Katharine Lane - Himalayan Mountain Conservation in Nepal
My time in Nepal at the Himalayan Conservation Project was unforgettable and undoubtedly the best two months of my life. From my host family and living conditions to the other volunteers and the delicious Nepali food, I can’t think of a negative aspect of my time there.
As it was a Conservation project, we spent most of our time outside. This was ideal because the scenery was mind blowing, even after having been there for two months. Each day we hiked to a different bird, butterfly and primate survey area. Many of the volunteers (including myself) had little prior experience in conservation work and animal identification. However, with the help of our project manager, bird and reptile expert, we all quickly caught on and were identifying animals on our own. There are many opportunities to learn about the incredible biodiversity of this region through simply doing the day-to-day work.
Conservation in Nepal
A task all volunteers have to learn to do is setting up camera traps in the forest with the hopes of photographing rare mammals. This allows us to see the true wilderness of the area we’re in by getting off the marked path and venturing into the untouched areas.
The aim of these camera traps is to photograph rare mammals such as the Common Leopard, Leopard Cat, Himalayan Black Bear and Red Panda. Because these mammals are so rare, often the only photos taken are of Barking Deer, Buffalo and larger birds like pheasants. However, this makes it that much more exciting when we capture a true rare mammal on camera. Volunteers are also responsible for data entry, which entails combining current data with the data previously recorded by other volunteers. Our data is shared with ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Programme).
Living in Nepal
Coming from a Western world, the living conditions in Ghandruk definitely take some getting used to (cold showers, bucket laundry etc) but the view of the Annapurnas and the laidback atmospheres of the two different guesthouses make up for the occasional cold shower.
There are two guesthouses in Ghandruk, both run by lovely host families. Living with the host families also allows for a more in depth cultural immersion. Volunteers get to see how real Nepali village people live and share the same tea, food and homes with them. Although there seemed to be a language barrier when I first arrived, it was quickly dissolved by the use of sign language and smiles.
I spent many afternoons in the kitchen with Jamuna, our cook, attempting to communicate but ultimately just enjoying my time with her and all the Nepali recipes she taught me. The conservation work is incredibly interesting and the reason I ended up in Ghandruk, but my best moments were the moments spent with Jamuna and my fellow volunteers in the kitchen laughing at our hopelessness in Nepali.
We were expected to work Monday through to Friday for about seven hours a day, weather permitting. The weeks flew by and we were given free time on the weekends. Often we would simply remain in Ghandruk, lounging during the day and passing our nights at the German Bakery further down in the village. However, we also occasionally went down to Pokhara, a hike and a jeep ride away, to indulge in Western food, fun bars and restaurants and the beautiful lakefront area.
Pokhara also has many adventure activities available, such as paragliding and bungee jumping. The best weekends I had were the ones where we trekked to different destinations above and around Ghandruk. Many popular and touristy trekking routes pass directly through Ghandruk, which allows for quick weekend excursions. We spent a weekend at Poon Hill which has a spectacular view of four different mountain ranges if the weather is clear enough to see them. Another weekend we went to Annapurna Base Camp, a four to five day round trip trek out of Ghandruk. For this trek, we had to request extra days off from our project manager. I can honestly say these were some of the best days of my life.
My fellow volunteers really made my time at the project great. Without all the distractions of Western life, we truly got to know each other. Most evenings were passed playing cards and listening to each other’s stories. My faith in humanity was restored after genuinely connecting with so many different people from so many different backgrounds. I have Ghandruk and the project to thank for this.