High Altitude Education

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High Altitude Education

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  • With the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and clear blue skies, we’ll work with organizations in Ladakh investing in alternative educational opportunities for a variety of communities while immersing ourselves in the ancient Varjana Buddhist mountain culture.
  • Challenge your expectations around how educational institutions operate and how we, as volunteers, can best contribute to our partners at Secmol.
  • Experience first-hand how our partners at Local Futures are harnessing the recent explosion in tourism to create a more positive and sustainable future for their community.
  • Test yourself on a multi-day hike with passes up starting at 3000 metres, with nothing but the massive, majestic, and mystical mountains of the Kharkatorum surrounding you. There’s only one way to go here… all the way up!


40-DAY ↑

Fees + Community Contribution

$3,050 USD + $720 USD
$3,175 CAD + $750 CAD

Program Dates

May 26 – July 4, 2018

July 14 – August 22, 2018

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.

Orientation – Leh

Ready to jump right into this adventure? You’ll be flying straight into Leh, Ladakh, at 3500 m. With this rapid ascent, we’ll need to spend a total of five days acclimatizing to life at this altitude. We’ll be prioritizing our health over exertion – trust us, this is essential to our journey! But we’ll also start our in-country orientation to prepare ourselves for the whole program!

As soon as our bodies are ready, 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 Leh. This is a start unlike any other – you’ll be on the roof of the world, on the edge of the map! There’s no doubt that this unique city will be seared into our hearts and minds!

But again, we take acclimatization seriously here at OG. Our bodies need to adjust to this new environment as acclimatizing poorly could mean a much less enjoyable trip. Before we hit the road, expect to plough through a good book enjoying the gentle, calm pace of life that is easily found in a Ladakhi summer. You’ll count the various meanings of the word ‘Jullay’, and be surprised at how much water you’ll have to consume for your body to adapt to altitude. But it won’t be lazy days! Our program leaders will get your brains working while your bodies rest, challenging the group to find the best ways to support each other through the challenges ahead.

The Indus Valley

Having taken the time for our bodies to adapt to the lower levels of oxygen at this altitude, it’s time to start exploring the communities and cultures that lie along the Indus river – one of the great Himalayan rivers, and the one which gave India its name. It’s believed that the first humans to come to this part of the world arrived along this river.

We’ll spend our time in nearby villages and towns to improve our understanding of the local Varjana Buddhist culture and how it informs the interactions of local communities. Through Local Futures and the Women’s Alliance, we’ll intimately experience life in a village, and learn a little about traditional and modern agricultural practices in a region where subsistence farming or religious study were the two main occupations just up to 20 years ago.

Our partners will also open our eyes to how rapidly and recently the area has changed due to the explosion in tourism. We’ll delve into critical discussions on what this means for the people of the region and their future. Expect homestays, a visit to a monastery and other important cultural sites, and deep discussions with our partners and friends. Who knows – we might even get a chance to lend a hand with some of the harvest!

Oh and of course, our team will also get up close and personal with one of tributaries of the Indus, all while rafting on the Zanskar!

Trekking into the Himalaya

After 12 days getting under the skin of life in the cold and high altitude desert, it’s time to get on top of it!

The impossibly massive, majestic, and mystical mountains of the Kharkatorum will be our mightiest challenge. We’ll push our limits and past our comfort zones by hiking along the Markha Valley to its dizzying climax at 5,200 m. (17,000 ft.) Get ready to pass ancient villages and hill forts while watching the daily transformation of trickling streams into raging torrents as the fierce Ladakhi sun releases glacial water into the valley! It’s really the only way to end a trip in Ladakh – with sore feet, sunsets, and stories by starlight.

The exact route will be chosen to fit the needs of the group, but you should be comfortable with the idea of multi-day treks in remote, challenging mountains.

Democratic Education with Secmol

Armed with a new understanding of the region and its communities, it’s time to test what we’ve learned and challenge our preconceptions around education and volunteering at Secmol’s Phey campus. A school for students aged 5 – 18, Secmol runs on a student-led democratic model, providing a much-needed alternative for students who are not supported by the government’s education system.

This is where OG’s fundamental principle of community-requested projects really comes into play! The students and their needs at the time will determine how we contribute our time on campus, creating a unique space for immersive cross-cultural exchange. In the past, we’ve been involved with English conversation exchanges, maintenance projects around the school, and other educational support.

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 interests, be they 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 centres, nestled along the surging Ganga river. Yoga and meditation centres are balanced by great opportunities for more rafting and hiking, making it a great option for everyone, and the perfect 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!

  • Jump into Nepal for a different kind of Himalayan perspective.
  • Experience the vibrant music scene in Varanasi or visit the famous Taj Mahal in Agra.
  • Hang out with the elephant, monkeys, and tigers at Jim Corbett National Park.
  • Jet-set to the remarkable dive spots around the Maldive Islands.


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. Tents on the side of a mountain, a homestay in Ladakhi villages, or a dorm room in the Shiva Blues art hostel in Manali, there’s always a quirk to the places we call home on the road 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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