. These are the cenotaphs of children that passed away before they could achieve a respected social status.

On the left you see the center for a male cenotaph. On the right side you see the center that is used for a female cenotaph.

On the left you see the center for a male cenotaph. On the right side you see the center that is used for a female cenotaph.

When a cenotaph has a small statue of a man and woman together at its centre the structure remembers a Sati case. In ancient Rajasthan it was common for the wife to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre. Her life was effectively over after the main breadwinner of the family passed away. The practice of widow suicide is called Sati. In a village near Jodhpur, Ravi tells me a widow is said to have even committed Sati as late back as in 1980.

When the wife dies before the husband her husband’s cenotaph is later on placed next to hers. While Ravi explains all of this I notice a statue depicting a whole group of people. In this case the husband had multiple wives whom all died at his pyre, he tells me.

Ravi, a father of two young daughters shakes his head when he speaks a bout the Sati ritual.

‘ Those family members could have given their donations to the widow instead’ he says.

His daughters as far as he can tell – they’re only 5 and 7 years old – have no desire to take over the family business. They’ve told their father that they want to become doctors instead.

 

If you want to go see this site

Take a rickshaw from Udaipur’s city center for a bout 400 rupees. You can bargain it down, but if you want him to wait for you while you stroll around for a couple of hours, then it’s a fair price.

This isn’t an official toerist site, so you won’t need to pay an entry fee. You do have to sneak a few rupees to the security guard at the gate though. For 50 rupees he’ll let you take photographs too.

Please be respectful of this place. No loud talking and take of your shoes before you enter the cenotaphs. People still come her to pray, keep that in mind when you walk around with your camera.

There are two sections. Do have a look behind the wall, you’ll find the oldest structures on that side. In the far right side you’ll find a little stairs that will lead you through a door in the wall.

Have you been to Udaipur and seen the cenotaphs of Ahar? Send me a message to tell me about your experiences. If you just liked this post and want to let me know that, drop a line below.

xo Devi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheroes Cafe in Agra – a place for survivors instead of victims

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FLTR: Neetu, Rupa and Geeta

 

In a previous post I’ve talked about the amazing Nur Jahan being the real queen of Agra. Visiting her father’s tomb is something you should definitely do when you’re in the city. But Agra recently got another reason you should hang around a little longer. While you’re busy sightseeing, make some time to have lunch at Sheroes Café.

When I was there around the beginning of December Sheroes Café was just about to officially open it’s doors. As a ‘soft launch’ the café had been open for about a month already to see if the concept would have potential for success. The food isn’t the main reason why you want to make a stop here.

The Sheroes café is set up by an organisation called Stop Acid Attacks Now and is run by female survivors of acid attacks. In India about four women are attacked every week with a product that burns through the skin within seconds. Leaving them scared for life, if they survive the attack at all. SAAN expects that the real number of acid attacks in India is even higher, because many women don’t report it out of fear for their attacker.

It mostly involves women, but there are cases know also of men being attacked with the acid as well.

The attackers are often men who have pursued the victim as a potential love interest. When she tells him that she’s not interested, they turn violent. Their male – a important part of this society it seems –  pride is damaged after all. If she doesn’t want to be with me, then she’ll have no one ever again, they seem to think. Acid in India is commonly available as a toilet cleaner, this makes it easily available to anyone suffering from a fit of rage.

For acid attack survivors it is very difficult take part in public life after they’ve been attacked. It’s very often their faces that are most damaged. Many spend the rest of their lives behind closed doors or prefer to hide their scared faces behind a veil when they do step out of the house.

What makes the Sheroes café so special is that it allows these women to take back control over their lives. They now have a meaningful career outside of their home. It’s a job that makes them feel proud to be out in the open. And if you spend some time with the five women that work there currently, you’ll understand how incredibly inspiring they are.

Geeta Mahau and her daughter Neetu having their lunch break.

Geeta Mahau and her daughter Neetu having their lunch break.

At the café one of the first women I meet is Geeta Mahau. Even though she has never had a job like this before  – she mostly stuck to menial jobs out of the public eye – she walks confidently around the café. Cleaning tables, moving chairs around and directing people to get the café ready for the grand opening in a few days.

‘People at my home used to tell me that seeing my face would make them lose their appetite, Geeta tells me, ‘But now I hold my head up high and do my job’

In the middle of the night while she was sleeping her own husband attacked Geeta with acid. Her husband was a drunk and he recently gotten himself in to some debt. He often took out his problems on Geeta.

‘ I didn’t like the way he treated me that’s why I took my daughters and left to my parents place just a couple of days before.  But after a few days I decided to try it one more time and come back home to him’

Geeta didn’t know that while she was away her husband had already planned the attack and purchased the acid. Out of anger that his wife wasn’t able to give him a son, but only daughters, he decided that he would be better off without them. The acid was meant to kill them. Geeta’s newborn baby died from her injuries, but her other daughter Neetu, barely 3 years old, survived. She now works in the Sheroes Café as well. Because of the attack most of her eyesight is gone. Being able to work at the café is something she has never expected to do, but her dreams are bigger than that.

‘ I dream of being able to go to school and learn English or just read books’ she told me.

Geeta’s husband spent two months in jail. It was Geeta who decided to drop the charges against him, after he begged her to take him back. He told her he would be a better husband and the acid attack was a mistake. For a while he did manage to stay away from the alcohol, Geeta assures me, but not for long.

The harsh reality for many women in India is that life without a husband is more difficult for them than spending it with a drunk and abusive spouse. The stigma that a woman has to carry who lives alone was too much for Geeta. First she tells me that she is worried about him ‘Where will he go if we don’t take care of him’ she says. But as we continue the conversation she gets to the core of the matter.

‘If I leave him now I’m afraid he’ll attack us again, he’s done it before, who says he won’t do it again?’

 

Article I wrote for Dutch newspapers about Sheroes Cafe opening in Agra.

Article I wrote for Dutch newspapers about Sheroes Cafe opening in Agra.

For many of us it might be inconceivable to continue living with a man that has wanted you dead at some point. To live in the same house as the person that is responsible for your scars that ruined your life. One of the SAAN staff members Hardika tells me she hopes Geeta and Neetu will become more independent through their work at the Sheroes Café and find the strength to leave their husband and father.

Of course I agree with her, but only partially. Finding the strength to leave is one thing, but having the strength every day to live with that man. Serve dinner to that man and take care of that man. It takes an incredible strong woman to do that, I think. To me Geeta is a modern-day queen of Agra, who thrives despise of her drunk and abusive husband. Something she has in common by the way with Nur Jahan.

If you want to support the Stop Acid Attacks Now team in their fight to give these women their space in public life back, visit the café. I assure you that as a customer you’ll be able to look passed the scars and see how these women radiate beauty. I like spending my time and money in places where it counts double and it really does at Sheroes Café.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The real queen of Agra

Nur Jahan

Nur Jahan

It’s a little chilly up on the roof, but I’m still hopeful that the sun will soon come up soon to warm me and light up the mesmerizing sight in front of me. Unfortunately it’s a typical December morning in Agra. The air is filled with a mixture of pollution and dense fog. I’m still cold. Even after I waited for about an hour, the reason I’m out on the roof before sunset, the Taj Mahal, doesn’t bath in light as I expected it would. Read More

About me

542900_10150761573169420_101880150_nHey there, welcome to my website. I’m glad you found me.. Currently I’m traveling through India looking for interesting women’s stories. The amazing women I meet and their stories get featured on my blog. xo Devi

A homestay that will steal your heart

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It’s 8.30 pm. I’m tired after a long day of work running around Bhopal. All I want to do is sit down for a nice warm meal before going to bed. I’m just praying the lady of the home wasn’t too enthusiastic with spices tonight. My stomach would keep me up all night, if she did. When I look up from the dinning table I see two steaming hot dishes being brought in. They look familiar. I recognise the thick potato mash on top of a mix of vegetables. It looks like what me mum would cook. I’m getting a Dutch stew served at this kitchen table in India.

This morning when we talked about Dutch cuisine – which made me blush from embarrassment – she took notes and this afternoon prepared some of my favourite dishes from home. Now that’s something you won’t even find in a five star hotel.

Homestay – the word alone seems to go against everything you want to do when you backpack. You’ve packed up a minimal amount of clothes to leave and experience any place but home. No comfortable beds, no squeaky clean shower and no home cooked food for a while. That’s what you’ve signed up for and that’s the stuff that’s going to lay the basis of the epic stories you’ll tell your friends and family when you return.

A homestay also comes with a family that can cramp your sense of independence. For some backpackers that’s an essential part of the journey. You have to be a bit considerate when you’re essentially invited into someone’s home.

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In Bhopal I found a homestay that made me feel comfortable, part of the family almost, yet I had all the freedom to go and come as I pleased. The homestay proved for me that while I won’t book one for every part of my trip, it can be a welcomed change from noisy hostels and lonely hotel rooms.

Meet the retired army general Mr. Goswami and his lovely wife Jhoba, they own the Jheelam homestay in Bairagarth, Bhopal. Although I had booked for just a couple of days I ended up staying for nearly two weeks in their Brown Room – It’s more yellow than brown, don’t worry –

This homestay has a view to die for, it’s right along side of the far end of the Upper Lake. The beautiful garden that the family maintains so well, only adds to the feeling that you’ve left the city for a countryside retreat. Most of the vegetables that you’ll find on your plate for dinner at night are plucked from the garden surrounding the homestay. I was lucky enough to arrive during Pomegranate season. The tree right outside my door provided fresh fruits every day.

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The three rooms the Jheelam Homestay offers are all outside the main house. So it’s fairly private. I opted for the cheapest and most basic room. I was still backpacking after all. It was all I needed. The bed is typical Indian, a bit on the hard side. You can have a hot bucket bath – splashing yourself with water from the bucket – by warming the water up with a heater. The other rooms have television and a hot shower, but come at a higher price. The family told me they wanted to offer a budget option and that’s what you get in the Brown Room. I felt very comfortable there.

Traveling on your own can get lonely. Many people have warned me about this before. When you stay at a homestay like this there is always someone at the breakfast table asking you if you’ve slept well. At dinner someone will ask you how your day was. When you don’t want to be asked, you’re free to have your meals outside and retreat to your own room as soon as you come back. Or you can have the dinner from the house served in your room.

But I would advice you to make the best of the experience. Mr. and Mrs Goswami are warm and welcoming people that are willing to, for a brief time, make you part of their family. You’ll get a chance to ask about Indian customs, converse about current affairs and get inside information to the city from a local.

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If you’ll ask nicely – like I did – Jhoba is even willing to share the secret to one of her dishes. I loved her tomato chutney so much. Its sticky, it’s sweet and probably not good for your health at all, but OMG it is so delicious with a nice deep-fried puri.

I have the recipe for you here of the Bengali Tomato Chutney in this little movie of Jhoba preparing it.

Staying at Jheelam Homestay can get as homely as you want, or as independent like a hotel room as you want. The choice is yours. But if you decide to book a room here I won’t let the opportunity, to meet one of the loveliest families you’ll meet during your travels, go to waste.

A few tips for this stay in Bhopal; Try to book this room via websites like Stayzilla or Goibibo. They sometimes offer you a cheaper stay. For me this was the case. The Jheelam Homestay is a bit out of the way and not all taxi services know the area – I’ve experienced –  I would call up the Goswami family before hand to get proper directions.

 

If you plan on staying at the Jheelam Homestay or have been there before, let me know what your experience was. If you have any other questions about staying in Bhopal, you can leave a comment below or send me an email.

 

xo Devi

 

 

Bhopal beyond the disaster a developing tourist destination

Before coming to Bhopal I couldn’t think of a good reason for a tourist to put this destination on the list. It’s the city of lakes yes, but these two man-made ‘pools’ are hardly natural wonders to make a detour for. But after having spent two weeks there to cover the 30-year anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, I find myself seriously considering going back in the near future. Just to be a tourist this time and not work.

For most people Bhopal will always be connected to the gas disaster of December 3th 1984. It’s true that the disaster has left deep marks on the city and continuously effects the people that live there. If you do decided to visit the city, I would say you owe it to the victims to show interest in this side of its history too.

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Bhopal gas disaster museum.

Getting a look into what really happened that night and the many years that followed has become easier since a few days. The Bhopal Holocaust museum was opened on the 30th anniversary by one of the gas victims.

“This museum is a big challenge because it entails conservation without chemicals. No vinyl, no flax, no trace of chemical has been used in the entire set-up, making it the first of its kind in India”

Explained the well-known museum designer Vikram Seth in an interview with Times of India.

The museum is divided into five rooms; Health Room, Anderson Wall, Trauma Room, Compensation Room and the Movement Room. Especially gripping are the audio recordings of survivors and doctors on call that night. These recording lined up next to strong black and white photos really bring home the magnitude of the disaster.

If you want to take it a step further you can volunteer with the Sambhavna Trust Clinic. They welcome you if you come with a clear idea about what you can do for them. In the past people have helped with advertising, website building and medical skills.

Okay, so now on to some regular tourist stops. There is enough here to keep you entertained. Unfortunately I didn’t get to do all of it while I was there, but I have a review of the two must see sight for you.

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The Tribal Museum.

I was very surprised about the quality of this exhibition. It was beyond expectations, though I had already heard good things about it. Normally I’m not a big fan of museums in India. They often seem dull to me and uninspired. The Tribal Museum however is one you cannot miss out on.

The museum really manages to draw you in to a topic that potentially could be very dry; the tribes of Madhaya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. (I learned during my visit that these states used to be one) Because you don’t just observe their way of life, you are made to feel a part of it. When you walk into the first hall you really step in to the tribal world of India. The tribal houses are re-built so you can walk through them. The detail to the decoration of these huts is amazing. Throughout the museum artwork and religious objects of the tribes are displayed in a non-convectional way. Urns used, to keep the dead, by one tribe are placed all over a wall for example. Making it an art piece in itself. And a bangle, which is given to brides, is re-created as a huge circle. This allows you to see the intricate details of the bangle up close.

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The only problem that I see with this museum is that you wont be able to remember everything you read and saw about these tribes when you step out. It’s just so much. It would take you a day to read most of it. I would recommend going for the pieces and displays that really catch your eye and focus on these.

The museum has a lovely little shop that sells some of the artwork displayed in the exhibition. So you’re favourite work could get a place in your own house.

Bhimbetka Caves.

I was not going to leave Bhopal without visiting Bhimbetka. They have the oldest cave paintings of its kind in India, dating back to 30.000 BCE. The caves are part of the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. I was sold.

Taking the bus from Bhopal’s Habibganj bus station is much cheaper than hiring a car for the day. But I had limited time and I also wanted to stop by the Bhuj Temple, which is on the way. So I decided to splurge.

When we arrived at the rock shelters I was relieved I chose to take a car. No rickshaw in sight!

At the start of the route they made some statues of early cave men, to give you an idea of how they lived. It’s less tacky than it sounds, but they wont really catch your eye. The rock structure it self totally takes your breath away.

The light comes so beautifully through the first rock shelters that you’re left wondering how awesome the rest must be. I liked the first part the best. But don’t worry you want to continue the route to see more. Take your time to do this – although do not take a guide, they don’t speak English and wont tell you more than the signs that are already there – because I found out later that I missed some of the drawings when I looked online.

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I have to admit I walked faster through the second part of the route. It was a quiet afternoon, I was alone and when I read the sign that warned me for various types of dangerous snakes, wild boars and panthers I sped up. Every sound that the giant leaves falling from the trees made freaked me out. I think I also heard some kind of monkey scream; I didn’t stick around long enough to check what it was.

The scenery is amazing and if you’re less of a chicken as I am, you’ll enjoy the walk thoroughly.

Where to eat and where not to..

I had a terribly bad cold almost the whole two weeks I was there. So I can’t give a fair review of the taste of the food I had, because honestly I didn’t taste much of it. But I can tell you how I liked the experience of eating at the following places.

Manohar Dairy is one of those places that wouldn’t stand out much in a big city like Bombay. Here in Bhopal it does make it on the recommendation list. It’s good food, simple and clean. Especially for a budget traveller it’s a very convenient joint for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Service is quick and capable.

Go to Jehan Numa Palace for Under the Mango Tree if you want to get the fancy experience, but not break the bank. The restaurant has a lovely ambience. The food is okay – specializes in grilled meat, so order the meat platter – not more than that. The best thing is the price of the dishes. For 1000 rupees you have a meal and a few drinks. This place is good when you’re budget traveling, but want to pamper yourself for at least one evening. This is the best of the three restaurants in the hotel, I’ve been told.

Winds and Waves is all about the beautiful view of the lake. It’s a very basic restaurant, with simple food. The waiters here are typical Indian; many of them who do very little. But who need amazing service or fabulous food when all you are doing is staring out in to that beautiful sunset.

I know I denounced the great lakes to ‘pools’ a couple of paragraphs back. But to be honestly they give a nice vibe to the city. At places like Winds and Waves off Lake side road you get to enjoy it to the fullest.

I had a terrible experience at Filfora. The food wasn’t even that bad, but the horrible waiters made you forget about that. When I came in I greeted the waiter, got no reply. When the first waiter came to my table I greeted him, but again got no reply. They all just stared at me. Although you can see they’ve made an attempt to style the restaurant, there is absolutely no atmosphere. When I was there, there wasn’t music either. This meant I could follow every conversation around me in detail.

 As a final thought, some other things to keep you busy in Bhopal.

Apart from the three must see sights , Bhimbetka and the Tribal Museum and the Bhopal disaster museum you have a lot of other options. In Bhopal for example you’ll find the second biggest mosque of India the Taj ul Masajid  ( of course the locals will tell you it’s the biggest). And did you know the city was once consecutively ruled by five female rulers, called Begums? The first one Qudsia Begum was responsible for the construction of Gohar Mahal, a sight you can still visit today. It’s a good chance to learn more about this fierce ancient ruler, who was illiterate and refused to observe Purdah – meaning covering her face for men in public- Of course you can’t really leave the City of Lakes – like I did – without taking a boat ride on the Upper Lake.

 

I sincerely hope I gave you at least a couple of good reason to come to Bhopal. If you want more information or if you want to send me some photo’s of your trip to Bhopal, drop me and email or just leave a comment below. 

xo Devi

 

 

 

 

 

Long layover? Take a Free tour of Istanbul with Turkish Airlines

Processed with Moldiv

Let’s start off by saying that I totally understand that this tour is made available to pimp up your experience of flying with Turkish Airlines. I’m also fully aware of the fact that it’s a teaser trip to get you to come back to Istanbul using for mentioned airline company again. And yes, I don’t know how they do it because it was the cheapest ticket I could get, although free you probably pay for the tour anyway. Read More

The women-only travel industry works for India, but lets not copy it

Source: google

Source: google

New York is getting its first women-only taxi service this week. Female customers can now use an app to hire a taxi driven by a female. In New York City the taxis are called SheRides in other cities they use the name SheTaxi. Their drivers will have – very original – pink pashminas.

In India we’re familiar with the women-only travel concept. We have female only taxis, separate ladies compartments on trains and the metro. On government busses the first rows of seats are reserved for women. For me it works well, I find traveling this way comfortable. Because we have more men out on the streets in India the general sections on the trains are extremely over crowed almost every hour of the day. For me choosing to ride in the women’s compartment isn’t always about being scared to get groped by a guy, but more about making sure that I get a seat.

But I often wonder if always traveling in women’s compartments has made me more apprehensive of interacting with men when I travel. When you travel on a long distance train for example there is no women-only option. So you might find yourself on a sleeper bed with above and below you a snoring old man. I believe in equality between the sexes and although it gets me a seat, shouldn’t I be against separating men and women? Read More