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Photo by Caleb Brooks

A Pack(ed) Yak!

Tashi Delek, Julley, Khamma Ghani, As-salaam Alaikum, Namaste dear Dragons-

Our travel dates are getting closer. Are you getting excited? (We are!)

There is one thing that always comes up — something that everyone ponders in circles at some point before a Dragons course (including.. yes.. your instructors). This, our future friends, is WHAT DO I PACK?!?!? And this yak? This yak is a possible end to your circular WHAT DO I PACK?!? thinking. We hope.

Please write to us with any and all questions you might have, and as we’ve said before, the Yak board is the perfect place to do that because nine times out of ten, another person probably has the same question.

We wanted to add some modifications/clarifications to your packing list based on the questions we’ve received so far as well as feedback from previous years.

Things to bring for sure (this is not an all-inclusive list. Again, refer/defer to the tried-and-true packing list you received first!)

  • Sleeping Bags: The packing list suggests a 10-20 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag. You should bring one of these. The nights in the Himalayas run cold and you will want to snuggle up and be warm under the Milky Way. In addition, some students have appreciated having a sleeping bag while overnighting in the Program House, and on train rides which can sometimes be chilly.
  • Backpacks: The packing list provides a great description of the kind of backpack that we recommend (a 65-80 litre bag). It’s a great travelling practice to be able to fit everything into your backpack, but also to be able to carry said backpack on your own for up to a mile. Leave anything unnecessary at home.
  • ProTip from past students and instructors: Bring a pair of earplugs to guarantee a better night’s sleep on our long (and sometimes cacophonous) train rides! An eyemask can also be helpful.
  • Make sure that you have an EFFECTIVE rain jacket: it will be raining throughout the first five weeks of our course, and you will be glad to have added protection against the elements.
  • DEFINITELY BRING A DOWN/SYNTHETIC, WARM JACKET! You need it for the first and last months, and often for the winter months in Udaipur. Ignore the packing list’s suggestion that your parents ship it to you: this is an expensive option, and you’ll need it earlier in the program.
  • Student ID Card: definitely bring both your high school ID (even if it’s expired) AND your Princeton ID (you’ll receive on campus), and carry them with you in your wallets throughout the program. These can significantly reduce the entry fees at national monuments.
  • Bike helmet: please bring one that fits you properly. While these can be acquired in India, we can’t guarantee that there will be a size that fits — so we ask that you bring one with you. Two ways to deal with the bulk: 1) You can put the helmet upside down at the bottom of your pack, and put fragile items/toiletries inside, then pack some clothing around it for extra protection; 2) You can just strap it to the outside of your carry-on daypack. Yep, it’s definitely a lewk, but worth it once we arrive in Udaipur. Plus yay for safety first!
  • Long, synthetic trekking/hiking pants: EVERY/BODY needs at least one pair. You’ll need these for the first and last six weeks on course.
  • Diva Cups: if you are a menstruating human, these can be a good option especially during the months in Udaipur. You can also combine this with the use of absorbent, washable underwear such as Thinx, or washable pads. If you have another method that works best for you (especially a particular brand of tampon/pad), you might want to consider bringing an ample supply. You can purchase pads and OB tampons in Udaipur, and other brands are increasingly available, but if you have a tried and true method, best to stick with that.
  • Life Straw: PLEASE bring one! We have saved thousands of plastic bottles from going into the landfill by having these on hand. It can also help with peace of mind if you’re not entirely sure about a water source.
  • Snacks: if you have food sensitivities or you know that you need LOTS of food, it might be worth it to pack some extra Clif Bars or snacks for the first month of program. We will always have three delicious meals a day, and will purchase group snacks for train rides, but some students appreciate having a personal supply during long travel days when those meals might happen on an irregular schedule. Don’t bring too too many though 🙂 as that will weigh you down!
  • Your favorite pens: random, yes, but quality pens are harder to find than you’d think.
  • Compact board games, Bananagrams, playing cards etc. – we will have lots of time at the Program House and in transit where you may want to break these out to play with other group members – some are also useful for breaking the ice with homestay families. That said: there are times and places where cards aren’t appropriate (some communities associate them with gambling), and we will let you know in those situations.
  • Books: please bring your copy of Teach Yourself Hindi and Learning Service. In addition, the packing list still refers to the availability of books in Banaras, which is more abundant than Udaipur: the bookstore scene is still a bit lacking here, so it might be worth it to stash a few titles for you to read and to swap with friends. We do have a great program house library, but it might not have a more recent title you’re looking for. Alternatively, a number of students bring Kindles. We have four Kindles for the group’s collective use!
  • Duct tape: Wrap some duct tape around one of your water bottles: this can come in handy for everything from blister prevention to sleeping bag repair!
  • Homestay gifts, and small gifts for people at your NGOs etc – a general rule of thumb is high in meaning/sentimental value, low in monetary value. Something small/local with associations to your home community or country can go far. You’ll be in at least three short-term homestays, and one long (seven month) one. Remember that you can also purchase (or better yet, make) gifts in India that are relevant for your Udaipur family.
  • Photos from home to show your homestay family – Personal sharing always helps build a bridge between our respective worlds.
  • OPEN MIND (super helpful)
  • What we want to stress most, however, is that you don’t feel the need to buy anything special. Please borrow gear from your friends and family, or reach out to us if the costs feel prohibitive. We want you to be warm and comfortable, but we also want to emphasize that you don’t need shiny new stuff to achieve this!

Things not to bring:

  • Sleeping Pads: Unless you already have a sleeping pad that you absolutely cannot do without, you can leave it at home. We can borrow sleeping pads from the trekking companies we work with.
  • Too much food other than some Clif Bars if you know you need ’em (we’re going to eat really well on this course)
  • Too many meds (except what your doctor ordered/ e.g., your prescriptions like antimalarials, acne medication, birth control, etc). We will be carrying a well-stocked medical bag at all times, and there will be good medical facilities to address any health issues that arise.
  • Revealing clothing (applicable to all genders…)
  • EXCESS BAGGAGE (on every level).
  • Excess toiletries: bring only bare necessities. Students always say that they wish they had brought fewer toiletries. Shampoo, etc. is available in India.

As you plan for the trip consider how you want to approach it. We don’t mean, WHO you want to be on the trip—PLEASE show up as yourself!! We mean, consider what insights, gifts, talents, knowledge and perspective you want to bring. Is there a topic related to the trip that you’re particularly interested in? Read up in advance! We’d love to incorporate your knowledge into the course somehow. Is there something about your life or your culture that you want to share with our group and people in India? Think about a creative way to share. Does consumerism bug you? Challenge yourself to buy most of your trip gear second hand, borrow some stuff or take a second look through your own closet to see what you already have — and let us know what’s worked!

We’ll cover culturally appropriate dress and behavior once you arrive (warning: like every discussion of cultural norms, it’s not cut and dry), and we’ll also address any missing elements in your packing early on. Fear not. In the meantime, get outside! Give your loved ones a hug! The countdown until we meet at Princeton has begun!