Week 1: Introduction
On Thursday 20 October 2016, we arrived at Thiruvananthapuram airport in the state Kerala. Crazy traffic maneuvers and beautiful palm trees marked the start of our first week in India. During this week we would get to know more about this diverse country and get familiar with the contacts of our project at location. Our experiences of each week will be shared in the weekly updates.
Mata Amritanandamayi Math
After we have been picked up at Thiruvananthapuram airport, we were brought to the Amritapuri Ashram in Kollam. The ashram is built on the birthplace of Amma, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, and represents her spiritual headquarter. The Ashram is located in a fishing village on a small island in between the backwaters of Kerala and the Arabian Sea.
When we arrived at the ashram we were welcomed several people. From the International Office of Amrita University, Souresh Cornet and Amrita Ravi were there to guide us through the first days. Just as Maarten de Groot, former project manager, from the TU Delft. Together with Maarten and Rini, his wife we had a lot of nice moments there, including the tea moments at four 'a clock!
We had to come to Kerala to finish all the administration surrounding our stay at Amrita University. We stayed for several days at this ashram in one of their apartments. During our stay here we got to learn all about Amma and we experienced the daily life of the followers of Amma, who were living at the Ashram and we also had our first encounterings with the Indian food and eating with our hands. Also we learned about the customs and values of India, by the means of a powerpoint presentation. At the Ashram we also finally got to know our project assignment, to design and fabricate machines needed for the areca palm plate business.
On one of the last days we were able to make a trip to Alappuzha also known as Alleppey. There we did a boat tour on the backwaters of Alleppey. The scenery during the trip was beautiful and the tour itself was very relaxing. After our trip it was time to leave. It was a short stay at the ashram as we had to make our leave to travel to Bangalore campus, where we would work on our project.
Let’s start with some general information about this city. The city of Bangalore, officially known as Bengaluru, is the capital of the state of Karnataka. With a population of approximately 11,5 million it is one of the rapidly growing metro cities of south India. It is also known to be the hub of India’s booming IT industry. This city shows the modern face of India, with its fine dining, shopping and night scene.
We arrived on 26 October at Amrita University campus in Bangalore, after a long bus trip, were sleeping was not really possible due to the bumpy roads and a really chaotic pick up. After a few hours of sleep and some uncertainty about were we needed to go. We found the office of R. Pramod, our contact person on Bangalore campus and our project supervisor. We talked about the project and its ideas and then we were off to start on the project. We got our own little office in the university's building were we could quietly work. We first got familiar with the project by reading the literature, and doing research for the production process of the areca plate.
Week 2: Work and holidays
The solar dryer
In the meeting with our supervisor we discussed the outline of the project and its deliverables. This week we decided to put our focus on improving one of the aspects of the production process of the areca plate, namely the drying process of the raw material (the areca palm sheath). Our supervisor made literature available for us to make a good start. We installed ourselves into our own office and started to do our work. Our extensive research resulted in a design suitable for the situation and environment in the village.
The Indian students from our project team started on designing a more efficient plate pressing machine. In this way we all worked on the project, but did our own parts. Next week we had a meeting planned to show our findings to our other project members and our supervisor.
During this week we met two other Dutch students. They came from Groningen and were attending for the whole first semester. Maarten already told us that there were two guys from Groningen studying there, but we didn’t know who they were. It seemed to be one girl and a guy, who both were studying International Business at Groningen University. It was by coincidence that we saw one of them walking to the apartment room below ours. As the amount of international students at this campus was very low, it was an easy task to guess that she was Dutch.
They were very nice and could tell us all about Bangalore and the life on the campus. On the first day we met they decided that they had to show us Bangalore. We headed out for dinner in one of the many nice places and had such a good time. There we heard that the amount of meat available in this city is abundant. This resolved all our worries about a vegan lifestyle that we thought we would have to live for 3,5 months. After dinner we went to a rooftop lounge restaurant to create a fitting end of the day.
This weekend an important Hindu festival, Diwali, took place. It is a festival of lights, which spiritually stands for the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair.
The campus was filled with lights. We also could see the campus decorated with garlands and beautiful drawings (kolam) made with colored powders. All the female students were dressed up, some wear pretty sarees other nice kurtis. The students were also burning small oil lamps (dipa) made from clay. They were put them in the fountain on a floating piece of foam or near the stairs. We also burned a dipa each.
After lighting our dipas we joined the students, who gathered on the square before the fountain. A DJ was playing Indian pop music and made everyone dance. The Indian students tried to teach us several dance moves. It looked like that each song had their own specific dance moves. We tried our very best to do the dance moves, but they appeared easier to do than they actually were. We had a great time with the Indian students.
As the holidays took place for several days, we planned a trip to Pondicherry together with the other two Dutch students. We decided to go to Pondicherry the city capital of the state Puducherry, which was the headquarters of the French East India Company. The city was divided into a French quarter and an Indian quarter. French control remained there until 1954.
The scenery in Pondicherry was very different from Bangalore. We could see palm trees everywhere together with the nice beaches. The whole city felt cozy and relaxed, whereas in Bangalore it feels like a busy and quick moving city. The contrast in infrastructure and the buildings in the French quarter with the Indian were big. Spacious roads and beautiful buildings could be seen in the French part. It made you feel like you were not in India for a moment. We had a great time here with relaxing at the beach and touring through the city.
We also went to Auroville, a small township not far from the city. It is an experimental township dedicated to the vision of Sri Aurobindo. The town was founded in 1964 by Mirra Alfassa to unite men and women from all countries to live in peace and progressive harmony.
The ambiance there was harmonious and peaceful. We learned that approximately 2500 people lived there from over 49 countries. Unfortunate we where not able to enter the Matrimandir, which look like a huge golden globe.