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Trek View on Nepal: Himalayan Studies Gap Year Semester with Where There Be Dragons

Namaste, Fellow Travelers!

Namaste, fellow travelers and luminous dreamers!

In just a few short weeks we’ll find ourselves together in Kathmandu, in the heart of a myriad of cultures and histories, overwhelmed by the newness of things and excited about the adventures ahead. As part of your Instructor Team, I am so glad you are coming with us on this journey. It takes courage to leave the comfort of what we already know, and courage to stay in the unknown, the new, in the “learning zone” as we call it at Dragons!

As we travel through urban neighborhoods, Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples, rural villages, goat paths in the mountains and the hospitality of our host families wherever we go, I can promise you two things: you will be challenged beyond your expectations, and you will discover things that excite you more than you ever thought you could be. Some of those discoveries will be about Nepal’s history, culture, politics, religion, and food (yum!). Some of them will be about you, who you are in the world, and how you decide to grow your own life path.

Part of my certainty about these two things—the challenge and the discovery—is because I’ve gone through a version of it myself. My first encounter with Nepal was during a study-abroad semester in college. I had been studying Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity), and decided I wanted to stretch my boundaries. Where could I go, I asked myself, that would have less of those influences? My finger stopped a spinning globe at the border of India and Nepal, and in 2006, there I was in Kathmandu. That first trip to Nepal happened at a tumultuous time for the country—the civil war was in its last gasps, and its evidence was still very much visible across the landscape and in people’s stories.

I surprised myself by feeling at home in Nepal almost immediately, though it took some time to learn the language! I learned more about myself and connected with more amazing people in those five months than I ever could have predicted. That feeling of home returned when I returned, to conduct research on a Fulbright grant a few years later. As a cultural ambassador, I also studied aniconic and “self-arisen” worship sites—places where Hindu deities and Buddhist sacred sites are worshipped without any human representation. A space on the ground, a rock at which someone’s grandmother dreamed the goddess Kali Mai said she must build a temple. Though I spent that year living in Kathmandu and traveling to many such sites across Nepal, talking with people about their experience of the sacred, the divine, and more, those years were also tumultuous ones politically for Nepal—the King was deposed and the monarchy dismantled. A decade later, Nepali politics are still in flux, but there’s a constitution, and everyone’s working to figure out what democracy means in a Nepali context.

These are the entanglements I find so interesting. Religion, culture, politics, stories, people’s daily lives. As an anthropologist (I finished my doctorate this year at Cornell University), I am entranced by the stories that emerge when just talking with people. All people, across the planet. This world, to me, is luminous with stories, with dreams, with connections, with possibilities. Especially in these times of political and social turmoil in many parts of the world, including the United States, it seems to me it is incumbent upon us to listen to each others’ stories—and to our own, though we might not always know what they are yet. Listen deeply. Listen closely. Listen with love.

So that’s my packing suggestion for you. Of course there are many things you will bring in your bags, but here, I ask you to bring a different kind of thing, carried in a different place. Please be sure to bring your listening ears, which you carry, if I’m not mistaken, in your heart (and I already know that those hearts have lots and lots of room in them, because you’ve chosen to come on this trip!). Together we’ll learn how to listen even more deeply to the luminous dreams of the world—of which you are a part.

I am so excited to meet you, and to learn and listen together.  Please post an introduction soon so that we can all learn a bit about each of you.

With gratitude,

Charis