India High School Expedition

Numbering more than one billion people, India’s diverse population is made up of Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Christians, and Buddhists who live side by side in remarkable harmony. Immerse yourself in the intriguing cultures and rich spiritual diversity of India, and encounter majestic vestiges of the past, from the Taj Mahal to the palaces of Jaipur.

June 27 – July 16, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged group flights from New York to New Delhi, New Delhi to Leh, Leh to New Delhi, and return to New York.

Trip Highlights

  • Go on a three-day trek in the majestic Himalaya to learn about sustainable development in India’s remote northern reaches.
  • Spot elephants ambling through Rajasthan, then help care for rescued pachyderms at a wildlife sanctuary.
  • Create a photo essay of Rajasthan’s grand forts and palaces, and capture a unique angle of the iconic Taj Mahal.
  • Learn about Ladakhi traditions during a Buddhist ceremony with Tibetan monks and while working with students in a mountain village.

Itinerary | 20 days

Days 1-3

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Begin in New Delhi, where we'll spend two days exploring the incredible sites of the city—many of them declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. Meander through the maze of streets in Old Delhi and the pavilions of the Red Fort. Visit the immense Jama Masjid mosque, Humayun's Tomb, the Lotus Temple, or the soaring Qutub Minar tower. Then set out in teams and dive into your On Assignment projects.

Days 4-11

Rising out of India’s northernmost region, the Himalaya are a vast stretch of craggy passes and snow-covered mountains culminating with Mount Everest. Ladakh lies along the Tibetan Plateau and its language and culture reflect the thousands of ethnic Tibetans who 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 acclimatize to the altitude (11,500 feet). Settle into a community school, and help young Ladakhis prepare for state high school exams. Join in the daily routine, cooking meals, tending gardens, and helping the school maintain its solar energy system. Get to know the students while discussing current affairs and sharing cultural traditions. Then set out with professional guides on a three-day trek from Yangthang to Hemis Shukpachan. Stay overnight in family-run guesthouses, and walk from village to village. Discuss Buddhist traditions with monks, learn about renewable energy projects with local conservationists, and visit organizations that promote sustainable development. As we walk, take in hillsides dotted with temples and monasteries, and see exquisite vistas of the Himalaya.

Pull Quote
I am fascinated by India's vastness and diversity. When exploring, all my senses are honed to absorb the complexity and beauty of this country - it's unfathomable the depth of culture, history, and spirit.
Rena Effendi, National Geographic Expert

Days 12-20

The Mughal influence is strong in Rajasthan, where walled fortresses dominate strategic hilltops and palaces anchor the larger towns with ornate Islamic architecture. The locals are warm and the dress is colorful—women are draped in yards of vibrant fabrics, and men don bright turbans. Elephants amble through town 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. Then visit a nearby elephant sanctuary, learning about its mission to rescue and protect these gentle giants. Jump aboard a rickshaw and explore Keoladeo Ghana National Park alongside a naturalist. 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. Wind your way up the serpentine staircases of Jaipur's Amber Fort, built as a citadel for the ruling elite, and explore its courtyards, arches, and ramparts as you catch a glimpse of Maota Lake below. Try your hand at cotton block printing with local artisans who have revitalized this disappearing art. Continue to the town of Samode, where we'll stay amid 20 acres of trees and ruins at a 250-year-old Mughal-style royal retreat. Photograph shopkeepers at the local market, and join locals for a traditional Indian dance class as you celebrate your final night in colorful Rajasthan. Stop in Neemrana on the return to New Delhi and take in views of the town's fort palace on a zip-lining excursion.

The journey concludes in New Delhi, where we'll wrap up our On Assignment projects and share them with the group before flying home.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
On this program, students will spend an estimated 6-10 hours on community service projects. At the end of the program, students will receive a certificate stating the number of service hours completed. Projects described in this itinerary are examples and vary depending on the needs of the community.
The three-day trek involves rigorous hiking at elevations of up to 14,000 feet. Participants must be physically fit. Those with known altitude sensitivity should not apply.
In New Delhi and Rajasthan, we stay in small hotels. In Ladakh, we stay in dormitory-style rooms at a school with basic amenities.

Rena Effendi, Photographer and Artist

Meet Our Experts

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, National Geographic photographer Rena Effendi grew up in the USSR – witnessing her country’s rough path to independence, one marred by war, political instability and economic collapse. These experiences inspired Rena to focus her lens on issues of conflict, social justice, and the impact of the oil industry on people and the environment. She has photographed throughout Europe, and has taught previous workshops in Prague. Rena received National Geographic’s “All Roads” photography award and her stories for National Geographic magazine include documenting the art of hay-making in Transylvania, the impact of Mahatma Gandhi in India, and the legacy of Akhenaten, Egyptian pharaoh and the first monotheist in history. She has traveled throughout India, and covered the abiding impact of Mahatma Gandhi in modern-day India for the July 2015 cover issue of National Geographic magazine. Her work has received World Press Photo awards, has been published in The New Yorker, Newsweek, TIME, VOGUE, Marie Claire, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. Rena will join the Prague Photo Workshop and the India Expedition.

On Assignment Projects

Build a portfolio that tells a tale of India’s complex history and spiritual diversity. Shrines, palaces, markets, terraced rice paddies, elephants, kite-flying children, dazzling saris, and clamorous street life provide unparalleled opportunities for photographers. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Discover the connection between India’s culture and environment. Examine the dramatic history of Old Delhi, and learn how the walled city became one of the largest metropolises in the world. Compare the customs and rituals of Rajasthan with those of Ladakh. Interview elders about the spiritual significance of the Himalaya, or document the movements of India’s ethnic groups over the past century.