Kate Bilton - Himalayan Mountain Conservation in Nepal
Arriving in Kathmandu was intense, but very exciting. There was so much to take in that I didn’t even have time to feel nervous. The streets are crazy and there is colour everywhere you turn. The reason I chose Nepal is due to its huge variety, from the bustling centre of its capital city, to the spectacular Himalayas, towering silent and beautiful over the peaceful mountain villages. It is a country I completely fell in love with and, for that, I have Projects Abroad to thank. I definitely recommend staying for at least two months (I stayed nearly four and could have stayed longer), because the longer you stay on your project, the more you will get out of it.
My Teaching Project in Kathmandu
I taught six classes with students ranging in age from eight to 16 and every one of my students was lovely. I was thrilled to be able to create my own lesson plans for the children and I enjoyed getting progressively more imaginative with them. I also enjoyed playing games and singing songs with them – their favourite was the cup song!
I will be going on to study English Literature at university so I attempted to share my passion for the subject by teaching about poetic devices and writing stories. I also taught them about Shakespeare and got the classes to perform several Shakespeare plays including Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. The students loved acting and it gave them so much confidence with their English!
One of my proudest moments was when a boy called Raj approached me on my last day with an enquiry: “Please Ma’am, we do Romeo and Juliet one more time? And I be Romeo?” Raj had spent my first few weeks getting his classmates to translate for him during my lessons and refusing to speak his broken English to me because he was so shy. Seeing the way he grew in confidence through acting was hugely rewarding and this final request of his gave me a wonderful feeling.
My host family and shared accommodation
My host family, Madhav, Dhana and little five-year-old Saswut, were absolutely incredible. They were so kind and welcoming, making me feel at ease the moment I arrived and always checking how my project was going and asking me about my life back in the UK. I think living with a host family was one of the best things about volunteering with Projects Abroad, because it gave me a chance to experience the culture first hand. By living with a host family, I had the opportunity to connect with and learn from people who are living such a different lifestyle to my own. I am still regularly in contact with my host father and he has just had a new baby, so I hope to go back and visit the family within the year.
Arriving in the mountains after two months in Kathmandu was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air. After a night in Pokhara, I was taken on a picturesque jeep ride through the mountains, followed by a 20-minute hike from the road to Namaste Guesthouse, my home for the next six weeks. I was greeted by my host mother, who we called ‘Didi’, meaning older sister. She was a very memorable character, forever cheerful and always overcoming the language barrier with dramatic sign language and, if misunderstood, salvaging the situation with hoots of infectious laughter. I will never find any alarm to compare to her morning wake up call, banging on our windows exclaiming ‘Ownoo ownoo (come come) breakfast ready!’
Living in the village of Ghandruk was an experience in itself, with stunning views of the Himalayas constantly surrounding you and some of the friendliest people on Earth greeting you everywhere you walk with a wide grin and a ‘Namaste’. On this project, you live with all the other volunteers and are pretty much with them 24/7 which creates a unique bond between you all, young and old. The great thing about this project was that I didn’t just learn about Nepalese culture from the locals, but about cultures all over the world from living with volunteers of many different nationalities.
My Conservation Project in Ghandruk
The project itself was fascinating. We spent our days carrying out butterfly, bird and botany surveys, during which I learnt a great deal! Most activities involved long walks, but they never felt tiring as I was constantly surrounded by the most beautiful views and a bunch of hugely motivated, wonderful people.
Sometimes we did longer treks into the rhododendron forests involving an overnight stay at guest houses in the mountains. On one of these occasions, we woke up to find the ground outside was covered in a thick layer of snow! Needless to say, that day’s surveys were postponed and we all had a huge snowball fight followed by a group project to sculpt an entire family of snowmen! Our coordinators were exceptional, from Sam, the enthusiastic botanist from Cornwall, to Raj and Biswas, passionate about birds and constantly cracking jokes.
My free time
During the weekends, we were able to plan our own trips such as a day’s walk to the Jhinu hot springs, a trip down to Pokhara for paragliding and canoeing, or a two-day hike to Dobato to see the sun rise over Fishtail Mountain. During my final week, me and a group of other volunteers took a few days off to trek to Annapurna Base Camp. It was a challenging but very fulfilling trek and the perfect ending to my incredible time living in the Himalayas.
My overall experience
Volunteering with Projects Abroad in Nepal was undoubtedly the best experience I could have hoped for. On both my projects, I learnt so much, had unforgettable experiences and made many lifelong friends (some of whom I have already visited since I’ve been back in the UK!) The people of Nepal are unwavering in their warmth and positivity. They face many struggles every day, yet they remain so happy and incredibly generous. Seeing this attitude made me so much more grateful for everything when I got back home and I am constantly missing all the amazing people I met and hoping I will be able to go back and see them soon!