Sad Saturday

It’s been a long day… And it’s not over yet. But we have arrived at Heathrow safe and sound and now we begin the long coach journey back to Altrincham. Hopefully the girls will get some sleep on the coach. 

See you all soon! 

Final Friday

A 5am wake up call greeted the girls today – though some members of staff weren’t too impressed and one or two took a bit longer to get out of bed. *cough* Mr Davenport. 

But, after a quick cup of coffee and some water splashed on the face, we were ready to face the morning and alight the bus. Apart from the handful of girls who overslept and were late for the departure time. Despite numerous warnings. 

        
Still, we made our way through the now quiet streets of Varanasi towards the sacred Ganges. It was the first time we’d seen the streets devoid of cars, bikes and tucktucks. Though the cows still carved their way. As we walked down to the river we were joined by hundreds of people similarly wanting to experience the sunrise over the river. We were placed into two large boats and set off down the river just as the sun began to peek. 

   

  

   
As we travelled down the river we were able to witness the Hindu priests giving their blessings, people bathing, washing and even washing clothes and linen on the shores. As the sun grew higher, we began to feel the warmth of it on our backs and the glow on our faces. Some time for contemplation and relaxation allowed the girls to sit in silence and absorb the nature – the glow of the sun, the light breeze from the river, the sounds of birds, monkeys and chanting along the shores. It really was worth the early start. 

      
Departing from the boat we made our way back to the hotel for breakfast. After a quick shower and ensuring our cases were packed we headed back to the bus for our last site seeing excursions in Varanasi – a trip to a silk house, where we learned how the silk is collected and woven and then to a bead factory. Once again, both places provided ample opportunities for shopping and this time, even the teachers were tempted; Mr Copestake added to his wardrobe with a collection of scarves for the Manchester winter. 

After a quick lunch we were straight to the airport for the flight back to Delhi. After spending numerous hours travelling by bus and train, the 90 minute flight to Delhi flew by – though I think a number of girls slept for most of it. It’s straight to the final hotel of the trip for dinner and a relaxing evening. 

   
 
It’s going to be time to head home shortly, and although we’ve had an incredible week, I know the girls are looking forward to seeing family and friends. They’ve been a wonderful group to spend time with and all of the staff have commented how great it’s been to get to know them. They’ve been a credit to their parents, the school and themselves and we hope this trip has opened their eyes to the wider world. Hopefully it might encourage a few to travel again, visiting more foreign climes. It might even encourage a few to bring you to India. 

See you on the other side!

Ps we didn’t manage to trade Miss Turnbull in the end. We managed to raise the price to include a monkey, but no one was willing to take responsibility for it through customs. Mrs Cleary also had to call off her engagement to one of the Indian Maharajahs. She was disappointed to find he had 12 bathrooms in his palace and she wasn’t prepared to spend her weekends cleaning them all. 

Torrential Thursday

The day started in the early hours for many – constantly being awoken by the shaking of the train, the departing passengers singing as they left or the selling of chai tea up and down the aisles as people tried to sleep. Still, spirits were not dampened, and as we pulled into Varanasi at 10am, we were excited to see what the day ahead held.

And that was… rain. Rain and puddles. Rain, puddles and running streams in the road. No one came to India for rain. 

We were quickly on our way to the hotel however and after a quick opportunity to leave bags in rooms, we had an early lunch – with a strange Chinese style menu this time. Still, the chocolate brownies were a hit. 

After lunch, we had time to rest and relax – many went to have a proper sleep in a bed, whilst others took the time to have long showers. This was very much appreciated. 

The afternoon brought with it more rain, but nevertheless we were determined to head out and see the sites. We were first introduced to the Buddhist religion and given a brief history of the ideas and foundations, before we headed to Sarnath – the place where the Buddha delivered his first sermon after achieving enlightenment. A calm and peaceful place, we were able to see many Indian and Tibetan Buddhists on pilgrimage to this very special site. 

  
We also had the opportunity to view some of the early Buddhist art and stone work – many pieces dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. 

As the sun set we headed down to the river Ganges via rickshaw. Luckily the rain had stopped so we were able to travel with the roof down. It’s great to see the sights of Varanasi at street level – the colours of the shops, the smells of incense and food filling the air and the vitality of the people around you. Although a little perilous being on the roads with bikes, buses, trucks and the odd cow or two, it certainly allows you to feel as though you’re experiencing the ‘real’ India. 

  
Down by the river, we were observing the nightly arti ceremony – offerings will be made to Shiva and the holy Ganges. It’s difficult to put into words how overwhelming this was to watch – the colours, vibrancy, contemplation and meditation as well as the light and the sounds. The girls were able to reflect on their own journey and experience in India this week. 

  
  
Back to the rickshaws for the journey to the hotel, we once again got to experience India at street level. It’s going to be an early night as we’ve got to be up at 5am to head to the Ganges for an early morning boat trip. 

Night!

Ps we weren’t as successful with the haggling for Miss Turnbull as we’d hoped. So far we’ve been offered eight goats from one guy, and two camels and two goats from another. We’re going to go back down to the Ganges tomorrow and try and find a better price. We’re won’t go for anything less than two elephants. 

Wet Wednesday

The sky was lit up last night as we experienced the first thunder storm of the week. Though many slept through, a few were woken by the tumultuous sounds of thunder and the rain hammering at the Windows. By morning time however, the rain had disappeared and the sun was shining. And so, we faced the first activity of the day – yoga. Stretching and sitting aplenty, the girls participated in some traditional yoga, limbering up and preparing for the day ahead. 

After a hearty breakfast, and time to get ready for the day, we headed to the Taj Mahal. One of the most magnificent and beautiful buildings in the world, the Taj is a tomb for one of the ancient Moguls of India. Crafted in marble the monument took 22 years to complete and is a stunning work of beauty. 
    
   

  
Following the visit to the Taj Mahal, we had a quick stop for lunch and then headed to Agra Fort – a huge red stoned building that was the palace of the Mogul of Agra. Time was allowed for walking around and contemplation – including great opportunities for selfies. 

      
The final activities of the day involved more shopping – I didn’t ever think I’d get to the point where you could be fed up of shopping. But the girls enjoyed the opportunities to buy mementos and presents and spend more of their money. They are becoming very accomplished at bartaring and negotiating – haggling prices down by pounds at a time. 

Dinner was an early event this evening, and once more the rain came pouring down. At least it managed to hold off during the day and we had our glorious sunshine. It was then straight to the station to board the overnight train to Varanasi. Perhaps not quite what the girls were expecting, it was still a new experience for them – once which many don’t do until their mid twenties. Still, some team spirit and encouragement helped the girls settle into their beds and attempt to get some sleep. 

  
We’re due to arrive in Varanasi at 10am local time, so a long night of sleeping in a rocking bunk awaits. 

Travelling Tuesday

Today has mostly been a day of travelling. After a bit of a lie in the morning we boarded the coaches to begin the long journey to Agra. Now, I’m not sure what the boring lot in coach two were doing, but we in coach one had our very own AGGS radio station courtesy of Mr Davenport and Mr Copestake. Bringing the coach up to date news, travel information, music and even adverts for Nandos, they kept the students entertained for part of the journey. 

After a quick lunch stop – and even more curry – we were back in the coach and heading to Fatehpur Sikri, with a short RS lesson interlude courtesy of Mr Davenport. We learned about the Hindu religion and beliefs whilst Mr Copestake tried to recall the story of Rama and Sita from his primary school days. It’s fair to say it wasn’t particularly a good recollection. 

The city itself was a stunning work of architecture – palaces, temples, corridors – all of a rather Tibetan inspired design. As the sun began to fade we headed back to the coach to make our way to the hotel for the evening. After dinner entertainment this time courtesy of a magician – no Indian dancing for the students and teachers tonight. 

  
The girls have also been excited to find yet more shopping opportunities in the hotel – I have a feeling that their suitcases might be much heavier returning than they were coming out. I’m not yet sure how one student is going to attempt to get her new goat through customs – I’m not sure the British transport police will be as open to haggling as the locals in India. Still, it’ll make a decent curry for one family if we make it through. 

  
It’s an early night for us here in Agra – we’re up early for a yoga session. 

Namasté 

Ps we were offered 2 camels and an elephant for Miss Turnbull but we politely declined the offer. We reckon we could get much more for her in Varanasi. 

   

  

Monday in India

A very busy day three for us here in Jaipur – after a six thirty wake up call, the girls were greeted with another amazing breakfast in the latest hotel, though there were quite a few needing a cup of coffee! We moved straight onto a visit to the Amer Fort – via elephants! Although a little worried at first, the girls were, as usual, enthralled by the whole experience and proceeded to board the new form of transportation in pairs to begin the journey up to the fort. At the top we were greeted with stories of maharajas, jewels and some very unconventional bridal experiences. The fort was stunningly beautiful however and the girls had the opportunity to explore gardens, rooms and secret passageways. From the fort we were taken to a traditional Indian textile factory where we had the opportunity to learn about fabric printing and weaving – a few keen ones even getting involved in the process. Then came dress up time for many, trying on the saris, pashminas and beautifully woven fabrics. It’s fair to say that many students left the factory with their purses a little lighter. 

  
  
The last stop before lunch was a visit to a local school. Greeted by a warm welcome, we were made to feel very special and the girls embraced the opportunities to sit and read with the nursery school children, to help with their drawings and even participate in the singing and dancing. These opportunities really are a privilege and as a teacher, make you aware of how wonderful the girls at AGGS are. They embraced the activities and threw themselves into participation – who knew they’d be so excited to be in a school?! The whole experience was very moving and overwhelming and brought a smile to even the most cynical of us teachers. 

  
After lunch – and I bet you can’t guess what we had to eat this time – we headed to the royal place of the current Maharajah. Only 16 years old, he came to the throne in 2011 after his grandfather passed away. The girls were a little excited to hear that he’s currently at school in London and that he’s worth approx £12.8 billion pounds. Don’t be too surprised when the girls ask to be transferred to a private school in London?! The palace was beautifully decorated and we had the opportunity to see some incredible artwork and architecture from the region. Following the tour, the girls were given short demonstrations of the painting style and many took the advantage to spend some more money at the market stalls in the palace area. 

  
We headed back to the hotel for a quick pit stop and shower and then were straight out again to a local restaurant for the evening meal. This was a meal with a difference however, as the students – and staff – all participated in some traditional Indian dancing. As usual, the girls willingly threw themselves into the activities and loved every minute of it. It was a fantastic end to a very busy and jam packed day and it’s been so wonderful seeing the girls commit to the activities and contribute with energy and enthusiasm. They really are a wonderful bunch and it makes our job, as teachers, very easy. They are a credit to their parents and to the school. We’ve got a bit of a lie in tomorrow – an eight am wake up call for breakfast, before we head off to Agra…

PS. The blog is not letting us post photos. Please find these at @aggsrs on Twitter. Thank you.  

    
   

Namaste India

✈️

We have arrived! After a long wait in the airport where we had dinner, we were treated to even more food on the plane, snacks, drinks and breakfast and it’s safe to say we landed very full indeed! 

We all managed to change our money, after an hour at the airport organising ourselves, and then venture into the busy, busy traffic of India. What a great site of people buying and selling their wares, living by the roadside, religious temples, poverty, opulence and many, many cows! 

We were given a floral wreath to wear and taught to say ‘namaste’. 

Followed by an excellent set of curries in the hotel, and an even better dal dessert. We have just returned from the Qutab Minaret which is the biggest Minaret in the world, added to 5 times at different stages and topped with pearly-marble. Everyone loved taking photos, especially of the chipmunks, and listening to the mad raucous of the macaws.

We are about to have dinner and watch some Bollywood dancing before an early night and journey to Jaipur tomorrow. 

3 hours to departure

  
We have arrived at Heathrow successfully after a pleasant 4 hour coach trip. All pupils enjoying dinner before our departure on the Virgin Dreamliner! 18 months of planning and a lot of paperwork later we are 12 hours away from glorious, glorious India!

Emergency contact

Dear all

If you have to contact the group/your daughter in an emergency, please use the number below:

School mobile number for India: 07817475095

Please be reminded that this is only in an emergency and you should receive regular updates via this blog in the interim.

Many thanks,

Mr Davenport.

School’s out for half-term! Happy holidays dancers :-)

School's out for half-term! Happy holidays dancers :-)