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Hello! We have a jam packed programme at Sangam, but this afternoon there’s a bit of time to relax, take a dip in the pool, write some postcards, and I thought I’d come and fill you in on what’s been happening this week. Mumbai feels like a very long time ago, and the past few days at Sangam have been incredible…

Sangam is located amongst lots of different areas that are really close together, so on the other side of the road there is an illegal slum, with simple basic shelters and tents. Then just next door to that there’s a middle class area with decent houses with little front gardens, they have cars and motorbikes. Then along from that there’s a walled estate with high rise upper middle class apartments and you have to earn over 15000 Rupees (about 190 GBP) a month to be able to live there. Next door to Sangam (outside the Sangam compound) there’s another area which is a legal slum, and the houses are slightly better, some with actual corrugated iron roofs and bricked walls, but still pretty shack-like. The ladies wash in the river just outside our walls. We have a dhobi (washer man) service which costs 15 Rupees per item (77 Rs = 1 GBP), and he takes it away after breakfast one day and brings it back clean and ironed the next. Amazing, and ridiculous value.

Pune is quite a nice place, we’ve walked into town on a few days and done a bit of shopping, caught our first rickshaw the other morning which was a little hairy but I loved it! We had 3 of us crammed in the back of one, and motorbikes with whole families on the back of them whizzing past.

On the way back from town yesterday we saw some cattle that looked like buffalo, a stylish white cow was eating the rubbish outside yesterday, and I saw a very floppy eared goat just outside the gate this morning. That’s my animal update for today! I’m still waiting and hoping to see an elephant! Apparently they are around, so watch this space…

It’s gorgeous weather here, very hot but cool bright mornings. I have been enjoying yoga early in the mornings, it’s such a relaxing way to start the day, when it’s lovely and cool, very still (except the screaming rush hour outside), the mosque is bellowing with the call for prayer echoing round, and the yoga teacher, who works at the hospital doing physio and rehabilitation, does a little spiritual bit at the end which is pitched just right.

Yesterday we went to Laxmi road, which is the main shopping area of Pune. We took in the fruit and vegetable markets, bangle alley, spice stores and various other stalls and bazaars. But the most exciting part was sari shopping! Mine is midnight blue with red edging and a red blouse. There was such an incredible choice of beautiful fabrics, we were there a while! When I saw the midnight blue fabric, I just fell for it. We’ve been measured by the tailor (who came to Sangam) who is going to bring back our tailored blouses and Punjabi suits and fit them in a couple of days time. The morning was a good balance between being shown where to go by the Sangam volunteers, and then being free to wander ourselves and take a rickshaw back.

Yesterday evening was a memorable one, we all went out for dinner at an Indian family’s house. The family we went to was 2 twin 17 year old girls called Shweta and Namrata who are Guides and meet at Sangam, and their Mum who cooked for us. Their little 5 year old cousin Anushka was also there. Shweta speaks good English so it was really interesting getting to know them, we sat on the floor and ate with one hand. The food was delicious, we had bhajis, dhal, a potato dish, chappattis, rice, and homemade mango chutney. The girls did mehndi on our hands so the 3 of us now have pretty patterns on our palms. The family were so generous, they got out some earrings and gave them to us after we had given them our gifts of knitted jumpers, a calendar of the sights of Birmingham, tea towels and so on. It was fascinating hearing about other people’s evenings too, we all had completely different experiences. One group down the road had a cow poking its head round the curtain half way through dinner!

We are getting an authentic experience of real life India in Pune, as there are no tourists here. The whole group seem to be relishing every moment. Each day brings more things we never expected to see. They say India is an experience for all the senses, and so far it is proving to be just that.

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