Nepal 2014

Nepal, baby.

(Page updated: March 25th)

When: September 11 – October 26, 2014

Where: Nepal

Who: 8-11 students (ages 14-19) plus trip leaders Blake Boles, Hannah Hall, and Shona Warwick-Smith
A minimum of 8 students is required to run this trip.

How Much: $4500 includes all activities, ground transportation, housing, breakfasts, some lunches, and dinners.
International airfare, Nepal visa, some lunches, bungee jumping, and bottled water are not included.
How Can I Fundraise For This Trip?

Arrival/Departure Airport: San Francisco

Priority Application Date: March 1st, 2014

Application Status: This trip is full with 11 students. We’re no longer accepting applications!


Welcome to the Himalayas

Do you want to hike among the highest mountains in the world? Ride an elephant? Learn how to meditate? Meet some real Buddhists? Help children learn English? Eat exotic foods? Bungee jump? Experience a truly different culture?

If so—then this is the trip for you.

Welcome to Nepal, home of the Himalayas and Unschool Adventures’ newest destination.

Trip Purposes

Every Unschool Adventure trip is created with specific purposes in mind. Here’s what we’ll set out to accomplish:

Immersing ourselves in a non-Western culture

The best way to learn more about the culture in which you live is to immerse yourself in a totally different one. We’ll do this by staying with a rural Nepali family and volunteering at their children’s school; participating in an intensive 10-day Buddhism and meditation retreat (including 2 days of total silence) run by actual Tibetan Buddhists; and exploring the streets, temples, and food stands of Kathmandu, Nepal’s cosmopolitan capital.

Teahouse trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area

A “teahouse trek” is a unique form of multi-day hiking where you don’t need to take your own shelter or food because every few miles you encounter a “teahouse” (a combination boardinghouse and restaurant) that offers meals and beds. This makes hiking in the Himalayas accessible to people of all ability levels. Our group will undertake the 5-day Ghorepani trek, a moderately easy trek with stunning views of the Annapurna mountain range.

Elephant safari and Asia’s highest bungee jump

When you’re tired of all the culture and teahouses, two classic adventure activities await you at the end of our trip: an elephant-back rhino-seeking safari in Chitwan National Park and an overnight trip to “The Last Resort” near the Tibetan border featuring an (optional) 160-meter bungee jump or 8-second free-fall swing.

Self-directed exploration, relaxation, and mini-adventures

On every Unschool Adventures trip, we keep things loose and give you as much free time as possible to rest, explore, and organize your own activities, whether that means finding a great lunch spot, haggling for souvenirs with friends in a market, or taking a quiet hour to journal. Introverts and extraverts alike will get what they need.

Our Destinations

Kathmandu
Kathmandu Holy Men

Nepal’s cosmopolitan capital. Highlights include Durbar Square (where Nepalese kings were once crowned), the Garden of Dreams, more temples than you can shake a stupa at (some with Tantric erotica carvings), bustling markets, and restaurants featuring cuisine from across the world. The city’s annual Dashain festival will be taking place during part of our visit—if you’re not into goat beheadings, we apologize in advance.

We’ll visit Kathmandu at least four different times, giving you ample opportunity to explore the city. Our accommodations will be youth hostels in the tourism-oriented Thamel district, where we’ll enjoy easy access to restaurants and the tourist bus terminal.

Gaunsahar (Diamond Hill Academy)
Volunteering


Gaunsahar


Our first destination outside of Kathmandu will be Diamond Hill Academy, where we’ll stay with the family of the school’s principal, Shamser Thapa. Shamser has hosted traveling volunteers from across the world, but we will certainly be his first group of unschoolers.

We’ll spend roughly four hours each day volunteering at Diamond Hill by helping students with English homework and possibly teaching lessons ourselves; working on their farm; or doing service projects in the local village of Gaunsahar. Outside of this time, we may hike, learn basic Nepali language, play games, or just kick back. No matter what we end up doing, we’ll receive an eye-opening and authentic look at Nepali life.

If your family has any old laptops or tablet devises lying around, please consider bringing and donating them to the school.

Pokhara

Nepal’s second-largest city, Pokhara is a slow-paced and more scenic version of Kathmandu. We’ll stay in a hostel here for three nights, beef up our Nepali language skills at the Cosmic Brontosaurus, walk around the lake, relax, and prepare for our teahouse trek.

(Pokhara is also known for paragliding, but unfortunately their safety standards aren’t high enough for Unschool Adventures. If you were hoping to paraglide, save your money for an extra bungee jump instead!)

Ghorepani / Poon Hill Trek
Poon Hill Sunrise

Led by a professional trekking guide, we’ll embark on a 5-day/4-night teahouse trek in the Annapurna Conservation Area. During this trek you’ll leave any unnecessary items in Pokhara, carrying only your clothing, headlamp, snacks, water, and a light sleeping bag on your back.

The biggest highlight of the Ghorepani trek is the pre-dawn hike to Poon Hill, where you look out onto the rising sun as it casts a golden glow onto the Annapurna mountain range. These are some of the tallest mountains in the world, and it is one of the most epic views you’ll ever experience, and a great photo opportunity.

Trekking itinerary:

  • Day 1: Hike 4.5 hours. Stay at Tikedhunga (1,525m). A short day that provides extra time for any hikers still catching their breath.
  • Day 2: Hike 6 hours. Stay at Ghorepani  (2,775m). A tough but rewarding day.
  • Day 3: Hike 5.5 hours (including sunrise trek to Poon Hill, 3210m). Stay at Tadapani (2,650m). Keep an eye out for langur monkeys in the rhododendron forest.
  • Day 4: Hike 3 hours. Stay at Ghandruk (1,950m). Explore Ghandruk’s many museums, shops, teahouses, and distinct Gurung culture.
  • Day 5: Hike 5 hours to Nayapul (1,070m) and take a bus back to Pokhara.
Kopan Monastery
Kopan Monastery

Kopan Monastery is likely to prove the most rewarding—and most challenging—part of our trip. Founded in 1969 by exiled Tibetan Buddhists, Kopan is now  a thriving monastery with 360 monks and (in a separate nunnery) 380 nuns. As described on their website, “Monks and nuns from the age of seven come from all over Nepal and the Himalayan countries such as Tibet, India, Bhutan, Sikkim, and even Mongolia to attend this Gelugpa monastery, one of the best in Kathmandu valley, to receive a classical monastic education.” None of these students pay tuition because Western travelers like us come and pay money to participate in retreats and programs. Watch this short YouTube documentary to get a feel for Kopan.

At Kopan, we will attend a 10-day introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and meditation. With daily discussions and teachings led by both a Western monk/nun and a Tibetan lama, this will be the real deal as far as Buddhism is concerned.

THIS WILL BE HARD! No electronics or non-Buddhist reading materials are allowed during the course, you’re not allowed to leave (except for emergencies), and silence is maintained for half of each day. For two days of the course, total silence is maintained. By signing up for this trip, you’re signing up for an experience that may feel very new and difficult at times. A preexisting interest/exposure to Buddhism will help, as well as a strong sense of flexibility and open-mindedness.

The daily schedule for the 8 normal days of the retreat:

  • 5.45am Morning Bell
  • 6.00 Tea
  • 6.30–7.30 Meditation
  • 7.30 Breakfast
  • 9.15–11.30 Teachings
  • 11.30 Lunch
  • 2pm–3.00 Discussion Groups
  • 3.00–3.30 Break
  • 3.30–5.00 Teachings
  • 5.00–6.00 Tea
  • 6.00–6.45 Meditation
  • 6.45–7.45 Dinner
  • 7.45–8.45 Q & A and Meditation

The daily schedule for the 2 silent days of the retreat:

  • 5.45am Morning Bell
  • 6.00 Tea
  • 6.30–7.30 Meditation
  • 7.30 Breakfast
  • 9.30–10.15 Meditation
  • 10.30–11.15 Meditation
  • 11.30 Lunch
  • 3.15–4.00 Meditation
  • 4.15–5.00 Meditation
  • 5.00–6.00 Tea
  • 6.00–6.45 Meditation
  • 6.45–7.45 Dinner
  • 7.45–8.45 Meditation or Light Offerings

Chitwan National Park
Chitwan Elephant Safari

A Unesco World Heritage site composed of extensive forests, marshland, and grassland, Chitwan National Park is one of the top wildlife-viewing parks in Asia. We’ll spend two full days visiting the park and riding elephants on the lookout for Chitwan’s famous one-horned rhinos as well as wild oxen, monkeys, deer, and hundreds of bird species. Other animals in Chitwan—though rarely encountered—include leopards, wild elephants, sloth bears, Bengal tigers, hyena, and crocodiles.

The Last Resort
Bungee Jumping

A fitting end to a long and sometimes difficult adventure, The Last Resort is a gorgeous tourist resort set above the Bhote Kosi river, 12km from the Tibetan border. (In the photo above, trip leader Hannah Hall safety tests the Last Resort bungee system.) Highlights include tent cabins, a pool / sauna / spa, and Asia’s highest bungee jump or 8-second free-fall swing ($75, optional). We’ll spend one day and night at The Last Resort: short and sweet.

Everyday Daily Activities

  • Group meeting and check-in
  • Free time for exploring, journaling, and relaxing

Trip Map

Click here to view the map in a new window.

Day-by-Day Itinerary

  • Sept 12: Depart USA. Lose a day in the air.
  • Sept 13-16: Arrive Kathmandu. Stay in hostel. Deal with jet lag. Orient ourselves.
  • Sept 17-23: Bus to Gaunsahar. Homestay, volunteering, and language lessons.
  • Sept 23-26: Bus to Pokhara. Stay in hostel. More language lessons, relaxing, exploring. Meet trekking guide.
  • Sept 27 – Oct 1: Ghorepani / Poon Hill trek. Stay & eat in teahouses along the route.
  • Oct 1-4: Bus to Kathmandu. Stay in hostel. Explore markets, restaurants, Monkey Temple.
  • Oct 4-14: Tibetan Buddhism & meditation retreat @ Kopan Monastery.
  • Oct 14-16: More Kathmandu. Stay in hostel. Frantically check email & Facebook after 10-day media fast.
  • Oct 17-19: Bus to Chitwan National Park. Elephant safari. Return to Kathmandu.
  • Oct 20-21: Bus to Last Resort. Relax. Optional bungee jumping.
  • Oct 21-24: Return to Kathmandu. Souvenir hunting. Goodbye dinner.
  • Oct 25: Fly home. Gain a day in the air. (This date may shift slightly due to airline availability.)
  • Oct 26: Deal with jet lag. Miss everyone. Understand and appreciate your home country much better.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of experience should I be prepared for?
Nepal is not a wealthy country. You’ll encounter basic facilities, very simple bathrooms (sometimes just a hole in the ground), pollution, stark poverty, citywide electricity cuts, and the occasional nonviolent strike. And among all this, some of the most friendly people in the world.

This is a trip for teens who are prepared to experience a totally different—and sometimes challenging—cultural experience. It is not appropriate as a teen's first big trip away from home.
What are the extra costs on this trip?
Three month Nepal visa: $100
Bottled drinking water: $1-2/day
Lunch & snack money: $3-5/day. (You'll buy lunch for yourself roughly half the time.)
Bungee jumping (optional): $75 + $30 per additional jump
International airfare from SFO purchased through our group travel specialist: $1700
Domestic airfare to SFO
What’s the food like?
In Kathmandu and Pokhara, a wide variety of world ethnic cuisines is available. Outside these cities, you’ll find the standard Nepali fare of daal bhaat (curried lentils, vegetables, and rice) accompanied by achar (spicy pickles), chapati (unleavened bread), yogurt, and papadam (crispy fried lentil flour). Chinese-style chow mien (fried noodles with veggies or meat) abounds. Vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free travelers will find plenty to satisfy themselves. Meat-eaters may have to search a bit but will usually get their protein fix (except while trekking, in Guanasahar, or at Kopan, where it will mostly be daal bhaat.) Chiya, a.k.a. masala chai tea, is served everywhere.
Can I drink the water?
As Western travelers we will not drink tap water in Nepal but instead buy bottled water. Unfortunately, this means we will be contributing to a growing mountain of trashed plastic water bottles; we recommend buying in bulk (e.g. 5-liter bottles) to refill your own bottle and reduce waste. Students purchase their own bottled water on this trip.
Will I get sick in Nepal?
Most travelers will experience at least one bout of traveler’s diarrhea due to contaminated water and food due to low standards of hygiene. Most cases are self-limiting with a recovery period of a few days. Our staff will be ready to help you find bathrooms when needed, rehydrate, and encourage you to take it easy. (And maybe you’ll get to return the favor!)
What are the medical facilities like in Nepal?
Click here to view the US State Department's description of medical facilities in Nepal.

Kathmandu has the best hospitals & clinics. Our plan for any major sickness or injury is to evacuate immediately to Pokhara or Kathmandu.
What vaccinations and medications will I need?
Click here to view the CDC's recommendations for preventative vaccinations. For traveler’s diarrhea, we recommend asking your doctor for an azithromycin prescription. Malaria not an issue in the parts of Nepal to which we're traveling. But we’ll ask everyone to wear DEET in Chitwan anyways. Consult your doctor for further information.
How can I stay in touch with people at home during the trip?
There is plenty of internet access in Nepal, so your best bet is to bring an inexpensive wi-fi enabled device (something smaller than a laptop) and connect to the internet at local hostels and restaurants. There are also internet cafes with computers available for $.50-$1/hour.

Public call centers are available for long-distance calls. If you’d like to bring an unlocked GSM cell phone to use with a cheap Nepali SIM card, bring an extra copy of your passport and an extra passport photo. (Trip leaders will carry Nepal-enabled cell phones.)

We may be away from internet during the Ghorepani trek, and we will be away from all contact during the Kopan retreat.
How will we get around?
Our primary form of transportation in Nepal is bus. We will take private, air-conditioned, tourist-grade buses whenever possible. Travel to & from Gaunsahar may require public buses. We will avoid night buses. (Sorry, you can’t ride on top of the bus!)

Within cities, we will utilize taxis and auto-rickshaws, and cycle-rickshaws. We will not take any internal flights in Nepal.
How we will stay safe on the Ghorepani trek?
The Ghorepani trek will take us relatively far from professional medical care. Our trip leaders are certified Wilderness First Responders with a complete first aid kit, and we will have a guide who knows the local area and fastest evacuation routes. We will additionally carry or have access to a satellite phone.

In the unlikely case of an extreme illness or injury during the trek, we will summon a helicopter rescue using satellite phone. Without insurance, such rescues and subsequent evacuations to a hospital in Kathmandu, New Delhi, or Bangkok can cost up to $40,000. This is why we require that all students possess insurance that covers emergency medical evacuation. You may purchase a traveler’s insurance policy (typically around $150) to provide such coverage or go through your own provider (as long as it doesn’t exclude “mountaineering” or “alpinism”).

The Ghorepani trek stays at low elevation (nothing above 9100’), so the chance of contracting altitude sickness is very low.
How should I pay for things during the trip?
Many restaurants and stores in Nepal will only accept cash (in Nepali Rupees). Bring an ATM card to use at the reliable ATMs in Kathmandu and Pokhara. (The ATMs will automatically convert your dollars and spit out Rupees.) Smaller areas may not have reliable ATMs. We recommend that you bring an ATM card with a Visa or Mastercard logo on it, and ideally one from a major bank that will be able to provide quick support in case of an issue.

Don't use the ATM to take out lots of small sums, because most banks will charge $5 (or more) for every withdrawal. But also don’t plan to carry more than US$100 at one time, in case of loss or (very rare) theft.

Some restaurants and gift shops accept credit cards, typically with a 4% surcharge.
Why does this trip overlap with NBTSC Vermont?
For six years, we've managed to avoid overlapping with Not Back to School Camp (the awesome summer camp for teen unschoolers). This year, unfortunately, we must overlap. Kopan Monastery—one of the key features of the Nepal trip—only offers its 10-day retreats for Westerners at certain times, and the only retreat that works for our trip starts on October 4th. That's a day after NBTSC Vermont ends—we couldn't get there that quickly if we tried. Doing an earlier Kopan retreat would put us within the wrong weather window and potentially overlap with NBTSC Oregon.

If you're planning on attending NBTSC Vermont, we apologize for asking you to choose between two great choices.
When is the program fee due, and what is the refund policy?
After receiving your offer of enrollment, we ask for full upfront payment of the program fee. If this is not possible, we ask for a $1000 nonrefundable deposit with the remainder of the balance due 3 months before departure date. If neither of these plans work for you, please write us before applying to discuss options.

All payments beyond the first $1000 are refundable until 3 months before departure date, at which point no refunds can be offered.
What will we do in the case of a general strike?
Hole up in our hostel and wait it out. (We will not go "check it out".) Most tourist services, including buses & transport to the airport, continue to function during strikes.
Photo credits:
Kathmandu holy men: TausP. / cc
Kopan Monastery: Simon le nippon / cc
Poon Hill sunrise: square_eye / cc
Chitwan Elephant Safari: Nomad Tales / cc
Bungee jumping: Hannah Hall

Ask Us a Question About This Trip

Please add Contact E-mail in Theme Options > Getting started > General