Wednesday 15 July 2015

IAYP Exploration and Cultural Exchange Camp at Sri Lanka: A report by Shivani Bagaria and Ayushi Saraogi (Gold Awardees)

On the 3rd of June 2015, with a unit consisting of 55 participants (12 Gold participants, 23 Silver participants and 20 Bronze participants) and four Award Leaders (S. Banerjee, C. Sood, S. Mitra and T. Haldar) of  Modern High School for Girls went for an exploration and cultural exchange camp to Srilanka. Guided by the IAYP motto of exploring and bettering ourselves as we stay "away from home, and close to nature", we were thrilled at the prospect of representing not just our school, but also our country, in the most welcoming of our neighbouring countries, Sri Lanka.

Our reward for two consecutive flights in the wee hours of the morning was the breathtaking  bird's- eye view of the Sri Lankan coast that greeted us as we flew into Colombo. Our first day in the 'Gem of the Indian Ocean' saw us whizzing down the quaint lanes and bylanes of the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy. The second day proved to be highly rewarding. Our visit to the Sigiriya Rock was a personal favourite. As we climbed up the 1500 stairs that separated us from the top of the 8th wonder of the world, we saw stunning fresco paintings along the cave walls and learnt about the history of the rock. The panoramic view of the lush green Sri Lankan forests and hills at the end of the 1500 steps made us feel like we were on top of the world, metaphorically, if not literally.  In the sweltering heat, a sudden downpour proved to be our messiah as we made our way to the Dambula Golden Temple, where we marveled at the 200 ft. tall statue of the Buddha which was made of pure gold.

We spent a day with the adorable baby elephants of Sri Lanka with the typical teenage sighs of "aww" when we spent the third day of our journey at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. After watching the elephants splash around in the Kubukaya river, we fed them milk and set our hearts on adopting a couple (yes, we hadn't  exactly thought our idea through). What followed was a visit to the Hemachandra Gems Museum where we were told about the process of gem mining and jewellery making through an engaging presentation. The mood set by the rains was considerably enhanced by the steaming hot cups of Ceylon tea that we sipped as we saw the process of making tea leaves at the Embilmeega Tea Factory. We ended the day by delving deeper into the fabric of Sri Lankan culture with the help of a special treat that had been planned for us. We watched a performance of the energetic Kandyan harvest festival dance and a spectacular fireworks demonstration. 

On our fourth and last day in Kandy,  we traced the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in  the Kandy Tooth Temple, which was built atop the relic of Buddha's tooth. We indulged in an entertaining round of the game "Ibex", a long standing IAYP favourite after a picture perfect picnic at the Peradiniya botanical garden that afternoon. We then bade goodbye to Kandy and made our way  to the hills of Nuwara Eliya. 

Our day in the Little England of Sri Lanka was rather eventful. We revisited the tales of Sita's abduction at the Sita Amman temple and then enjoyed the cool breeze at Gregory Lake. On returning to our campsite that afternoon, we partook in a range of adventurous activities like climbing the monkey rope and  crossing the distance between two trees with the help of three kinds of rope bridges. We watched the sunset from the Bumrialla Dam and then assembled around a bonfire to excitedly sing camp songs.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the capital city of Colombo, we participated in a cultural exchange with the students of the President's College, Maharagama, Colombo.  The students of the President's college put up a Kandyan dance performance for us and went out of their way to make us feel more welcome in their city by sharing with us their rendition of a song by Rabindranath Tagore.

In an attempt to give our Sri Lankan counterparts a peek into Indian culture, we staged folk dances from Punjab and Gujarat , performances of Kathak and Odissi, and a popular Bengali folk song .  We presented our new-found friends with hand- made mementos , and they organized an interesting game to get to know us better. The exchange was truly enriching for us. Not only did we make new friends from across the border, but we also forged memories that we will cherish for a long time to come. The sun, sea and sand greeted us at the Galle Beach that afternoon.  Gorging on stick after stick of ice cream, we walked down the beach and made the best of our last moments in Sri Lanka. The evening was spent in preparations for camp night, which proved to be the perfect way to bring the camp to an end. 

Our time in Sri Lanka led us to discover unexpected things about ourselves and the things around us. We spent the eight days marveling at the ability of  man's attempts to connect with another to cross oceans and transcend borders as we found the innumerable similarities in Sri Lankan and Indian culture. On behalf of the entire unit, we thank our Award Leaders, Field Officers and our Principal for giving us the opportunity to explore Sri Lanka in a way that could have been possible only with their help.  It is our adventure camps that make us realize the true objective of IAYP: discovering our strengths and refusing to let our weaknesses come in the way of our drive for excellence. Click for pictures 

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