I had an incredible trip to Tamil Nadu from the 8th-16th of February. The highlight of the trip was  meeting some great people and experiencing a lot of new culture. This trip I traveled with some close friends of my host family and I would strongly recommend traveling with friends in addition to host families because you get exposed to different cultures, new people, and generally a new family environment.

I reached Coimbatore on the morning of February 8th. That evening when we arrived in Coimbatore I was met with good old Indian humidity and some beautiful scenery. It was interesting to be back in a rural environment on the outskirts of Coimbatore since I haven’t really seen one since I left. Our stay in Coimbatore was short as we had to drive to the nearby village of Satyamangalam for a wedding reception. We got to the reception around 9:00 and I had my first Dosas and Idlis of the trip (they weren’t my last.) Being at the reception was great because I got to meet a lot of the family and I got to see the first stages of a real South Indian Wedding.

The next morning was where the fun really started because at 8:30 that morning the marriage begun. Sadly I wasn’t able to get any good pictures but seeing things like the 9-yard Saree, and the garland exchange among other things was great. My favorite part of the marriage was when I sat down with 8 members of the Moorthy family and ate breakfast on the banana leaves. If we had more banana leafs in the US I would never use a plate again. One theme throughout my trip in South India which just begun here was that I was welcomed as just another member of the family and not like a foreigner. It was kind of refreshing to just feel like a person attending a wedding instead of a foreigner attending a wedding. At  about 11:00 we wrapped things up and began the 3.5 hour drive to Coonoor.

When we reached Coonoor, it was absolutely breathtaking. We stayed in a tea estate looking down on Coimbatore from quite high up, and we were surrounded by tea fields and wildlife. That first day in Coonoor we went into the city to eat and headed to the lambs rock to get an incredible view of the rolling hills and the city of Coimbatore below. We also went to the city park and saw all kinds of flora and fauna. We even saw some pine trees which I never expected to find in India! That night we had a bonfire under the stars and I got to talk with the family very much. I became much closer with Moorthy family over the course of this trip and the night in Coonoor was a big reason for that. The next morning we drove to the nearby city of Ooty to see the botanical gardens and go boating. In the botanical gardens we got to see more plants and lots of monkeys and turtles among other animals. Ooty was such an incredible place that I’d love to visit again. Coonoor and Ooty were both absolutely beautiful hill stations.

Our night in Coimbatore was pretty simple, we just ate dinner and rested at the hotel. Although I did get to meet the 3-time winner of Mr. Tamil Nadu. At this stage of the trip one Uncle traveling with us had to leave us and go back to Delhi for some work. The next afternoon we drove to the small village of Namakkal to visit the family great-aunt’s home. First one of her children came and took us to two incredible mandirs. One was a Hanuman mandir which had that great statue I sent pictures of and the other was a Narasimha mandir which I’ve never gotten to see up North. It was interesting to see the Gods in black marble instead of white as they usually are here. When we got to the family home in Namakkal I for the first time of the trip was in a place where I had no way of verbally communicating except with the Moorthy’s of course. The family only spoke Tamil and Kannada. But this was one of those cultural moments that you dream about as an exchange student. I got by with limited language and the family was so sweet. They gave me clothes and brought me in. When I left, auntie hugged me and I was so thankful for this welcoming environment. With the world in its current state when so many people turn upon their fellow countrymen as well as any outsiders, meeting people like this gives me hope. We left Namakkal because we had to stay in Salem with this aunties two brothers. In this home I got more of the same great treatment and food. Here I was able to speak English and there was a boy in 9th class interested in foreign exchange. I gave him and his mother my YES Abroad pitch and gave them my email for the future. The next morning Moorthy Uncle had to come back to Delhi so it was just me and the three others for the rest of the trip. We spent the day in Salem with the family, and I played football and ran around with the children. That evening we had another round of goobyes as we took the overnight train to Chennai.

The train was quaint but comfortable and I had no trouble falling asleep or traveling. I slept and when I woke up we were in Chennai. We drove straight to Chennai to meet more family and to drop off auntie to stay with her sister in- law. These people were just as welcoming as the rest have been and fed me a lot. They also gave me copies of the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and some beautiful pictures. The next two days in Chennai were kind of a blur. We visited different shops, hung out with family, and ate more Idlis and Dosas then I would like to remember. Some of the best parts were visiting the beach and that very colorful Lakshmi mandir on the shore. On the 15th, we headed to Mahabalipuram for the day and that was one of the highlights of the trip. We saw all the temples and the sea and I met another uncle who took us around and who had lived in the US for a few years. This was a great day to spend the last full day in the South. The next day was filled with goodbyes, talks and traveling. I had an amazing time but I was happy to be back with my host family.

Well this concludes my story, and I am so thankful to the family for treating me really kindly and treating me to a wonderful time. Also, to anybody interested in traveling on exchange I would strongly recommend it because of what it can teach you culturally and because it’s important to explore your host country. Interacting with these people was the best possible way to spend my trip and it goes to show that the one thing we all share is our humanity. Even with language barriers or cultural differences compassion can always bridge those gaps. I think I will remember this trip and these people forever.

As always, thank you YES Abroad for yet another extraordinary experience.