Further afield.

After one month of research, my friend, Ricky, and I decided to take a week out to explore other places in south India.  Ricky is also studying international development at the University of Amsterdam but her research concerns the wellbeing of trawl fishermen in Palk Bay (south Tamil Nadu).  So, on Thursday night, in torrential rain, I boarded a night train from Chennai to Pudukottai to go and meet Ricky.  Indian trains are incredibly cheap and after I had eventually found my bunk the journey was smooth and watching the sunrise from the train window was beautiful of course.  From Pudukottai a bus finally brought me to Mimisal, a small village close to where Ricky is staying.

It was fantastic to see where Ricky is living and experience the differences between rural and urban India.  I immediately felt more at ease away from the noise and pollution of Chennai.  I know how you feel so much closer to the people around you when you stay in a small community.  However, many of the social norms which Ricky experiences in the village are restrictive and very conservative.  When I first arrived in India, I was surprised by all the social rules which I had to adjust to but for Ricky, even walking down the street without wearing a scarf provokes women to demand where her scarf is.  Tamil Nadu is often described as a particularly conservative state and at times it is difficult to respect all the cultural codes of conduct.  Of course we both feel that some parts of Indian culture are oppressive to women but as researchers we are not here to overtly challenge social norms but to study them.

After one night in the village, Ricky and I travelled to Madurai, a large temple town and supposedly the soul of Tamil Nadu.  I’m not sure that I discovered the soul but the temple was impressive and the Hindu rituals mystifying.  Incredibly, I also met two British friends of mine!   I knew that they were in India but never expected to casually bump into them.  India is not so vast after all…  From Madurai we took a bus up to the misty, cold Western Ghats.  It was an exhilarating journey in which, not far from our destination, the bus exploded soaking our bags with oily water.  A little shaken and one hour later, we eventually made it to Kodaikanal, a place of rain, hills, chocolate and not a lot else.  As someone from Yorkshire, I was very much at home.  We were lucky to find that three lovely guys, one Swiss and two Indians, were also staying in our hostel and so we spent the next few days together.  It was refreshing to hang out with friends and have fun just as we would if we were at home.  After Kodaikanal, we travelled west to the town of Pollachi to visit the Indira Gandhi tiger reserve for our last couple of days.  With our minds full of images from the jungle book, we were a little disappointed to only see deer, bison and monkeys.  We did encounter lots of elephants though, and while they were in a sanctuary instead of roaming free, I find them breath-taking all the same.

So, after a brilliant week exploring Tamil Nadu, I’m back in Chennai and trying to remember what I’m meant to be researching.  With only another 5 weeks left for research, I should probably get going.


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