Volunteer Review: Alexander M., Himalayan Mountain Conservation in Nepal
Arriving at my project
My project was based in a picturesque, rural village called Ghandruk and it is a place I will always treasure and wish the very best for. By the same hand, being based in the foothills of the glorious Himalayan mountains, little Ghandruk is not the easiest place to get to. After two days travel we arrived at what the leader of our project called the “jeepy station” – this jeep station is not where the village is for clarification.
My first real experience of what this project was going to be like was a tough but beautiful. The walk from the jeep station to Ghandruk village was wonderful but, at altitude, I had to stop every fifteen minutes to allow the lactic acid to dissipate in my legs. I was filled with an excitement about the physical and mental challenges this beautiful and bounteous land was going to throw my way over the next two months.
I arrived to what was affectionately dubbed “The Rajmahal” (my lodgings run by a man named Raj) tired, but happy to see the little haven of happiness that was to be my new home. The only slight problem was that the other volunteers were in the jungle and only Raj’s mother was there; a lovely, warm and funny woman.
She showed us to our rooms and from her very aura I could tell that she was going to a constant source of happiness and laughter in this lodging (I was not proven wrong!). About thirty minutes later the other volunteers arrived and I sat down to have lunch with my new friends, my new family.
Working on the Conservation project
Based in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas, Ghandruk comes under the jurisdiction of ACAP – Annapurna Conservation Area Project and as such the environment is largely well looked after. The project was aimed at giving manpower to help the local conservation workers and it did this very well.
Day to day work was, for the most part, survey work because the project was relatively new and thus it was most important to find out what various wildlife populations existed before we chose to act in any serious way. I was worried at first that the project might be filled only with conversationalists with degrees in the subject but this turned out not to be the case. There was great enjoyment to be had for all animal lovers.
One example of this survey work was cutting transect lines in the forest and placing camera traps along them (it’s exhilarating seeing footage of a leopard standing exactly where you had been not seven hours before). We weren’t just interested in large mammals though, we spent our time watching, classifying and recording data on the some of the most exotic and glorious birds I have ever seen.
Not only this but two of my friends fell in love with butterfly catching to the point at which I am not sure they would ever return to normal life! Amongst this survey work we picked up litter side by side with the villagers, a most rewarding and connecting experience, built a tree nursery to house stems of rare trees before replanting and worked with the community to help explain our work and why it was necessary for the protection of the extraordinary ecological system in the area.
The people of my project
Surrounded by all the glory and beauty of the Nepali, Himalayan countryside and immersed in rural Gurung culture was an intrinsically wonderful experience however it lifted to another level by the incredible people I spent my time with. It really was the people on my project who made it so special for me.
The projects abroad staff on site consisted of three or four men and woman who were all hugely knowledgeable in areas of conservation, be it Seejan our resident ornithologist or Sophie our resident experts on bees. These staff members were caring, organized but most of all enjoyable people to be around and my hats go off to them as some of the most incredible people I have ever met.
The volunteers were of all sorts, from all over the globe. I went as a pre-university gap year student looking to push myself and to explore, to see new things and to grow as a person. There were others my age of course but what was so fantastic about my project was that there were people of all ages, from different backgrounds and with differing beliefs but yet with something that bound them together. Whether it was the sixty-two year old woman filled with zest for life or the thirty-three year old man who didn’t quite know where he wanted his career to go next, we all had something in common.
As lovers of natural beauty all of us bonded on a common desire to explore and to discover, in all wanting to escape our usual lives to see what is truly wonderful about this earth we shared in a loving community. These people are all my true friends and what we shared together, hardships and relaxing experiences alike, made us a family. Half way through my stay with the project a Volunteer Advisor for Indian and Nepali Projects came to visit us.
Traveling around Nepal
As volunteers we work five days a week and the other two were our own. Though for two or so weeks simply sitting in the sun and reading with 7,000 and 8,000 peaks looking over us was enough, we soon developed a yearning to travel all over the region, to seek and find new, hidden treasures. We used our time to trek to attractions in the area and whether that was the luxurious hot springs at Jhinu or the aptly named Little Paradise it was always a rewarding experience.
Every so often all the volunteers, which ranged in number over my stay from eleven to twenty-five, would take the walk and three hour jeep ride to Pokhara. Pokhara is a stunning lake side city nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya and has perfected the art of balancing natural beauty with the vibrancy of a city.
In Pokhara we would visit bars, relax by the lake and most importantly eat meat all day – a true luxury! This communal socializing only brought all of the volunteers closer and though it was, in comparison to little Ghandruk, expensive it was always hugely enjoyable and I know I will not forget some of those memories!
Of course there is one trek that I could not possibly fail to mention. Being in the foothills of the awesome Himalayan Mountains for a long time gives one an uncontrollable desire to trek towards their towering and powerful peaks – to go upwards. Four volunteers and I decided that it was to be our time towards the end of my stay and off we set to trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). I could not possibly fully express my wonder at this most amazing experience here but I will endeavor to give you a flavor.
Trekking through all sorts of incredible landscapes from rainforest through bamboo forest and onto barren, ice-stricken grasslands is the most stupendously fulfilling experience. This five day trek is not for the faint-hearted and I was not sure that I would do it but I am so glad I did. The physical and mental challenge was unlike anything I have done before and it was truly exhilarating and rewarding.
This trip, this experience, was without a doubt life changing for me. The independence of being away from normal support channels, the physical and mental challenge of it, the chance to meet some lovely and extraordinary people making wonderful friends from all over this beautiful world and seeing a most beautiful and richly diverse country all made this trip exceptional.
However it was also some of the realizations and personal growth that made this trip so life-changing for me. I became more open-minded, became better in my own company as well as that of a diverse range of others. Finally I learnt that the way to enjoy life is to go for it, to throw yourself in, to see the world and to do things you wouldn’t normally to do. Go, if you get the chance – you can’t possible regret it.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.