Paribesh Pradhan: Into the Wild

February 5, 2015 , by Shreesha Nankhwa, Leave your thoughts
We pride ourselves on our mountains. We write essays and poems about it at schools. But the bitter fact is that most Nepalese have never set foot on a mountain or even seen one up close.

Not even in the distant dreams had Paribesh Pradhan thought of becoming an environmentalist. But a boy who began his academic journey as an engineer, just because his father wanted him to be, has become a man who embarks on a journey that would bring him close to the nature. He breathes the oxygen from the trees that have remained unscathed, treads the trails that are coveted and spots the changes that has been evident with the progression of time.

Pradhan did his Bachelors in Engineering at Nepal Engineering College, mostly because that was what his father wanted him to do. “In Nepal, a lot of young people don’t really know what they want to do, or the career they are interested in. I guess I was one of them,” recalls Pradhan. Then came an internship at ICIMOD that proved to be the turning point of his life.


Working at ICIMOD brought him the opportunity to see more of Nepal than most city dwelling Kathmanduites get to see and he got hooked. It all started back in 2007, when Pradhan went for his first trek to Helambu while he was an intern at the Mountain Forum in ICIMOD. “Most of my colleagues were foreigners who had been to all these wonderful places in Nepal. And there I was, a boy from Kathmandu, who had never set foot on a mountain before. As they talked about my own country, all I could do was smile and nod.” Being a Nepali, it was a bittersweet irony that forced him to make up his mind and change the way he has lived so far.

“I started to trek more. I would go on trekking trips at least twice a year. A lot of it was for work. But as I saw more of Nepal, my fascination with the mountains kept growing,” said Pradhan who spent the next four years of his life at ICIMOD cultivating his new found passion and learning more about the field he had chosen.

His journey into the wild from ICIMOD followed him to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Resource Centre for Asia and the Pacific. In 2012, Pradhan trekked through the Great Himalayan Trail. In an assiduous adventure that lasted 98 days, he unraveled the landscapes of the Himalayan region from Eastern Nepal to the West studying the effects of climate change on the Himalayan communities. Travelling through the more popular trekking routes along with the lesser-known trails of the Himalayan region, the journey concluded with the answers that environmentalists have been seeking.

He discovered that the people along the Himalayan trail were rather well-versed on the science of climate change although the depth of their knowledge really depended on where they lived. “Along the more popular trekking routes like the Annapurna Trail, they could give you hour-long lectures on climate change and its dangers. However, along the less travelled trails like the Kanchanjunga or the Makalu Barun trail, people were more concerned with pollution and changes in weather patterns and how it affected their livelihood.”

The problem with climate change studies in Nepal is that there is very little in-situ data. “We have very little weather stations and data collection sites. And even if we do have any information, we Nepalese share it reluctantly, if at all.” This scarcity of available data makes it harder for researchers like Pradhan to gather significant evidence to the effects of climate change. “We have very little basis to make claims,” he asserts with conviction.
However, his journey across the Great Himalayan Trail was not limited to the discovery of change in the environment and their patterns. He realised that the mountainous regions of Nepal needed a redistribution of tourism. “Most tourists who come to Nepal for mountaineering want to go the Everest Region. Those who can’t, they end up settling with the Annapurna Range. But there are so many other places, like the Kanchanjunga trail or the Makalu Barun trail, that are really beautiful and needs to be unleashed.”

In fact, among Pradhan’s favourite places during the trek, neither of them was particularly touristy. He loved Dolpa for the quiet solitude it offered and Dhorpatan because of its rugged barren beauty. After working dedicatedly in the field of environment for all these years, Pradhan returned to academia last year. He is currently in the second year of his post graduate degree in Physical Geography at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
His stay in Switzerland has left him aghast over the way how people respond to the nature. “In Nepal, if you don’t have to work, you’ll usually sit at home watching TV. But in Switzerland, if the weather is good, most people can be found hiking or going to picnic.” In fact, at times, the level of Swiss love for nature seems bizarre to the boy from Kathmandu. Pradhan laughingly recalls an incident at the local park where one of his Swiss friends asked him not to walk on the grass because it would destroy it. “It is so bizarre. We don’t even think about these things!”

With the untouched nature of Nepal offering more for any environmentalist in the world, Pradhan is now eager to have his graduation completed in Switzerland and head back to his country to give all he can. Pradhan has the plans to conduct research on the effect of climate change and melting of glacier on the run off in the water resources downstream. “Changes on the melting of glacier will directly affect the water security for consumption, irrigation and hydropower generation in the downstream area.”

Recently, Pradhan was honoured with the “Green Talent” award by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for his past accomplishments and his future research plans. “The award was a bit surprising. I hadn’t really expected to get it.” He says: “I didn’t get the award for any particular achievement as such. It is based on your profile – what you have done in the past, your current field of study and your potentials,” he further elaborates. The Green Talents website quotes on Pradhan receiving the award: “The Jury was impressed by the complementary way Paribesh is applying his specialist practical knowledge of the region to his scientific research.”

Pradhan believes that people would be more concerned about the environment if they went out into the nature. “People need to get out of their houses and go back into the nature. Especially in Nepal, people need to go out, hike, trek, and see the mountains and rivers and forests. We are so proud of Nepal’s natural beauty. We boast of it. We have our kids writing essays and poems about it. But until you go out there and experience the beauty by yourself, you won’t understand what you’re talking about.”


Words by Shreesha Nankhwa.


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