At the start of this year I spent three months living in and travelling Nepal - home of the Red Panda. I had wanted to go to Nepal for many years and finally got to experience this place I had been dreaming of. A few months before I was set to go I got in touch with my old friend and colleague Emma Dale who founded the Red Panda Trust. Emma and I had worked together in the past, we both share a great love of Red Pandas and I wanted to help her organisation if I could, this was the start of my journey with the Red Panda Trust. In February this year I packed my Red Panda Onesie, 4 changes of cloths and a camera to be delivered to a conservationist working in the field and got on a plane to a city I was being called to, Kathmandu.
After a 17 hour journey I arrived in Kathmandu and spent the first few days with my Nepali family in the heart of Kathmandu immersing myself in the crazy, bustling city. Everything you read in the travel guides is true but it’s so much more. This country vibrates on a different frequency! I know that sounds quite new-agey but you just feel something different in the air. Nepalese people are deeply spiritual and they are full of life and love, when you go anywhere in Nepal you receive these huge beautiful smiles from people and it really warms your heart. When you stay anywhere whether it be a guesthouse or with a family (mind you most guesthouses are run by family’s anyway) you are treated like royalty. It is a part of the culture to nurture the guest, the Nepalese believe you treat a guest as god and as strange as that felt coming from a Western country where you do everything for yourself, it was really lovely to be around people who are just so incredibly kind and want to give whatever they can to you which was such a strange concept for me to get my head around. I am from Australia, an incredibly rich country yet people are so closed off from each other and do not share with each other. Nepal is considered a poor country yet the Nepalese are far more generous than any of the Western countries I have travelled to. It really changes your perspective on life when you visit a place like this.
After my first few days in Kathmandu I went to stay with Coralie, another staff member from Red Panda Trust at the guesthouse she lives in Sanu’s House (I urge you to stay here if you visit Nepal. Sarita, the guesthouse owner cooks the most delicious food in Patan and is one of the nicest people you will ever meet). Coralie is an incredible activist, originally from France who now lives in Kathmandu, she works teaching French but her spare time is full of conservation and activist work. She is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, and I can imagine she will be blushing when she reads this because she is incredibly humble also. Coralie and I bonded over our love of Red Pandas, Nepal and conservation on the whole over tea and Saritas delicious cooking for the days I stayed at Sanu’s Guesthouse.
In April, Coralie and I were lucky enough to be able to represent the Red Panda Trust at this year’s Langtang National Park Conservation and Tourism Festival. This festival is organised by a grassroots Nepalese organisation the Langtang Area Conservation Concern Society (LACCoS) who have been doing significant work for conservation in the region at a local level. LACCoS held the festival in Dunche which is where their offices are. Dunche is known for being the first town on the Langtang trekking trail, it has gorgeous views of the mountain ranges and valley below. The festival was an informative volleyball tournament between teams from the local villages in the Langtang area. The idea was to bring together local people from the region to enjoy a volleyball tournament with these stunning views whilst sharing information on conservation of Langtang, primarily about the Red Panda. It was a great initiative that brought in the local people to educate them on the importance of conserving their home directly aimed at the young people. Whilst at the event I spoke to Gautam of WWF and we both agreed that educating young people was the key to spreading awareness in the region because not only are they the future but in Nepal (and all over the world) people love young people and children, when you hear them speak of issues they care about with passion and enthusiasm people are motivated to challenge their beliefs which is how you get people to change their actions. To bring fun and conservation together in such a way is really innovative. This is now an annual event that locals look forward to and now more people are becoming passionate about conserving Langtang and the Red Panda.
The day before the festival began I travelled to Dunche to meet the LACCoS team and prepare for the festival. I met Pramod and Sunil who are volunteers at the LACCoS offices. The offices were a great snapshot into the work LACCoS have done over the years. The walls were lined with photographs, maps and information about the Langtang National Park, the various species that inhabit it and most importantly to me - the Red Panda! I couldn’t believe that I was finally in the country I had been dreaming of, in a room full of Red Panda information and people who also loved the Red Panda as much as me. It was very surreal. The volunteers were around the room cutting out bits of paper, painting signs and preparing for the 1st day of the festival. Pramod gave me a tour of the offices, we shared a tea and our ideas on conservation.
The festival began the next day with a parade through town and the whole town came out to see. The parade was so much fun and it included so many different people from the local volleyball teams through to local ministers even the Langtang National Park Manager was included! We marched from one end of town to the other with signs, drums and banners. We even had a Red Panda (a LACCoS volunteer with my onesie from Australia on). The parade ended at the volleyball fields which was overlooking the mountains and the valley, you felt like you were in the clouds. There was a stage set up where the members of government, Langtang National Park Manager, LACCoS would be for the next few days sharing information. On the other side there was a scoring booth with the Red Panda Trust Habre handbook printed into a massive wall banner.
After everybody settled the LACCoS team welcomed everybody and explained to the crowd the importance of protecting Langtang and the Red Panda – in Nepali because this was a Nepalese event. Once the initial speeches were made the first volleyball match kicked off! Coralie arrived later that day which I was very grateful for because she speaks a little Nepali and was able to translate some of the information and scoring to me. Over the course of the next few days the volleyball match played on through sunshine, crazy rain and even hail at one point! The volleyball matches were broken up each day with conservation talks. Each day the crowds continued to grow even though the weather was erratic which I was thrilled for because it meant the message about conservation was reaching more people. The sidelines were so full that people were lining the staircase and watching from the back of the local homes and shops.
The festival ended with a dance competition, the Red Panda team winning and a big bang (of confetti). The crowds were so excited, they were cheering and there was so much joy in the air. I’ve been working with NGO’s for a long time and never have I seen so much fun at a conservation event. My country has a lot to learn from this Nepalese organisation LACCoS and I really hope I get to work with them again in the future. This was one of the highlights of my time in Nepal – I cannot wait to return!
The week after the Langtang Tourism and Conservation Festival I was in Kathmandu when an earthquake erupted. The earthquake killed 8659 people and displaced 88, 482 (according to the World Health Organisation). Langtang is one of the places that has been most affected, people in Dunche are now living in tents. LACCoS has been providing aid to people affected by this tragedy. Please donate to help the people of Langtang.