Religious excursion is heaven on earth

18th June 2004 at 01:00
I'm stressed, exhausted and my suitcase is bulging with dirty clothes, Hare Krishna prayer beads and incense. I have just returned from my annual religious studies visit to London.

Why do I indulge in this annual pilgrimage? The truth is my students love it. And, to be honest, I do too. I will be reaping the rewards for the rest of the year.

I work in a large RE department in a secondary school on the north Wales coast, where we have opted to teach our A-level students Hinduism and Judaism. This makes for an interesting course, but it is sometimes difficult to explain how vital these faiths are in the lives of adherents when our students don't have much in the way of contact with multi-cultural Britain.

Thus was born the residential visit to London. This year off we went, with 40 students in tow.

One of the star attractions was Neasden Swaminarayan temple. The sight of such a beautiful building never fails to move my students. The welcome we received was warm and enthusiastic, and seeing Hindus at worship for 10 minutes was worth weeks of lessons.

If anything, the Hare Krishna temple in Soho Street in the West End impressed us even more. Here we not only watched worship but also got to play the musical instruments, dress up in saris and eat a fantastic meal.

The only boy in our group was mortified to be dressed up as a Hindu bridegroom, but secretly I think he enjoyed it.

I was also thrilled that, for the kids, the highlight of the performance of the musical Bombay Dreams was not the sight of the handsome hero and his large-breasted co-star dancing under a fountain of water, but the appearance of the God Ganesh on the stage. They were almost out of their seats in glee because they recognised the deity.

Despite their protests, we herded the pupils into museums - the Imperial War, Natural History and the Science Museum. I was determined to send them home with something more to tell their parents than that they had spotted the lead singer from Coldplay.

Of course there were lows. The hotel was vile and had cockroaches. The coach driver had never been to London before and we had to rely on my map-reading skills. But every time I go out on a visit I recall the words of a tutor from my trainee days: "Classroom teaching is the bread and butter of the job - the trips are the jam." I have a sweet tooth. I'll take more jam.

Dawn Jones teaches RE at Prestatyn high school in Gwynnedd

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