We are in for quite an exciting first month in India: our journey will take us from the Aravali hills of Rajasthan up to the Himalayan range and back again. During our travels, we will slow down to connect with one another, set goals for our time in India, build new vocabulary and skills, and start to learn more about India’s rich culture and history.
What follows is a brief introduction to our itinerary for the month of September: please note that there will certainly be changes, which is part of the adventure of traveling in India. We will be updating these changes accordingly and, as always, Bridge Year administrators will always be informed of our plans and whereabouts.
So, without further adieu:
August 29: Depart for India from New York-JFK. Neerav, Hemant, and Uttara will be waiting for us in Delhi with open arms!
August 30-September 1: We’ll venture into Delhi for a brief excursion into the nation’s Capital region to sample delicious food, visit a Sikh Gurudwara and perhaps a few additional sites of religious and historical interest, and prepare for a long overnight train journey: the first of many this year.
September 2-9: Orientation in Udaipur!
We’ll stay at the lovely Vidya Bhavan retreat, which is situated about 12 kilometers outside of Udaipur. Surrounded by forests and hills, Vidya Bhavan is a beautiful nature center somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. We’ll be taking time to further orient to India and Bridge Year, craft goals and intentions, and learn more about our future service sites and of course, one another. The location provides many opportunities to explore the surrounding hills as well as take day trips into the city to learn more about Udaipur. Orientation activities often include:
September 9-12: Himalayas, here we come! We’ll take a train to the city of Jaipur before hopping on yet another train to Kathgodam, a town situated in the foothills of the Himalaya. From Kathgodam, we’ll venture into the mountains by vehicle until we reach the village of Munsiari.
September 12-18: Munsiari Homestays and our first Service Learning experience! Mornings and afternoons will be filled with talks, lessons, walks in the woods, and service work done in partnership with our host community. We will work together as a group to support the community’s efforts, get to know their struggles and successes, and begin to dive deeper into our discussions of service and development. Here’s a great TED talk by a former Dragon’s instructor about voluntourism and new concepts to ponder about service. (We will definitely be watching this one together, but might be helpful for beginning to formulate your own ideas of making meaning of service).
During this time, many students pick up new skills like knitting or weaving; some even learned to make savory samosas last year. Homestay families are warm and welcoming, and we might be invited to harvest beans or feed the cows.
We will also maintain a rhythm of daily Hindi lessons to better communicate with our new families.
September 19-23: A short walk in the Himalaya! From our homestays, we will walk straight into the mountains along an oak and rhododendron-lined forest into the alpine meadows above. Our elevation begins at 7000 feet, and climbs to 12,000 feet at its highest point, where we will make our camp.We will set up our base camp in this meadow, and proceed to take hikes departing from this base in the subsequent days to come, returning each night to cook together and spot constellations in the clear night sky. This region is known for its diversity of birds and other wildlife, and we will be accompanied by experts in local ecology and geography to help us interpret and better understand the environment around us. From our camp, we’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the Nanda Devi peak (see the image above), which towers above us at 25,000 feet!
September 24: Transit/Kausani: We’ll say goodbye to the high Himalaya and venture slightly lower, retracing our path to the town of Kausani. After a brief stopover here, we’ll continue onward to the final destination of our Orientation month: the Center for the Contemplation of Nature.
September 25-30: The Center for the Contemplation of Nature/Vrikshalaya is a beautiful retreat located in the forested hills of Majkhali. Vrikshalaya means “home of the trees” in Sanskrit, and our group will quickly become rooted in this welcoming space. While at Vrikshalaya, we will learn more about locally-informed food traditions, artwork, music, forest conservation, and governance. Activities might include yoga and meditation classes, forest walks to learn more about the local ecology, a visit to a seed bank to meet with farmers, and guest speakers from the community.
September 30: Overnight train and return to Rajasthan! Keep watching the yak board for updated plans as they evolve!
Looking ahead: we will be based in Udaipur for the majority of the Bridge Year until mid-April. In Udaipur, our students will meet their homestay families, begin their service learning placement in earnest, and grow roots in their new home community.
Communications: For the first month, the group will have very limited access to electronics. While there will be opportunities to access the internet/Skype from time to time, you should not expect to hear from the students on a regular basis during the first month. In some cases, the reason for this is that some of the places we travel do not have consistent internet access (i.e., Munsiari). Sometimes, your student might choose not to use their phone for their own personal reasons.
Fear not, however! Students, Instructors, and Administrators will be posting updates here on the Yak board to let you know where we are, what we’re up to, and offer reflections on our experience. On-site staff will always carry cell phones and a laptop and will be in regular contact with Bridge Year administrators. If you need to get in touch with your student for any reason, contact the Bridge Year office. Thanks for understanding this space that we’re carving out to be fully present in our first month, and rest assured that we’ll all be in much more frequent contact during our time in Udaipur!
Well, that’s all for now. It’s only a couple of days before we board a plane for India, and our anticipation is growing by the minute.
With gratitude for the journey to come,
Sarah, Uttara, Hemant, and Neerav