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Birthday in Nepal

Last year I had the pleasure and honour of celebrating my birthday in Nepal’s Himalayas. Heather, in her infinite sweetness, decorated our room with toilet paper (which we’re convinced is actually white decorative steamers…no Charmin bears here) while I was asleep. I ate the traditional Tibetan tsampa porridge (think cream of wheat) for breakfast and then headed out for our last day of trekking. It was the toughest day—my blisters were raw and blending together, my knee hated the constant downhill and my shoulder felt like it was being stabbed. But mostly, it was gorgeous. We walked through dense forest and bamboo the whole time, crossing paths with the rushing Langtang River on and off. While we didn’t see any red pandas, it was cool to think that they probably saw us as we walked by.

Local birthday wine ©Steph Morgan

Local birthday wine ©Steph Morgan

As usual, we received a warm welcome into the town (Yeti Hotel & Lodge in Syabru, Rasuwa) and we settled into a room with a fantastic view of moonlit mountain peaks. Heather and I sat by the wood-burning stove drinking tea while we waited for dinner. Gautam was excited to tell us that some key people from the village were coming to visit us soon. Turns out it was all for a surprise celebration of my birthday!!

The owners of the hotel and their daughter (Dhechen), the head of the community group, head of the women’s group and a local musician/witch doctor all joined. We all sat at the table while Dhechen, who spoke great English, told us that this was going to be a very traditional celebration. Immediately after this speech about traditions and Nepali culture, everyone started singing “Happy Birthday” in English—it was a riot! Gautam had called in advance to have them make me a cake and everything. They had me cut a piece and feed the first bite to Heather. She then fed me a bite. To this day, we’re not sure what that was all about and aren’t entirely sure we’re not married in Nepal! J In all seriousness, though, we did do some wonderful traditional things. The women’s group leader poured some local wine into my hands from a beautiful vase—this was a blessing for good health. The local shaman – called a dhami or jhankri in Nepalese – then played his beautifully-carved three-string guitar-like instrument. They all sang an offering of good health and well wishes. It meant to world to me and was one of the most special birthdays I’ve ever had.

Birthday cake ©Steph Morgan

Birthday cake ©Steph Morgan

I was so moved—as we were the entire trip—by the warm and welcoming nature of the Nepali people. They are so kind-hearted, bright-spirited and lovely. This celebration was the perfect way to end our time in the Himalayas. It was a reflection of the strong relationships Gautam has in the communities—vital to successful conservation work—and the willingness of the Nepali people to collaborate with WWF. The people in the communities we visited live close to and respect nature greatly. They are the ones that will protect and conserve the spectacular species and spaces we were lucky enough to see. It was inspiring to see the teamwork and mutual understanding between the people and WWF.

What a spectacular trip. What a spectacular place.