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Mutts mourn a local hero

Chungda didi in 2008.

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of our most dedicated and fervent community volunteers, Chungda Jamba Gurung, affectionally known to the team as Chungda didi.

Since the Himalayan Mutt Project began our work in 2014, Chungda didi, who loves dogs, has fervently supported our efforts in her home district of Manang.

Chunda didi had wanted to neuter her Himalayan mastiff, a yak herding dog named Puppy, in 2014, but he was at the higher elevation guarding her herd of yak. Chunga didi then promised that she would make sure he was around for our sterilisation camp the following year.

When we returned to Ngarwal, we found Puppy tethered by a leash to a door post outside her home. Puppy was not happy and whined the whole day. "He wants to be with the yak." She said. However, that year, we did not base our neutering camp in Ngarwal, but in the village of Braka, a full days' hike away. The Himalayan Mutt Project tries to base our camps in villages where there are the most number of unsterilised dogs in that particular year. Since we had visited Ngarwal the year before, the following year, we moved to another village. Not wanting to miss us for another year, Chungda didi sought the help of a neighbour to walk her dog down over 1000 m in elevation from her mountain home. Puppy was very unhappy to be separated from Chungda didi and the yak, and kept the whole village awake with his barking and whining during the night. We were to keep him in Braka and return him to Ngarwal the following day after his surgery. Once in the four-wheel drive, Puppy was quiet. He seemed used to bumpy rides and was a comfortable mountain traveller. Puppy's affection for Chungda didi, we believe, was a potent indication of the kind, generous, and dedicated human being that Chunda didi was. We imagine that Puppy misses her dearly.

Chungda didi (second from left) with Debby Ng, Ajay Narsingh Rana, Jules Kee, and Dr Gim Ng in Ngarwal in 2018 during our canine distemper survey.

Chungda didi kept her promise to neuter Puppy. She raised to the task again in 2018, when we returned to carry out the distemper survey. She had reached out to all dog owners from her village of Ngarwal to bring their dogs to her home and inn, where she had volunteered to host us at no expense, for the duration of our work. That year, in additional to sterilisations and rabies vaccines, we screened all dogs for distemper, a kind of disease that is similar to measles in humans. Our success in Ngarwal could not have been possible without her.

Chungda didi in 2019 (back row, 4th from left) with the Community Disease Alert Network team in Ngarwal that she helped organise. Chungda didi was an effective force in her community.

I was introduced to Chunga didi in 2008 by HMP co-founder Mukhiya Gotame. She had welcomed me into her home with hot raksi and warm laughter. During those days Ngarwal did not have any power, and much of our conversations were through candle light. Despite the hard work and harsh weather, she and her husband were almost always seen working and laughing together. She was always welcoming and warm to our team, and generous to carve time out of her busy schedule to support our work. She made amazing dhal bhat with jimbu, and when they were in season, she would hike into the forest to harvest wild mushrooms for our team - a gesture of love, on top of everything else she was doing for us and her Himalayan animals.

When we lose a local hero like Chungda didi, our work is set back many steps until a new leader steps in. We have lost a colleague, a leader, a very dear friend, and a local hero. Chungda didi had been suffering from respiratory ailments, having spent her life working in small, poorly, ventilated kitchens. She was taken by the COVID-19 Delta wave. She leaves a deep hole in our hearts that will be hard to mend.


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