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Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

Our Tentative Itinerary

Namaste, students and families!

As we approach the beginning of our program, we (Tsheten, Tsering and Brad) are getting more and more excited to meet you all in person. We’ve been working hard to create an itinerary and course progression that embodies the core values of Dragons, and we hope will result in a transformative and impactful course. We would like to share with you a tentative itinerary and course flow, and revisit some of the main components of our trip that determine the nature of our time together.

In designing the course, one of our most important considerations is the idea of progression. Our course will have three general phases: the first is Preparation and Skill Acquisition, which is a time to build skills, create group standards and expectations, and set our intentions and goals for the program. Then we move into the Practicing phase, during which time we continue developing these skill sets, and also encourage the students (you all!) to begin taking more ownership of different aspects of the trip. Our third phase is Expedition and Transference, which shifts responsibility and ownership mostly to the group and individual students, and forces you to rely on your skills, and one another.

The leader team’s design process also works in conversation with Dragons’ Core Values –  Global Citizenship, Awareness of Self, and Leadership– or “GAL” for short. We will discuss and revisit what these Core Values mean, and how we can all learn to enact them throughout the course. Using GAL as a framework is essential to our own teaching and leadership styles. These Core Values are weighed when considering a destination, mode of transport, lesson topic, and many other aspects of the course, from big-picture decisions to little details.

Please do keep in mind that this is a tentative itinerary and will involve change in plans. A meaningful journey is abundant in spontaneity, surprises and challenges. We trust that you will come with an open mind and an open heart to embrace the change. In these courses we intentionally leave some room for efforts to incorporate your aspirations, abilities and goals to the highest level without straying away from our core values. As much as we give our best in planning, it is intentionally a work in progress.

So without further adieu, here’s the tentative outline for our time in Nepal.

Week 1: Orientation in Dhulikhel. As you arrive your instructor team will be welcoming you in Nepal and we will then drive to Dhulikhel, a historical hill station town in the east of Kathmandu. Here in Dhulikhel, we’ll recover from our long journey, start to learn about Nepal (including some language lessons and cultural introductions), and get to know one another through orientation activities, discussions and time together to explore and play. Dhulikhel with its serene surroundings, thriving nature and vibrant culture will give us plenty of chance to witness the diversity of culture and its powerful expression.

Week 2 – 3: Urban Homestay (Phase 1). Welcome to Panauti! A medieval Newar city located about 30 km southeast of Kathmandu is one of the oldest cities in Nepal with breathtakingly intricate heritage and history standing the test of time in the ever changing and developing country around it. In the ancient period, Panauti used to be the trading hub along with salt trade route between Tibet and India. Once described as a town having more temples than houses, and more deities than inhabitants, this medieval town can proudly claim to be the fourth most important site in Nepal, after the three ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. The peaceful coexistence of Hinduism and Buddhism is evident at almost every corner in this city. You will be living with the indigenous Newar families, whose members are inseparable parts of its heritage. Panauti is a city of legends, fascinating history, rich culture, of artisans, a city of devotees, a city of ancient spirit in the modern world. A cultural capital of Nepal, we will spend our time here diving into our independent study projects with mentors, honing/practicing our Nepali language skills and exploring different pertinent topics with the group and with expert guest presenters.

Our schedule at Panauti roughly shall look like follows:

Monday through Friday, you will arrive in the morning to 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 lunch together. 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. Past students have done projects ranging from artisanal handicrafts, traditional paintings, religious practices, music, and dance. We will spend time each day engaging with our families and community. We will start learning Nepali language skills with a language teacher so that we can have conversations with our families. In the weekends you will be spending time with your homestay families and exploring the surrounding places through student led excursion trips.  Over the course of our Panauti home-stays we will take occasional getaways to interesting places nearby.

Week 4: Introduction to Buddhism. Following our first phase of urban homestay we will spend some time in one of the most renowned Buddhist Monasteries in Nepal. Here you will get to see full fledged practice of Tibetan Buddhism in daily life. From the chants going in the shrine room with hundreds of monks to the peaceful surroundings and crisp air blowing through this immaculate monastery complex you will be thoroughly inspired. During our time here, we will get to learn about the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation and teachings from a master (Khenpo) and learn how we can cultivate what we’ve learnt there in life onwards. 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!

Week 5: Urban Homestay (Phase 2). Following our monastery stay, we will head back to our urban homestay, rejuvenated and inspired, just in time to delve deeper into the community, connect more with our homestay families and partake in one of the biggest festivals in Nepal, Dashain!

Week 6-7: Expedition Phase 1 and Mid Course Retreat. Following the hustle and bustle of the urban Nepal, we’ll find ourselves in the high mountains of Nepal. A time for discovery, beauty, and deep contemplation- this is also the “Expedition” (X) phase of the program, when students can step up together to take on some of the leadership roles of the program more fully. X phase leads into our mid course retreat. 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, rejuvenated just in time for our trek!

Week 8-9: Trek. We will embark on a 2 week trek through Rolwaling Valley in the Gaurishankar Conservation Area near the border with China and just west of Mount Everest. The trek will be quite a challenge, but will also be super beautiful and rewarding as we explore the majestic Himalayas trekking through the terrains carved by rivers and graced by mountains. From sprawling villages to cold mountain camps we will do it expedition style, working as a team. The trek will challenge us on many levels but will be a wonderful tool to understand ourselves and others to create a compassionate and responsible unit of travelers to move these lands with humility and grace.

Week 10: Rural Homestay. 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 areas in Nepal. They are still rebuilding, but probably mostly finished now. 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.

Week 11: Expedition Phase 2. The penultimate week of our course will be dedicated to let you all apply all the learning that you have done to design a week full of learning, adventure and fun. The instructors will work as guides and take a step back while you take the reins of logistics, planning and curriculum.

Week 12 : Transference. We head back to Kathmandu to an area called Boudha. Boudha is a neighborhood full of Buddhist monuments and monasteries, Himalayan culture, and the Tibetan community in exile, located on the east side of Kathmandu. Joining the locals as they walk around the stupa, with the smell of juniper incense in the crisp cold winter air, spinning prayer wheels and watching prayer flags dancing in the wind, this last week, we reflect back on and celebrate our journey, our accomplishments, the bonds and the moments that we shared as we prepare ourselves for the journey back home. Transference offers us the chance to contemplate where we’ve come from, where we’ve been, and what we are now carrying with us as we exit our Dragons semester and transition back to life in our home-places.

Please do not worry, we will go through the itinerary in detail when we meet here in Nepal. Our aim here is to give you a general idea on the itinerary which can inform your preparation for the course.

Please keep checking the Yak board for updates and additional information. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us anytime. Also, please check your emails as instructors have already started emailing and scheduling pre-departure Skype calls with students. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us anytime.