New Delhi to Leh: Capturing Our Hearts and Souls

Manali's Lush Landscape

New Delhi to Leh: Capturing Our Hearts and Souls

Written by Jaimie Forest and Sam Stalteri, 2014 India: High Altitude Education. 

This post is a tad late (apologies!), so we’re going to rewind to July 10th: the unforgettable day we all arrived to the sweltering heat, hustle and bustle that is New Delhi. As we arrived throughout the day, our two wonderful leaders, James and Claire, took turns going to the airport to pick the eight of us up. We all quickly realized that none of us were prepared to sweat as much as we did – not even a hot yoga class could compare. Our hotel was right in the middle of the main bazaar, Paharganj, and we spent our 2 days (3 for the people who arrived early on the 10th) exploring the chaotic streets full of vendors, dogs, rickshaws and masses of people.

Main Bazaar, Paharganj

Main Bazaar, Paharganj

Our senses were swiftly overwhelmed (in a good way, of course) by the sights, smells, and sounds of this unique place. While culture shock is technically defined as the feeling of disorientation, confusion or nervousness experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar social and cultural environment, we were all pulsing with positivity and excitement to explore this magical culture that is so vastly different from our own. The initial “shock” included our introduction to an assortment of the most delicious curry any of us had ever tasted. Our taste buds thanked us for the array of satisfying spices and our stomachs were happy too. To our great surprise and delight, none of us fell victim to the infamous “Delhi Belly” (a.k.a. travellers diarrhea). Yay!

Tuk-tuk: the ideal way to get around Delhi.

Tuk-tuk: the ideal way to get around Delhi.

Our last day in Delhi tested our will to withstand the sluggish heat while working as a team to navigate the bustling metropolis outside the main bazaar we had become familiar with. James and Claire split us into two teams of four and sent us on an Amazing Race-style scavenger hunt. Each team was given 1000 rupees and four locations to go to and take a group photo. It was a great way to test our skills using the metro and bartering with tuk-tuk drivers. Both teams worked together so well and we all made it to the last location a couple of hours ahead of schedule! An added bonus – it tired us out immensely for our overnight bus to Manali. That evening we hauled our fatigued butts onto the gloriously air-conditioned bus and settled in for a sleepy (but bumpy) ride.

 Waterfall hike

Waterfall hike

500 km and 16 hours later we arrived in the cool, fresh air of Manali. Surrounded by lush, forest-covered peaks and with a temperature remarkably cooler than Delhi, we were quite content to spend the next five days there. Our day was off to a good start, and after dropping our bags off at our guest house we set out on a hike to a waterfall. To say that it was beautiful is an understatement. We relaxed, played in the water, and climbed behind the falls, all the while getting soaked and feeling gloriously cold because of it.

Our next four days were spent working with Julie, the founder of Om Shanti Om Trust – an environment- and education-focused NGO based in Manali. Over four evenings we worked with the children to teach and take part in art projects centered around animals and their habitats in North America, and comparing them with Himalayan animals and their habitats. We concluded with a lesson on what happens when you pollute these habitats and the environment. The children were brilliant and full of energy and contagious laughter. They were very keen to learn and were so excited about the art activities we incorporated into each lesson. It was a remarkable experience getting to work with them and we received an immense number of goodbye hugs on our last day with them. We finished off our stay in Manali with helping Julie host a live music night and BBQ to fundraise for a new community centre.

Art activities with the Om Shanti children.

Art activities with the Om Shanti children.

The next morning we were up bright and early to begin our two day journey (7 hours the first, 13 hours the second) to Leh, via some of the highest highways in the world. We were told the ride would be rough but none of us anticipated how much we would get tossed around on that little bus. But it’s hard to complain, as we were treated to beautiful, jaw-dropping scenery as we wound our way up and down five mountain passes. On our highest pass at about 18 000 ft, there were definitely some tense moments where two vehicles should not have been able to fit side by side on the tiny road…and with no guard rails you can only imagine why! But our driver was a champ and weaved his way through traffic on the single lane, part dirt, part paved mountain roads.

Our first mountain pass.

Our first mountain pass.

We had an overnight stop at “Himalayan Midway Camp,” a row of tents nestled deep in the mountains. It was a beautiful place to rest, and some of us did a bit of hiking around the area.

Himalayan Midway Camp

Himalayan Midway Camp.

The next day brought us rockier scenery, as vegetation grew sparse and the land more barren the closer we got to Leh. While the changing scenery was captivating, the road signs proved to be just as entertaining. From signs saying “Darling I love you but please not so fast” to “I’m curvaceous, go slow,” they never failed to make us laugh. 13 hours later we finally pulled into the mountain town of Leh and breathed a sigh of relief.

Surrounded by the rocky Himalayas, it is a beautiful place to spend the next leg of our High Altitude Adventure.

Jaimie Forest and Sam Stalteri
2014 India: High Altitude Education