[ India, 2009 | Kilimanjaro, 2007 ]

India 2009

India, 2009 - the Taj MahalOn the 13th of July a team of seven pupils, two teachers and two doctors set off for India – all very excited and anxious for what was to come in the month ahead. We arrived in Delhi to a huge culture shock – so many people and so much traffic!

On the first day we explored the city on a tour bus, seeing the Gate of India and Ghandi’s burial site. Then we went to visit the red fort and got taken on a rickshaw down Wedding Street – surprised to see monkeys hanging above our heads on telephone wires! The look on the rickshaw driver’s face when he realised he had to pedal Will, our 6’ 8” second-row rugby forward, was priceless.

The next day we got up early and took the train to Chandigarh. The train was a new experience for us as well, as it was rather more basic than the First Great Western. We had to get 26 bags on the train in the space of two minutes, which was the first challenge of the trip! Once we arrived in Chandigarh we spent the night in a hotel and were shocked to be invited to MTV India’s party, which was interesting as none of us really knew all that many Indian hits! But Ben hit the dance floor hard and taught some Indians his moves. India, 2009 - trekking with mulesThe following day we took jeeps to Manali – a small town full of markets. Here we met our guide for the trek – Ram and stayed two days taking a practice walk up a hill nearby in between. From Manali we moved over the Rhotang pass as a days drive around very windy and unstable roads with some interesting driving, until we reached our first camp site.

Next came our first days serious walking. We got up at 6am, packed up our tents and were off. Accompanied by our horsemen, with their mules, our cook and kitchen staff, and the man who as in charge, Sula. We experienced our first river crossing that day – with freezing water and I managed to lose a flip flop along the way! We then camped next door to a tiny little hut and met a little girl called Dulma – which suitably entertained Lily and Naomi for the evening.

We started into our two week trek, along a flat valley, which was fine for the moment but we knew soon that we were going to be heading over some steep passes. India, 2009 - small villageOur first steep climb was the Shingo La pass, 5095m, which we did a couple of days into the trek. Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy and wet day so we weren’t able to see much, but this was also an advantage as we didn’t have to see how far we had to climb! Something that did surprise us was the amount of snow that we had to walk over, or in Natalie’s case fall over! It was a great achievement to get to the top of the pass, and luckily the altitude wasn’t affecting any of us too badly. We didn’t stay at the top for that long as it was very cold, but we did have enough time to have a celebratory Percy Pig, which Mr Matthew had bought along. Our next camp was lower in the valley and we would have a few days walking along the flat which was good. After a couple of days we arrived at a village which was basically a collection of very small and run down houses. The villagers, especially the children, all seemed very interested in us, and it was a great feeling when we were able to hand out some of our collected clothing and sports equipment. We also got to play a game of football with them, once we had cleared a field of boulders; it was good fun, although as they were a lot more use to the altitude, they could keep running for a lot longer!

“This comprised of a bucket of water being heated for us for 50 rupees, but it felt great having washed in glacial rivers for the previous week.”

Our long 6-7 hour days of walking took their toll and we all began to feel a bit tired. We took a rest day at Purne, where we all caught up on our diaries and were also able to have a hot shower. This comprised of a bucket of water being heated for us for 50 rupees, but it felt great having washed in glacial rivers for the previous week. The next day we took a day trip up to Phuktal Gompa, which is a monastry built into the cliff on the site of a holy cave. Here we met some of the monks who offered us tea and, strangely enough, Ritz biscuits. Here we were also able to give some art equipment and also some hockey sticks which Lily had collected before the trip.

India, 2009 - Phuktal GompaOur next pass which was the highest in our trip was the Phirtsi-lar, which stood at 5500m, which was higher then any of us had been before. This was a long and very steep climb to the top, which felt like it would never end, but when we got to the top it was worth it. The view from the top was incredible and you were able to get 360 degree shot of snow and summits, a lot of which were below. This was one of the highlights of the trip.

After two weeks of trekking we headed back down to Manali to comfy beds and hot showers. Then we took a long drive down to Dharamsala, still in the Himalayan foothills, where we stayed for a few nights and did some shopping! Unfortunately we had come in the monsoon season and it didn’t stop raining all the time we were there. Also here was the Norbulinka Institute, the Buddhist Centre where the Dalai Lama teaches and where lots of the Tibetan art is produced; this was really interesting to look around. We also visited one of the Tibetan schools which a lot of the orphans stayed at. It was great to see that actually they were doing really well but there was a great contrast between our boarding houses and theirs (even FH!). We also spent time with some of the children, which was really fun as well. In Dharamsala we also visited a hospital in which lots of their patients had TB. The hospital was struggling a lot as they had to pay for all their medicines, so before we left we gave them what we could of our first aid provisions, as we hadn’t needed them throughout the trek.

India, 2009 - Naomi reading to the orphans of The Tibetan Children's Village, DharamsalaWe then took the train to Amritsar and visited the Golden Temple which was very impressive; however we were back to the humidity of the cities which wasn’t so comfortable. On our final day we drove down to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal which we were all very excited about. It was extremely hot in Agra but it was amazing to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In Agra we also visited the Red Fort which was very interesting as well.

After a month it was now time for us all to head home. It had been a really amazing experience and one which none of us would ever forget. We had learnt so much about the culture of India and how their way of life differed to ours so greatly. I don’t think any of us realize how lucky we actually are until we visit somewhere less privileged, but we felt we had helped them in our own small way.

If anyone is thinking about going on the next expedition I would definitely recommend it, as although it is a huge challenge, it’s the best feeling when you have achieved it; something you will definitely remember for a long time.

Team: Lily Swan, Nat Waddington, Naomi Beckett, Will Carrick-Smith, Dave Malcolm, Ben Grayson, James Foan.
Group Leaders – Mr Matthew and Mr Wilson, Doctors – Rhys Bevan-Jones and Sophie Wallace.

Naomi Beckett and Natalie Waddington

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Kilimanjaro 2007

By joining the Blundell’s expedition team I was hoping for a life-changing experience and an immense challenge. These wishes were far surpassed, leading to new friendships and cherished memories. 2007 expedition to Kenya and TanzaniaThis is a collection of the defining moments of the trip and the challenges that we faced, and all I hope is that they inspire you to try something adventurous in the forthcoming years. On arriving in Kenya the expedition’s first challenge was to climb Mt Kenya by reaching Point Lenana 4985m, its highest climbable peak.

From Nairobi we travelled to the Nanyuki District to stay at the delightful Naro Moru River Lodge. Our transport was a spacious Medicated Camel Cheese lorry (luxurious by African standards apparently). On arriving we were all keen to see African wildlife. We were not disappointed, as within the hour we witnessed a close-knit family of baboons walking 50 metres ahead of our party. Later that evening I witnessed my first African sunset, something that I will never forget and will struggle to describe. This filled our party with a sense of optimism for the forthcoming weeks.

Over the next few days the enormity of the challenge ahead started to set in as the persistent walking and the gradual effects of altitude started to take their toll.

Over the next few days the enormity of the challenge ahead started to set in as the persistent walking and the gradual effects of altitude started to take their toll. In spite of this we were surrounded by immense beauty and I was becoming ever more excited about our ascent to the summit. Initially we moved through dense forests reverberating with sounds of Colubus monkeys, dodging the piles of steaming elephant dung. We then entered a moorland phase to reach Liki North Hut 3,900m. This was a simple wooden box on stilts surrounded by laughing hyrax. Gradually the scenery changed to a lunar landscape littered with stumpy groundsels and phallic looking lobelia. Marmots and multifarious birds were ever present on our approach to Shiptons hut, the last stop which we would make on our journey to the summit.

2007 expedition to Kenya and TanzaniaRising at one in the morning, we began our final ascent. Using only head torches, we trudged slowly upwards, following the cold feet of the walker in front. Marching on scree slopes with empty stomachs was draining, however knowing that to reach our breakfast we had to summit Mt Kenya first, kept our legs moving. This was one of the hardest parts of the trip as the cold was unbearable, but with the knowledge of what we were about to achieve our resolve remained strong.

As the first rays of sunlight began to creep over the horizon, we approached the top of the mountain. The view was spectacular, as the African sun slowly rose over the horizon to reveal the breathtaking mountainous scenery from the highest point around. After a three-hour descent we were finally rewarded with a cooked breakfast. 2007 expedition to Kenya and TanzaniaIt was only nine in the morning and we had walked for seven hours, yet we faced at least the same again before we could camp for the night.

The view was spectacular, as the African sun slowly rose over the horizon to reveal the breathtaking mountainous scenery from the highest point around.

Having navigated vertical bogs we reached our huts ten hours later. We were thrilled at what we had accomplished, and excited by the promises of African animals on our last day. We were not disappointed. Woken up by monkeys with long bushy tails climbing on the roof of our hut, no one wanted to leave our new furry friends when the final descent was to begin. As soon as we started the trail though, we were filled with renewed enthusiasm when Isaac, our lead guide, showed us where an elephant had collapsed the dirt walls of the track and was descending a few hours ahead of us. Despite increasing our pace we never caught up, however before disappointment had managed to set in, we came across a wild buffalo. This was apparently a bad sign, as it meant he would be aggressive having become separated from the herd. Our two guides told us to climb a bank and move slowly alongside the track. Convincing us that the utmost caution was required around these colossal beasts, they preceded to hurl rocks and stones at the creature! It was an incredible surprise, however he plodded off into the undergrowth where he came from, marking a dramatic end to our time on Mount Kenya.

Two nights in hotels separated one journey from the next. A night in the Sarova Stanley in Nairobi was bliss. The luxury hotel gave us the chance to wash off one mountain in preparation for the application of another, but also to swim, eat and watch T.V! With clean clothes and a content appetite, we set of with renewed vigour on the Marangu trail, to try to achieve our ultimate goal, summiting Mt Kilimanjaro.

2007 expedition to Kenya and Tanzania
Ascending Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, in 2007

Mt Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, contrasted drastically with Mt Kenya, adding an extra 1,000m to our climb. Whilst the temperature would be much lower, the air would contain only half of the oxygen present at sea level. There was much less wildlife present on Mt Kilimanjaro, which is actually three extinct volcanoes, Kibo, Mawenzi and Meru, with open landscapes and breathtaking scenery the principle focus of our attention. 2007 expedition to Kenya and TanzaniaThe ascent was slow to aid acclimatisation but thankfully due to our hike up Mt Kenya we were prepared. Reaching Kibo hut via the Rongai Route by lunchtime on the fourth day, we rested early as our summit attempt would begin at midnight. The slow journey to the crater edge was completed by 6.00am, and it was exhausting. The freezing cold, thin air and the pitch black scenery combined meant that the decision to continue upwards around the crater rim to the summit was a difficult one for some. Leaving a few of the group behind as victims of acute mountain sickness, only willpower drove the last of us to the summit. Reaching Uhuru peak 5685m was one of the greatest feelings that I have experienced in my life so far and gave us all an immense sense of achievement. When we finally descended to Horombo campsite 3720m, we had been walking for fifteen hours and the porters said they rarely got so many from one group to the top.

The gratitude shown to our group made all the charity work so worthwhile. The trip ended on a massive high, playing the local primary school in an epic 3-2 extra time victory - not so impressive when you consider they were all barefooted ten year olds!

Having reached the top of both of the Mountains, our thoughts turned to Kilaremo School that we would soon be visiting. The first day was spent painting the classrooms that had recently been built, and the second day distributing second-hand clothes, cricket kit and gifts that we had collected before our journey out there. The gratitude shown to our group made all the charity work so worthwhile. srgnThe trip ended on a massive high, playing the local primary school in an epic 3-2 extra time victory - not so impressive when you consider they were all barefooted ten year olds! They were so excited by our gift of fifteen new footballs.

The trip surpassed my expectations by far and has inspired me to plan a gap year involving trekking in Africa. It is an incredible continent with fantastic people and I would urge anyone who is considering making the trip to just go for it. I will only live once, but if I had my time over again this is one decision that would remain the same. The children I met, the friends I made and the sense of achievement that I had completed all my goals, go together to make a truly unforgettable trip.

James Waddington