Pokhara is Nepal’s second largest city, after Kathmandu, and a welcome haven for volunteers and adventure travelers from all over the world. Located only a few hours by bus from the capital city, Pokhara is nestled in stunning scenery on the banks of Phewa Lake, in the shadow of three of the Himalaya’s highest peaks (which are also three of the tallest mountains in the world). Volunteering in Pokhara is a once in a lifetime chance to live amid one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes while giving back to communities in need, especially after the recent earthquakes in Nepal in 2015.
Volunteer Work in Pokhara
Nepal has one of the highest poverty rates in Asia, as most of its people live in villages spread out throughout the Himalayas. The country is slowly urbanizing, but the population still remains primarily rural. Out of the 27 million people who live in Nepal, Pokhara is home to less than 300,000. Nevertheless, poverty levies a significant toll on this urban population, as many Nepalese citizens living in Pokhara lack dependable access to basic resources, such as healthcare and education.
Some of the most popular types of volunteer placements in Pokhara are: at orphanages or community centers working with children, in hospitals or health clinics providing basic health care for locals, and at schools teaching pupils of all ages. You can also find opportunities to volunteer in Pokhara in human rights placements, often focused on campaigning for social justice or raising awareness about specific issues, such as women’s rights and democratic transparency. These community focused projects are located throughout Pokhara, and are typically spearheaded by NGOs and other non-profit organizations based in the city.
Most importantly, most opportunities to volunteer in Pokhara are currently centered on disaster relief, recovery, and reconstruction, as Nepal was hit by a series of tragic earthquakes in 2015. Many families are living in tents or sleeping without any shelter, either because of a lack of housing or a fear of further earthquakes and tremors. Volunteers can help provide immediate relief goods to survivors, as well as contribute to long-term recovery efforts.
In a different realm, prior to the recent earthquakes in Nepal, eco-tourism was also gaining popularity as a form of volunteering in Pokhara. Pokhara is a major launch site for trekking in the Himalayas, so there is a great concern for the protection of the environment and indigenous wildlife. Eco-tourism volunteering in Pokhara typically involves a combination of outdoor adventure activities with regular service work, contributing to the well-being of the environment (such as building footpaths, picking up trash, and working with animals).
Life in Pokhara
As transportation becomes easier and the nation’s doors open to tourists from all over the world, Nepal is slowly becoming one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia. A large part of its economy is based on tourism, so while it will certainly be culturally shocking adjusting to life in Pokhara, you do not have to worry much about safety issues or discomforts associated with being a stranger in a strange land. Nepal is a safe country, and locals are very friendly and willing to engage sincerely with foreign volunteers.
There are many outdoor and adventure-sport opportunities in and around Pokhara, ranging from trekking various peaks of the Himalayas to paragliding over the city to renting a boat and soaking up the sun on Lake Phewa. The weather is actually mild year-round, because of the elevation, so any time is a great time to volunteer in Pokhara. Watch out though, monsoon season, usually spanning from July to September, can get pretty wet.
You do not have to worry about speaking Nepali to live and volunteer in Pokhara. While it would be nice to make an effort to learn as much of the local language as possible, enough English is spoken around the city that you can get by fine as an anglophile. During your volunteer work in Pokhara it is likely that you will be assisted in communicating with locals by local staff members too.
Costs & Affordability
Nepal is one of the most affordable travel destinations in the world. Airfare and program fees will prove to be your largest expense by far when it comes to volunteering in Pokhara. Once on the ground, most foreign volunteers will not have to worry too much about additional costs of living. Food and transportation, for example, will only be a few dollars at a time (if even that). The local currency in Pokhara is the Nepalese Rupee, which runs at about 100 NPR to $1.
Accommodations & Visa
The most common housing options for foreign volunteers in Pokhara are homestays and group living. Typically, volunteer programs in Pokhara will help you to organize housing, either with a host family or in their own local accommodations, where you will often live with other volunteers. Volunteers should expect housing to be very simple, especially since many buildings and homes were destroyed or greatly damaged in the recent earthquakes.
Nepal’s visa policy is fairly lax, and volunteers can usually obtain the visa needed to volunteer in Pokhara upon arrival at the Kathmandu airport or border crossing. However, be sure to carry enough cash on you to pay any fees at customs.
Benefits & Challenges
Relax. Volunteering in Pokhara will be a great escape from the highly competitive industrial environment of other cities across the world. High up in the Himalayas, there is a sense of disconnect from the rest of the world, and it is a very peaceful place to spend some time. You may lack consistent internet access in certain places, but that makes it all the better.
Live in the Himalayas. The scenery of Pokhara is indescribable, you have to go there and see it to believe it. Nearly a mile above sea level, you will be living in a valley surrounded by lush forests, intricate waterways, and some of the tallest snowcapped peaks in the world. Everyday you wake up as a volunteer in Pokhara will be like living in a dream.
Make a Positive Impact. Nepal is a great place to travel, but let’s not forget why you are traveling to Pokhara. Volunteering in Pokhara is a way to experience another culture and way of life, while giving back your time to help the local community in whatever way you can. After the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, your volunteer work in Pokhara will undoubtedly go a long way.