When the jeep stopped a little over an hour’s hike from the Himalayan mountain village of Ghandruk, little did I realise how much of a life-changing adventure I was embarking on. A few hundred stairs and a lot of panting later, I arrived at the very top of the village, to the place I would be calling home for the next 14 weeks.
When I put down my bags, I was able to take a moment to drink in the awe-inspiring scenery which abounded on all sides. From the majestic Macchapucchre (known as the Fishtail in the west), to the rooftops of the historical section of the village, to tiered agriculture sweeping down as far as the eye could see in all directions, I knew I was somewhere unique. Though the awestruck feeling never left me throughout my time there, the hours were soon filled with people and tasks to immerse myself in, each as important as the last in creating what will be an experience forever etched into my mind.
Conservation volunteering in Nepal
I was greeted with open arms by locals and my host family, and was made to feel like one of their own from the first moment I arrived, and I still feel that way to this date. The other volunteers and staff helped only to augment and heighten the experience, as you’re thrown into an entirely new environment with people from all over the world, and it helps you to create bonds.
In terms of the tasks, it was a privilege to actively contribute to the preservation of such an amazing land. Due to all of the aforementioned factors, it never felt like tiresome work. I’d take trekking whilst conducting primate, bird, or butterfly surveys with a group of friends and Projects Abroad staff in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, over being sat behind a desk any day of the week. The 14 weeks I spent at the project flew by, with each day offering new experiences and new faces to interact with, be they the generous locals or eager new volunteers starting their own journeys.
Living with a Nomad Family in Mongolia
After the whirlwind that was my 5 months in Nepal (where I also spent some time working on the Disaster Relief Project), I wondered if anything could possibly get close to living up to the experiences I had, let alone matching up with them. The Nomad Project in Mongolia certainly answered that call. Compared to the majestic mountains, bustling cities, and subtropical national parks of Nepal, the steppes of Mongolia were a completely new experience, but in absolutely no way any less stunning or breath-taking.
The natural, untouched beauty of the land is second only to the welcoming nature and hospitality of the local Mongolian people. I met my nomad host family on the first day, and matching my handful of Mongolian words to their limited English and friendly demeanour, I knew I’d be in for an incredible and interesting journey. And how right I was!
In a completely different set of circumstances to my Nepali trip, I lived for 28 days with a nomad family in their ger (yurt) in the middle of the Central Mongolian steppe. Day to day, I would undertake any activities that needed doing, especially relating to the 350 goats and sheep, 20 cows, and 20 horses that the family owned. I learned a lot in my time there, certainly about vodka, dairy, red meat, and playing cards.
Traditionally quite a reserved people, once I had been taken into the family it truly felt like I was one of their own. With the culture of everyone in the surrounding area dropping in on others daily, I got to know a lot of the local community well within a short space of time. This culminated in me having one of the luckiest moments of my life in being privileged enough to attend a nomad wedding. Even for city-based Mongolians this is an extreme rarity, so you can imagine my absolute delight when I was invited. But that just goes to show the unbelievable hospitality in another far flung corner of the world.
Humanity, regardless of place
The overriding memory I have of my exodus to both of these magnificent countries is a simple one, but one that I didn’t predict before leaving. It is that, regardless of where you are in the world, humanity is a common thread. Whether it’s other volunteers, local families, Projects Abroad staff, or anyone else along the way, you will always find people who will change your life for the better. Language barrier or not, there is something within all of us that draws us to others, and throughout my experience I have made friends for life, and opened many doors and opportunities in the future because of this. I would encourage you with all my heart to do the same.