Hello and Namaste to our Fall 2017 Himalaya Studies “C” students!
As we plan the itinerary for our program, we wanted to express our excitement for our fast approaching time of shared learning, and to give you some more info about the special adventures and experiences that await!
It is important to keep in mind that this is a tentative and flexible 12-week itinerary. Due to the nature of travel-study in a dynamic place like Nepal, which presents spontaneous opportunities for learning (as well as spontaneous challenges!), the specifics of the itinerary are subject to change. Additionally, it is our intention to base as much of our learning on your own study interests and to provide some space for student-led activities.
That said, despite the fluidity of our itinerary, all of our activities are built upon the platform of Dragons’ core values of Global Citizenship, Awareness of Self, and Leadership, and the essential program components that make up every unique Dragon’s experience: Comparative Religion, Development Studies, Focus of Inquiry (FOI), Home Stay, Independent Study Project (ISP), Language Study, Learning Service, Rugged Travel, and Trekking.
This is divided into weeks, but truthfully it doesn’t break down that simply. Some weeks, we will be moving into the next activity mid-week. It just makes is easier to present this way:
September 16, late PM – arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu!
Week 1 – Orientation Pharping. Pharping, an ancient Newar town that lies roughly an hour to the southwest of the city of Kathmandu, is in many ways an ideal place for us to give you the initial lay of the land of Nepal and our program’s expectations and objectives. Out of the hustle and bustle of the city, the quiet environs and slow local pace will help us recharge after long travel and to focus on getting to know each other and shaping the upcoming experience to your goals. We will begin language learning, and enjoy initial discussions on all aspects of Nepal, introduce the key aspects of our Focus of Inquiry, and our very full itinerary.
We will also get out and explore the Pharping valley with some modest hikes through town, to the ridge top, nearby important Hindu and Buddhist temples, and to neighboring villages, thus gaining appreciation of the sacred significance of the land through learning about popular legends and cultural norms.
Week 2-3 – Traditional Village Stay & Dasain Festival – Ale Gaun. From orientation we will travel west to our rural homestay village Ale Gau (the home of Ale family), located about three hours from Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city. We will jump right into the heart rhythm of most Nepali peoples’ experience by participating in everyday rural life, from early morning milking of buffaloes, harvesting fields, practicing village skills and crafts, and preparing dinner with our host families. Village life is home life for most Nepalis, as many people living in urban areas either remember their city when it was village, migrated from the village, or work seasonally between rural and urban life.
At this time we will also be doing our service learning project, or “learning service” and we will focus on Nepali language and cultural immersion as well as explore the area with longer hikes. Our discussions and activities will examine interrelated issues including development, environment, agriculture, education, economy, equality and gender..
In addition, fall is festival time in Nepal and we are lucky to experience one of Nepal’s most important festivals, Dashain – a nine-day celebration for the Hindu goddess Durga. Most Nepalis will travel to their home village for the celebrations, so it will be a special time of gathering and family.
Week 4-5 – Epic Himalayan Trekking. Having become somewhat accustomed to the pace and comfort of village lifestyle with our footing firmly on the hillside, we will break routine for an extended mountain excursion. Wilderness trekking leadership skills will be emphasized with the goal of students becoming competent to plan and lead their own future expeditions. We will further learning about how to expect the unexpected, and experience both physical challenge and emotional reward in a rugged remote environment.
Rather than merely passing through a series of villages, our trek will include insight into the variety of traditional lifestyles and cultures amongst various ethnic groups along the different bio-regions and altitudes we reach. We will climb to incredible vistas that are truly spirit-lifting and awe-inspiring!
Week 6 – Mid-Course – Tihar / Diwali Festival – Bandipur
After our epic expedition, we will head to the Newar hill “eco-village” of Bandipur to spend a few days to recover, and take time to place our experiences into perspective as our understanding and paradigms evolve. We will further develop student learning plans for Independent Student Projects, visit unique nearby villages, Nepal’s largest cave, enjoy more beautiful mountain views, and celebrate together!
Week 7, 8, 9,10 – Patan Urban Homestay
No study of a land is complete without a view of both its rural and urban contexts, to view the ever-evolving dynamic between the traditional and modern, ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped.’ We will dive deeper into understanding these tensions and discovering Nepali city life during our Patan Urban Homestay.
The city of Patan feels like a city as old as civilization itself, and local Newars boast the oldest living Buddhist culture in the world. The multigenerational communities of artisans there have maintained dozens of traditional expressions of creativity as their livelihoods, crafting high quality products for local use as well as export. We are lucky to have the opportunity to learn and practice with the masters of these arts, from mask making, wood carving, jewelry crafting, to music, dance, cuisine, research, and much more. Students will not only be able to learn and practice the medium of their choosing, but build long-lasting personal relationships with their teachers and the community, as well as study the spirituality and enjoyment intended behind the created forms.
While in Patan we will meet daily for further language lessons, guest lectures, discussions and guided tours to important cultural and religious sites in the Kathmandu Valley, NGOs, and institutions of learning to continue understanding the themes of our Focus of Inquiry. Students will also have time for personal and group student-led exploration.
Generally, on weekdays you will spend the morning at our Program House for optional yoga and/or meditation, breakfast, Nepali language lessons, a guest speaker or an instructor or student-led discussion, followed by group lunch. Afternoons will be dedicated to your ISPs, a project where each of you will delve into an aspect of the culture that most interests you. Weekends will be spent with your family and on student-led excursions to various places throughout the city.
In our final week in Kathmandu, we will wrap up our ISP’s, prepare for our ISP presentations, and host a big gratitude party for our homestay families and ISP mentors.
As a final note on our time in Patan: previous semesters have mentioned the following as being important aspects of this time in the city:
“Jeans, t-shirts and cotton clothing are appropriate for the urban home-stay; mornings are structured until lunch; students will use public transportation to move around the city on their own; you will have the opportunity to buy traditional or modern tailor-made clothes; language is a major component of the course; the city is polluted, dusty, congested and challenging, but the early morning is magical and Patan provides some of the most rewarding experiences on the course!”
Week 11 – Meditation Retreat – Namo Buddha Monastery
Since ancient times, the stupa at Namo Buddha has been considered by Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims to be essential to visit as one of the three most holy sites in the Kathmandu Valley. It is celebrated as the site where a prince gave his body to a starving tigress in order to prevent her from killing and eating her own cubs, thus saving the cubs lives and the tigress from the negative karmic result of the killing. It is said this meritorious act of compassion led him to be reborn as the Shakya prince who would become the Buddha, and is upheld as an example of the extreme compassion that is an essential training on the spiritual path.
At a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at Namo Buddha, we will participate in a Buddhist meditation retreat, a unique opportunity to directly encounter Buddhist philosophy, meditation and practice, as well as experiencing monastic life.
Week 12 – Transference
After our meditation retreat, we will travel to another quiet and picturesque location to wrap up our studies and experiences. Like all Dragon’s courses, we put great emphasis on ‘transferring’ the positive change, growth, and learning that we have experienced back home in a sustainable way. As they say in Buddhist teachings, “training should have an excellent beginning, excellent middle, and excellent ending.” Returning to Kathmandu valley, we will say our final goodbyes before our journey home.
December 5: Departure from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu.
For now, familiarize yourself with the materials Dragons sent you in the mail, and please introduce yourself on the Yak board by answering a few questions. Be creative and have fun!:
Tell us a little about yourself – What are you excited about? What are you passionate about in life? How are you spending these final weeks prior to our departure? Do you have any special tips – or challenges – you are encountering as you get ready?
Wishing you all the best!
-Your Instructor Team, Shanti, Sarah, and Michael