Discovering India: An ARCC Scouting Trip

It’s 6:55am and Sophia Weeks and I are in ‘Chair Class’ on a 5-hour train bound for Delhi. Chair Class means for $9 we are in a well-worn car with reserved seats…which were miraculously empty when we boarded in Haridwar.   Chair Class is not as nice as luxury class where they serve rose-flavored yoghurt lassis (a taste reminiscent of sipping Glad bathroom spray) but certainly a step up from the standing room only crowd packed in further back. For nourishment we have a bag of fresh warm roti (thick savory pancakes) wrapped in newspaper that we purchased from a beckoning street vendor outside the station gates.

The sweet tea salesman has just passed down the train aisle with his avian call of “chai chai chai” offering glasses of this delicious concoction for a few pennies. Outside we get 40mph voyeuristic glimpses of pre-dawn bucket baths as trackside tent cities come to life in the morning’s golden hues. It is hard to tell yet if it is foggy, or if our windows just need an aggressive wash. Probably a lot of both.

-Sophia and I are in the midst of scouting out ARCC’s new India programs for summer and for Gap. Sophia has previously spent some quality time in India, but for me it is my first visit in spite of living in Asia for 4 years. We are just a few days into our journey and already the country has cast its spell on me. The people, the food, the opportunities and the history make for a perfect ARCC destination. Some of my observations so far:

-To get here we flew over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. For decades, those countries have seemed as if they were in a distant galaxy and yet they are only a few hours outbound from San Francisco. I couldn’t help but think of how insignificant our task is compared the struggles of those 50,000 feet beneath us.

-Arriving at the airport in Delhi, we had to fill out Ebola documentation and get photographed and the appropriate papers stamped by mask wearing clerks.

-They took our pictures “for our records” checking into our Delhi hotel at 4:00am.

-Tuk Tuks are the transportation of choice in Delhi. Imagine a mini van shrunk to the size of a mini cooper. The city is swarming with these green and yellow crazed tools of transport that will get you almost anywhere for a few Rupees.

– In Old Delhi we observed a pigeon calling competition. Apparently it is a hobby for old men to demonstrate their control of trained flocks of pigeons. We watched in amazement as men shouted commands and waved flags from a rooftop perch and an entire flock of birds would immediately shift left or right upon command. It was remarkable, but I couldn’t help but wonder how do you train the new pigeons? Don’t they just fly away?

-Lest you think India is behind the times, our seatmate just showed the conductor his train ticket on his iPhone.

-So far we have traveled by plane, train, car, tuk tuk, bicycle, subway, jeep, and rickshaw.

-In most communities we pass by train, plate sized disks of baked cow dung are geometrically displayed along the tracks, beautifully laid out for sale. Small domed “kilns” made of bound straw are always nearby. We assume the cow dung is used for heating and cooking much the same way our own Native American Indians used buffalo dung for the same purposes.

-Corn flakes are served with hot milk. If you are like me and you don’t like soggy cereal, you better eat quickly.

-Because so many Indians are Hindus and practicing vegetarians, meals come labeled as “veg” and “non-veg.”

-Speaking of cows, they are everywhere and can go and do whatever they please. If you are a cow, you need to make your way to India.

-So far on our train, vendors have come by separately offering chai, coffee, tea, curry, roti, water, juice, cookies, mystery sandwiches, potato chips, tomato soup and omelets. Indians like to eat!

-Potato chip flavors are an interesting reflection of national tastes. Japan has wasabi flavored potato chips and Vietnam has fish flavored chips. You can buy Masala flavored chips in India.

-In our first 48 hours, Sophia and I amazingly only saw 2 other western tourists.

-We went on a 4 hour wild tiger and elephant safari in a national park. We were in an open air jeep and spent 3 ½ hours driving through the park hoping to see tigers but instead stopped to see deer and tiny birds. It had the feeling of “scam” until our stopped jeep was suddenly charged by a very angry female elephant that came sprinting out of the jungle, splintering trees in her way and trumpeting as she charged us. Fortunately she changed course just in time and ran right past us into the jungle on the other side of the track. The smell of pissed off elephant was overpowering. It was definitely one of those: “Can you believe that just happened?” moments.

-I was surprised by our first exposure to the famed and sacred Ganges (or Ganga) River. I expected a slow moving and dirty river, like what you might expect to find in many developing countries. Instead, at least where we are, the Ganges is cold, clean and fast flowing, tinted an impossibly beautiful blue/green and originates from a glacier less than 200 miles upstream in the rugged mountains of the Himalaya.

-Monkeys are all over, but the really smart ones stay near the tourist attractions. If you look closely, you will invariably see one or two monkeys just out of reach in a tree or on a rooftop calmly eating someone’s stolen curry or naan. As westerners we love seeing them, and photographing them, but the way the Indian people look at us when we point and shoot, it is as if we are taking pictures of squirrels.


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 30 year. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.