Seven days in Little Tibet

A blow-by-blow account of a week spent in the restricted NarPhu valley searching for snow leopards and their calling cards.

Day 1

Start: Koto 2600m

Finish: Mehta 3560m

Net altitude gain: 960m

Journey time: 8 hours 45 minutes

Armed to the teeth with permits, we were let into the valley by the police without any problems.  Immediately a different world: no tourists, no road, hardly any litter.  The river gorge we followed was incredible – 1,000m/3,300ft rock walls towering over us on both sides, the sky a sliver of light far above.  Sore neck from continually gaping upwards.  Below the narrow path a sharp fall to certain death in the ferocious Naar khola (river).  Exhausting walk.  Out like a light. Continue reading

Fawlty Towers

The worst hotel in town happens to be the only hotel in town. Expect fireworks.

A tired and hungry bunch of snow leopard researchers arrive at their accommodation after seven hours of exhausting hiking in the baking sun. What they don’t realise is that they have arrived at the NarPhu valley’s version of Fawlty Towers, staffed by the venerable manager (let’s call him Basil) and his hapless assistant (let’s call him Manuel). The scene is set for a memorable stay.

Continue reading

Goldrush

The extraordinary tale of the extraordinary fungus found widely in some snow leopard habitat.

At this time of year, high up in the Himalayas, multitudes of people can be seen combing the ground beneath them, as if looking for something lost. They proceed slowly on their hands and knees, painstakingly covering every square inch of hillside. Every so often, one stops, pulls out a trowel and digs carefully in the soil. Then they lift their prize to examine it in the light – a small, wizened, root-like object, its pale yellow colour obscured by a dusting of soil. Welcome to yartsagunbu season in Nepal. Welcome to the goldrush. Continue reading

No free lunch

A bright idea for surveying tourists turns into a lot of extra work. Maurice and Jonny recount the sad story.

Maurice: ‘Rinzin, can you please check with him if he is happy to sell his last bottle of methylated spirits to us…’

Rinzin: ‘Yes, he is more than happy!’

Maurice: ‘Fantastic! And could you check with him that he really doesn’t need it…’

After much dialogue, headshaking and difficult facial expressions, it became clear there was, in fact, a problem. Continue reading

Wild Mustang

A short digest of the team’s work over the last month in the western part of Annapurna Conservation Area.

Before it was a muscle-car or a horse breed from the New World, Mustang was a region of mid-western Nepal. It is the true heir to the title. Long before cars were invented or even before horses were introduced to North America by the Spanish, Mustang was the name given to this arid valley that runs south from the Tibetan border. Situated between the towering 8,000metre-plus peaks of Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri, its Kali Gandakhi gorge is the deepest in the world. The vast mountains to the east block the passage of the annual monsoon into the valley so that little rain waters its barren landscape. In fact, moonscape might be a more appropriate description. But in its starkness it is stunning. Continue reading

Stairway to heaven

Jonny looks back on his exploratory trip to Nepal in the Autumn of 2013 and sets the scene for his return next week.

In October/November of last year I made my first fieldtrip to Nepal. This one was about setting the scene for the main research trips of 2014, which this blog has been describing. I came to do a practice run with the questionnaire I’d devised, to conduct interviews with locals on a range of background issues relevant to my study, and to check out the areas where the team and I would be collecting data later on: Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park (SNP) and Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). As my government research permit hadn’t come through by then (or till a lot later – see Hakuna Matata), I wasn’t able to visit SNP. But I had got my research permit from the organisation that operates ACA – the National Trust for Nature Conservation. I flew in to Kathmandu, had meetings with a few big conservation cheeses, bagged the permit and headed for the hills. Continue reading

Something old, something new

Doing a PhD is a bit like getting married: it’s a big commitment. Jonny explains, with a little help from an old wedding rhyme.

Something old

A PhD begins with history. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel so the first thing to do is assess what research has already been done, when, where and by whom. It means reading widely and deeply on the immediate subject matter you’re interested in – in my case snow leopards – as well as other related material. For me that includes previous work on other big cats species, carnivores and large animals, as well as research on agriculture, mountains, rural development and conservation governance (the different models for managing natural resources such as wildlife). All of that adds up a lot of documents that need sifting. My PhD proposal, which is a plan of how I’ll do my research, has around 365 references. The final thesis will have many more. Continue reading

21st century conservation

Jonny suggests that studying the study’s research team can tell us a lot about conservation today.

Conservation has come a long way since 1903. Back then, a group of British statesmen and naturalists formed the world’s first international conservation organisation, calling it ‘The Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire’. These be-whiskered Anglo-Saxon gentlemen, with their guns and safari suits, lived in a very different world to the one we inhabit today, albeit in the twilight of an era that was to be extinguished by the cataclysm of World War I. The safari suits, if not the guns, may have mostly gone since then but conservation has not. Over a century later, the microcosm that is our research team provides a window on a changed world. Continue reading

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Flickr Photos

Marshyangdi river valley, Annapurna

Yunkar Gompa in the NarPhu valley

Yaks in the NarPhu valley

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