Chennai, South India

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With the support from the Principals Go Abroad Fund I was lucky enough to attend the Study India Program (August 2016). On my adventure I visited: Chennai, where I attended insightful lectures into South India’s customs, culture and society; The Garden of peace in Vellore, which is a donation funded school that offers rural children an education up to the age of 12; and Ooty, where I was introduced to tribal areas/communities and villages.

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The South Indian cuisine is very different from what we know as Indian food. The most noticeable difference is the generous use of chilli powder! Every restaurant we visited had to reduce the spice in our meals so that are taste buds could cope. Dosa’s, chutney and sambar were served most lunch times on banana leaf. Tea and coffee are served almost every hour.

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Other uses for banana leaves is the interesting skin care therapy known as a banana leaf bath. It acts to detoxify through profuse sweating. It is known to maintain skin glow and open pores to clear away dirt. I did not know I was capable of sweating through my ears. If anyone is considering trying this in future drink plenty of water because after the “bath” you are very dehydrated. Think sandpaper tongue!

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Hinduism is the main religion practiced in India. However, Islam and Christianity are also prevalent. A fun fact: there are over 330 million Hindu Gods. I visited many temples and places of worship but most memorable was my visit to Mahabalipuram and Dakshinachitra. At the museum, I learned about the lifestyles that the various caste system people have and got to visit beautiful carved temples. Sadly, 4 temples were submerged under the sea after the tsunami occurred. Interestingly, there was a rock which not even the tsunami or 7 elephants could knock over.

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I was in India during Independence Day. Although, it was celebrating independence from the British it was a lovely experience for me. All the children at the Garden of Peace wore white and had Indian flags attached to their t-shirts. They started the day with a short dance routine and song to declare their love for India. The teachers at the school made us Sarees and I felt so beautiful. Everyone made us feel extremely welcome and loved.

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Although the city is very crowded, loud and dark; the rural areas are beautifully green. Tea plants engulf the mountains. Surprisingly, when we visited Ooty (South-west India) we had to buy “Nike” jumpers because it was 14 degrees. This was very unexpected but refreshing. The areas I visited were not typical tourist destinations so I feel like I experienced true South Indian culture and customs. I found the issue of Caste system particularly shocking. Caste system is even more important than religion when marriage is concerned which was very surprising. This highlights the extremity of the issue. However, speaking with students at the University of Madras it seems that the future looks bright for India.

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