As soon as we got off the bus at the Woodstock School in Mussoorie after our 15 hour flight to Delhi, we immediately had to hike up over 100ft to get to our dorm with what felt like a million set of stairs. This set the stage for the amazing hiking that this trip offers and the fun-filled challenge of climbing at high altitude.
Navigating the mountains at such a high altitude was definitely a challenge at first. To overcome this obstacle, for the first two days here, we had acclimation walks to get our bodies used to the altitude. I go on runs in Pittsburgh, which I consider to be pretty hilly, and have done lots of hiking before but never before had I been at such a high altitude (about 7000ft) and I didn’t realize that I would feel such a difference until I got here. I have been able to continue my daily runs I do in Pittsburgh here in the Himalayas after some adjustment. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to get our bodies used to the altitude and the following week we started our 3-day trek.
The 3-day trek was the most anticipated part of this study abroad program for me. Being immersed in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and school was not only relaxing, but very educational. This trek was experiential learning at its finest as I got to see with my own eyes the things we were taught in class. We passed farms where I got to see the physically-demanding labor that farmers had to put into their craft. I saw women climbing tall oak trees to cut down the oak leaves to feed their cows. I saw the tactics of storing water in pools so they can have enough for a couple days or so before having to climb down the mountain into the valley to retrieve more. I got to see how they herd their cattle and the specific farming techniques they had to use to utilize mountainous land to its maximum capacity. Another one of the things that was heavily emphasized in class was these people’s lack of accessibility to healthcare due to the long travel times to get to a hospital. I experienced this first hand as we hiked over 3 hours to a village and started only at the trailhead which was many miles away from the closest community hospital.
Following one of our long hikes, we got to go swimming in the stream near our camping site. Getting to hike with a big group of Pitt students who are as grateful and excited about this hiking experience was super awesome. We all bonded over conquering the challenge of the hike together and were all fascinated about all the cool things we were seeing. The stream water was super refreshing and the perfect way to end the day of exhausting hiking.
What I took away from this experience is my love for hiking and appreciation for nature. I find it important that we are all connected to nature in that we appreciate that our Earth amazingly gives us so many essential things and my hope is in this we feel more obligated to protect our planet from climate change. Getting to see first hand how people in the back country live was extremely eye-opening and gave me a greater appreciation for how privileged I am to have everything at my fingertips. I have read about statistics of how people who live in rural areas have a greater risk for disease and have shorter life spans. Just reading these statistics didn’t nearly incapsulate the situation for me. Getting to experience first-hand the way they live and the far distances to health resources gave me a greater empathy for these people which I find essential for being a future physician.