“Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”
— Gabriel Garcia Márquez
To shake up your writing, you need to take a big leap out of your comfort zone. Chances are, your writing will follow.
The Himalayan Writing Retreat (THWR) is that big leap. You go into wild, crazy India, only to find Paula Younger – an award winning faculty member from the Lighthouse writers workshop of Denver - waiting for you at the other end. This ten-day trip starts at the Taj Mahal, but you spend most of your time in the peaceful, inspiring Himalayas.
For a first-timer, India can be scary and exciting in equal measure. We keep the excitement high, but ensure the scary bits are contained. We meet you at Delhi airport. We arrange for hotel stays. The travel to the Taj Mahal and the Himalayas is pre-booked, with all pick-ups and drop-offs pre-arranged. In the Himalayas, you stay at the retreat center of two published authors who designed their place for writers seeking inspiration.
The serenity of the rural Himalayas is a stark contrast to the touristy India of the first two days. In these mountains too, you continue to discover a sliver of India everyday, but at a relaxed, unhurried pace. Up here, you write in the halo of Himalayan peaks which dwarf Mt. McKinley. Paula Younger & Chetan Mahajan - both published authors – mentor you as you channel India’s vibrancy into your writing. If you have questions about India , click here to read our India travel FAQs.
The day-wise retreat program is given below. We plan on having craft classes/topics each day for 2.5 hours, in addition, we'll have two hours for writing workshops (2 manuscripts a day).
Day 1, Sep 30, Monday
Welcome! Arrive at Delhi Airport anytime after 12 noon on the 30th of September. A car and a friend will meet you at the airport and bring you straight to your hotel. Your stay is arranged at the Tree of Life, one of Delhi’s best B&Bs (Tripadvisor reviews at https://bit.ly/1Ofm5BI ). In addition to being highly rated, the Tree of life is close to three of Delhi’s largest malls - a great place to shop and spend time getting to know India’s crazy diversity in a safe environment. You can learn more at https://bit.ly/2hrseGU .
No class on this day.
Today, we'll get settled and then do an ice breaker to get to know one another better. Everyone will have submitted and read the manuscripts for our workshop before arriving in India. Each morning we meet for class, we’ll do a generative writing exercise and then dive into our class.
Note: Most flights land in Delhi at unearthly hours. If your flight gets in before noon on the 30th of September, we will still meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel. We’ve also negotiated a great room rate at which you can stay for an extra night. Please confirm your travel itinerary to us at the earliest so that we can book accordingly .
Day 2, Oct 1, Tuesday
This love story inspired a wonder of the world.
We start the day with breakfast at 7.00 and then jump onto our private coach and drive to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. A four hour drive from our hotel will allow you to rest or sleep off some of your jet-lag. We will try and get back in time for a short session on travel and writing soon after. The round trip will take a full day. Lunch will be at one of the best hotels in Agra. We will have dinner and stay the night in our Delhi hotel.
Topic of the Day: Observation and Specific Detail (no workshop)
The liminal state of travel (and even jet-lag!) is perfect for observation—you’re extra-sensitive, raw, and open to experiencing your new surroundings in a more passive and receptive way. Today, we’ll take advantage of any discombobulation to practice openness to specific sensory detail via close observation of the world around us.
Over breakfast, you’ll receive brief instruction on our observational tasks for the day, designed to enrich and expand upon your experience at the Taj Mahal. After we return, we will reconvene over dinner to discuss our observations and tools for using those specific details in our writing during the days to come.
Day 3, Oct. 2, Wednesday.
Off to the Mountains!
We head out early and board the train from New Delhi Railway Station to head towards the Himalayas. We board the Kathgodam Shatabdi Express train and travel First Class to the town of Kathgodam (5 hours and 40 minutes). This is where the mountains start. We transfer to taxis for the last three hours of our travel. Halfway home, we stop for lunch at the iHeart café owned and run by a couple from Bozeman, Montana (really!) who specialize in awesome coffee. We arrive at The Himalayan Writing Retreat (THWR) in Satkhol Village – our home for the next seven days.
The Himalayan Writing Retreat is custom-built for Writers and others of our kind. This niche property has six double-occupancy guest rooms and a full staff to cater to all your needs with love and the highest standards of hygiene. The food is tasty and fresh and includes a lot of local cuisine. We throw in just enough of familiar stuff to keep homesickness at bay.
We reach the Retreat around 4 PM, and we have a short session in the evening where we discuss our plan for the next few days.
Topic of the Day: What’s Your Story?
You can have polished, beautiful prose, but it won’t get you anywhere unless you are writing the right story for you. We’ll examine fiction passages of writers who have used the subjects that they are passionate about to create impossible-to-put-down stories, and try out exercises to make sure we’re on the right path to create the story that we were meant to tell.
We will also use excerpts from Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story. According to Gornick: “Every work of literature has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer; the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has to say.”
Day 4, Oct 3, Thursday
Morning: workshop sessions and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.
Evening: Open Mic Bonfire after sundown.
Topics of the Day: Structure and Pacing
We’ll analyze plots, and the different ways we can use it with our structure and pacing. We will discuss story arcs and ways to push our characters into conflict. Every character (and person) has a breaking point. Once we find it, we increase the tension in our fiction. We'll study successful breaking points in stories, and then we'll do some exercises to push our characters to the places they don't want to be, and find our characters (and stories) in the process.
Consciousness means community—even the most reclusive among us need human interaction and relationships. How do we relate to each other in both sympathetic and antagonistic ways? How do we relate to groups of people, cultures, and social systems, as opposed to how we relate to individuals? How do those relationships and interactions promote narrative growth and change? We’ll study aspects of narrative relationships, and continue the learning during our (optional) visits to the local elementary school and social enterprise.
Day 5, Oct 4, Friday
Morning: optional hike & write. After breakfast we head out for a short hike to a nearby temple on the hilltop. Along the way we stop and write sitting on a ridge in the pine forest.
Late morning/lunch: Workshop and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.
Afternoon – open time at the Himalayan Writing Retreat, or explore the forest reserve.
Evening: Bollywood movie night! We’ll set up a faux-theater at the Himalayan Writing Retreat and watch a Bollywood movie with English subtitles. And Popcorn.
Topics of the Day: What Is Your Place in the World?
We’ll discuss how to use setting to get to know your characters and your plot. It’s time to explore the world of your story, and how best to maximize it on the page.
For setting we go to a dramatic one. in 1889, the British started the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI). The Institute has its own captive IVRI forest reserve – some 12 sq. miles of pristine forest. We head into the forest reserve and do our workshop sessions and craft class at a 110 year old Cattle Krall the British built. The Himalayan Writing Retreat crew accompany us and cook us a hot lunch as we write
Since we are subjective beings, the way we experience our surroundings is through the lens of our emotions. An executioner and a four-year-old will experience the same sunset in very different ways. In this craft class, we’ll look at the natural world through the lens of personality, experience, and emotional content. What does nature bring to us, and what do we bring to it? How can we evoke our own emotions through nature and the world around us? After class, you are free to continue this exploration on your own in the forest reserve.[PY2]
Day 6, Oct 5, Saturday
Morning: generative class on writing and reflection.
Late afternoon: optional walk through a local village.
Topics of the Day: Eureka! Finding Your Epiphany
James Joyce defined an epiphany as the moment when a person, an event, or a thing is seen in a light so new that it is as if it has never been seen before. But too often we work on draft after draft of stories and essays and we still can't find our epiphany. We'll analyze successful fiction epiphanies in literature, and then use exercises to discover the moment of what your story is all about.
Day 7, Oct 6, Sunday
Morning: workshop session and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.
Midday and afternoon: we head over to the hill-town of Mukteshwar, a one hour drive. We have lunch at the Chandi Maati, an excellent restaurant, visit the ancient temple of Mukteshwar (https://bit.ly/2ujZUbJ ).
Topics of the Day: Creating Emotion and Avoiding Melodrama
Now that we know our stories, let’s make sure we’re making the most of our big moments. Sometimes we’re so afraid of melodrama that we avoid emotion in our writing. But to convey important moments and break a reader’s heart, you have to learn how to use the page and words to convey the deepest emotion. You’ll learn some tricks and discuss how to bring emotion to your important scenes, and how to avoid the dreaded melodrama.
Too many stories don’t last because they lack the emotional resonance and insight that we long to have from a stellar piece of fiction. We’ll study successful passages of stories to find solutions and inspiration and then try out exercises to help you dive below the surface of your story.
We explore the spiritual sides of our work, and then visit the Mukteshwar Dham Temple to explore more facets of spirituality as it intersects with narrative.
Day 8, Oct 7, Monday
Morning: workshop session and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.
Afternoon: free writing time at the Himalayan Writing Retreat, or explore on your own.
Topics of the Day: Playing with the Shapes of Fiction
In Jerome Stern’s book, Making Shapely Fiction, he analyzes the different story forms, such as Iceberg, Onion, Journey, and Visitation. We’ll try out plenty of writing exercises and discuss the different shapes we see in fiction. As Stern says, “A shape invites you to fill it. The shapes of fiction inspire by presenting ways to embody your experiences, memories, and imaginings.”
Day 9, Oct 8, Tuesday
Morning: workshop session and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.
Afternoon: Optional long hike to visit the ancient Kapileshwar temple (said to be over 1000 years old).
Topics of the Day: Oh So Little Time
Writing is tricky. In fiction, an entire book can last one day or span hundreds of years. Come learn some time tricks from one day in a life to a hundred years later, and you’ll be much more confident about how to cover time in your writing. We will also go over a three timelines writing exercise to help you get a firm sense of how time is handled in the world of your manuscript, and outside of it. We’ll get time to work for you.
Every story begins at a point in time for which there is a past, present, and usually a future. How does the past influence the present, and more interestingly, vice versa? What histories can you bring to your work that will deepen and enrich the worlds you create for your characters? After we explore histories, you can put your ideas in motion (literally) during a long hike to a 1000-year-old temple.
Day 10, Oct 9, Wednesday
Morning: We pack up and head back to Delhi by taxi and train. Our stay in Delhi the night of April 9th is again at the Tree of Life.
Day 11, Oct 10, Thursday
Morning: After breakfast we check out from the hotel and head out for a guided tour of the old city. We start with the spice market – where all your senses will be on overdrive. We’ll then step back for a rooftop view of the old city. A short rickshaw ride and we find ourselves outside the red fort, one of India’s historic icons. We go through some more of old Delhi and end our tour with a visit to the Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib, a sikh temple, where you will get a deeper insight into Indian culture and values.
In the second half we will have some free time and the option to do our last minute shopping at Dilli Haat (https://bit.ly/2LyyBWv ). Airport drops are arranged for everyone based on your flight schedule. Those wishing to keep the room for an extra night can stay on at a pre-negotiated rate.
Note : the above schedule is tentative and may be changed based on suggestions and insights at the retreats. The retreat includes all classes, transfers, travel, hotel stays, retreat accommodation, and food. However, we do not cover any personal expenses such as shopping, visiting places on your own etc. Alcohol is not included in the price, but we’ll stop at a store where you can pick some up en route to the Himalayan Writing Retreat.
When: 30 Sep - 10 Oct, 2019
Who: The workshop is led by Paula Younger & Chetan Mahajan, and will be supported by Vandita Dubey . (For instructor profiles, click here or scroll down.)
Where: The Himalayan Writing Retreat, Satkhol Village. Uttarakhand - 263138 (India). Details here.
How much : USD 2500 (10 days & nights of learning, twin-sharing stay, food, taxes).
If you have big questions about India , click here to read our India travel FAQs.
Only ten participants accepted on a first-come first-serve basis. To apply, click the button below.
About the Instructors
Paula Younger's writing has appeared in many literary journals, including Harper Collins’ 52 Stories, The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, The Rattling Wall, The Southeast Review, and The Nervous Breakdown. She earned her MFA from the University of Virginia, and received the Henry Hoyns and Bronx Writers Center fellowships. She teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she received the Beacon Award for teaching excellence.
You can learn more about Paula at her website www.paulayounger.com .
Chetan Mahajan is the founder and co-host of the Himalayan Writing Retreat. A Penguin-published author, he quit the corporate world and moved to a village in the Himalayas to be a full-time author and blogger over three years ago. The Himalayan Writing Retreat is all about helping people with their writing. Chetan blogs about living in the mountains here. His blog won the Indiblogger award for humour. He is also a writing coach with the London based the writing coach.
Dr. Vandita Dubey, is a US licensed Clinical Psychologist, and the author of the book “Parenting in the age of Sexposure”. She co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreat. She also hosts the "Writing For Self" Workshop, You can visit her website and read her blog at www.vanditadubey.com .
© himalayanwritingretreat 2018