We are in for quite a journey for our first month in India: we’ll travel from the Aravali hills of Rajasthan up to the Himalayan range and back again. Throughout our lengthy travels, we will take time to slow down and connect with one another, set goals for our time in India, build new vocabulary and skills to navigate different cultural and environmental settings, and start to learn more about India’s rich cultures and history.
What follows is a brief introduction to our itinerary for the month of September: please note that there will definitely be changes, which is part of the adventure of traveling in India. We will update these changes accordingly and, as always, Bridge Year administrators will always be informed of our current plans and whereabouts.
So, without further adieu, we present the Orientation Itinerary:
August 28: Depart for India from New York-JFK (students + Sarah), arriving August 29 in New Delhi. Neerav and Lauren will be waiting for us at Indira Gandhi International Airport with open arms!
August 29-September 31: 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.
August 31: We have a long overnight train journey this evening: the first of many this year. Keep your UNO and card games accessible, and get ready for your first train chai.
September 1-7: Orientation in Udaipur! We’ll stay at the lovely Vidya Bhavan nature retreat center, which is situated about 12 kilometers outside of Udaipur. Surrounded by forests and hills, Vidya Bhavan is somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the perfect place to decompress from the journey and get to know one another. We’ll be taking time to further orient to India and Bridge Year, craft goals and intentions, learn more about our future service sites and India in general. 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 7 (evening)-14: Dharamsala. Himalayas, here we come! We’ll take a train to the city of Jaipur before hopping on yet another train to Chandigarh. From Chandigarh, we’ll venture into the mountains by vehicle until we reach the state of Himachal Pradesh where we’ll make our way to McLeod Ganj. This will mark a major transition for us as we’ll have moved from the deserts of Rajasthan to the lower Himalaya which is densely forested and gets lots of rain in the summertime. Home to the Tibetan Government in Exile as well as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, McLeod Ganj (6,831 ft) is a dynamic, fascinating town perched upon a ridge above the city of Dharamsala. With its activists, religious scholars, Buddhist masters, and artists, McLeod Ganj is the center of Tibetan refugee culture in India. During our stay, we’ll live with Tibetan families, meet inspiring members of the refugee community—from aid workers to former political prisoners to poets to musicians—and have the opportunity to do our first experiments with service learning with local organizations.
September 14-18: Bir: from Dharamsala, we will transition to a retreat center in Bir to explore themes of ecology, sustainability, the foundations of Buddhist philosophy, and principles of democracy. We will go on day hikes around the village and enjoy being in a beautiful natural setting. We might be invited to harvest beans or feed the cows, try our hand at organic farming, or experiment with natural building projects while on campus. We will also maintain a rhythm of regular informal Hindi lessons to better communicate with our future homestay families.
September 18-20: Tso Pema: Sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs, Tso Pema is home to monks, nuns, and ascetics from all over the Himalayas who come to practice meditation in the caves and monasteries around the town’s sacred lake. During our time in Tso Pema, we’ll stay together at the beautiful Drikung Kagyu Monastery where we’ll spend a day hiking to the cave temples in the mountains above the lake where, on a clear day, one can just make out the peaks of the high Himalaya we’ll have left behind. We’ll also visit a local Sikh gurudwara (place of worship) and participate in langar, a communal, free meal that is served to all visitors, regardless of religious or socioeconomic background.
September 21-22: Big travel days: buses, trains, and an overnight in Kathgodam, followed by a long drive to our final destination in Uttarakhand…
September 22-28: Our last week will be spent at the glorious Center for the Contemplation of Nature/Vrikshalaya, 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 again live with welcoming homestay families, learn more about locally-informed food traditions, artwork, music, forest conservation, and governance. Activities might include yoga and meditation classes, regular 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. We will close our Uttarakhand orientation here, saying goodbye to our mountain home until April, when we will travel to Ladakh.
September 28-October 6: Jaipur, Rajasthan. Yet another overnight train awaits us (we’ll be experts in train travel by now)! In Jaipur, we will spend a week studying Hindi intensively at the American Institute of Indian Studies. In the afternoons, we will explore the city of Jaipur, recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, discovering historical sites and practicing our developing Hindi skills.
On October 6, we will head back to Udaipur.
Keep watching this 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 and settle into their new routine, 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 your student 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. Sometimes, your student might choose not to use their phone a few weeks as a personal challenge: in this case, we will encourage your student to communicate this to you in advance.
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 to 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. Thank you 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 touch much more frequently during our time in Udaipur!
Well, that’s all for now. It’s only a matter of days before we see each other in Princeton, and our anticipation is growing by the minute.
With gratitude for the journey to come,
Sarah, Neerav, and Lauren