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Nepal Semester Student's Catherine Von Holt's photograph of the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.


Hi (Namaste) students,

Over the past weeks, we have been working to craft a program itinerary that is dynamic, immersive, challenging, and inspiring. As you’ll soon learn, travel in Nepal is not an exact science and we will all soon become Himalaya “travel yogis”, able to bend, stretch, and breathe into the unexpected events that can be opportunities for patience and magic on the road. Consequently, this post is to provide a sense of the main destinations, flow, and transitions for our program, but periodically throughout the program we will be posting more specific, updated itineraries, so keep an eye out for that.

At Dragons, we intentionally keep our itineraries flexible so that we can both take advantage of the unexpected opportunities which can arise along the way and in order to be able to engage with your individual specific interests. In other words, we don’t want our trips to be cookie cutter, but rather, to be adaptable to your specific needs and interests, as well as the realities on the ground. To that end, we encourage you all to begin thinking about your intentions and goals (as well as your interests and passions) so that you can arrive in country ready to communicate those. We’ll speak more to the logic underlying our itinerary design once we’re together in Nepal, but for now, please know that we’ve intentionally chosen places and activities to provide a progression of challenges and learning opportunities throughout the semester.

So with great anticipation, we present to you our tentative itinerary.

Arrival in Nepal (Jan. 24 – 25): Students will be arriving in Kathmandu through January 24 and 25. We will be posting a Yak to this board with more detailed arrival instructions closer to that date, so please keep an eye out for that.

Orientation in Dhulikhel (Jan. 26 – 30): On the morning of Jan. 26, after the whole group has gathered together, we will be driving about an hour and a half east from Kathmandu to Dhulikhel, a hill station situated on the rim of the Kathmandu Valley. For centuries Dhulikhel was an important trading center that linked trade between Nepal and Tibet.

In Dhulikhel we will have our orientation, which is a time to prepare for our four months in Nepal: getting to know each other, establishing routines and our group culture, beginning our study of Nepali language and other topics, and getting out into the area to explore and learn.

Learning about Permaculture (Jan. 31 – Feb. 1): After our orientation we will head east eleven kilometers to HASERA agriculture and research and training center in Patalakhet. We will learn about seed saving, sustainable organic farming, and permaculture while also getting muddy and sweaty in the fields. Here we will also start to introduce the basic structure and syllabi for the four for-credit courses you will take this spring (Nepali Language, Intercultural Development and Global Citizenship, Independent Study Project (ISP), and Regional Seminar).

Bhaktapur (Feb. 2 – 3): We will then head west to Bhaktapur, on the edge of Kathmandu city to spend two days. Here you’ll learn about local pottery techniques, explore the square, and start being exposed to Nepali Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions. Nepali survival language will continue and your Regional Seminar course (taught by Michael Smith) will start in earnest during this time.

Boudha (Feb. 4 – 6): Boudha is a a center for Buddhism in Nepal and for the Tibetan community in exile right on the east side of Kathmandu. It is a religiously significant place where pilgrims come from all over the world on pilgrimage and to learn. Lucky for us, February 4th is Losar (Tibetan New Year Day), so there will be activities around Boudha for a few days surrounding that. And on February 6th, you students will plan and execute your first student-led expedition/excursion in the area, beginning a structure of planned-excursions that will continue throughout the program.

Patan Homestays (Feb. 7 – March 12): Next, you will be entering your homestays in Patan, an old Nepali kingdom now located in the south of Kathmandu city. The city of Patan is filled with religious art and architecture and almost feels like a dense village in the midst of a huge, sprawling city. You’ll be staying with individual families and spending time getting to know them while also navigating the city. Though this time is quite structured it also allows for significant independence and autonomous exploration too.

The general structure and schedule while in Patan: The group will meet most mornings at the Program House for optional yoga and/or meditation, a group check-in, and breakfast (students will be in charge of organizing grocery purchases and cooking breakfast). Each week you will have approximately seven hours of Regional Seminar class time, nine hours of Nepali language class, and ten hours of Intercultural Development and Global Citizenship class. These classes will be held in the mornings and afternoons, probably five days a week, to allow the other two days to catch up on reading and assignments, and to have excursions and outings in Kathmandu city and outside in the surrounding valley. These classes are the main vehicle to dig into Nepali history, politics, development, environment, cultural topics, society, and much else. We will have lots of outings, site visits, and guest speakers from the local community as well. Students will also be organizing weekly student-led excursions around the city and in the Kathmandu valley.

Mid-Program Retreat at Nagarkot (March 13 – 14): After saying goodbye to our homestay families and the community of Patan, we will head east to Nagarkot a small, quiet hill town situated at the rim of the Kathmandu valley. Here we will intentionally take the time to pause and reflect on what we’ve experienced so far and set intentions and goals for the second half of the program. We might stay at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe which has some sublime views of the mountains.

Rural Homestays in Chaukati (March 15 – March 22): The second half of the semester will be more travel intensive than the first half. We start on that journey by heading even farther east to the small village of Chaukati to experience rural homestays, farming, and slow ways of life. Chaukati is situated on the edge of a couple different National Parks and Reserves and is within views of some of the high Tibetan Himalayan peaks. The village is situated halfway up a mountain and has about a hundred households. All the families are farmers (as well as some artisans and traders). They have terraced fields and plots on the sides of the surrounding mountains and grow most of their food there. The recent earthquake destroyed all but three of the buildings in the village. In fact, this was one of the hardest hit area in Nepal. They are still rebuilding, but probably mostly finished now. Until a couple years ago there was no road that went to the village and many people have never left the village or had seen cars prior to the finishing of that construction. But heretofore traditional ways of life are changing fast as products, knowledge and people from the outside world penetrate into the community. The village traditionally speaks Thami, a totally different language from Nepali, though most people in the village will speak the national tongue, and some younger folks will speak a bit of English.

We will be getting involved in many aspects of life in the village, including farming, house work, artisanal crafts, and experiencing the slow rural way of living. This experience may challenge your (perhaps unconsidered) ways of being clean, being busy, and being connected, and rush rush. At this time we will also be jumping into the Independent Study Project (ISP) course by learning about methods, project design, best practices, and ethics. This ISP course will continue through the subsequent trekking and Buddhist retreat portions of the program.

Trekking Portion (March 23 – April 1): We will use Chaukati as the springboard to our trek in the Himalayan Mountains. We are considering a few different trek options, but we also want to get input from you students on what type of trekking you are more interested in (a more wilderness camping trek or a more front-country staying in teahouses style of trek) and also how challenging you are looking to experience. Some options include trekking the Rolwaling Valley in the Gaurishankar Conservation Area near the border with China and just west of Mount Everest or in Langtang National Park which is north of Kathmandu and also borders China. The trek will be quite a challenge, but will also be super beautiful and rewarding!

Rest and Recover in Boudha (April 2 – 3): After a hard trek we will spend two days in Boudha showering, doing laundry, and resting before we head to our Buddhist retreat. We will be doing koras (circumambulation) around the stupa and in that reflective space prepare ourselves for our coming retreat.

Introduction to Buddhism at Namo Buddha (April 4 – April 10): Namo Buddha is a Kagyu Monastery (Black Hat Sect) situated above some small villages east of Kathmandu, built on the site where the Buddha was said to have fed himself to a tiger in a past life. We will either be asking a khenpo to come and teach us, or Namo Buddha will provide their own. The khenpo will be doing teachings on Buddhist history, philosophy, practices, community, ethics, and meditation. We will also be sharing all meals with the monks and participating with them during the puja ceremony at the monastery. These retreat experiences are often more full-on and challenging than students expect, so we will be briefing it as much as possible. Be prepared to have many of the ideas and values that you have (perhaps unconsciously) held up to now in your life to be challenged. Prepare to dive in! You’ll also be working during this time on finalizing your ISP project proposals.

Prepare for Individual Travel and Independent Projects (April 11 – 13): During these days we will be traveling to an appropriate location to finalize your ISP projects and prepare for independent travel to carry out your projects. It’ll be a time for you to put final touches on your project proposals, make travel and logistics plan, and final communication with the local contacts and resources that you need to carry out your project.

ISP Projects and Independent Travel (April 14 – May 1): This is the phase of the program where all of the skills we have been developing are put to the test. Students will execute independent travel to a selected location in Nepal to delve deeper into their ISP topic. The goals of this phase are two-fold: 1) to give students adequate time to fully immerse themselves in their ISP topic and 2) to challenge themselves to do so in a truly independent manner by organizing and executing all the logistics, communication, and budgeting that that requires. After the two-week period of independent study, we come back together to write our ISP paper and present our experiences to the group.

Transference (May 2 – May 8): Following the wrap up of all the for-credit courses we will travel to a beautiful location to close out the program. We might be returning to Bhaktapur or potentially going west to a small hill station in Bandipur, depending on the locations that students select to carry out their ISP research. Transference is a chance to reflect on all that we have experienced and seen, celebrate all that we have accomplished, and look forward to our next steps in life. What will it be like returning to an environment that is familiar after everything that we have learned and experienced? How we will transfer our learning and changes to the next stages of life? As all good things do, our program will also come to an end. After transference, we will return to Kathmandu and the group will separate, each flying to our next destinations in life.

Students Fly Out on May 9 and 10