After two weeks in the lowlands of Nepal, we traveled up to the Himalayas (yay!). Gautam Paudyal was our local guide through the region called Langtang National Park, where WWF works with communities—much like in the lowlands—to protect nature. We weren’t sure what to expect from one day to the next because the terrain changed, the weather changed, the activities changed. The only constant was Gautam.
He is a kind, knowledgeable, persistent, tough and wonderful man. As the only WWF-staff member in the region, he has a huge responsibility and the way he handled all of his relationships and work was impressive. We trekked for about eight hours each day at a pace three times slower than Gautam would have liked, but he was endlessly patient. All the way, he would point out the natural and cultural history—the trails, mountains and communities were our classroom.
We quickly found out that Gautam is close friends with everyone we crossed paths with—or at least treated them as such. Every night, huddled around a fire stove in a tea house with a glass of local wine and home-cooked meal, we would watch Gautam chat, laugh and discuss with the host. He would fill us in on the conversation in English from time to time. Telling us of the challenges his friend was facing or the latest development in the local conservation project.
One day we sat in on a community meeting about how to stop wild boars from ruining crops. The meeting was held outside with a beautiful view of the mountains. Heather and I sat quietly watching everything unfold—in Nepali. Even without being able to understand one word, we could see that these were heated conversations. Gautam stayed calm and facilitated the conversation with diplomacy and grace. He never interrupted and resolved conflict after conflict until the meeting concluded. He filled us in afterward and explained people’s frustrations. Of course, they are passionate about protecting their crops, but they also understand the importance of wildlife to the ecosystem and tourism. This meeting was the perfect example of why it is so important that Gautam be a local that shares the community values, language and can visit often to assuage and collaborate.
We learned so much from Gautam. He taught us about conservation in the Himalayas, but he also taught us about life. He is a thoughtful and inspired man. At one point along a particularly though section of the trek, we stopped for a break. He handed us each a Mars bar (one of his favourite trail energizers) and said something along the lines of: “Remember this. The tough and painful parts. It is easy to only remember the good, but you should remember and enjoy the bad as well. It makes the good even better and makes the experience real.” What a great life lesson. Thank you, Gautam, for guiding, teaching and sharing so much with us.