A group of Oakham students have travelled to India in order to work on a school building project and explore the country. They are working on this venture in partnership with The Doon School in Dehradun.
Below are updates from the trip leader Mr Nayan Chohan and members of the group:
August 16 2017
Students said their goodbyes before making their own journey home. We had departures at 4am, 10am and the main group back to London at 1pm. All arrived home safely with many memories from this magical country.
This expedition was no holiday, our students were challenged in many way, the most taxing were those that were unexpected, such as obvious poverty, disparity between rich and poor, the difference between urban and rural life, and the opportunities available to improve standards of living. It is also a country that breeds resilience and a happiness that is beyond material wealth.
Our students were able to experience the simple joys of life, a plate of food after a long day, playing in the rain or school children making kites and spotting them playing with them two days on. This made us remember what is really important in life, a feeling I hope will continue to resonate with our students throughout their lives. India is an experience that triggers a self reflection like no other place. KMH and I are proud of the way our students were able to immerse themselves in Indian life, even with the challenge that it brings.
August 15 2017
Today was our last full day in India, it seemed appropriate we were able to take part in Independence Day commemorations. It has been 70 years since India gained independence from Great Britain, prompting an interesting discussion over breakfast about the progression of this relatively new nation. We then set out on the long journey from Jaipur to Delhi. The ride was as eventful as ever, we stopped for the regular menu items of paratha's, biriyani and garlic naans. We reached Delhi in the early evening, allowing us to get all our packing sorted and venture out into the modern 'Aerocity' for our final meal together.
August 14 2017
This morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then left to go and see the Amber Fort. We drove past other palaces on the way to the fort such as the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and the Lake Palace, which we later stopped to visit and take pictures.
When we arrived at the Amber Fort we made our way up the hill. We, as a group, decided to walk up but there was the option of taking an elephant. When we reached the top we were amazed at the view and the architecture. We looked around the fort and saw all the intricate designs which were over 400 years old, some sections were even older. I most enjoyed seeing the part of the fort which contained thousands of mirrors - the Shish Mahal. After this, we left and stopped at the Lake Palace and took some pictures. We then went out for some lunch near the hotel followed by a visit to a market. This market specifically sold beautiful cloths and fabrics and the one which stood out for me was made from old saris. It was shame that it was too big to fit in my suitcases! At the hotel we swam and could see a view across Jaipur. Soon after we had supper and because it was Miss Hegarty's birthday, we had cake with candles on the side!! The nation is also celebrating Krishna's birthday today. We have seen India at its most colourful and vibrant.
August 13 2017
When we arrived at Jaipur on the 13th August, we were all fairly tired after a long journey but were soon greeted by a friendly tour guide who was happy to welcome us to the 'Pink City'. Jaipur has a lot of energy and reminded me a little of Delhi. Before we got to the hotel we were shown around the famous City Palace. It was so interesting to see the rich history of Rajasthani royalty and all the Maharajahs.
I especially enjoyed knowing that the current Maharajah is 18 and is being educated in England.
We were shown more around the palace and had a few snaps with other keen tourists, it was as if they've never seen blonde hair before…crazy!
We then went onto visit a local textile business. The owner was very friendly and welcoming and keen to show us his skills and tricks to making the perfect carpets, cloths, napkins etc. A few of us bought some gifts for relatives and friends. After a short journey back to the hotel we were warmly greeted and after the usual security check we went to our rooms and had some time to ourselves.
Dinner was lovely and the watermelon was definitely the best part, Odette would agree with me.
We were all tired so it was an early night, as we had to be up early for the next busy day in Jaipur!
August 12 2017
After arriving in the city of Agra the previous day, we all got up bright and early at 5am to witness a one in a lifetime experience: the sunrise over the Taj Mahal although it was cloudy. Throughout our visit our helpful guide informed us about the history surrounding Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his three wives who are all buried in the Taj Mahal or surrounding temples. Built in "only" 22 years Shah Jahan wanted to honour his second wife, Mumtaz, after she died giving birth to her 14th child. We were all very thankful for his strong voice which kept us awake during the early hours of the day. We were all very intrigued by the breathtaking symmetrical architecture and the level of craftsmanship with which the detailed patterns were carved out of stone.
August 11 2017
We spent most of the day on the bus, it was a long 9 and something hours, but we made it!
We got through most of the morning sleeping and then the true party bus spirit awoke after lunch and the tunes were playing. Mr C pulled some freaky shapes, I emphasise the word freaky there. Everyone had a good sing-along and the journey actually didn't seem too bad. We also bought lots of chocolate, Oreos and biscuits after lunch to keep up the sugar levels.
We finally arrived in Agra to the beautiful Gateway Hotel around 6.45pm, we were treated to some cool lime juice and a free puppet show - result!! The group jumped into the pool for a night swim before dinner. We were all fairly tired so after some Chinese food and shower, everyone was off to bed to start the new day in Agra.
August 10 2017
At around 5.30am some of the group got up to do some early morning yoga, even Mr C! It was apparently more energetic than predicted, but still a lot of fun! We then spent the day in Rishikesh after waking from a peaceful night's sleep in the amazing hotel on the Ganges, we all got our energy back.
We crossed the Ganges on the famous "Lakshman Jhula" bridge, along with cows, monkeys and a lot of motorbikes. This time I avoided being barged by a cow! The first place we visited was a famous temple called Parmarth, where visitors such as Prince Charles, the Dali Lama and many more have graced the grounds. We learnt a bit more about Hindu gods and had a stroll around. It had a lovely garden and contained many beautiful flowers.
Afterwards, we did plan to go to one of the big markets (same as the day before, but larger and cheaper), unfortunately, it was closed due to flooding. Instead, we went to the same market we had visited on wednesday, where we all bought some little things for family and friends - but mainly ourselves.....obviously!
The cafe we went to for lunch felt like it should have been in Shoreditch. It had a cool, hippy vibe to it! The food didn't contain any kind of curry-like sauce, so I was happy as it was a change from the norm. After lunch we all headed back to the hotel for an bit of a rest, some hit the pool or spa. I had a neck and shoulder massage, which was very good indeed after all of the bumpy bus rides we have had - and trust me, there have been many so far! Even the teachers took advantage of the spa facilities.
I have to say, this was my best day. I loved Rishikesh, everything about it - I really didn't want to leave.
August 9 2017
Today was the day that we said our goodbyes to the Doon School girls who have been with us since the beginning of the trip. We had our breakfast at Doon with them and then left for Rishikesh. We arrived in Rishikesh at about lunchtime and settled in to our rooms at the hotel. The hotel has an amazing view of the Ganges. We then we went to explore. We first went to a German bakery for our lunch which again overlooked the Ganges. At this bakery we could have all types of food from pizza to Chinese. When we left the bakery we went out to cross the bridge to the other side of the Ganges. The bridge was nothing like we have experienced before, alongside us were cows, monkeys and motorbikes. After we crossed the bridge we went to look around a market which sold trinkets, jewellery and fabrics. We all bought something. Some things that were bought were skirts, earrings and trousers. After we left the market we crossed the bridge again and returned to the hotel. We spent about an hour in the hotel getting ready to leave for the Hindu ceremony on the Ganges. We arrived at the location and looked around and waited until the sun settled for the ceremony to begin. The ceremony was breathtaking. It consisted of songs and prayers and placing offerings into the Ganges. After this we got back on the bus to the hotel for some supper.
August 8 2017
Today was our last morning spent interacting with the children at the AFA. Fun was had by all, and the children were sadly now totally comfortable with the group as we were about to depart. Today's activities consisted of making paper flowers and butterflies, using old bottles to make musical instruments and finished up with a final cha cha slide! Our goodbyes were said, final photos taken and we left the village knowing lasting memories were made.
Our bus ride back to Doon was as eventful as ever. Traffic jams, monkeys by the roadside and plenty of honking. We spent some time being interviewed by Doon students for their weekly publication and then headed out in the rain to the local bazaar. The girls indulged in some retail therapy and having their henna done. We will rest before beginning our tour tomorrow, the first stop is Rishikesh.
August 7 2017
Today we went to the Arthur Foot Academy and spent some time with the children living in the village. It was very interesting to see how they felt around us and with a few games such as musical bumps and a clapping game, they eventually got into it. They were very excited to play with their kites and run around with us. At the end of the day, we sang our daily song with the kids and then handed out a few sweets, which went down a treat!
Afterwards we walked around the local village (same place as the school) in groups of 3 and 4 and went into the villagers' houses to ask some questions and learn about village life . The girls from The Doon School helped to translate for us into Hindi. Many of the houses we visited were very basic yet I thought had a lot of character and each family were very content to be living there. Many houses had about 8-15 people living in them at the same time bearing in mind the houses were roughly the size of a small bungalow.
It was an eye-opening experience for all of us. Many of the ladies living in the house are housewives and the men or boys are labourers or farmers. It was really interesting to hear about their lives and it made us realise how differently we live. For example, many of them had never left the village and so didn't know what it was like to be in a city.
It was very humid today and eventually we had a huge downpour, which prompted many of the group to spontaneously jump into the pool fully clothed (with watches, wallets and a phone too!). Tomorrow we will be visiting the Arthur Foot Academy again to see and have fun with the children we were with on Friday. Hopefully they will enjoy the décor flowers we have made for them this afternoon.
August 6 2017
The group visited a yoga ashram and a hospital complex about an hour away. The aim of the centre is to provide a social service for all. There was an opportunity for much learning. Today was perhaps the hottest day yet, with the car thermometer reading 38 degrees!
August 5 2017
We woke up at around 7.30am. We've hit the wall - the excitement and journey has made us overtired but that's not to say we didn't have a great day. We set off to see a bamboo farm/plantation. It was a really interesting set up and the plan for a new supply of loos around the area was really needed and relevant after what we saw at the all girls' school yesterday.
We were then ushered around by Sumit Agarwal who owns the plantation - a very kind and friendly man. He showed us how to make our own designs from bamboo. I ended up choosing an ashtray (for my dad, obviously); some other girls chose toothbrush holders, guinea pig shelters, umbrella holders etc. It was a brilliant outcome!
After a couple of group photos and our daily 30 seconds of singing for our video montage, we headed off towards the Local School called Paradise Junior High School Academy. It was..shall we say..an unexpected welcome. We were greeted by maybe a 100 or more very excited and smiley faces, thrilled to see us. I felt like a celebrity! I was as nervous to speak to the children as they were to speak to me. They were all so intrigued by us and spoke very little English but were very clear with their "hello" and "how are you" . We initially went to the school to plant some trees in the playground, which we did of course after a fun game of dodgeball and khokho ( Indian version of tag?) . It was an experience I'll never forget and the children, staff and headmaster were so welcoming. We were very humbled.
The whole day for me was long yet very interesting and there was never a moment when I wasn't greeted with a smile throughout the day from people I've only just met! I would just like to say from the very short time that we've been in India, all of us are grateful and proud to be able to say we've met all of these people. They are so kind and even though they may not have a lot, they want to give even more. That is a mindset I think we all need to consider back home.
August 4 2017
We have reached the village, where the students have been able to see rural India in its truest sense. The village of Bhandarchur is 40km from the Doon School. Our project, Arthur Foot Academy itself is still under some construction but classes are going on regardless. For a number of villagers, this is the first time they have met and spoken to people from western countries.
Today was the first interaction with the children from the school. Oakham students were able to teach and play, making planes and kites, singing and dancing.
We also went to a government run girls' hostel, which raised some interesting points about Indian society. A number of the girls are from very challenging backgrounds. We ended the day with a group discussion reflecting on the day, where Oakham students could consider their own lives, aspirations and opportunities.
Biriyani, curry, dhal and rice continue to be the daily menu. Our tolerance to spice is building, the super spicy chilli sauce has been braved by more students each day.
August 3 2017
We have arrived at the Doon school following an eventful overnight train from Delhi, we are now leaving to experience a rural village.