week 2 – culture club

When it comes to travel I am a real believer in quality over quantity. I much prefer to settle into one spot, really allowing myself to get under the skin of the culture, the people and the place. Last week in Hyderabad was truly a cultural immersion, which I loved every minute of.

Firstly it has been an amazing week of incredible food! One of my favourite things to do is to sit around a table with friends sharing lovely food. (In fact one of the other volunteers here is a big advocate of this too, check out Damien’s social enterprise called Community Oven, which aims to bring communities together through nourishing, locally-sourced food!). We were round at Raj and Anna’s house twice this week having a big old feast. On Monday night, for Andrea’s send off back to London, where we dug in to a variety of tasty biryanis (which did leave some in a spicy sweat!), and again on Thursday when we cooked  spinach daal, cauliflower and bindi curry followed by watching a not so Bollywood film, Delhi Belly. And on Friday I think I had my favourite meal so far…chaat from a local street food stall! I met Anusha at a Social Enterprise conference who works for Bala Vikasa. Anusha offered to take us to dinner where we stopped by a small stall on a busy road, Maharaja Chaat. Starting off with pani puri, followed by pao bhaji, bhel and samosa chaat. We were propped up a side wall in the cool, evening breeze, sharing from flimsy foil plates surrounded by locals beginning their Friday night. What a great way to eat!

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Gang eating Maharaja Chaat on Friday night
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Our chefs for the evening

Then bring on the indian inspired exercise I have been doing since being here… I mentioned in my last blog post that I have started yoga classes. I am not a complete beginner to yoga as I have been doing Les Mils Bodybalance classes for over a year back in London, however I am definitely being challenged now practising yoga in its very pure and traditional form, Ashtanga, (it is also more like hot yoga since they really don’t like to turn on the fans or AC, apparently it gets the muscles working quicker!). I am keen to learn more about the underlying spiritual side of yoga which I do not currently have much awareness of, but I have been discovering some sanskrit words from my practice which really resonate with me and make me want to understand the discipline better. (I really hope I am not sounding too hippy!). As a group we are also doing weekly Bollywood dance classes. Our first class was lots of fun, even though I did have more fun secretly giggling at people through the mirror.

As well as the traditional Indian culture I have also been experiencing the incredibly modern, hi tech and evolving India. I get around the city by Uber and ordered my first meal from Swiggy, the equivalent of Uber Eat or Just Eat. When I pop into the malls for essentials I am interested to witness the Indian mall-culture, where locals come to spend their leisure time, recorded by taking selfies in front of brand names and the mall decor. On Friday night I was also invited to a rather exclusive party on a roof top. This was Hyderabad gone wild, with dancing, alcohol, smoking and lots of leggy women. It was fascinating to see such a contrast to the conservative city I witness daily on the streets.

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Clare and I getting in on the selfie action

On the work front, I am making steady progress with my Client. Having now agreed clear objectives I am currently working on a customer profiling workshop to help inform the marketing strategy of Bamboo House India. This is completely different to anything I have done before…it’s going to be a challenge but one I hope that will be of benefit to both me and my Client. It’s also great to have such a variety of professional backgrounds within our volunteer group, something which I am definitely utilising.  Every week we also have knowledge share workshops, last week topics covered servant leadership and human-centred design, subjects which really aided for enriching discussions and food for thought.

It sounds cheesy, but India really does feed your senses. I wake up with the sound of sweepers, travel around the city with the constant hooting of vehicles in the background, walk by the smells of sizzling street food and witness the colourful melting pot of various religions and cultures coexisting together in the city. I think my parents are concerned I’m going to return more Indian than them…

Here’s to more weird and wonderful experiences to come in week 3.

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