On this extraordinary gap year program, you will immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage and dramatically diverse environments of Nepal and Tibet.
Imagine soaring Himalayan peaks, fluttering prayer flags, big skies and stunning Buddhist monasteries. Nepal and Tibet are known for its rugged and spectacular mountain environment combined with its sparse population and stunning historical sites. This makes any overland journey across the Tibetan Plateau and Nepalese countryside both a spiritual and epic travel experience. On this gap year semester, you will travel across the roof-top of the world between Kathmandu and Lhasa, the spiritual heart of Tibet, 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 Tibetan 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.
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 Himalaya for a comprehensive program orientation with all program participants. There will be time to go hiking in the hills and begin forming the all-important bonds with our group mates.
We then travel to the outskirts of Kathmandu, to 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.
We fly to Lhasa, Tibet to experience the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism and its ancient cultural heart. Lhasa, meaning ‘place of the gods’, is one of the highest cities on earth, nestled on the Tibetan Plateau surrounded by mountains. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, change has been dramatic, with many Tibetans now living in exile, and as a minority in Lhasa. During our time in Lhasa we will be staying in the Tibetan quarter and visiting the historically significant Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera and Drepung Monasteries.
Departing Lhasa we take an incredible road trip across the ‘roof top of the world’ as we traverse the Friendship Highway back to Nepal. We overnight at small villages and towns along the route. We’ll visit stunning turquoise Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse, Shigatse, Rongphu Monastery, and Everest Base Camp at 5150m (16,900ft). Our final day on the road takes us across the border back into Nepal, to a welcoming riverside lodge in the mountain foothills, before returning to Kathmandu.
From Kathmandu we drive west towards Pokhara in central Nepal. This is 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.
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).
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 homestaying in pairs/small groups, in the homes of local families, 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.
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. We come ashore near Chitwan National Park.
Our last week in Nepal sees us 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.
We return to Kathmandu, then out to a low-key resort 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.
Note: The itinerary is written for the Fall Semester. In Spring the itinerary has the same experiences but the order of activities changes, so that the Tibet portion of the itinerary occurs later in the program when the weather is warmer and more settled. In Spring the itinerary is the same for week 1 and then to the village stay, Pokhara, trekking, rafting, Chitwan, Tibet, then program wrap.
*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 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.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Generally, there will be the opportunity to eat Nepali, Tibetan or Western style food. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the program cost.
* Students will get a Nepal visa upon arrival in Kathmandu