Taking In the City of Chennai


We have arrived in India, one of the most hotly anticipated places on my Semester at Sea itinerary. There is something about India that has always had a lure for me, and I’ve been really excited to see it for myself. We did a lot of cultural awareness training & discussion leading up to our arrival here, since India tends to be one of the most intense stops on the voyage.

The first thing I noticed in my culture shock is the roads. I don’t know how a foreigner can’t notice them. They are rickshaw drivers that absolutely swarm you and are just trying to convince you to go with them. Me and some of my friends hopped into some rickshaws right off the ship and had an amazing day driving around in them. They zoom in and out between traffic, constantly honking, slamming on their breaks and yelling at other drivers.

I was in the rickshaw with the other UW-Madison student on my voyage, and the two of us could not stop laughing out the whole experience. The streets are absolute chaos. There are rickshaws, trucks, motorbikes, pedestrians, stray animals, cars, bikes, animal towed vehicles, literally any mode of transportation you can imagine. And they all communicate to each other via honking. There’s the light honk, long honk, repeating honk, angry honk, honk and yell combo. It’s insane. The streets are the noisiest I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Indians are known to have a much closer personal bubble, so there are people constantly touching, grabbing and talking in your face.

The next day I visited 6 different Hindu temples around the Chennai area (Kancheepuram and Mamallpuram). It was a really long day, but I’m so glad I did it. I learned a lot about the various gods in Hinduism, and their different reincarnations, meanings and importance to the people. There were several different styles of temples that we saw, all from different eras in Indian history. My favorite was carved into the side of an enormous rock. It depicted various stages of Shiva’s life, who is the primary god for Hindus.

Shiva is believed to be the destroyer God, so people pray to him for a health and longevity. All the depictions of Shiva were so detailed and beautiful. Hinduism is a very fascinating religion and is extremely pervasive throughout India. There are so many small, colorful temples scattered throughout the cities as well as the large temples that people make pilgrimages to. I just can’t wait to learn more about the religion and its many unique and interesting gods.


Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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