From the Bay of Bengal to the highest Himalayan peaks, water dictates the lives and livelihoods of millions. As the Earth’s climate changes, warming temperatures at altitude result in higher glacial melt in the Himalayas, while more unpredictable weather patterns leave millions vulnerable to drought and cyclones or other tropical storms born out of the Bay of Bengal. Dragons India semester offers students the opportunity to go beyond India’s trodden traveler trails to live and learn alongside communities on the front lines of this era’s climate crisis.
- Deep focus on the practical impacts of climate change and water issues in varied ecosystems from the mountains to the plains
- Spend time in communities that are off the beaten path, learning alongside India’s vast diversity of people, cultures, and landscapes
- Delve into local rhythms on a high altitude trek and at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery retreat
Students navigate from verdant tea plantations to high Himalayan passes; from mangrove forests lining the coast to expanses of lush rice paddies fed by the sacred Ganges river. We experience first-hand how India’s emerging global economy and changing climate patterns have generated riches for some and displaced others. Two extended homestays—one in the Himalayan foothills and another in an idyllic Bengali plains town—allow students to participate in the daily rituals that underpin the rich cultural and spiritual traditions of the region. Community leaders and experts share perspectives on Indian politics, climate change, and culture, and independent study projects engage students with artists, musicians, healers, and farmers.
Traveling north to the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim in the heart of the Himalayas, students settle into a group stay with an indigenous Lepcha community learning about the fragile ecosystem and the impact of decades of river damming, listen to enchanting local folklore, and day hike through lush forests. An extended trek with majestic views of the mighty Kanchenjunga, the world’s third tallest mountain, allows students to witness the exquisite beauty and power of the Himalayas. Off the trail, the group settles into an intensive meditation retreat at a local Tibetan Buddhist monastery, gaining insight into Buddhist philosophy and practicing contemplative techniques, as well as questioning the role that religion has to play in generating environmental awareness and social change.
An overnight train brings us out of the mountains and into the plains. We spend two weeks in the rural town of Santiniketan, located in the heart of southern Bengal’s agricultural expanse and known for its rich culture, artistic heritage, and indigenous traditions. Venturing into the surrounding rice paddies and forests to farm and explore, we witness the community’s dependence on the land and hear first-hand how changing and weather patterns have affected harvests. We stay with Hindu and Muslim families living and practicing their religions side-by-side. Hindu festivals and daily puja punctuate the days and weeks with prayer, celebration, and song; Baul musicians strum single-stringed ektara to accompany Sufi Muslim folk songs, accompanied by harmonium and a variety of local percussion, late into the evening.
Following waterways all the way out to their end point in the Bay of Bengal to witness the tensions between tiger and other wildlife conservation and development for the communities that call the forest their home. The Sundarbans are a labyrinthine mangrove forest that connects the Brahmaputra and Ganges Rivers with the Bay of Bengal. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique ecosystem, but heavily affected by climate change and rising sea levels, the Sundarbans offer deep insight into the themes of conservation, human ecology, and resource management. Conversations with the communities living on the fringes of the forest allow us to hear personal stories which highlight the tension between humans and nature and identify the compelling factors behind urban migration.
A visit to Kolkata, India’s colonial capital, offers the opportunity to speak with NGOs and academics about their city’s growth and development and to witness the effects of significant urban migration. Strolling along the city’s wide-tree lined avenues and watching pick-up cricket games in the city’s expansive parks, we also get insight into cosmopolitan Indian life. According to the group’s interests, we will have the option to embark on a student led trip to explore places such as Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Rajasthan, or neighboring states Assam or Meghalaya. The program shifts back to the tranquility of the Himalayan foothills for its final days, offering a peaceful environment to process and reflect on the journey.
Following the waterways that provide a lifeline to millions from glacial melt in the Himalayas through the plains and out to ocean, India semester students are witness to some of the quickest and most consequential environmental changes of our time, learning alongside the scholars, scientists, farmers, and activists who are working around the clock to adapt and protect their life, livelihoods, and communities.