India Exchange 2018
On 18th October 2018 the peace team gathered in the freezing cold outside school. We were all extremely anxious. In 24 hours we would be in Kerala, India, we couldn’t wait.
We landed at 03:30am at Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) Airport, where we were immediately greeted by the intense humidity that we would soon grow to love. The moment we left the airport we caught a glimpse of what was to come, even at 4am we could hear the hustle and bustle we all associate with India, and we could only imagine what rush hour was like. It was little over an hour coach journey to the hotel in Kovalam where we would be staying for the following days. Once we arrived on the coast, we were shown to our rooms to where we all slept until that afternoon; it had been a long journey.
Our first experience of Kovalam was astonishing. We left the hotel from the exit onto the seafront, headed to our first meal. The coastline was incredible – the sea was a vibrant lilac and there was a great lighthouse at one end of the beach. Lunch was at another hotel, where they prepared for us our first of many curries. It was the only meal of the whole trip where Mrs Joshi would actively allow us to use cutlery, but fortunately we all seemed to eat like a true native by the return home. This first meal provided us with the first real opportunity to get to know everyone else on the trip, particularly those from TWGGS. Although we didn’t do much else on the first day, besides throw around an American football on the beach and in the swimming pool, it was nice to relax while we acquainted ourselves with the initial 4hr30 time difference.
For the rest of the time we stayed in Kovalam, we spent a great deal of time shopping in markets. The low prices were a huge surprise to us all as many of us bought lairy Indian t-shirts, or the popular team shirts of “man Faster” united, among a great number of other things. We visited many temples, devoured many, many curries and also enjoyed a day-trip to the most southern point of mainland India. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Kovalam and the warmth of the locals, and many of us would certainly consider revisiting, after our third day at the hotel it was time to leave, and we began the next leg of our trip.
We had a short drive up the road, just 7 hours so spirits had to be kept high whilst on the coach, luckily for us, Mr Davies was always on hand to provide us with some much needed positivity. On the coach everyone sang along to some karaoke, while slowly making our way along the bumpy and winding roads of Kerala. After a couple of hours we arrived at the Lotus Temple, where we ate lunch from a banana leaf, and learnt about the religion and what happens at the temple. The architecture was amazing, with all the curved walls and roofs, the columns and the tiles, all creating the shape of a blooming lotus. We could have spent all day at the temple, but it was back on the coach for another 5 hours. We finally arrived in Kochi after a whole day of travelling. It was dark and we were meeting our hosts for the first time. We were all very nervous to meet our hosts but we were all made most welcome and by the end of the first night we were all welcomed into aw family.
On Tuesday we visited the school for the first time. Honesty and integrity pervades the educational culture in Kerala. Students conducted themselves with pride in everything they did beginning with the whole school assembly every morning where the national anthem was sung, observances offered to Saraswati, Hindu Goddess of knowledge, music, arts and wisdom and recognition given to Gandhi, the Father of the Indian nation. The school would alternate the languages in which the blessings were spoken and sung, from Malayalam the state language to Hindi the national tongue, to English which lessons were taught in.
We were the main focus of the assembly and introduced ourselves to nearly 1000 on looking pupils and told them the thing we were most looking forward to on our trip. For many that was experiencing the culture and trying different foods. Once the assembly had finished, we travelled in two small minibuses to a resort where there was a small lake with boats, bikes to ride around the paths, a pool and a volleyball court. It was a very fun and relaxing day, surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery we had ever seen. When each of us returned to the host families we ate and were left to bond with our exchanges.
On Wednesday, we went sight-seeing at Fort Kochi. We saw the oldest church in Kochi, which was full of ornate decorations and depictions of Jesus, and the Chinese fishing nets, which had some very interesting mechanisms to lower the net into the water and lift it out again later on. We visited a Portuguese Palace, and also a Jewish synagogue. The synagogue was filled with multi coloured glass chandeliers, and the tiles on the floor each had a different picture painted onto them. We then ate lunch in the coach where we then saw Cranbrook School who were also on their Indian trip at the same time! After lunch we went souvenir shopping near the synagogue and we all bought many of our gifts there. On the way back to the school, we visited a ginger factory and saw the different stages of sorting and refinement.
On Thursday we visited the Hill palace which had hundreds of steps to climb to reach it. It was very interesting and definitely worth the climb because we saw lots of different things in the palace, making it more like a museum. For lunch we visited a hotel restaurant and had a buffet before making our way to our next stop. We then saw a traditional martial arts demonstration and had a talk on murals (wall paintings). This was a pretty short day and we returned to the school before going home. Another fun filled evening with the hosts was in store, some went shopping, some went out to play, but everyone enjoyed their time with their exchanges.
On Friday we visited a coir factory, which uses the husks from coconuts to make rope. It has a long and interesting history and we learnt about the origins of coir and how they used to make it centuries ago without the machinery. We also visited a mall where everyone stocked up on snacks from the store.
On Saturday we all had a lie in because we weren’t doing anything as a group, just with our exchanges. Many of us went to the biggest mall in Kerala. We were able to do anything we wanted, the mall had everything. Then we were able to eat some fast food, a meal we could all actually recognise for once, KFC, McDonald’s, pizza hut anything you could think of, it was just like home. We then went home and got ready for the Diwali party we had that night. We were all wearing traditional Indian clothing bought for us by our host families and had another buffet of curry at the party. We spent hours performing a traditional Indian dance, there were various musical performances, a highlight was Daniel Evans’ dance/sing along to ABBA’s waterloo, he didn’t really sing or dance but the Indian families seemed to love it! At the party our hosts put on a show of fireworks and sparklers which was amazing. That evening brought about the end of the second leg of our journey as in the morning we were heading off to Thekaddy.
The next morning we woke bright and early, excited at seeing a new part of this beautiful country. The coach journey was meant to take around five hours but thanks to some road closures it was closer to seven. Strangely enough though it was one of the most spectacular journeys I’ve ever been on. The sheer beauty of Kerala only really dawned on us during that journey, winding country roads up over mountains and down through valleys, luscious rainforest and green as far as the eye could see many of us sat and watched through the window for all seven hours.
We arrived at around 2 o’clock to the elephant castle resort in Thekaddy. It was stunning, monkeys swung from the trees above and birds chirped all over, it was a slice of paradise in amongst the chaos we had grown used to. After a few hours relaxing by the pool we headed down into the town to watch a martial arts display. Kalari is one of the oldest martial arts and is considered the father to many other martial arts, it is native to Kerala and we were treated to an astonishing display. Jumping through fire, fighting with swords, and diving over seven people were just a few of the feats we were lucky enough to see. After that we headed back to the hotel for dinner and had a rehearsal for our assembly performance later that week.
The next day was the one we had all been waiting for. Elephant riding. We headed off to the sanctuary in four jeeps, and were greeted by the sight of three elephants waiting for us. We all climbed aboard and got to go for a quick spin round the par on our elephants. The sensation is hard to describe, the calm and beautiful creatures were a joy to behold, and riding one was the experience of a lifetime, one I certainly will never forget. Next up, we headed off to the spice garden where we learned all about the different spices grown in Kerala and had the opportunity to buy some spices to take home. Then we headed back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon. A nice game of cricket by the pool gave Mr Davies a chance to show off some of his fearsome medium pace (as you may guess he took it rather seriously). Others chose to lounge by the pool or play table tennis. That evening we had dinner and headed off to bed, knowing that the next day we would be heading back to Cochin to spend our last few days with our exchange partners.
We woke relatively early, to have breakfast at our hotel in Thekaddy, before setting off on our return journey to our host families at Cochin. The view, as we descended through the mountains, was beautiful. Though, after the previous full day of activity, most people took the five-hour journey as an opportunity to rest. As we came closer to Cochin, we stopped off for a refreshment break at a road-side restaurant, before re-boarding the coach, to make the last leg of the journey. We were all picked up by our host families, so we could spend the rest of the day relaxing with them.
The next day we were all up bright and early and came to the school where we took part in an interactive session. This included a yoga class, in which we learnt how to relax our bodies, and a presentation about Kerala, put together by some of the students.
As a group, we all then took the school minibuses to Cochin’s Marine Biology Research Centre and Aquarium. We had a chance to look around all the exhibition rooms and learn a little about the local aquatic life, which is highly diverse in this particular area. Following this, we attended a conference about the local projects that were happening in the area, regarding sanitation, which involved a lot of research into the marine water-bodies around Cochin. This was followed by a speech, in the conference hall, from the founders of the Exchange programme. This included a quiz about Kerala.
We ate lunch at a local hotel, before embarking on a boat ride. Unfortunately, earlier in the trip, we were unable to spend a day on a traditional houseboat, due to the high water levels, caused by the heavy rainfall and flooding which happened shortly prior to our arrival in India. This boat wasn’t quite a houseboat, but regardless of that, it was an enjoyable trip with wonderful views of the canals and estuaries that were found all over Cochin. We landed in Fort Kochi, which we had visited earlier in the trip, where we had some time to walk around and browse the market stalls, before embarking back to the main city. That evening we all headed back home for what was going to be our penultimate night with our host families.
The 1st of November is the birthday of the state of Kerala, so it is a day filled with celebration, which meant that we all dressed in traditional clothing; the girls had their coloured sarees and the boys wore lungis and brightly coloured shirts. The school had organised a farewell programme, involving traditional dance mixed in with more contemporary musical performances, and speeches from the senior members of the school council. We were then given a tour of the school, after which we put on a small event of our own, to say our thank you and farewells to everyone at the school, with a mixture of songs, readings, poems and a little bit of dance.
Then came the greatly anticipated event: the basketball match. The boys match came first, which after a strong effort, unfortunately resulted in a 12- 26 defeat for us. However, we didn’t do too badly, considering we were playing against the school’s official basketball team. Then came the girl’s match, which resulted in a well-earned victory 8-2! After cooling down and recovering from playing in the exhausting heat, we went indoors for another display of dance and music, showing how the students are taught these skills, in their time at school. This signified the end of our stay at the school, and we said our goodbyes to some of the students at the school. It was sad moment for us all, realising we would likely never see the school again but that evening we headed off for our last night in India.
We woke early the next morning, ready for our long journey home. We were all very sad to say goodbye, we had all grown very close to our exchanges over the last two weeks. We arrived at the airport and with that had to say our final fond farewell. We boarded our flight and began our journey.
In summary, what is every day for the local Keralan is genius to the tourist. The range of art forms from elegant dance to pulsating marshall arts to the expressive Kathakali made the visit a treasured experience. The immense diversity of culture is matched only by religious and social unity unique to Kerala, known as God’s own country. Barely anywhere else in the world could we have been fortunate enough to see Ashrama, Jain and Hindu temples, churches and mosques all closely intertwined in the streets. Kerala is a melting pot of religious diversity and an example to the world that religious harmony is both possible and desirable. The selflessness of the local people will endure in the memory. The tales of the fisherman’s sacrifices to restore the state infrastructure and livelihoods after the recent flooding is a heart-warming and inspirational example to all of us of service. In the words of the Keralan students, “in the waves of difficulty we find our true unity”. We as a school are honoured to have been welcomed by the Keralan people and now look forward to their return to the Judd in July.
The time on the plane gave us all time to reflect on what had been, without question, the experience of a lifetime. Kerala’s beauty is not just from the state itself, but also the people in it, there is such diversity there and yet so little intolerance, and they truly are an example to the rest of us. We had all enjoyed our trip so very much and are all extremely grateful for the opportunity. I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that I hope the trip continues to run indefinitely, as it is an experience I will likely never get again.