First field trip to Gatlang village to test water quality in the Parvati Kunda wetland is complete! Doing science in Nepal is always and adventure. Here are the highlights (there are lots of highlights so read as you wish):
-Background: Parvati Kunda is a wetland that lies at 2,600 m in elevation and is the only drinking water source for the nearby village of Gatlang, population about 1,500. In recent years, people in the village have become concerned with the aggressive growth of a semi-aquatic plant called bojo (Acorus calamus). They asked WCN to help develop a management plan for preserving their drinking water source. My job is to collect baseline data on water quality, biodiversity, and community perceptions and use that information to define future management targets and understand the rapid expansion of bojo. Additionally, my data will be the foundation of a larger grant proposal that will help the people of Gatlang conserve Parvati Kunda in the long term.
-Shopping for lab supplies in Kathmandu involves visiting a dark, dusty surgical supply shop on Sunday afternoon and rummaging around for plastic funnels, filter paper, sample bottles, and Ethanol, and then bargaining for a better price, and then balancing all the supplies on the motorbike for the ride home. This is so much more fun than visiting the lab supplier in the basement of the Northwestern Technology building.
-I could not find plain old 95% ethanol. In the US you can purchase it by the gallon in any lab supply shop (or just get Everclear from the liquor store). But in Nepal, there was either super expensive 99% ethanol that I could not afford, or suspicious-looking bottles of an un-specified concentration from India. I went with the un-specified concentration. My samples haven’t decayed so far so I guess it’s fine.
-My good friend Bigyan hand-made a 0.5 m2 vegetation-sampling quadrat for me, specially designed to come apart for ease of transportation. I love it and will probably take it back to the US with me.
-I purchased a super expensive Dissolved Oxygen meter from the one fancy lab supply store in Kathmandu and felt very professional.
-We were originally leaving for Gatlang on November 6th. Then it got pushed back to the 9th. Then on the 8th it was moved to the 10th. Then the 11th. Then we finally actually left on November 12th, after about a week of trying to solidify dates. I am learning to go with the flow.
-I traveled with two WCN colleagues named Rajeshwar and Mohan. Rajeshwar coordinated logistics, helped with community surveys, and took care of miscellaneous WCN business. Mohan knew almost all the plants, trees, birds, and insects in Gatlang and took excellent pictures. And my job was to organize our sampling equipment and schedule our sampling plan and carry out the sampling.
-It is just not easy to get to Gatlang. It takes 10+ hours in the best conditions, even though its only about 145 km (88 miles). We took a local bus for eight hours, got stuck behind a broken down truck on a one-way road next to a 30 food cliff for 1 hour, and then transferred to a jeep for 2 more hours of the bumpiest road I have ever experienced. All you can do is hold on for dear life.
-There was a giant spider as big as my hand in my bedroom. I had to have Mohan remove it. I only slept because I convinced myself that a bedroom ecosystem could only possibly support ONE spider that enormous.
-It is COLD in Gatlang. Small children have scabby cheeks from the cold. My legs burned and my hands cracked from the cold. The only way to keep the fecal coliform presence/absence vials warm was to put them in my sleeping bag at night and my sports bra during the day. And it’s not even winter yet.
-I used iodine tablets to purify water and they tasted SO AWFUL I had to dump unreasonable amounts of orange Tang in my water bottle just to choke it down. I will never again travel without my water filter, nor will I drink orange Tang without gagging.
-To test for fecal coliform (poop in the water that makes you sick), we filled a special vial with water and waited for 24 hours. If the vial turned black, the water was bad. If it didn’t turn black, we were supposed to wait for another 24 hours, after which if the water was black, it was still bad but a little bit less. After about 30 hours of no blackness, I got fed up with my Orange-Tang-iodine flavored water and started drinking unfiltered water from the tap. Six hours later, the vials turned black. I had mild diarrhea for about a week…serves me right.
-The water in the wetland was juuuust above my rainboots, so mostly I waded in the water barefoot. The temperature ranged from 2-14 degrees C. My feet were a bit cold.
-People in Gatlang believe Parvati Kunda is 1 kilometer deep (that’s 1000 meters). The deepest we measured was 4.1 meters, but then again, we couldn’t quite reach the center of the open water…who knows…
-I am happy to report that water in Parvati Kunda, as well as taps in Gatlang village, pass national and international drinking water standards. Except for the fecal coliform. This is probably from the large number of chauri (cow/yak cross) and goats that roam around the pond, and is something to be addressed in the future.
-Standing among chauri and their herders, with everything glowing pink in the sunset after a long day of sampling, we saw the super moon hanging huge in the sky just south of Langtang peak. Couldn't be captured with pictures.
-We decided to take a public jeep (known by the brand name “Sumo”) through Langtang National Park to Kathmandu. This was a horrible idea. We were packed so tight we were basically sitting on each other’s laps. I refused to let the bag of sampling equipment and plant specimens go on top of the jeep, so I hugged it on my lap.
However, my big backpack containing my laptop, datasheets, and the expensive DO meter went on top of the jeep. I was worried the landslide-ravaged roads would send my bag flying out of the tie-down straps and over the 50-foot cliff, taking my laptop and all our data with it, but I reassured myself that at least the bag was tied down.
But when we got to Dunche and had to pull everything out for a security check, I realized the driver hadn’t tied the bags down. They were literally just sitting up there for 1.5 hours over the bumpiest roads imaginable without being tied down. My laptop was on top of a moving Sumo jeep without being tied down. I grabbed my datasheets and DO meter and did not let them out of my sight until we got to Kathmandu. Everything was fine, but I will never make that mistake again—from now on, all electronics, expensive equipment, and datasheets go with me in the vehicle.
And now on to the next adventure: Mom and Dad arrive in Kathmandu at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, November 29th! They come bearing new running shoes, American chocolates, and 30 Power Bars (one per person, not including me, for each day of their trip). Hopefully Nepal can handle three-fourths of the Moravek family at the same time!
Meet Jessie Moravek
I am a 2018 Fulbright Scholar at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. Studying for an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation. Click here to learn more about me!