Sunday, October 20, 2013



Photo credit: Viktoria

Get used to it, once you become more confident it gets easier to bargain. After a few weeks you'll get used to to rikshaw fares and the overall bragaining mentality. However once you're in it, try not to overdo it. Example: we went to the 'Silk of India' fair and had our eyes on a leather purse. The second the guy told us the price we offered him a 40-50 Rs lower price. He just smiled and pointed to the huge sign behind him, saying: "fixed prices, no bargaining". Bummer.


As basic and simple as it may sound, bread is not everywhere to be found. Supermarkets offer a few kind of pre-packed sliced bread along with some rolls but to get the freshly baked 'real' bread, one needs to hit up some foreign shops (e.g.: a French bakery). We were looking for baguette for Mathieu's birthday, it was a rather impossible mission, I must say. Then one day Ben came home with a freshly baked real bread-like bread in his hands. It was a day to remember. We had the same issues with butter, cheese and good coffee. 
(Note: even the bread doesn't escape from being 'masalized', there are several types of masala bread. Yay.)


As you might know many Indians do not drink alcohol, however, in 'permit rooms' and wine shops it easy to get drinks. There are western-style pubs and also clubs do offer alcoholic beverages. In the case of our housewarming party (which was a wild ride, lasted until 11 pm) we offered both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and it turned out some of our friends do drink sometimes.
*Quick note to first-timers: no matter how fancy or posh the bar is, do not forget: NO icecubes fo you.


Photo credit: Viktoria

Before we came our contact send us an information package, letting us know what to bring how to prepare for the trip etc. One thing she mentioned all the time: proper walking shoes because we arrive in the middle of monsoon season. Now in my head I head this rather depressing image of floods and constant rain, I went shopping for those stylish rubber boots and raincoat, thinking I should be well prepaired. Little did I know that it is not like that, after a couple of weeks I was so happy I passed on the rubber boots because of their weight (plane restrictions) and at the end I didn't buy the raincoat either, I just brought a seethrough pocket-poncho with me (the kind they give away on festivals). Sandals worked way better for me in the rain, water comes and goes, no squeaky sounds etc. As for the rain-poncho, I still have it in my bag, but have never used it, no point, humidity was sky-high when we came, we were happy to be able to move around and under the poncho thing I would have been a bowl of a living boiling human-soup. So braving the rain worked the best for us.


Now that is a tricky one. What to do if you are in need of condoms in India? Pharmacies and drug stores are your friends, of course, but no matter how open-minded your Indian friends might be, asking for condoms can raise some serious eyebrows among shopkeepers. Firstly, consider the location, more western-friendly neighbourhoods or districts will be more likely not to make a fuss. I heard stories of guys slipping notes to the guy in the pharmacy, in order to avoid awkward moments. Secondly, it might be a good tip to say the brand name e.g.: 'Durex' instead of 'condoms'. Thirdly, if manageable, let the man arrange these things, better for everyone. Girls might get some serious cold shoulder on this one.


So what is going on with malaria, you might ask? Not much. I mean Pune is a big city, with highways, malls etc. it is not in the middle of the jungle. The most problem we had with mosquitos was I guess still in the guest house of the university, on our first week. The campus is kind of a jungle, so that explains it all, but some mosquito repellent, screens and it's all good. The extremely naive thought of simply not letting mosquitos bite me got crushed the very first night nay first few hours of staying in India. The scary looks on my doctor's face and her words: 'If I were you, I would take some malaria medicine with me, you never know' seems quit funny now, although yes, I do have some medicine with me in the bottom of my luggage, it seems very unlikely that I would need it, though. In case of fever, there are many hospitals we could go to. 


Spices, spices everywhere. Starting with masala chai (spicy milky tea), lime soda (with salt and pepper), masala chips, masala burger, the ever-present chili, the sky is the limit, but there's really no choice, go spicy or go home!

Photo credit: Floor


  • Scarves and sunglasses: all time best frieds. Curious looks will follow you wherever you go, but a scarf also comes handy when riding in the rikshaws, to reduce the pollution you breathe in.

  • Beauty products: you can get amazing skincare products (both European and Asian brands) for a ridiculously cheap price. No need to stack up back home of your favourite makeup remover or tonic. Maybe one thing can be tricky: hairdye. No problem to find brown or black colours, some red can also be managed, but if you're in need for blonde dye that can be tough. However the shopkeepers in bigger medical shops will probably offer you the possibility to order the colour you need and then problem solved.
    (Also, fun fact: you will find a lot of "whitening" or "skin-lightening" products.)
  • Tampons/pads: stop with the nightmares already, again, no need to travel with O.B. multipacks, you can get tampons and pads here too, in many shops. However, it is a good idea to carry some tampons with applicators with you, as you might not get the chance to wash and dry your hands properly everywhere.
  • Crowd management: that can be tough for first-timers. Me too, I had my share of freaking out, but that is something you need to handle well. People and especially men will look at you, photos will be taken etc. No need to get all cranky about it, confidence and general not-caring-that-much will get you through the awkward feeling, but it is important not to behave in a provoking way.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Planning a trip often takes up a lot of one's energy. But this time, I thought I prepared well, we had the number of a driver who moved us around earlier - we knew he had a huge car - and had a local guy talk to him so we avoid misunderstandings due to language barriers. After double, nay, triple-checking everything, what could go wrong, right? Let me make a list.
Let's start with 6 white students sitting on the sidewalk somewhere in Pune on a Sunday morning (and by morning I mean dawn). Yep, that's us, waiting for the driver who was "20 minutes late", meaning he arrived 50 minutes later than planned. That already screwed our plans to visit a cave before going to the coast, to Murud. Then it turned out he only has 4 seats for us instead of the previously triple-checked 6. Smooth.
After a friendly elimination round, worthy to be broadcasted on reality TV (kidding), Floor and Ben sacrificed themselves and stepped down, letting 4 of us go on the road. PEOPLE OF THE NETHERLANDS, BE PROUD, your fellow Dutch mates did good. 

* NOTE TO SELF: Google maps does not count the extremely varying quality of the roads, the #musttakeaphoto moments or the often occurring cow or goat roadblocks on the way when calculating the length of the route. And there goes a few more hours.

#musttakeaphoto moments on the way:

Photo credit: Viktoria

Photo credit: Viktoria

But it was totally worth it to see a default super-cheesy Windows screensaver live when we finally got to the coast in Murud:

Photo credit: Viktoria
 ...and to take some poscard-like photos

Photo credit: Viktoria

BREAKING NEWS: everyone, 'planking' is so 2012, Emma invented the way better: 'palming'. To quote the internet: 'haters gonna hate'.

Photo credit: Viktoria
 To be fair, I must add: it is almost impossible to take non-cheesy, less romantic photos when surrounded by this amazing scenery (and when we could borrow Ben's camera... so once again: Dutchies vs rest of the world: 2-0). Check some of them out:

Photo credit: Emma

Photo credit: Emma

Photo credit: Viktoria

Photo credit: Viktoria

Photo credit: Viktoria

After some intense (yet at this point almost scheduled) bargaining session with the office that handles the boats and then again with the captain of the boat (who turned out to be a self-appointed tourguide as well) we reached Murud-Janjira fort, floating majestically on the water.

Photo credit: Viktoria

Photo credit: Viktoria
I must have driven the guys crazy, because while we were climbing the old stairs of the fort I kept reciting scenes of the LOTR and try to convince them (or mostly myself, because they weren't as enthusiastic as me in this question) that some scenes of the movie were definitely shot in the Murud fort. (No, they weren't but they could have been, okay?!)

Photo credit: Emma

Photo credit: Viktoria

So... what is a 'spatial tea' you might ask? Spelling mistakes on the menus are old news, it happens quite often, but this one launched a serious debate, let us know what you think:

  • the tea comes in a huge mug in order to have more space, be more comfortable
  • the tea comes in a spacesuit or in a scafander
  • the tea will look like the space itself
  • the tea will be made with milk from the milky way
  • the tea was being stirred with a spatula
...sorry for that.

PS: it was just a regular chai. :D

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


  The other day after aimlessly wandering around Koreagon Park (one of the most touristic parts of the city), Mathieu and I ended up standing by Pune's biggest river, the Mutha. It was wide and unclean but had a riverbank busy with people hanging the nearby hotels' laundry on long wires. Meanwhile, the rubbish that was lying around us was full of various domestic and not so domestic creatures: pigs, boars, cows, goats, dogs and chickens. As we were watching this bustling cavalcade, strange voices caught our attention. They grew louder and louder as the river carried them from the other side. We could clearly hear some kind of a weird howling sound that was then repeated by a larger group of people. As it went on and on, we started guessing what it all could have been. A religious ritual? A festival? Some kind of a meditation practice? 

  Failing to find any sensible answer, we decided to take courage and ask a passing by stranger. The stranger- who turned out to be a chapati bread supplier for the local hotels- was happy to answer our question: 'It's a training' he explained, 'a class for those, wishing to collect pigeons. The teacher knows how to make special pigeon sounds that attract the birds. After the course, students will be able to call and catch pigeons which they can sell to pet shops afterwards.' Apparently, it's a rather profitable business in India because well- off people like to have their own pigeon in their house. In a country where colourful birds and green parrots are flying around freely, pigeons become the peculiar ones. Knowing this, isn't it time that we in Europe re-evaluated our attitude towards our pigeons and maybe showed a little more appreciation to them? 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Photo credit: Ben
After Ganesh festival we decided to go on an adventure and get to know more hidden parts of our district. This is how we ended up in a small community next to the river ('Baner village') and got into a spontanious playful battle with the children around.

Photo credit: Ben

15-20 children gathered around us quite quickly and even though first they were intimidated by us, after a while we ended up in an epic flower war on the 'main street' leading up to the river. They used up the leftover flower decorations of Ganesh festival (it was just the day after) and the wet sponges the flowers were stuck into. No need to say we failed miserabely and got our ass kicked by the little ones. The boys, have been playing cricket for years, were really good at aiming, and the wet sponge balls hurt more than you would initially think. 

Photo credit: Ben

Some of the children could speak English and they kept asking us the same questions - probably the ones they learned in school - just to keep us talking. One of the questions a little girl asked me was: "Who is your mister?" and when I answered "I have no mister" she clearly thought that cannot be right. She came over to me again, asking: "Where is mister?" and got quite confused when I answered once more: "There is no mister". 

Photo credit: Ben
As we were wandering around the streets, a big group of the children were following us, but it was obvious that boys had more 'freedom' to move around than girls. The young boys were following us for quite a while (until their school, where we passed by), while the girls only came with us until the end of the street. 
They kept asking us to come back on Sunday and play with them, then after some time they got more brave and asked for some pocket money. The initial playfulness and pure curiosity turned into 'street-smarts' real quickly.

Photo credit: Viktoria
Nevertheless, it was a surreal and lovely experience and we hope to go back to the 'village' soon and maybe do a project (e.g.: hand painting a wall) with the kids, although we had language problems, so if we do so, we will definitely need a translator with us. Until then we need to level up our game, so we won't get beaten up that much!

(Update: flower petals are seriously, extremely hard to get rid of.) Enjoy the lovely photos!

Photo credit: Floor

Photo credit: Ben

Friday, September 20, 2013


 Ever since the very first days of our arrival, we kept hearing drums echoing no matter which part of Pune were we at. A few days ago we finally experienced what all the practice and preparation throughout the city was all about: the last day of Ganesh festival stood up to the hype, nay exceeded it!

The rather intense post-monsoon rains didn't spoil the mood for the day-long celebration:

Photo credit: Emma
Photo credit: Viktoria
Photo credit: Viktoria

The festival lasts for 10 days and celebrates the rebirth of Ganesha. Let me save you some Google/Wikipedia time:
"Ganesha Chaturthi is the Hindu festival celebrated on the birthday (rebirth) of the god Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati. It is believed that Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival. It is the day when Ganesha was born. Ganesha is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the start of travel."
 The procession through the city featured some gigantic Ganesh sculptures. Families or communities also marched with their own Ganesh sculptures to the river, so they can place it in the water::

Photo credit: Viktoria

Photo credit: Emma
The crowd kept growing on our way to Laxmi Road (where the huge procession took place):

Photo credit: Emma
Photo credit: Viktoria

Even when the second (and later third) dose of waterfall-style rain arrived we just went with the flow (I mean literally), we let our make-up to be washed off by the rain and kept jumping in ankle-high paddles while shouting: "Ganapati Bappa, Moriya!" This was a party of a lifetime, definitely not to be missed once in India!

P.S.: Obviously, we must thank our amazing guides, Santosh and all the boys and girls from the Sociology Dept. who came with us. They looked after us all night long, acting as tourguides, bodyguards and amazing dancers at the same time! We couldn't have enjoyed the festival as much as we did without them, that's for sure! Huge thank you going out for all of you amazing people!

Sunday, September 15, 2013



We decided to pamper ourselves a bit and went to a beauty salon with Floor and Emma. Floor opted for a refreshing back massage while Emma and I sat in for pedicures (the most expensive pedicure was 500 Rs/ approx. 5-6 Eur).
The young girl who did my pedicure was in good spirits, she kept smiling and crooning but as she couldn’t speak English, we didn’t talk much. Then, when after a few laughs she invited Emma’s pedicurist (who did speak English) over to touch my skin, she explained that the girl said it was really white and soft, and so I realized why she kept laughing the whole time. Oh those weird milky white feet, right?
Then Floor came back to check up on us, as she finished with her massage. It turned out, that the massage was quite interesting, as she received a hair massage with oils and vibrating head massaging machines even though she insisted on a back massage several times. Oh well... her hair looks amazing ever since!


  • 5 minutes                    =   10 – 60 minutes or maybe more
  • ‘yes, yes’                    =   yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, whatever.
  • the society                  =   the community of a given flat, ‘commune’
  • a paper                       =   the final paper for a course, also the course itself
  • to xerox, a  xerox        =   to copy, a copy
  • mosambi                     =   sweet lime, similar to orange
  • FRO                            =   Foreign Registration Office
  • ‘later, later’                =   never mind, forget about it
  • water bottle                =   bottled drinking water
  • ‘it’s quite spicy’          =   dude, you are about to feel like you’ve just eaten the Sun.


Because it’s possible. We found it on the shelves of Crossword, a huge bookstore, under the ‘arts and design’ section. Though I think the arrangement was not intentional, that’s not quite the point.

Quite a shocking sight to see for the European eyes (photo credit: Viktoria)


Before I moved to Bilbao last year, I went online and checked my future street, flat, the university etc. on Google Street View, as every twenty-something, normal internet-addicted person would do. Well, in the case of Pune that was not quite the case. One has to get used to the fact that maps are mainly for 'suggesting' or 'advising' directions, given that one can point out his/her location on it (usually: not a chance).
Street names as such, are rarely to be seen, if so, usually written in Hindi. Emma and Mathieu got a Pune book before their departure, that even has some ambitious maps for each district of the city. As one of our friends put it: 'It's a great map to get lost.'


 Try to keep it in your mouth, alright?

 Keeping the parking clean (photo credit: Viktoria)


The question of cheese is a serious one around here. It's great to have paneer and some cheese spreads, but after a few weeks who wouldn't miss a good slice of 'real' cheese? Having a French guy (Mathieu) around makes the pressure for cheese even more serious. One night we went to a restaurant with fondue on the menu. Mathieu ended up being seriously depressed that night, let's just leave it at that. 
Then his birthday came, and guess what he got: camambert, brie and even blue cheese (which he wanted to put out in the sun for a few days so it smells 'better'). Emma even found a baguette-imitation.
We feasted as kings that night.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


The gigantic country of India truly lives up to its ’incredible’ reputation. Pune has an overwhelming effect on one’s each and every sense and through this montage-like article I intend to present some fun facts we came across as well as giving an inside look into our everyday life far from our Euroculture homeland, while getting into our third semester research track spirits. I hope these fragmented stories might also give answers to some questions of those Euroculture student who are thinking about applying to Pune next year, or those who are just being curious about it.


Visiting the Pune Rajiv Gandhi Zoo was a great experience for many reasons. Firstly, the zoo has an extreme national-park-sized extension compared to the quite packed European ones: halfway through we decided to skip what we judged to be the ‘less interesting’ animals in order to finish on time. Secondly, the zoo has several extraordinary animals we’ve never seen before, like the white tiger who kept flicking fleas off his head so he could finish his afternoon nap. Thirdly, we gained first-hand experiences how it feels to be constantly photographed in a zoo, as some visitors actually preferred to take pictures of us more than of the grouchy white tiger. We felt for the animals behind the fences, although we could actually escape the zoo, but not the curious looks, as not only in there did people act very inquisitive. If we move around the city a bit more than usual, we can be sure that many people would want to take photos with us, would stare at us, would chat with us etc. At one point in our flat-hunt, we noted that the house across the street would never get built if we moved there, as the workers abandoned their tasks just so they can stare at us for 30-45 minutes. I have no idea how celebrities deal with the excessive, 0-24 attention they get, but hey, who am I to talk, I’m happy to be here.

In the Pune Rajiv Gandhi Zoo


Looking for a flat? Need a rickshaw? Searching for a good dentist or want to buy a golden yacht with built-in singing robot-swans? No matter what you ask for, or as a matter of fact whom you ask, the response will always be the same: ‘Yes, yes, I know a guy’. It is fascinating to witness how the rickshaw driver or the caretaker of our guest-house transforms in no time into a real-estate agent with a smoothly elaborated commission-system, of course. Just tonight, before coming up to my room to work on this article, a shopkeeper told us that he ‘knows the guy’ who rents flats to foreigners in the area. The guy next to him told us he knows a guy giving great yoga lessons near to our future home and a third guy knows a guy who has a travel agency where we can book really cheap domestic flights. How lucky, you might say, although these undoubtedly kind and fast flying offers are presumably related to our foreignness.


Studying in Pune means studying a lot, both inside and outside the university campus. As for the academic experience: the Sociology Department that is hosting us made us feel very welcome and is helping us all the way. We have a variety of classes to choose from, for example, Rural Development, Urban Sociology, classes dealing with women’s studies or gender issues and also we have classes with many local students that make us push ourselves to break down language barriers that the Marathi language puts up. Besides, we  have time to work on our research project which is not hard to figure out when living in such a stimulating environment, and having a supervisor already.
The level of studies varies, given that we can attend both 1st and 3rd semester classes, but we have met many bright students and our academic experience is very much complemented by our everyday adventures. Naturally, the university doesn’t look like some other universities that I attended such as University of Deusto with its gorgeous library and freshly renovated corridors, there is no Guggenheim in front, girls need to ask for a key if they want to use the bathroom and the campus is a proper jungle. However, the University of Pune is one of the best universities in Maharashtra and also top-ranked in the country, therefore no need to think of it as a rural college without proper facilities and professional academic staff. Fun fact: the big auditorium of the sociology department has some of the comfiest chairs ever with bag-rack, footrest, and wide-enough table part to write on. So, as they would say: ‘It’s the same, but different different’.


The flat-hunting craziness of the first two weeks led to many interesting situations. Some landlordsrefused to rent a flat to us because we are foreigners or because we are not related, but one of our top three experiences was definitely when we met the owner of a house we intended to rent. We took a rickshaw to the outskirts of Pune to an average-looking block of flats to meet our landlord, but little did we know that once we enter their flat we would be sipping masala chai in one of the fanciest living rooms we have ever been to. Apart from the numerous religious paintings, sculptures, the amazing view with gigantic bats flying through and the astonishing cleanliness, we gained insight to the everyday life of a high-class Indian couple with personal servants. To illustrate their lifestyle, here are two snippets of the conversation without any commentary:
-          Husband: So you would all be living in the house, all six of you?
-          Us: Yes.
-          Husband: Do you need a cook then? We can send him over sometimes (points at his personal servant), he’s a really good cook, and he can do the cleaning too.

  Agent: Where is the Ma’am? (Inquiring after the wife)
-          Husband: She’s making chai. (Meanwhile the personal servant of the wife was the one preparing our tea in the kitchen, the Ma’am just gave the orders)


It is impossible to leave out the Bollywood experience part in this article. ‘Chennai Express’ is a hit movie currently running in cinemas all over the country, starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (For those of you who have never seen a Bollywood movie before, well, you have some serious homework to do, but until then here is a glimpse of the magic that happens on the big screen: Once you got a dose of Bollywood there is no escape, you must go with the extremely colorful and musical flow. Fun fact: we got complimentary Pepsi in a restaurant because we recognized and sang along to the movie’s soundtrack. Watching some white guys trying to sing a hit Hindi song must have been entertaining enough for the staff to want to ‘reward’ us in some way. Now, we are working on some Hindi songs for karaoke as well, just in case.

Bollywood movie posters at E-square, Pune


Q1 Is it safe to live in Pune?

-          Despite the fact that we are usually moving around in the very safe environment of the university, we are aware of the merely different role of women in the society and for example, we know about the recent rape case occurred in Mumbai. We do not provoke any trouble and we try to respect traditions and general Indian ethics especially in the way we dress, behave, and speak. So far, we did not have any kind of unpleasant experience and local people have been extremely friendly and helpful with us.

A friendly family from the outskirts of Pune

Q2. I’ve heard some horror stories about different ways in seeing hygiene and  
cleanness between Europe and India. Is it that bad?

-          Hygiene and cleanness are notions to be redefined once in India. However, reservations dissolve quite quickly as one gets used to the chaotic lifestyle and just dives into it. Pollution is another big problem in cities like Pune, loads of old trucks, buses, scooters and vans make the rickshaw passenger like us ‘smoke’ every day. The constant honking doesn’t make the traffic more enjoyable, but these issues can be solved with a pair of earplugs and a scarf.

The ever-crazy traffic of Pune

Q3. Are there any health-related issues to which one can be vulnerable when living in India? Also, can you find western goods in Pune?

-          Apart from some minor stomach issues, which is absolutely normal amongst this masala and chili overdosed cuisine, we have had no other health-related issues so far. From the very first day we’ve been eating with our hands, occasionally on the street, drinking through straws, some of us even drinking tap-water (all this, of course in a reasonable manner). We have seen a boar browsing through the trash, hundreds of stray dogs and cows wandering around peacefully, joint families living under a bridge right next to a dump, but still, no need to imagine Pune as a middle-of-nowhere city or as the hotbed of malaria. One can easily find what we might consider as to be ‘western goods’ such as liquid hand sanitizer, hair dye, tampons or just a good cup of coffee (or glass of beer).

Several masalas, chapatis and noodles in Invitation restaurant, Pune