During our youth to youth exchange and learning service project, the India group works at the Tota Rani Government School outside of Dharamsala in Northwestern India. Since the school has very few books, they asked that the group place knowledge on the walls of their classrooms.
Today was absolutely breathtaking, in many senses of the word. We woke at 6:00 am by one of our porters knocking on our tent and handing us hot Chai tea alongside a warm bowl of water for washing. We then all gathered under a large tarp and enjoyed a breakfast of porridge, chapati (an indian flat bread), potato curry, and many other side dishes. Following breakfast we packed ourselves up and set out for our trek. Prior to that day's trek, our guides had precautioned us that it would be entirely uphill, but I had no idea what I was in for. We began hiking on a gradual uphill, nothing too challenging. The weather was pleasantly warm with a comfortable breeze blowing in our direction. Observing my surroundings, I was stunned by how tropical and diverse all the vegetation was at such a high altitude. As the vegetation began to dwindle, the terrain increased in incline. The incline didn't phase me at first; I was able to keep a steady pace upfront, simply enjoying my surroundings. It wasn't until our third steep ascent that it began to wear on me. Physically, my legs felt as if they could have walked all day, but my heart was pounding and lungs were heaving for air. Mentally I was completely drained as well. We took a break at the zenith of the peak to allow time for us to cool down and for others to catch up. At that point, lounging on a rock and gazing at the hike ahead, I was beginning to lose motivation. I figured that with this level of exhaustion, there was no way I would be able to continue at that incline for another five hours. However, I knew that no matter what, quitting was not an option. I decided to find a quiet spot away from everyone else where I could meditate for a moment and give myself a brief pep talk. I told myself to envision the feeling of accomplishment once we reach our site, to imagine all of the things I will be able to experience along the way. I will most likely only get this opportunity once in my life, so focus on all the great things about it rather than the small negative details. Being the goal-oriented and challenge-driven person I am, I also set a goal for myself to remain near the front of the group for the entirety of the trek. I knew that if I had some form of challenging motivation, I would push myself to my maximum capacity. With a new sense of energy and drive, I was ready to set out. The next segment of the hike was exhausting, composed of a compilation of strenuous uphill climbs. Although it was exhausting, I managed to maintain my goal and objectives throughout, which made the hike much more manageable. Stopping for lunch was a major relief; everyone was in dire need of a break. We ate a meal of chickpea curry with rice, chipati, and a small salad. Afterwards, a group of us sat by the river and talked while enjoying the views and bright weather, others took the time for a well deserved nap. The hike after lunch was equally as challenging, if not more, but once I found a steady rhythm it seemed to breeze by. Going over the last hill and arriving at camp was surreal. It seemed like something out of a movie. I felt as if I was in Middle Earth. The snow-covered mountains that appeared to be eons away that morning were now within an arm's reach. Crystal-clear glacial water flowed under my feet as I gazed at the lucious purple flowers that covered the hill sides. I was overwhelmed with a sense that I had never experienced before. Gratitude and awe flooded me as my exhaustion vanished. Every moment leading up to that point was beyond worth it. I would have happily climbed for six more strenuous hours just to experience that moment.
When arriving at the taxies that were supposed to take us back the hotel, the majority of the group decided it would feel better to finish the trek off strong, and hike the rest of the way through the forest, through McLeodganj, and back to the Zambala house. Within the group, a fun game of contact broke out and we were able to see a side of the town that we would not have been able to see had we not taken this opportunity. Arriving back, everyone was very eager to shower and wash their clothes. Checking in at the end of the day was the highlight for most of us. We had accomplished a lot and also made time for rest and rejuvenation. Although the trek was an amazing and beautiful experience, I think that most of us are happy to be in comfortable beds with hot, running water. Boy we are spoiled.
Vidal '17, India, 4/23/2016
I woke up with my hair stiffer than a rock, probably because I hadn't showered in a week. It was the last day of the trek, and I was disappointed. I was going to leave such a beautiful place. What helped my mood in the morning was picking up trash in Triund. It wasn't just picking up the trash, it was also seeing how many people came to help us and thank us for the work we where doing. People began to help us pick up trash and asked us for trash bags so that when they headed down the trail, they could pick up trash as well. We inspired 4 locals to pick up trash with us. They said, "It is nice seeing someone caring for a place that isn't theirs," which brought a smile to my face. It made me feel so good to think that even the little bit we were doing could make a difference. It was like we were the start of a chain reaction that hopefully will keep going until all of India is clean, and maybe the world too.
I've only been on one train ride in my entire life, it was to visit my grandparents; it was very uncomfortable because the seats where like air plane seats. So when I got on the train to go from Old Delhi to Pathenkot, I was thinking the seats where going to be just like that. It turns out we got beds instead of seats, which then made me think "oh great ten hours of a hard bed and no blanket". I was wrong, the beds where not the softest beds I've slept on, but they weren't the hardest, the beds also came with blankets, pillows, and sheets. Which made the train ride a lot more enjoyable. Now when we got off the train we drove from Pathenkot to McLeodgang, half way through the car ride we stopped at a restaurant. They served us fresh yogurt, bananas, chai tea, and Indian breakfast foods. The food was so good every one over ate, and needed some time to hang out and rest before we got on the road again.
Mason '17, India, 4/23/2016
Rohit, Anikat, Tarun, Aditay, Mahak, and Riya - these are the names of six students who introduced themselves today at the Boku Harani government school. These are a few of the many students who wake up early, lugging backpacks larger than them selves over miles of mountainous terrain known as the Himalaya, all for a few hours of what will most likely have a massive impact on the rest of their lives. You never truly know what it feels like to smile until you have had an opportunity to be that change in someone's life. It's also impossible not to smile when you have dozens of giggling middle schoolers anxious to tell you every thing they have learned in school.