News Reaching the Stars Jason Leonard was joined by Atlas Rugby Champions Simon Shaw, Percy Montgomery and ten other explorers at the end of March 2019.They met the kids in our project in Northern India before braving ancient Land Rovers and mountain roads, finishing with a trek up to 4,000m and a night in a trekkers hut. They were rewarded with a sunrise over Everest. Together they raised over £100,000 for this work, and other programmes that provide support for some of the poorest kids on earth. See more photos from this Trek Album See more about our work with Khelo Rugby and the Jungle Crows Khelo Rugby Expedition Blog Day 1 After several months of planning, lots of fundraising, and a steady build of excitement (and mild trepidation), it was finally time to start our adventure to India. The team assembled in Bagdogra, West Bengal, almost in unison and on generally good form, curious to learn more about the local project we’d be visiting that afternoon. After a quick introduction to the chaos of Indian roads and an eye opening journey through a mixture of towns, villages and rural communities, we drove through leafy tea plantations and arrived at our stop for the first night in Saraswatipur. We heard stories of leopards prowling the village streets, and an elephant which knocked down a hotel wall. This was true rural India. To describe the welcome we received as warm would be a monumental understatement. The entire village seemed to be out to greet us, and also to show us that the Jungle Crows really know how to play rugby! Both the boys and girls teams put on an incredible game and even the Atlas rugby legends were taken aback by the speed and handling skills of the players. The team handed out rugby kits and donations before officially inaugurating the community centre which Atlas is funding. The village was buzzing and dancing to the sound of drums and singing as the sun set, and it’s fair to say that it made a huge impact on the entire team; to see where Atlas funds are spent, what a difference it makes, and the gratitude of the young people. Day 2 The day broke with a dramatic storm of thunder and lightning, illuminating the plantations and rain lashing at the windows. We packed up and it was time to hit the road for the long drive to the start of our trek. We eventually met the end of the road, quite literally, in a place called Maneybhanjang. From here onwards in to the mountains, the only vehicles that could negotiate the rocky trails were 4x4’s. More specifically, 50 year old Land Rovers! These vehicles were basic and uncomfortable on smooth roads when they were new, so the ensuing couple of hours to our hiking start point were unbelievably bouncy. After a lunch on the trail, we kitted up and began our hike in to the Himalayas. The route was fairly unrelenting in it’s gradient, as we climbed switchback trails in to the clouds. We then left the main trail and followed cobbled paths through tiny villages and farmsteads, stopping occasionally for some tea and a quick break. As the afternoon drew in, daylight started to run out and a storm began to roll in, with flashes of lightning in the distance and becoming ever closer. We switched back to the Land Rovers for the final section up to the trekker’s huts at 3,600m where we’d be spending the night, at the 8th highest point in India. The evening in the hut was an absolute party, with lots of Indian trekkers singing and dancing - duly matched by a few rugby songs! It was a great night and the hours flew past as the snow began to fall outside. Day 3 The following morning we were rewarded with blue skies and breathtaking views that reached far across the Himalayas. We could see Mount Everest in the distance, and also the entire range of Kanchenjunga - the World’s 3rd highest mountain. It made all of the effort the previous day worthwhile, and the peaks kept their heads above the clouds as we began our descent on foot, back down the mountain. The hike down was just as difficult as the way up, with lots of knees creaking from old rugby injuries. Progress was steady though, and frankly walking was still a more comfortable alternative to the Land Rovers! We hit a wider section of trail much lower down and jumped in the vehicles for the final drive to the bottom of the mountain, before switching cars again and heading to Darjeeling. That evening the team enjoyed a well earned hot shower after the hike, and a few ventured in to town to a tea bar to learn about the regions most famous export. After a little souvenir shopping, it was back to the hotel for a celebration dinner and announcement of the next year’s Atlas challenge. Day 4 In what felt like the blink of an eye, we were leaving the mountains behind and heading back to Bagdogra Airport. But it wasn’t over just yet, as we had one last treat in store once we landed in Delhi; dinner at the world famous Bukhara restaurant. It was a fitting end to a whirlwind adventure, and one by one the team started to disperse their separate ways - onwards to Hong Kong for the Rugby 7’s, or back to London. During that last dinner though, each team member took their turn to share their most memorable part of the trip. Visiting the Atlas project in Saraswatipur had made a huge emotional impact on everyone, and became a very special part of the experience. It was an unforgettable journey, and we’ll each treasure our own memories from it for years to come.