Ben Manley-Lixenberg in India

Young Explorers' Trust

I spent 18 unforgettable days in India from the 22 July to the 8 August 2023 travelling to New Delhi, Leh, Tso Kar (in the Himalayas) and Agra with my explorers troop, the Hatters. We truly threw ourselves into India’s amazing culture, explored its stunning landscape and embraced an entirely new way of life. Much to my liking our itinerary was action packed so I will share just my highlights of the trip.

The 1st week started in the scorching heat of New Delhi and then at the foothills of Himalayas in the serenic town of Leh where we acclimatised, roamed the town, visited monasteries/temples and received an informative talk from at the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust who have done some great work resulting in snow leopards no longer being endangered in India!

We then left Leh to start our 4 day trek in the Himalayas where we hiked up to 5000m. During this time we had Sherpas looking after us, delivering a 5 star service as they did absolutely everything for us despite our best compulsive scouts offer to help, this included but not limited to setting up camp including over 30 tents and the mess/dining tent, waking us up with a hot drink every morning, cooking 3 meals a day and setting up our toilet tents. Safe to say they quickly became my favourite people.

We also carried out our first bit of volunteering work as we helped the local village build a reservoir that needed to be finished before the snowmelt flowed down the mountain in their summer. This was hard but enjoyable manual labour moving rocks towards local workers who then concreted the rocks to the walls on the already excavated reservoir wall.

Other highlights from this trek were seeing the vast number of stars in the sky, I also had the extreme privilege of seeing a snow leopard in the wild as one had been spotted on the opposite side of the valley from the village where we did the work so the chief invited us back and set up a telescope on his balcony and when you looked through you saw a snow leopard peacefully asleep on top of cliff ledge in the mountain. I was also lucky enough to be looking as it woke up, let out a big yawn exposing its razor teeth, stood up showing its full figure, swung its tail and went back to rest, an image that will forever be vivid in my mind. We returned to Leh after 4 days of living in one of the most picturesque settings to exist.

Following some rest we were off for the activity I had been most anticipating white water rafting and it did not disappoint. This was my 1st experience doing white water rafting so excitement was high and it didn’t disappoint. Immediately the section of river we started in went into category 3/4 rapids, the biggest of the course. This certainly got the adrenaline pumping and it didn’t stop after that as we hit smaller but still furious rapids at calmer parts of the river we were allowed to flip/jump and hang onto the raft and float in the cooling snowmelt river. Being on boat of all boys we also let our competitive side take over starting at the back and ending at the front as we overtook every raft we our rally cry of Julley (the Ladaki word for hello/goodbye/thank you etc.) to keep us all in time.

We were then off back into the mountains for our main voluntary project, the Optical project, where we were trained to test people’s short/ long vision and provided reading glasses if needed and taught them to maintain the glasses. This took place in Tso-kar. We Spent 3 days in Tso-kar which were all filled with amazing memories and wonderful personal feelings. The optical project is definitely the single most rewarding thing I’ve ever done (if you are thinking about doing a similar volunteering project I would highly recommend you do, make a positive impact on the world 🙂). We handed out just under 100 glasses over 2 villages over 2 days. It was amazing to see the immediate reaction of locals when they first put the glasses on.

We handed out just under 100 glasses over 2 villages over 2 days. It was amazing to see the immediate reaction of locals when they first put the glasses on. 
One particular old gentleman I took outside couldn’t believe his surroundings of the snow capped mountains he called home as he was never able to see that far until that moment.

When we were not testing people’s eyes we were on childcare duty as their parents were doing the eye tests. The Children were truly all the cutest bundles of joy and were just the happiest despite living with minimal luxuries over 4000m up in a mountain making you realise: 1) how lucky we all were and 2) how you don’t need a lot to be truly happy.

A natural highlight was every night after dinner when everyone left the mess tent the sky would be abundant with starts and this time you could see the blue silhouette of the Milky Way, simply stunning as I would watch in awe every night as I dawned exactly where I was and the experience I had gained on this trip, the view then got even better as if you waited you could watch the moon rise over the top of mountain in the distance casting a bright rays of moonlight over the campsite. We also visited the 22km² salt lake and spent a chill evening skimming stones and adventuring onto salt islands that formed on shore.

We had now reached the back end of our trip but there was still much excitement for the final days, 1 night in Leh, 1 in Agra, 1 night in Delhi.

Although we had a mammoth amount of travelling in this period 1x internal flight, x2 6hr coach journey then the flight home it was worth it as the last highlight of our trip was one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. We arrived in Agra and immediately went to the Agra fort where the lady Taj and her husband lived, who the Taj Mahal was later built for, where we got our 1st glimpse of this majestic monument from a courtyard rampart. The trip to the Taj Mahal started in large golf buggies as we were picked up from the car park and zipped down the road in our now group repped indian patterned baggy trousers blowing in the breeze. Our tour guide showed us around as we took in this marvel of construction as every part of the compound was hand carved with the world famous main tomb being pure marble. We then walked inside the tomb where the lord and lady Taj lay within the intricate carved patterns filled the walls all the way up to the ceiling and beautiful fencing protecting the resting place of the lord and lady with the same pattern duplicated for balcony rails leading up to the inside of the dome. We then looked up, releasing the scale of the Taj Mahal and being able to admire it truly up close; however the best view is definitely from the fountain square where we took some great touristy photos.

We returned the UK greeting by much missed loved ones and thanked our outstanding leadership team for all the effort they put into planning the trip as well as taking such great care of us during the highs and lows of our time in India. They truly gave us an unforgettable and once in a lifetime experience. I would also like to thank everyone that donated money to me for facilitating everything I have just told you about for which I am truly grateful.