A life changing expedition through the Himalayan mountains and my introduction to leadership, self awareness and personal development.
These are a few of the words I put in my application form to apply to take part in Fulcrum Challenge. I was nominated as a potential candidate and used my powers of persuasion and passionate reasoning to secure a place in what I thought would be a “once in a life time opportunity”.
The reasons I wanted to go:
– To see another part of the world and to change my whole perspective of life
– To understand how different quality of life can be and and to help those less fortunate, to help themselves, build a better quality of life.
In 2005 I was selected to be part of a one year leadership programme that ran alongside my a levels.
Along with a select group of people from the North East of England, we embraced the cultural wonders of India and got the opportunity to make a real difference to a community in Ladakh. It was an experience that I will never forget. It opened me eyes to the realities and pressures that are upon other people. I discovered and developed new skills. I came face to face with some of my weaknesses and had the opportunity to feel what it’s like to help other people and to walk away knowing you have made a real difference.
The trip began with a flight leaving Heathrow Airport, connecting in Amsterdam and finally a long haul flight to Dehli. We had a short wait and took a small plane up to Leh where we would start our journey. We arrived to a fairly hostile environment. The usual cardboard signs with people’s names, followed by some discerning looks to see if we had money to give. As student travellers we didn’t have to pretend or question our values in regard to their situation. We had all raised over £1750 each to make the trip possible, we had no money and we were there for a good cause. A little difficult to explain as we huddled together and pushed through the crowd. We were instructed to avoid eye contact as much as possible.
As we arrived is suddenly dawned on us that we were about to climb a mountain. I had never climbed a mountain in the UK let alone one in the Himalayas. In the build up we were reminded to prepare, both mentally and physically for the trip. There is however only so much you can believe what other people say. “You will need to be ‘this fit’, or you ‘must’ take these things with you”. Naturally you believe as much as you can, prepare as much as you think is necessary and then jump in with two feet hoping you land safely and it all goes to plan.
The searing heat of the daytime sun, the freezing cold nights huddled around a campfire before crawling into bed wearing hats gloves and scarfs were particular highlights. Having a hole in the ground for a toilet, shovel and soil and a small curtained area, strangely became normal after just a few days. So normal in fact that conversations often turned to how we all approached this new situation. This experience was a first for many of us.
Our evenings were spent mostly staring up at the night time sky, remembering to witness the wonders of the universe as we totally disconnected from our previous realities in England. We were miles away from any technology, from work and from ‘normal’ life as we knew it. We had playing cards, a guitar and conversations that would soak up our evenings. Usually we were exhausted from our days walk or activity, topped of by putting up our tent that we would quickly crash into. With some nights lush grass fields and others on stoney mountain sides, we battled the joys of camping life.
Reaching the Peak
After 3 false peaks, several casualties with altitude sickness and a tired looking troop, we could finally see the peak and could make our trip towards the village we would be spending the next few days. A definite highlight for many of us was the moment we reaching the peak of the mountain Sock La. 16,200 ft of brilliant and beautiful mountain range. We could finally take a breath and try to absorb the amazing sights and achievement that we’re momentarily upon us. I say momentarily, because our break was short. With the casualties so far and a few of the troop struggling for breath, we paused for a team photo, all round high fives and hugs and then looked into the distance for our final landing.
Typically the journey up is harder than the journey down, but ahead faced a steep incline and 2,000 foot drop to the side of us, we all had to keep our focus as we beginning the decent. We walked in single file with the few donkeys behind us carrying some food supplies, tents and medical equipment. Everything was calm, a sense of relief and accomplishment coasted through the air beside us. But suddenly it was broken. Trying to keep a steady pace and mostly looking at our feet for grip, we hurt a shout of “move, the donkey is running…move, get to the right”. In a matter of seconds, almost on instinct as we heard the opening scream, we all dived to the right and lent up the mountain side. The pace we were walking was obviously too slow or the weight of the donkey was too much for the incline and it flew past us, sending the bags on it’s back hurdling down the mountain.
At this moment a flashback to our training came to mind when our guide said to us “expect the unexpected”. We had no idea we’d see our life flash before our eyes and watch almost of our medical kit go tumbling down the mountain. Thankful it was just the supplies and not the donkey and anyone in our group. We remained unscathed, slightly unnerved but no time to dwell. If nothing else it gave us all a real wake up call to the dangers that are present when undertaking challenges like this.
A few hours later we landed at our village. We were greeted by a lovely group of ladies who kept things in working order. With beaming smiles and colourful dressed, they invited us to the small monastery for a much needed drink of tea and a comfortable floor to rest our legs.
Making a difference
We wanted to feel what it was like to serve others, and at the same time, create a lasting change that would last far beyond us leaving. As a team we decided to build a polytunnel to enable the villagers to have better conditions in order to grow their food all year round. Whilst in England as we planned our trip, myself and Laura volunteered to go to the production company that manufactured the polytunnels in the UK.
The people we met were among the nicest people I’d had the chance of talking too, externally grateful and accepted our gifts with open arms.
After 2 weeks of trekking through the mountains, sleeping on rocky cliff sides and sleeping in very cold conditions, we were rewarded with a trip to Dehli to see the Taj Mahal. A wonder of the world and a place I will never forget. The craftsmanship, the symmetry, the mind blowing scale and the
The amazing trip and self development journey was helped enormously by the people who took part. When you spend each minute of the day in pressurised continuous, you really get the chance to learn and explore each others gifts and great potential. Before going on a trip like this I hadn’t realised much can be learned from eachother in such a short space of time. By immersing ourself in a shared experience and a new world we could open up to each-other and dive down to the bottom of the oceans to find the perils of people’s thoughts.
A truly amazing experience which I will never forget. This will always inspire me to continuously learn and grow and seek opportunities to contribute wherever I can.