Hebe Westcott - Himalayan Mountain Conservation in Nepal
Looking back on my two months in Nepal, I now realize how I could not have chosen anything more suited to me. I had just returned from a life-changing couple of months in Kenya, Africa. After arriving home in England, after working in the homeless shelter for children in Kenya, all I wanted to do was leave again, see more of the world, and meet more people across the world.
Asia was calling! I stumbled upon the Projects Abroad website and fell in love with the idea of teaching in Nepal. I booked it very quickly, and had practically planned the whole trip before really realizing that I would be actually doing it. I decided to teach for a month and then spend the second on the conservation project, also arranged by Projects Abroad.
My expectations were, in many ways, non-existent. I was ready to throw myself into something new, and was very keen not to expect anything. Kenya had taught me that life throws all sorts of things at you, and the only way to deal with it is to take it step by step, and for me, Kathmandu was the next challenge.
I was so keen to witness the Nepalese culture, to meet inspiring teachers, locals, and children, and also like-minded volunteers, from whichever background, at whatever age. I packed, got on the plane, and was off. It was incredibly exciting.
Arriving in Kathmandu
I arrived in Kathmandu in the evening, and the sights, smells, crowds, streets and noise was elating. Winding through the traffic in a little minibus with the window down, my eyes wide and my mind buzzing, there was nowhere that I would rather have been.
After a night in a hotel, I was taken to my project after a briefing with one of the staff. I would be working in a Primary School in the outskirts of Kathmandu called Clark Himalayan Primary School, and living about half a mile from it, with my host mother and future friend, Sarala, and her family. I was introduced to this family, shown my room which I would share with five fantastic volunteers, and taken to my school.
As I walked along the street up to Clark, I really couldn’t believe my luck. The mountains and hills surrounding Kathmandu and Bungmati were breath-taking. In the very distance dustings of snow could be seen on the summits of the highest peaks, and Kathmandu seemed to sit like a magical city in the midst of ever-protecting and imposing mountain range.
I couldn’t wait to get up into the real mountains – the Himalayas – on my conservation project, but these smaller mountains would be quite sufficient for now! Clark itself stood on a hill looking out from the city, and was truly beautiful.
Teaching Project in Nepal
The children played in the courtyard outside with all sorts of local toys that I would come to know and love and their cheerful voices could be heard from well down the road. “Morning Hebe Mam” greeted me from every smiling face, every glorious morning as I worked for the four weeks, and it never failed to make me smile.
The lessons themselves were challenging, yet utterly rewarding, as I got to know the children, the needs, the interest and the style required. Having taught in Kenya was definitely a bonus and helped me get going, but I learned so much more there in Bungmati.
Naturally, volunteers grow very close to their host families, and I was no exception. I still Skype with Sarala, and I love to hear how she is getting on with new volunteers, and she loves to hear my news from England.
The volunteers that I met in Bungmati will never be forgotten – indeed, although we all went our separate ways, my friends from Denmark, Switzerland and Australia are still awesome! I was even lucky enough to meet a wonderful volunteer from London, which is so convenient.
The volunteers taught me as much as the project did and working through our highs and lows together brought us close. We learnt so much about ourselves and each other, that the whole experience became so fulfilling.
The children made my life content. Leaving was bittersweet. I found it much harder than I expected. I did, however, have the Himalayas calling me. How could I not be excited?
Arriving in Pokhara by plane, I was treated to a preview of the beauties of the mountains to come. My feet ached for some hiking and adventure, and it started much more quickly than I could have dreamed! I was met in a the hotel and I was told that, contrary to expectation, we would be leaving not only that day, but in that hour, for Ghandruk, the Himalayan Village where I would be spending the next five weeks! We set off without further ado, and the jeep that drove us up part of the way was filled with chatter for two full hours.
The scenery was nothing short of spectacular, and the winding road seemed to take me closer and closer to paradise. Eventually the jeep pulled to a stop, and we got out. Time to hike! To my shame my backpack was handed to a porter much older and seemingly weaker than myself, and although I showed my willingness, the incredibly strong woman carrying my bag shot off up the mountain. I was reminded that it was her job, and that I wouldn’t make it up a third of the way with that on my back! I picked up my little backpack, and sheepishly followed my far more worthy guide up the mountain.
Conservation & Environment Project
Ghandruk is a very large village nestled in the Annapurna Conservation Area, perhaps the most beautiful part of the world. The hostel that I stayed in was called Namaste Hotel, and reserved specifically for Projects Abroad Volunteers. There were about eight of us when I first arrived, and we became extremely close. The time that I spent in Ghandruk was the happiest of my life. I felt so at one with the mountains, the people, the locals and the very air, and the time flew.
The conservation itself was fascinating. It included studies of bees, birds, mammals and butterflies, and I learnt so much. There was a great deal of walking which I loved, and the steps must not be scoffed at! Much of the walking was up (or down, but somehow there was way less down than up!) stone steps cut out of the mountain, enabling trade from village to village.
At weekends we did long hikes for up to three days to other areas of the Annapurna Conservation Area, and I would massively recommend the Poon Hill trek; a real challenge, but a view to die for. Yaks peppered our treks, and the illusive Himalayan Black Bear, Red Panda, and Snow Leopard kept us very hopeful, yet unrewarded. We saw a leopard cat though which was fantastic!
Back Home in London
The whole experience was amazing. I would gladly have remained in Namaste Hotel forever. I fell in love with the mountains and the people, and couldn’t recommend the country more. I will certainly be heading back when I can. I was right to form no expectations – it surpassed any dream I could have had. The teaching project was challenging but memorable, and the conservation project was simply out of this world. Do it. You won’t regret it.
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