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Chris Hobbs, Joel Oliver, Lorna Thomson, Sam Ward

Religion in Contemporary Life

Lorna Thomson

""Myself, Sam Ward, Chris Hobbs and Joel Oliver spent nearly five weeks travelling around Southern India in July and August 2006. My first impressions of India, arriving in Bangalore, a city which combines the modern with the ancient and is expanding extremely quickly was the busy and hectic roads, wandering cows, the stray dogs and the amount of people. The religious and cultural diversity we witnessed was incredible. The people we met were all extremely friendly, and the places we visited were stunning, ranging in extremes from the cold and misty mountains of Ooty to the sunny beaches of Kovalam in Kerala. Experiencing such variation in one country and one trip enabled us to appreciate how different and distinct India is and how much variation there is in food, local languages and scenery. In Bangalore we witnessed the rich and the extremely poor, emphasizing the extremes of India. It was hard and humbling to see the poverty, especially when most of the children just wanted pens. The people we met were intrigued, and as interested in us as we were of them, asking our names and if they could have a photo taken with us.

""The course which took place at the Dharmaram College in Bangalore was very informative and interesting, combing theoretical with the practical. Lectures were given by esteemed and very intelligent lecturers, and we also visited various temples, Christian and Hindu ashrams, the ISKON Temple, and a Jain pilgrimage site in Mysore. Eating and spending time with a community or a family gave us a greater understanding of religious life in contemporary India. As there was only four of us on the course we were able to tell Father Matthew Chandrakunnel, the course organizer (who we got on very well with!) what we wanted to specialize in. At the college we took a yoga class, and also experienced Indian dance, an Aryuvedic massage, and a festival. We also visited tiger and elephant sanctuaries. Seeing the animals up close was stunning.

During a free weekend we got the overnight train and travelled north of Bangalore to Hampi, a town surrounded by ancient ruins. It is a must see place, and a backpackers stop off point. Getting up at 5am to walk up a mountain and watch the sun rise was a highlight.

After the three week course we travelled down along the south west coast, then back up to Bangalore, visiting places such as Kunnar, Thrisssur, Kottayam, Kovalam and Madurai. One of the highlights of my trip was hiring a houseboat for a day and a night on the relaxing Keralan backwaters.

My experience travelling Southern India was amazing. There were highs and lows of the trip, but the positives India has to offer outweights the negatives by far. The impact the country had on my emotions and senses was unforgettable. I would definitely visit India again, and strongly recommend it to others.

Chris Hobbs

I had an amzing five weeks out there in India. We had a 3 week course at Dharmaram college in Bangalore, followed by 2 weeks travelling which we decided to do our selves.

When you first arrive in India, it is quite a culture shock. The roads for one thing are crazy, i doubt they have any traffic laws. Bangalore is a vibarant city, fast paced and so much to see. The college itself is situated in the heart of the city. Walking along the backstreets behind the college you get a real feel of what a typical Indian city is like, crammed with shops and small restaurants, it is a really great and interesting place to be. The downside is that there is so much pollution due to the traffic.

""The college itself, though situated in the middle of the city is very peaceful, and is a great place to have the course. The people at the college, and in India generally are so nice. They are really interested to know about you and where you come from and many will go out of their way to make sure you are having a good time. The course is run by Father Matthew, he is a great person and is a wealth of knowledge and infomation. He has contacts all over India, so if you are interested in anything particular ask him and he will try to accomadate you as best as possible. The course is a series of lectures and trips. We were fortuanate in that there was only four of us on the course so we could pick and choose to a degree what we wanted to study. The lectures at the college are great, you will go into so much more depth into subjects than you do genrally.

The lecturers themselves are walking encyclopaedias!!! so dont worry about asking them questions if you are interested in any particular areas, they are more than happy to help. During the course in India you have to write a thousand word essay on a subject that you learnt on the course. You are allowed to use the libaray for this, something which I strongly urge as many of the books are quite rare and very hard to find elsewhere. Dont worry about the essay, Father Matthew is a generous marker!!!

""We had many trips on the course, we visited a number of ashrams, temples, we went to dinner at a muslim ladies house and had a yoga session. These are to name but a few. The trips were the more practical side of the course allowing us to see the different forms of relgious practise first hand. They allowed us to meet various religious figures from the different traditions, and it showed us just how religiously diverse India is.

After the course we decided to go traveling for a couple of weeks, something that Father Matthew was more than willing to help us out with. We travelled to a town north of Bangalore called Hampii which is surrounded by ruins of an ancient city. The highlight of the trip for me was watching sunrise on top of a ruined temple that we had to climb to at 5 am. It was a magical moment and something I would love to do again. We also travelled south to the southern province of Kerala where we had a house boat and went to various towns along the coast. Again we had a great time and met loads of people.

Overall we all had an amazing time, something I would love to do again. The people and culture in India is something that has to be experienced, a nice change from the modern western world that we live in. It is an opportunity not to be missed, for me a trip of a life time.

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