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News from India!

You will have seen in recent news that a group of staff and students have visited India over Easter.  We have received a blog update from staff and students about their activites during the trip to date.  A full story with pictures will follow after the Easter break. 

 

Friday 30th April – Miss Dolan

Hello 4am! What a rude awakening. With bags packed, the 7 of us weary travellers congregated at Leeds train station to begin our epic journey to New Delhi, India.

The journey was broken with a stop in Helsinki, Finland, the only notable event being the general revulsion caused by a sandwich whose filling resembled something like last night’s kebab. This momentous culinary occasion was captured on camera for posterity by Lyndarn and Mark.

Onwards into Helsinki city centre. A cold place, but not at all unpleasant. A whistlesop tour included a trip to the cathedral, a peek at the docks and a visit to McDonalds. In truth, we weren’t all that impressed and probably won’t return.

 

Saturday 31st March – Miss Dolan

Finally, after a long yet comfortable flight we arrived in New Delhi airport at 5.30am. Walking out to the taxi rank the heat was already oppressive, and a thick fog of pollution made the air shimmer. Mark, Mrs Pheasey and I were whisked into the city in style, bhangra music blaring, just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. Quite an appropriate introduction!

Delhi is: the constant blaring of horns, traffic going the wrong direction, monkeys leering at you from walls, dogs roaming free, the smell of fried food and spices, the gentle scent of fresh cut flowers, relentless heat, poverty, bustle, excitement. And above all, noise, noise, noise and people, people, people.

We spent the morning resting in the Tibetan colony, Manjnu Ka Tilla, in a hostel called Wongdhen House, which had breathtaking views of the city. After a bit of rest and refreshment (no sleep for almost 24 hours!) we took a tour of the city by taxi, taking in the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk (an incredibly busy market) and a Sikh Gurdwara. All of us were hot, tired and grumpy by the time we were done, but no rest was to be had! We bravely ventured on to face our biggest challenge yet: A2 sleeper class on the Jamu Mail train from Delhi to Pathankot.

Two great obstacles had to be overcome that night: the first was the Indian style toilet. You may have experienced unpleasant facilities on British trains, but this was a challenge, especially for us girls. For you see, an Indian toilet it consists of two footrests and a hole. This was our Mount Everest. Fortunately, we all reached the summit and there were no casualties.

Sunday 1st April – Miss Dolan

However, the worst was yet to come. After a fitful night’s sleep on the train, Mrs Pheasey found that her bag, with her passport, money and phone in it, had been stolen. Thankfully, on arrival at Pathankot, the train policeman had found the bag with the passport still in it. It was pretty much OK, if a little damp; it had, after all, been found in the toilet.

We didn’t let this mishap get us down though! Onwards we went to McLeod Ganj, far up in the Himalayan mountains in a region of India called Himachal Pradesh. The journey there was incredibly beautiful. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and stunning scenery, it was at this point that all of us realized how lucky we were to be seeing all of this. We called in at the Tong Len charity to meet Jamyang, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who founded the organisation which provides children from families living in slums with an education. We were made to feel very welcome by the staff and children who live and work there. We were sad to leave, but glad to know we’d be back soon!

Monday 2nd April – Miss Dolan

Welcome to Kangra! After a hair-raising ride down the mountain in another taxi, we arrived in the town of Kangra to begin our work at G.A.V. Public School. As we approached the entrance, basking in the sunshine, we were met with the warmest welcome we’ve ever had. The school band regaled us with a song, and we were given a necklace of fresh marigolds to wear. They tied a red string around our wrists to bring us good luck and blessings from God. We were greeted by the headteacher, Mr Singh, and various members of the G.A.V. staff, some of whom will be visiting us at Crawshaw school in the summer term.

After a busy day of lesson planning, and an excellent lunch with some of the teachers, we were taken by school bus to visit a very famous Hindu temple. All of us were agreed that this was a highlight of the trip so far. The worshippers rang bells and sang, and the place was strewn with red and gold ribbons representing the wishes of the devoted people that had come true. There were statues of various deities in beautiful colours lighting up the archways and the walls. We walked back through the temple bazaar, which sparkled and glittered as the lights bounced off the jewellery and trinkets they were selling to visitors and pilgrims. We must say thank you for to Mr Sharma and Mr Singh for accompanying us on the trip and helping us to understand a little bit more about the Hindu faith.

Day 5 – Tuesday 3rd April – Sophie O’Connell

Yet another early start for Team India! This time for our second day at G.A.V. school. As we got ready and ate breakfast, the nerves started kicking in as we had a speech to the 1300 pupils awaiting us. When we arrived, the kids were all lined up looking perfect in their neat white uniforms, ready to start the morning prayer. Watching and hearing them sing at the same time was surreal!

Then came crunch time! One by one we introduced ourselves and spoke a little about who we were and why we had come to India. The pupils were very attentive, although we were very shocked when two girls fainted due to the intense heat that morning! We then split up into different classes. I began by doing a food tech class with Mrs Pheasey and Ruby; we made chocolate Easter nests with some year 11 pupils. They loved the fluffy chicks we had brought to decorate them with, as they kept saying ‘Chicka, chicka, chicky!’

I then joined in with a social studies class which was very interesting seeing as they are taught using a blackboard and just take notes! It was great to experience a different teaching style. Talking to the students and learning about their lives has been great. Most of them enjoy exactly the same things as us, especially shopping!

Next it was rehearsal time. We are involved in a play of a scene from Macbeth to be performed at the end of the week – yet another demanding and stomach churning experience! But I tried not to worry as I went for a personal dance India dance lesson with the elderly music teacher. She was amazing! She spoke good English and was a great coach! It was very different to the sort of dance I am used to, so in return I taught her some ballet!

Next, it was lunchtime which meant yet another massive meal! We had a mixture of samosas, pakoras, and other fried snacks. Lucky for us all the spice hasn’t affected our stomachs at all! Mrs Sharma then took me and Ruby to a sari shop where we chose our favourite designs and tried them on. She was incredibly generous in offering to gift us with them-another example of the hospitality these wonderful people exhibit.

Next was our visit to the local printing press which was very informative and insightful. We were kindly invited to one of the teacher’s houses which was in a tiny rural village-again an example of the Indian generosity. Next was time for shopping and tea, then back to the Grand Raj Hotel. It has been yet another amazing day and I’m very excited as to what tomorrow will bring!

 

Wednesday 4th April – Ruby Tait

Today I got up at the usual time and we went to the GAV school where we practiced a scene from Macbeth for half an hour, I don’t think I could have ever imagined that I’d be in India practicing a scene from Macbeth with a group of people I had met just two days ago, outside in 30degrees sunshine, with the snowy Himalayas in the background.

Afterwards we took the school bus (once you accept the fact you might die, the driving becomes enjoyable!) along with four students from GAV school and Mr Jagdeep to meet Jamyang, the founder of Tong Len. We were visiting the Charan slum, the focus of the Tong Len charity, and if I’m honest I was quite apprehensive being 15years old and visiting a slum for the first time. The main issue was not what I would see but what my reaction would be. When we got there it was everything I thought it would be, small buildings with one room resembling a shed made out of plastic. The rare, more fortunate shed had a metal roof. There was rubbish in large piles everywhere. However after about five minutes I saw Mr Smyth picking up the children and playing with them, without thinking I did too along with everyone else. They were probably the cutest children I had ever seen and they were so friendly it was difficult to not enjoy myself being around such adorable children who were only about two or three and fixed with permanent infectious smiles. Visiting the slum in my opinion was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and I can’t even explain why, as it was nothing like I had ever experienced before. We then returned to the Tong Len hostel to be greeted with a warm family like welcome from the kids who lived there and used to live in the Charan slum, Jamyang put on a video about Tong Len and the slum. It was really interesting and actually made me cry for the first time whilst being in India. I think it was the reality of the situation and the fact that I had got to know the people Tong Len have helped which made the experience quite personal. After spending the afternoon playing with and getting to know the people of the hostel better we went to a hotel in McLeod Ganj for a banquet meal with some teachers from the GAV school, some governors and someone from a national newspaper in India. The food was great although I did feel about the size of a bus afterwards. There was snooker and a pool table so me, and the other international ambassadors had a few games, it felt like an actual holiday. Today was amazing it was packed with some many different things and it was surreal.

 

Thursday 5th April – Lyndarn Harrison

On Thursday we caught the G.A.V. School Bus first thing to the Alpine Primary School in Himachal Pradesh. The welcoming was truly amazing as students were lined up at either side of the path throwing beautiful petals at us and performing songs as we walked down. Shortly after we arrived we then sat through their assembly which was inspiring. Especially when the children began to sing the Indian national anthem at the top of their voices. Following on from the assembly we had a quick tour around the school and participated in some of the lessons very briefly, as we did not have much time.

After swiftly departing the school we then made our way back to the G.A.V. School in Kangra in order to participate in a few quick lessons before being taken to the near-by restaurant for yet another huge lunch! After being stuffed full of curry and chapattis we then visited another primary school in Dharamasala, where Mr Jagdeep Sharma’s daughter goes. This was very interesting as the school was in fact modernising very quickly as the couple who owned it believed they should provide their students with the best technology to enhance their learning.

After the tour around the school we then visited Jagdeeps village, in which all of his family lived. They were also incredibly welcoming and lovely people. However, we couldn’t stay for too long as we had to visit another teacher’s house for another huge meal. Sujata organised a banquet for us and her family and friends which was truly amazing. The food was fantastic and her house was incredibly well presented and welcoming. Unfortunately none of us could eat that much of the food as we were all still massively full from the lunch! Overall the day was great as we got to travel to several primary schools, which gave us a greater insight into the Indian education system, and we got to eat plenty of nice food, which is always a bonus!

 

Friday 6th April – Mark Hopper

Another early start to the morning, getting up at half past six to get ready for our last day at GAV School in Kangra. Before breakfast we packed our bags, as we were then moving up to McLeod Ganj for the last few days of our trip. We all took our bags to reception and checked out before jumping on the bright yellow school bus for what was our last journey to the school.

When we arrived at the school our bags were carted off to a locked room and we all went to the library for the briefing of the day. Shortly after the students involved in the Macbeth play arrived and together they did the last minute rehearsals before performing the play in the closing ceremony for the global schools partnership visit later on in the afternoon.

Shortly after, some of the girl students arrived to do some henna on Sophie’s and Ruby’s hands. The patterns were outstanding and there an incredible amount of detail and effort that was put in to making them look fantastic. Mrs Pheasey also had some henna as well as Miss Dolan.

Straight after, me and Lynden joined Miss Dolan’s English lesson where she was teaching the students about connotations. The politeness and punctuality of the students in the classroom was exceptional too. For example, when you walked in the students would stand up and greet you with a good morning or afternoon. As well, when the teacher asks a question, whoever answers stands up then sits down when they have finished. Despite the lack of modern technology in the classrooms, it hardly had an impact of the level of education that was taught and this was interesting to see as it felt as if you were taught in an old fashioned way, like in the Victorian times.

Following the lesson, it was then lunch time and we went for the final time at The Doom restaurant. After, we returned to the GAV School for the closing ceremony. During this we watched various performances produced by the students including dancing and role-play. It was then our turn to join in with the joint Crawshaw and GAV production of the scene from the famous Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We then gave and received gifts to some of the staff and students and then said our final and some emotional farewells. We then went to get some last minute gift shopping and made our way back up to McLeod Ganj, which consisted at one point, a taxi having to be pushed up a massive hill.

That night we then enjoyed our penultimate Indian meal at the Vice principals house, where we socialised with some of the teachers, family and friends.

 

Saturday 7th April - Sophie O'Connell

After a night back at Him View hotel, Mcleod Ganj, we awoke for a lovely Tibetan breakfast. We were very excited as, at 3 o'clock, we would revisit the Tong Len hostel to see the children once again. But first we needed a bit of retail therapy!

Shopping in Mcleod Gamj is entriely different to shopping in other parts of India as it is mainly Tibetan therefore the products follow that culture. It was a much less hassled and quieter trip than the night before in Kangra, and certainly more than Delhi! We bought lots of gifts and had a lovely lunch at a rooftop cafe with an amazing view of the Himalayas and the surrounding area.

It was then time to visit Tong Len. Seeing the kids again was wonderful! They were incredibly excited to see us, as we were them! Me and Ruby had brought the sarees given to us as gifts, so the girls had fun dressing us in them, putting our make up on and bejewlling us with their necklaces and bangles! We the interviewed groups of children on their feelings about Tong Len and how it had helped them. This was very emotional for us, even reducing us to tears at some points, as it was outstanding to hear how Jamyang had managed to give these wonderful children an opportunity for a better life. They even said that Tong Len was heaven and Jamyang was their god. I felt very humble to know the money we had raised went to such a fantastic cause.

After this it was time to lighten up with some dancing! The children performed some amazing routines whih really took us aback! we were also shown a video of the work Tong Len has done which was again very emotional, yet incredibly inspiring too!

Saying goodbye to our new friends was very hard. After spending so much time with them, we had become attached therefore it wa slike syaing bye to people you'd known for years. However, we hoped it wouldn't be the last time we saw them as I know that we all plan to keep supporting the charity for as long as we can.

After this heartfelt farewell, we visited nju's house, the vice principle of G.A.V school. We were again made to feel very welcome and fed a banquet! After 8 days of eating like royalty we were stuffed full! However we still managed to fit in a sizeable amount of homemade curry and other treats!

It had been another busy day and we were thankful to return to the hotel to rest our full tummies and to have well deserved nights sleep!

 

Sunday 8th April - Mr Smyth

Sunday saw us having a well deserved lie, before a relaxedfinal breakfast at the HIM View hotel. The rest of the morning was spent packing our bags for the long Journey home and then heading out to do some final souvenir shopping.

At lunh time we headed to the Namgyal Cafe, beneath the Dalai lama's temple complex, which is a training cafe for young Tibetan Refugees to learn the skills of working in a restaurant, we all filled our self on fantastic pizza's which prooved to much for some and the restaurant packed the remaining slices into bags whcih would would enjoy later that evening on the train to Delhi. We returned to the Him View hotel to collect our bags and meet with the Minibus that was to take us Chakki Bank Railway station for the overnight train ride. Before leaving The hotel manager Tsering presented us all with a traditional Tibetan white scarf called a Khata to wish us luck on our Journey. We said our farewells and boarded the minibus about 3pm which headed off down the mountainside towards the village of Shahpur which was to be our final farewell to members of GAV School staff and their families and we were presented with a fantastic Easter basket by Mr  Jagdeep full of goodies to keep us going on the journey. after a bumpy ride down onto the Plains of India we arrived in good time at Chakki Bank railway station. The 1 hour wait at the station was  enhanced by Mr Smyth and Miss Dolan seeing a 1 metere long snake causing quite a commotion on the platform before it was swept on to the track by one of the station staff.

The train arrived on time and after organising ouselves we settled down to our last nights sleep in India.

 

Monday 9th April - Mr Smyth

at 3.30 AM our alarms went off and the train was already in the outskirts of Delhi, we arrived at Old Delhi Railway station at 4 AM and headed out of the station to get a taxi to the airport. The station forecourt was already thronging with people and it was clear that we had definitely arrived in the capital and the relaxed atmosphere of the Kangra valley and the Himalayan foothills were now far away. Mr Smyth arranged two taxis which took us swiftly in the early morning light traffic to Indira Ghandi International airport. We enjoyed the cool atmosphere of the air conditioned check in area where we sorted out our bags and grabbed coffee's to keep us awake while we awaited the opening of the check in desks. After checkin we we proceded to the departure area where we treated ourselves to breakfast, Mc Donalds for most of us and a Pizza Hut Pizza for Ruby. After some last minute shopping to get rid of our remaining Rupee's we boarded the Finnair flight for our Journey to Helsinki. Most oif us snoozed on the flight or watched movies, we arrived slightly late in Helsinki and had to run through the airport to catch our connecting flight to Manchester but made it with minutes to spare.

After arrival in Manchester we proceded to baggage claim and found that Mark, Lydarn and Mrs Pheaseys bag were still in Helsinki, we arranged for them to be delivered the next day and then caught the train to Leeds arriving about 8pm. A welcoming party awaited to great the weary travellers from their long journey

As we departed we all agreed it had been a fantastic trip and an experience  of a life time with memories that will remain with us for a very long time.....