University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Global and Regional Studies Program


UVM junior Luke Dorfman shares his unforgettable Nepal experience from summer 2012...

Stepping off the plane at Kathmandu airport served as a watershed in my experience of Nepal.  Until then, I held preconceived, even romantic notions of the country – of majestic mountains, remote Buddhist monasteries, a modern-day Shangri-La.  For two weeks prior to the trip, I had been immersed in classroom lectures on UVM’s campus as part of the UVM travel course, “Nepal: Changing Communities.”  Professor Abby McGowan and UVM alumnus Lisa Colon had introduced our class to Nepal’s history, geography, politics, and environment.  In particular, we focused on the northern Himalayan region of Mustang, more colloquially known as the Kingdom of Lo, a land of high alpine desert where we would spend the majority of our trip trekking.

The most valuable learning experience began once we arrived in the country.  From Kathmandu airport, we headed out into the chaos of the capital city’s streets, an unfamiliar world.  Our journey did not end in Kathmandu.  Within hours, we departed for Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city, located in the foothills of Annapurna.

Luke Dorfman looking down at Lo ManthangHere, we recuperated from our jetlag and prepared for our mountain trek.  From Pokhara, we made our way to Mustang.  Flying in small, 20-seater planes, we soared up through the Kali Gandaki river valley toward Jomsom.  The sheer scale of the mountains – the Annapurna range on one side, the Dhaulagiri massif on the other – was awe-inspiring, though a bit unnerving as we sat looking through the small windows of our tiny plane.  We landed in Jomsom, one of the largest villages in Mustang, and came face-to-face with Nilgiri, an astonishingly beautiful mountain that would serve as a landmark for our entire trek. 

Luke looking down on Lo Manthang

As we headed toward the remote Mustang capital of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, we acclimatized to our new way of life: the unsettled feeling of high altitude; Nepali cuisine; and the less-than-pleasant bathroom experiences – all uncomfortable at the time, but sources of humor upon reflection.  Our feet and muscles memorized the long hours of trek along sandy paths, surrounded by remote mountains.  We felt completely isolated from the rest of the world. Buddhist Monastery

This article is too short to convey all the wonderful sights and sounds, exotic tastes and smells we experienced on our trek: the vivid colors of the Buddhist monasteries, the laughter of preschool children playing with chalk we had brought them; the slaughter of a goat for a feast in our honor; the smile of a young boy new to the sport of Frisbee; the crisp mountain air at dawn.



At monastery near Pokhara

My most memorable experiences were drawn from interactions with people we spent time with on our journey – our wholeheartedly kind and remarkably funny Nepalese guides – and with people we encountered along the way – curious village children, devoted pilgrims walking barefoot for miles, the welcoming and hospitableLead Guid Tsewang Bista Buddhist monks.  I valued the beauty of Loba culture, which is rooted in Tibetan Buddhist history, and the opportunity to learn firsthand from community activists about the restoration of their monasteries and their efforts to retain their culture while adjusting to the modern world.


Our Group's Lead Guide Tsewang Bista




Young boy at home in Tsarang

Time seemed to stand still during my month in Nepal.  Mustang seems a world away from my life in Vermont.  And yet, through the friendships I formed in the Loba community, I recognize the common humanity we all share.  While we may live on opposite sides of the world and have radically different day-to-day lives, we connect on a deeper, more human level.  Happy and joyful memories from my journey come back to me from time to time.  My Nepalese adventure has heightened my curiosity of our diverse and complex world.



Boy at home in Tsarang


Sunrise at Ghami
Sunrise at Ghami


Last modified March 01 2013 10:14 AM