Crossroads of Cultures
- Ride a camel through desert dunes.
- Go on a three-day trek in the foothills of the Himalaya.
- Participate in a Buddhist ceremony with Tibetan monks.
- Tutor children in a Himalayan school.
Choose one of these projects and delve further into your area of interest:
Itinerary 21 Days
Numbering more than one billion people, India's diverse population is made up of Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Christians, and Buddhists—rural and urban—who live side by side in remarkable harmony. Such rich cultural and spiritual diversity is evident in the animated streets of New Delhi, and the quiet temples of the Himalaya. Northern India is scattered with majestic vestiges of the past, from the Taj Mahal to the palaces of Jaipur. Immerse yourself in the intriguing cultures of India as you pursue an On Assignment project of your choice—Photography or Cultural Geography.
New Delhi3 days. We begin in New Delhi where the sheer density of people in the chaotic slums contrasts sharply with the elegant districts patronized by India's emerging middle class. Spend two days exploring the incredible sites of the city—many of them declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. Meander through the maze of tiny streets in Old Delhi and the pavilions of the Red Fort. Visit the immense Jama Masjid mosque, Humayun's Tomb, and the soaring Qutb Minar tower. Following a comprehensive orientation, set out in teams and dive into your On Assignment projects.
Ladakh and the Himalaya
8 days. Rising out of India's northernmost region, the Himalaya are a vast stretch of craggy passes and snow-covered mountains culminating at Mount Everest. While it remains the least populated region of India, Ladakh has become the cultural center of Tibetan exiles, as thousands of ethnic Tibetans have resettled here. The influence of Tibetan Buddhism is visible in prayer flags, the red of monks' robes, and the intricate architecture of shrines and temples.
In the lively trade town of Leh, where whitewashed houses are nestled in a lush valley ringed by jagged peaks, we'll get acclimatized to the altitude (11,500 feet). Settle into a community school, and help young Ladakhis prepare for college entrance exams. Join in the daily routine, cooking meals, tending gardens, and helping the school maintain its solar energy system. Get to know the students, and tutor them in English. Then set out with professional guides on a three-day trek from Likir to Tingmosgang. Stay overnight in family-run guesthouses, and walk from village to village. Discuss Buddhist traditions with monks, learn about micro-hydroelectric generation projects with local conservationists, and visit women's cooperatives with organizations that promote sustainable development. As we walk, take in hillsides dotted with temples and monasteries, and exquisite vistas of the Himalaya.
Rajasthan and the High Desert
8 days. The Mughal influence is strong in Rajasthan, where walled fortresses dominate strategic hilltops and palaces anchor the larger towns with ornate Islamic architecture. The people here are warm and colorful—the women are draped in yards of vibrant orange and red fabric, and the men don bright turbans. Elephants amble through town laden with freight, and monkeys scamper over the polished marble of Hindu and Jain temples.
Encounter the Taj Mahal in Agra and the fortified Mughal ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri. Spot wildlife in Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Continue to the town of Samode, where we'll stay amidst 20 acres of trees and ruins at a 250-year-old Mughal-style royal retreat. Ride a camel on a short safari through the nearby village to the desert beyond. Join locals for drumming and dancing around a roaring fire. Explore Jaipur, from its massive pink-hued palace to its medieval observatory. Venture into the labyrinthine City Palace, and trace its line of maharajas to the current occupant. Try your hand at cotton block printing with local artisans who have revitalized this disappearing art.
The journey concludes in Delhi, where we'll put the finishing touches on our On Assignment projects and share them with the group.
Note: The trekking portion of this expedition in Ladakh involves rigorous hiking at high altitude (up to 14,000 feet). Participants must be physically fit and eager to hike with a backpack. Those with a history of altitude sensitivity should not apply.