The sheer diversity of cultures, languages, landscapes and cuisine make India one of the most interesting, inspiring and exciting countries on earth, and the perfect destination for a career break. From the tranquillity and beauty of the Himalayas, to the noise and vibrant atmosphere of the cities, and to the beautiful beaches of the South, India has something to offer everyone. For a volunteer in India, it can be a shock to the senses and it is certainly a place to expect the unexpected. However, no matter how challenging you find your volunteer project, you will find the experience hugely rewarding and many find themselves drawn back to India again and again.
India really is a unique destination for a career break abroad. The Republic of India is the world's seventh largest country and with one billion inhabitants, the world's largest democracy. The landscape contrasts from the mountainous Himalayas in the north to the flat plateau of the south. It has 18 major languages and more than a thousand dialects! While the majority of people are Hindu (82%), other major religions include Islam (11%), Christianity (2%), Sikhism (2%) and Buddhism (1%).
Since independence in 1947, the Indian government has strived to raise the living standards of the poor, but poverty still remains widespread. Despite the influx of people to its growing, sprawling cities, more than 60% are employed in farming and The World Bank describes India as a 'low-income' developing country. In these circumstances volunteers wanting to teach English abroad, contribute to childcare volunteer work or support community development projects can make a real difference.
The weather is mainly hot and tropical, but as would be expected of a country of India’s size, there are fairly significant regional variations, and volunteers on a career break in India should be prepared for the micro-climate specific to their volunteer project. In general terms, the coolest weather lasts from December to February, with cool, fresh mornings and evenings and dry, sunny days. When it is cold and wet, snow fall is possible. The maximum temperature is around 15 °C (59 °F).
Between March and May, the weather is still a little cold but you will be able to see the sun early in the mornings. There is fairly frequent rain and it is cloudy most of the time later on in the day. From April, it gets warmer with some sunny days that can last for a few days, interspersed with heavy rain.
Volunteers working and teaching in India should take note that monsoon rains occur in most regions in the summer between June and September. Rain can last for up to three days at a time but mostly you find there is brief, heavy rain followed again by nice weather for a day or two. During the monsoon and winter seasons, Darjeeling is often enveloped by fog.
MondoChallenge offers a wide range of voluntary projects in India. Our volunteer work is based in the Himalayan city of Darjeeling and in some of the busy cities further south, including Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. As a result, career break volunteers have the opportunity to use their skills across a range of development issues and can make a real difference on a volunteer programme abroad.
As a volunteer in India you can take part in one of our education projects, which can be in primary schools in rural villages in the Himalayan foothills or in inner city areas, teaching slum children. These volunteer teaching placements offer wildly different experiences. Volunteers wanting to teach in India could be enjoying the peace and quiet of rural life based in a little village in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong region, or they could be working in a busy city, experiencing the pressures of a fast growing developing economy.
As well as teaching English in India, MondoChallenge volunteers can take part in more specialist volunteer opportunities, such as our business development projects. Here career break volunteers can work with local NGOs to address community issues relating to women's empowerment, helping street children to develop life skills, or helping children affected with cerebral palsy and autism. Volunteering in India on these community development projects is a challenging but fulfilling career break experience, and a range of skills are needed in order to help our partners most effectively.
MondoChallenge also offers opportunities for you to work as an orphanage volunteer or to help children from the slums and street to secure a brighter future.
Whether you want to teach English in India or try one of our specialist volunteer projects, there are a huge number of exciting travel opportunities within the Indian subcontinent. Here are just a few suggestions for career break volunteers located in the north-east of the country:
Kalimpong: Aside from the local market and the impressive monastery, which sits astride the hill above the town, Delio Dara, Relay Bagar and Durbin Dara are highlights of the region, and well worth a visit.
Sikkim: A visit to this scenic and secluded Indian state can easily be arranged to fit around your volunteer work in India. Some of the villages where our voluntary projects are based look out over Sikkim and it is easy to get a taxi to Gangtok, the capital. You can also get shared jeeps from Kalimpong to Gangtok for around £3. Visitor's passes need to be completed at the river crossing (no charge). Rumtek Gompa is a great place to visit en route and you can buy cheap goods in Gangtok and at the border town. Another place of interest for career break travellers is the institute of Tibetology.
Tiger Hill and Darjeeling: At 2650 metres, this is the highest point of Darjeeling, and it is famous for viewing the sunrise. However, it is not uncommon for the view to be completely obscured by mist, so if you plan to work or teach in India, it is advisable to plan a couple of visits! The 'Toy Train'’, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Zoo, Botanical Garden, Rock Garden and Chourasta are all worth visiting and there are several historical buildings to see, as well as Mirik Lake which is a 2 hours ride from Darjeeling.
We are not aware of any particular issues in the Indian subcontinent but if you plan to volunteer in India you should keep an eye on the Foreign Office (UK volunteers) website (www.fco.gov.uk) and the press for information.
Nowhere in the world is completely free of danger, however if you remain vigilant, respectful and careful while you travel you are sure to have an enjoyable career break experience.
You can also use the menu at the top left of this page to navigate projects in this country.