Gender & Religion

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Gender & Religion

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  • Explore the incredibly diverse regions of northern India, from the plains of Punjab to the foothills of the Himalayas.
  • Broaden your understanding of the issues facing women in India by examining the complex cultural, religious, and historical contexts that women live in, and by participating in home-grown activism working towards equality.
  • Visit the sites of three major religions in India and explore the incredible temples, ashrams, stupas, mosques, and gurudwaras found there.
  • Hike an ancient Hindu Pilgrimage path in the Doon Valley*
  • Ride camels into the Thar desert, sip chai, and sing traditional Rajasthani songs **

* May – June 2016 program only
** July- August 2016 program only

Program Dates

July 9 – August 17

May 21 – June 29
Applications Closed!

Fees + Community Contribution

$2,730 + $615
$2,995 + $750

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Sample Itinerary

*This itinerary is based on our previous experience with the region. Programs change every year based on the needs of our partners. This should give you a sense of what our program may look like.

Our Gender & Religion program focuses heavily on critical and collaborative explorations of gender and social justice issues. Though we will occasionally take part in hands-on volunteering projects, you can expect to be doing a lot more learning as we traverse the many fascinating parts of India. Get ready for a living classroom like you’ve never seen before!

Orientation – Delhi

The adventure begins as soon you are picked up from the airport in India’s capital city of Delhi. During our in-country orientation, we’ll be traipsing through the busy streets, interacting with local vendors, practicing our bartering skills, and sampling the many sights, smells, and tastes of Delhi. We’ll spend several days exploring the religious sites of this huge and diverse metropolis and adapting to the vast differences we’ll be exposed to for the rest of the program.

On our final two days in Delhi, we will attend a series of talks and presentations by some of India’s most powerful and passionate activists, academics, and professionals working for gender equality in India and abroad.

A Glacial Pilgrimage in the Doon Valley or Camels in Rajasthan

Our early summer team will head north to the vast Doon Valley, the gateway to Uttarakhand, also known as Bhoomdevi, land of the gods in Hindu mythology. Nestled between India’s mightiest rivers – the Ganges and Yumana – this valley is not only the base camp for treks into the Himalayas, but it is also host to some of the best educational institutions in the north. An extremely fertile part of India that receives a large portion of the monsoon rains, Uttarakhand is a predominantly rural and agricultural state, where women continue to do the majority of the agricultural labour without having title to the land they work on. We will be working with an organization tackling the barriers rural farm women face, before following the path of one of many ancient Hindu pilgrimages in the area.

Our late summer team will head southwest to the desert plains of Rajasthan. While Rajasthan is one of the most beautifully unique states in India and boasts some of the highest rates of tourism, it remains one of the states with the highest levels of illiteracy, student drop-out rates, and gender inequality in all of India. We will be working with an organization that seeks to increase gender equity through education and social services for women and children. Rajasthan is one of the centres of India’s ancient civilization, making it a fascinating place to understand the ways that traditional beliefs and lifestyles intersect with the contemporary push for progress and equality. We’ll explore Hinduism but also learn about Islam in a place where the two have had a long shared history.

Of course, we’ll finish our time in the desert by riding camels into the sunset. After all, sipping chai on sand dunes will be a much-deserved respite from our intense explorations of Rajasthan!

Sikh Spirituality in Amritsar

Amritsar, or Ambarsar as it is known locally, is the spiritual capital of the Sikh religion and home to the Golden Temple, or Harminder Sahib. In our 3 days in Amritsar, we will learn about both Sikhism and the divisive, powerful history of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan by immersing ourselves in the beauty and chaos of one of the most visited and revered holy sights in India. We’ll explore Amritsar the way any pilgrim would: by staying at the gurudwara, sharing sleeping quarters with other pilgrims in the attached Ram Das Niwas ashram, eating langar (the community temple meal provided for any and all pilgrims), and volunteering our hands to chop garlic, wash dishes, and participate in this well-oiled community space.

An Adventure North to Dharamsala

Heading north into the foothills of the Himalayas, our team will move to McLeod Ganj, located 2100m (6800 ft) up on a ridge above Dharamsala in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley. It is home to the Tibetan government in exile and the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Our time here will be facilitated by the local chapter of the Tibetan Women’s Association, through whom we will learn about the history of Tibet and the struggles Tibetans face in exile. We’ll also have the opportunity to contribute to their, and/or other organizations’, work. This firsthand experience of the ongoing activism in McLeod Ganj will inform our wider conversation about liberation from oppressive structures.

We will also discover the legacy of Buddhism, which was the dominant religion in India for a millennium until about 800 years ago. The quiet, relaxed environment will give us the space to reflect on what we’ve learned over the last four weeks. Whether it’s hiking outside the village, checking out the many temples and spiritual spaces in the area, practicing yoga, taking cooking classes, or maybe even catching a glimpse of the Dalai Lama in his hometown, this is the perfect place to finish off before our group splits up for ITT.

Independent Travel Time

A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire but we encourage everyone to travel in pairs or small groups. ITT is the ideal time for you to learn more about your specific interest, volunteering with Tibetan refugees in the north, traveling inland, or just relaxing on the coastal beaches. With over a billion people and the largest mountains in the world, you won’t be short of options here!

**Please note that you are not under the auspices of the organized program during ITT. Team members will be given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice.

Disorientation – Rishikesh

Our group will reconvene for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. We will meet in Rishikesh, arguably the world capital of yoga, and another of India’s many holy centers, nestled along the surging Ganga river. With the smell of incense and yoga constantly in the air, Rishikesh is the perfectly chill place to debrief and end our experience together. We’ll re-live memories of the program, reminisce about our wild and wonderful experiences, discuss how to stay connected, and collaborate on projects in the future. Then off to the airport for some tearful goodbyes!

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What’s Included?

A comprehensive program itinerary and educational curriculum focused on the issues facing your specific region

Experienced and caring program leaders with you 24 hours a day

All lodging and accommodations throughout the program

Three local meals a day

All group tours, entrance fees, and excursions

All group transportation on the ground

Regular discussions and workshops to help you internalize and reflect on your experience

Support from OGHQ whenever you need it


Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms!

  • Trek through the beautiful mountains of Kathmandu.
  • Dig in to the music scene in Varanasi or photograph the famous Taj Mahal in Agra.
  • Jet-set to the dive spots around the Maldive Islands.
  • Take the second highest motorable pass in the world from Manali to Leh and get up close and personal with the Himalayas.


With OG, you live like the locals.

Traveling as much as we do on the India program, there will be a number of different styles of accommodation. Whether it’s sleeping in an ashram with hundreds of other pilgrims or in an organic eco-village, you can expect to be meeting new people, new challenges, and new stories in every city and village we visit. There’s always a quirk to the places we call home in India. One of the most welcoming cultures in the world, expect to be amazed at the hospitable nature of the people and communities who we stay with. Life is different on the road, but backpackers embrace it all, even if the best part is the story you get at the end! So get ready to embrace cold-water bucket showers, “cozy” sleeping conditions, and the occasional squat toilet!

Meet Our Regional Director

Turning 18 was like the firing of a starting gun for James. He started moving across borders and continents and hasn’t found the finish line yet. Typically found bothering mountains with his skis, or holy men with questions, his initial wanderings and wonderings spanned a diverse set of scenery, continents, and jobs to keep the show on the road. Four years with OG has only served to strengthen his early convictions around the transformative potential of travel experience to peel back our preconceptions about our world, and to better facilitate shared understandings which can benefit all of us.

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