Friday, October 19, 2012

Ooty, Ooty, Ooty!

The Nilgiri Hills
There are many reasons that we love Ooty, but one of them is that we feel a little bit like we're walking through scenes from the Sound of Music when we're up there.

Ooty is one of India's several hill stations, towns established by the British as vacation homes in the mountains for the cooler temperatures. It almost felt like fall as we used blankets for the first time this semester and built a few bonfires to cozy up next to!

The hairpin turns might make you nervous, but the views are definitely worth it!
As picturesque as it is, Ooty has a lot more to offer than just its views. Our first stop was Freedom Firm, an organization dedicated to rescuing girls out of prostitution in India. Rodney, who works there, sat down to tell us about the process that their investigators go through to find and then rescue girls. They partner with local authorities and advocate for these girls in the courts, but beyond the policy side, Freedom Firm also work to rehabilitate these girls. In the Nilgiris, the organization provides basic classes, horse therapy and vocational training. The students were inspired and challenged by these girls' journeys and the unique problems that are encountered in doing this work in the Indian context.

At Freedom Firm learning about sex trafficking in India. 

The Ooty region is also famous for its wildlife sanctuary and reserves, so we took advantage of the opportunity to go on a safari ride through Mudumalai. We were eager to see what animals are running around in the mountains and were lucky enough to spot wild peacocks, gauer, deer and even several elephants! Students were also eager to see a tiger, but despite scouring the landscape from our jeep windows none were to be found. Maybe next time?

Monkey family in Mudumalai!
We then spent time at a tea estate where we saw the process of making tea from "pluck to cup". Our group had the opportunity to see how tea leaves are dried, rolled, oxidized and processed to produce the different grades and qualities of teas that we love to drink.

At the tea factory learning about how tea is made.

Then we were able to follow the process back to the plant and see how the tea workers pluck the leaves in the field. It was such an informative experience and our group came away from it with a different perspective on tea.

Students learning how to pluck tea.
We were also able to visit two tribes that live in the Nilgiri Hills - the Toda and the Kurumba tribes. Our group enjoyed mingling with them and had time and space to ask questions about their lives and customs. The experience caused our students to examine how the government interacts with people even the remote rural areas of India and gain an appreciation on their traditional way of life.

Kelly at the Toda village wearing a shawl with traditional embroidery. 
Other highlights from the weekend included teaching our BACAS staff the joys of s'mores, exploring the botanical garden, and enjoying the homemade chocolates that the town is famous for!

ISP and some of our wonderful BACAS staff. Enjoying the Nilgiris!
Photos taken by Randy Cronk

Visit our facebook page to see a student re-creation of the monkey family above and for more photos!

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