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Volunteering in India vs. Volunteering in Nepal

Canoeing on the water in Nepal

Stitched together by the Ganges River and providers of a shared home for the Himalayas, India and Nepal hold high appeal to volunteers from all over the world. These are two deeply spiritual countries, with rich cultures and incredible landscapes. Both countries are bursting at the seams when it comes to population, so volunteers will never be short of work in either one.

Both India and Nepal have been had close relations since ancient times, likely attributed to their similar geographical location and overlapping ethnic, linguistic and cultural identities. As Central Asian and subcontinental countries, both India and Nepal are often overlooked in lieu of other easily accessible volunteer projects. However, both countries have a lot to offer, and a great need, for international volunteers.

India is an inconceivably busy country, with people, cows, tuk tuks, motorbikes, buses, and bicycles vying for space at every turn. Full of challenges, rewards, and life, there’s no place like it on earth. And, of course, there’s the smorgasbord of tasty dishes for the foodies out there. Nepal, on the other hand, is perhaps quieter but no less alive. Set against the dramatic Himalayas and the rolling grasslands, the Nepali way of life is deeply rooted in tradition. Nepal can change you in ways you don’t even realize until after you’re gone.

Not sure if India or Nepal is a good fit for your volunteer abroad experience? Read on to learn details for volunteering in India vs. volunteering in Nepal; make a more informed decision about your where skills are best needed!

Bundi, India architecture

The Basics: India vs. Nepal

India has a range of geographical features, from the mountains in the north, deserts in the west, and tropical beaches in the south. At 3,287,260 square kilometers, it is considerably larger than Nepal, and has a population of over 1.1 billion people. The capital is New Delhi and although many languages are spoken in India, Hindi is the most prominent. English is widely spoken; it is possible to get by if you don’t speak Hindi, though it’s always a good idea to learn the local language.

In spite of clamorous problems such as overpopulation, environmental deterioration, widespread poverty, and extensive corruption, rapid economic development is bolstering the rise of India as an increasingly influential world power.

Nepal is home to Mount Everest, which sums up the stunning natural features of the country: the mountains. At 147,181 square kilometers, landlocked Nepal could fit into India over 22 times. The population of Nepal is approximately 30 million. The most populated city is the capital of Kathmandu, and Nepali is the primary language. Nepal’s innate beauty attracts many trekkers, who share their journey with Sherpas and yaks.

Nepal, in a term, can be described as "isolated." It's remote location in the Himalayas means it's best reserved for the most adventurous of travelers. But the real treasure is not the beautiful vistas, but the complex culture of the locals. Influenced by neighbors China and India, Nepal is truly a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country.

Cost of Living in India vs. Nepal

The cost of living is fairly low in India and Nepal, although overall cost is higher in Nepal. The notable exception is the cost of rent, which is approximately 50% lower in Nepal than in India. Keep in mind that most volunteer programs include some form of accommodation and meal package as part of the cost, so your basic living expenses may be very small.

Nepal's cost of living outranks India in consumer prices, restaurant, groceries, and local purchasing power. Despite these facts, both countries are extremely affordable, and will allow you to live relatively cheaply during your volunteer stint. Note that paying exorbitant amounts of money for your volunteer project may be indicative of funds being mis-used.

As a volunteer, choosing between India and Nepal is not an easy task. This is a time to ask some questions: What sort of volunteer work would you like to do? What do you hope to get out of the experience?

India and Nepal Volunteer Opportunities

Both India and Nepal have huge opportunities for volunteer work; both are famously overpopulated and help is in demand. Due to its size alone, India volunteers may have more options, though there is no shortage of volunteer choice in Nepal, either. If you are looking to base yourself in an urban area, India will offer you more choice with cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, whereas Nepal’s major city –by far- is Kathmandu.

Both countries need volunteers for education, construction, environmentalism, medicine, and community assistance. Rural areas may allow you see firsthand the impact that your volunteer work has, because the populations are smaller and work is very hands-on.

It should be noted that residents in Nepal are 40% more likely to suffer from the AIDS epidemic. If you feel like your volunteer calling is in medicine or working with AIDS victims, you will find more volunteer opportunities in Nepal than in India.

Children on Calcutta railroad tracks

Check out these awesome projects in India:

Other great volunteer options to consider in Nepal:

Here are some other awesome opportunities worth checking out for those serious about a volunteer stint in this super awesome corner of Asia. Be mindful of reviews of programs before you sign off on one over another.

Decision Time!!

When it comes down to the two countries, both India and Nepal have a lot to offer. For those looking for a place with more hustle and bustle, pick India. With the world's second largest population, there is always something going on, especially if you want an urban area. However, India does also give the chance to be near the Ocean. Another draw to India is that many people speak English, which make communication much easier for native English speakers. And of course, spicy Indian food is a good sell for some.

Nepal is the more laid back country of the two, with a more relaxed pace of life. This country caters to those looking for adventure, whether that be mountain climbing, rafting, or bungee jumping. Nepal is also in need of English teachers, so if teaching is your forte, look here. Good news for those looking to tack a new skill onto their resume: due to the lack of English speakers in Nepal, you may need to learn Nepali.

As a volunteer, choosing between India and Nepal is not an easy task. This is a time to ask some questions: What sort of volunteer work would you like to do? What do you hope to get out of the experience? And, finally, it might be a case of listening to your instincts, and answering one final question: Which country draws you more?

Photo Credits: Lauren Fitzpatrick, MartenVR, and Keso.
Lauren Fitzpatrick
Writer, expat, and former working holiday addict setting up shop in Australia. Embracing surfing, reversed seasons, and cricket, but not Vegemite. Read More...