Year 1: Spring Term Week 6

Hello all,

Okay, so this week I did a really crazy thing.

Not the first really crazy thing I've done, but definitely one of the best really crazy things I've done. When my classmate Doovaraha offered a few weeks ago to show me around her hometown in Tamil Nadu, India, there was no way I was going to turn it down.

So, right in the middle of the semester, despite my assignments, I cancelled all my commitments, frantically finished as much homework as I could before leaving, and got on a plane.

We landed in Tiruchirapalli and I was instantly swept away into a different world. Where do I even begin? I guess the thing that I loved the most about Tamil Nadu was how full of life it was. The crowds, the colors, the spices, the sounds. Everything feels very community-oriented; I got to meet Doovaraha's neighbors and friends and instantly felt welcome. All the buildings are painted in bright shades and packed together. I had heard the traffic would be crazy, and I was not disappointed. Cows, goats, and dogs roam the streets as motorbikes and 3-wheeled taxi "autos" weave in and out between buses and trucks.

Doovaraha's mom welcomed us with homemade sambar and rice. The whole time, I got to eat such delicious food, especially the masala dosa, which I could eat forever. We ate with our hands from metal plates and everything I tried was perfect.

The first day, we went to a shop where I bought some kurthas (long shirts), then we got some coconut from a street stand.

We then visited a Christian church built in the 1840s. The statues inside were so beautiful, and all the windows had intricately patterned stained glass.

We went to two different Hindu temples in Tiruchirappalli on the first day, which was a really interesting experience. The first Hindu temple we went to was on top of a hill, and we had to climb a few hundred stairs to get up. Inside all the Hindu temples, there were these sacred shrines with the god idol inside, and people would come pray to the statue (or sometimes a black pillar) and offer money and flowers to put on it. The priests would then give white powder to the worshipers to put on their foreheads. The view from the top of the temple was so perfect at sunset.

The second one didn't allow us to take pictures, but it was so peaceful and full of inspirational quotes on signs around it. It welcomed people of all faiths to come meditate in an open area in the middle. It also had an area to honor mothers, fathers, grandparents, etc.

The next day, we went to Thanjavur (Tanjore). We explored a Chola dynasty Hindu temple built by Raja Raja Chola in 1010 A.D. which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It had an enormous idol dedicated to Shiva in the middle, and dozens of other shrines around it. All of the paintings and sculptures were so detailed.

After that, we explored a palace which had museums, statues, and other sites around it. I learned so much about Tamil culture and history, thanks to Doovaraha's stories and explanations.

Showing the evolution of the Tamil alphabet over time

Sorry for the photo overload, but I don't have time tonight to write long explanations, and everything was so intricate and beautiful that I couldn't help but take photos everywhere. 

Bulls are an important part of Tamil culture, especially in a traditional sport called Jallikattu. These guys were so funny- they were in a truck transporting bulls for Jallikattu, and while the bulls had a place in the truck, the men were sitting on top and hanging onto the sides. When they saw that I was trying to take a picture of the traffic on the street, they turned around and posed and waved until I took a picture of them, too. 

A cute little flower shop on the street

I also got to meet a bunch of Doovaraha's friends from high school. One of them was having a birthday, so they took us on their motorbikes to his house and we all surprised him! It turned into a cake fight with people shoving pieces in each other's faces, raining confetti, so much fun! All of them are hilarious, awesome people and I loved being part of the group, even if they were shy about speaking English to me and kept making Doovaraha translate :) 

I also visited Doovaraha's high school and met the headmistress and some of the students. All of the buildings have so many stories attached to them. I love older cities that have so much character and history. 

Being an American in a small place like Doovaraha's hometown got a little bit interesting at times, since I kind of attracted a lot of attention without even trying. The Tiruchirappalli airport is pretty small, and one of the security guys at passport control took one look at me, walked over, looked at my passport in amazement, and said "U.S.A?" before looking at Doovaraha and understanding that we were traveling together. We laughed at that for a bit. As far as I could tell, I was the only non-South-Asian person on the flights going both ways. Also, a random schoolgirl at one of the Hindu temples came up to me and touched my arm and gave me this concerned look like I was either a mythical creature or like something was very wrong with me, haha. 

I definitely got stared at and waved at on the street, but mostly in a friendly/curious way. Sometimes, I think there was a bit of a postcolonial mindset of white superiority, which was really unfortunate- for example, in the shops where I bought clothes, after I paid for my things, the store clerks handed the bags to Doovaraha instead of to me, as if I shouldn't be expected to carry my own things. Of course I can carry my own clothes after buying them! It's sad that something as trivial as skin color carries so much cultural significance. I shouldn't be given special treatment just based on appearance alone. As much as I could, I tried to be friendly and respectful and just blend in. Honestly, Doovaraha deserves so much credit for being an absolutely amazing translator, navigator, and ambassador in every situation, and her family deserves so much thanks for being generous enough to have me stay with them. 

I can't wait to go back and explore other parts of India at some point. It's only a 4-hour flight, so hopefully I'll be back again. I saw such a small section of it in such a short time, but I learned so much and loved every minute. Except the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are terrible. But everything else was wonderful, and I wish I could have stayed longer, but I have a lot of work to get done and education is important. 

Thanks to everyone who made my time in Tamil Nadu amazing! I feel so incredibly lucky. Now, back to work as we are headed into midterms in just over a week. 

Hugs from Saadiyat Island, 



  1. photographs much poetic ,u lived them with ur words,thanks for writing good about our country...


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