On this extraordinary gap year program, you will immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage and dramatically diverse environments of Nepal.
Imagine soaring Himalayan peaks, fluttering prayer flags, big skies and stunning Buddhist monasteries. Nepal is known for its rugged and spectacular mountain environment combined with its sparse population and stunning historical sites. This makes any overland journey across the Nepalese countryside both a spiritual and epic travel experience. On this gap year semester, you will travel across the roof-top of the world, through incredible landscapes, amazing historic sites, and a visit to Everest Base Camp.
Experience Nepali language and culture immersion while home-staying in a rural village and volunteering on a valuable community development project, trek the Annapurna Circuit in the shadow of Himalayan giants, study yoga, meditation and Buddhism while living at a small monastery, and raft one of the world’s top river journeys down the Kali Gandaki River.
This gap semester program is perfect for high school graduates, college graduates, and gap year students, ideally 17 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.
**This is a guide to what you can expect to do on Program. The order in which the activities occur might vary**
On arrival in Kathmandu, you will be met and welcomed by your Program Instructors. We travel to a peaceful village in the foothills of the Himalayas for a comprehensive program orientation with all program participants. Nargakot, known for its views of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest, which are especially striking at sunrise and sunset. The surrounding scrubland is laced with trails and home to many butterflies. To the west is the ancient, pagoda-style Changunarayan Temple, dedicated to Vishnu and a Hindu pilgrimage site.There will be time to go hiking in the hills and you will begin forming the all-important bonds with our group mates, before we make our way to the starting point of an epic hike in Langtang National Park.
The Himalayas are a staple of Nepal, and you get to see them from nearby as you start your multi-day hike through Langtang National Park. On your trek up, you will be stunned by the ancient forests, mountain streams, grassy meadows, glaciers and of course the snow-capped mountains. The terrain is mountainous but not precipitous with forests, terraced hill slopes and valley paths leading to high pastures and eventually the moraine of the glaciers and peaks. This is a peaceful trek, with the history, culture and scenic beauty that Nepal is famous for. It has an air of remoteness and visitors frequently mention this mixture of adventure and mystery, culture and there's lots of wildlife to see.
You might even spot some of Nepal’s wildlife as your make your way through the Langtang Valley. This is the home of the snow partridge, langur monkey and Himalayan tahr, so keep your eyes open!
Next up, we visit Royal Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will learn about the significant threats facing Nepal’s wildlife and habitats, try spotting endangered rhino, and spend time learning about the local Tharu culture through working alongside local villagers.
Nestled at the foot of the Himalayas, Chitwan has a particularly rich flora and fauna and is home to one of the last populations of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros and is also one of the last refuges of the Bengal Tiger. Chitwan National Park (CNP), established in 1973, was Nepal’s first National Park. Located in the Southern Central Terai of Nepal, it formerly extended over the foothills, the property covers an area of 93,200 hectares, extends over four districts: Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Parsa, and Makwanpur.
The park is the last surviving example of the natural ecosystems of the ‘Terai’ region and covers subtropical lowland, wedged between two east-west river valleys at the base of the Siwalik range of the outer Himalayas.
Our time will be spent in a small village in the foothills of the Himalayas, west of Pokhara. There are few roads in the area, and we will walk 30 minutes from the nearest road to our village. We will be immersing ourselves in Nepali culture and language, and assisting the community on a development project they’ve initiated. This is particularly valuable to the community in the wake of the April 2015 earthquakes.
During the day we will be working with community members on the project. There will be wonderful opportunities for cultural exchange, including helping cook meals, learning about local food production, learning the Nepali language and gaining experience in grassroots development.
Pokhara is nestled on the banks of Lake Phew Tal at the foot of the mighty Annapurna mountains, and once an important town on the trading route between Tibet and India, it was accessible by foot only until the late 1960s. Today, Pokhara is one of the most popular places to visit in Nepal, and is home to the World Peace Pagoda and several Tibetan communities. It has unbeatable views of the towering mountains nearby.
We spend several days in Pokhara exploring the sights, doing a cycling daytrip, and learning about issues facing disadvantaged women in Nepal, at a local NGO (non-governmental organization).
From Pokhara we embark on a 6-day rafting journey down the lower Kali Gandaki River. Named after “Kali” the goddess of destruction, the Kaligandaki is said to be one of Nepal’s most holy rivers. Beginning its journey high on the Tibetan Plateau in Mustang, the “Mighty Kali” plunges down through the Himalayas, carving into one of the deepest gorges in the world between Dhaulagiri and Annapurna.
With exciting white water rapids, spectacular mountain views, traditional villages, endless suspension bridges, waterfalls, a jungle corridor rich in wildlife, deep gorges, cultural temples and beautiful white sandy beaches for camping, this has to be one of the best all round river adventures in Nepal.
Pokhara is also our gateway to Annapurna National Park, and an incredible journey trekking the Annapurna Circuit through the rugged Himalayas. Over two weeks we make a gradual acclimatization to altitude. We trek through glacial carved valleys, overnighting in small lodges and tea-houses with Sherpa and Tamang families. The trail takes us through rhododendron forests, steep gorges, past glaciers, breath-taking lakes, and some of the highest mountains on earth.
Hiking Nepal's Annapurna Circuit is one of the most stunningly beautiful, life-changing experiences you can have on your travels, and you'll be absolutely captivated by the area from the very first day.
Winding through some of the world's tallest mountains and diverse climatic zones (from tropical to freezing alpine peaks), intensive days spent on your feet, and enjoying the beautiful hospitality of the Nepalese people and their quaint mountain villages: the days you'll spend on the Annapurna Circuit trail are some of the most inspiring and challenging you'll ever encounter.
Our last week in Nepal sees us visit a monastery for a fantastic 3-day yoga and meditation retreat. We’ll also have an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and gain insight into life in a Buddhist monastery.
Tibetan Buddhist practice features a number of rituals, and spiritual practices such as the use of mantras and yogic techniques.
Supernatural beings are prominent in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhas and bodhisattvas abound, gods and spirits taken from earlier Tibetan religions continue to be taken seriously.
This metaphysical context has allowed Tibetan Buddhism to develop a strong artistic tradition, and paintings and other graphics are used as aids to understanding at all levels of society.
We return to Kathmandu, to celebrate and reflect upon our learning and growth throughout the program. You will depart Nepal a different person, touched by the people, places and experiences you’ve encountered, and with an intimate understanding of the complex issues facing our environments and indigenous cultures.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the locations, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
This gap year program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and non-students, ideally 17-22 years old. Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap semester! You will need to be prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like tree planting, painting or trail building. You don’t need to have had previous experience with travel or any of the activities offered, but it is important you have a ‘can do’ positive attitude.
This gap semester is challenging and rewarding. Students need to be interested in engaging with local people, pursuing new experiences, pushing personal boundaries, be fit enough to complete a 16-day trek (4-6 hours trekking per day carrying a daypack), and engage in physical work during the volunteer project.
The program is a shared group experience. Join this program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs. Our accommodation will be a mixture of comfortable and clean hostels and simple trekking lodges: 12 nights village homestay (homestay in pairs/small groups, in the homes of vetted local families), 3 nights at a Buddhist Monastery guesthouse, 8 nights camping (tents supplied). Laundry and Wi-Fi will be available approximately once per week, except while on expedition.
The traditional food of Nepal is Dhal Bhat - essentially a lentil curry and rice. You’ll find this at every teahouse and is often accompanied with achar (pickle), various cooked vegetables, chapati bread and chilli.
While up in the mountain areas, refrigeration is scarce and consequently many people choose to eat vegetarian for food safety reasons. The lack of refrigeration also means that dairy foods are rare. As you ascend higher into the mountains, variety reduces and food becomes more expensive.
Special foods to try: Dhal bhat, Momos (dumplings)
Regular food to expect:
Breakfast: toast and spreads, boiled eggs, oatmeal
Lunch: omelettes, soups, boiled eggs, momos, popcorn, dhal bhat, rice, toasted sandwiches, chapati bread (a type of flatbread), samosas
Dinner: curries, dhal bhat, rice, soups, thukpa (noodle soup), pasta and noodles, fried rice, potatoes, omelettes