The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Journey to India Chapter Five

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

View from the plastic seats: a man takes the group on a large canoe touring the backwaters of Kerala

Makeup is applied for Kathakali, meaning "story play"

Men of Kerala go deep to collect rich soil from the river

Meredith Jagger posts India dispatches for NPR

UTC professors Dr. William Harman, philosophy and religion, and Dr. Elizabeth Gailey, communication, lead a five week summer study tour in India. The trip was made possible through a generous grant from the University of Chattanooga Foundation, which covers approximately 75% of student costs including travel, lodging, and food.

Meredith Jagger, a UTC senior who participated in the 2004 Summer-in-India Study Program was selected to post travel dispatches about her India experiences on National Public Radio's "Next Generation Radio" website. Jagger’s insights can be found at the following addresses:

What follows is a firsthand account and personal photos by UTC student Janel Watson.

Students enjoy dance theater, boat tour, and pizza in Cochin

Friday June 25, 2004
9:40 pm

I have had an amazing week in Cochin, Kerala . Here the streets are cleaner and the pace is slower than in Madurai’s colorful mêlée. Cochin’s past is one of its proud distinguishing features: it has a long history of influential colonial settlements by the Dutch, the Portugeuse, and the British, with influxes of Chinese traders in the 1700’s. Today, Dutch architecture, Portugeuse churches, Chinese fishing nets, and great European cuisine are just a few immediately visible signs of this heritage. I've had ravioli for dinner, taken a boat tour on the backwaters, watched a traditional dance performance, and walked on the beach of the Arabian Sea. Even the shopping is more pleasant, as merchants still serve tea or coke, but are less pushy and smile a little more.

The trip from Madurai to Kerala didn't start perfectly. Monday morning we boarded a 19-seat tour bus with the intention of arriving in Cochin in eight hours. Five stops, and 13 and a half hours later we arrived. Our journey began at eight in the morning, early enough for the air to be cool and the smell of coffee to still be fresh. As our travel progressed, the Western Ghats that lined the horizon in Madurai grew closer until the blurry green hills turned into mountains of wild vegetation. Our “disco” Hindu bus, equipped with faux-velvet upholstery in a brown, floral pattern, multi-colored track lighting and a plastic Ganesa shrine, began to ascend the steep mountain road. The relaxing ride quickly became a terrifying roller coaster – minus the safety harnesses. The wheels on the bus went way too close to the edge of the cliff. In India, driving is supposed to take place on the left side of the road – but in actuality is equally split between the right and the middle.

As we climbed through the Ghats, the chaotic mix of trees and shrubs was gradually replaced by neat rows of tea plants – still grown in the plantations established by the British, while at the same time the narrow paved roads gave way to less life-threatening, bumpy dirt paths. A stop at one of the tea plantations allowed for a break from the stirring dust and rattling bus windows.

Further stops at a rubber tree grove and small mountain town for a lunch were leisurely, but not the sole cause of our delayed arrival. Without the ease of interstates, our driver had to navigate through unfamiliar towns, in the dark, and on streets that have names but no signs.

At the end of our long day of travel my body ached from the small, cramped seats; my skin was gray with dust and smog, and my ears rang from the squawk of our bus’s horn, which the driver used more often than the brakes. Although I was clueless that night about what awaited us here in Cochin, I would soon find respite from the arduous day of travel in this quaint European oasis – and a nearby Domino’s Pizza.

Our week was spent experiencing the local culture. It started with a scavenger hunt on Tuesday to find three places of worship from three different religious traditions. This assignment may sound simple, but what is hard to convey is the difficult process of venturing through any Indian town. Our effort was rewarding. I saw my first Jain Temple and went inside my first Jewish Synagogue. Both had an equally impressive history and ornate decorations. I actually became a Jain when the priest smeared some yellow paste on my forehead and asked that I come back often.

We spent Wednesday night at a local dance performance called Kathakali (meaning story play). Only males are allowed to perform, they lie on the stage for at least an hour before the show begins being intricately made up. When completely dressed they look like a combination of drag queen and clown, and rather than singing or speaking, communicate through an ancient sign language in a backdrop of drums and chanting. The carefully choreographed body movements and facial expressions of the actors conveyed so much emotion. The story we saw discussed rape and revenge, and without any spoken words was surprisingly moving.

We took a boat tour of the backwaters in Kerala on Thursday. We boarded a giant canoe lined with plastic lawn chairs, and covered by a thatched roof. Two small but muscular Indian men guided us through the palm-lined rivers with 14-foot poles. We stopped in small villages to see clam shells turned into a calcium powder, and coconut husk twisted into rope. We passed villagers washing their clothes in the water, and men, without any diving equipment, collecting the rich soil from the river's floor in small bowls.

Tomorrow we will leave the lush green landscape of Cochin and go back to the flat, dusty streets of Madurai. We will also go back to finish one of the main tasks we came here for – research projects on India’s rich culture and religious traditions. Hopefully our drivers know the way “home.”