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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010


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Happy Holi!

This week, two students will share their particular Holi experiences. Here are some instructor photos of Nepalis celebrating the day.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Pictures of Holi

Instructors,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Happy Holi! This week, two students will share their particular Holi experiences. Here are some instructor photos of Nepalis celebrating the day.

Posted On

03/1/10

Author

Instructors

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The Kathmandu Program House is bursting with yogi's. Not only are there the weekly-rotated trio of karma yogi's, but there also exist an extensive number of yoga yogi's; on many occasions a person may be both types of yogi's at the same time. The role of a yoga yogi does not entail having to fetch food for the group in the mornings (like that of it's karma counterpart), instead it is to engage in the practice of yoga for an hour, twice a week. Yoga can come in many different forms, some well known types being iyengar, hatha and vinyasa. Yoga can be considered aerobic or non-aerobic, can involve quite a bit to very little meditation, but mostly it's goal is to strengthen, lengthen and stretch the body.

We are all very privileged to have Shannon, our well-practiced Anusara yoga instructor, to lead us in an hour of this practice on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7-8 am for the entirety of our 6-week stay in Kathmandu. The practice takes place in the high reaches of the classroom, the 9 students who fit within the space a beautiful view of the city and the barely risen sun, which only adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the practice. This past week we started with the basic alignments of the body, a fundamental part of yoga, and focused mostly on stretching out our bodies that were still quite tense and sore from the hike the previous week. That is not to say that we haven't experienced some heat, having our balance, our cores and our thighs tested.

Only a week has passed and I am already thouroughly looking forward to having these bi-weekly opportunities to escape from the commotion and speed of the streets or the city and our lessons. This hour is the perfect time to rest our minds and relax our bodies.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Sun Salutations

Montana Feiger,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

The Kathmandu Program House is bursting with yogi’s. Not only are there the weekly-rotated trio of karma yogi’s, but there also exist an extensive number of yoga yogi’s; on many occasions a person may be both types of yogi’s at the same time. The role of a yoga yogi does not entail having to fetch […]

Posted On

03/1/10

Author

Montana Feiger

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On Friday, February 26, our class was lucky enough to have an esteemed visiting lecturer come talk with us about the history of politics in Nepal. Anan Shrestha is a lecturer at the prestigious Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu and takes an active interest in Nepal's political situation, which our group has struggled to grasp given its complex nature.

Anan-ji explained the sources of Nepal's conflicts, which are many because of a strong religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage that has been present since the country's beginning. A monarchy up until 2006, the now Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is in a difficult place, with a Constituent Assembly expected to draft a new constitution by May of this year. The CA, however, seems to be gridlocked, and with so many political parties, ethnic groups, and religious interests to grapple with, it's understandable why it is an enormous feat. There seems to be no way to satisfy everyone: how can the new constitution and governing body agree with such a diverse populace?

In the 1700's, Nepal was not a nation state but rather a group of principalities constantly warring with one another. Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha King, set out to unify these regions by conquering each one, and finally the Kathmandu Valley. After a series of successions, another great power emerged- the Rana family, and specifically the Commander in Chief to the Royal Army. Because of his successes, Jung Bahadur Rana was able to begin a unique line of succession in the position of Prime Minister. Power was handed down from one brother to another, rather than the usual father to son power transference, allowing the Ranas to rule for 104 years. The Ranas ruled Nepal as their own vessel state, giving its people virtually no rights. In this century of dictatorship, there were hardly any developments in Nepal and even the King had become weak next to the Rana Prime Ministers.

Finally, in 1950, King Tribhuvan decided the Ranas had ruled long enough, and began a series of anti-Rana movements that were so strong the Rana Prime Minister at the time was forced to hand over his power to the people. A ministry was established, and finally, Nepal held its first general elections in 1959.

Unfortunately, democracy was still not established after the elections, because the Nepali Congress Party held the majority. King Mahendra then staged a royal coup, using the royal army to dislodge the elected government. Although his rule was controversial because it brought Nepal back to a monarchy, Mahendra actually took many steps towards establishing democracy in the country. He was a dictator, but used his power to develop Nepal's government under autocratic rule.

Nepal's political situation only became more complicated as it attempted to instill democracy, and we are all looking forward to Anan-ji's return when he discusses the next phase of Nepali history.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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History and Politics of Nepal Lecture

Alex Kryzanowski,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

On Friday, February 26, our class was lucky enough to have an esteemed visiting lecturer come talk with us about the history of politics in Nepal. Anan Shrestha is a lecturer at the prestigious Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu and takes an active interest in Nepal’s political situation, which our group has struggled to grasp given […]

Posted On

03/1/10

Author

Alex Kryzanowski

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Last week we began a discussion on Development led by our very own instructor Shannon. We began by breaking into three small groups and brainstorming about the idea of development and what that really meant. We were then put to the challenge of coming up with our own definitions of development in these small groups. This was no easy task.

In my group, we struggled to combine all of our individual ideas about development into an all-encompasing as well as specific definition. We searched for just the right words and finally came up with a lengthy definition that was a bit confusing in itself. Each group took a different approach to writing a definition. Whereas my group tried to compile a definition that could be used at any time in history and in any situation, another group gave a very modern definition of development based on Western ideals, and the third group gave a definiton which listed components of development. This led nicely into the next part of our discussion in which we came up with all the things that we thought were components of development, and further narrowed this list down to seven essentials. In no specific order, they were: environment, health care, education and acess to information, a governing body, human rights, resources, and economy.

Today, during the second part of our disussion on development, we again divided into our same three groups to attempt to prioritize these essential elements of development. This again was a difficult task. After we had done our best, we simply talked about the proccess we went through to prioritize these elements, and how difficult it was with only three or four of us involved in the decision making process.

Shannon then related our islolated exercise to the very real situation that is taking place in Nepal right now, in which 601 people are attempting to write a new constitution in two years. Added to the stress of deciding what to include and what is important to address immediately or with the most funds are the issues of political allegience, religious beliefs, ethnic ties, and threats.

This discussion gave us all a briefparticipant perspective into the issues thatare facing decision makers in Nepal today, the the issues that have pervaded countries in the past, and those that will continue to be present in the future.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Development Discussion

Sarah McKenzie,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Last week we began a discussion on Development led by our very own instructor Shannon. We began by breaking into three small groups and brainstorming about the idea of development and what that really meant. We were then put to the challenge of coming up with our own definitions of development in these small groups. […]

Posted On

03/1/10

Author

Sarah McKenzie

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Waking up to the cool, crisp air, up and out of the haze of the city, the group all gathered in a circle of cushions that were placed for us in the Pati (resthouse) of the Bhaktapur Guesthouse. Our 7:30 meeting time was planned out for our group’s introduction to meditation. Some of the group had previous experience in meditation, while others had never sit still in their whole entire life; however, everyone showed up that morning with a beginner’s mind, ready to simply sit mindfully in silence.

Shannon, our meditation teacher and guide, started out by teaching us how to sit comfortably. The most common way to sit is in the lotus position, which is very similar to the regular cross-legged position only foot is place in front of the other. The aim in this position is to have a completely straight spine, so that energy is able to flow freely from the base of the spine all the way up to the crown of the head. What our group found was that because of our tight hips and legs from all the traveling we had just done, a lot of us were sitting with our knees higher than our hips, causing us to slouch. To fix that problem, we stacked up towers of cushions to sit on, which improved our postures enormously.

The first kind of meditation that Shannon guided us through was a Vipasana meditation. We were told to focus solely on the breath. The first thing I became aware of while we were sitting there was that my mind was focusing on everything BUT my breath. I had to keep reminding myself to come back to the breath. A tip that I once heard from a yoga teacher I had in the past was to let the distractions and other thoughts pass through your mind just like how clouds float through the sky. However, the technique I found helped me the most was to simply count the seconds of my inhale, and then count the seconds of my exhale. Afterward we came out of meditation, it was very interesting to hear all the different techniques the others in the group made up to help them focus on the breath. Each person had their own unique way.

The second type of meditation we tried was a visualization meditation focused on compassion. We were told to visualize breathing in a dark, black smoke that represents all the suffering that exists in the world. Once our lungs and bellies were filled with this black smoke, we were to exhale a bright light that reaches out to all those who suffer. What I experienced after this mediation was that I was much more aware of other’s needs and less concerned about my own desires.

This brief introduction was enough to show me some of the many benefits of meditation. It was exactly what the group needed to start our own individual meditation practices. Knowing what we know now, we will also be able to get so much more out of our meditation retreat at the Kopan Monastery! Thank you, Shannon for sharing with us what you know!

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Introduction to Meditation

Susanna,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Waking up to the cool, crisp air, up and out of the haze of the city, the group all gathered in a circle of cushions that were placed for us in the Pati (resthouse) of the Bhaktapur Guesthouse. Our 7:30 meeting time was planned out for our group’s introduction to meditation. Some of the group […]

Posted On

02/26/10

Author

Susanna

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I'm not going to lie - I was incredibly nervous before first meeting my homestay family this past weekend. Even our laughter-filled (because of our shared apprehension?) homestay briefing in the afternoon did little to relieve my fears, but when I walked out and met my aamaa (mom) I knew there was nothing to worry about. She's a complete sweetheart, always calling me by my Nepali name - "Amrita!"- and making sure I have enough chia, or hot, sweet tea. I also have a grandmother, or hajuramaa; two bhaai (younger brothers); and the most adorable little sister, my bahini. My brothers love Western music and Japanese movies and we talk mostly in English, while the ladies of the house and I communicate in a rough mixture of English, Nepali, hand gestures, and lots of smiles - and we manage to understand each other well enough.

We were lucky enough that the first full day at our homestays happened to fall, for Hannah and I, the Dhapasi Heights crew, on our neighbourhood's annual community picnic. It was almost surreal in the way it reminded me so much of a block party or barbecue at home - except that we had tea and dal bhaat instead of soda and hotdogs. Everyone was in a great mood and everyone, even the grown men and women, participated in games like musical chairs and a form of pinata, in which we had to smash a clay pot on the ground after being blindfolded and spun around. We also played a racous game of bingo which involved a lot of yelling and our language teacher, Rajesh-ji (who lives in our neighborhood), calling out the numbers and creating lots of suspense for the crowd to feed off of.

The evening finished with a mixture of Nepali and Western music played on a boombox, with the women, children, and some of the more daring men getting up and dancing. My bahini wouldn't dare let me sit still and kept pulling me up to dance and spin around with her in front of everyone - I was a little self conscious but it was still lots of fun. Hannah and I were both totally worn out by about 7:00 though and decided to head back to our respective houses for a good night's sleep and reflection on a seriously crazy but awesome first day with our families.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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First Homestay Weekend

Amy Franquet,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

I’m not going to lie – I was incredibly nervous before first meeting my homestay family this past weekend. Even our laughter-filled (because of our shared apprehension?) homestay briefing in the afternoon did little to relieve my fears, but when I walked out and met my aamaa (mom) I knew there was nothing to worry […]

Posted On

02/26/10

Author

Amy Franquet

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While in Bhaktapur, we went on a short walk one day to find a quiet place to have a discussion about the concepts of religion and spirituality. We were all asked to contemplate what these words actually meant to us, and how they were different. Our discussion was filled with honest insights and personal experiences from members of our group. Defining Religion seemed to be easier for most people than defining spirituality. Religion was described as adhering to a specific text or performing rituals unique to one group, a collective experience, and a pathway to spirituality. Describing spirituality was a bit more difficult.

Dougie provided the group with the latin roots of the word spirituality, spiritus meaning wind. This went along well the feelings many people had of feeling spiritual in natural settings and in moments of natural occurrences. One person described spiritual moments as “gusts the come along every once in a while, that are so difficult to capture and describe”. Others described a spiritual person as someone who is open minded and who has a open heart, someone who believes in good actions, special moments, and quiet forces that shape our lives. Another person described it as accepting those things that are beyond the present. Two things that came up for many people were that spirituality was something more individual than religion, and that everyone naturally asks similar spiritual or metaphysical questions in their lives seeking answers, faith, or maybe more questions.

In our discussion, people were encouraged to present their views with the understanding that the group would be open and nonjudgmental about any comments made. It felt like a safe environment for all different perspectives, and contradictory or different views were actually encouraged to present more ideas for people to consider not only in this discussion but throughout our time on this trip and for most of us the rest of our lives. It was great to have this dialogue opened so early on our trip so that we can revisit and revise our thoughts and share them with each other as we move through our journey in Nepal.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Religion vs. Spirituality Discussion

Sushma/Sarah,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

While in Bhaktapur, we went on a short walk one day to find a quiet place to have a discussion about the concepts of religion and spirituality. We were all asked to contemplate what these words actually meant to us, and how they were different. Our discussion was filled with honest insights and personal experiences […]

Posted On

02/26/10

Author

Sushma/Sarah

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On one of our gloriously sunny days in Bhaktapur, we were given a very special tour inside the city's ancient wallsby the renowned Anil Chitrakar, a very friendly and energetic man who hosts more knowledge than any of us could imagine. Having his brilliance to guide us on one of our first site visits in Nepal was a gift, and after the tour, we were all able to look at the city, which we had explored the previous day on our scavenger hunt, with brand new eyes.

One of seven World Heritage Sitesthroughout Nepal, this medieval city is a gem, showcasing monuments and buildings built in the 12th century, the majority of which, after many major earthquakes, still stand today. What is perhaps most special about this city is that it is still functioning very much as it did nine centuries ago. While tourists have become a resource for money, Newaris, the ethnic group native to Bhaktapur, have put this money back into the city to restore its buildings and monuments, keep its residents prosperous and preserve it as a shining beacon of history.One of the first questions that Anil asked us was simple. What makes a city livable? What has kept this city alive for so long when so many other ancient cities were evacuated centuries ago? His answer was also simple. Water in, garbage out. With a carefully built water system, Newaris have access to water from community taps, called Dhungey Dharas, where runoff water from the hills and mountains congregates and flows 24 hours a day. The oldest water tap in Bhaktapur has been flowing since the 4th century, which we saw active that day, surrounded my women in saris filling up bucket after bucket. An adequate system for transporting the city’s garbage also remains, and keeps trash from piling up.Along our walk, we also found many reservoirs filled with stagnant water, which alarmed many of us as unnecessary and a health hazard. Anil, however, pointed out that even these have many uses, from putting our fires to keeping water tables in the valley high and irrigating land, also known as rain water harvesting.

Perhaps the most amazing feat of this timeless city has been its ability to restore and rebuild its intricate structures, exactly as they would have looked when they were first built. By having an artisan caste, complete with wood-carvers, painters, and potters, each piece of each building and monument is reconstructed after it starts to decay. Evidence of German foreign aid is found throughout the city, where wood has been replaced with what they deemed to be more economical and builder-friendly: steel. Newari influence, however, prevailed and is dominant throughout Bhaktapur’s streets.

Unfortunately, since2002, Nepal has lackeda government tofund and institute what the city needs. Manyrestoration projects inBhakatpur remain unfinished, and others not even started, as the city waits for someone to give it the attention it needs. May 28th, the day the new constitution is supposed to be erected, will be an important day for Bhatapur, Kathmandu, Nepal and all of its citizens.

We are all grateful to have had a mentor as great as Anil, and look forward to working with him, as well as all of our mentors in the future.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Bhaktapur City Tour with Anil Chitrakar

Katey Parker,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

On one of our gloriously sunny days in Bhaktapur, we were given a very special tour inside the city’s ancient wallsby the renowned Anil Chitrakar, a very friendly and energetic man who hosts more knowledge than any of us could imagine. Having his brilliance to guide us on one of our first site visits in […]

Posted On

02/25/10

Author

Katey Parker

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"The great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self…traveling is an easy way of surrounding ourselves, as in childhood, with what we cannot understand. Language facilitates this cracking open, for when we go to France, we often migrate to French, and the more childlike self, simple and polite, that speaking a foreign language educes." -- Pico Iyer, Why We Travel

Our first few days in Bhaktapur were also the beginning of our Nepal language classes. Nepali is a close cousin of Hindi, comparable to the similarity between Spanish and Italian. Our teachers, Nisha-ji and Rajesh-ji, have an intuitive teaching style, encouraging us to figure out the meaning of their Nepali rather than directly translating. After two weeks, I can pick up certain words in people's conversations, but constructing sentences of my own is still difficult. Pronouncing Nepali words is also confusing – there are four different "t" sounds, for example. Yesterday we learned angaharu, body parts, and I proudly demonstrated my knowledge to my host-family mother and bahini (younger sister) that night. However, I provided the greatest entertainment when they attempted to teach me the word for "eyebrow" – "akkibhoi." My English-trained mouth is somehow unable to pronounce "bhoi" to the comprehension of Nepalis, and after several tries, we were all laughing so hard that it was useless.

We can introduce ourselves – mero American nam Janet ho, and now, mero Nepali nam Jamuna ho. Like little kids again, we learn to say our favorite colors – "pyaaji", purple, of course! We ask how to say the most useful phrases for our homestays –"ukusmukus bhayo" (I am stuffed) and "mero pet sano chha" (my stomach is small!), as our mothers all seem intent on feeding us more bhat (rice) and chyaa (tea) than any person can sanely consume. We ask each other what time it is and how to say "my arm hurts because Susannah bit it" (she didn't, but we didn't know the word for anything that bites). Rajesh-ji shows us bowls of sugar, lemons, salt, and hot peppers, and we discover the words for sweet, sour, salty, and spicy hot (useful one!). We write in what my bahini refers to as "Britishized Nepali," transliterating the Nepali words into English rather than learning Devanagari, the alphabet in which Nepali is written.

One of the first exercises we did as a group was a type of charades, splitting into pairs and communicating to each other our hobbies, goals, and hopes for the trip, without speaking. Each person then introduced their partner to the group in English, and it was astonishing how much we had told each other without using language. It was a useful preparation for our time in Nepal. While the younger generation of Nepalis learns English in school and many Kathmandu residents have a rudimentary grasp of the language, learning Nepali is an indispensable part of our stay in the country. The exercise showed us that we have more tools than we might think, even before learning a word of Nepali, but the occasional comical miscommunications that were revealed underlined how important our language training is nonetheless.

Kathmanduma, Janet

(In Kathmandu, Janet)

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Nepali language

Janet Chikofsky,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

"The great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self…traveling is an easy way of surrounding ourselves, as in childhood, with what we cannot understand. Language facilitates this cracking open, for when we go to France, we […]

Posted On

02/25/10

Author

Janet Chikofsky

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In preparation for our semester in Nepal, our leaders asked us to read the article "Why we Travel" by the acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer and mull over the article's resonance as we began our journey abroad. Iyer, whom I consider to be a most effective and talented travel writer, explores the various cultural, personal, and even psychological reasons behind why some people find great joy in leaving familiar territory behind to visit or even inhabit the geographically unknown.

"Why we Travel" is an eloquent and well-crafted work that draws on both Iyer's personal experiences abroad and his creative speculation on the act of travel. The piece was particularly pertinent to our group, a community of young travelers eager to challenge ourselves personally and intellectually by immersing ourselves in a foreign world. The impression I got from the group discussion Nate facilitated on the grass outside the Bhaktapur Guest House was that the piece struck a chord in some way with each member of the group. Whether a passage was a reminder of a previous experience abroad or acted as the inspiration to ask new questions about our own homes, "Why we Travel" was largely the foundation for a refreshingly insightful and lively conversation about our own reasons for traveling.

I was particularly struck by Iyer's poignant remark that "travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology." To imply that travel has a purpose beyond the satiation of a personal curiosity brings a sense of grace and dignity to the often awkward and uncomfortable experience of travel (the in-country blunders, not just the act of being drooled on by your snoring neighbor in the aisle seat*). I took Iyer's statement to mean that seeing the true, unedited nature of a place is what makes it human, what brings life to the glossy, Photoshopped postcard image too many have taken to represent an entire place and all its relative parts. The dog excrement that seems time after time to find its way onto the sole of your Chacos, for instance, is not just an irritating mess, it is a whiff (pun intended) of Kathmandu's lack of waste management system, abundance of stray dogs, and opens doors for otherwise-obscured events: like the poisoning of thousands of Kathmandu street dogs with strychnine in an attempt at controlling their population. What ensued was gruesome and disastrous, and I'm certain will never be printed in a brochure in a travel agency- but "Come Trek the Magestic Himalayas" most likely will be.

In no way do I believe in undermining the beauty of travel in favor of reporting a country's morose tragedies or strife. Travel has infinite purpose, but one of its inherent abilities is the ability to bring life to an image and bring truth to a perception of a place that only persists because of its distance from home. For people who want to know a place and all its faces, beautiful, ugly, vulnerable, and real, it is not enough to simply gaze at the empty face of a mask. Travel strips a foreign place of its facade and in doing so, displaces perceptions whose sparkly lights draw the eyes up and away from the piles of burning garbage in the street.

Our group's discussion was not intended to create any one answer to Iyer's prompt- why do we travel? It did, however, provide ideas for building on that broad question on a personal level throughout our three months in Nepal. There are thousands of reasons to travel, each just as worthy as the next, but to me, the luxury of travel comes with the responsibility to really get to know a place (including its not-so-pretty sides) while still being able to admire and appreciate it. After all, it would be difficult to get to know a friend solely through looking at his or her Facebook page on a computer screen, so why should we treat entire nations of people any differently?

(*Just hypothetically, of course. Nick, you're safe).

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Saving Face: Why Stepping in Dog Excrement is Actually Significant in Traveling

Alex Kryzanowski,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

In preparation for our semester in Nepal, our leaders asked us to read the article "Why we Travel" by the acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer and mull over the article’s resonance as we began our journey abroad. Iyer, whom I consider to be a most effective and talented travel writer, explores the various cultural, personal, […]

Posted On

02/24/10

Author

Alex Kryzanowski

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