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Photo by Scott Diekema, Nepal Semester.

Tentative Itinerary!

Hello 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 flexible itinerary (subject to change!).

Arrival in Nepal ( August 25th ): Students will be arriving in Kathmandu on August 25th at different timings. Please check the arrival yak that we have posted on the yak board for more detailed arrival instructions soon, so please don’t miss that!

Orientation in Dhulikhel- (26th August- 30th August). On the morning of August 26th,  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.

Our time in Dhulikhel will be an opportunity to slow down and intentionally prepare for our four months in Nepal: getting to know each other, establishing routines and our group culture, and getting introduced to 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).

Hasera Farm, Patlekhet- (31st August- 2nd September). Nepali family farm immersion, learning about agriculture and permaculture. After student orientation we will head east eleven kilometers to HASERA agriculture and research and training center in Patlekhet (www.organichasera.org). We will learn about Nepali cuisine, seed saving, sustainable organic farming, permaculture and visit a fruit tree farm in the same area.

Bhaktapur- (3rd September-6th September).  We will then head west to Bhaktapur, on the edge of Kathmandu city and spend a couple days there. 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 Intercultural Development and Global Citizenship, and Regional Seminar courses (taught by Michael Smith) will start in earnest during this time.

Boudha, Kathmandu – (6th September – 9th September). After that we will head to Boudha, a neighborhood full of Buddhist monuments and monasteries, Himalayan culture, and the Tibetan community in exile, located on the east side of Kathmandu. It is a religiously significant place where devotees come from all over the world on pilgrimage and to study and practice.

Pharping (9th September – 11th September). We will then visit Pharping, a small town Southwest of Kathmandu, which is also a pilgrimage place, both for Buddhists and devotees of the Mother Goddess (Dakshinkali). We will visit important and ancient temples (including a meditation cave!) and enjoy  both the spiritual as well as the natural environment of the place.

Patan Homestays (September 11th – October 16th). 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 learning to independently navigate the city. Though this time is quite structured it also allows for significant independence and autonomous exploration, as much as possible.

The general structure and schedule while in Patan: The group will meet most mornings at the Program House for a group check-in, and breakfast (students will be in charge of organizing grocery purchases and cooking breakfast). Each week you will have approximately have about four hours of Regional Seminar class time, 8 hours of Nepali language class, 7 hours of Intercultural Development and Global Citizenship class and about an hour for ISP. 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.

Introduction to Buddhism (“Tools of Happiness”) Retreat (17th October– 24th October). After saying goodbye to our homestay families and the community of Patan, we will head to Kopan monastery. It is situated north from Boudha on a small hillock that overlooks the valley of Kathmandu. The monastery belongs to the Gelug tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. The seven day retreat is going to be run under the guidance of revered Ven Tsultrim. We will be having teachings, discussion groups and sessions of meditation. 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!

Mid-Program time at Nagarkot (25th October- 27th October). After the retreat we will be travelling 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 (October 28th- 8th November). 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, a diverse community which is home to the small Thami ethnic group (as well as other more prominent Nepali ethnicities), 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 a few hundred households spread along the mountainside. 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. 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 (Nepali), 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 focus more on the Independent Study Project (ISP) course by learning about methods, project design, best practices, and ethics.

Trekking Expedition (9th November- 15th November). Saying goodbye to our second homestays we will head towards Pokhara. Where we will spend a day or two prepping for our trek and visiting the Tibetan settlement areas. From Pokhara we will start our lower Basecamp Mardi Himal trek. Since we are a pretty compact group it is easier to get accommodations at the local tea houses on the trail. The trek will be quite challenging, but will also be super beautiful and rewarding!

Rest and Prepare for Individual Travel and Independent Projects (November 16th- 19th November).  After the trek we will spend a couple days in Boudha showering, doing laundry, resting and finalizing 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 (20th November- 3rd December). This is the phase of the program where all of the skills we have been developing are put into practice. 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 (4th December- 11th December). 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 12th December and 13th December.