Mike & Wendy Newson - Himalayan Mountain Conservation in Nepal
Ghandruk Conservation Project
We were part of the Conservation Project in Ghandruk between April and the end of June 2014. We had been in the area the previous year doing a short trek and liked the area very much and decided we would like to return. When we heard about the Conservation Project we knew it was something that we would like to do as it would give us an opportunity to participate in a wider variety of activities not normally done as part of an organised tour group.
When we arrived at Kathmandu airport we discovered that one of our bags was missing. Even after a considerable delay trying to locate the bag there was still someone to meet us and take us to our hotel, which was reassuring. The following day we were met at the hotel by a representative of Projects Abroad who helped us with setting up our phone and exchanging money. Kathmandu is a busy noisy city with some interesting tourist sites if you get the opportunity to visit them.
After travelling from Kathmandu to Pokhara by bus on our last visit, (which takes between six and eight hours) we decided this time to fly. We were taken from the hotel to Kathmandu airport for the half hour flight. At the airport in Pokhara we were again met and taken to the hotel which was very nice, with the cost of accommodation and meals included. We stayed there two nights instead of the normal one while we waited to be reunited with our bag which did eventually turn up thanks to the efforts of Projects Abroad staff. Pokhara has a good selection of supermarkets where you can purchase any last minute items such as toiletries, washing powder or snacks, as shopping in Ghandruk is very limited. Pokhara is also a good location to change money as there are no facilities to do this in Ghandruk and only local currency is accepted.
The next step in the journey to Ghandruk was by jeep. This journey which takes about two and a half hours starts on a sealed tarmac road and ends on a bumpy dirt road which winds its way slowly up into the mountains. At the end of the road there is about a one hour walk to Ghandruk, there are porters organised to carry your bags which is again included.
The accommodation in Ghandruk village is in one of two hostels, Namaste or “Raj Mahal”. Namaste is in the lower part of the village with “Raj Mahal” being about 15 minutes up the hill from Namaste. We stayed in Raj Mahal which is run by the Conservation Project Supervisor Raj Gurung and his family. The accommodation is in rooms with two comfortable beds with pillows and all bedding supplied. Each room has its own bathroom attached with Western toilet, basin and shower (No screen or curtain). There is solar hot water that is generally at least warm. Electricity is Hydro and generally runs 24/7, unlike Kathmandu and Pokhara. Internet connection is generally very good at both hostels. The food is tasty and plentiful. It is carbohydrate based and mainly vegetarian with meat, usually chicken, served once a week. It is possible to buy snacks such as chocolate, Pringles etc as well as limited fresh fruit from the shops in the village. There are two “German Bakeries“ in the village, the top one is a popular place with Volunteers. They serve croissants, donuts and a very nice apple pie, as well as a variety of drinks including brewed coffee.
A typical day on the Project would start with breakfast about 7am. Depending on the season activities such as bird or butterfly observations, setting up or retrieving cameras from the field, or working in the plant nurseries take place morning and afternoon with a break for lunch. We weren’t there for the height of the monsoon season but there are amphibian surveys done during this time instead of the butterflies. We also participated in overnight field trips on several occasions, which could involve five or six hours walking to get there and the same coming back. The walking can be strenuous and involves lots of steps up and down or walking along tracks in the jungle. There is also the opportunity for those with the interest to write reports, help with research or enter data.
Free time activities included watching movies on the computer, playing cards and reading. Volunteers can explore the area on the weekends which are generally free. We took the opportunity to arrange trips to Pokhara and also Annapurna Base Camp during our three month stay.
In summarising our experience with the project. We are a couple in our sixties with an interest in birds and wildlife and like the outdoors. We found the experience very worthwhile with a wide variety of activities to maintain our interest. The staff were all very knowledgeable in their respective fields and were all very helpful, from assisting with our lost bag, to arranging transport and general advice. Raj’s knowledge of the local area and culture was invaluable and gave us a good insight into the aspects of life in the village and Seejan (the bird expert on staff) has a great knowledge in his field and made the experience of bird identification a lot easier and more rewarding. We were on the project for three months which gave us ample opportunity to get involved with everything on offer and to see the wider area around Ghandruk during various seasons, from the dryer part of the year into the build up to the monsoon. It must be noted that travel from Kathmandu to Ghandruk at the start of the project and returning to Kathmandu again at the end can eat into your time and should be taken into consideration when deciding on your length of stay. A good level of fitness is required to be able to participate fully, as most of the activities involve several hours of walking, but we managed. Ghandruk is located in a beautiful part of the world and with clear days has fantastic views of the Annapurna Range which you never tire of looking at. Depending on the season you visit, it can either be crisp and clear or warm and wet. All the basics are catered for and included while in Ghandruk, although any free time side trips (or visits to the German Bakery) should be considered when working out finances. There are no recycling facilities for batteries in Nepal and the project uses quite a few for the cameras so be prepared to take some used ones home with you to help out with recycling. Drinking water is supplied at Namaste and Raj Mahal but do take a strong container of about one litre that you can take when out and about, as well as a supply of water purification tablets in case of emergencies or while on field trips as this will help reduce the amount of plastic that needs disposing of. Good strong walking shoes together with comfortable long trousers and long sleeved tops are good for when in the jungle, especially in the monsoon (leeches).
I hope this is of some help to anyone thinking of participating, I would certainly recommend it for anyone who wants to see a beautiful part of the world and experience some of the parts not usually seen when part of a more formal tour.