Cultural Discovery and Service in Nepal

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15555A, International

Highlights

  • Immerse yourself in the culture of the Nepali people
  • Participate in meaningful service
  • Explore Chitwan, Nepal’s first national park

Includes

  • Interpretive services of a local English-speaking guide
  • All fees and supplies for the service project
  • All meals, lodging, and in-country transportation, including two flights

Details

DatesMar 4–17, 2015
Price$2,995 (10–12)
$3,395 (or fewer)
Deposit$200
Capacity12
StaffStu Delacastro

Trip Overview

The Trip

Known for colorful and aromatic bazaars, ancient temples, inspiring natural beauty, and industrious people, Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley is a crossroads of Asia’s ancient civilizations and a microcosm of the entire country. Its three major cities (Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur) are a melting pot of tribal, ethnic, and religious groups that have learned to live in harmony. A cultural and political hub of the country, the Kathmandu Valley was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979.

During our 14 days together, we will experience what few others do: immersion in the life and culture of the Nepali people. We will also have the opportunity to contribute to the Nepali community through meaningful service. In the homes of our rural host families, we will wake to the melodies of the Nepali language and the warmth of hot, black tea. We will share meals of dal bhat and local vegetables. We will laugh together and work alongside like-minded people to restore and revitalize a local school. And we will know the satisfaction of changing lives -- acknowledging that changing the lives of others changes us, too.

Our adventure will not be all work and no play. Before the service project begins, we will experience some of Nepal’s greatest treasures. We will explore the vibrant streets of Kathmandu and Patan. We will also visit Swayambhunath (the Monkey Temple), one of the most sacred of Buddhist pilgrimage sites; Boudhanath, which contains one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world; and Patan Durbar, a center of both Hinduism and Buddhism that includes 55 temples and the Ancient Royal Palace.

After completing our project, we will stay in a comfortable lodge as we spend two days exploring the jungles and rivers of Chitwan, Nepal’s first national park. Endangered animals and other mammals as well as approximately 500 one-horned Asian rhinoceros and several Bengal tigers reside in the park. During our adventure in the park, we will ride the backs of elephants into the jungle; canoe the river in search of critically endangered, fish-eating crocodiles; and walk jungle paths to see some of the 540+ species of birds that have been recorded in the park.

The Project

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.  Margaret Mead

During our project, which has been selected especially for this Sierra Club outing, we will work with an environmental, in-country, non-governmental organization committed to responsible tourism through meaningful cultural immersion. Together with school families and community members, we will work in some or all of the following activities:

Information sharing/exchange: We will interact with rural Nepali students and teachers to share, compare, and understand the differences in living, education, and teaching methods in Nepal and the United States.

School renovation: We will help plaster walls or prepare necessary materials -- sand, cement, and mortar. We may also paint school walls, window frames, and doors.

Other important projects for the school and the children may also be part of our work days.

Education is important to the success of the Nepali people. Students often walk long distances to attend school. Our efforts to revitalize the school will help create a source of community pride and encourage children to attend their classes.

In addition to our work, we will have time to interact with local people, take photos, and get to know the host families. There will be opportunities to sing and dance together, learn Nepali words, and teach some English. We will never forget the friendly and hospitable Nepali people and their culture, as well as the companionship of our fellow participants. "Namaste" (the customary greeting that translates as "I acknowledge the god within you") will become part of our enduring vocabulary.

A portion of the trip cost will be used to purchase the materials and supplies for our project and to support the program fees of our community development partner.

Itinerary

This is our planned itinerary, but it could change due to weather conditions or other circumstances beyond our control. Our approximate day-by-day schedule is as follows:

Day 1: Arrive in Kathmandu. We will be met at the Kathmandu airport and transferred to our hotel/guesthouse. Our trip begins with a welcome dinner and orientation. Sleep in Kathmandu.

Day 2: Today we will enjoy our own guided tour in the Kathmandu Valley. We will visit the 5th-century Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath (also known as the Monkey Temple), with its 365 steps; Patan Durbar (palace) Square; Boudhanath, to see monks and devotees circumambulate one of the largest stupas in the world; and the Garden of Dreams. Group dinner in a local restaurant. Sleep in Kathmandu.

Day 3: Service project begins. We will attend a presentation at the headquarters of our in-country, NGO partner, where we will learn more about the organization and our project. We will then transfer to the village project site, where we will meet our homestay host families and be welcomed by the project school. After lunch, our work will begin, followed by time for a short walk before dinner. Sleep in a rural Nepali village.

Days 4-8: Daily activities at the village will vary and will be at the local pace and schedule of our hosts. Our typical schedule will be: Wake up with morning tea. Morning hike/village walk. Nepali lunch (brunch). Nepali language lessons. Service work. Afternoon tea and snack break. Service work. Late afternoon/early evening village walk, community interaction (rest, washing, bathing, village tour, forest tour). Dinner. Sleep in a rural Nepali village.

Day 9: Service project ends. We will say farewell to our host families and transfer to Kathmandu and the NGO partner headquarters. At the headquarters, we will participate in a wrap-up discussion about our project and say goodbye to our new project partner friends. We will have the afternoon in Kathmandu to rest or shop. Group dinner at a local restaurant. Sleep in Kathmandu.

Day 10: After breakfast, we depart for the Kathmandu airport for a flight to Bharatpur or Meghauli, located in south-central Nepal. We will then transfer to our lodging at Chitwan National Park. Group dinner at the lodge. Sleep in Chitwan.

Days 11-12: We will explore the Chitwan (‘dense forest’ in Tharu dialect) National Park. Some likely examples of available daily activities include: an elephant ride safari, a canoe tour to watch for Gharial and other animals, a jungle hike, and a birding walk in search of the park’s colorful and often endangered birds. We also will plan to tour Tharu Village (Badrahani) near the park and take in a cultural dance show. Group dinner at the lodge. Sleep in Chitwan.

Day 13: After breakfast, we transfer to the airport for a morning flight back to Kathmandu. Our afternoon in Kathmandu should be free to rest or shop. We will feast on a farewell dinner. Sleep in Kathmandu.

Day 14: The trip ends after breakfast. We transfer to Kathmandu airport for our flights home.

Photos

Details

Getting There

You are welcome to make your own travel plans to and from Nepal, or you may want to coordinate your flights with other trip members. Airfare to Nepal is not included in the trip price. Please note that many United States to Nepal flights may include an overnight stopover in Bangkok, New Delhi, or Hong Kong. Don’t forget, when crossing the international dateline you will lose a day. Be sure to check your flight itinerary carefully. If you’d like to extend your stay in Nepal, please let the trip leaders know. Our concessionaire can help with your plans.

A tourist visa is required for U.S. citizens to enter Nepal. The visa can be obtained at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. At present, the fees are $25 for a 15-day multiple-entry visa and $40 for a 30-day multiple-entry visa.

Please do not make non-refundable travel arrangements until notified to do so by the trip leader.

Accommodations and Food

We will stay in a comfortable hotel/guesthouse in Kathmandu and in a lodge at Chitwan. Rooms are double occupancy, with a roommate arranged for those traveling solo. As part of our immersion experience, we will stay in our host families’ village homes during our service project. Our village home stay will provide us the opportunity to experience the traditions, culture, and customs of the local people.

While in Kathmandu and at our lodge in Chitwan, we will eat at local restaurants. During the service project, we will eat typical Nepali fare with our Nepali hosts. Meals may include soup, rice, lentils, curried or pickled vegetables, fruit, and the occasional meat dish. Boiled water is always available. The leader will furnish each trip member with Micropur tablets for treating water.

Keep in mind that we are undertaking travel in a third-world country and staying far from the support services we may take for granted at home. We must be prepared to rely on our own and local resources for any problems that may arise. It may take time for emergency help to reach us. You are strongly advised to buy medical and evacuation insurance.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is of moderate difficulty and is suitable for the active traveler and those seeking to learn about Nepali culture and history. It is open to all adults, as long as you are in reasonably good health, get regular exercise, enjoy nature, and are excited about living and working with the Nepali people. You should be in good physical shape for this trip. As always, the better physical shape you are in, the more you will enjoy the trip.

Daytime temperatures will be mildly warm. Temperatures at night may be cooler, although the temperature climbs once the sun comes up. The weather is generally sunny, often with the day starting out cloudless. This trip occurs in Nepal’s spring, between the monsoon and dry seasons, and we can expect occasional rain showers.

Equipment and Clothing

On Sierra Club outings, participants furnish their own personal equipment, including sleeping bag, boots, duffel bag, a basic first-aid kit, toiletries, and snacks. Your personal gear should be packed in a duffel bag, not a suitcase or backpack. Be sure to carefully consider your real equipment needs. Traveling lightly is a great way to take the burden out of long-distance transportation. Try to keep your duffle between 30-35 pounds.

The leader will send trip members a specific and detailed equipment and clothing list that is unique to this outing. Any questions about the suitability of personal equipment should be addressed to the leader.

The Sierra Club provides water-treatment tablets and a group kit of first-aid supplies.

References

Books:

Your trip will be enhanced by acquainting yourself with the history, religions, and culture of Nepal.

  • Mayhew, Holden and Lindsay, Lonely Planet Nepal (guidebook), 9th Edition. An excellent overview of history, religions, etc., with good sections on Kathmandu.
  • Grennan, Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal.
  • Greenwald, Shopping for Buddhas.
  • Khadka (Editor), Travelers' Tales Nepal: True Stories of Life on the Road (Travelers' Tales Guides).

Conservation

We will partner with a local conservation organization for our service work. Their mission is to ensure the future ecological and cultural prosperity of Nepal and its people by maximizing the benefits and reducing the negative impacts associated with tourism. Their objectives include:

  • Enable sustainable development through outreach projects, training and resources in order to seek a more equitable distribution of the economic benefits of tourism for the people of Nepal
  • Conduct research and development activities on environmental and associated social issues

We will observe firsthand the positive and negative influence of Western culture on a traditional society. We will discuss some troubling dilemmas arising from our very presence. We will provide an important source of income and assistance, but do we perhaps disproportionately impact the local resources and lifestyle? We will see how luxurious our own lifestyle is compared to the overwhelming majority of the world's people. Some of us may question many of our Western ways, particularly our inequitable consumption of the world's resources.

Perhaps these experiences will make us better world citizens and involve us actively in the search for a balanced and sustainable way of life for all of us on this planet. If we open our hearts and minds, we will return home with a new awareness of the world in which we live and how we choose to live in it.

The Sierra Club has run many trips in Nepal over the past 20 years. Upon their return home, many trip members have become involved in third-world conservation efforts. Many find Nepal so fascinating that they make a return trip within a few years.

Staff

Leader:

Stu DeLaCastro has been leading Sierra Club outings for several years. A lifelong traveler with a persistent wanderlust, Stu has hiked extensively in the Western U.S. and is continuing his quest to explore Europe and Asia. Most recently, he has added trekking Italy's Dolomites to his travel log. Stu is especially looking forward to returning to Nepal. “To spend time with the Nepali people is a privilege,” he said, “Nepal is always surprising, always fascinating…” Stu enjoys introducing people to adventure and looks forward to roaming the world's exceptional places with you.

Co-Leader:

Joyce Taira was born and raised on the island of Maui, and never fully realized how fortunate she was to come from such a beautiful place. Although many would never have left the island paradise, Joyce was in search of new adventures and moved to the east coast for college. Currently, she lives in San Francisco and works for the Sierra Club. Joyce is passionate about the outdoors, and thoroughly enjoys hiking, biking, and kayaking in the Bay Area. Additionally, she has traveled to many places outside of the U.S., and delights in experiencing new cultures.

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