Volunteering abroad in the Himalayas is an experience not to be missed! ☆ “Want to teach in the Himalayas?” This was the top result following an internet search for short term volunteer teaching opportunities abroad. Who could resist such an invitation? For anyone with a thirst for exciting travel, the Himalayas are an irresistible location, the stuff of legend and mystery.
Still relatively inaccessible, the difficulties getting there make travel and volunteering in the region seem all the more exciting and rewarding. With its long history of remarkable expeditions and exploration, its hidden valleys, inaccessible peaks and rich mystical culture, it is still a dream destination for an adventurous minded volunteer.
Read on to learn our mountain-sized reasons to volunteer abroad in the Himalayas, in India and beyond.
Why volunteer in the Himalayas?
1. Breath-taking beauty and variety
It doesn’t get prettier than volunteering in the Himalayas. In the far north west, in the high mountains of Ladakh, the scenery has an austere and grand beauty. Apparently bare mountainsides and jagged peaks soar into the sky, their flanks glowing in stripes of orange, purple, pink and grey. Here the air is thin and the light piercing. On the inhospitable mountain sides, rare blue sheep, musk deer and herds of dark, shaggy yak feed on stunted, spiky vegetation. In the valleys are green oases where the rivers and streams are expertly manipulated for irrigation and terraced fields of barley, and groves of bright green apricot trees contrast with the snow-capped peaks rising above them. It is a region that is largely Buddhist, and there are dramatic monasteries perched on top of rocky crags, their white painted walls and coloured windows and roofs standing at the head of many a remote valley, rising up above the small villages huddled below them.
Further east the landscapes of Uttarakhand, Nepal and Sikkim are different again. Here lush, precipitously sided valleys hung with terraced fields of bright green rice in the growing season, change as you go higher to fields of barley, millet, turmeric and cardamom. There are forests of teak, pine, cedar, fir and rhododendron full of brightly coloured flowers and birds. In the wet season gushing streams and waterfalls tumble down to the rivers, hidden deep in the gloom of valley floors, whilst high above, often veiled by tantalising mists, are the snowy peaks of some of the highest mountains in the world. Dawn will often reveal them glowing crimson and peach in the early morning sunlight.
2. Fascinating culture that transcends borders
However, it is not just the beauty of its landscape that makes this such a wonderful region to visit. It is home to a rich and colourful culture. Across the region you will get the opportunity to experience the customs, vibrant festivals and strange and wonderful architecture of the Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist religions, to name just three from the tapestry of varied beliefs that flourish in the Himalayan region. You will taste food that you have never eaten before: tasty, colourful curries rich with turmeric, cardamom, ginger, chilli and garlic. Piles of rice and chapatis, puri, roti, parathas and other delicious breads, with pickles to make your eyes water, accompany the meal. And you will meet people whose hospitality will make you want to stay forever.
And don’t forget that the mighty Himalayas reach across or encompass five countries. That means if you’re interested in volunteering in China, Nepal, Bhutan, India, or Pakistan, you’ll be able to find programs that introduce you to the magic of volunteering abroad in the Himalayas. All of these destinations have really magnificent, unique cultures to explore!
3. Great hospitality
And perhaps more than anything else, it is the warmth and friendliness of the people who live there that make the Himalayas such a wonderful place to go to as a volunteer. In the villages in particular you will be welcomed into their homes as a member of their own family. You will be fed until you bulge and surrounded by eager groups of children and shyer adults waiting to hear about your home, your country, your favourite songs, your experiences. They will take you by the hand and lead you from house to house, up and down precipitous stony paths to offer you one more cup of spicy tea, one more biscuit, one more sticky, bright orange jalebi sweet, until you beg for mercy!
4. The experience is unforgettable
It is not just what you gain when you volunteer in the Himalayas, but what you give that will make this an unforgettable experience. Volunteering in the region gives you the opportunity to make a real and valuable contribution to the life of communities for whom the presence of a volunteer from another country provides another pair of hands, a new perspective, new ideas. Not only that but a teacher volunteer for example, can often raise the morale of a school and its teachers, give people a new sense of the worth and value of their own culture, offer friendship and practical help.
It can be a real meeting of minds and ideas, a building of bridges across religious and cultural divides that will enrich everybody for years to come. Rural depopulation is a severe problem across the region as people feel that they have to leave their traditional communities and villages to seek education and work opportunities in the cities, where the quality of life is much worse. Volunteering in a village school or local project can provide a lifeline for such a struggling community.
5. It’s hard work, but rewarding
Of course, such a volunteer placement will not be without its challenges. The cold recollection, in the middle of a dark, wet night, that the toilet is a hole in the floor in a small shed a five-minute walk across a muddy yard; that your opportunity to wash your hair, clothes and body comfortably in warm water will not arrive until Saturday, when, along with the whole family, you get your weekly ration of half a bucket of hot water, heated up in big black cauldrons on wood fires; that for the twenty eighth day in a row your breakfast is rice and dahl; that for two weeks you have not managed to escape the gathering of eager companions, anxious to join you on your hoped-for peaceful and solitary evening walk, who want to share with you every view, plant, neighbouring house and animal that you pass.
You will be exhausted and think you can’t manage another day in a poorly lit classroom with out-of-date, dog-eared course books and no perceivable curriculum or timetable. But you will. You will because this is going to be one of the most challenging, but also rewarding, experiences of your life and you will have memories and friendships that will never leave you.
As one volunteer in the Himalayas wrote: “For the last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to call Tathang, a remote and tiny village in West Sikkim, home. The outstanding landscapes and natural beauty of the area blow you away, but the people here are what makes this experience truly unforgettable.” Volunteering in the Himalayas is a life changing, often challenging, but always enriching experience. What are you waiting for?