ABOUT INDIA

India is a captivating land full of mystic, charm and spirituality, bursting with life and full of colour, a real attack on all your senses! From the hot sultry deserts of Rajasthan, the Taj Mahal and the majestic Himalayas in the north to the idyllic palm fringed beaches and ancient temples of the south, plus a multitude of wildlife parks, India really does have it all! The way to best enjoy India is to absorb it – the warmth of the people, the beauty, the smells, the food, and the wonderful hospitality!

India is an extraordinary country. Religious temples abound in tiny villages and streets throughout the country, and the people are some of the friendliest and compassionate around. You’ll be overwhelmed with invitations to people’s homes and on sightseeing trips (see some ex-volunteers’ stories – they’re amazing!). Your stay is sure to be one of the most heart-warming experiences you’ll ever have!

“The people are friendly and have a beautiful sense of humility, positivity and spirituality. I have thoroughly enjoyed walking around the city, answering curious questions and embracing the richly diverse culture. If you’re here for a long time like me, travel! I have fallen in love with Kerala. In the south I visited Kodaikanal, Periyar (twice!), Pondicherry and Varkala. In the north I visited Delhi, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, Ahmedabad and Udaipur. Imogen Catling

The sights, sounds, and scenery of India are unique and amazing with grandiose temples, lush paddy fields and stunning beaches. In the north, shrub-land and desert create a sublime backdrop and a visit to the ‘Golden Triangle” to take in the magnificent Taj Mahal, the palaces, forts and deserts of Rajasthan is a must. In the south, magnificent temples and gorgeous beaches abound

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO WHILE ON THIS PROJECT:

1-Week Intensive Tamil Language Course prior to starting your project. Learning a little Tamil will enhance your time in India immeasurably, as you’ll find out things about the culture and the way of life that someone without language skills simply wouldn’t have access to!

Tamil Language Lessons with a private tutor taken at the same time as your main project. Courses range in length to suit your needs.

Yoga and Meditation Lessons: You have the choice of combining the two or focussing on Yoga on its own. These courses vary in length to be done as an optional extra to your main project. Start the day with yoga and meditation – it’ll set you up for the day!

Cookery Courses: Cooking is an institution in India. If you’d like to learn how to cook some of the mouth-watering dishes this is the perfect way to do it; you’ll be able to choose from an extensive choice of recipes, visit the market to purchase the fresh produce and then learn how to cook the south Indian style food with your own private chef! Again, this activity runs concurrently with your main project.

Religion plays an important role in the life of the country, and is one of the few countries in the world which have such an ancient and diverse culture. Their arts and crafts are world renowned with sport being one of their favourite past times, and cricket still acting as one of the most popular activities.

India, officially Known as ‘Republic of India’ (in Hindi known as Bharat or Hindustan), is the seventh largest and second most populous country in the world with a staggering population of over 1 billion!! At times it can feel as if the whole population is in the same place at the same time as you! You will become fascinated with India, its cultures, its people, and the continuous stream of activity.

India is bordered on the north by Pakistan, China, Nepal, and Bhutan; on the east by Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Bay of Bengal; on the south by the Palk Strait, the Gulf of Mannar and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Arabian Sea and Pakistan. At the bottom tip of the country at Kanyakumari, three seas meet – the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Hoards of people converge to dip their toes in the 3 oceans!

India is so vast you could travel for 6 months and only scratch the surface, so here are our highlights (and our volunteers!) of the best places to visit:

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SOUTH
You can explore quaint waterways, beautiful sandy beaches, and meander through forests and coconut groves, take a ride on an elephant and visit ancient temples.

Madurai – All of our projects are based in the bustling city of Madurai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Madurai is known by many names; ‘Jasmine city’ for the famous jasmine flowers that are cultivated here, ‘the city of Nectar’, Legend tells of a river of nectar that flowed after blessing from Lord Shiva, and the ‘Temple City’, Madurai really does have a temple or shrine on practically every street but it is most famed for the Sri Meenakshi Sundeswarar Temple. Pilgrims and tourists alike flock to visit the temple and approximately 10,000 visit every day! The temple is named after goddess Meenakshi. It was built in the 17th century and is an enormous structure with 5 outer towers crammed full of idols and animals. The inner courtyard contains another 7 towers, again all highly adorned. It will take your breath away.

Madurai is located on Vaigai River and was the capital of Pandyan rulers till the 14th century. It is full of cultural diversity and life revolves around the awe inspiring Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple, awash with pilgrims, market stalls and tourist shops. Children will stop you on the streets to chat to you and shake your hand and even ask for your autograph! You will be in demand everywhere you go and you’ll feel like a celebrity, such is the warmth of the Indian people. If you’re after an overwhelming experience, then Madurai is a certainty for this!

KODAIKANAL/OOTY – For a bit of cool relief, take a trip to the hill station of Kodaikanal, just 4 hours away from Madurai. A different world awaits you; breathtaking mountains, a picturesque lake with a wide range of activities on offer from horse riding, rowing, cycling, trekking, or you can choose to relax with afternoon tea and cakes at a lakeside hotel. A trip to Ooty with its tea plantations should not be missed – ride the toy train for spectacular views over the Palani hills.

PONDICHERRY & MAHABALIPURUM On the east coast of Tamil Nadu lies the former French Colonial town of Pondicherry. In the French quarter you will find leafy boulevards and restaurants serving European cuisine. The famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram is also to be found here. Just 14kms away is the commune of Auroville; stay in a tree house on the beach for a magical experience. 2 hours north is the delightful fishing town of Mahabalipurum famed for its shore temple and rock carvings.

KERALA has been named “”Gods own Country” by the locals for its stunning scenery, wildlife, beautiful beaches, picture postcard towns and the breaktaking backwaters. It is also the home of Ayurveda medicine, an ancient system using essential oils and vigorous massage to aid medical complaints or just for pampering – a one hour massage is an unforgettably relaxing experience. Explore delightful Fort Cochin with its famous Chinese fishing nets, souvenir shops, art cafes and Jewish quarter; explore some of Kerala’s backwaters – an intricate network of rivers and smaller tributaries around Kochi. Take a peaceful cruise on a house boat and soak in the laid back atmosphere of village life as you float past; visit the beautiful beaches of Kovalam and Varkala, the latter being our favourite for its stunning cliff top, white sandy beaches and a fantastic selection of restaurants with the best sea-food around! A visit to see the classical dance drama “Kathakali” is also a must – do not miss it!

Kerala also has one of the best wildlife parks in the country; Periyar. A huge array of activities are on offer, jungle trekking and jeep safari’s which take you off the beaten track in the hope of spotting an elusive tiger although you are more likely to see elephants, boar, monkeys and many species of birds. You can also take an elephant ride, boat ride, visit spice and tea plantations, watch martial arts – it’s an action packed weekend and only 4 hours from Madurai!

MYSORE Just an overnight train or bus journey from Madurai is the majestic Maharajah’s Palace. The palace is set in its own walled grounds, with a temple in each corner, complete with intricately carved towers. Visit on a Sunday evening or at festival times to see the palace lit with over 5,000 bulbs – a truly stunning sight. Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka is 3 hours away; great for markets, palaces, gardens, shopping and nightlife!

HAMPI is part of a world heritage site, famous for its temples and gigantic boulders – it makes you feel as though you are in the Flintstones. A must see!

GOA is famous for its expanse of beaches, many of which have been taken over by the package tourism industry. There are still many smaller, quieter and more picturesque beaches towards the south of Goa, where travellers and long term European residents congregate. In these tiny beach resorts, the beaches are almost deserted and you can mix with locals and tourists whilst lazing in the sun. At Palolem beach, you could easily lose track of a fortnight lying in the sun, reading books, and letting the smell of incense float past you. Here you can rent a tiny shack on the edge of the beach for around £2 per night!

MUMBAI is a huge modern city where India’s young and affluent live in contrast to the many thousands of slum dwellers in some of the country’s most poverty stricken areas. Bollywood cinema originated in this huge city and has become a major part of life here. The famous Chowpatty beach is where you can often see young Bollywood stars relaxing at sunset. The rest of the city is just as chaotic as other parts of India, with overflowing markets, bazaars and lots and lots of people! From Mumbai you can visit Elephanta Island, home to ancient temples depicting holy scenes that have been cut away from the rock and also Ajanta Caves.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NORTH
You can trek in the foothills of the Himalayas, take boat trips on the Ganges River, stroll through forests and plantations, go camel riding in the dessert and visit a multitude of splendid palaces and forts.

DELHI is culturally beautiful, and above all a historic city. Old Delhi contrasts with the formal New Delhi, whose wide boulevards are mesmerizing and not dissimilar to a European city. The old city is full of energy and colour, and bustles to live with its bazaars and Moghul architecture. It is a busy and bustling city, yet still retains a unique charm and elegant nature.

RAJASTHAN is a dry and rugged environment, but one of the most beautiful settings in the world. With the Aravalli Hills (one of the oldest mountain systems in the world) splitting through the heart of the country, stretching from Mount Abu in the southwest to Kota and Bubdi in the east, it is a wondrous place. The capital of Rajasthan is the colourful city of Jaipur, founded by Raja Jai Singh II. It is part of the ’Golden triangle’ of Delhi-Jaipur-Agra’, and offers some magnificent buildings, and architecture. The Old City has a very enticing atmosphere, with its bazaars, palaces and haveli’s.

DHARAMSALA, McCLEUD GANGE 12 hours bus ride north of Delhi is the home of the Dalai Lama after he was exiled from Tibet. You can learn meditation; take a Vipassanna course in a monastery or learn yoga from the rooftops overlooking the Himalayan Mountains with hawks circling above. This town is absolutely magical and is very Tibetan in atmosphere, people and restaurants.

VARANASSI – This ancient city lines the River Ganges and is home to many a famous Baba (wandering Holy Man/Guru). Varanassi has been described as the melting pot of India. It is an intense Indian experience and you should definitely make the journey. At night the banks of the river come alive with the chanting, colour and music of the Puja festival. Visitors will be given leaves of food offerings, strange sweets and christened with red forehead markings. Varanassi is famous for is its Burning Ghats; these are open crematoriums that take place next to the Ganges in full view of everyone. Two of the Ghats burn continuously and you will witness a cremation as it is a normal part of everyday life here. Locals believe that a cremation by the Ganges automatically opens Nirvana to the deceased. People travel form far away for this cremation. Tears are not allowed however and due to this women are banned from the service. The Ganges is an incredibly holy place for Indians. They bathe in it and have daily prayer rituals involving splashing the water on their head. It is extremely unhygienic however and westerners that do bathe are likely to become very ill! There is an intensely sombre yet spiritual vibe here. It is like no other place on earth. If you’re looking for a taste of the bizarre – you don’t get more surreal than Varanassi.

There are many more delights of India just waiting for you to discover!

INDIAN CUISINE!
You can’t think of India without talking about the food – it really is a food lover’s delight with a mouth watering array of dishes to suit everyone’s palate with the food varying greatly from region to region. The essence of good Indian cooking revolves around the appropriate use of aromatic spices. The skill lies in the subtle blending of a variety of spices to enhance rather than overwhelm the basic flavour of a particular dish. In the dry arid deserts of Rajasthan and Gujarat a great variety of dals are used to substitute the lack of fresh vegetables and fruit; in Tamil Nadu, tamarind is used to add sourness to a dish and in Andhra Pradesh the food can be fiery hot!

Typical north Indian meals consist of chapati’s or roti’s (unleavened bread baked on a griddle); paratha’s (unleavened bread fried on a griddle) and naan and kulcha (cooked in a large and cylindrical coal-fired oven), rice and an assortment of accessories like dals, fried vegetables, curries, curd, chutney, and pickles. North Indian cuisine is distinguished by the proportionally high use of dairy products such as milk, paneer ghee and yoghurt. Goat and lamb meats are favoured ingredients of many north Indian recipes.

South Indian cuisine is rice based and combined with lentils to make wonderful dosa’s (rice pancakes); idli’s (steamed rice cakes); vada’s (deep fried doughnuts made from a batter of lentils) and uttapams (rice & lentil pancake). They are usually served with sambar (a soup like lentil dish tempered with whole spices and chillies) and rasam (a hot pepper soup), dry and curried vegetables, meat dishes and a host of coconut based chutneys and poppadums. A well well-rinsed banana leaf is used as a plate and food is most often eaten without cutlery, using instead the fingers of the right hand. It’s good fun but can take a little while to master!!

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Voluntary projects in Madurai in the south of India

Teaching: All types, from English to Music and Drama, Maths to IT. No qualifications required.

Sports: Coach football to disadvantaged children in Madurai in South India

Medical Work Experience: Gain experience in general hospitals, or specialise in paediatrics, gynaecology, psychiatry, physiotherapy, neurology.

Physiotherapy Work Experience: A fantastic opportunity to gain valuable Physiotherapy experience in the heart of Madurai.

Dentistry Work Experience: A unique opportunity to work closely with children of varying disabilities on our physiotherapy project in India.

Care, Orphanage and Community Projects:

Care for Orphans, Children with Special Needs, Deaf School Project, all very worthwhile projects where you can give something back.

Summer Camp: Turn the Kids holidays into an enjoyable learning experience at Summer Camp.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Volunteer Feedback
Madurai Gallery
Fun in Madurai Gallery
Indian Travels Gallery

OPTIONAL ADD-ONS

1-Week Intensive Tamil Course
Tamil Language Lessons
Yoga & Meditation Lessons
Cookery Classes

Click here to read the South Asia Newsletter

Volunteers at Coffee Day

Madurai

Volunteers at a waterfall in Kodaikanal

Volunteers in Auroville

Varkala Beach

LIVING IN INDIA:

Generally in India everything is very cheap. A meal in a local eatery costs less than 50p (honestly!) and there are plenty of superb fresh exotic fruit and freshly squeezed fruit juices, like mango, papaya, jack fruit, pineapple and grape.

Most attractions are ludicrously cheap to get to, from the fast and streamlined express trains to the vast network of buses which connect the villages. The local passengers will be fascinated by you and want to hear your life story and also ask for your autograph!

Indian Cuisine is not for the faint hearted – for most Indians, the hotter the better! Centuries of culture and tradition have led to this country producing some of the finest food in the world. Best eaten local style (with your right hand), the selection of spices, tastes, seasonings and sensations will blow you away!

“The trip was incredible; it was everything I expected and more. The family was amazing and very accommodating, I do count myself very lucky that Vinitha was there as she made my trip a lot easier and she was like my Indian mother when I was there. Pradeep was also very helpful and always assisted me when I need advice or help.

With regards to travelling, I saw everything in Madurai in my spare time and some of it during my first weekend there. I also went to Kodaikanal and Thekkady in kerala. The latter being the best trip of them all. Got some amazing pictures, memories and met some very nice people. So thank you all very much.” Brett Smith

MISCELLANEOUS INFORMATION
Full country name: Republic of India
Area: 3,287,263 sq km
Population: 1,028,737,436 as per census 2001
Capital City: New Delhi, population 13,850,507
Language: 22 major languages and over 1600 dialects. Hindi is the official language, and Tamil is the language spoken in Tamil Nadu where are projects are based.
Religion: Hindi, 80.5%; Muslim 13.4%; Christians 2.3%; Sikhs 1.3%, Others 1.9%
Currency: Indian Rupee
Time Difference: GMT + 5.5 hours

Weather in Madurai: Click here

RECOMMENDED READING
“Holy Cow” by Sarah MacDonald
“The God Of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy
“White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga.
“Are You Experienced?” by William Sutcliffe
“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
“Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts
“A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry

INDIA ON THE INTERNET:

123 India: http://www.123india.com