THREE WEEKS WITH RAJ
This is Raj, a trekking guide in the Himalayas who has a dream to Clean up Nepal.
Back in 2017 I began planning a trip to Nepal to trek to the Base Camp of Everest. I ran across Raj’s Instagram while searching for others who had done the trek. But unlike the other instagrams that I found, Raj didn’t just have beautiful shots of the mountains, he showed what others hid. He shared pictures of the trash and the impact that tourism and the locals are having on the heavily trafficked trails throughout the mountains. Raj sought to find a solution, so he started his own campaign called “Clean Up Nepal”. His program is an open invitation to anyone who would like to volunteer during clean up events in the city or help pick up trash while trekking with him in the mountains.
After seeing the work he was doing, I quickly reached out to him about possibly teaming up to use my photography to spread his message while trekking to Everest. We spent the next year planning a clean up event in Kathmandu and mapping out our trek to Everest.
WEEK ONE (KATHMANDU)
During my first week I got a glimpse into the chaotic yet beautiful city of Kathmandu. I spent the majority of my time in an area called Thamel, the center of town, essential the hub of where all tourist begin their journey before heading to the mountains.
I spent the majority of my first week documenting and talking to many of the kind locals who spoke about the problems of trash in the city. Later in the week Raj had set up a clean up event on the one year anniversary of the campaign “Clean Up Nepal”. The small event went perfectly with dozens of locals showing up and several tourist joining in as we walked through the center of town. It was amazing to see tourist take time out of their own vacation to stop and help us clean the streets.
Through Instagram I happened to meet Elise who already had spent a month in Nepal and was now looking to go trekking. After Explaining what Raj's goal was with his program and the trek, she quickly jumped on board.
WEEK TWO (TREK TO EVEREST)
My second week in Nepal was the beginning of my two week trek to Everest Base Camp. As we began our trek we were instantly surrounded by beautiful mountain and as we slowly trekked up hill we picked up trash along the trail. We quickly discovered that our actions spoke louder than anything we could say. Dozens of tourist and locals would want to stop and talk to us even when they were out of breath from the high altitude and strenuous trek. Many of them began joining in on the clean up as shown in the picture of the man in the black jacket who felt compelled to help. We met tourist from all over who said they saw the same kind of problem back home on their own trails and they spoke about how they wish people would treat national parks with more care.
Another side project that Raj works on is teaching oral hygiene to kids. During our trek Raj set up a small event where he invited local kids in one of the villages we stayed in and he brought several toothbrushes and toothpaste for us to hand out. After teaching the kids the importance of brushing their teeth he also explained to them why they shouldn’t throw trash on the ground and how they might be able to help clean up Nepal.
As we got closer to Base Camp Raj and Elise continued to pick up trash and talk to other tourist (shown in the videos) in hopes of encouraging others to do the same. While talking to tourist we discussed how everyone should keep in mind that they should take out what they bring rather than leave their trash in the mountains, using the Pack-in and Pack-out method. Many trekkers like myself bring snacks or other items that are wrapped in plastic. Rather than leaving them in the mountain adding to the trash that’s there, if tourist simply carried out the empty and now lightweight trash, it will greatly decrease the amount of trash in the villages along the trail. Then the focus can be shifted to finding a sustainable solution for the other trash opposed to just burning it.