Himalayan Gap

After three weeks in India and as a 70 year old woman keeping up with 20 year old students and daily unique mind-altering experiences with Rajiv and the Himalayan Gap experience, I feel like I’ve rediscovered my childhood and the spirit caring and love that is implicit in being young, taken care of and challenged all at the same time.

Rajiv and Anu pushed everyone of us beyond our comfort zone, exposed us to the rainbow of cultures, religions and people that is India today and yesterday and put together an active an stimulating agenda that few folks, if any, could pull off.

Having traveled to many countries, trekked, observed and learned worldwide, I have never before immersed myself so joyfully or completely as I did with Rajiv and his awesome wife Anu here in this land of contrasts, complexities and 330 million Gods!!!!
Barbara G Gardener
Member and former Chair of the Board of trustees of Framingham State University

I would recommend Himalayan Gap's customized study abroad programs to any faculty member considering developing a faculty-lead program to India. In my experience, a Himalayan Gap program represents the exact opposite of a "canned" tour of India, the kind offered by traditional tour-operators. Collaborating with the husband and wife team of Rajiv Lochan and Anu Radha Singh offers a faculty member the chance to develop something truly unique. In contrast to a travel company, which focuses on sightseeing narrowly defined, Rajiv and Anu are interested in facilitating real cultural exchange, with all of the complex layers that dialogue implies.

The program we developed in collaboration had so much content, and so much heart. While it's been more than a month since we returned from our India J-term, not a day goes by when I don't hear from a fellow faculty member about how a newly returned J-term student has come alive in class: making relevant connections between her course work and her recent experiences in India, and inspiring everyone else within earshot!

So what makes a Himalayan Gap program have so much content and so much heart? To begin with, the students were made to feel welcome in a way that allowed them to open up to new experiences and new ideas. Rajiv met us at the airport with a garland of flowers for each traveler. Over the next few days, India would open her doors to us; we had tea at the home a local author and historian, a reading and New Year's Eve celebration at the home of an Indian novelist (complete with a bonfire and a conga line!), a book-signing with an author we'd read as part of our preparatory course – and the list goes on. All of the FORA's (friends of Rajiv and Anu's) we met in our three-week stay, had a genuine excitement about meeting us; they fielded our questions, and complicated our world view in the process. Suddenly India was no longer just a place: it was a "peopled" place full of new relationships with artists, musicians, authors, historians, gurus and yogis.

Besides the collective hospitality we experienced, there was the daily care we received from Rajiv and Anu, or alternatively, from Rajiv and his daughter, Anchal, as two family members were traveling with us at all times. Paradoxically, Rajiv's influence made us feel remarkably cared for, while consistently challenged. Not only did Rajiv take care of all of our communication needs (arranging for cell phones, wifi where needed, etc), but he kept in daily contact with our families at home, by sending them photographs, videos and a running narrative about our itinerary, so that the students didn't have to. This personal touch, which meant so much to parents back home, meant that students were freed up to be truly present to India, 24/7, only to have their experiences be all the more appreciated and understood, once they got home.

Besides keeping daily tabs on our personal health, our cash flow (who needs to change money?) and our safety, Rajiv brought an ambition to the trip that challenged us at every turn. On the second day of the trip, we spent the day at a rural school, founded by an NGO focused on supporting Himalayan communities and reversing the pattern of "rural flight." After listening to the headmaster of the school explain the school's holistic pedagogy, drawn partly from Gandhi's early writings, my students were challenged to ask themselves "big" questions: "What is progress?" "What constitutes quality of life?" "Who is education for?" "What counts as education?" Similarly, when we visited the NAZ foundations care home for orphans with HIV, the emphasis was on innovative local responses to a global problem. Confronting the reality of poverty, or disease, was one thing, but the deeper pedagogical goal was to inspire students to think structurally about the problems they were witnessing (what are the root causes?), and to listen-in on current solutions, by having direct contact the activists themselves – the change makers.

Rajiv brings a level of cultural sensitivity and care to his programming that is invaluable. As a person who has lived in both India and America, he is able to actively bridge the cultures. In practice, this meant that he fed us nostalgic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on our train ride back from Agra to Delhi, while making sure, throughout the trip, that we never behaved as "ugly Americans," insensitive to our surroundings. Rajiv has the unique quality of being paternal without being paternalistic. He earned the nickname, "Papa Rajiv," just as Anu quickly became our "Anu-Mamma," but he never talked down to, or babied the students; instead, he took them seriously as individual thinkers, engaging them in long conversations on the train, or around the campfire. Most impressive was his impulse to individualize, or customize, the trip for each student. For Rachael, a pre-med, biology major, this meant that he found a way to includethree separate visits to area hospitals –rural and urban, so that Rachael could make observations about healthcare in India, and consider returning to the subcontinent as a health-care provider. All told, Rajiv, Anu and Anchal got to know each and every student traveler. Rajiv got up at 5:00am in the morning to start preparing Tom's birthday surprise – a photo calendar of the trip and a customized cake, complete with an original poem. We ended the day with a late night feast in Tom's honor; Tom could not believe how lucky he was to be the recipient of so much good will and emotion! We all share Tom's gratitude. Please feel free to contact me as a reference. I would love to talk in more detail about the rewards of collaborating with Himalayan Gap.
Dr. Lisa Eck
Associate Professor of World Literature, Framingham State University

Namaste! I am a student of the world and also of the human body. While in India, I expressed an interest in seeing hospitals of a second world country. Without hesitation, Rajiv Lochan made it possible for me to view three hospitals, one private in the mountains of Mussoorie, one public in the city New Dehli, and one public in the small village of Khajuraho. He did not only acknowledge my request to dig deeper than the average tourist, he fed into it, genuine that I explore my individual questions while abroad. After visiting the hospital, Anu asked me about my experience directly, like my own parent, she wanted to hear my thoughts. Papa Rajiv and Mama Anu ensured this for every student in their care. Our Framingham State University family consisted of 16 university students, 1 professor, and 1 board of trustee member; all 18 of us students of India. The connections forged with the country, fellow travelers, and hosts, exceeded all of our expectations. I would not travel to India with anyone other than Himalayan Gap! I can't wait to see my friends Rajiv, his daughter Anchal (a Harvard student), and his wife Anu on this side of the water and someday back in India. J-term in India with Himalayan Gap was so much more than just a vacation. We traveled as a family through an entirely unforgettable experience. With Himalayan Gap you don't just see India; you dig deep and live it. There is no time like the present, apply to live! GO!
Rachael Cooper
4th year undergraduate, Pre-medical student, Framingham State University, Massachusetts.

Rajiv & Anu, I cannot thank you enough for being ambassadors of India and opening up your home to us. You taught me more about India in 3 weeks than I ever thought was possible. I cannot express how grateful I am to the both of you for everything that you did. I wish I could repay you for everything you did for me (and for us) but I know it isn't possible.

Thank you again for everything – to the moon and back!
Erin Keilly
Student, Framingham State University

This experience has been life changing, let's start with that. I have always used cliché expressions like "This is the best!" or "Every day, a new adventure." For the past three weeks I have used these expressions over and over in earnest – and I have never felt such a rush in my (short!) life. The places we've seen – Mussoorie, Rishikesh, Old Delhi, Agra, Khajuraho – so much life and beauty and truth. With Rajiv I have gone up the Himalayas by horseback, taken yoga class in an ashram, ridden a bike through the countryside of Khajuraho. I learned that the best way to see India is on a moving vehicle – on the back of a motorcycle where all the colors and streets and cows and dogs – everything can just fly at you and hit you squarely in the chest. There are no pretenses about India – it's all in the open. I think I love that most, how everything here is raw. This trip has exceeded all my expectations.This was a trip of firsts – the first time I had jasmine tea, the first time I rode a tuk-tuk, the first time I had ever seen children with HIV and ate a meal with them, the first time at the TajMahal. A whole, amazing experience trip of firsts - the first time I met Rajiv and saw (and experienced) how he experienced life. It changed the way I look at the world, and although I may never be a "mountain woman", I have woken up Indian life and it has been the most fulfilling journey I could hope for.
Talia Adry,
Student, Framingham State University.

Unlike my trips into England and Japan, the latter being far too short to form any true impression, the journey into India exposed me to a great many things. We saw the beauty of love made manifest by the TajMahal, where I had a birthday song sung, and the mighty kitchens of the Sikh temple, which pump out more than twenty thousand meals a day for anyone who is hungry. We visited the top of the mountains, rang the bell multiple times at a monastery before we found ourselves in Mussoorie. We visited a holy city filled with statues of Gods, such as Hanuman with his funny sense of loyalty and Lord Shiva sitting in the Ganges. We saw the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor in India with our own eyes, not through a camera lens or on a computer screen.

These experiences would never have happened if I had decided to go into India on my own like the typical tourist; there is no denying this. If we hadn't gone through the Himalayan Gap program, we would've never seen so much of India and met the interesting people that we did. I mean, it isn't typical to meet a handful of authors, the headmasters of a privately funded school, and the publishers of a feminist book company; these things just don't happen unless you have someone in the country your visiting who is able to open the door for you. Anu and Rajiv opened the doors for our group. These two, who literally became our parents during this trip, encouraged us to try new things, but did not coddle us like children. We were always consulted about all the activities we had planned, and were able to make changes as needed. They showed us the highest level of hospitality, taking us into their home as though were relatives having just returned from being abroad, and feeding us delicious home cooking. I will always remember my birthday in India, as Rajiv went out of his way to start setting up some birthday festivities once it was learned that I would be turning twenty-two. The man woke up at about 5 A.M. to start working on a special birthday card, which is something I never would've expected. It is details like these that made this trip a tremendous joy, and I have to again stress the importance of Anu and Rajiv's presence in this trip. If it hadn't been for them and their desire to show us a great time in India, I would not have had nearly as much fun as I did, and I would've never created a connection to India that will allow me to return some day. All there is now is to work on my plan for next time I venture into India. Thomas Duda,
Student, Framingham State University

The Himalayan Gap program exceeded our wildest expectations. Being realistic in our expectations, we dared not hope for nor expect it to have such an impact on our daughter. But it did. Obviously, much of this was due to her exposure to the rich Indian and Nepalese cultures, but what made this program particularly unique and special was the integral role of Rajiv and Anu in the day-to-day activities of the participants. Our daughter developed a strong, genuine bond with Rajiv and Anu, and they with her. As a result, we feel our family has been expanded. They are extraordinary individuals, wealthy in wisdom, who connected with each participant. And as parents themselves, they understood the needs of parents who had sent their 18-year-old daughter halfway around the world, on her own, to be with people they had never met. Rajiv and Anu had excellent instincts about when to communicate with us, and for that we were grateful. In sum, our daughter absolutely loved the time she spent with Himalayan Gap, and we love the myriad ways in which she grew. We recommend this program with enormous enthusiasm.
Terry Huffington, parent

I am enrolling next year!!!!!!!!
Dave Keyte, parent

My daughter, Roxie, had an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experience with Himalayan Gap.  Rajiv and Anu have sparked in her a deep love of the culture, language, landscape and people of India.  The travel, seeing first hand the beautiful temples and Taj Mahal, and the trek, with its breathtaking scenery, experienced with such knowledgeable hikers, were unforgettable experiences.  Teaching in the local school, where Roxie learned as much as she taught, was a particularly rewarding experience.  Not only did Roxie learn a lot about the country and the Hindi language, she also learned a lot about herself during her stay.  She came home a more mature person.  As her parent, I shall be forever grateful to Rajiv and Anu for making the experience possible and for their kind solicitation in helping Roxie to learn and grow.  I was amazed at how frequently I heard from them, letting me know at every stage of the trip that she was safe and well, even to the point of getting e-mails with smiling pictures at an altitude of 18,000 feet.
Martha Hadeler, parent

Thank you for your wonderful oversight of Lindsay.  I think her being with you and your program is the best thing that could have happened to her in this gap year. Please let me know if there is anything we can do to amplify or catalyze the magic which you seem to be promoting there. I look forward to meeting you in person.  Thank you....
Ralph Dittman, MD, MPH, parent

I have never had a more life changing experience and I am so blessed to have had this opportunity. I think I speak for all of us when I say that I have never been so happy in my life. This program has changed me…for good. I love you guys.
Katherine Keyte, participant

I took a Gap Year because I needed to experience life outside of academia and America.  I wanted time to myself and time to explore. This program is unlike any other because it does exactly that.  It is tailored to your needs.  You will learn Hindi in the classroom, but it will also be spoken to you at home.  You will attend Indian weddings, raft Rishikesh, take day trips to the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, learn the sitar or Indian dance, all the while retaining the freedom to wander about town and explore all other interests.

My experience in India lasted only three and a half months. I initially chose Himalayan Gap because I liked the points on the website: taking several months of Hindi classes, teaching English at a middle school, trekking to Everest base camp, and generally being able to immerse myself in Indian culture.  But those bullet points gave way to some of the most rewarding, enjoyable experiences I've ever had.  Learning Hindi endowed me with the ability to learn the backgrounds of my Indian friends and barter for local goods.  Teaching English allowed me to watch Hindi-speaking children, ages twelve through sixteen, memorize a twelve-page English dialogue in three weeks in order to perform a Lion King remake.  Exploring my artistic interests (of which I thought I had few) enabled me to move my bell-covered ankles to the beat of a tabla in traditional Indian dance.  Trekking up to Everest base camp involved catching a three AM flight on a twelve-seat plane  from Kathmandu to Lukala, spending cold nights in tea houses playing cards with the people who had long ago become my family, and standing atop a peak at 18,400 feet, finally knowing what it meant to feel on top of the world.  Most importantly, the simple phrase “becoming immersed in Indian culture” meant watching fireworks on the doorstep of a local friend’s house on the eve of Dewali, attempting to dance in a sari, celebrating my roommate’s birthday over candle-lit Gulab Jamon, and learning the incredible stories of my second Pa and Ma, my host parents.

It’s fair to say that Himalayan Gap influenced who I will become in the greatest of ways.  Like an excellent novel, I was completely engrossed in it while there and will be forever altered by it long after its end.  It challenged and changed me.  Now, a car isn’t my only mode of transportation, I have more to talk about than boarding school, I’ve become interested in Hinduism and Buddhism, and I’m more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been.  But mostly, I’m just grateful— for the people and places that opened my eyes and for the family that I gained in Rajiv, Anou, Katherine and Roxie.  I recommend this program with all my heart.
Lindsay Dittman, participant

Taking a gap year was the best decision I have ever made. While my friends are in college, slaving over exams and papers I have spent the last 3 months in India having the most amazing experiences. Rafting on the Ganges, teaching English to a poor village school, attending Indian weddings and learning about Indian culture and customs, learning traditional Indian dance and Hindi, visiting forts and the Taj Mahal, and finally going on a 3 week trek through the Everest region are all part of Himalayan Gap. Not only did I learn so much about a new and amazing country but I also learn a lot about myself and having the experiences I have has helped me realize what is important in life and what I want to do with my life.

Himilayan gap really stood out to me more than the other gap years programs because of how personal it is. Rajiv came to stay in my house with me, met my parents and called them on almost a daily basis with news and pictures of what was going on. Rajiv and Anu became Rajiv papa and Anu mama over the last 3 months, I love them and care for them as I do my parents and that is something totally unique and wonderful about this program.
Roxie Overaker, participant

We are very grateful to both Rajiv and Anu for the fantastic growth opportunities they have provided our son.  By sending us regular email updates and photos we were able to share in his experiences and adventures, almost as good as being there with him!  As parents themselves, they knew how to provide a challenging yet supportive environment for him and they quickly earned our confidence and complete trust.   Rajiv and Anu opened their own world of friends, family and colleagues to our son in both India and Nepal, providing him with a rich learning experience beyond simple travel.  We really believe that the Himalayan Gap program is special and like no other.
Parents -- Dave and Nahoko Green

I was pleased that my daughter, Rebecca, was able to become part of Anu and Rajiv’s family. I felt this authentic Indian experience offered my daughter a perspective and understanding that is not possible to gain unless immersed in another culture. The program provided a good mix of experiences with both travel and adventure, as well as time to become part of the mountain community of Mussoorie. She returned a wiser, more self-assured young women with a confidence gained by trying new things and facing new challenges. I appreciated the careful planning and forethought provided by Rajiv and Anu and was always comfortable with the experiences offered. I appreciated the email updates and the chance to share in the experience via pictures and stories. It was a good experience for both Rebecca and for me. Thank you.
Theresa Long, parent

The program is without a doubt, truly one of the most interesting and eye opening experiences that any person on the cusp of adulthood should have an opportunity to engage in. I took this gap year program with the expectations of seeing an entirely new world, unlike anything I had ever seen and I was not disappointed! Delicious new foods, a culture with roots that go back thousands of years, and a chance to see the Himalayas is why I decided to go on this program. I'm going back to India on my own because of the deep and long lasting connections that I made there. Best decision of my life.
Christopher Sho Green, participant

Joining the Himalayan Gap program was the best decision I have taken this far in my life. Before taking a gap year I had already been to India a few times. Nonetheless during the months I spent in the program, I was exposed to a side of India I had never seen before. I got the opportunity to truly experience this incredible culture in a way that I do not think I would have in any other context. The program provides a structure (of Hindi classes and dance lessons) whilst still leaving room for the individual to hone on his/her personal interests.  We were all encouraged to try new things and undertake new challenges; something which I am very thankful for, as it made me learn more about myself. In fact the whole program was an amazing learning experience.

I can safely say that I have spent the most incredible and happiest months of my life in this program and it is all thanks to Anu ma and Rajiv. I highly recommend this program to anyone looking to take a gap year and indulge in some life changing adventures!
Nitya Duella, participant