Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"It's all about the people"

"It's all about the people" is a phrase that my mom always used to say to me when something really good (or really bad) happened. Her wise words continue to ring true here in India, and, thankfully for me, the people I speak of are making my experience here an amazing one.

It is hard to describe the warm feeling I get when someone first decides that we trust each other enough to share a part of their life with me. It signifies friendliness, dedication, and openness. I just think it is so amazing that I can connect with someone that normally lives over 2000 miles away from me and it makes a place so much more than a photo, a description, or a statistic. It makes a place tangible, comprehendible, and real.

What prompted my thoughts for this post were a culmination of events (and of my thoughts) over the last week or so. Last Monday, the Study Abroad Cohort celebrated Emilie's birthday, and we invited our friends studying in the Geopolitics Department to join us. It could have been the giddiness of the atmosphere, but I am just so humbled and thankful that we have made friends with people so willing to share their country, life, and experiences with us, even if it is only four months. I just love them!

Study abroad cohort + Geopolitics students + Emilie's birthday= A good time

Another moment that prompted this post was seeing where our dance teacher conducts some of her other classes. Last Wednesday, she brought the four of us dancers to an old, yet durable, building where her and her husband carry out their passion and livelihood of teaching Bharatanatyam Dance to students of all ages. Both being artists, they constantly constructively criticize their students and they made the class perform a number of routines and songs for us to watch and listen to. Of course, these students, being trained since very young ages, blew any skills we had out of the water, and I was amazed at some of the students' focus and determination for the subject. We also had the privilege of seeing a student our age that is going for her expert examination; she brought to life the mythological story I mentioned in my blog post, "Why Does Ganesha Have An Elephant Head?". Being able to witness my dance teacher's life outside the context of the one class we take from her was amazing because I was able to understand the positive impact her and her husband have on the community and on promoting a beautiful art form.

The wonderful class doing dance!

These girls also learn to sing, as the art of music and dance are intricately wound together. Their voices were amazing!

My research professor also deserves recognition in this post because she has been absolutely great to work with! Her enthusiasm to share information and always teach me something is appreciated because I have so much to learn. Her willingness to bring me to some of the sites for my research (and buy me a tender coconut) is also very much appreciated. I hope one day she visits the U.S. so I can show her around DC or Chicago or something. (Rest assured, if any of the wonderful people I have met here ever visited me in the U.S., I would love to be as good of a person and host to them as they have been to me).

And of course, there is Smriti, and anyone who has been following this blog knows how instrumental she has been to our experience.

Overall, I think a huge thing my experience abroad has taught me is humility. I have been extremely humbled by the people I have met, things I have learned (and have yet to learn) and experiences I have had.

(There are many people I did not mention above that would go on here, but I have only a limited amount of time).

Anyway! The last week has been a whirlwind. With midterm studying, dance, painting (Praveena Aunty is the best art teacher EVER), research, and a trip to Sringeri and Varanga, I have had little time to relax. The details of my adventure are below:

As far as midterms go, I am basically done! Phew! I had to study a lot last week and this weekend to prepare, but I am glad they are over so I can stress less. As always, dance and painting have been fun and Dr. Aarthy, Priya, Prashanthi, and I have set some dates for my finals field visits at the end of October.

This last Saturday, Smriti took us to Sringeri to see a brilliant gopuram and temple, and then we ventured into Varanga to witness Kere Basadi (a Jain temple).

Sirngeri, India, is a hill town. Situated up winding roads, this place is famous for its 1200 year old temple, called Vidyashankara. At this magnificent place of worship, a bursting gopuram of pinks, blues, and greens greeted me as I unstrapped my sandals. Stepping inside, men offered elephant blessings, locals avoided the hot sun, and the Tunga River gave a beautiful backdrop to the temple. The temple was impressively intact, as evidenced by the intricate stone carvings. We also found a hanging bridge, which, naturally, turned into a photo shoot. Pictures below.

Magnificant, colorful gopuram.

Gopuram from the back.

Elephant blessing.

Vidyashankara Temple.

The white path is there so you do not burn your feet when walking around the temple!

Sharadamba Temple.

Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom.

Emilie, Tanzeela, and I!

Tom and I! #tallpplclub

Beautiful view of the Tunga River.

Beautifully intact stone carvings, Vidyashankara Temple.


After a quick lunch of rice and mango juice, we headed for Varanga, a small, agricultural village in between Karkala and Agumbe. At first, I was skeptical because the bus driver let us off in front of a rice field at a dead end. However, after some galashing around, we peered through a thicket of trees and saw a basadi (Jain temple) sitting in the middle of a dense pond. After summoning a priest, we were able to take a wooden canoe (the only way to get there) to reach the stunning relic. Garnished with golden doors, symmetrical architecture, and a sense of peaceful isolation, there was not a more perfect way to spend the afternoon than watching the rain fall from the safety of the basadi's cover. The Kere Basadi was constructed for people to worship Lord Parshwanath, who is known to bring prosperity and wishes to his devotees. Jainism is a religion which centers around achieving liberation through peacefulness and renunciation. Worshipped by 4.2 million people globally, Jainism preaches that all living things have souls. Of the places of worship we have visited, I have found that the places for Jainism have been the most serene and peaceful. This basadi was no different, and in fact, Varanga and the Kere Basadi is one of the quietest, most peaceful, and isolated places I have ever been in my life. It was a great experience.(See "More Links for more info on Jainism). See pictures below.

Exploring Varanga.

A rice field in Varanga, India

The agricultural Midwesterner in me had to take a close up of these rice plants!

The only way to reach Kere Basadi is by wooden canoe, accompanied by the priest.

The Kere Basadi!

The golden door to the temple.

The rainy, peaceful view from the Kere Basadi... I could have spent all day there.


After our adventure to Kere Basadi, we headed home after a long day. Smriti bought us all Frankies (you thought I was going to say ice cream, didn't you?), which are one of our favorites. A Frankie is essentially a paratha (type of bread) wrapped in a tortilla-like fashion, filled with chicken, vegetables, and doused in tangy sauce.


On another note...

Two things I absolutely love about India:

1. The culture of fixing and reusing, instead of just throwing it out. The other day, my shoe's velcro ripped off and my pants also ripped. If I was in the U.S., I would have probably just have had to thrown them out and get new ones. Here, however, I got both of them fixed by experts (a cobbler and tailor, respectively), and did not waste a thing. I am in love with this concept and hope that, through cultural exchange and the sharing of ideas, the U.S. can adopt similar practices.

2. BUS RIDES. Bus rides are going to be so boring back in DC. Each bus ride to Udupi is an absolute treat, as on each ride, Bollywood music blares on speakers, the open air rushes through your face, and the ticket master shrieks his whistle to signal the bus to go. In essence, bus rides here are quite lively!


I hope you have enjoyed reading this week's blog! As always, please comment or email me with any questions or comments.

Note: I will be on "Travel Week" starting this Friday night/Saturday morning, and will be gone for 8 days. I think there will be too much content to fit into one blog post afterwards, so I will probably successively release each day of the trip afterwards in multiple posts (we will see for sure though).

Thank you for reading.




Last Notes: The answer to the question "Which city is the most populous in India?" is Mumbai (Bombay) at around 12 million. The song that I have attached to my blog, lastly, is U. Srinivas playing the Mandolin. He is revered as one of the most revered mandolin players in India, and is from Chennai (in South India). Enjoy!


  1. I just found out that you have a blog, this is so nice, Kara! :)

    1. Thank you, Mrs. Mackowiak! I am glad you enjoyed my latest post :) Hope you are doing well.

  2. Came here a bit late, but oh-so-happy to read the post...!! This one especially is delightful Kara..Thanks a Million for posting the photos and describing the Jaina basadi . Have heard of it , but now I definitely want to go there! Picturing sitting there in silence..just rain drops and tranquility all around. Bliss!

    The route to Shringeri has been very close to my heart. Every time I go there, my heart sings in joy in the lush green surroundings..

    Recycle and Reuse has been the mantra of the common man in India. My parents washed, dried and reused even the ziplock bags when they visited US. The way you have embraced it and want to continue in the path shows immense maturity Kara. Kudos!! :)

    Hope your travel week went well. Waiting to see a informative post soon. Take care.

    1. Your comments always make me so happy to be writing this blog, and thank you for reading :) I hope I can meet you someday!!! I truly hope you get to visit the basadi now, and I think it is so awesome that you have been to Shringeri :D My post from the first two days of travel week should be up within the next couple of hours.

    2. Hope to meet you too! Come down to CA some day and stay with us a couple days. Lots to talk about :)

    3. I am humbled by your invitation and would love to visit someday...I have never been to California and I am sure we could talk about so much :)