Day 1, 2 & 3
Your arrival in Kathmandu, the capital of the Kingdom of Nepal. Our Sherpa Buddhist monk, Namgyal, who will be our guide on the entire tour of Nepal, warmly greets us at the airport. Our private air conditioned coach transfers our group from the airport to Kopan Monastery offering us our first glimpse of Nepal’s exotic culture, a kaleidoscope of new sights and sounds; cows wandering in the streets, holy men, rickshaws, shops, temples, street merchants, children and colorfully dressed women in their saris make up the intricately woven fabric of daily life in Kathmandu. For those returning to Nepal, it almost becomes both a spiritual and cultural pilgrimage. For first time visitors, it is an exciting trip of a lifetime. At the monastery, we check into our rooms, rest and enjoy the magnificent views of the Nepali countryside from Kopan perched high upon a beautiful hill. In the evening, dinner and orientation.
After a good night’s sleep from our long international flight, our day begins with breakfast on the Monastery’s rooftop dinning area and then a short hike down to Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery, home to the nuns of Kopan Monastery. Here we will meet the nuns, have a tour of their monastery and listen to them chant their devotional songs that can be traced back to the 10th century. Returning to the monastery for lunch, we enjoy the vegetarian cooking of a chef who has been preparing meals at Kopan for more than 30 years! After lunch, we hike down through a few Nepalese villages to Boudha, the site of the second largest Buddhist stupa in the world. Boudha has become known as Little Tibet. With the largest Tibetan population outside of Tibet, we’ll find it teeming with activity with many lively New Year’s celebrations and festivals during our visit. The Boudha stupa is a masterpiece of Nepalese architecture and is built on a three level mandala that we will climb and interactively explore. In the evening, we meet the abbot of Kopan who will welcome our group with an informal talk.
Our day begins with breakfast and a very special visit to the sculpture foundry of Kirti Shakya, a master sculptor of sacred images whose statues are seen in many monasteries and homes in India, Nepal, Europe and the U.S. For centuries the Nepalese have become famous throughout the world for their statue making and after a visit to Kirti’s foundry, you will know why. Here we learn the lost wax process and even have the opportunity to actually model the wax in our hands. Having observed how the sacred art is created, one now can really appreciate the masterpieces of Hindu and Buddhist art that are housed in the temples and monasteries of Nepal — the Land of Gods. After lunch, Kirti will lead our group on an insiders guided tour of the Buddhist temples in Patan — the City of Beauty.
After breakfast, we take our first day-hike into the beautiful Nepalese countryside walking through terraced rice fields and luscious bamboo forests to the small town of Budhanilkantha. Here we see an impressive 5-meter-high statue of sleeping Vishnu floating in the Cosmic Sea of Existence. From Budhanilkantha we continue our hike into the Shivpuri Watershed and Wildlife Preserve where we observe the various tree and plant life in this spectacular royal forest. Hiking upwards into the forest, we reach our destination – Tsun Gon Nangkyi Tongsal Ling Nunnery. Perched high upon a lofty ridge, we are treated to superb panoramic views of the entire Kathmandu Valley. With colorful prayer flags dancing in the wind, fragrant flower gardens and the melodious sounds of the chanting nuns, if there were ever a Buddhist paradise, this numinous place must be it! Here we get to meet and talk with these remarkable women, both young and old, who are just as curious about us as we are about them. After our tour of their peaceful abode, we head back to our monastery through the forests and fields. Land cruisers are available for those who cannot participate in the day-hike, or those who wish not to return by foot.
The abbot will give our group a short talk after breakfast explaining and discussing Buddhist sacred art and its symbolic meaning. An optional guided tour of the main prayer hall will be given afterward. In the afternoon, we visit Swayambhunath Stupa one of the oldest and most interesting sites in Nepal. Swayambhunath is an exciting and colorful site — a complex of temples, statues, pilgrims and prayer wheels and is sometimes referred to as the monkey temple because of all the monkeys who roam freely in and around the site. Climbing up the 365 steps of the eastern entrance, smoothed by centuries of foot traffic, we get our first glimpse of the 2000-year-old stupa that has become the most profound expression of Buddhist symbolism in Nepal. Similar to the Boudha Stupa, our exploration of Swayambhunath stupa becomes a real hands-on experience. Hiking up the ancient steps, turning weathered prayer wheels and watching the pilgrims and monks splashing the arcs of saffron paint over the stupa in a lotus pattern during the Tibetan New Year festivities is a fun and memorable experience.
After breakfast we travel into Kathmandu to a Tangka (scroll painting) studio to observe and learn the ancient technique of painting sacred images. We learn how the canvas is prepared and how the pigments are mixed. Watching the artists paint the vibrant colored Buddha figures with single-pointed concentration is a visual feast and a wonderful learning experience. We then have a pizza lunch in the Thamel section of Kathmandu and have the entire afternoon to explore, browse and shop in Thamel’s amazing market that is truly a shoppers’ nirvana. Wood carved masks, Pashima shawls, dolls, paintings, puppets, pottery, hand-made paper, clothes and brassware are only a few of the exotic items that can be found and bargained for. Thamel is a great place to collect souvenirs and a fun place just to stroll around. Our tour of Thamel concludes with an optional visit to the Yak & Yeti jewelry emporium whose proceeds support the Maitreya Project in Bodhgaya, the future site of the world’s largest Buddhist statue. After our enjoyable and stimulating day in Kathmandu, we return to our tranquil and peaceful monastery.
Morning excursion to Pharping, one of the most sacred sites in the Kathmandu Valley. At Pharping we visit the Vajra Yogini temple and the cave where Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, once meditated. His handprint can still be seen in the rock left of the cave entrance! At Pharping, the trees are filled with rainbows of multicolored prayer flags that have been offered for world peace and harmony. You will also have the opportunity to offer prayer flags in this centuries-old Tibetan custom. After Pharping, we travel back into Kathmandu to explore one of the most exquisite examples of Nepalese architecture and sculpture at a temple dedicated to Tara — the Mother of all Buddhas. From the Tara temple we are treated to an adventurous rickshaw drive through the narrow alleys and back streets of Kathmandu offering us a genuine window into Nepali urban life off the beaten tourist path. Our thrilling caravan of rickshaws takes us to a former Hindu Palace for lunch and relaxation before we return to Kopan. In the afternoon we return to Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery to learn the ancient Tibetan process of incense making. The nuns help support their nunnery by making incense and we will experience this technique first-hand by actually making the incense with them.
In the morning, we explore a Nepalese school and observe the Nepali methods of educating their children. Our children will have the rare opportunity to actually participate in the morning activities in each class according to the ages and classes of our children with their Nepalese student counterparts. This direct interactive exchange of cultural experiences will enhance both the Nepalese and our children’s understanding of the diversity of world cultures. This enjoyable and rewarding encounter with Nepal’s children will be a lasting and pleasant experience for both parents and children. In the afternoon, we visit the oldest Tibetan carpet factory in Nepal and learn the age-old technique of Tibetan carpet making. Watching the skilled hands weave the vibrant colors, bold designs in traditional motifs of dragons, flowers and auspicious signs, sheds light on why Tibetan carpets have become Nepal’s biggest export item. What is more impressive than even the carpets themselves, is the joyous and harmonious work environment. Contrary to the typical factory image, here grandmothers, and daughters can be seen weaving with a young child sitting in their laps and reciting the ever-present om mani padme hum mantra. It is fascinating to see how the Tibetans have transformed this common work space into a happy and productive place!
After breakfast we travel to Nepal’s third ancient city-kingdom, Bhaktapur — the city of devotees. Because there is so much to see and experience in Bhaktapur, we will dedicate most of the day to exploring its magnificent temples, palaces and market. This ancient city has remarkable examples of Nepalese architecture and has the most medieval flavor of the former city-kingdoms. With its relaxed and laid back atmosphere, it is easy to see why Bhaktapur is a favorite for most visitors to Nepal. It becomes an exciting and adventurous experience, to climb its pagoda temples, sit among the temple guardians and stroll its back streets and alleys taking in the brilliant tapestry of people who inhabit Nepal’s most picturesque town. Because no vehicles are permitted in Bhaktapur, its narrow streets were made for wandering and exploring! After our full day excursion to Bhaktapur, we return to Kopan. In the evening, we receive a farewell talk from the abbot.
In the morning, we depart from Kopan on a picturesque drive through the Nepali countryside to the small town of Dhulikhel that lies on a pass east of the Benepa Valley. Dhulikhel offers magnificent mountain views of the Himalayan range that can be seen directly from the balconies of our country lodge! We will spend 3 nights in Dhulikhel enjoying the pristine natural beauty of the Himalayan foothills. Each morning, we are treated to a stunning Himalayan sunrise over the massive snow capped peaks. After lunch at our comfortable lodge, we walk to the old town of Dhulikhel, a traditional Newar settlement with great examples of Newar architecture. In the evening, we experience Nepalese folk dancing and music around a blazing bonfire. Surran, our friendly and personable Innkeeper, will have all of us dancing before the evening is completed!
After an early breakfast, we experience one of the true highlights of our journey — a day-hike into the Himalayan foothills to Namobuddha, one of the most sacred sites in the Buddhist world. As we hike through wild rhododendron forests and tiny rural villages, we are accompanied by both, fantastic scenic beauty and sometimes by the wonderful Nepali children. It is believed that Buddha, in a previous life, encountered a starving tigress and her cubs, moved by compassion, he offered his flesh to her, a sacrifice that helped pave the way for his eventual rebirth as the historical Buddha. A stupa commemorates this event and is believed to contain his bones and hair of the Buddha to be. A beautiful monastery with a large stone Buddha statue and his first disciples, believed to be the starving cubs he fed, sits on a mountaintop with commanding views of the countryside below. For those not able to make this adventurous 4-hour hike, land cruisers are available to transport you to this amazing site. In the evening, we enjoy an outdoor BBQ and sit around a bonfire sharing the events of the day’s fantastic hike.
On our last full day in Nepal, we travel to the town of Panuti, a delightful little jewel that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. At one time Panuti enjoyed a prime position on the trade routes to Tibet. Today, the large prestigious temples and palace bear witness to its glorious past. Panuti is a real treat to explore with its friendly people, small town atmosphere and incredible examples of architecture and ornate wood-carved lattices. After lunch, an optional short walk from our lodge to a Hindu temple dedicated to Siva – the patron god of Nepal. From the top of this ridge, we have a spectacular panoramic view of the mighty Himalayas. For those who decide not to take this afternoon hike, our lodge has a number of beautiful gardens and comfortable terraces to relax and enjoy for the last time before our morning departure for the airport. In the evening, we have our farewell party.
After an early breakfast, we drive for the last time through the scenic countryside to the airport in Kathmandu and our wonderful Nepali Family Caravan comes to an end as we board the jet for Singapore, the cultural crossroads of Asia. We spend one night in Singapore and have the entire next day to explore this city of many faces before our evening flight home.
Depart Singapore in the evening.
Arrive back home!