Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Travel Component: In Pictures

Ready for some train travel!
Most Indians travel on trains and ISP loves taking students along for the ride.
The end of semester trip is always highly anticipated by all of our ISP students. After several months of making Coimbatore their home, they are excited to take their journey to the North and keep learning from inspirational people and new experiences!
Checking out a temple.
This time our trip took us to 6 unique cities around incredible India. We started in Chennai, the capital of our home state of Tamil Nadu, and wound our way north to Delhi, home of the famous Taj Mahal.
A woman selling flowers for puja outside a temple.
Our first stop was Chennai where we realized that it could in fact get hotter than the sweltering summer climate we were experiencing in Coimbatore. Despite the weather, we had a great time learning about the diverse offerings of the city. Chennai has a rich history of Christianity in India so we took the opportunity to visit where St. Thomas was martyred and buried. 
The site where St. Thomas was martyred.

We also visited Shiamala Baby, a woman who transformed her own abusive past into an organization working to empower women in their own communities. She is one of the many amazing people we meet that our students like to call "cool people doing cool things".
Shiamala and the women she works with in a self-help group.
Next on the list was Calcutta, a city that played a prominent role in India's colonial background. We were excited to try kati rolls and spiced chai in clay cups before heading to Sari Bari. This NGO continues to be a highlight for ISP students. It focuses on providing an alternative source of income for women who want to leave the sex industry by teaching them to sew beautiful products from recycled saris. As we toured their workshop and learned about the organization we were encouraged by the courageous stories of the women working there.
Enjoying some roadside chai in clay cups.
Filled with twisting alleys and wandering holy men, Varanasi is filled to the brim with nooks and crannies to explore. As the holiest city in India it was the perfect place to learn more about Hinduism and Buddhism. 
Varanasi is famous for its ghats along the river.
On our walking tour we spent hours making our way down the ghats and seeing daily life on the holy river Ganga. Those of us who were early risers saw bathers and dhobis doing laundry on the riverbanks. Then in the evening we all headed to the ghats to watch the Ganga aarti, a fire worship ceremony to the holy river.
The daily Ganga aarti.
Of course a trip to the north would be incomplete without making our way to Agra, home of the Taj, and Delhi, the capital of India. Pulling into the train station in the early morning we had  a breakfast of puris before checking out the Agra Fort and the famed Taj Mahal. 
Jumping for joy at the Taj!
The Mughal architecture was stunning and we took the opportunity to not only soak in the history but also to taking some group snaps! Once we made our way to Delhi we took some much needed time to relax and wandered the city - seeing everything from the Lotus Temple to a lively Sufi singing performance at the tomb of a saint.
Sufi music at the Nizamuddin Dargah.
Our last destination was Dehradun, a gorgeous hill station nestled in the Himalayan foothills. In addition to debriefing the semester, we visited some organizations in the area focusing on social entrepreneurship and one that mentors Tibetans in the area. 
Riding in rickshaws.
One of the best ways of getting to know someone is over a meal, so we were delighted to share a lunch of buffalo momos with the mentees in the program! Then we spent time with one business that sells beautiful furniture and crafts while partnering with locals to work towards sustainability. And of course our trip would not be complete without some whitewater rafting down the Ganges!
Whitewater rafting.

All in all, our end of semester trip was two weeks of insane traveling around and witnessing India's vastness and complexity. We are excited to see how we can continue learning from these experiences! 

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