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24-Nov-2014 Mumbai Vegetarians

Monday 24 November 2014 Leave a comment

I read a great article in the LA Times about some Mumbai vegetarians. In a very meat-centered world, it is great to notice people somewhere, anywhere tipping the balance back towards vegetarianism. When I was in Rishikesh and Vrindavan in India the whole city was vegetarian (and alcohol-free) and it’s just great to feel part of the majority rather than the minority.

The rest of India is still about 50/50 with vegetarians so is just great to travel around.

Mumbai’s strictly vegetarian enclave gives flesh-eaters the evil eye

In a roughly 2-square-mile patch containing some of India’s priciest real estate, a firm and sometimes militant vegetarianism prevails. Most residents of this old-money section of South Mumbai are Jains or devout Hindus, and not only do they not eat flesh, but they also don’t want it anywhere near them. Eateries serving meat and seafood are all but banned, and stories abound of certain apartment buildings refusing to consider prospective residents who are what Indians call ; sometimes with more than a soupcon of judgment ; non-vegetarians.

They’re pretty fascist about it, says food writer Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi. I’ve seen Bengali friends and others complain that they’ve tried to move somewhere and the building says, ‘Oh, you are fish-eaters, you’ll smell up the place, so we won’t give you the apartment.

A menu by prominent restaurateur Sanjay Narang that included tandoori chicken and lamb curry ticked off neighbors in an apartment building on an exclusive boulevard fronting the Arabian Sea. Narang shuttered his ground-floor establishment in 2005 after residents above reportedly spat on his patrons, dropped nails on them or keyed their cars. So what’s a global food and beverage behemoth to do in such circumstances? If you’re Starbucks ; which seems intent on cracking every lucrative Indian market ; you go with the flow. The coffee chain’s new outpost off palm-fringed Marine Drive doesn’t sell the local-style club sandwiches or murg kathi wraps ; flatbreads stuffed with spiced chicken; found at dozens of other Starbucks in India. The brightly lighted display case contains only meatless fare: a hummus and pita platter, a spicy red bean sandwich, a mushroom and sun-dried tomato filling on ciabatta.

There are no potatoes, onions or omelets in sight, either, in deference to Jains, who eschew not only meat but also eggs and root vegetables plucked from beneath the earth. Muffins, cakes and pastries made with egg are clearly labeled, in keeping with Indian law.

It’s a Jain area, explained Sanjay, a young barista. Their preference. Starbucks’ Indian office did not respond to questions. But the menu is clearly in line with snack shops and ice cream stalls in the neighborhood that bill themselves as 100% pure veg, including doughnuts that come in eggless varieties. If you open a non-veg restaurant there, said Sanghvi, even if they don’t force you to shut down, you will shut down eventually because the richest people in the neighborhood are vegetarian and your business doesn’t survive.

India may be overwhelmingly Hindu, a religion that regards the cow as sacred, but national surveys suggest that less than half the population is vegetarian. Mumbai, as India’s long-standing commercial capital, is home not only to native Marathis but also sizable minorities of Muslims, Zoroastrian Parsis, Christians from western India and Bengalis from the east ; all generally non-vegetarians. Some of the city’s best-loved dishes include meat and seafood: Persian-inspired lamb cutlets, aromatic chicken biryani and the pungent dried fish known as Bombay duck. But perhaps because of metropolitan Mumbai’s sheer density ; 21 million people packed into a narrow strip along the Arabian Sea ; residents have carved out enclaves where they can live among those who eat and worship as they do.

The penchant seems to run strongest in South Mumbai near Marine Drive, a sea-hugging thoroughfare that in British colonial days was dubbed the Queen’s Necklace because its streetlights resembled a string of pearls. Patrons line up outside Veg and Proud restaurants that promise Jain Food Available. Many of the gently decaying old apartment blocks are occupied almost exclusively by Jains or well-connected merchant families from the neighboring state of Gujarat, who are strict vegetarians. (Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Gujarati, served visiting heads of state an all-vegetarian menu at his inauguration in May.) The influx of these groups has not sat well with some native Marathis.

Marathis don’t get accommodation of their choice because they are Marathis and non-vegetarian, local lawmaker Nitesh Rane said recently. He was attempting to explain a tweet in which he urged Mumbai residents to start cleaning up all the Marathi hating gujjus from there once for all.

The Starbucks sits near a series of Gujarati-owned diamond boutiques and sweet shops and next to the Shree Krishna Hindu Merchants Club, a members-only establishment named for a Hindu god. The club naturally forbids meat (although it was long known for hosting underground high-stakes card games). To the west lies Malabar Hill, the city’s toniest district and site of a famous Jain temple, where many grocers don’t stock eggs and the handful of stalls that sell frozen meat and fish have faced occasional pressure to close. Basant Todi, whose family runs Kurries and Burries, a fast-food place across from Starbucks, said: Ninety percent of the people in this lane are Jains. If you have non-veg items, they will avoid you.

His tiny, colorful eatery features a typically eclectic Mumbai menu, including nachos and tom yum soup. But whereas its first location, in a suburban office park, serves Thai curries and khao suey, a Burmese noodle dish, here it has excised those dishes because they require onion and garlic. You can’t make a Jain khao suey, Todi explained. There are rare exceptions to the meat-free zone. An outpost of Domino’s Pizza, which once took chicken toppings off its menu, is currently non-vegetarian. And then there’s the venerable Kobe Sizzlers, which has been serving chicken, lamb and seafood stir-fries out of a buzzing ground-floor location for 35 years. Owner Urmila Sheth, a Gujarati grande dame wearing pearls and a giant diamond-studded nose ring, said hers was one of the first stir-fry restaurants to open in Mumbai. As the neighborhood has become more gastronomically conservative, her meat-heavy menu appears to have been grandfathered in. Yet even Sheth has recently converted to vegetarianism after deciding she couldn’t stomach the idea of a chicken being slaughtered. Her son, who helps manage the business, eats everything, she sighed, but Sheth no longer dines at her own restaurant.

I can’t stand anyone eating fish at my table, she said.

21-Oct-2013 Poor little rich slum book

Monday 21 October 2013 1 comment

poor little rich slum book  coverI bought this book in Kolkata when I was there earlier this year just a few days after I’d done a tour of the Dharavi slum in Mumbai.

I read this week in just a few days as it was short quick book. It was a good read mainly about the slum via snippets of interviews with people who live and work there. Obviously if you have been there you have a better understanding of the whole situation, the fact it’s been there so long it has some semi-official recognition and how they are trying to re-locate people out but it’s got this great community spirit so people prefer staying there. It’s poor for sure with few facilities but it’s a very vibrant plane, and feels very communal. If you are ever in Mumbai then it is so well worth going on a tour there. An awesome experience indeed.

See following links:

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23-Apr-2013 Summary of Bangla-Dash

Tuesday 23 April 2013 Leave a comment

I emailed the following summary to all the people that donated money to my Bangla-Dash adventure.

It was funny as I am still getting emails from the Smart Traveller website about the situation in Bangladesh, and this arrived just as I was sending the email:

Current Advice Level: “High degree of caution”
Change Summary:
It has new information under Summary, Safety and security: Civil unrest/political tension and Local travel (hartals/general strikes can involve the shutdown of all activity; violence surrounding hartals may target public transport and private vehicles).

Anyway, the summary is :

This email is to all the people who donated money to my recent Bangla-Dash adventure – many thanks for your kind & generous support. I met the people that will receive your money, and can report that it is being wisely spent and will make a small difference to the world, but a big difference in a small village near Sonargoan just outside of Dhaka.

Short version:

I went to India to run 290km from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh to raise funds to complete building a school just outside Dhaka. I carried $5000 cash which I was very relieved to safely handover! I completed 40% of the run (115km) through the Kolkata metropolis and rural West Bengal villages as I was stopped in Bangladesh due to an unprecedented general strike over 4 days that prevented any traffic movement between towns, stopped ferries etc. However when the strike was lifted for just one day we were able to grasp the opportunity to run to the town where the school is being built and I was able to meet the builder, architect and project manager. Whilst disappointed that I was unable to finish the run due to political issues, I know I would have been able to physically finish and ultimately a life lesson is that sometimes things are outside of your control and you just need to just let nature take it’s course. I specifically chose this project because it would be difficult and there was a chance it might not go according to plan, but I had a great adventure doing it and met some great people and saw some great sights. I enjoyed meeting many people in India and Bangladesh and never once felt threatened or unsafe, in fact I clearly saw that people everywhere are just people trying to make the best of their lives and for their families, it was a real refresher on how similar we all are, as people of this world. I am impressed by my friends Marc and Chris’ desire to continue with a difficult project in a difficult country and the three of us are still continuing to seek donations to fund a second school.

Long Version:

Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Last year I read about 2 teachers, an Australian and an American who had been working in Bangladesh and had this idea to do a sponsored run from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh, a total of 290km in about 4 days. I was mightily impressed by this – I have been a runner for many years and was keen to attempt some kind of “journey run” for a charity and was half looking for inspirational ideas. I am very interested in India and even went to India for 6 weeks in 2012. The timing of their run wasn’t good for me, but I followed them up afterwards and found they had raised more than $20,000. They donated half to a school that was being built and which opened in January 2013 and they lined up an architect to design a school that they would fund and build to replace an existing shed that was being used as a school by a disadvantaged community.

I contacted them to see if they were planning on doing the run again, they weren’t, but they said if I was keen to run myself then they would help with the logistics in Bangladesh. They seemed like genuine friendly blokes doing something very worthwhile but the idea was pretty scary. I decided to commit to doing the run anyway and try to raise some money myself and trust that it would turn out ok. Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Timing was difficult, it was February and Chris was the only one still in Bangladesh, but was leaving in June. The weather would be best in March or April, but I couldn’t go in March (too hot and/or too wet afterwards). As he is a teacher and we would borrow the school’s minibus, I would be limited to the school holidays in April, although he was going away overseas for much of the holidays with his family, so we locked in the only week that we had to do the run.

Luckily I had been training hard over the summer and I just had to sort out my flights and logistics for the 82km that is on India side of the border. All my injections from my India trip in 2012 were still current. I emailed my friends, family and work colleagues to see if anyone would donate to the cause and to date have received over $4500 from about 80 different people. Chris in Bangladesh was very impressed as this was pretty much just the right amount remaining to complete the school building – the funds will be used for the solar-powered lights, shelving and furniture and some teacher-training.

I left Australia on 26th March with $5000 in a large pile of crisp $50 notes from Westpac Bank safely in my backpack. I had a few days sightseeing in Mumbai and then a few days in Kolkata where I planned the start of the run, the route and surveyed the first section. I visitied Gandhi’s house/musuem and also Mother Teresa’s which I enjoyed greatly as well as having soem great indian food. I would leave as early as possible on Weds 3rd April, starting from Howrah station and running across the Howrah bridge then find my way out through the suburbs and head for the Bangladesh border. I purposefully brought as little as possible, just to fill a very small backpack – later weighed by the side of the road at 9.2kg – however try carrying it on your back and it still feels heavy!

I started running at 5am totally scared out of my wits – would I find the way ? Would I be safe by myself ? Would I get squashed by the crazy traffic ? Would the Police just decide I wouldn’t be allowed to do this ? Luckily I found my way out of the city ok, and as it got daylight and I got further out the conditions improved. But boy was it hot ! Luckily there were lots of places to get water, cold drinks and the ever-present sweet indian chai. Most people saw me as like an alien that had dropped from the sky, in disbelief. Who are you ? where are you going ? where have you come from ? why are you running ? As it was hard work running, often all I could manage was a wave and a smile!

I had allowed myself 2 days to make the 82km to the border with Bangladesh and my appointment with my support crew. Doing it in one day would be tough and there were a thousand things that could delay me, so I went on the side of caution and planned for two days. I figured 47km on day one would leave an easier 35km for day two. I reached the town of Habra, 47km into the run at 3pm on day one and was shattered, with badly blistered feet and literally almost ready to pass out. If truth be told, the previous few hours had been hard. The road was narrow and I was close to a lot of traffic and my rest breaks were becoming more frequent.I stopped and sat and drank anything I could lay my hands on but there was no hotel so I took a rickshaw to the next village to stay the night. They’d never had a foreigner stay there before and I slept beside the mosque.

On day two I took a rickshaw back to Habra and continued my run, gently, as my feet were still sore. I ensured I took time to rest properly and tried to eat some food but I just didn’t fancy anything. It was just as hot today, approx 40C. I made it to the border at Benapole at just gone lunchtime. I received a txt message to say that my crew would meet me at a hotel in the town of Jessore and I should catch the bus there. I made the border formalities still in my running kit and dripping with sweat, so everyone waved me through as I probably looked too poor & deranged to worry about. I got changed, and caught a bus to Jessore, ate and slept. In the morning I met my crew who said that for the first time ever there was a general strike over the weekend (starts Thursday night in Muslim countries) and that we would have to drive back to Dhaka as the only alternative would be to stay in Jessore for 4 days as its too dangerous to travel between towns during a Hartal. Even then, we saw some demonstrations and found some ferries were already stopped leading to traffic jams several miles long already.

The run was pretty much over as we would lose all our available days to the Hartal. The newspapers had lots of stories of demonstrations, torchings and people being killed, so it was not idle threats. Luckily however on Sunday night we heard that the Hartal planned for Monday would not be happening so we rapidly made a plan to run the 35km from Dhaka to Sonargoan to visit the current school and building site. It was great running without my pack and running with Chris who had put in so much planning for the Bangladesh side of the trip. It was truly the highlight of my trip to make it to the village where the school is in the process of being built (completion approx June). I took some photos and its pretty clear that this is a very poor village indeed and the people can do with as much help as possible.

I stayed on in Dhaka for a few extra days but all the other trips we had planned were cancelled as there were more Hartals called and made planning anything very difficult.I decided to catch the bus back to India and made my way home eventually.

Please email this onto any of your friends or family who may also wish to donate as we are still trying to raise more money. Any help will be gratefully received!

 Links

 -My website & blog diary : http://kevintiller.com

-My photos from the trip : https://picasaweb.google.com/101800124194210937689/Bangla2013Kevin

-Chris’ photos of the run to Sonargoan village https://picasaweb.google.com/101800124194210937689/Bangla2013Chris

-You can make a donation at https://kevintiller.com/bangla-dash2013/donations-for-bangla-dash-2013/

15-Apr-2013 Mumbai to Sydney & Home

Monday 15 April 2013 Leave a comment

I didn’t have many Rupees left and so only had a quick look through the shops (although I could go to the ATM if required – but I guess I don’t like shopping much and airports are usually over-priced factory-produced stuff). I did feel a bit hungry and so bought a masala dosa – a last gasp return of my appetite.

As the flight was gone midnight, the leg to Singapore was totally in the dark and I slept for most of it.

I had about an hour in Singapore’s Changi airport which seemed heaps better than when I came through before. Maybe it was a different section. I bought a fresh juice and looked thru the shops but didn’t buy anything.

On the flight to Sydney I listened to music and watched films.

I hadn’t checked in any bags as just had my rucksack. So I got a quick getaway and hopped on the train. My Indian Vodaphone Sim was still working (I left my Australian one at home, so couldn’t use it) I txted Dawn and she met me in the rain with Jazmin at Sutherland. It was great to see them again and great to be back.

I had a great time away but it’s always good too come home!

14-Apr-2013 Kolkata to Mumbai

Sunday 14 April 2013 Leave a comment

By the morning I still felt totally shite and still wanted to go home, so bought a chai, sat down and drank it and decided that was what I would do. I guess I came to do the run, and the run was done, so travelling off down south, whilst a good plan, felt a bit aimless particularly as Dawn and the kids were all off work and off school.

All the travel agents were still closed as it was only 8.30am or so. I went to the Swiss cafe and had a banana lassi (that was on Dawn’s recommendation) and a honey lemon ginger as I still couldn’t bear the thought of any food. Then I found a travel agent that was open so bought a ticket for later today to Mumbai (2.30pm flight). I went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest and pack and txt Dawn again, then checked out and got a taxi to the airport. The domestic airport was pretty new. I had a bit of time so bought a magazine and took some selfies. I was looking for a barbers to shave it off but couldn’t find one. I didn’t even feel like a coffee.

#Beard #selfie at #kolkata airport by #kevintiller

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#Beard #selfie at #kolkata airport by #kevintiller

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The flight to Mumbai was fine. I then caught the transfer bus to the International Terminal. I was surprised to see the slums/chawls go right up to the very wall of the airport. I half expected to see a “Beautiful Forevers” billboard there as in the book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers“. That is a great book and worth reading!

My plan to change tickets almost came undone as I wanted to change the ticket at the Singapore Airlines desk but you can’t get into the terminal buildings in India without a valid ticket. I figured I could just blag my way in. I couldn’t (am guessing it happens a lot) and they sent someone out to negotiate with me. We got it sorted in the end, after some hours. I fly out at 0015 Monday morning and arrive Monday night in Sydney. I then spent a while just hanging around the airport.

Final photo in India:

#mumbai airport by #kevintiller

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30-Mar-2013 Flight to Kolkata

Saturday 30 March 2013 Leave a comment

As mentioned before, the only reason for flying Mumbai-Kolkata is because I need to be there over the weekend and there were no trains available. I like the pace of trains and want to see more of the countryside. Still, them’s the breaks.

I figured I would leave approx 8am to get to the airport before 9.30am for my 1130am flight. That is heaps of time even allowing for anything to go wrong. I was up at 7am and soon packed. It was easy to tet s cab ($6). Checked in and bought a roll for breakfast with a chai and read a free newspaper. Not much world news ! The flight was fine, it was quite empty so had loads of room. Just read my Indian Outlook magazine on how Samsung will eat Apple.

At Kolkata I pre-paid for a taxi and caught that to Sudder Street. I was very keen to look at the route to/from the airport as that is on my running route. A total obstacle course and I am wondering what I have let myself in for – roadworks,  holes, pavements, fences, traffic all over. Hot, dusty & exposed. Kolkata is not really even like much of Mumbai – it has a general sense of decay & grime. Quite depressing.

As I hadn’t even picked out a hotel I looked like freshmeat to all the varioys touts -hotels, taxi, change money,  hasish – everything. I got a room in a small guest house.  It’ll do for now – a bit grimey, no air con, dodgy lock on door. I went out for a walk without my pack & got a chai. tried the phone and found vodaphone kolkata is different than mumbai so am technically roaming but barely any price difference.  We’ll see. I went back to my room for a rest, sort my bag out and drop off some laundry. After a while I went out to survey the scene. Lots of people. I came here with dawn for a few days in 1989 en route to Darjeeling but can’t remember much if anything of our time, other than thinking it was decaying and grimy even back then.

I spent an hour walking but it felt like forever. I just got hot & tired. I found a spanish cafe down a side courtyard and got some pasta/tomato with honey lemon ginger.  I didn’t fancy eating indian for once even though there were a couple of decent looking places. I didn’t fancy something on the main drag and liked the idea of something off to the side where I could out with a few drinks (non-alcoholic of course) without being rushed or hassled. I don’t seem to have seen many places like that this year. There seemed to be a big group of Spanish people coming in – you don’t see many travelling around much.

After a few honey lemon gingers I went straight back to the hotel and was in bed asleep by 10pm as it had been a long day.

29-Mar-2013 Running & Juhu

Friday 29 March 2013 Leave a comment

As I had wanted to do the bicycle tour this morning but couldn’t as all the tour guides were busy (some big corporate booking, bastards!), I decided to be a bit more adventurous and go for a run instead.  I was up and awake at just gone 5am and got ready including a small pack containing passport,  phone,  money etc and left hesitantly at 5.45am as it was still dark. I ran in the road as the pavements are just too uneven and I could easily have fallen and got injured and I DEFINITELY don’t want that. I ran quite quickly and easily,  I guess it’s been a few days since I last ran. I was aiming at Nariman Point and run the whole of Marine Drive to Chowpatty Beach and back with a lap of the cricket oval. I got the first few roads wrong but the made it to Nariman Point. Lots of people walking,  yoga etc even quite a few serious runners. Eventually it got daylight and at Chowpatty I walked on the beach,  took some photos and had a coconut juice which was refreshing but all the stopping slowed me down. The key thing was to run a steady pace. It was hot and sweaty and putting everything in the serious waterproof bags was a smart idea.

I bought a herbal drink from a guy, which was quite spicy so wasn’t the best idea. Turning off Marine Drive was harder as I had to run on the pavement as there was now more traffic. I made it round the oval – lots of cricketers again – and bought a small sugarcane juice. Back at the hotel approx 8am. I had a shower and rinsed my kit and hung it up on my washing-line that I’d brought with me! Smart thinking!

I had to call vodaphone to activate my phone and the I went over the road for a coffee.  Eventually it activated but I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t txt until later – I had bought a data plan but not a talk plan. I did that for $4 and I was good to go! I didn’t have breakfast other than the coffee.  I decided to go to Juhu beach and check it out way to the north as I didn’t want to just stay in Colaba today.

I went by cab and was impressed the driver used the meter.  There was a lot of traffic and it probably took more than an hour however I was not in any rush as I was still tired from the run. Eventually we got to Juhu, the meter read 315R. I gave him 320 and the driver said “no 500”. I pointed at the meter and reminded him if the deal so he turned the meter off and made his demand again.  I gave him an extra 50R and walked off. Juhu beach was ok but there are a million better at home in Australia. I was quite hungry but bought a coffee and looked at the food stalls and decided I wasn’t that hungry after all.

I walked through the town and ended up at the Hare Krishna temple and they had a service on. It was very much like the one at Vrindaban last year. I didn’t stay long and it was way hot outside.  The town was really scruffy and not helped by all the roadworks.

I went into a coffee shop to have a cool sit down and bought a lime-mint uce tea and fiddled with my phone which was now working yay!

I decided to walk to the railway station as I didn’t want to go by cab on principle. It was a ling hot way but interesting. I got a coconut juice just by the station. Other than water or fresh juice, it’s about the only cold drink I have. I don’t like sugary drinks or stuff in plastic bottles.

The train ticket cost 10R still took an hour to get back but was more interesting than sitting in traffic. I really enjoyed the train and will try to use it again.

I walked around a bit and went back to Colaba from Churchgate station. I biught a book and a magazine for tomorrow’s flight – the only things I have bought other than food & accommodation as I have to carry it all and my bag is JAMMED FULL. I don’t really need stuff. If I buy any souvenirs for the family I will buy in Mumbai just before I fly out.  I then went to starbucks to upload some more photos – my mobile plan will probably be ok but figured I could save it for when I really need it.

Dawn was online at the same time so we txt and emailed although we didn’t speak but it felt like we had. Between 6pm-9pm I went back to my room to write my diary and have a siesta. Then I went to another place for a thali a bit like yesterday’s although this was spicier. I was quite hungry but actually got full very quickly. I don’t usually eat a lot. I had 2 excellent lime juices. Back to my room to write some diary.  Put the tv on but went to bed before midnight as I was so tired due to the run and being uo so early.