Rustic Pathways | India
96% Rating
(16 Reviews)

Rustic Pathways | India

Rustic Pathways operates programs in India focusing on education, community health and social services, and the stunning environment. Besides being home to the Himalayas, there is beauty hidden in every corner of India. Traveling with Rustic Pathways, you will have the opportunity to teach local children English and math, explore the famous backwaters of Kerala, or work with the world’s largest sloth bear rehabilitation center. Rustic Pathways’ India programs are perfect for those who are looking to learn about the culture and aid in the conservation of some of this world’s most precious wildlife.

“With 1.2 billion people and 5,000 years of history, India is anything and everything all at once. It’s a kaleidoscope of people, religion, language, culture, food, and adventure. From the Himalayan peaks of the north all the way down to the backwaters of Kerala in the south, India has everything. It can take a whole lifetime to discover what it has to offer!”
--Kai Johnson, India Country

Locations
Asia » India
Length
1-2 Weeks
2-4 Weeks
Language
English
Housing
Guesthouse
Hostel
Hotel
Starting Price
$0.00
Currency
USD
Price Details
Cost does not include international airfare.

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

  • Impact
    93%
  • Support
    99%
  • Fun
    92%
  • Value
    94%
  • Safety
    93%

Program Reviews (16)

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socia
Female
16 years old
Nederland, Colorado
Other

Inspirational India

10/10

The summer of 2017 I went on the Service in the clouds trip in India. And it was an experience that I think 100% altered my path for the better. After getting to experience things from cooking with host families, to playing in the dirt with little kids and digging 10ft deep squatty-potty pits, this trip is so far my most valued memory. It also helped me discover my love for service. I have gotten so passionate about it, that when I am old enough I hope to join the peace corps and even work for Rustic one day. I think Rustic is such an amazing amazing program and that if more kids did it, or trips like what they offer in general, than maybe one day our future generations would become much more open minded and knowledgeable about the rest of the world. One of my favorite memories from this trip, was learning handshakes and teaching card games to the local kids and playing soccer with them only to (of course) get beaten!! I just loved getting to know all of them individually and laughing with all of them.

How can this program be improved?

I honestly 100% would not improve anything other than making it longer!!

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Hasie
Female
17 years old
Austin, Texas
Other

4 Key Lessons I learned

10/10

For the last seven years I have been counting down the years until it was my turn to finally experience the transformative trips that Rustic Pathways provided both of my older sisters. They are seven years older than me and both went on two Rustic trips, and I grew up hearing story after story of how each and every encounter on their trips shaped them into improved versions of themselves upon their return. I could only hope that my Service in the Clouds trip would have the same effect on me that it had on my sister, Hattie, when she was my age seven years ago. Like my older sisters, my sister and I are twins, and these trips provided us with an opportunity to be apart for the first time in our lives and to create our own identities and lives apart from one another.
When telling people of my summer endeavor to India, I often received a reaction of envy and jealousy because of the lack of people who have the opportunity to travel to India. That is exactly what Rustic Pathways provides its travelers: opportunities to experience people and places that most only dream of seeing. I returned to countless people asking me how my trip was, and each and every time, I started off with the word, “life-changing,” because that pretty much sums up my entire trip. I was tested beyond my limits, and therefore, grew and continue to grow into a stronger and tougher person because of four specific lessons I learned during my sixteen days in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The Importance of Independence
Growing up an identical twin, it was always hard to find my voice and a unique identity, and my trip through Rustic Pathways allowed me to do just that. I needed this trip to show me that I am an individual, I am not my twin, and I can live my own life. When speaking of the gratitude I have towards Rustic for this opportunity, I was driven to tears because the effect is truly immense. Before this trip, I was beyond anxious because I kept telling myself that without Clara, my twin, I was incapable of making friends. I told myself she was the talkative one, that everyone liked her, and that people only hung out with me because they had to. When writing this I see how self conscious I really was, and this trip gave me the confidence I was lacking. Although anxious about the decision, I chose to do this trip without knowing anybody because I saw the effects these trips had on my older sisters when they were our exact age. I was put in a group of people without the comfort of my sister, forced to make friends, have experiences, and simply live without my other half for the first time in my life. This solitary experience allowed me to understand that, yes, I am a twin, but I am also an individual. I am not my sister. My life is not her life, and I am capable of living and thriving on my own. I love her, but I am capable of being alone. There I was just Hasie, not Hasie and Clara, not the Shermans, and not the twins, just Hasie.

Change is Always Acceptable and Possible
One of our guest speakers was the Dalai Lama’s translator of many years as well as practicing monk, Thupten Jinpa, and the words he said that most impacted me were, “If you can change it, don’t worry because you can change it. If you can’t change it, don’t worry because worrying won’t change it.” Worrying has always been one of my major flaws, and most of my anxiety is rooted by my unhealthy hope to be liked by everyone. I have spent years shaping and forming into what I think others want me to be, and through that, I seem to have lost who I want to be. However, lucky for me, this trip made me understand that change is always possible, and that anxiety about change is unnecessary because as long as one has a positive mindset, change can and will happen. As I said in my first lesson, I chose to have an experience all on my own for the first time in my life. I did not dip my toe in the water, but rather, I went all the way to India not knowing anyone, and I could not have made a better decision. I could be whomever I wanted to be. I got to be the person I wanted to be, and I became someone I hope I still am back home. Before the trip I deemed myself as more of an introvert rather than an extrovert, and on this trip, I became an “extreme extrovert,” as my friends called me. Prior to this experience I really do not think I was truly happy, and I think it can all be rooted down to this simple self evaluation of introvert or extrovert. I used to overthink everything resulting in my silencing and isolating myself because I thought that if I did not say anything I could not be judged for it. That could not be farther from what I needed to do. This trip and these people allowed me to express myself as I truly am because they had no predispositions of me, and throughout the changes I made on this trip, I became happier and more aware of my love of people and talking. Now being home, I need to maintain the mindset that change is always possible so that I can continue shaping myself into the kindest, happiest, and most confident version of myself.

Yoga and Mindfulness
Whether surrounded by windows of glass overlooking the endless sky and mountains of the Himalayas in McLeod or outside in Bala listening to the river flowing and the feeling the chill of the early morning breeze, our group started nearly everyday with both yoga and meditation, and throughout this process, I learned to yearn for the quiet time to be with my thoughts. Forced to be silent for longer then I am normally capable, our daily yoga and meditation sessions allowed me to connect with my feelings and thoughts in ways I could not without that allotted time. I became more aware of how I was feeling in that present moment, and it gave me a chance to set a goal for the day. Through meditation and I learned the importance of living in the present moment rather than focusing on the past and future. This concept was best described in our discussion with Thupten Jinpa when he said, “Don’t put your present life in hostage by thinking of the past and future.” Having always been future oriented, this quote made me realize that if I focus each day on things that may or may not come like my happiness, I will forget to focus on my happiness in the present moment. Anxiety is caused by over thinking of things like actions and words that we often cannot change whether that be the permanence of the past or the unpredictability of the future. This moment is the only predictable factor in our lives, so why not become who we want to be, how we want to feel, and what we want to do right now, not tomorrow, not yesterday because we only have right now to make that decision. Whether I was building toilets in Bala, practicing yoga, talking to my Tibetan partner, or just walking around the town, I practiced mindfulness. I embraced the sounds and sights of my surroundings every moment not distracted by my phone, my thoughts, the past, or the future.

Positivity is the Key to a Happy Life
Spending a week in McLeod Ganj, I began to finally understand the importance of a positive mindset throughout even the toughest of situations. Full of Tibetan refugees, McLeod Ganj is a town that exudes happiness, and I believe it is because of its people’s positive attitudes and outlooks on life. Our service in Mcleod was practicing English with Tibetan refugees, and I was touched by the numerous smiles, laughs, and positive energy of the Tibetans living in a country under a government from which they can only dream of escaping. My Tibetan partner is only four years older than me and has many of the same interests as me, but our lives could not be any more different. She and her family moved to India when she was three for a better education, but, her family moved back to Tibet when she was seven. However, she does not linger on the fact that she is apart from her family but is grateful for her education, her friends, the family she does have in McLeod, and most importantly, has faith that she will receive a visa to soon return to Tibet. Many of the friends I met in McLeod have similar stories and the same positive outlook on their living situations. Rather than think of the negativity and not ideal situations in their lives, they learn to have faith, hope, and find enjoyment in their present lives. These friends made me understand that positivity is happiness. It is faith. It is hope. It is a choice. There is always good in life, but it is just whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.

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Jenna
Female
17 years old
Phoenix, Arizona
Other

Northern India 2017: "Service In The Clouds" & "Indian Wildlife Conservation"

10/10

I had grown up in the same small town in Northern Phoenix, Arizona my entire life. Ever since I was very young I was infatuated with the idea of travelling the world, but never got the opportunity until Rustic Pathways visited my school. I was absolutely in love with the whole idea of this company and everything they stood for. I then made the decision to leave the United States for the first time in my 16 years on earth to experience the beautifully, ever-changing country of India as a first generation traveller. Little did I know how how life-changing these next three weeks would be in Delhi, Mcleodganj, Balla, and Agra.

As we made our way up to the Himalayan mountain range is was absolutely breathtaking to watch the landscape change from bustling city to rolling hills and then grand mountains. There was one time when we were in Mcleodganj in the city center and everything turned completely white and I had no idea what was going on. You could not see anything at all and it turns out we were actually in a cloud! I don't know if that was just me but that was so amazing. I think the best part was the actual service though. Working with elephants and sloth bears on "Indian Wildlife Conservation" was incredible. We work so closely with the elephants and they are incredibly gentle creatures and amazing to observe. And on "Service In The Clouds" one of the service projects we did was working at a school named LHA. We held english conversations with Tibetan Refugees who were all adults over 18 years of age. My partner and I developed a unique bond by the end of the program that I still have not taken the necklace that she gave me off. There was one day where we got to leave the school to explore a unique part of the city with our partners. My partner actually took me to the Dalai Lama's Temple. She was so so excited to bring me here and had so much to say about the temple. I could definitely tell the place was special to her and it was so amazing to share that unique experience with the locals.

While there are so many fun experiences on Rustic Pathways programs, safety is also a huge thing to consider when coming to any country. As a student who had never left the United States or travelled much, I felt completely safe the entire trip while under the care of the Rustic Pathways staff. While India is not a country for the faint of heart, it certainly is possible for first time travellers with the will! There were actually many times in the beginning when I felt out of place or like I wasn't making friends, but the leaders always make you feel included. One of my leaders actually noticed that I was having trouble getting included so he made sure to bring me into conversations subtly to where by the end of the week I was talking so much more and felt way more comfortable around everyone. All of my leaders were also really good in emergency situations. While in Balla, 12 out of 15 of the students on my trip got super sick. I think it was the stomach flu, but for 24 hours straight 12 people were vomiting and 3 ended up going to the hospital. Sickness is just a part of travelling that sometimes you just can't avoid, but luckily I never got sick personally during my stay in India. And even while the leaders were taking amazing care of everyone who was sick, they still took the time to check in on those few of us who were still doing well. And I would love to give my leaders a huge shout out because they were absolutely amazing and deserve all the recognition in the world.

The Rustic Pathways staff is amazing. Thank you so much for everything Beth, Michael, and Coco. So here I leave India with long-lasting friends and memories I'll never forget. So with that I encourage others who have the chance to take a Rustic Pathways trip because it's an amazing educational experience you'll never forget and I swear you won't regret it.

Namaste,
Jenna

Cayli
Female
18 years old
Alexandria, Virginia

Namaste India 2016

10/10

This past July, I went on the Namaste India trip through Rustic Pathways. This trip was absolutely phenomenal. Charles and Sunita, our two trip leaders, are such supportive and wonderful people. The itinerary was very well put together, and Sunita and Charles made it all even more exciting by choosing to surprise us with certain activities, and leave us guessing until we arrived to the location. Because of these many surprises on the trip, I don't want to get into too much detail, but I can promise that my only complaint is how I wish I could have stayed even longer!
Although, on my trip, there were very few students. And oftentimes on trips like these, there tends to be a specific student who doesn't quite fit the dynamic of the rest of the group. On my trip, there was one such student; but because there were so few of us, it was challenging to escape or ignore this student's behavior. I can be completely honest and say that this one student did make many parts of the trip highly unpleasant. However, the staff and administration at Rustic Pathways, including our trip leaders, the country leaders, and RP administration handled the situation exceptionally well. Despite the fact that those two weeks were a bit shaky, thanks to the RP staff, I knew that I would still love to travel with Rustic again.

How can this program be improved?

In the future, perhaps consider extending the itinerary for one day per city.

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Daniela
Female
19 years old
Austin Texas
Other

Amazing summer in India

9/10

I loved working with Tibetan refugees in India and I loved the staff. I made so many new friends and enjoyed the homestays so much. I loved my trip and would recommend it to anyone interested in refugee work or Tibetan culture. We were much more involved with Tibetan and Nepali people than Indian. so if you want to learn about Indian culture this may not be the best trip. my favorite part of the trip was the long hike we did in McLeod Ganj.

How can this program be improved?

I would add a visit to the Taj Mahal because that's the one touristy thing that everyone wants to do and it's not too far from new dehli where the airport was.

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Cory
Female
42 years old
Rockwall, Texas
Other

Children of India was a success

10/10

We sent two of our daughters on the trip to India with Rustic Pathways. We have used this company before and plan to use them again next year as well! As a parent I have been completely satisfied and my children have come home with wonderful stories and memories. I have total confidence in this organization!

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Izzy
Female
19 years old
Wisconsin

Loving the country and meeting new friends

10/10

I loved Namaste India this summer because of the amazing things we did in Southern India. One area we stayed in was Munnar, it is a beautiful area with a colder climate but amazing tea plantations. The hotel we stayed in was isolated in the mountains, with the clouds dropped low. The best part of being in Munnar was getting to visit a local village, where many of the citizens used to be nomad travelers but overtime decided to settle down. The village in Munnar was small, most things were handmade and the rest was things that were traded in the market. Even though I really enjoyed seeing the plantations, museum, village and martial arts in Munnar, there were some things I wasn't fond of. Thanks to Rustic Pathways, and my trip leaders, Divya and Meg, I got to experience something special; getting an inside view of Indian culture. The RP online site prepared me very well for a packing list, I packed exactly what I should have. I do wish someone would have told me to bring a bag that could be a duffel with wheels, and not to pack too many pants. I wished I wouldn't have packed so many pants because I did end up by a BUNCH of pants and I ended up not wearing the pants I brought to India.

How can this program be improved?

I wasn't fond of the hour or two we got to go shopping since there was only one or two shops. I believe that in the future unless there are some places that shopping would be good, or really enhance the experience, maybe there shouldn't be given hour or two of shopping every day.

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Cristi
Female
19 years old
Montclair, New Jersey

Namaste India

10/10

I went on this trip expecting to see some exciting sights, try some new food and maybe meet some cool people, but that was just the beginning. I chose to go on the Namaste India trip because I felt as if I would get to see the most out of India but at the same time have opportunities to really experience each sight we went to. This trip does contain a lot of time in commute and at first it's dreadful but once you make friends, bus rides become two hour sing alongs and intense games of "I spy." It is important to remember to bring a pair of speakers if you have them because everyone will be thanking you two hours into a six hour bus ride.Traveling with companies whose staff lives in the country you are traveling to, opens up a unimaginable amount of once in a lifetime opportunities. Pretty much everyone who travels to Agra Fort rides the elephants to the top and then looks around, but on this trip we had the memorable opportunity to take a quick five minute bus ride down the street and paint elephants who would be attending a wedding in the following hours. You also get to stay on a house boat for two nights on this trip and since our trip leader knew the owner of the house personally, we were allowed to climb to the top of a two story boat and jump off the roof. This might not seem like much but being able to say that you "jumped off the roof of a house boat and into the arabian sea" is pretty cool. The language barrier is not a big deal on this trip since most Indians that you interact with do speak English and if they don't, your tour guide is always a yell away. It's important to keep an open mind on this trip since Indian culture is far different than Western culture, and as long as you do, you'll have a phenomenal trip.

How can this program be improved?

Since rustic pathway trips usually consist of ten to twenty people, it is difficult to please everyone's appetite. The options of food is often repetitive and short which can be annoying if you don't like lentils or curry. However, if you remember to bring a few granola bars to keep at the bottom of your luggage, you'll be all set.

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Emma
Female
19 years old
North Carolina

Service in the Clouds + Dancing Bears = Happiness

10/10

Service in the Clouds (literally - IN THE CLOUDS!)
After the end of our 14 hour drive from New Delhi, someone in my car screamed "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. LOOK. LOOK!" We were all so tired and delusional that we didn't react. He was FREAKING out. I decided to take a look out the window at this "most beautiful sight in the world." I didn't see anything. That is, I didn't see anything at first. Once I really looked, I saw THE "most beautiful sight in the world:" The Himalayas. The reason I couldn't see them upon first glance was because I hadn't looked up. I looked out like I do when admiring mountains in the US. These mountains were up high and they didn't look like mountains at first. I thought they were clouds. But after squinting my eyes I saw the faint line of the peaks of the Himalayas. My eyes were glued to the window of the car until we made it to Balla where that sight would be my backdrop for the next 2 weeks...

-Balla: eating; digging; carrying; mixing; chai tea; digestive cookies (I didn't get sick-luckily- but most others in my group did); dance classes; yoga; eating; napping; cow selfies; human knot; meditation

-McLeod Ganj: tuk-tuk rides; eating momos; teaching my Tibetan language partner; learning from her; listening to the stories from Tibetan refugees and learning how they remain so positive and loving; eating; shopping; avoiding eye contact with monkeys; walking barefoot in the temple of the Dali Lama

**IDNIAN FOOD IS THE BEST FOOD EVER**

Dancing Bears

-Agra: mashing mangos for sloth bears; picking up elephant poop (not as gross as it sounds!); hand-washing rescued elephants; creating enrcihment activities for the bears; eating; cooking; dancing, singing, and playing the local instruments in a former snake-charming village

How can this program be improved?

Because I did two programs (which I highly suggest doing), we had a day in-between trips and we went to the mall in New Delhi. I would have preffered to do something that could only be done in India like go see monuments or historical sights.

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Carolina
Female
19 years old
Boston, Massachusetts

Only With Rustic

9/10

I'm so glad I did the Rustic Pathways Advanced Himalayan Photography Workshop trip because it truly is a trip of a lifetime. Rustic takes you to places that you wouldn't normally visit with your family or even when you're older. On my trip, we saw the Dalai Lama, toured the Hemis Monestery, stayed with a Ladhki family in Ang village, and camped with nomads on Lake Tsomoriri. My family vacations usually consist of relaxing pool side at the Four Seasons so one would think sleeping in a Yurt (nomad tent) in 30 dagger weather is my idea of hell, but in fact it was one of my all time favorite trips. Don't be afraid to do a rustic trip because the leaders, kids, and places you visit are truly amazing. As cliche as this may sound, I came back from the trip with a better view of life and much better appreciation for what I have. I couldn't think of a better way to spend your summer then by traveling around India with such an incredible company like Rustic Pathways.

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Jinan
Female
19 years old
Muscat, Oman

The Lost Children of India

9/10

I went in expecting the trip to be less fun than it actually was, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had on the trip with the friends i made, the orphans at the home, and in the country itself.
Most of our days in Jaipur would consist of a 45-minute drive to the children's home in the morning, 2 hours of teaching/having fun, lunch for about an hour or two, and then 2/3 more hours of interaction with the children. We would then have an evening activity planned out before having dinner at our hotel.
The kids were absolutely amazing and many of them already understand basic English. They loved teaching us words in Hindi, and were eager to learn.
We learned about the history of Jaipur, toured the city and its temples, forts, and streets. The program leaders were very helpful if we had any questions and enjoyed answering our queries.

How can this program be improved?

Travelling to/from New Delhi was a 6-hour drive each way, I would change the mode of transport between the two cities to a plane (as Jaipur also has an airport).

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ks48
Female
19 years old
Newport Beach California

A life changing Trip

10/10

This trip was like nothing I had ever done before. It was truley amazing to stay with a homestay family and learn how they live their lifes and I feel changed because of it. One thing I would say to anyone thinking about going on a Rustic Pathways trip to India is that it will push you to your limits, you will be dirty and tired and maybe sick but it is those challenges that you face that make this trip so rewarding in the end.

How can this program be improved?

I would make this trip a few days longer and less long car rides. I would also add more service opportunitys so we could meet the hours we thought we would.

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Izzy
Female
19 years old
Paradise Valley, Arizona

Want a great program?

10/10

I had some of the best, eye-opening experience in my life. Since I've been on Rustic Pathways trips to Australia, Thailand, Laos and now India, I can honestly say that the community service was by far the most rewarding for both the students and the kids. The staff was great and were clearly just as excited as us about being there. This program really changed my life in a positive way and I would recommend it to anyone.

How can this program be improved?

I would make the program longer because right when everyone started to feel comfortable and really get to know the kids at the orphanage, it was time to leave.

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Christina
Female
19 years old
Los Angeles, CA

My Favorite Life Changing Experience Ever

9/10

My dream since I was a little kid was to go to India, and I found out about Rustic Pathways when I was about 12. So I had two years of long waiting till I could go. And it was so worth it. The first day there was overwhelming, we got to India around 10 and I had to wake up a 2 30 am to fly to Kerala (where the great houseboat adventure is). I was stunned at the beauty of Kerala. Initially, I was not expecting the program to be much (I was originally only going to do The Lost Children of India, but I added Kerala just to get extra time in the country). God, I was wrong. Every morning, I would wake up around five and watch the sunrise from the upper deck of our houseboat. After breakfast, we trekked down to the school we were working at. Just standing there, you were already sweating ...so the working part was intense. But then the local boys started helping out and we ended up on the news and it was just so great. The kids were adorable, and even though they didn't understand most of our English, they got so happy whenever the got things right. My favorite part was working at the girl's home though. I brought a camera with me, and all the girls were obsessed! They were constantly dragging me around to take pictures and teach me dances and I genuinely felt like the wanted me there. Everywhere we went, people were smiling. I got to experience so much of the culture, as well as getting to help. Later, in Jaipur, we ended up on the news again! At a fertility festival!! My last day at the orphanage, I felt like crying. I didn't want to leave. The one thing I would say is, these trips require a certain level of maturity. I was the youngest on both trips at 14, most were 16 or 17. The leaders on the trips don't constantly check in on you and baby you, they treat you like adults (or at least mature teenagers) and expect you to be able to take of yourselves. They even set us free alone in the marketplace with just a meeting place and a time. Personally, I loved the independence, but some may not feel comfortable with that. Overall though, I would not trade this experience for anything and I'm soo excited to be doing Rustic again this year!!

How can this program be improved?

The biggest change I would make would be to make the trips longer. We all felt like we had just really gotten attached to the kids when we had to leave.

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Cass
Female
24 years old
Amherst, MA
Hampshire College

Rustic Pathways India

7/10

I traveled with Rustic Pathways in India during my GAP year. I had been traveling with Rustic since I was 15 years old, so I was experienced and in for a wild ride in India.
I was up in Mcloed Ganj, the current home of the Dalia Lama. It was a breathtaking city filled with people from all corners of the globe. I was set up with a local family that was kind and warm.
The country managers of Rustic Pathways in India are saints. They are knowledgeable, incredibly kind, and will instantly make you feel welcomed.
India is a place unlike any other and Rustic Pathways knows how to give you the best of this cultural hub.

How can this program be improved?

It comes with the territory, as I became very sick in India. This was on the part of the country itself and it is common that people become ill in this region of the world. As awful as the sickness was, the staff and country directors were life savers. They made me feel comfortable, safe, and took every step of the process professionally.

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GraceLillian
Female
19 years old
Lewsiton, Maine
Bates College

Service on the Roof of the World

10/10

I couldn't figure out how I ended up running through the streets of Dharamsala, drenched, during a heavy rainstorm, or spending quiet mornings meditating in Tashi Jong, but I knew I never wanted to leave. This program took me to McLeod Ganj, a center of political and social energy for Tibetan refugees, Buddhist monks, and Western travelers alike, as well as to Tashi Jong, a removed village in the shadows of the Himalayan foothills where shared meals, morning meditations, and vibrant locals make the fabric of the thriving community.

City life was starkly different from country life, and each offered its own plentiful benefits. The air in McLeod buzzed with a tangible sense of social commitment as my fellow attendees and I worked alongside Tibetan refugees, teaching English and working on physical labor projects for urban renewal purposes. An average day in McLeod Ganj promised breakfast cooked by my welcoming Tibetan home stay mother, a morning of labor projects (including painting a meditation room in a home for the elderly, picking up garbage, and planting trees), followed by lunch at one of McLeod's many local, affordable restaurants, and an afternoon spent in meetings with high lamas, important Tibetan activists, and influential community members. Rustic Pathways also allowed for plenty of free time, during which we explored the city, shopped at the market stalls along the two main roads, or ventured to temple to watch monks debating philosophy before dinner.

Tashi Jong provided a more relaxed, rural environment where the temperature, along with the intensity of our labor projects, increased. My group spent the mornings breaking ground on an ecological park space by the village's river, which involved leveling hills, weeding, moving large rocks, mixing cement, and picking up garbage. Lunch was always a highlight; the village women cooked a community meal for us every day that we enjoyed with all the members of Tashi Jong. In the afternoons, we took a short hike to a local monastery where young Buddhist monks attempted to learn English from our clumsy (but sincere) attempts at teaching. Evenings held pick up soccer games, hikes through the countryside, and impromptu English lessons with the locals.

The linchpin of this program was perhaps the home stay aspect. To be dropped in the middle of a family whose members spoke only limited English was a true growing experience; finding ways to surmount language barriers led to the realization that kindness is a universal property, and in both McLeod and Tashi, the generosity of my host families moved me to tears on multiple occasions. I felt like a traveler, not a tourist, when my "mother" draped a silky "khata" around my neck upon my departure, and I sometimes find myself still craving a hearty Tibetan meal of bread, soup, and the ubiquitous chai.

A note on food: Northern India is a vegetarian's paradise. While I personally eat meat,the staple dishes of dal, rice, bread, and steamed vegetables never left me wanting more. Local delicacies are not fancy, but they are filling, delicious, and provide the necessary sustenance for a day spent working in the sun. Enjoy what the families have to offer and supplement your diet with plentiful local options (in McLeod) or light Western fare by way of convenience store (in Tashi).

As a company, Rustic Pathways left little to be desired. Both the American staff and the international staff were phenomenal; they worked ceaselessly to abate the inevitable culture shock we felt on our first couple of days in India. Our leaders were knowledgable, engaging, and filled the roles of friend, parent and teacher simultaneously and seamlessly. Their careful organization kept complications to a minimum and ensured that we remained safe, healthy, and effective travelers throughout the entire trip.

I left India in July, and not a day has passed when the residual feelings attached to my experience have not surfaced. My work, teaching English and building communal spaces, endowed me with a lasting sense of accomplishment that surpassed other service projects in which I have participated; seeing a tangible product that stemmed directly from my efforts felt richly rewarding. In return, I enjoyed experiences unknowable to the average tourist. From circumambulating at the temple during the Dalai Lama's birthday celebration to riding down winding streets on top of a public bus and cycling through sun salutations on a rooftop dwarfed by the soaring Himalayas, my time in India afforded me innumerable opportunities that enriched me both as a student and as a global citizen. I never thought it was possible to be homesick for a place I only visited, but the attachments formed quickly and reached deeply, entwining themselves inexorably with my personal narrative.

Namaste.

About The Provider

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Travel and volunteer abroad with Rustic Pathways to one of many exotic locations.

We take students on unique, rewarding, and safe programs to some of the world's friendliest and fascinating countries. Immerse yourself in a new culture, work on purposeful community service projects, and expand

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