Category Archives: Posts

53 ways to use a sari

Imagined by Allison Hren, Abbey Reach, and friends, I share with you 53 ways to use a sari:

1. wear it

2. tapestry

3. bed spread
4. picnic blanket
5. toilet paper
6. shower curtain
7. basket
8. pee shield
9. fishing net
10. dupatta
11. towel
12. sun shield
13. umbrella
14. flag
15. diaper
16. baby bjorn
17. pot holder
18.table cloth
19. hawk hood
20. rug
21. backpack
22. washcloth
23. bandana
24. headband
25. snuggie
26. gift wrapping
27. window curtain
28. napkin
29. handkerchief
30.hammock
31. muffler
32. sling
33. torunicut
34. mummy tape
35. bangle switchout
36. fan
37. train
38. jump rope
39. limbo stick
40. toiler seat cover
41. tent
42. parachute
43. changing screen
44. barf bag
45. pillow
46. ghost costume
47. cape
48. rope
49. horse reins
50. strainer
51. turban
52. car bow
53. stuffed animal
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The Little Things

Hey friends, this is Sarah Mulligan (more commonly known as Smulligan) guest blogging today. It’s about 12:30 pm here in beautiful Chennai and while normally if we were at home we would be sitting down for lunch, it is not the case here in India. Most Indians take a later lunch, therefore we do as well. So instead of eating lunch, most of us are shopping and will take lunch a little later. Eating a late lunch is one of the few things we’ve become accustomed to as we have adapted to daily life here in India.

As our time in India sadly comes to an end, I’d like to reflect on the things we will never forget about this experience of a lifetime. Sometimes when people go on trips the things they remember the most are monuments, or very tourist things. For example, going to Paris and having the Eiffel Tower as a stand out memory. Although we will never forget the amazing sites we’ve gotten to visit such as the beautiful stone carvings in Mammalapuram and the lazy life of Kerela’s backwaters, what will stick out most for us are the little things. For us, the little things are the things we do on a daily basis that have made us professionals at India. We have gotten so good at India now, that it might be hard to re-adjust when we get home.

011One of the most memorable parts of this experience has been the auto rickshaw. These little yellow cars zip in and out of traffic like nobody’s business. They have become a main form of transportation for us in India, especially in Chennai. I can confidently say that everyone in our group knows how to hail a rickshaw like a champion by now. We’ve had countless funny times in rickshaw rides. We’ve become friends with the drivers who, most of the time, love talking to us. They even let us honk their horn for them sometimes (horn honking is an essential part of Indian driving). One time Jay was leaning out of the side of a rickshaw and someone on a scooter zipped by, causing Jay and someone on the scooter to collide heads. After learning the hard way, Jay and the rest of us now know to keep all body parts inside the rickshaws. We’ve even mastered the art of squeezing four people in the back of a rickshaw. Shout out to the Ric Clique on this one, Liz, Ling Ling, Charlie and I, who have spent many cramped rides together.

Water has played an essential role on this trip. It’s gotten to the point where most of us will probably associate water bottles with India when we get back home. Every day we make sure to start the morning off with a fresh bottle of water. If you’re safe, you’ll have an extra bottle in your bag. A one liter bottle of water at the General Store next to our hotel is 20 rupees. But, we have done something that our parents will be proud of. Being the frugal college students that we are (really we just want to spend more money on souvenirs) we have found a money saving technique! Miles discovered that Nilgiris, our local grocery store has two liter water bottles for 30 rupees. We’ve made countless trips to Nilgiris stocking up on large two liters and then using those to refill our smaller one liter day water bottles.

The one thing that may have taken the most time to adjust to has been squatty potties. But 3 weeks later, we are all seasoned professionals. We have used all sorts of squatty potties, from ones in gas stations, to restaurants, to homes. The most impressive of all though, is that we have successfully used Indian style restrooms on the moving train! That takes skill. We also learned to carry around a pack of tissues with us. Or if you’re Allison, Liz and Abbey, you just take toilet paper rolls from the hotel and stock them in your purse.

"Sir, we will only pay 20 rupees."

“Sir, we will only pay 20 rupees.”

Last but not least, we will always remember bargaining in the streets of India. This is a skill that we’ll be thankful for for the rest of our lives. We’ve picked up many techniques for bargaining and shopping along our journey. I have started to perfect the walk away technique. If the store owner offers me a price that I’m not satisfied with, all I have to do is take a few steps away from the store and he’s back with a new and improved offer. Sarah Wells discovered some shopping techniques. For example, feeling thirsty? If you’re browsing for awhile in a nice shop they will sometimes offer you free coffee or tea.

All of these tricks we’ve picked up along the way have not only made our journey easier, but it has made us feel so comfortable in this incredible country. We aren’t just visiting India- we know how to communicate, we can get rides, bargain with stubborn shop owners, comfortably use any bathroom that we stumble into, and even know where to find the cheapest safe water. These little things show how well we’ve acclimated to a new lifestyle and culture completely different from our own. Although it’s only been three weeks, it feels like we know the ins and the outs of India, and that is a pretty awesome feeling.

We’ve adopted a saying for this experience. Unless you’re Amy Allocco or Brian Pennington, You Only India Once, or “YOIO.” Since YOIO, we’re enjoying every second of it!

See you so soon, family and friends! And pets :)

-Smulligan

Side note: Quick power outages go on the list of things we’ll never forget. There have been two in the time it’s taken me to write this.

Posting Up in Pallakaad

Hello,

I’m Kegan Rinard and I am guest blogging in regards to the experience the group collectively underwent in everybody’s favorite Kerala native Sunil Kumar’s village. Upon arriving in the quaint rural area snuggled nicely outside the small hamlet of Pallakaad we were greeted with a multitude of Sunil’s immediate as well as extended family. Hospitality and warm hearts were abundant in the modest household in which they kept us, and the group as a whole was more than eager to engage in some much needed “down time” after traveling three hours by coach bus. After staying in areas such as the metropolitan titan Chennai and the densely “touristy” shore regions of Mammalapuram and Cochin, the village holding no more than 300 people offered a sharp contrast with its quiet atmosphere and idyllic scenery of palm trees and rice patties resting in tranquil solitude untouched by progressive society and industry. Here we gained an in-depth insight of Sunil’s life concerning his career, marriage, views upon caste, his own caste, and fascinating tidbits of information that supplemented his character.

Sunil and his son Navaneeth at the rice fields in their village

Sunil and his son Navaneeth at the rice fields in their village

The first night we arrived we had the pleasure of viewing a popular “Bollywood” film (a film in the Indian cinematic industry that is highly popular not only in domestic box office sales, but also possesses international acclaim as well). The viewing of the movie “Kumki” delighted not only the group, but the village children as well (they sang to every song).

Students and village children took turns performing for one another

Students and village children took turns performing for one another

However, the moment at which I felt a sense of overwhelming solidarity was venturing out into the rice patties, gazing at the Western Ghats in the distance, and weighing and measuring my own existence against the rest of the world. I did not feel at peace, rather I finally came to the realization that I was not at peace, and it required me to travel 10,000 miles to come to such a conclusion. Being in the village among such warm-hearted people who toil day end and day out to achieve sustainability evokes nothing but respect in its most refined form within me for them. Having so little and giving so much hit home for me. I cringe at knowing behind those palm trees is the clanging and banging of industrial progress slowly permeating into the quaint culture of this area. I asked a colleague of mine, “after witnessing such a place as Chennai, how long will it be before industrialism finally touches such a peaceful place as this?” This question I did not want answered.

Sunil lectured to students about his life

Sunil lectured to students about his life

I revere these people higher than any CEO of any large multinational corporation; I envy their resilience and fortitude by awaking everyday to the rising sun and pursuing sustainability with an austere devotion to their gods that rivals any clergyman of Christian doctrine. If there is anything to be said about Sunil’s village, it is the simple fact that if the world paralleled the sense of kindness and hospitality that they offered to us when we arrived it would be less cruel of a place.

A Recap of Cochin

Hello all,After an amazing stay with Sunil’s family in their village outside of Palakkad we have found ourselves back in Chennai via overnight train to spend our last few days in India. More information on our time with Sunil’s family will follow, but first we would like to recap a little bit and talk about our experience in Cochin.

Chinese fishing net in action

Chinese fishing net in action

Cochin, commonly called Kochi, is the largest city in Kerala, and was first established as a port for spice trading by the Portuguese in the 16th century, although it was eventually occupied by both the Dutch and the British. The city still reflects many of these European influences, especially in the OldHarbour district where our group spent two nights in a beautiful colonial mansion that has since been transformed into a small luxury hotel. This area is a popular tourist destination thanks to the Chinese fishing nets that operate along the shore. While the origins of the nets are not entirely certain, they are distinctly Chinese in their construction, with long spider-like arms that drop the nets into the sea and then retract to bring the catch to shore. As Sarah mentioned in her post on South Indian Cuisine, these fishing nets are situated behind a bustling fish market that offers catches fresh from the sea. Although restaurateurs from the area frequently come here to purchase selections for their respective establishments, casual diners are also welcome to pick out a fish or crustacean and have it cooked and served at a nearby location (for some of us, including myself, this was a major highlight in our trip).

The historical presence throughout Cochin is also a big draw for travelers. One prominent sight that we visited was the DutchPalace at FortKochi. Originally built by the Portuguese as a gift for a regional ruler, the palace was later occupied and renovated by the Dutch in the 17th century. The significance of the DutchPalace can be found in its amalgamation of both European and Indian tradition. Much of the architecture within the palace seems distinctly colonial; however, the walls throughout the building are adorned with murals depicting Indian epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

043After leaving the DutchPalace we visited “JewTown”, an area of Cochin that was historically populated by Jewish peoples dating back thousands of years. For a number of reasons, including the migration of Jews to Israel in the 20th century, the Jewish population in this area has virtually disappeared. The area, however, remains steeped in Jewish history and is home to one of the oldest synagogues in Southern India. This area was also popularized by a visit from President Obama, and as a result, shopkeepers and rickshaw drivers alike are all too eager to relate this story with American students.

More information about the events of the past few days will be coming to you shortly, including some updates from some of our guest-bloggers as we wrap up the final days of this amazing trip.

Best wishes to friends and family,

Jay Rutherford

Idli and Sambhar

Good evening USA from Cochin, Kerala (7:30 am). As students straggle down to breakfast, I will take this opportunity to talk about my absolute favorite pass time, food. To say I am simply a foodie is a conservative term; rather I have a love affair with food that never loses its allure. From our first day in India, we have experienced new tastes, textures, spices, and breads. Some of which we loved, some of which we could leave behind for the more daring.
Cuisine in South India is influenced by three major factors; historical, seasonal, and regional. Our main Tamil meals were presented in the form of a thali; a vegetarian meal including the six most important and traditional tastes; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, peppery, and astringent. The classic dish is presented on a banana leaf (thought to have medicinal properties) with cups of lentil and vegetable gravies to eat with rice (yes, with your fingers). Always included in a thali are cups of sambhar (a rich lentil broth), curd (yogurt for digestion), a sweet, and rice. Other staples in Tamil diet include dosa (a thin crepe), idli (steamed rice flour in a round pillow formation), a multitude of chutneys, and fruit. After a few days we found our cravings for pizza and wings slowly diminish and are replaced with visions of thali and lentil gravies.
As we traveled to a new state are pallets were presented with a new myriad of flavors and spices. As Lucia wrote in her pre-course paper, Kerala is known for being rich in spices. A previous post alludes to our visit in a spice garden; where we saw our imported spices and foods in the raw form. Abbey was intrigued by the process of garden to table. Nicole was also thrilled to experience the garden, giving her insight to the meals at home and abroad. Immediately after arriving in Kerala we noticed our light lentil wafers (pappadams) infused with pepper and spice, our rice grow twice the size (which students loved as it is easy to carry to their mouths with their fingers), and a coconut base to much of the dishes.
Kerala also presents the allure of fresh fish. Our first taste was on the house boat when we were served a small fish whole, smothered in spices, accompanied by a lemon. As we arrived in Cochin, the fish market grew. We were able to watch Chinese fishing nets (information shared with us by Miles) pull up fish, shell fish, crabs, lobsters, and even sting rays. The catch is brought to a shore line stand, sold, then cooked at a near by mini-kitchen. Jay and friends enjoyed this cuisine just the other night. Fish often make their way into many of the great local restaurants. Just last night I had a mango fish curry rich with onions and full curry leaves. Lucia’s spicy tuna burger was a popular hit and our professors delighted in the pescatarian choices.
Garrett and I have decided to one day settle down in Cochin and own our own café. He is in charge of baking and coffees, I will design lunch and cocktails.
Next we will enjoy the homemade cuisine of our beloved guide, Sunil’s, village. This will be a meal cooked with the love of his friends and family and will surely leave us stuffed. Our professors warned us that we may be encouraged to eat more than our fill and the block our plate with our hand to communicate that we don’t want any more food and are not just being polite.
In short, the cuisine of South India has been an adventure in itself. Students are sure to share with you their favorites and drag you to a local Indian restaurant to share the unique flavor.
Until next time,
Sarah Turner Wells

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Traditional thali
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Fluffy rice and full fish on our house boats.

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Nicole with fried Gobi (cauliflower)

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Alanna with mango fish curry

Searching for India’s Identities

Hello everyone, my name is Callie Hannah and I am guest-blogging for the group today. 

The first thing I will note is that there is only one week left of our stay here in India. The time has flown by and we have been so busy, as you all have been learning by reading the other blog posts. 

At the beginning of the trip, every student was assigned a certain job. These jobs range from people who help to report on other group members’ moods and wellness to people who help with transportation and getting everyone where they need to be. My job is being a part of the “We are Elon and Maryville College” Team. This job allows me the pleasure, along with Ginny and Kelsie, to introduce our schools and our course to the people who host us at their homes, or to people who come to speak with us about a certain topic, or to introduce ourselves in any other situation that is deemed appropriate. My job is one that requires my responsibility almost every day. Because of the frequency of my job, I have developed a sort of spiel. This includes talking about the different elements of our course (religion, caste, and gender) along with highlighting the places we have already visited and the places we have yet to see and also trying to show people the goal of our course. The purpose of my guest blog here today is to expand upon my spiel in describing what our course has helped us as students accomplish. 

India’s Identities: Religion, Caste, and Gender. That is the title of our course. Looking with particular attention at the religious aspect, we have been to many places which have shown us diversity: St. Mary’s church in Fort St. George in Chennai, Armenian Church, San Thome Cathedral and Basilica, many Hindu temples, multiple Jain temples, mosques and dargahs while in Madurai, and tomorrow we will see a Jewish Synagogue. We have also interacted with people who do not necessarily consider themselves religious or devoted to any one religion in general. In many religious spaces, there have been some common threads such as respectfully keeping quiet, removing shoes, and not taking pictures. But for the most part, there are many differences between every religious space we have entered. For example in the mosques, it is important for the females in our group to keep our heads covered whereas in the Hindu or Jain temples, head coverings are not necessary. But while we have physically been able to experience the differences between the religions, they are also easily identifiable from a distance. The mosques are structured and decorated differently than the Hindu temples, the Jain temples, the synagogues, and the churches. Because of the collective similarities and differences among the religions in India, our class as a whole has come to appreciate the diversity. 

While I cannot generalize to the entire group as I can only speak for myself, I have noticed something interesting about the Caste section of our course. One of the many goals of our course is to be able to identify when caste does and does not matter within contemporary Indian society. I have begun to conclude (though my time here is not over) that caste really does not matter much the way it used to. It is difficult for me to differentiate, without being told, between who is Brahmin, or among the highest caste level, or who is “Backward Class”, or among the lowest of caste levels. The main things that seem to be important to people do not have to do with caste, so much as jati, or sub-group that people in India use as a classifier. 

Finally, there is the element of our course related to gender. I know (again speaking for myself) that I had a lot of schemas already in place for what I was going to see in terms of gender roles and characteristics before coming to India. Many of those stereotypical ideas have been confirmed, and there have been others that have been deconstructed. For example, when having the pleasure of listening to a lecture from Lalitha, we heard her tell us about her routine: get up early in the morning, cook the meals, do some work, take care of the children, take care of the husband, cook some more….basically do her duties as a wife. That, for me, is the traditional pattern of thought for me when thinking about the typical Indian woman. However, our class also had the pleasure of talking with Geeta, a female lawyer, and we listened to her tell us about her feminist inclination, how she is not married, and how she has worked hard to earn her place as an important lawyer in Chennai. Geeta is one of those examples that, for me, has helped to break down the stereotypes that I had about gender going into this trip. 

India has a complicated story. Lately we have been discussing the importance of colonialism in the state of Kerala, but also for India as a whole. As we are now in Cochin, we have been learning that the spice trade has had an enormous impact on the prosperity of the area. The Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British were all very intrigued by what they found upon arriving in Kerala. The variety and numerousness of spices here was incredible and enticing to other countries and they are what helped spur the development of what is Kerala today. As a group we have concluded that Kerala is a blended state, with architecture and religious influences from the Portuguese, fashion and language from the British, fishing nets from China, and many other blended elements from other places.

Our time in Cochin is coming to a close tomorrow morning after we visit a Jewish Synagogue. Then we will be moving on to Sunil’s village!! More posts will follow.

Best wishes to all friends and family,

Callie

Life on the Backwaters

Hello everyone! This is Garrett bringing you another update about our adventures in India. We spent the past two days exploring the Kerala backwaters on houseboats. We started this adventure in the city of Alleppey, and many of us who had been a bit worried about this experience quickly calmed down after we saw the water crafts.

Traditionally, these houseboats would have been fairly simple. At one point, they were even made without any nails and, instead, were made of weaving strong and sturdy materials together. Basically, they looked like huge floating baskets. We were surprised to find that the houseboats have actually been modernized for tourist purposes. They were luxurious, and they were basically small floating hotels.

We were welcomed on to the boat by the crew who gave us coconuts with straws as refreshments. Each boat had a spacious seating area at the front of the boat with comfy chairs and three people shared cozy bedrooms with large modern bathrooms. Our boat even had an enclosed dining room, air conditioning, and satelite television. Basically, there was absolutely nothing better than cruising along the backwaters on these crafts. We all got a chance to relax, catch our breaths, and, if you were me, do some reading.

Our lunch that was served on the boat was especially delicious. Along with some of your typical Kerala style foots, we had fresh fish that were fried. Of course, several of us had a little trouble when it came to picking out the bones, but, overall, the lunch was one of the best we have had. After lunch, we had more time to relax as we traveled through the backwaters. We were even served banana fries of sorts. They were sweet and delicious.

We did see several water snakes, but that did not stop Kegan, Ling Ling, and Charlie from jumping into the water to swim a bit. We also, after we docked for a short period of time, explored the nearby rice patty. A lizard fell from a tree and landed on Allison’s head, which gave us all a laugh, and Kelsie decided to go pet a nearby cow. After this short stop, we got back on our houseboats and headed back onto the waters.

It was extremely exciting to see all of the locals who actually live on these narrow waterways. We saw people bathing, doing laundry, and various other household tasks while using water directly from the backwaters. Also, we saw many rice paddies along the water ways, since quite a bit of water is necessary to grow rice. While we were on a completely modernized version of a houseboat, we were still able to observe some of the more traditional life that occurs on the backwaters.

After drowning ourselves in bug spray, We were fed a delicious dinner of more fish and a special chicken curry. Afterwards, most of the students sat about and chatted till fairly late at night. We then retired to our rooms, and got a wonderful round of sleep.

In the morning, we all prepared for the day by showering and cleaning up a bit. We then had breakfast and started back towards the dock that we started this trip from. Many of us were disappointed to leave the boats. I, personally, could have used another day on these magnificent crafts simply to relax and finish reading my book. Now, we were in the gorgeous city of Cochin, and this city is probably my favorite city we have been to so far. However, you will hear more about that in some following blog posts from my fellow bloggers.

We are still enjoying our time here in India so, parents, do not worry too much! We will be home soon with tons of gifts, pictures, and lots of stories. Till then, we hope that everything is great back in the United States, and, to many of our friends and family who are in East Tennessee, we hope that you are enjoying the snow while we are enjoying the heat here in Cochin!

“Sleep after selling horses and elephants” -Hindu Proverb

We're in a jeep! In the jungle!

We’re in a jeep! In the jungle!

Two days ago, we found ourselves bouncing down a mountain in a jeep an hour before sunrise. We were on our way to the Periyar Wildlife Preserve in Kerala. We drove through the forests as the sun rose, stopping every now and them to try and catch a glimpse of a Malabar Giant Squirrel or a family of monkeys. We fondly referred to the Giant Squirrel as the Dog Squirrel because it was easily the size of a small dog and a patchwork of colors. The guides were amazing at spotting things from far away while driving their jeeps. Katie thinks they should all work for the Air Force. Their eye was phenomenal. Once we got to the preserve, we went on a hike through the beautiful forest. One of the two groups of students had an elephant sighting! Only moving in groups of two, we went up to catch a glimpse. It was like a very intense game of hide and seek. (Credit goes to Sarah Wells for that simile.) The hike was very rigorous and many people felt it the next day. The guides moved at a very fast pace. They took us through heavy tree cover, over streams and through beautiful fields of coffee plants. I love to hike, and there is something really special about hearing an elephant trumpet while walking up a mountain. How the elephants get through all the trees, I’m not really sure. They are incredibly graceful for such big animals and I have a new found respect (and fear) for them. I have also discovered that I appreciate monkeys from a distance.

    

On a mountaintop in the Western Ghats.

On a mountaintop in the Western Ghats.

After the hike some of us went on a small boat ride around the tiny lake near the welcome center. Our ride back down the mountain in the jeeps was one of my favorite parts of the day, particularly because it was much warmer than the morning. We stopped a few times again for animal sightings (including a bison which most of us could barely see standing still by the side of the road. These guides are the best). This was by far one of the best days in India. It is definitely something you could never see out your bedroom window at home. I think everyone appreciated the beauty of the Indian wilderness.

(If anyone is keeping track, Sarah Wells and I are up to around 90ish peacock representations. India’s keeping our counting skills up to par.)

Allison Hren

Goodbye, Tamil Nadu (for now): On to Kerala!

Hello all,

The students at ODAM garlanded us as we entered

The students at ODAM garlanded us as we entered

The group has been up to a lot for the past few days. On Monday we wrapped up our stay in Madurai by visiting ODAM, the NGO that we chose to visit for the purposes of this course. An NGO is a Non-Government Organization. NGO’s function essentially as what we would consider to be a charity, or non-profit organization. ODAM works in a variety of different fields, including women’s empowerment, environmental projects, and welfare services. The division of ODAM that we visited is a campus specifically dedicated to educating rural and underprivileged young girls. For parents and friends that recall the students on this course bringing books to be donated, ODAM is the organization those items were offered to. Education is an especially important issue for young women in Indian society. Many impoverished families are unable to afford to send all their children to school, requiring some children to perform tasks that result in additional income for the family. Girls typically bear the brunt of this burden as traditional Indian society values the education of men more than that of women. ODAM functions as an outlet for young girls to receive an education that their families would not typically be able to afford. Our visit to ODAM was especially exciting because it fell on the first day of the Pongal festival. The Pongal festival, as mentioned in previous posts, is a harvest celebration that is extremely important to South Indians. The students and faculty at ODAM extended their utmost hospitality to us, inviting us to participate in the opening ceremony of the Pongal festival, which involves a ceremonial boiling over of a pot filled with rice and milk, followed by dancing, fireworks, and a celebratory meal.

The Pongol pot boils over, symbolizing abundance.

The Pongol pot boils over, symbolizing abundance.

The next day we departed Tamil Nadu by bus as we moved into Kerala. Kerala is Tamil Nadu’s neighboring state, encompassing the opposite side of the peninsula. Kerala is home to an environment, language, and culture that is totally different from that of any of the places we have visited so far. Kerala is a predominantly agricultural state, and the society reflects its people’s relationship with nature. After arriving to Chrissies, a unique, sustainable bed and breakfast located in Thekkady (one that is frequently visited by monkeys and lizards), we visited a local spice garden. Kerala is notorious for their production of spice crops, including black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and many other varieties of vegetation. The spice garden we visited is a completely sustainable and entirely eco-friendly establishment that hosts virtually every variety of indigenous vegetation, in addition to honeybees, goats, rabbits, and cows.

This morning we set out for our long awaited trip to the Periyar Wildlife Conservatory. Another post detailing our experience in the preservation will follow, but just as a teaser, elephants were sighted, and some people were very excited about that.

Best wishes to friends and family,

Jay Rutherford

The famed Baby Bus that drove us around Madurai

The famed Baby Bus that drove us around Madurai


Brian read student papers in Harry Potter voices on the Baby Bus!

Brian read student papers in Harry Potter voices on the Baby Bus!

Adventures in Madurai (episode: Baby Bus)

Good evening (in India of course) to all of our family and friends back home! This is Garrett Painter and Sarah Wells providing you with this awesome joint blog, so prepare yourselves to be blown away. We will be covering the past two days of our journey here in India, and we hope that you enjoy all we have to tell you.

On the 12th, we woke up early and had our usual breakfast of idli, sambar, chutney, and freshly squeezed juice. From there, we loaded on to our buses (and fought over who got the baby bus), and we traveled to Raffic Ahamed’s house. He is an old friend of Dr. Allocco, and an amazing collage artist. He incorporates his Muslim religious beliefs along with social commentary into his works of art.

We began the visit with Shamsher, Raffic’s friend and a well-known religious figure in the area, speaking to us about Muslim faith and Islamic traditions in Tamil Nadu. He started with telling us that “Salam” is the root word of “Islam” and means “peace”. Through this, he explained that Islam is based off harmony. Students felt free to ask questions of Shamsher and discuss various versus from the Bible and the Qur’an.

He also drew several parallels between Islam and Christianity. For example, Muslims actually do believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they do not believe that he is God incarnate. Instead, they believe he is a messenger who was brought forth through immaculate conception and did all he did only with the power of God. Also, Muslims, along with Christians and Jews, are monotheistic. Together, these three faiths actually comprise the three major monotheistic religions in the world. Furthermore, he talked about how Islam has a lack of imagery since no image should be worshiped, only Allah. Obviously, this is quite different from Hinduism. We were all pleasantly surprised to discover that Hindus and Muslims actually coexist extremely well in India.

However, one of the most interesting tidbits that we learned about was that many Muslimfamilies travel to visit other Muslim communities across the world to explain what being a Muslim truly means. Raffic’s family actually traveled to Australia for this purpose. They do this because they do not believe that they can spread their faith until their own is not lacking in other areas. They wish to change the image of Islam, and make sure that people do not automatically think of terrorism, which actually goes against the ideal of peace, when people across the world think of Muslims.

From that point, we had the chance to visit a mosque in the community, and watch the members of the mosque pray. We then went back to Raffic’s house, where they fed us absolutely delicious food for lunch, which included a selection of food influenced by Islamic heritage. After that, we got to view some of Raffic’s art, and several students, such as Alannah, Lauren, and Kelsie, purchased one of his collages. After this great visit, we left Raffic’s home by bus and came back to the hotel. We had a bit of free time, and then had dinner at a gorgeous hotel that overlooks Madurai. It was the perfect ending to the night.

The next morning we woke up early to travel by bus to the Sacred Grove.  Kegan’s paper informed us of the Grove’s history, a place of sacrality derived from mythology and Sanskrit literature.  In the midst of the grove stands a large tree, found by cows let free to roam, and symbolizes Ayyappa; the god of the forest.

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Dr. V (a PHD who surprised us with his youthful candor as an 80 year old man) led us through the divine area, sharing stories about the forest and devotees of Ayyappa whom left the area after the water supply dried up. We saw the last of the water, a small pond contrasting the once large lake, the new home to a four lane rode being constructed by the Indian government.  Students waded knee deep in the water, threw it to the sky, and prayed for the people to have rain.

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After the Grove, we traveled to a hilltop fort dedicated to a local chieftain.  Students enjoyed running up and down the stone hills and viewing some of Tamil Nadu’s beautiful landscape.

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After returning to the city of Madurai, we attended a local music and dance festival provided by a University.  We sat, giggled, and nodded to the drum beats as the performers provided the night’s entertainment.  After the show, we were gifted a special treat of festival foods, which we scarfed after a long day.  Lavanya (one of our guides), Allison, and I (Sarah) enjoyed chatting about our favorite American movies like “She’s the Man” and “Step up,” basically anything with Channing Tatum.

Now, we are preparing to leave Madurai in the morning. Tomorrow, you will hear from Jay about today’s adventures. We have all enjoyed our time in this city, but we are excited to get on the bus for our next destination.