Thomas Drysdale - Conservation & Environment, Himalayan Mountain Conservation in Nepal
Before I joined the Conservation project in Ghandruk, I had been trekking around the Annapurna area, seeing beautiful views and meeting lovely people, but none of that even compared to how welcoming Ghandruk was. Few things beat living high on a hillside with beautiful views of the Himalayas surrounded by friends, but that was exactly my experience on the Conservation project.
Ghandruk village is situated at 1,900m in the middle of the Annapurna Conservation Area, making it perfect as a base for conservation work in the area. It is impossible to go a day without seeing at least 20 amazing species of birds and butterflies, and that’s when you aren’t even looking for them!
Conservation project in Nepal
Conservation in the area around Ghandruk mainly involves conducting surveys to find and record the different species that live in the area, whether that is looking for birds, butterflies, reptiles or primates. Typically, the days are split into two different activities, so often you find yourself walking along a path through the trees with binoculars fixed on the different birds that keep appearing, and then a few hours later you will be picking your way through the forest to set camera traps.
The work is always rewarding and we regularly came back from butterfly or bird surveys having seen upwards of 30 different species, or checked the camera traps and found footage of a leopard or barking deer. Like most of the volunteers, I had very little previous experience of conservation work but with the enthusiasm of Raj and Cormac, I quickly became fascinated by it and went home being able to identify a huge number of species.
All of the data we collected went to ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) so aside from having a great time and learning so much, the work you do provides essential information about the species in the area. As long as you don’t mind walking a fair amount, conservation work doesn’t come much better than in the Himalayas.
Living in the Himalayas
Life in Nepal takes some getting used to, but once you have accepted that hot showers are an occasional luxury, Ghandruk becomes one of the best places to live, especially when you wake up to breathtakingly beautiful views of the Himalayas. There are two guesthouses for volunteers, each run by a host family, so you get the perfect combination of living with a group of western volunteers, whilst still getting a fantastic cultural immersion. Both families are really welcoming and we spent many afternoons sitting in the kitchen talking to our host family in a mixture of limited Nepali, sign language and facial expressions, which usually involved a lot of laughter.
Life in Ghandruk isn’t all work, and there is so much to do with your time off. Typically, we would finish work by mid-afternoon so we had several hours of free time each day. We would often visit the local school for a game of football, walk around the village chatting or simply sit playing cards as a group. There is a German Bakery not far from the guesthouses so often we would go there in the evenings for a drink and a few card games. Without the distractions of western life, we spent most of our time talking and listening to each other’s stories, so I got to know the other volunteers really well.
On weekends, there is no work so volunteers can choose to go down to Pokhara, go on a short trek, visit the hot springs or simply enjoy relaxing in the guesthouses or passing afternoons at the bakery. On my first weekend, I went to Poon Hill for a beautiful view of the sunrise over the Himalayas, and another weekend the whole group went off to a place called Dobato for a bird survey.
Along with two other volunteers, I also took a few extra days off to trek to Annapurna Base Camp, which was a fantastic trek with amazing views, and we finished up at the hot springs for a relaxing afternoon. Trekking is a great way to see more of the area and you always meet interesting people along the way. The weekends are a great opportunity to enjoy your time with the other volunteers, and there is always something to do.
Volunteers often choose to visit Pokhara (a short walk and a jeep ride away) to fill up on western food, enjoy the bars and restaurants and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. It is also possible to do paragliding, bungee jumping or to hire a boat and go out on the lake. Pokhara even has a small open-air cinema showing western films every evening (it also serves pizza)! There is certainly no shortage of things to do with your free time.
The main reason I decided to come to Ghandruk was for the conservation, and with the number of species and the scenery, this was amazing. However, in many ways it was my time spent with our host family and the other volunteers that was most enjoyable, and I met so many fascinating and wonderful people and this meant time in Ghandruk was the best few weeks of my life. The longer you live in Nepal, the less you want to leave!