The Himalayan Fiction Writers Retreat – 2020

“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. This retreat is designed to stimulate and inspire you. It is thoughtfully put together by authors from India and the US. 

American author and teacher, Paula Younger, has labored to bring deep learning and insight to each session at this retreat. Paula is an award winning teacher from the Lighthouse Writers workshop (profile below). Dr Vandita Dubey and Chetan Mahajan - both Indian authors - are the founders of the Himalayan Writing Retreat. They’ve both earned professional degrees and lived in the US, which helps them understand the needs and expectations of writers visiting India. 


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This week at the Himalayan Writing Retreat has been an incredible combination with communion with other writers, nature, culture, inspiration, yoga and self-reflection. In this week I have nearly completed a brand new short story and I'm totally inspired ...


Michelle Sleater

Denver

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The Himalayan Writing Retreat has been an awesome experience. Every detail has been taken care of for us from the minute we arrived through to our trip and journey here. We have been able to see some extraordinary pieces of nature wonderful aspects of Indian culture and really bring all of this into our writing.


Kelly Ziegler
New York

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My experience of the Himalayan Writing Retreat has been unprecedented. Its been an incredible mix of immersion into a new culture, learning different writing skills - bringing my writing to a new level....


Ann Gronowski
Florida

Chetan and Vandita have designed the retreat to ensure the experience is safe, enriching and inspiring. The retreat begins with a warm welcome for each participant at Delhi International airport. They ensure the visit to the Taj Mahal is smooth.  They’ve personally curated the Himalayan excursions and the city experiences like the old city walking tour. They’ve sampled the food everywhere, and have designed the menu themselves to ensure a great mix of taste and local cuisine. In past retreats hardly anyone has fallen sick – a big achievement in India.  They've kicked every proverbial tire.

You start in the cities of Delhi and Agra. Then you travel to the Himalayas. All stays and transfers are pre-arranged. The serenity of the rural Himalayas is a stark contrast to the touristy India of the first two days. In the mountains, 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. If you have questions about India , click here to read our India travel FAQs.

Program

The day-wise program is given below. We plan on having craft classes/topics each day for 2 hours, in addition, we'll have two one-hour one-on-ones with the teachers (2 manuscripts a day).

Day 1, Mar 31, Tuesday

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, Apr 1, Wednesday

This love story inspired a wonder of the world.

We start the day early and drive to Agra in a private coach to see the Taj Mahal. The 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 at 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, Apr 2, Thursday.

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. It is the home of Chetan & Vandita, and is built for inspiration and serenity.  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. And while we have pasta on the menu, it may have an Indian tinge.

We reach the Retreat around 4 PM and 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, Apr 3, Friday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: workshop sessions and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

Afternoon: an optional trip to the local school (www.chiragschool.org ) and a social enterprise (http://b2r.in/ ). For those interested we can walk back – it is a 2 mile walk through the forest.

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, Apr 4, Saturday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

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. It's kitschy, yes. But it is part of the India experience. So we 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 forest called the IVRI forest reserve – some 12 sq. miles of pristine beauty. We head into the forest reserve and do our workshop sessions and craft class at a 110 year old Cattle Krall with the British built there. The Himalayan Writing Retreat crew accompany us and serve us a packed lunch there.

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, Apr 5, Sunday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: optional walk through a local village.

Late afternoon: generative class on writing and reflection.

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, Apr 6, Monday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

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 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, Apr 7, Tuesday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: free writing time at the Himalayan Writing Retreat, or explore on your own. 

Afternoon: Workshop session and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

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, Apr 8, Wednesday

Early Morning: Yoga session (evening session, also on option based on demand)

Morning: workshop session and craft class at the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

Afternoon: Optional 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, Apr 9, Thursday

Early Morning: Yoga session

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, Apr 10, Friday

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. This tour, again, is conducted by the highest rated operators in India.

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.

When: 31 Mar - 10 Apr, 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 2800 all inclusive.

The price includes all classes, yoga sessions, transfers, in-country travel, hotel stays, retreat accommodation, food and tips. However, we do not cover any personal expenses such as shopping, visiting places on your own, extra nights before or after the retreat etc. Alcohol is not included in the price, but you can grab some at Duty free or at a local store.

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

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

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.

Vandita Dubey

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 .