Imagine soaring Himalayan peaks, fluttering prayer flags, big skies and stunning Buddhist monasteries. Nepal is known for its spectacular mountain environment combined with some of Asia’s best wildlife viewing opportunities, a myriad of historical towns and the friendliest people on earth. And then there’s India… It’s like no other, unique by its architectural wonders, history, bustling bazaars, and spiritual traditions. Arriving here after peaceful Nepal feels like a blasting force of sounds, smells and colors, but in the best way possible.
On this gap year program around South Asia, we encourage our students to fully immerse themselves in the Indian and Nepali ways of life by living under the roof of host families, mastering the art of Indian cooking and Bollywood dancing, and practicing ancient meditation techniques that were taught by Lord Buddha. Apart from the culture, this program will also make your heart skip a beat with its diverse adventure activities and service-learning projects, ranging from trekking to Annapurna Base camp and community volunteering in the shadows of Himalayan giants to surfing on the Arabian Sea and catching the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world!
✓ Want to experience homestays in a small community
✓ Are interested in immersing yourself in a new culture and religion
✓ Love activities like yoga, wildlife safaris and surfing
✓ Are enthusiastic about wildlife and community volunteering
✓ Would love to go trekking through the Himalayan mountains
I can honestly say that I KNOW Nepal, not that I saw it as a tourist, but that I experienced all that it has to offer as if a Nepali myself. I can't say enough good things when it comes to Pacific Discovery. Now that I've gone through the whole process of looking into the program, signing up, getting ready, traveling through Nepal… and coming home… it is so hard to imagine any other way to see an area of our world. The experiences we had on this trip would be impossible for someone to have without Pacific Discovery's planning, and connections to people in the area. Every day felt like a dream; I will forever remember my trip as one the best decisions I've made in my entire life."
- Kara Barnhart
Our Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions and testimonials!
Namaste! On arrival in Kathmandu, you will meet your program instructors at the airport and travel together to Parphing for an introduction to Nepali culture. There’s no better place to delve into the culture than Pharphing, a small Newar town full of ancient pilgrimage sites, sacred caves and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. We will have some time to explore while we focus on getting to know each other and creating a positive and reflective group culture.
After a comprehensive program briefing, we head to a rural permaculture farm, where we will be introduced to various aspects of organic agriculture, sustainable development and permaculture. Don’t expect this to be in a classroom setting. Instead, we will be learning hands on by sowing seeds, thinning seedlings, planting vegetables, making compost, designing our own garden and so much more. We will also learn more about the Nepali culture and lifestyle by living on this family farm. This will be a truly immersive experience where we work, learn, and eat together with the host family.
We then head off to a yoga and meditation retreat, where the serene natural environment with views of the Himalayan range is the perfect backdrop for our restorative yoga sessions, breath work, mantra chanting, and guided meditations. During these two days, we will even get an introduction into sound healing, an ancient technique that uses the vibrations of gongs and Tibetan singing bowls to relax the mind and body.
After a few days of peace and quiet, we make our way to bustling Kathmandu. We will spend a few days in Nepal’s capital, which is set in a valley surrounded by the Himalayan mountains. We will master the rich flavors of traditional Nepali cuisine during a cooking class, but there will also be some free time to explore this vibrant city. We might wander around the maze-like alleys in Durban Square, shop for souvenirs at Asan’s bustling market area, visit a temple that is rampant with monkeys, or and talk to some of the friendliest locals around.
The next ten days will be spent living under the roof of a local family in a small village at the foothills of the Himalayas. 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 assisting the community on a development project they have initiated. This is particularly valuable to the community in the wake of the 2015 earthquakes.
During the day we will be working with community members on the project, helping them in whichever way we can, whether it’s by painting, doing garden work or harvesting fields. There will be wonderful opportunities for cultural exchange with our host families during our homestays, including helping cook meals, playing football with the children or helping them out with their homework, learning about local food production, and gaining experience in grassroots development.
After a few more days with our homestay families, we will transfer to Pokhara, nestled on the banks of Phewa Lake at the foot of the mighty Annapurna mountains, which was once an important town on the trading route between Tibet and India. Today, Pokhara is one of the most popular places to visit in Nepal, and is home to several Tibetan communities and the World Peace Pagoda. We will hike up to this holy pagoda which is located on top of a hill right above the Phewa Lake, and get rewarded with 360 degree views of the Pokhara Valley and Himalayan range.
We will also have some free time to explore the many temples and monasteries around, relax by the side of the lake, catch a sunrise at Sarangkot, or simply prepare for our highly anticipated trekking through the Himalayan mountains.
Pokhara is our gateway to Annapurna National Park, and an incredible journey trekking the Annapurna through the rugged Himalayas. Over the course of ten days, we will hike through glacial carved valleys, and overnight in tents or tea houses with local Sherpa and Tamang families. The trail takes us through forests, steep gorges, past glaciers, breathtaking lakes, and some of the highest mountains on earth, until we reach the amazing Annapurna Base Camp at 4,130 meters (13,500ft)! This is a starting point for high mountain mountaineers, and if we’re lucky we’ll get to see some embarking on their expeditions.
Traditions and Tibetan Buddhist culture is still preserved on the Annapurna Range, making it one of the best treks from a cultural point of view. On our journey, we will eat with local families in the tea houses and have the chance to glimpse into their lives deep in the mountains. The resting days provide our feet with some well-deserved rest and give our bodies the chance to acclimatize, but also provide us with ample opportunities to explore the prayer-flag alleys, Buddhist gompas, monasteries and other local cultural heritage.
From Annapurna Base Camp we descend back down towards Pokhara, again staying in small mountain villages. In the town of Jhinu Danda, we get the chance to soak in the renowned natural riverside hot pools, and explore the local handicraft markets of Chhomrong (keep an eye out for some Tibetan influences here). As we get lower, the air becomes more oxygen rich and slightly warmer, giving us a bit more bounce in our step!
After the hike we will enjoy a few days in Pokhara to rest and rejuvenate. This town is famous for its Buddhist monasteries, stunning lake and yoga retreats, so it’s a good time to put into practice the meditation and yoga practices we learned earlier in the program, before jumping into the next part of the program!
Next, we head to Royal Chitwan National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled at the foot of the Himalayas. Crocodiles, cheetahs, slug bears, wild elephants, monkeys and rhinos all inhabit this area, so we will have to keep our eyes open during our jungle walks and open jeep safaris to spot them. If we are lucky, we might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Bengal tiger! Bird lovers can also wake up extra early for a trip around grassland river, lakes and forest to try and spot some of the 500 different species of birds present in the Chitwan area.
Since we are fortunate enough to work with a partner in Royal Chitwan National Park that aims to create better lives for elephants in Nepal, we get to learn about their journey into preserving elephant rights and establishing an inspiring elephant welfare program that takes elephants out of the tourist industry. We will listen to the stories of our guide, participate in making elephant food, and simply enjoy sitting beside these gentle creatures while they graze, river bathe, play in the sand and walk through the bush in their massive chain-free corals.
We then head back to Kathmandu for a night before flying into Delhi, India! Be ready for your senses to be overloaded as we fly into one of India's busiest cities. We’ll transfer through to Agra for an early night so we can get up to see the sunrise over the famous Taj Mahal Palace. The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO world heritage site, for being the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage.
From the Taj Mahal, we’ll make our way just down the road for the next week to work at a sloth bear rescue center. This center is the largest sloth bear rescue facility in the world! It currently houses nearly 200 sloth bears in large forested enclosures with ponds and shady trees who have been rescued from the ‘dancing’ bear trade, poaching, ill-kept zoos and human-bear conflict situations. Our volunteer duties include building hammocks for sloth bears to rest in, constructing enrichment structures for play, prepping food and assisting keepers on daily afternoon feedings. We’ll love watching these playful bears rustle and play with the enrichment items you make for them!
From Agra we will head into the historic and bustling temple city of Jaipur, also known as the pink city because of its stunning pink colored palaces and temples. We will explore the city on a walking tour, learn about the temples and visit local spice markets to alight our senses. We will also dive into modern Indian culture with some Bollywood lessons! We will get adorned with traditional saris and turbans and learn to groove to classic Indian tunes.
We start the week with a flight down to Kochi, the capital of Kerala in South Western India, so we can experience the broad variety this amazing country has to offer. We will immediately feel the temperature and humidity rise compared to being up in the mountains. Kochi is a traditional fishing port, and we marvel at the mechanism of the Chinese fishing nets by the beach before continuing to learn more about Fort Kochi on a walking tour. We then compare the differences of Northern to Southern India in a traditional cooking class where we will become pros of the Indian curry.
This area is surrounded by lush forests, rice paddies and flowing canals, and we’ll get to explore them up close and personal on a hike to Athirapally Falls and a backwaters cruise. We will sleep overnight in a huge traditional shikkar boat, and will cruise the backwaters (a network of lagoons and canals) spotting wildlife, fish and seeing the traditional fishing nets and lives of the local communities pass by. We will finish the cruise off in Alleppey, known as the Venice of the East because of its scenic canal system.
From Allepy, we’ll take a local train on an overland journey south along the coast to Kovalam beach, close to the southern tip of India. This stunning beach is surrounded by palm trees and an ancient lighthouse, and will be our home for the next four days as we embark on a surf camp. We will learn how to ride the waves with a local surf club that uses surf to engage disadvantaged youth of the area. When we’re not surfing, we can spend time relaxing on the beautiful sandy beaches.
Upon return to Kochi, we celebrate and reflect upon our learning and growth throughout the program. You will depart Nepal and India 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 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.
✓ All in-program travel and transport, excluding flights
✓ All accommodation
✓ All meals
✓ All expeditions, activities, excursions, volunteer projects and entry fees as described in the itinerary
✓ Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
✓ Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism
✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves
✓ Certificate of Program Completion
High Activity Level: Anyone with an intermediate to advanced 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 fit enough to complete a multi-day trek (4-6 hours trekking per day carrying a daypack), and engage in physical work during the volunteer project.
Low Camping Level: You will be camping for a few days on this gap year program during the Annapurna Base Camp trekking, but you will spend most of your nights during this backpacking adventure in tea houses. For the rest of the program, you will stay in hotels, lodges, hostels, and of course family homes during the homestay portions.
Medium Service Learning Level: You will be able to make a difference to the local community during your stay. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some hands-on learning about local issues.
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; village homestays (in pairs/small groups); and some nights of 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 tea house 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.
It’s all about curries in India, accompanied with chutneys, raita, roti and chapti bread. Hearthier curries dominate in the north, while lighter curries, dosai pancakes and fish are common in the south.
Regular food to expect:
To make things easy for you, we partner with a full service travel agency that can arrange flights, appropriate travel insurance and post program arrangements for our students.
They have access to a "Cancel For Any Reason" or CFAR travel insurance for US citizens in participating states. This optional travel insurance product allows travelers to cancel for any reason whatsoever up to two days prior to departure and still receive a significant refund. This allows you to keep planning for the future while avoiding the stress and the financial worry of canceling a program if you need to.
Our program locations and itineraries have been carefully selected and modified to minimize risk of exposure to anyone outside the group with most being located in rural areas. This allows for a more focused learning environment, as well as a safe haven from the stress of our modern world.
We've been working hard and watching closely to any CDC recommendations about group sizes and testing requirements to come up with options that will allow you to have a safe, healthy, and stress-free Gap Year experience. We do the hard work so you can come and enjoy the fresh air, adventures, and new friends!
We have been running successful international gap year programs in Spring, Summer and Fall 2021. The students shared their experiences in testimonials and wrote their stories down in blog posts - feel free to have a look.
Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.