Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is a challenging destination for the most seasoned travellers, as it was bound to be for the students and teachers of Loreto College in South Australia, who began their recent life-changing pilgrimage of India in this famous city.

Nicknamed the “City of Joy”- a name whose meaning was probably lost on the visiting students, was once a promising city that’ has suffered through decades of economic decline following India’s independence in 1947, much of it due to steep population increases and economic woes that many of its residents know too well.

Despite this, the all-female student group were clearly mentally prepared for their journey ahead, quickly acquainting themselves with the lack of traffic rules, famous cuisine as well as the country’s famous street life which simultaneously attacks all one’s senses.

Consistent with the values of the school, the pilgrimage was specifically designed to give students insight into India’s female population. The importance of this very hot issue that is passionately debated in the media every day was a subject many of our travelling students were most interested in as ever more Indian women become conscious of the inequalities and bias. Further insights into this issue, as well as of India culture, was gleaned over five days students spent teaching and living at a Loreto school in the small town of Panighata. In the spirit of this immersive travel experience, students forwent hot water and soft beds as well as privacy during this most rewarding component of the trip. Students also spent time at the Mary Ward Social Centre and visited a local hospital where they met with busy medical staff, who explained incredibly, leprosy is still an ailment that afflicts hundreds of thousands of Indians, and the efforts that are being made to alleviate this terrible illness.

Following this, students travelled by jeep, deep into the Himalayas hills to the town of Darjeeling to visit another important centre with an affiliation their school, as well as a Tibetan refugee centre to learn of the history and plight of these people. Students visited the Mountaineering Institute to learn of the first famous ascent of Mt. Everest (a relatively short distance Northwest of Darjeeling) in 1953.

No trip to India would have been complete without a journey on one of the country’s famous trains, a train that indeed rattled students and teachers to sleep on their unforgettable journey to the colourful city of Varanasi. Intimate rituals of life and death take place in public, and the sights, sounds and smells of this sacred city, can only be described as intense whilst simultaneously being one of the most fascinating places on earth.

Amongst so many other quintessential Indian distractions included enjoying a Bollywood movie, amazing cuisine and walking tours through ‘wet’ local produce markets. The group embarked on a heritage jaunt of the city dotted with roaming holy cows and monkeys swinging from telephone phone lines. Students also enjoyed traditional drum music performed by a talented musical troupe as well as a cruise on the Ganges River in a private boat watching cultural performances using a combination of fire and dance. Naturally, all sampled the famed Varanasi tea with its sweet thick texture.

In the final days of the trip, students spent time at the Mary Ward Social Centre (Entally) and visited Sasha – a socially responsible enterprise established to vocationally educate women. Here several students took part in a Sari dress session to learn of this gracious Indian attire. Cricket enthusiasts in the group got the chance to visit the famous Eden Gardens cricket stadium, before an emotional visit to Mother Theresa House to learn of the life of this modern-day saint. A sense of acceptance, fate and diversity were some of the theme’s students took away from this special journey, that many students concluded will leave indelible memories.

Student quotes

I thoroughly enjoyed the India trip. I think I have learned so much about India and would 100% come back one day. We had countless opportunities to step out of our comfort zone. I think I have been confronted but have grown resilience from these experiences.

— Sophie

Everything we saw, both confronting and heart-warming, has allowed me to learn more about our beautiful and very diverse world. 

— Skye

Mr Amit (tour leader) was the best! Couldn’t do it without him. Seeing how and experiencing how the locals live, eat and go about made the trip special. Amit made us feel safe and protected. We felt we saw the best.

— Lilly & Edwina

I really loved the entire trip! Every single section opened my eyes in a different direction. I absolutely loved the people, culture and food so much! I loved working with the children and entering their homes for tea. All of the tour guides were very informative and I loved learning about the Indian culture, history and politics. Every single mode of transport brought something different to the trip. Amit (tour leader) was absolutely incredible and I cannot imagine the trip without him. I am so humbled and grateful that I have experienced this amazing country.

— Julia

India taught me that happiness is found in each other and helping others.

— Tayla

This experience was hands down the best experience of my life. I can’t describe how amazing it was. The staff were so committed to us and always put us first. I loved getting to know the locals. While the trip was confronting and challenging, I wouldn’t change it because I have grown so much and learned so much.

— Sinead

Let your students become immersed in Kolkata and Varanasi

Get in touch today to find out how you can include a visit to Kolkata or Varanasi in your school’s India tour itinerary. Your students will learn about customs, culture and a range of religions – discover Indian cultural norms, and grasp the social, economic and environmental costs that come with a population of over 1,300,000.