By: L. Doherty
During the past holidays, a group of 18 students, including myself and 2 teachers, (Ms. Knowles and Ms. Sanger), travelled to Uttrakhand in the Northeast of India. This trip was part of a program called World Challenge, which takes students all over the world on expeditions to different destinations. Our expedition to India included a community service project, trekking and tourism. We spent about 16 days in India, exploring extremely unique places, different from the ones we were used to. Even though the voyage was demanding, and challenging, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
The first phase of our expedition was the community service project. After 8 long bus hours and a lot of uphill trekking, we finally got to the campsite where we were staying in, which was next to the village where we worked in for some days. Buggad is a simple community located in the foothills of the Himalayas which relies on farming and unskilled labouring work for their income. The families we met there were very poor, and really needed our help to build their homes. Our group helped with water harvesting by cutting pipes and installing gutters which ensured a more sustainable way of water collection for the people of the village, since their water supply is particularly limited. We also helped create a way for the villagers to dispose their litter because unfortunately, no previous waste collection facilities were provided there. A brick incinerator was built, which hopefully is now being shared in between 2 or 3 households. Although burning rubbish is not the best for the environment, it was an alternative solution to prevent the clogging of water channels and health dangers for individuals. We not only interacted with the different families we met, but also had the chance to visit Buggad’s local school. The group as a whole had a lot of fun meeting the children and playing with them. There was so much more to the project phase than just completing the incinerator and gutters. The culture exchanges we had with the villagers was fantastic. We learnt more about their cooking, their lessons, the games they like to play and how their lifestyles are completely different from ours.
Next, the trekking phase of our expedition. The “challengers” spent 3 days hiking around the base of the Himalayas. This part of the journey was definitely a very difficult and tiring one, however we supported each other the whole time and together we made it to the end. The contact we had with nature there was unbelievable. The “scenario” we were in was breathtaking: huge trees, peculiar flowers and never- ending horizons were what we saw, touched and smelled for a few days. During our treks, we also went by a few isolated villages, one which had just been introduced to electricity about 2 years ago. We visited mountain top temples and, after lots of kilometers, ended our days in different, beautiful campsites. We had to deal with a lot of heat and a lot of rain, therefore, putting up and taking down tents everyday was quite a hard job which was mastered at the end of the expedition. The trekking raised our awareness about environmental pollution, since we had to leave everywhere we went spotless, just like it was before anyone arrived there. The World Challenge group bonded even more during this phase. Our nights in our remote campsites were filled with gatherings around fires and long talks. We connected with each other, not through Wi-Fi.
Lastly, the rest and relaxation, or also known as tourism phase. No visit to India would be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal or a typical street bazaar. We spent 4 days going around different cities exploring various historical buildings and monuments such as the Amber fort in Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra. We also visited an elephant sanctuary called Wildlife SOS, close to Jaipur, where we were able to feed and touch the elephants. The tourism phase was another opportunity for us to get to know more about Indian culture and how life in the city differs from the rural area we had just been in. In the big cities, for example, it was evident that women had less rights and value than men. Temples were a large part of our tourism phase, where we learnt about the different religions present in India and how all of them are worshipped differently. We learnt much more about the country’s history, listening to stories about wars, kings and queens. Our responsibility during this phase was increased, since the whole group had to be alert and obedient while walking on the streets and checking in into hotels. A little bit of shopping was also done, where we all bought typical marble objects and silk clothing from stores around town.
This expedition, like any other, I suppose, also had its rough times. We all got tired of walking, had our discussions or got homesick at some point. We dealt with a lot of climate change, culture shock, unique foods and spices, everything which was different to us. However, this journey made us all step out of our comfort zone, try new things, meet new people, bond with not so close friends, and learn more about ourselves and the world we live in. I believe these 2 weeks in India were life changing. Our time exploring the cities was crazy but wonderful at the same time, our long trekking days showed me how we must not give up and go beyond our limits, yet always supporting and taking our friends with us; and lastly, our time in the village made me realize how small actions can make a huge difference to others, even if it does not seem so to us. This trip made me realize how we forget to appreciate the little things and take everything for granted. We must be grateful for everything we have, not everyone is as lucky as we are. I am and will always be grateful for having created so many amazing memories with this incredible group on our World Challenge 2018 Expedition to India.