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True Adventure India Expedition 2nd-23rd July 2011

Published Wednesday 9th of November 2011 01:22:50 PM

They say there's nothing that pulls a team closer than experiencing hardships together, and this was most certainly proven when myself and six other students (along with Ms Alder) took on a three-week expedition with True Adventure to India in last summer.

We were due to leave on the 2nd July, but preparations began long before that. We had been fundraising for over a year, both in and out of school as True Adventure recommended doing our best to fund the trip entirely by ourselves to have a greater sense of self-sufficiency and achievement. As well as fundraising, we all had to undergo an intense training weekend in the South Downs, camping two nights, cooking outside and doing a trek that encompassed activities that would test our mental strengths as well as physical.

Despite this immense preparation, the Saturday we were due to fly to Delhi arrived almost too suddenly. For myself, and most other members of the team, these three weeks would be the longest time we'd spent away from our families and home comforts, and leaving such things behind wasn't easy for any of us. A final day of preparation and kit-checking ensued before we left the school and headed for the airport.

The heat hit us like a wave as soon as we stepped out of the airport in Delhi: you could literally feel the air on your skin. Tired and uncomfortable, we waited for our minibus watching the mental traffic. Our first couple of days in Delhi passed in a blur, filled with visiting national monuments and generally trying to adjust to the climate and culture of our surroundings. On our third night in India, we took the overnight train to Shimla.

We had high hopes for this as we'd been told that we were on a first-class carriage but we should have realised that this didn't carry the same weight as in the UK. First-class in India means that each passenger gets their own bunk, and with eight bunks to every tiny carriage, this was hardly luxury.

A night in Shimla accompanied by a freezing shower was all we had time for before taking yet another journey up to Manali, which would be the base town for the trek and project phases of our expedition. Manali was a ski-resort town stuck in an eighties time-warp, but was full of character and we quickly learned our way around. We had one final day to complete a warm-up trek as well as buy the final supplies before we embarked on our mission to reach the Hampta Pass, a snowy plateau in the Himalayas, at over 4000m altitude.

The five-day trek was, hands down, the singular biggest challenge I have ever faced in my life. Although some members on the team took everything in their stride, the nature of the trek took a physical and mental toll on all of us. However, it was worth every step when we reached the finishing point. We were given some time to find a private spot in the valley and to reflect on what we had achieved, and when the team gathered again, a peaceful sense of pride was evident between us all.

The following day was spent travelling back to Manali, where we were to buy the supplies for the project phase. Our project involved renovating a Buddhist boarding school, repainting three classrooms. We were probably a little na�ve in thinking that, compared to the trek phase, our project would be a breeze: when we got to the school, we were greeted with peeling green paint on bare stone walls, with damp patches seeping through on the outside walls. It was clear from that moment that this task was going to be harder than we thought. We had to spend a whole day scraping the old paint off the walls, and the following day plastering over cracks and damp patches before we could even consider applying the new paint that we'd chosen cream for the walls and a bright blue for the woodwork. However, the work was enjoyable and the team bond that had been cemented on the trek was only strengthened by producing something so positive together. We had regular tea breaks with the native kitchen team of men, and formed friendships with them as well as being lucky enough to try a wide variety of their delicacies the highlight being the banana cake that was made as a surprise for Ali's birthday!

We finished our work with a couple of days to spare, so as we had extra materials, we also decided to repaint the hallway of the school as well, and then had the incredible oppurtunity to spend the afternoon in another local school, playing simple games with the children. This was a real eye-opener for all of us because even though we were in a totally different culture, one with much fewer luxuries, these children weren't so dissimilar from Western children in fact, they were much livelier and excited to get involved with everything we suggested. Everyone had a brilliant afternoon, and I know for sure that none of us will forget the time we spent with them.

The day came that we were to leave the project site, and this was emotional for all of us. We had become close with the kitchen team, as they had been with us since the beginning of trek, and many evenings had been spent all together, teaching different card games and filled with raucous laughter. We also had to say goodbye to the Buddhist monks who ran the school: they had let us into their home for this time, and also been more than happy to show us their way of living, including one morning when they had let us watch a prayer ritual.

One final day in Manali was all we had before it was time for our final stop of the expedition: Agra. We had all been looking forward to seeing the legendary Taj Mahal, but none of us could have been prepared for the breathtaking moment when it came into sight. The Taj is more magnificent in reality than in any photograph, and the atmosphere of total peace and contentment within its grounds was something invaluable to experience for us, reaching this final part monument was a symbol of all we had achieved over the previous three weeks.

Naturally, coming home was an exciting time for all of us, as we had all missed family and home comforts during our time in India, but amongst that anticipation was a quiet sense of sadness as we were leaving the Indian way of life behind. We had all learned priceless life lessons whilst away, ones that we were going to keep with us for a long, long time.

On behalf of all the team, I would like to thank Ms Alder for pushing to make the expedition possible, and without whose enthusiasm and determination all the way through our journey, we would have definitely struggled.

Report written by Head Girl, Caitlin Hobbs.
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