The Indo-British team during its Sandakphu trek
Scaling the heights together, a delegation of school students from England and east India set off for Sandakphu, from October 21 to November 4. Sangeet Shirodkar of Apeejay School, writes of the trip, with groups from La Martiniere for Boys, South Point, Birla High (Girls), Mahadevi Birla, and schools from Jamshedpur, too:
Fourteen young adventurers from Swinton, Yorkshire, spent a couple of weeks here as part of the third Indo-British International Youth Exchange programme of the International Award for Young People.
The students, aged between 16 and 18, arrived on October 21 at the Netaji Subhas Chandra International Airport, via Amman and Mumbai. First, they met their hosts from various city schools. The Calcutta of their expectations was very different from the reality they faced. As delegate Martin Copley said to his host Rajarshree, on reaching his home: “We thought Calcutta would be something of a village. We were expecting to travel by bullock cart and stay in huts…” The first day ended with adda and a dinner at the host homes.
Days two and three were reserved for checking out Calcutta’s heritage sights. An official dinner was held at the East Zone Award Authority treasurer’s residence prior to departure for Sandakphu the following day.
But that was just the beginning. The 30 of us, along with the instructors led by B. Mukhoty (National Field Officer) and Allen (Award leader from England) left on the Darjeeling Mail. Reaching New Jalpaiguri station, we headed for Darjeeling, where we were to halt for the next two days to get acclimatised to the weather. We looked around Darjeeling, visiting the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Ghoom railway station and the Mall.
On the morning of October 27, we headed towards Manibhanjan, from where we were to begin our trek for the first destination Tumling (in Nepal) with a steep trek, a total distance of 11 km away, with short halts at Chetrey, Ramedhura and Meghma at the Indo-Nepal border. Everyone jumped across the border, getting photographed on both sides. The next day, we started for Kalapokhri, stopping at Joebari and Garibas. We went to Singalila National Park, home to the endangered Red Panda and gorgeous rhododendrons. At Garibas, we were on the border of Sikkim, West Bengal and Nepal.
The freezing cold wind that greeted us at Kalapokhri was something we could never have imagined. Sandakphu at 12,600 feet is the highest peak in West Bengal and our final destination. We set off again for a difficult uphill trek from Kalapokhri. We were happy to see the clouds disappear and the sun come up again, on the highest peak of the state, basking in the beauty around us.
Tired though we were, the next morning we were up early to see what locals had predicted would be one of the best sunrises Sandakphu has witnessed in the past few years. Perched at 8,000 metres, we could see all the major peaks of the region turn golden, bathed in the sun’s rays. After a day of rest, we started our trek down, catching snow the next morning.
At Garibas, our next halt, we had a campfire night. Mark, who could speak Hindi, sang a catchy track from Kal Ho Na Ho… Trekking back to Mahebhanjan the next day was the longest task of the trip, as we had to cover 17 km of the total of 65 km. The following day, we headed back to New Jalpaiguri with a halt at the Mohurgong and Gulma Tea Estate, and an unexpected stop due to a road accident. But we managed to reach the station just in time.
Back in Calcutta, we spent two days shopping and took our guests for a dinner at Chinatown. We bid them goodbye, promising to meet again in July when we are scheduled to meet our friends on their own turf in the UK.
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Lighting up lives
This year the members of the Our Lady Queen of the Missions School Interact Club decided to spend the festival of lights in a meaningful way. So on the morning of October 24, we visited the Child Care Home orphanage in Sukantanagar. We were greeted by the children, between three and 16 years of age. They had organised a cultural programme for us, and the multifarious talents of the girls left us awestruck; a couple of them had even been awarded scholarships in music from the government of India! A few of the girls who had been brought up there and are now happily settled had come by as well with their own kids. We also performed a medley of songs and a dance item. The painting competition also drew enthusiastic participation. In the evening, we burst some crackers with them, rounding off the perfect Diwali.
— Ankita Ray,
Our Lady Queen of the Missions School
The South Calcutta Bharat Scouts and Guides felicitated 26 cubs from various schools with the prestigious District Commissioner’s Award, the highest award for a cub. The ceremony, held on November 9 at the south Calcutta district headquarters of Bharat Scouts & Guides at Bhowanipore, honoured their exceptional performances over the past few years. District Commissioner Narayan Chandra Das handed over the awards to the young cubs. Darshan Singh Gill, headquarters commissioner (cub) was also commended for his guidance.
— Nihar Jain,
Class IX, Lakshmipat Singhania Academy
Warm at heart
This month has seen the students of Chowringhee Kindergarten & High School venture into the village. A disappointed man from Ghoshpur, near Baruipur, had approached the boys and girls recently. An NGO which had promised to give them blankets had not kept its word. So, after talking it over with school administrator P.B. Dasani, they took up the task themselves, with winter on their mind.
On November 1, the crew, armed with the blankets, headed for the village. Actor Arjun Chakraborty and the OC of the Baruipur police station inaugurated a local Jagaddhatri puja and handed over the blankets and stationery.
Flick fun for kids
A double bonanza is in store for film buffs, with two organisations hosting children’s film fests in the coming weeks. To mark Children’s Day on November 14, Wockhardt Hospitals is organising the Wockhardt Children’s Filmotsab, in association with The Telegraph in Schools. Three movies will be screened at Rotary Sadan through the day — Haathi Ka Anda, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and two back-to-back screenings of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The first Harry show is reserved for children from Nirmal Hriday and Cini Asha.
The British Council is also getting into the act, with Cinekids, a national festival, coming to town from November 25 to 29. The star attraction is the animated version of A Christmas Carol, featuring the voices of Kate Winslet and Nicolas Cage.
| Acrostic, an album featuring young talent including tabla player Abhishek Basu and Ratul Shankar on the drums, was launched at MusicWorld on Thursday. Picture by Pabitra Das
Power to the people
Students from seven cities battled it out in the fourth Inter-Institutional L.N. Birla Debate (National Finals) at the Vidya Mandir auditorium, on November 7. The topic of discussion was ‘In the opinion of the house, democracy is the privilege of the powerful’.
After the inaugration by B.K. Birla, chief guest Somnath Chatterjee delivered an inspiring opening address. The debate was chaired by Suman Mukherjee, director, Birla High School, while the panel of judges comprised Prof. N. Vishwanathan, lawyer Udayan Mukherjee and professor, Calcutta University, Krishna Sen.
The rules of politics formed the basis of all arguements. That democracy is the privilege of the powerful emerged as a common perception. Very soon, felt one college student, we may see a game show hosted by Amitabh Bachchan called ‘Kaun Banega PM’. Akash Banerjee from Delhi, compared democracy with rail tracks, with the government and people being the two tracks — if one falters the other has to fail as well. Sravasti Dutta from Calcutta voiced the need for another Gandhi.
A panel discussion between the judges followed after a break. The judges also criticised the participants for their failure to refute the other speaker’s points. It was more like an eloquent elocution than a debate, they felt. Prof. Vishwanathan gave valuable tips on debating. The motion was, finally, defeated.
In the school section, Dev Kapoor from St Xavier’s Collegiate School was declared winner, with Prakriti Ranjan from the host school coming in second. Akash Banerjee from St Stephen’s College won the college debate with Sravasti Dutta from Loreto College close on his heels.