April Cibula: I am a 21 year-old Senior at the Central Connecticut State University. I am working on a double major in Anthropology and Spanish. As an avid traveller, I have been to five continents. I wanted to come to India to further my international experiences and to see how the country has developed after a long history of exploitation.

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After a night of festivities we started the New Year leaving Kovalam for Trivandrum (aka Thiruvananthapuram). At 10 am we met to leave and after a 30-40 minute bus ride we arrived in the Thampanoor neighborhood of Trivandrum. We dropped off our belongings in the hotel and began a bus tour of the city. Our tour guide was a local journalist, the city editor of the newspaper Madhrubhoomi.  The first area we passed were he slums of Chenkhal Choola, a collection of small, dilapidated shacks. Although the view was grim, the condition of these slums, according to our guide, has been improving. We passed the Russian Cultural Center. Its name as changed from the Cultural Center of the Soviet Union to the Russian Cultural Center. Next, we drove by the Women’s College and newly constructed gated apartment buildings. We went by the ex-Prime Minister’s house, which has now been turned into a radio station. Then, we entered into Kowdiar, a wealthy area with a tennis club and an exclusive businessmen’s club. We passed a memorial constructed in honor of India’s national poet, Rabindranath Tagore. He was the first non-European to win the Nobel prize in literature and also wrote the national anthem of India. The governor’s house was our next stop. The governor of the State of Kerala is appointed by the President of India and is not elected. Indian state governors only have advisory powers.

One of the most impressive stops was the Kowdiar palace, former residence of the Maharaja of Travancore, built in 1930, during the rule of the British. The palace is now occupied by the Maharaja’s nieces and other members of his extended family. Jackie Kennedy visited the Maharaja at this palace. He died in 1991 at the age of 70 and in Hindu tradition he was cremated. His ashes were buried on the property. We then visited the Kanakakkunnu palace, that was built high on a hill in Trivandrum to serve as an observatory point. While walking, we passed two Bengali men. They are migrant workers who have contracts for six months at a time to work in Kerala. They said they send 10,000 Rs (about $200) a month back home, much like the Central Americans coming to the USA.

Some of the last places we passed was a large football (soccer) stadium, a mosque, and a sit-down demonstration in front of the Kerala government headquarters. Near there, there was also a church affiliated with the Church of England. If you looked at it, you would think you were in England. It was built in a British style, without any Indian influence on the design. A few hours later, we went to a Hindu temple, a place where no tourists visit. Much like other religions, we had to dress modestly, in long pants and shawls. The temple was open on the inside, with large walls surrounding the temple area. The brick was painted bright red. In every direction, there were brightly painted statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. There was no roof, but in the courtyard there were small gold buildings and altars. The murals on the walls were brightly painted. Some figures in the temple included a mermaid, a woman with snake hair, like Medusa, and a lady justice holding a scale but not blindfolded. I saw live chickens on the ground. Their feet were tied together. People could pay for loud explosions. A man would carry a large flame and people would put their hands quickly in the flame and move their hands toward their faces. Animals are an important part of this temple, with statues of peacocks, lion, elephants, rabbits, and others. Much like Egypt, they have human/animal hybrids, including: monkeys, elephants, boars, snakes, and others. It was an amazing, unexpected experience.

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