Tools for Undergraduate Research in Environmental Science and Field Biology:
(Note: As of Fall, 2013, only Units II and III are active. Other Units will be added over the coming months.)

I. Scientific Inquiry: How to identify a research topic, question and hypothesis

II. Fundamentals of Field Sampling: How to design a field study

III. Graphing and Statistics: How to interpret your data using MS Excel

IV. Communicating Your Results: Tips for writing effective papers and making clear presentations

  maps of region where we're living

September 12, 2013, Chaukori: Trip to Munsiyari

April and I recently spent five days in Munsiyari, a village higher up in the mountains, about four to five hours from Chaukori. It's located along an old trade route that got shut down due to the Sino-India War in 1962.

Screen shot from Google Earth showing Chaukori (where the school is located), Munsiyari, the old trade route to Tibet, and Milam where we plan to trek later in the fall (click image for larger version):

At first we were advised to wait until late September or October for this trip as the Monsoons (which are ending about now) cause all sorts of landslides that can stop or delay travel. Our plans changed when we learned that we could travel with Malika and Theo, two Munsiyari residents working on conservation and sustainable development. It turns out that landslides had indeed taken their toll on the roads as there were many sections where half of the road had washed down a sheer cliff leaving only a car's width of road to creep along. Given the blind curves, lots of preemptive beeping of the horn was required to avoid running head long into a jeep taxi coming from the other direction.

Jeep-taxi, though they typically aren't quite this loaded while travelling over the passes:

The most dramatic landslide delay was when we were required to stop due to blasting with dynamite. Up ahead, the road had pretty much completely fallen down a cliff for a 30 meter section . . . blasting into the cliff was required to create a new road-bed. Unlike most sections where road work was taking place entirely with hand tools (often a shovel with a rope tied to it so that a second person could pull the shovel while the first person pushed down to scrape material off the road), the dynamite crew had the help of a bucket loader to clear the road. Within about 40 minutes, we were again on our way.

Clearing the road after the blasting - in the center of the photo you can see where the road used to be:

Little did we know that later on the road and landscape would get even more dramatic. As we drove up the final mountain pass before descending into Munsiyari, we were blown away by the fact that the road - complete with its array of hairpin turns, one lane sections, mountain river fords, and lack of guard rails - was built along a mountainside so incredibly steep. It's quite amazing that the whole thing doesn't wash down slope each summer in the heavy rains - though as we learned and witnessed, some sections do wash down each year.

Closeup of map showing the many switchbacks to get over the pass:

View of the steep mountain pass:

Temple and chai shop at the top of the pass where we stopped to get tea:

View of road cut into steep hillside:

In Munsiyari, we did a home-stay in a small simple room attached to the farm house of Raju and Basanti. We were treated to Basanti's excellent cooking featuring fresh chapatis (always), daal, alu (potatoes), and cooked vegetables flavored with ever-changing and interesting blends of aromatic and spicy flavors. Much of what we ate was grown right there on the farm, including an impressive variety of beans, some imported from the Americas.

View of our room:

Basanti cooking:

Some of Basanti's home-grown beans:

Raju giving Alistair (one of Maati's interns) a haircut
(Basanti is in the back):

Raju was a warm and entertaining host. His English was just good enough to share stories with us of his ancestors (who were traders with Tibet) and his experiences serving in the Indian Army high up in the Himalayas on border patrol, and in Sri Lanka during the unrest there in the late 80s. He also took us to the local heritage museum and the Nanda Devi temple. The temple is perched on a high plateau with panoramic views overlooking a river valley and mountains in all directions.

Entrance to temple:

Plateau that the temple sits on:

Closeup of temple:

Munsiyari is only about 20 miles from Tibet and is surrounded by glacier capped mountains, some rising above 20,000 feet, among the highest peaks on Earth. Because it's still the tail end of the monsoon season here, most days are at least partly cloudy. Nonetheless, we did get a few breaks in the clouds that revealed some of these giants of the Himalayas.

A momentary break in the clouds:

Our last morning in Munsiyari was clear:

As April and I continue our search for place-based projects and a longer-term living situation, Munsiyari is high on the list. Malika and Theo (in part through their work with Maati) are involved with many different projects (including disaster relief for families who lost homes due to flooding this past summer) that we may get involved with, such as bird and plant surveys, the writing and producing of natural and cultural history guides to serve the local ecotourism industry, and interpretation and promotion of local folk art. Later this fall we also plan to do a hike along the old Tibet trade route through the alpine meadows to the Milam Glacier and Nanda Devi base camp. We'll share pictures from that trip on a future post.

A game of cricket in a plaza in Munsiyari:

This site created and maintained by
Dr. Rhine Singleton
Associate Professor of Biology & Environmental Science
Franklin Pierce University, Rindge, NH 03461
You can contact me at: singler at franklinpierce dot edu