On the 21st of June, 36 of us set of on a once in a lifetime trip. The day we had been waiting for, for the last 18 months and a trip I’m sure none of us will ever forget. Saying goodbye to our family and friends was tough and leaving school at 4.00am on a chilly winter’s morning was just as hard.
The south team landed at Cochin airport in Kerala – India, not sure of what to expect we wandered through customs, had our visas approved and braved it out in the night. Although, it was 11.00pm it was so hot and very muggy. The next two days we spent exploring the city of Cochi. It was, according to our world challenge leader one of the calmer and cleaner cities of India but to us it was crazy and dirty. In these first few days we started to acclimatize, trying lots of new foods and learning about local traffic rules (or to us chaos!). Tuk-tuks quickly became our new favourite thing and local buses are quite fun too. Our team was split into different roles to organise different aspects of the trip. We had to plan and organise almost everything we did including where we stayed or ate. The groups were divided into budgeting, travel, RnR, accommodation, health and hygiene and group leaders. I was in the budgeting team and we had to work out the amount we would allocate to a meal, or our accommodation, what form of travel we could afford etc. We saved as much as we could so we could afford some luxury items in the last week.
Day 3 was the first day of our trek. After a six-hour bus ride we arrived in the amazing Western Ghats. This is a very unique part of the world as it is the only place on earth with what is called shola grasslands. This is when there are lots of rainforest areas and lots of grasslands quite close to each other in a mountainous area. Our first day of trekking was great fun and we got to know our guides very well. With a bit of glamping on the first night we were all raring for the tough climb up the mountain we spent all night admiring. We trekked through cardamom and tea plantations. The last day of hiking was the most exciting with a few interesting events. We were charged at by water buffaloes, hiding in the plantation or behind trees until the guides scared them away. We were bitten by leeches and almost blown off the mountain. The highlight of the trek was standing at the top of the mountain leaning into the wind. This was an amazing feeling that we would all happily go back for. Our hair was going everywhere, our hats were being blown around and we had a feeling like we could have been blown off the edge of that very huge mountain. But we didn’t and we’re all still alive, so good outcome! It was so windy that our guides had to tie ropes to the side of the mountain to get down one by one. While it was scary it was still really, really good fun.
After the end of the trek our trek guides took us by bus to Alleppey. In Alleppey we treated ourselves to a houseboat tour around the backwaters. It was a good way to relax our bodies after a hard hike. The next day we had a kayaking tour also in the backwaters – another fun activity that we all enjoyed a lot. We also made a trip to the beach and had a swim where we were soon told off by the lifeguards that we weren’t allowed to swim because it was monsoon season. The following two days were bike riding, canoeing in traditional boats, walking, and house-boating. We had our first home stay where we tried saris and longis on and played traditional games such as cubudi and karom.
We travelled by train ride to Varkarla. The carriages, (very unlike our trains) were hot, with bars on the windows and very little comfortable seating. Some of us were a bit worried about travelling by train. Vakarla is a beach town so of course we went swimming. Or attempted to at least! Again, the lifeguards told us we could only go in ankle deep, but we still all enjoyed it. We also did some shopping here. We later learnt that we had been ripped off. The next morning some of us did an early morning yoga session which was nice and relaxing. We enjoyed a western breakfast of mostly pancakes, followed by a walk on the beach, some people went swimming, had lunch and caught our next train back to Cochi. The train got in late at night, so we caught taxis to our airport hotel as we had an early wake up the next morning.
Another 4 o’clock wake up, but this time it was only a 5-minute drive to the airport. Landing in Delhi was quite a shock; it was so polluted we thought we were still in the clouds just before we landed. We got to explore around Delhi unlike most world challenge groups because we had a passport issue so one of the challengers and a teacher went to the Australian embassy to sort it out. Meanwhile the rest of us went to the movies. We saw ‘Sanju’. It was a Bollywood movie in full Hindi language, hence following the story line was a bit tricky.
A day time train in India was a scary thought for some of us so you can imagine us getting on an overnight train. It turned out to be not that bad and it’s all a part of the experience so I’m glad we did it. Because world challenge had pre-booked it we were in a more expensive carriage. We arrived at our destination of Udaipur at 6:00am.
Udaipur was the location of our project. Because we arrived on a Friday we went and checked out the location and asked them what they wanted us to do then went to our homestay. This homestay was nice and had some really amazing food. We had our first fancy dinner that night and had to stretch the budget quite a bit. Over the weekend we spent time exploring the town of Udaipur. We went to the gardens, a western mall, and encountered monkeys. Monkeys in India can steal your stuff and whilst they look quite cute they aren’t really that nice. Throughout the weekend we also went to city palace. Even I had to duck under the doorways, so we assumed that people were short when they built it. We also went to an artists village where we experienced the local culture whilst joining in a snake charmer dance.
Monday was the start of our project. Our project was on the DAAN foundation in Udaipur run by Dr Samvit Audichya. It is an afterschool programme that runs for children aged 5-15. Its focus is to teach the kids about a good environment, health and hygiene. We sifted sand to make cement, made cement for the mason to render the toilet block, planted turmeric, ginger, basil and mint as well as painting some murals about the environment. We also provided the centre with a water purification system to allow the kids clean safe water to drink. After school had finished the kids started coming in and we realised how small they were for their age. A ten-year-old looked like a five-year-old. We made a few friends and played some games with them. They absolutely loved it and so did we.
During this week we all received a letter from home that our families had written before we left. It was really lovely to read something from home and thank you again to everyone who wrote a letter.
On the last day of our project we had finished everything, so we started doing some planning of our final week. Because the budget team did such an amazing job and saved money throughout the trip on various things we were able to ‘live it up’ a bit. We booked a private bus for the week through our in-country agent, we booked some nice hotels, and we also planned three birthday dinners and one fancy celebratory dinner for our last night in India.
Leaving the project on our private bus marked our first birthday which belonged to Kate. Kate’s birthday, lucky for her, was a travel day. We sat on our bus for around seven hours and arrived in Pushkar. When we got to the hotel we all thanked the accommodation people a lot because it was amazing. We had a pool and the rooms were great. The rooms featured enough beds for us, an actual shower head that was above your head, hot water and even TOILET PAPER. It was a miracle. The toilets even flushed properly. After a quick dip in the pool we headed into town for Kate’s birthday dinner. We had a view over the lake which was stunning. The following day we had time to explore. We went to the Brahma Temple which is the only temple in the world dedicated to one person. The person it is dedicated to is the person who built the lake. The lake is very sacred to the Indian people. Toby’s birthday was next to be celebrated. We went out for dinner. Another good restaurant choice, even though we had to wait three hours for the food and we didn’t get some of our stuff. We still had a pretty amazing dance party.
Next day we were back on the bus for another 7-hour bus ride to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Here we were staying at Bissau Palace where royals of some kind have stayed. After shopping at the bazaar for an hour we were off to Mikki’s birthday dinner and yet again it was another amazing place to eat.
We spent the next two days exploring Jaipur and the old pink city. First thing we did was go to the Hawa Mahal. The Hawa Mahal was really cool and a bit of a rabbit warren. Just as we were leaving we got caught in a traditional monsoon season random rain storm. A long time ago the queen used to visit here and look out through the tiny windows so that she could see the people but the people couldn’t see her.
After the storm was finished we had lunch then headed to the Jantar Mantar. Did you know the Jantar Mantar means “mathematical instruments”? Our guide told us this a few too many times. This was a garden with lots of sun dials and other things to tell the time and lots of stuff about star signs. It was actually quite interesting. We then went shopping again!
The next day we caught our bus up the hill to the old town of Amber. Here we saw Amber Fort and Nahargarh Fort or “Tiger Fort” as it translates. Amber Fort was where the king used to live with his twelve wives. Tiger Fort was just the same but smaller. Because Tiger Fort was further up the hill we got to catch jeeps up the hill which was fun. After lunch we went to Albert Hall Museum. It was about art. I really enjoyed it and I think most other people did as well. There were some cool old instruments to look at too. We then had late lunch and again did more shopping! We had a packing session with Fliss (our world challenge leader) so she could show us how to fit in all the stuff we had bought.
Another travel day but this was quite an exciting one because we were headed to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. After a long day travelling we finally saw it. We decided to go back there early the next morning to explore. We went to Agra Fort. It had a moat, a draw bridge and everything that a fort would have. This is where the guy who built the Taj Mahal lived. The view was amazing. I think we were all more excited about the view of the Taj than the actual Fort. After lots of exploring we arrived at our hotel and it was so fancy. Our bags had to go through security and we had to go through buzzers like the airport. We had our fancy dinner and even had dessert! At dinner we gave our teachers a gift we had bought for them as a thank you. We had an early night, so we could be up at 4:30am to see the sunrise over the Taj Mahal.
Waking up so early for the Taj Mahal was not hard we were all so excited. The tuk-tuks were pre-ordered and we were off very early. WOW! It is something we will never ever forget. Such a beautiful building. The Taj Mahal is built of white marble. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Hahan in memory of this third wife. Sick with grief, Shah Jahan was first inspired to build the Taj Mahal after his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died while giving birth to their 14th child. It is known as the ‘Crown of Palaces’. The seat at the front made famous by Princess Diana wasn’t too busy, so we were all able to get that special photo. The building was smaller than I expected but still not a letdown. Because it was made of marble we had to wear shoe protectors, so the floor didn’t get marked. The entire building was symmetrical, every wall, inside and out was the same. Such an amazing place to see.
After a few hours here, we all started getting hungry so went back for a fancy brekky then packed ready for our final bus ride in India. The group bought us all matching t-shirts to wear on the plane. And we were off. Back to Delhi for our flight home. We were happy to be heading home, tired and smelly, but with stories to share.
I would like to thank World Challenge, an amazing organization providing great opportunities for kids to be able to see such fantastic places. Fliss, our world challenge leader for everything and helping us survive. Mr Crickmore for his superb organisation of the whole thing. Ms Rey and Mrs Peter for being like a mum to us for a month and making sure we were all very well looked after. Mr James for being a great help and for switching into teacher mode when it was necessary. All the parents for letting your children go overseas without you for a month. And of course, all the other challengers, for making it a trip I will never forget. Thank you.
Ingrid Hocking (9M)
We landed in Delhi after a nine hour flight. Exhausted, but excited to be there, we headed through manic traffic to our hotel. The next day we travelled to Nainital, up in the hills near the
Himalayas, from where we began a six day trek through the Indian Himalayas and climbed to a peak of 3400m. After our trek we took a bus to Haridwar and experienced the incredible Ganga
Aarti ceremony on the Ganges. Beautiful Rishikesh, the yoga capital, was a fun and upbeat city full of temples and delicious cafés. An overnight train to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, and
then into a fairly isolated village where we spent a week working in a local primary school, in almost 50 degree heat! We helped build a classroom and smashed the old toilet block. We left
the primary school after sharing many chais with locals and shaking left hands with the school kids who loved playing a game of cricket or catch. We then went to Jodhpur, the blue city and
did lots of shopping and saw a film in Hindi! Then on to Jaipur, the pink city, where we visited the incredible Amber Fort. Our last city was Agra, where we went to the spectacular Taj Mahal
and the fascinating Agra Fort. It was an incredible experience for us all, and we agreed it was absolutely life changing. We will all treasure our memories of India forever.
Sophie Ginis (9R)