CASI Student Blog
Hello! My name is Valentine d’Hauteville. I’m a rising junior in the college majoring in Physics and minoring in Computer science. This summer, I will be interning at Shahi exports and will probably be spending a lot of time conducting ethnographic research at this garment industry. I know… this physics –anthropology combination has surprised quite a few of my friends and relatives. I am in fact planning n experiencing the “must do” scientific research summer next year, and instead, for this summer have chosen to embark on an exciting, unique and probably extremely instructive adventure. I am French and grew up in Paris where I attended a French high school. I love to travel, discover new cultures and learn about other philosophies of live. Thanks to my parents, I have already been to various places and continents but I have never travelled independently and been given the opportunity be active and immersed in the local community. This is what I am the most looking forward to in coming to India and working at Shahi! Much of our work will consist in conducting interviews and trying to understand the backgrounds and motivations of the Shahi workers in order to help promote an optimal and productive work environment in which these workers can strive. I am particularly eager to interact with young women workers, some of who will probably be my age and to whom I will probably be able to relate to in some way.
I am currently overnighting at Heathrow airport because my first flight to London was delayed, so I missed my connecting flight to Delhi. I am planning on leaving tomorrow morning. I’m starting to find that airports can be quite nice at less busy hours. My greatest regret is that I will now arrive too late to take part in the party the Habitat Center has organized for CASI interns tomorrow night. O well!
Of the things I am the most looking forward to in India are meeting new people, being confronted to a new culture and hopefully getting to grow somewhat confortable in it. I am also very excited at the prospect of wearing authentic Indian clothes on a daily basis. I already own a kurta but have rarely had the occasion of wearing it so far. I just love the way these clothes are so colorful and confortable. I have always dreamed of being chic/ tendy while wearing clothes that were as confortable as pajamas.
Soon enough, I will reach Delhi, see you there !
Hi all! My name is Chan Nguyen and I’m coming from the tiny town of Gettysburg, PA. I’m a rising senior studying biology and economics in the College, and I’m one of four interns for Shahi Exports, a large garment factory based in Bangalore. We will be spending a couple weeks in Orissa and the majority of our time in Bangalore, studying the effects of the rural-urban transition on their young female employees and ultimately helping them develop employee welfare initiatives. I was really excited about this program because it provides an opportunity to explore the intersection of labor and health, and although nothing has been set in stone, my hope is that we will be able to focus on the mental health of the employees.
With that being said, I’d been extremely on edge the whole day before I flew out of Newark yesterday evening (I currently have a layover in Brussels). I spent my fall semester studying abroad in Europe but have never had the chance to travel to India. I’ve spent the past two summers in Philly so the unfamiliarity of my summer plans is a little nerve-wracking, but I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity. I love that India has such a rich culture (FOOD!), amd ultimately one of the main takeaways that I’m hoping to get is a better understanding of the people there. Can’t wait to see what the next 10 weeks have in store for me!
Hello! My name is Laura and I am from Nova Scotia, Canada. Currently I am pursuing an M.S. Ed. in Intercultural Communication in the Educational Linguistics department of Penn’s Graduate School of Education. I’ll be finishing my coursework in the Fall (2015) semester.
I am very happy to be a part of the team heading to LEAP Skills Academy this summer. I am eager to apply some of the skills I’ve gained through my coursework at Penn and excited about implementing engaging workshops for young people. I am also hoping to expand my understanding of learning environments and to learn more about skill development initiatives as a viable solution for employing the growing population of students entering tertiary education in India. More generally, I find multilingual educational contexts fascinating and I hope to create meaningful intercultural experiences for students.
This is my second trip to India, but my first to both Delhi and Yamuna Nagar. I am excited to be working with people who are also interested in widening access to educational resources. And, as an avid traveler, I am enthusiastic about exploring a new region of this beautiful country!
I’m Jacob Van Houten, originally from Lower Merion in the suburbs of Philadelphia and currently attending the College of Arts and Sciences at Penn. I just finished my sophomore year studying Mathematical Economics, and I’m thrilled to say I’ll be spending the summer working with Jana Urban Foundation in Bangalore doing microfinance work. I’m fascinated with the microfinance model, and I’ll be looking to explore both the great impact it can have to individual recipients and its scalability in assisting the greater population in such an immense country.
This will be my first time in India, and I can’t wait to immerse myself in a vastly different culture and expose myself to new ways of thinking. And as an avid eater, I can’t wait to try the food! (Though I’m posting this a few hours late, and I have to admit the first meal I ate in India with Laura and Eileen was a Belgian waffle and eggs at the ‘All-American Diner’….It was right inside where we were staying, it was late, and we were hungry!)
My name is Amy Summer and I just finished up my junior year at Penn. I’m from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, which is a little college town in rural PA. I’m studying cultural and medical anthropology with a minor in international development, which is what has led me to work with the Shahi Exports internship team this summer. We’ll be traveling between Bangalore and Orissa, trying to learn about the female factory laborers employed by Shahi Exports, looking at the challenges posed in their migration from the rural Orissa to urban Bangalore, their experiences with shifting gender roles, and their mental and physical well being in light of all of these changes. I’m trying not to go in with specific expectations on what I’ll see or learn. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels so far, it’s that these expectations are never what I end up finding. Flexibility is a beautiful quality when you travel, and it’s one that I’ve definitely been forced to embrace over the last few years. But, if I were to pick a certain question that I’d really like to dig into, it’s how mental health is framed in India, especially in the context of factory work. How do gender and power structures influence who becomes or is deemed “mentally ill” and what kinds of services can be provided to try to help those who are struggling with these issues. I’m hoping that if I can tackle some of these questions, this work could possibly go towards my thesis for medical anthropology.
Me backpacking last summer in Costa Rica
I’m looking forward to so many things on this trip—getting a chance to work with other researchers and international development consultants, learning my first few words of Hindi, chatting with the women working at the factory, and of course, eating tons of Indian food. But, I really can’t wait for that overwhelming feeling you get when you start to encounter people who have a completely different worldview from your own, and you start to feel your mind grow.
Namaste Everyone! (I tried :P )
My name is Bill He, but you can just call me Bill. That will work. I am originally from Beautiful Vancouver in Beautiful Canada, and I just finished my Freshman year, studying Computer Engineering in our Beautiful Engineering school at Penn. I will be spending the next 10 to 11 weeks having so much fun working for Leap Skills Academy with Eileen, Leora and Laura. Based in Delhi, this organization revolves around skills development and education for students, allowing them to pursue careers of their own choice. This would be my first time visiting India, and I am honestly so excited. Having lived many years in suburban Vancouver city of Burnaby, I had the chance to grow up around a predominately India immigrant community, and the genuine interactions and friendships that I have fostered over these have been so great. I am so excited to see the origins of the genuine traits that my Indian friends embody.
Education is scalable, and education is awesome. Considering that I am also an international student at Penn, I find it fitting to learn more about and contribute back to the international community. I find great joy in transforming my learning into a form of knowledge for others. Especially passionate about engineering, I believe I may be able to tackle issues from different perspectives and make it fun for others while doing so.
I am honestly so exited for the people, for the food, for the interactions, the landscape, the everything, and….. the not JFK airport (which I had the amazing opportunity to get to know inside out, since silly billy missed his flight. But dun worry, I am writing this at the gate, getting ready to board. But thank you Busra for missing your flight as well and keeping me company. You are awesome.)
Stay tuned for more updates you lovely people!
Hi everyone! My name is Busra Gungor and I’m a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. I am majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Health Services Management in Wharton. I live in Nashville, TN and was born in Turkey. This will be my first international trip to another country besides Turkey so I’m extremely excited!
In a few days (ahh), I will be starting my internship at Aravind in Madurai along with Olivia and Vivek. I’ve heard so many amazing things about Aravind, from there phenomenal efficiency and high quality of care to their aim to provide affordable health care to all socioeconomic classes. I personally am really intrigued in their business model and would like to use this internship to explore that aspect of health care. As someone interested in global health, I can’t wait to learn from and watch how physicians practice medicine in rural India.
As many of you probably have heard, Bill and I had an adventurous day yesterday. From running around airports to securing our luggage, it was quite the experience haha. We are currently at JFK and almost on our flight to Delhi! We are so pumped to finally begin our 10 week journey in India. Can’t wait to see everyone tomorrow at the ice cream social :)
More updates/adventures to come!
I’m Leora Mincer and I just finished my sophomore year at Penn, majoring in History and English. I’m originally from New York City, and I’m going to be spending the summer at LEAP Skills Academy, an education start up based in New Delhi that is focused on helping students develop the necessary skills to achieve successful careers. I’m very excited to be in India, with its fascinating political and cultural history (even lugged a big book on modern Indian history with me from NYC) and its incredible ethnic, religious, and lingistic diversity. I’m also very interested in education, and I’m on the board of the Penn Education Society at school, but until now I’ve thought more about policy, so I’m looking forward to working with the more hands on practical application of pedagogy and curriculum development. I also really enjoy working with teenagers, so I’m excited for the 3 week “Propeller” workshop we’ll be running with local high schoolers. I just landed in Delhi a few hours ago, so I’m pumped to head out tomorrow to haggle a little in the markets, buy some comfortable Indian clothing (the heat here is no joke), and of course as a vegetarian, I can’t wait for all the incredible, tasty food I’ll be eating this summer!
My name is Eileen Shentu and I’m originally from Boston, MA. At Penn, I am concentrating in marketing and finance in Wharton with a minor in consumer psychology (Class of 2017). This summer I will be working for Leap Skills Academy with Bill, Leora and Laura. Leap is a skill development organization that is headquartered in Delhi. The organization aims to provide life-long skills as well as sector specific skills to students, allowing them to create careers of their own choice. This will be my second time in India and I’m happy to be back! I have always been interested in education and in general, I find India to be a fascinating country. I am excited for the challenge of applying what I’ve learned in an environment that is relatively unfamiliar. This summer, the big question that I am asking is how can Leap scale an educational model in a country that is so diverse, in a way that is economically feasible and efficient for the business. I look forward to working together with everyone in India and getting to eat as many mangos as I can during my free time.
More updates on all of this soon. Greetings from Dubai- next stop Delhi!
Hi everyone! My name is Olivia Hess and I’ll be a sophomore in the College in the fall of 2015. I plan on majoring in the Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Healthcare Management. I’ve traveled to Honduras and England before, but this will be my first time in India and I couldn’t be more excited! I’ll be traveling to Madurai, a city in Tamil Nadu where I will be interning at the Aravind Eye Hospital. Founded in 1976, Aravind has grown into a network of hospitals dedicated to improving vision and eliminating needless blindness for millions of patients. I will be working at Aravind along with Busra and Vivek, and we are looking forward to projects that may relate to clinical studies, business and management, or patient education. As someone who has spent a substantial amount of time in biomedical laboratories, I am most looking forward to branching out into different fields of study. I am also making it a point to see elephants while in India, as they’re my favorite animal. I’m currently sitting in JFK international airport wearing a kurta, which is by far the most comfortable traveling outfit ever (thanks to Nikitha Kosaraju). It still feels surreal that I’ll be living and working in another country for 10 weeks, but I can’t wait to see what this summer holds. Next stop, Delhi!
Hi Everyone! My name is Vivek Nimgaonkar, and I just finished my junior year at Penn. I am in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Life Sciences and Management Dual Degree Program, studying Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and BEPP (Business Econ. And Public Policy) and HCMG (Health Care Management) at Wharton.
This summer, I am going to be following my interests in health care to the city of Madurai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There, I will be working at Aravind Eye Care Systems. Aravind was founded in 1976 as a small 11-bed operation by a “retired” ophthalmologist determined to install lacking eye care facilities in south India. Nearly forty years later, Aravind is a world leader in eye care, performing some 4 million operations each year. The brilliance of Aravind is its pairing of mission and innovation. With a mission to eliminate needless blindness in India, Aravind serves a relatively low-income patient base by providing the bulk of its services for free or at prices unimaginably low by American standards. The hospital is able to accomplish this by leveraging economies of scale, performing an enormous number of surgeries and procedures so that per-unit fixed costs are driven down. I am really looking forward to getting to know Aravind and learning about how the system has accomplished so much over the past forty years.
But first, I have to get there! I am sitting right now in JFK, having taken a painfully early flight from Pittsburgh (home for me). My Air India flight to Delhi later today with my fellow Aravind interns, Olivia and Busra, is still hours away, but I can already feel the adventure of India approaching. My parents were both born in India, and so I have traveled there to visit family a number of times. And yet far from reducing uncertainty about the journey ahead, I think that my experiences in India have made me acutely aware of how little I really know about the country. With more than a billion people, over 400 languages, and diverse topographies that range from the snow-capped Himalayas to the arid Thar Desert, it is impossible to feel that you know India. I can’t wait to begin to explore Madurai and unravel a few more of India’s many mysteries.
Hi everyone! My name is Michelle Lopez. I’m from Puerto Rico and grew up in New York. At Penn, I study International Relations with a minor in Environmental Science, and I am in the class of 2016 in the College. I am very excited because starting tomorrow, I will be interning at Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD), in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh. I am really interested in working with CORD’s projects on social justice or natural resource management, but am open to any area that I could contribute to! One of the reasons why I wanted to spend the summer in India is that since I would like to work with nonprofits in the future, it would be great to learn about a nonprofit in a different part of the world, that seeks to create change on many issues that I am interested in. I have only worked with nonprofits in the US so far, so am very excited to be somewhere I new. I look forward also to learning as much Hindi as I can, and to learning as much as possible about the place and community where I will be working in.
My name is Ravi Jain, and I’m originally from Syosset, NY. I’m studying Economics and South Asia Studies, and I’m very excited to be working at the CORD this summer in Himachal Pradesh along with Kurt and Michelle. I wanted to share some of the thoughts I had before the internship begins. Working at CORD is definitely an essential step in my future, because it will equip me with a lot of the skills I think are fundamental to my career aspirations. I am mainly going to address economic inequality by contributing to the microfinance project, which aims to provide small loans to villagers who would otherwise be unable to have access to credit. More generally, I found myself attracted to an internship in India both because of my heritage and familiarity with it as well as my desire to learn more about the kinds of issues its people face. I am excited about a number of things- improving my Hindi, making a meaningful and lasting improvement to the lives of the villagers in H.P, but most of all, the food. :)
Welcome to CASI readers and other viewers. Here’s some information about my project and me:
Hometown: Madison, WI
Penn school: Arts and Sciences
Research site: a garment manufacturer in Delhi, pseudonym tbd
Research question: How do fashion buyers negotiate and determine which garments and fashions will be produced?
Traveling so far: My flight over was via British Airways, easily the best deal. They also have a generous baggage allowance. The best thing, though, is that they serve organic water on the flight. I have yet to find this luxury product in India. However, the tap water here is also quite “organic,” it seems…!
I’m Kurt and I’m a junior in the College studying Health and Societies with a concentration in Public Health, and a minor in Bioethics. My hometown is in Northern Virginia but I’ve also lived in Mauritania, Yemen, and Germany. This summer I’ll be interning with the Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development, or CORD, in the the village of Sidhbari, Kangra District in Himachal Pradesh. My attraction to India as a country stems from my interest in medicine as a pre-med student, combined with my studies in Health and Societies, an interdisciplinary major that draws from the fields of anthropology, public health, epidemiology, and history. Medicine manifests itself in various forms in different places, and it would be an eye-opening experience to learn what healing and health in general mean in rural India, where conceptions of health and illness take on a more “holistic” meaning than the United States. The biggest question I have going into CORD is, what do health care and healing look like in this rural setting in the village of Sidhbari, and to what degree to people have access to clinics and other health services? This is probably too narrow-minded of a question to begin with, and I’ll certainly go in with an open mind to see what kinds of projects there are to take on. What I’m definitely looking forward to most is interacting with the villagers and getting a better feel for the land.
See you soon, India!
Hello followers of the CASI blog! My name is Kendra and I am excited to embark on the my biggest geographical journey to date – going to India! I am also very excited to share my experiences through blogging. As I quickly unpack from a semester at Penn and repack for the summer’s adventures I have found just a little bit of time in which I can introduce myself.
I was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland — and India will be my first stamp on my adult passport! I am a rising senior(!!!) in the College at Penn and I study Linguistics (rare, I know) and am minoring in American Sign Language and Deaf Culture. I will be interning this summer at Shahi Exports in Bengalore. Shahi is a clothing manufacturing company in Delhi and Bangalore that employs a large number of young women, many hailing from the more rural region Orissa. Our aim is research the experiences of employees and use our findings to help the company improve conditions for them (which hopefully improves manufacturing efficiency as well).
People have been asking me about my internship a lot. They want to know if I’m doing something with language or Deaf culture because that’s what I study. This is not exactly the case. Though I’ve loved all of my linguistics classes, reflecting on the last three school years I realized that what made my time worth it was all of the extracurricular activities and causes I was involved in. I am really involved with feminism on campus as a leader in Penn’s V-Day movement (we put on Eve Enlser’s Vagina Monologues every year).
Though I love to talk about gender and feminism in the United States, I do not have much experience with it abroad. I know that different cultures dictate how concepts such as gender, sexism, and other socially constructed identities play out in every day life. So, in working at Shahi Exports I want to expand my knowledge of women’s experiences outside of the Western world. We’ll be starting in Delhi, spending some time in Orissa, and ultimately spending the majority of our time in the Bengalore factory. I hope that this will be an eye-opening experience. I guess the big question I am asking going into this summer is “how do women’s experiences differ in different cultural and geographical spaces?” I think I will have plenty of opportunities to observe this given the itinerary.
Finally…I am most looking forward to learning how to rock some kurtas and salwar kameez! I cannot wait to pick out some bright and interesting patterns when I get to Delhi. That, and the food. I hope my stomach is ready for some real Indian food, mmmm!
Hard to believe, but the next time you hear from me I will be IN INDIA!
A very warm welcome to all of our 2015 CASI Student Programs Summer Interns and Travel Funds for Research Winners!
We look forward to reading more about their summer projects over the next few months on the CASI Student Programs Blog!
CASI 2015 Interns
Aravind Eye Care Systems, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Busra Gungor, C’17
Olivia Hess, C’18
Vivek Nimgaonkar, C W’16
CORD-Sidhbari, Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh
Ravi Jain, C’17
Kurt Koehler, C’16
Michelle Lopez, C’16
Jana Urban Foundation, Bangalore, Karnataka
Kevin Park, W’17
Jacob Van Houten, C’17
LEAP Skills Academy, Yamuna Nagar, Harayana
Laura Harris, GSE’16
Li He (Bill) He, SEAS’18
Leora Mincer, C’17
Eileen Shentu, W’17
Samaj Pragati Sahayog, Dewas, Madhya Pradesh
Kelly Bridges, C’16
Andrew Shannon, C’15, MES’16
Shahi Exports, Bangalore, Karnataka
Kendra Carson, C’16
Valentine d’Hauteville, C’17
Chan N. Nguyen, C’16
Amy Summer, C’16
2015 Travel Funds for Research Winners
Alex Hoppe, School of Arts and Sciences, Ph D Candidate, Sociology, Second Year
The Social Life of Apparel: Fashion Buyers in India and the United States
Matthew Kavanagh, School of Arts and Sciences, Ph D Candidate, Political Science, Fourth Year
Health Rights: The Constitution and Political Economy of Social Policy in India
Gretchen Landin, School of Veterinary Medicine, V’17
A Survey and Assessment of Dairy Livestock Nutrition and Reproduction with Potential Educational Initiatives in Mahabubnagar District, Andhra Pradesh, India
I’ve had the opportunity to work outside of Aurolab. I have been in contact with Aravind Pondicherry to help improve Aravind’s Eye Camps. Dr. Venkatesh, the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) at Aravind Pondy, is working on increasing the early diagnosis of permanent blindness at eye camps so preventative measures can be taken for patients diagnosed with one these diseases (such as glaucoma). We can do this by using something called a fundus camera, which is a portable & inexpensive camera operated by a technician to give physicians a nice view of the back of the eye/retina. We created a video below for the Glaucoma Conference, feel free to check it out to learn more:
The hope is to transform non-profit eye camps by first changing Aravind’s model, which has been the prominent model for most eye camps throughout the world. This work has put me in contact with some great doctors and given me an opportunity to learn more about the low cost non-profit model Aravind runs. I am having a little difficulty communicating with patients, but they still give me cheesy smiles as we take fundus camera photos. This project has major implications to a system that hasn’t drastically changed in 40 years. We probably caught 4 glaucoma patients at each camp out of 200 patients. These patients would most certainly have been missed without the fundus camera. Now they can be treated before it fully develops and retain their eye sight. I had an awesome time overall in Pondy. It is a very unique city in India with a unique culture. Colonized by the French before India’s Independence, Pondy has remnants of its past in every aspect of the town. Walking down the street you can see French tourists and locals all over the city. Even the street signs are in French as you approach the beach: You can walk into any cafe and order in french, english, or tamil. The locals understand the common words and the children attending schools can speak french fluently. The food is more European in general. For example, you can order the Caprese Salad to the left or amazing local pasta. The food, overall, is the best I have had throughout India, the variety and quality is hard to match even in bigger cities like Mumbai or Chennai. As you make your way through the French Quarter, you near the beach. The beach has an amazing breeze with coffee shops plastered all along the beach. If your a coder or can work from a coffee shop- this is the place to be. After talking to the locals for a bit, it became clear that a major reason why people immigrate to Pondy is not so much because of its French History, per se, but because of Auroville. Auroville is what makes Pondy very interesting to a lot of visitors and locals, it began as an experiment a while back sponsored by the Indian Government and has strong ties to Aravind itself. What Auroville claims to be can be best expressed through the video I watched upon the entrance of the ashram:
“There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth; a place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his sufferings and miseries, to surmount his weaknesses and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the search for pleasure and material enjoyment.
In this place, children would be able to grow and develop integrally without losing contact with their souls; education would be given not for passing examinations or obtaining certificates and posts but to enrich existing faculties and bring forth new ones. In this place, titles and positions would be replaced by opportunities to serve and organise; the bodily needs of each one would be equally provided for, and intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority would be expressed in the general organisation not by an increase in the pleasures and powers of life but by increased duties and responsibilities.
Beauty in all its artistic forms, painting, sculpture, music, literature, would be equally accessible to all; the ability to share in the joy it brings would be limited only by the capacities of each one and not by social or financial position.
For in this ideal place money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing. There, work would not be a way to earn one’s living but a way to express oneself and to develop one’s capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole, which, for its own part, would provide for each individual’s subsistence and sphere of action.
In short, it would be a place where human relationships, which are normally based almost exclusively on competition and strife, would be replaced by relationships of emulation in doing well, of collaboration and real brotherhood.”
Really a vision created by both the Mother (Mirra Alfassa) and Sri Aurobindo.
I had an amazing time visiting Auroville. The scenery was a pleasant surprise – people living with the land, much of it untarnished by buildings or other man made items. My fascination of Auroville stems from its focus on mediation and creating your own path. It was much needed break from the busy streets of Pondy and Madurai.
If your ever in pondy you have to check out Auroville, Cafe de Artes, and Don Giovanni’s (amazing mozzarella cheese).
I think I have had a decent exposure to all forms of travel within India, so its about time I write about the craziness that is India’s transportation system. Lets start with aviation.
I think India’s aviation is pretty good. The airports aren’t as clean as other countries, but they have airports at all the major cities, and they run in a timely fashion. Flying international is the same as anywhere else, in fact the Mumbai International Airport, newly renovated, is the nicest airport I have been to in years. The domestic travel at major cities like Mumbai and New Delhi are similar to any other city in the US- you just have to arrive early enough to get touched all over by Indian TSA which happen to be carrying big AK-47s. Overall, I felt pretty safe at the airport. The smaller airports, like Madurai, are great because you can show up 45 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart and still make it. The flights are a lot smaller (50-75 passenger planes) and more susceptible to strong winds. Air travel is relatively more expensive than the other options, but much cheaper than other parts of the world.
India’s train system still perplexes me, particularly booking trains. Trains can be booked online but the software they use is extremely complex to understand unless you have used the system before. If you try to book less than 3 days in advance, good luck to you mate because you might have to arrive at the train station beforehand and book it there. Wait-lists are also extremely common. The train itself is pretty nice, especially the A/C sections of the train. I recommend the 3rd class sleeper A/C for long trips. The main problem with trains is how long it takes. They stop frequently and there are numerous destinations that are not accessible. However, some of the train lines are extremely scenic, such was the case going from Madurai to Kanyakumari or to Kerala. Again pretty cheap option.
Oh buses. I have had a pretty rough time with buses personally. Local buses are fine if you have to get from one place to another in a short duration of time. They are crowed, blast classic songs from the 80s, and hot, but extremely cheap and convenient- running frequently. When you start taking the long private A/C buses, such as night buses, some of the problems get resolved. No more blasting music, or congestion, but the roads are too bumpy to fall asleep. Plus there is usually 5-10 people snoring with sleep apnea. I usually have to take the next day off when I take a night bus due to the lack of sleep. They are also a very inexpensive option and are available for travel between all cities.
Private taxis are the most convenient, available in all major cities and can be hailed or called (or ubered in some cities). They are a more expensive option, but you don’t have to deal with noise, crowds, or heat. If you are traveling in-between cities with multiple people, car pooling isn’t a bad option and extremely comfortable. Taxi services like Ola cabs and Fast-track are competitively priced with autos/rickshas, especially in Tamil Nadu. Rickshas, if they have working meters, are a good deal for a short duration, but in the south it is hard to find an honest ricksha owner. Bargaining is required.
We have all heard the stories about India’s roads, but large highways between cities are being built and make travel a lot more convenient. Still, safety remains a major concern. Safe Travels!
I have family all over India, specifically in Tamil Nadu. So one of the nice things I can do on the weekends is catch a bus to my relatives place. During the festival of Pongal, I decided to visit my uncle in India last month. Pongal is a major holiday in Southern India, it signifies the beginning of the harvest so its particular big in rural communities. There have actually been several controversies surrounding Pongal in Madurai all under the lines of animal cruelty. They usually release the bulls and the locals try to tame them. As one might suspect, many animals and people get killed yearly; however, the state government as prevent such things from happening recently so hopefully this year people will have their act together. Since my uncle owns a couple of farms, I decided to go visit him in Tiruppur along with my great grandparents house. One of my friends, Avilash, also came along.
The contrast from my uncles house to the farms he owns is devastating. He has a really nice place/mansion with a home theater system in the middle of India’s textile hub, so it feels kind of out of place. The farms he owns are outside the city center and are quite lovely-coconut trees as far as the eye can see with baby cows roaming around. It is extremely unique. During the festival of Pongal, my family and friends gathered at my uncle’s farm as we did several poojas for the farm and cows. The cows were each painted and given a nice meal. The whole process probably lasted 2 hours. After the ceremony was complete we headed to my great-grandparents place near Salem, Tamil Nadu.
This farm grows a variety of vegetables and spices indigenous to India such as okra and curry leaves. There was a gathering of maybe 50 plus people as we celebrated Pongal once more. I had the opportunity to see my extended family at this one, which was quite extensive. My grandfather was 1 of 7 brothers and 1 sister. All of them have families of their own and most of them reside on this farm. So it was truly an amazing experience. What was unfortunate was my tamil was not up to par, so communication was slightly difficult, but I think they understood my hand gestures after a bit.