Tag Archives: India

12 years on with Inspired Adventures

IN 2016, we are celebrating ‘12 Years of Inspired Adventures’—12 years of incredible achievements, amazing stories and exciting adventures to enchanting destinations.

From our first dollar fundraised in 2004 to over $21 million raised last year, we know we would not have reached such heights without our charity partners, their incredible fundraisers and all the people who support them. The memories, moments and milestones we’ve shared over the last decade are what inspire us to aim higher and reach further as every year passes.

In taking on an Inspired Adventure, you make the decision to travel for good, to help change our world for the better. We find that many people who have returned from an Inspired Adventure go on to do amazing things. Indeed, it’s hard to come back from an Inspired Adventure without a certain shift in your soul. If you can scale mighty mountains, cycle across countries or trek through rugged jungles, all while raising significant funds for a cause you’re passionate about, what can’t you do?

But where did it all begin?

Inspired Adventures was the light-bulb moment of Justine Curtis, our CEO and Founder. In 2001 on a sabbatical to India, Justine met her hero and inspiration: Palden Gyatso, a former Tibetan political prisoner who was imprisoned and tortured for 33 years by the Chinese government. Mirroring the plight of many dedicated travellers, Justine returned to Australia wondering how to translate all that she had learned in India to something worthwhile and useful for the world. With a background in marketing, she helped launch a large street fundraising agency called Face-to-Face that empowered youth to fundraise for charities.

While sitting through a management training course, Justine had the crazy (yet inspired!) idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with three friends and raise $30,000 to fund a water pump for an orphanage in Zimbabwe. In 12 short weeks, she went from thinking climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was “literally insurmountable” to standing on top of the mountain, armed with a new vision for a business.

So in 2004, Justine started Inspired Adventures, a fundraising agency that raises thousands for charity while also taking people on the journey of a lifetime, physically and emotionally. She says, “I wanted to support people from all walks of life, so they could prove to themselves that they are greater than they ever thought possible.”

Blog India 2005
Blog India 2005

In tribute to her hero, Justine decided the first charity partner she wanted to work with was the Australia Tibet Council. She approached Paul Bourke at ATC, told him her idea, and the rest is history. The Australia Tibet Council went on their first adventure to India in 2005, where fundraisers who undertook the adventure raised a massive $50,000. The next few years saw Inspired Adventures and the Australia Tibet Council travel with passionate ATC supporters, taking on challenging treks in northern India. Then in 2013, Inspired Adventures and ATC began taking supporters on insight tours to Dharamsala, in northern India, where they could experience the rich Buddhist culture of Tibet with a group of like-minded people.

Now in 2016, we have again teamed up with the Australia Tibet Council for this year’s Dharamsala Insight tour. So what’s the experience like? On this two-week adventure, you will be immersed in the ambience of Dharamsala, the political and spiritual home of the Tibetan community in exile. You will gain unique cultural insights through visits to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s temple, the Norbulingka Institute, the Tibetan Children’s Village, the Tibetan Nuns’ Project, the Tibet Museum and so much more. You’ll hear the moving stories of life in Tibet from newly-arrival refugees, witness the enduring strength of the Tibetan struggle as you visit cultural and political organisations, and hear from young and passionate Tibetan activists about their dreams of a future Tibet.

Best of all, by joining this adventure, you will be supporting the important advocacy work of the Australia Tibet Council as they campaign on behalf of Tibet’s people, culture and fragile environment (your travel cost includes a $1,200 donation to ATC).

Insight 2013 HHDL-group4

Interested in joining the trip?

Contact Inspired Adventures or the Australia Tibet Council at insight@atc.org.au to learn more!

When you sign up, you will be able to provide a friend with $200 off their travel cost if they join the adventure. Also, if you’re a past Inspired Adventures participant and you sign up for this adventure, you’ll also receive $200 off your travel cost!


How to survive your first trip to India

So you’ve decided to travel to India? Amazing! It’s a beguiling and incredible place that deserves at least one visit. It can also be confounding and chaotic and send your head spinning if you’re not prepared. Here are our best tips and things we wish we would have known as a first timer in India.

First, and most importantly, drop any preconceived idea that the way you do things is the right way. Across the world, there are so many different customs and cultures – that’s why we love travel! India has its own way of doing things all together, which might appear chaotic and random to an outsider. But hey, it seems to work!

India is a huge country, 7th largest in the world to be exact . Make sure you do your research and know what to expect in the region you’re going to. From mountains to desert to jungle, India has it all. But make sure you go to the right places at the right time. You probably don’t want to be in Rajasthan in high summer (hello 48 degree days) or attempt a Himalayan trek in northern India in January (it’s freezing!).

Anganwadi project_2014_IMG_6924

We’ve gotten used to picking up a cheap and quick SIM card when overseas, but it’s not quite as easy in India. Based on our most recent experience, you’ll need to bring passport-sized photo as well as a copy of your passport as the process is quite involved – and you may need a local to help you navigate the hurdles. It also took two days to activate so plan ahead!

There are SO many people, over a billion actually. So don’t be too precious about your personal space. To give you a comparison, Australia has 2.66 people per km2 – India has 343.68. It will take a bit of getting used to, especially on transport. Trains and buses are generally always packed. Special tip: If you are travelling on an overnight train, make sure you book a berth (bed) and be aware that if you are on the bottom bunk, your upstairs neighbour will likely be sitting on your “bed” until it’s lights out time. We’d also suggest booking First or Second Class if you’re after a bit more space.

VBB_Trek for Vets 2014_Skiu to Chiling_P1110755
Anganwadi project_2014_IMG_6535

You will come across quite a number of beggars, especially children. Many good-hearted people who just want to help don’t realise that giving money perpetuates a cycle of poverty. That money is either going to incentivise that child to stay out of school and try and collect more donations, or you are going to encourage organised-begging (also known as human trafficking). In India, it’s estimated that approximately 60,000 children disappear every year and are forced to work as beggars for organised criminal groups. The children don’t keep any of these earnings or get to go to school. They are often starved so they will gain more sympathy and potentially more donations. You’ll feel really terrible and want to give them something but you need to resist! The best way to help is through established NGOs and supporting the local economy.

Everything is 20 minutes away. Indian time is relative! Everything takes longer than expected, shops close randomly, traffic stops all the time and the locals just don’t mind when things take a while. You will just need to adjust and run on Indian time.

Yes sometimes means no. Indians I’ve met are incredibly hospitable and polite. This can mean it’s hard to get a straight answer, especially when what they mean to tell you is ‘no can do.’ Instead of yes/no, ask questions that require a more detailed answer. For example, better to ask ‘I”m worried I won’t make it to my train with the traffic, should I book the 9 AM or 10 AM?’ than ‘Will I make the 9 AM train?’.

VBB_Trek for Vets 2014_Leh_Indus Valley_IMG_0450

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Culture shock: 6 travel moments all adventurers will relate to

Travelling is perhaps one of life’s greatest treasures; from visiting new and breath-taking lands, to meeting different people and diving headfirst into cultures so unlike your own, to the tantalising food and overall life-changing experiences that are bound to happen when you leave behind comfort and familiarity.

Anyone who has ever travelled will have no hesitation in sharing that while travel is fun and exciting, it is equally confronting and eye-opening to discover that while we are one human race, our cultures can vary dramatically. Here at Inspired, we all are avid lovers of travel, so we’ve rounded up some of our best culture shock stories for your enjoyment!

"I really hate condoms in my food"


Biggest culture shock?
“I lived in Spain for a year and probably one of the most embarrassing and funny culture shocks I experienced was getting the hang of the language. Once I tried to say, “I really hate preservatives in my food” because I thought the word preservativos meant preservatives. Turns out it actually means condoms so I said to everyone, “I really hate condoms in my food.” Oops!” – Angie

Blog Angie Hwang

What's a helmet?


Biggest culture shock?
“I was working on a sailboat in Sicily for two months and each morning I’d ride on the back of my host’s motorbike to get to the boat. He refused to let me wear a helmet and pretty much everybody in Sicily has the same motto! That was a big shock for me because literally every morning I’d fear for my life. We also had to carry all the food with us for the day so I’d just be sitting on the back holding onto huge watermelons and pasta. A very strange site but it was a lot of fun!” – Laura

Smiles not allowed


Biggest culture shock? 
“As a child who grew up in developing countries like Africa and Thailand, my biggest culture shock was actually when I went to London. Everyone seemed so grumpy all the time! You couldn’t smile at people on the tube because they’d give you the dirtiest look back. London basically just has really unique etiquette rules but once you figure them out, it’s one of the best places to live.” – Charlie

A holy experience


Biggest culture shock?
“Biggest culture shock for me was visiting the famous Ganges in Varanasi and witnessing the burning bodies of the Ghats. I’d never seen a dead body before, never mind a burning one. I was both appalled and enthralled all in one. The whole religious experience was nothing short of fascinating!” – Lexi

Living on "African time"


Biggest culture shock? 
“I went to Kenya to volunteer at four different schools in rural areas where I taught the kids different sports. The biggest culture shock for me was the conditions of the schools. I understood it would be basic, but I was shocked as some of them were just four walls with a roof. Also, the kid’s uniforms were torn into pieces and all in the wrong size, and 80 per cent of them didn’t have shoes! “African time” was also interesting – everything was always running late. But people didn’t get upset or anything, they knew they would eventually arrive and everything would be fine. A bit scary when you need to get to the airport though!” – Jo

Blog Johanna Bearder

So...where's the toilet?


Biggest culture shock?
“There were a few culture shocks in Cambodia but personally, the biggest one was the squat toilets! I’m a hygiene nut and have never been very confident using anything other than a western toilet so having to use squat style toilets was a big one for me. However, I overcame the fear and am now a confident squatter! #toomuchinfo ?” – Ally

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Eight awesome festivals around the world

Our world is filled with some spectacular festivals, with many of them steeped in hundreds of years of tradition and history. From painting yourself in a myriad of colours to celebrate the triumph of good over bad, to pelting oranges at people in the streets of Ivrea, Italy, we’ve rounded up some truly awesome festivals around the world.

The Rio de Janeiro Carnival – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Perhaps one of the most famous festivals in the world, the Rio Carnival is a rowdy series of parades and parties held in Rio de Janeiro, just before Lent begins. The event is always packed, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Rio during Carnival, anticipate spectacular parades put on by the city’s samba schools, as well as street parties, live Brazilian music and a whole lot of energy!

Holi Festival – India

Indian color powder as a beauty background

The vivid festival of Holi, also known as the Festival of Colours, is celebrated in March each year, commemorating the triumph of good over bad. It is one of the major festivals in India and sees people spend the day smearing coloured powder all over each other’s faces, throwing coloured water at people, having parties, and dancing under water sprinklers.

Boryeong Mud Festival – South Korea

Whilst getting down and dirty (literally) might not be your idea of a holiday, Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea attracts around two million tourists from around the world each year. It initially started as a marketing tool for the Boryeong mud cosmetics, and now sees visitors taking part in various mud attractions such as wrestling, mud slides, mud skiing competition and if you’re daring, a mud prison.

Festival of the Sun – Peru 

The Festival of the Sun, one of the greatest parades in South America, celebrates the winter solstice and honours the Inca sun god with an abundance of colourful Andean parades, music, and dance. It takes over Cusco and converts the Sacsayhuamán ruins overlooking the city into a magnificent stage.

Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) – Mexico

Traditional mexican day of the dead souvenir ceramic skulls at market stall

Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday celebrated in central and southern Mexico on the first two days in November. It is believed the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. Then, on November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities too. The celebration is then taken to the cemetery, where people clean tombs, play cards, listen to village bands and reminisce about their loved ones.

 Battle of the Oranges – Ivrea, Italy

It’s a well-known story: commoners rising up against an oppressive ruler. At the Carnevale di Ivrea, however, the battle isn’t led with guns and swords—oranges are the weapon of choice. Each year, the little town of Ivrea stores 500,000 kilograms of fresh oranges for Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges), a re-creation of a historic fight between citizens and a ruling tyrant. Teams wage a full-on fruit war, and not even a red-capped declaration of sovereignty can protect you from a juicing.

Loi Krathong – Thailand

Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festival, Chiangmai, Thailand

One of the most picturesque festivals in Bangkok is the evening of Loi Krathong, when people gather around lakes, rivers and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus shaped rafts, decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water. The sight of thousands of Krathongs, their flickering candles sending a thousand pinpoints of light far into the horizon is a truly majestic site.

 Oktoberfest – Munich, Germany

Oktoberfest is the world’s biggest beer festival and travelling funfair. It is held annually in Munich, but many countries around the world hold their own festival. While Oktoberfest reinforces stereotypical images of beer-loving, meat-loving Germans dressed in dirndls and lederhosen, visitors to the annual event come from all over the world. More than 6 million people from around the world attend Oktoberfest in Munich each year, drinking over 5 million litres of beer, chowing down on pork knuckles and enjoying the festivities. Prost!

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Destination in profile: Dharamsala

This month, Inspired Adventures would like to take you on a journey to Dharamsala, India. This little town in northern India has become a bustling hub for a Tibetan community who have settled here and life revolves around the spiritual teachings of its most famous resident – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

We take you to Dharamsala this month because, ultimately, this is where Inspired Adventures was born.

The impetus to launch Inspired Adventures came about after a chance meeting with a Tibetan monk who had suffered many human rights abuses. Justine Curtis, Inspired Adventures’ Director, met Palden Gyatso when he was living in exile in Dharamsala.

Palden Gyatso’s story was moving and his determination, resolve and simplicity invoked an epiphany within Justine that could not be ignored. From that chance meeting, Inspired Adventures grew. It made sense that our first ever charity challenge was the Trek for Tibet in November 2005 to support the work of the Australia Tibet Council. This first trip saw 20 passionate people take up the call to raise funds and trek the Indian Himalayas. Today, Inspired Adventures continues to offer trips to this amazing destination that invokes spiritual feelings and creates cherished memories.

The town and its people

The word Dharamsala is a Hindi word that is difficult to translate directly into English. A loose translation means ‘spiritual dwelling’ or ‘sanctuary’. The indigenous people of the area are the Gaddis, a predominantly Hindu group. Due to their nomadic nature and lack of permanent settlements, the Gaddis lost a significant amount of their land when the British and Gurkhas arrived to settle.

The Tibetan settlement in Dharamsala commenced when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and the Prime Minister of India allowed him and those who followed him to settle in McLeod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala). In 1960, a ‘Tibetan-Government-in-Exile’ was established and since then many institutions have evolved to protect precious religious, cultural and historical documents from Tibet. Today, McLeod Ganj has become known as ‘Little Lhasa’ (after the capital of Tibet) and many thousands of Tibetans call it home. Brightly coloured flags featuring a striking snow lion in the centre are ubiquitous. This is the Tibetan national flag, which flies freely in exile but is outlawed in Tibet.

Dharamsala has also become a thriving tourist destination for spiritual seekers, human rights activists, volunteers and genuine travellers keen to absorb the vibrant atmosphere and enjoy some scenic treks in the Kangra Valley.

For food lovers, Dharamsala is a-dream-come true. Not only can you treat yourself to tasty Indian curries, you can tantalise your tastebuds with the delights of Tibetan and Nepalese food. Momos (dumplings) are very suitable to the western palate and are available in abundance at street stalls and in restaurants. Thukpa is a rich soup popular in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Of course any dish must be washed down with a chai tea, a lassi, Tibetan butter tea or even a local beer.

For history and culture buffs, no trip to Dharamsala is complete without a visit to the Norbulingka Institute. The main building is shaped like the Dalai Lama’s traditional summer residence in Tibet. The purpose of the Institute is to preserve and protect Tibetan language and its rich cultural heritage.

The Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) is often the highlight of any visit to this region. TCV takes care of and educates orphans and refugee children from Tibet. It is now part of a network that has spread across India and cares for over 12,000 children.

The trekking

Dharamsala is the starting point for many treks into the surrounding mountains and in particular, over the Dhauladhar range and through the Kangra Valley.

A typical Inspired Adventures trek takes you on a five-day journey into the mountains and villages beyond Dharamsala. Starting with a 14km trek to the picturesque Kareri Village, the trek continues through mixed forests of oak, rhododendron and pine on to Triund, an alpine meadow located on the top of a high ridge. From here, the views are second-to-none: the perpetually snow-capped Dhauladhar peak on one side and the Kangra Valley on the other. Day four takes you to a shepherd camp at Laka Got, situated at the snout of a glacier. Caves and pastures dot the mountain creating a dynamic layered landscape unique to this area. The last day of the trek offers epic views of the valley below and the peaks above as you descend down a grassy ridge to the village of Bhagsu Nag where a vehicle awaits to take you back to Dharamsala for a celebratory dinner.


Read more about our adventures to India or visit the Inspired Adventures Calendar and find a Charity Challenge perfect for you.