Orissa: “The Soul of India”

March 15th, 2006

Hello all! After such a long hiatus, I break the silence. Just as a notice to calm your frayed nerves we were NOT, I repeat, we were NOT in Varanasi during the Sankat Mochan Hindu temple and railway station bombings (for information on this, please see the BBC report at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4784554.stm). Over the past week, Romy, Marte and myself have been in Balasore, Orissa (about 150 miles south of Calcutta on the Bay of Bengal), our (or at least Romy and Marte’s) home for the next month or two.

We arrived in Balasore after a long sinuous journey from Delhi, which took us through Jaipur, Agra, then all the way east and south across the subcontinent (30+ hours by train) to Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa. From Bhubaneswar, we took the train north 4 hours to Balasore, a city- maybe more appropriately a town, on an Indian scale- of a modest 100,000+ people on the tranquil, emerald-green Orissan coastal plain.

Our experience in Balasore thus far has been impressionable. At the moment, Orissa is the hottest place in India, Bhubaneswar swinging between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius, while Delhi is still experiencing the comfortable 20’s and occasionally the cool teens. Balasore also is hot, but if you keep moving, and keep the fans on, its manageable.

We have found a place to call home, the state-of-Orissa-Tourist-Corporation-owned “Panthanivas” hotel. It has a friendly staff, all with different roles, entitled for example, “roomboy”, “sweepboy”, “hotel manager”, and simply “receptionist”. An apt division of labor, as might be expected from a government-owned hotel.

On a few occasions we have ventured outside the town into the rural areas to find Romy and Marte’s field site, and also to find an easier way to get there rather than taking the 1.5-2 hour bumby taxi ride each day. We have gone mainly to small, but busy fishing villages. One of the most interesting things about these villages are the dozens of boats that are landed ashore like colorful beached whales. These are some ‘boatscapes’ from the villages of Bahalbapur and Chandipur:

Bahalbapur landed boat 2

“Boat Landed at Bahalbapur”

boatscape - chandipur 2

“Chandipur boatscape”

Introduction: Delhi to Agra

March 6th, 2006

Hello. Hei. Hola. This is a blog by Romy, Armando and Marte about our trip to India. We are here primarily because Romy and Marte will be doing some field studies in a fishing community outside Balasore, Orissa (on the east coast of India, south of Calcutta by a few hours’ train ride). Armando is here just travelling after finishing his bachelor’s studies in New Mexico. His secondary purpose on this trip will basically be to be a personal assistant to both Romy and Marte, a logistics engineer, and an alpha male to fend off over zealous Indian men who decide that Marte is the woman of their dreams.

We have now been here for almost two weeks, and even though this is a pretty short time, we have already seen a lot. We have done some practical things like contacting the ‘Nordic Center in New Delhi’ (who helped orient us better in the city), visiting the ‘Norad’ (Norwegian development corporation) official at the Norwegian embassy, and getting business cards custom made by an Indian card designer for Marte and Romy. Besides this we have had some nice extra time to travel around while waiting for the business cards to be printed. We went to the ‘City of Shiva’ on the Ganges (or ‘Ganga’ as they call it here), Varanasi, on a 16 hour train ride where we met Morgan, a wonderful, crazy, frizzy red haired Australian clothing designing woman, and Abhisheks, a turquoise-shirted, Bollywood song singing young Indian who fell wildly in love with Marte (which was the reason for the song singing!). Varanasi was a wild place filled with intense movement and profound spirituality, which effectively shattered our culture shocks.

After this, we returned to Delhi (again 16 hours away), retrieved the beautiful business cards, and then left for Jaipur in the desert state of Rajastan. After a day of being ushered around the city by a maniacal, wiry tour guide who showed us some really beautiful sites in the city (stone palaces and forts mostly), we then took the bus to Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal, where we are now. The great marble mausoleum, of course, was as striking and as beautiful as it is always portrayed. Now, we will take a train to Bhurbaneswar, the capital or Orissa. This train trip will last roughly 30 hours, so afterwards we’ll surely have new stories and experiences to tell about! So until then, see you later alligator!!

Taj Mahal reflection