Fieldwork in Nepal

At the end of February just as I was about to submit a proposal for funding my own post-doc in Germany (more on that in a different post soon!) I found an email from one of my PhD supervisors from Edinburgh in my inbox: “See email below, may be of interest if you are free.” He had forwarded me an email by a PhD student, Laura, who was urgently looking for a field assistant for Nepal. Thinking about the amazing time I had in Nepal the last time, and due to the fact that my new job wouldn’t start until June, it took me about 5 seconds to decide whether I should sent her an email or not! A couple of days later it became clear that I would spent 5 weeks doing fieldwork with her. Apparently people in Edinburgh still remembered what an amazing person I am 😉 (or there was no one else suited for the job…).

Forward a month and I was on a plane to Kathmandu where I met Laura for the first time. When you agree to spent 5 weeks with a person you have never met before there is always a chance that you don’t get along, so I was a bit nervous about the first few hours (as was she), but it turned out I had worried about nothing!

The next day we took an internal flight from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj in the western part of Nepal, very close to the Indian boarder. It was a bit cloudy and hazy, but we were treated with some amazing views of the Himalayas.


View of the greater Himalayas, the Anapurna range to the right, left of it the Daulaghiri  (I think…).

The next morning we were picked up by a driver, who was supposed to be our driver for the next 4 weeks. Only that our journey with him lasted less than 10 minutes as it became very clear that he did not understand any English. As neither of us speaks Nepali we had to arrange a different driver (which ment that we had to wait until the next day to leave for the fieldwork area). During the past weeks we have had three more drivers for various reasons, including a non working car, and an accident. If you have ever experienced driving in Nepal you may agree that this is a reasonable number of drivers to go through. Other modes of transport so far included boats and a traktor trailer!


A local ferry boat used to transport people, motorbikes, bicycles, goats and even cattle across the river! In the back the first fold and thrust belt of the Himalaya. 

The next day we started the fieldwork, and I was quite excited about it. I didn’t really know what to expect – all I knew was that we were going to look at a river system, in particular gravel bars, and that in order to qualify as field assistant I had to be able to identify rocks. It turned out that we were going to identify gravels  (a very loose term which I thought was for rocks the size of small pebbles – I was very wrong) and measuring their size (all three axes). Additionally we would look at conglomerates which have been deposited in an ancient river system not too dissimilar to the present day one. In the past couple of weeks we have also sieved the sediment on the gravel bars in order to gain an understanding of the grain size distribution along the river. Sieving is great for toning muscles, I  feel that it should be added to a gym near you!


Gravels on a gravel bar, Laura for scale. So much to my idea of gravel being the size of small pebbles…

Since the first day of fieldwork we have been quite an attraction for locals. Often kids would spent hours watching what we were doing while grownups would watch us with interest for a couple of minutes and then walk away – clearly wondering what on earth these two white people were doing and whether the sun had fried our brains… Communicating with the locals was often difficult as our Nepali is very bad (not existent) and their understanding of English not great. However, I was often surprised how well kids can talk English!


A camping stove is clearly very exciting.


Our usual crowd when we are working close to a village. In the back some of the conglomerates we have been studying.

Now there are only a few days of fieldwork left, and the hardest ones were definitely the first four when we had to hike and camp as there were no roads (nor guesthouses/hotels). We were also utterly unprepared for the heat and high humidity that we had to face (36-39°C in the shade, what felt like 50 on a gravel bar). By now we are quite used to these temperatures and can work all day long without being to exhausted or getting a heatstroke like we did the first day! The last four weeks have been very exiting and I have learned a lot – science-wise as well as about Nepalese culture and people – and am glad to say that I have enjoyed most days.  I am looking forward to see what Laura can get out of all the data we have collected – hoping that it was not all for nothing 😉


Twilight after sunset in the lesser Himalaya. Taken on our way back from a long day in the field (mainly due to a car crash and the need for changing vehicle). 

PS: I have written this post on my mobile phone and apologise for any errors…


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