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Immerse yourself in two Himalayan villages where you will live with Indian and Tibetan homestay families. Help Tibetan refugees improve their English skills and work on construction projects in the village community.  When not volunteering, you’ll be involved in cultural activities such as practicing yoga, meditation, or taking Bollywood classes. Learn about current issues from poets, political activists, and NGO guest speakers.

With our No Anxiety Escrow Policy, you cancel for any reason up until the day of travel, and escrow 100% of the program fees for up to two years from the cancellation date.

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2017 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
June 14 June 29 Very Limited
June 28 July 13 Very Limited
July 12 July 27 Limited

Program Profile

Community Service Focus
Next Level
Community Service Focus
Education, Community Health, Infrastructure
Get to Know
The People
Live Like a Local
Travel Component
Stationary Program

Connecting Programs

Schedule two or more programs in a row to create your ideal Rustic Pathways experience.

This program connects especially well with:

  • Day 1

    Meet up with your group in Newark and board a comfortable non-stop flight to New Delhi, India, and start getting to know your fellow travelers. You’ll be escorted by a Rustic Pathways flight leader to India.

  • Day 2

    Following the flight to India, clear customs and be met by your trip leaders, who will take you to the hotel, so you can freshen up before getting a great night of sleep in a quiet and comfortable hotel.

    As you head through the streets of New Delhi, sink in the first sights of India. You’ve just arrived in a land of 1.2 billion people, home to every major religion in the world and a dizzying variety of histories, and one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Nearly 1,000 languages are spoken by different people groups in India. McLeod Ganj, where you’ll soon be heading, is home to a large population of Tibetans who fled violence and political oppression in their home country. You’ll soon have the opportunity to contrast the Tibetan culture with that of the Himachali villagers in the second half of your trip. Welcome to colorful India!

  • Day 3

    After a quick breakfast, hop into private vans to start your trip up to the Himalayas. This is a day of group bonding and landscape appreciation as you’ll spend the day making the drive up to your new home, McLeod Ganj! Get comfy for 12 hours of travel today, and watch out your window as the landscape changes from mega-city to farming fields to the green foothills of the Himalayas. Once you arrive, meet your Tibetan host families and settle into your new homestay for the night.

  • Day 4

    Enjoy some cool fresh mountain air in the village of McLeod Ganj – home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Spend the day today getting oriented to your new home – explore the town on a scavenger hunt, meet with a Tibetan poet and activist, and learn more about the situation in Tibet while doing kora, a meditative walk, at His Holiness’ monastery. This evening watch a documentary about Tibet before heading back home to your homestay family, where you can ask your host parents about their stories escaping Tibet or growing up in India.

  • Day 5

    Begin your service project with Tibetan refugees. You will be paired up with a recent refugee to help improve their English skills through grammar activities and conversation. As an international language, English is a very important skill for communication and employment and these students are excited to improve their skills.  In the afternoon you will have a guest lecture on Buddhism and get to try your hand at meditation! Visualize yourself as Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of compassion.

  • Day 6

    In the morning enjoy tea and breakfast with your host family and then meet up with your Tibetan mutual learning partner. After a lunch of steamed momos, head to a yoga class to practice your asanas and pranayama, or learn how to make prayer flags with a local artisan.

  • Day 7

    Continue your yoga or meditation classes this morning, then meet your Tibetan partner for more English service. Today your partner may help you get the best prices as you shop for souvenirs in the local market and practice new vocabulary! This afternoon you will meet a former political prisoner and hear his life story, a powerful experience that you can share with family and friends when you arrive back home. Before heading to your homestay tonight, join the group for a movie or documentary at the local theater.

  • Day 8

    During your last day in McLeod Ganj you will meet with your Tibetan partner one last time for a final conversation and goodbyes.  In the afternoon, take a private jeep to the Norbulingka Institute and see firsthand local artisans who are preserving Tibetan culture through painting, sculpting, carving, and transcribing sacred texts. Tonight, enjoy a potluck dinner with all of your host families and friends from around town.

  • Day 9

    Sip one more cup of chai with your host families before saying goodbye and leaving McLeod Ganj for the village of Balla, peacefully nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya. Balla is a small Indian village with both Gaddi (Indian Himalayan) and Gurkha (Nepali) communities. This town is well off the beaten path and allows for an intimate look at rural Himalayan life. Today you will meet your new host families and get introduced to the village! Spend the evening sharing photos and getting to know your new family.

  • Day 10

    Start your new service projects today! In Balla your volunteer work will consist of basic construction projects selected by the village and spending time at a nearby school for students with special needs. Today you will jump into the construction project, then have a chance to jump into the local river to cool off after a day of work! In the evening learn how to make dhal and chapati, two staples of the Indian diet, with your host family while you talk about the day.

  • Day 11

    Continue the construction project today and in the afternoon visit a nearby school to spend time with the students. If the weather is good, play cricket or football with the local kids, then put on your dancing shoes to learn a Bollywood dance before heading home for the evening.

  • Day 12

    After a morning of service, hope that your karma is good as today you have an opportunity to have an audience with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa! Born in Tibet but escaped to India in the early 2000’s, the Karmapa’s new home is just south of Balla. Get blessed by the Karmapa and if you are lucky you may have a chance to ask a few questions as well. Head back to Balla for another Bollywood dance lesson – learn it well because you will have to perform it for the village!

  • Day 13

    Your final day in Balla! Finish up work on the construction project through the morning then get prepared for an evening of fun. Tonight, you will wear local dress and join the community in a village celebration with song, dance, food, and music. This is your chance to show off your new Bollywood moves and to get your whole host family to join you for dancing!

  • Day 14

    Say goodbye to your host family in the morning and depart Balla to return to Delhi via private vans. Breaking only for chai and lunch, watch the Indian landscape roll by as you move back down to the Indian plains and back to the mega-city of Delhi. Arrive in Delhi for dinner and head to bed to rest for your final day in India.

  • Day 15

    On your last day on the program, spend the day in Delhi visiting the local markets for some last minute shopping and souvenir hunting. After shopping, join other Rustic India students for a farewell dinner and swimming at a resort. In the evening your program leaders will bring you to the Delhi airport for your departing flight. Safe travels and we hope to see you again!

  • Day 16

    Return home to the U.S. or connect to another exciting Rustic Pathways destination.

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.

The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.

“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.

“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.

For more information, email india@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • This program connects seamlessly to all other programs in India and Asia. All of our Asia programs begin and end on Thursday, which allows for easy connectivity.

  • A tourist visa is required for all students traveling to India. Students are responsible for obtaining their own visa. Rustic Pathways will provide important details relating to the visa process in the spring. If you would like information or would like to view the visa requirements, please visit the Government of India website at https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html.

  • Yes, there will be a flight leader on the direct flight from Newark, New Jersey (USA) to New Delhi, India. If a student is connecting from another country, they will not have a flight leader. In such instances, we will provide students with detailed instructions on navigating airports, immigrations, and customs and will have a Rustic Pathways staff member waiting at the arrival airport to pick them up.

  • The direct flight from Newark, New Jersey to New Delhi, India is 14 hours.

  • Yes. Please note that this program is 14 days in length, with international travel times on each end, making it 16 days total outside of the United States.

  • During Service in the Clouds, students will spend the majority of their time in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Students will spend five days in the town of McLeod Ganj and five days in the village of Balla. Students will also spend two days in New Delhi, at the beginning and end of the trip.

  • Each program will have leaders who are certified in First Aid and CPR. Some of our program leaders are also 
certified as Wilderness First Responders, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.


  • Rustic Pathways India programs maintain a minimum of 1 Program Leader for every 6 students. Additionally, each program maintains at least 2 primary program leaders, one male and one female.

  • Rustic Pathways uses sterilization techniques to ensure that all drinking water for students is potable and safe to drink. We ask students to bring reusable water bottles in order to reduce plastic usage.

  • Students are allowed to bring phones on their Rustic Pathways program, but must abide by our cell phone policy. Students will not be allowed to use their phones during group activities, nor at any other time where it is disruptive to the group dynamic. If students are unable to abide by this policy, disciplinary action may be taken.

  • Electricity in India runs at 230V and electrical outlets are a mix between Type C and Type D. We recommend purchasing one or two Type C adaptors (as these can also be used in Type D outlets).

  • Summer in India is monsoon season! Temperatures on the plains (Delhi) can reach 110 F (43 C) with high humidity. In the mountains (McLeod Ganj, Balla) temperatures are warm but pleasant (80 F, 26 C), and rain is a daily occurrence. Please make sure you have a solid waterproof rain jacket and the other required clothing on the packing list!

  • In McLeod Ganj and Balla, students will be paired up with another Rustic Pathways students and placed with a Tibetan and Indian homestay family. Homestay facilities differ by family, and range from shared bathrooms with bucket showers and squat toilets to individual bathrooms with western toilets and showers. Hot water may or may not be available.

    In Delhi, students will stay in a comfortable hotel in the Karol Bagh area of New Delhi. Students will sleep 2-3 to a room, separated by gender.

  • Students will eat a mix of Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese food, as well as a few western dishes. Indian food generally consists of rice, dals (lentils), curries, and roti (flatbread). Tibetan food is a mix of noodle soups, momos (dumplings), and breads.

    At McLeod Ganj and Balla, students will have breakfast and dinner with their homestay families. Be prepared for lots of eggs and bread in the morning, and copious amounts of tea!

  • Homestay families are screened annually by a fulltime Rustic Pathways staff member. This staff member meets with families to communicate Rustic Pathways rules and expectations and to answer questions from families. We have a seven-year relationship with the families in McLeod Ganj, and a three-year relationship with the families in Balla.

  • Bathroom facilities range from bucket showers and squat toilets with no hot water, to western style showers and toilets with constant supply of hot water.

  • Students will have limited access to internet and telephones while on the program. These services are available in Delhi and McLeod Ganj, but only for short periods of time, as we are very busy on the program.

  • Students will have opportunities to hand wash laundry once or twice every week. Alternatively, students can get their laundry washed for them in McLeod Ganj. The cost is approximately $10 per load.

  • Students will have two long driving days, from Delhi to McLeod Ganj and from Balla to Delhi. This drive takes approximately 12 hours each way. Students travel in private vans that seat up to seven people, and will stop along the way for meals, tea, and snacks.

  • Please note that this program operates in a remote environment. Definitive medical care can be more than one hour away for portions of the program and nearby medical facilities range from robust to very basic.

    According to the Center for Disease Control, malaria transmission is possible for all locations this program visits except McLeod Ganj (which is above the 2000 m malaria line). Dengue, chikungunia, and rabies are also present in areas this program visits.

    McLeod Ganj and Balla are located in the Dhauladhar range of the Himalaya Mountains and as such earthquakes are a possible risk.

  • Please consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for immunization and other medical recommendations, based on the area(s) where you will be traveling and on your own medical history. In addition to consulting with a medical professional, please visit the HX Global and Center for Disease Control websites for country specific information around immunizations and traveler’s health. Please let us know if you have specific questions.

  • HX Global is one of the world’s leading providers of medical evacuation and travel services. All participants traveling with Rustic Pathways will have access to HX Global benefits through Rustic Pathways’ membership.

    As a member you will have access to HX Global’s extensive travel information database to help you make informed decisions prior to travel. Additionally, all travelers who travel outside their country of residence will have access to medical evacuation support during their program. For more information please visit our HX Global webpage.

  • In McLeod Ganj and Balla there are small clinics within a fifteen minute drive of the town. These clinics deal with basic medications and first aid. The nearest hospital is an hour drive from town, and can handle more severe cases. In the event of an evacuation, the nearest airport is an hour drive from town and patients may be air evacuated to Delhi.

    In Delhi there are world-class facilities available in several hospitals close to the airport.

  • If you are vegetarian, you are in luck! India is one of the most vegetarian friendly places in the world. Vegan, lactose free, and gluten free diets can also be accommodated. If you have other dietary restrictions, please contact Team India at india@rusticpathways.com.

    Students with mild allergies to nuts can be accommodated on this program. If you have any severe allergies, please let us know. We will work with you to determine the best program choices.

  • Mosquitoes are present in all areas this program visits. Most bites occur at dawn and dusk, and students are encouraged to wear long sleeves, long pants, and DEET based insect repellent at these times of day.

  • Personal gifts, internet, phone calls, and snacks are not included. All other costs (accommodation, meals, in-country transportation, and activities) are included in the program price.

  • We recommend bringing $100 – 200 (USD) per week for spending money.

  • Yes, students will receive up to 50 hours of community service on this program. Please refer to our Community Service Hour Awards webpage for more information on how service hours are awarded.

  • Rustic Pathways works with local community leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community. In McLeod Ganj, students will be paired with a Tibetan language partner for conversational English instruction. They may also work on small-scale construction, painting, or cleanup projects.

    In Balla, students will work on construction, education, or environmental projects, which will be determined closer to the program date.

Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Follow these tips to pack like a pro:

Travel light. Pack only the essentials. You’ll need less than you think!
Bring the right clothes. Pack clothes that are culturally appropriate for your destination and acceptable for service projects. This means bringing lightweight pants, t-shirts with sleeves to cover shoulders, and appropriate footwear.
Leave your valuables behind. While traveling, it’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged. Keep any prized possessions safe at home.
Check with TSA. Make sure your luggage complies with TSA regulations, especially your carry-on. Useful tip: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
Extra paperwork? If you need additional forms filled out to get credit for your service hours, no problem! Bring these forms with you so they can be completed in-country.

Rustic Gear. Want to get all your shopping done for your program in one place? We’ve got you covered. Check out Rustic Gear and get all the essentials sent right to your door.


A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.

  • Passport with India Visa
  • Wallet
  • Photocopy of Passport and Visa
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Chargers
  • Ear buds
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle
  • Change of clothes
  • Medications
  • Additional community service forms
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts
  • Consent to travel form

Checked Luggage

A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.


  • Long pants (3, lightweight)
  • Underwear (5-7)
  • Socks (6-8)
  • Crew neck T-Shirts (5-6)
  • Long sleeve shirt (2)
  • Lightweight sweater/sweatshirt
  • Waterproof rain jacket
  • Shorts (1-2)
  • Swim Suit
  • Closed toe shoes – for service
  • Casual / Athletic shoes – for around town
  • Sandals
  • Hat
  • Towel
  • Pajamas


  • Shampoo and Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Toothpaste and Toothbrush
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellant (35% DEET)
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Extra medication
  • Tissue travel packs
  • Personal med kit

Additional Items

  • Flashlight/Headlamp w/ Extra Batteries
  • Watch or Clock with an Alarm
  • Work gloves

Optional Items

  • Cotton/silk sleeping sack
  • Waterproof shoes / hiking boots
  • Hindi / Tibetan phrasebook
  • Deck of cards
  • Small musical instrument
  • Frisbee, Aerobee, Hackysack
  • Pictures of friends and family
  • Waterproof hiking shoes

Important Reminders

  • Appropriate dress is an essential element of respectful travel. When packing, please be mindful of Indian cultural standards. Shoulders and stomachs need to be covered at all times, and legs need to be covered past the knee for boys, to mid-calf length for girls. Please do not bring any shirts with deep cut necks (e.g. V-necks or U-necks). Leggings are acceptable only when they are worn with a long shirt or tunic that reaches past the thigh. Please note that if you arrive without appropriate clothing our staff will request you purchase it in India.
  • Summer in India is monsoon season! This means the weather is HOT and WET! Temperatures on the plains (Delhi, Jaipur) can reach 110 F (43 C) and the air is quite humid. Rain can be a daily occurrence so a light, waterproof jacket or poncho is good to have. Lightweight, breathable, and quick drying fabrics such as nylon or polyester are also highly recommended!
  1. a

    Welcome to India! You will arrive in Delhi for the start of your program.

  2. b
    McLeod Ganj

    Drive from Delhi up to McLeod Ganj, an eclectic town home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. Spend your first week here living with a Tibetan homestay family.

  3. c

    Bid farewell to your Tibetan homestay family and shift to nearby village of Balla, where you will meet your Indian homestay family for the second week.