Gaumaya Gurung going places

Gaumaya Gurung at the Rainbow Mountain in Peru.

Gaumaya Gurung moved to the UK with her family 15 years ago after completing Grade 10. Realising that she had been losing touch with her Nepali roots since then, she created a YouTube Channel with her friend Deevas Gurung.

Both are children of former Gurkha soldiers settled in the UK and their channel ‘Khula Akash’ carries travel vlogs, helping them reconnect with the Nepali language, culture, history, as well as with people.

"I like to visit new places when I go to Nepal," says Gaumaya. “I want to discover what various parts of the country mean to me specifically— what the Tarai is to me, or Dolpa.”

There are currently five videos on the channel documenting trips to Gorkha, Shey Phoksundo and Upper Dolpo. “We had hoped that the audience would be inspired when they heard people living outside Nepal speaking the language,” Gaumaya, who is currently in the UK, tells Nepali Times via WhatsApp.

While Deevas does much of the behind-the-scenes work, it is Gaumaya’s voice that the audience hears, narrating their experiences in cheerful, precise Nepali.

Gaumaya and Deevas Gurung at Phoksundo lake in Dolpa. The two friends have been documenting their travels across Nepal on YouTube since August 2020.

“The older audience who are our grandparents’ age, are also able to understand us,” she says, explaining why the tone of the narration, which reminds us of Radio Nepal stories from the past, is befitting.

But while making the vlogs, Gauamaya soon realised that she had to improve her Nepali. Since moving away from Nepal, she hadn’t paid much attention to writing or speaking the language.

Her experience with Nepali during her school days has played a role in the difficulty Gaumaya still faces to grasp the nuances of the language.

“Since schools typically prioritise the English language, I was always weak in Nepali,” she recalls. “But as I immerse myself deeper into this process, my interest and love for the Nepali language continue to grow.”

Now, Gaumaya does quite a bit of research to find out the translations of many English words in Nepali and to pronounce them, always surprising herself while learning. “The Nepali language is wonderful,” she adds. “And I still have a lot more to learn.”

Gaumaya got her bachelor’s degree in Optometry after moving to London and started working as a health worker. In 2011, while she was still in university, she was crowned Miss UK Nepal, becoming a public figure among the Nepali diaspora in Britain. Since then, she has been involved in writing, acting, and modelling.

Gaumaya has starred in short films on mental health, domestic violence and drug addiction, and has modelled in Nepali music videos. Two films that she is involved in — Gorkha: Beneath the Bravery and Chukul are lined up for release in 2021. Gaumaya also co-stars in the FX TV and BBC-produced television series Black Narcissus, based on Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel.

Gaumaya in the upcoming film Gorkha: Beneath the Bravery.

In 2018, Gaumaya led an eye camp in Gorkha’s Chipleti village that benefited more than 450 people.

In her speech crowning a new Miss UK Nepal in 2012, Gaumaya had said, "My journey is not over." At the time, she had used the word ‘journey’ figuratively, but over time, travel has become her reality.

Even as she led an active and eventful life, Gaumaya had begun to feel an emptiness and disconnect within her work and relationships. It was during that period in her life, in 2015, that she travelled alone to New York to see Niagara Falls.

“During my trip to New York, I realised that I was a free, global citizen, and there was still so much of the world I needed to see,” Gaumaya recounts. “After that, I travelled to Austria. I learned to ski and scuba dive.” The trip had quelled her restlessness and made her look at contentment in a new light.

Whenever she is home in London, she works as a freelance optometrist, which funds her travels. She has now visited, both for work and pleasure, more than 40 countries over the last four years.

Gaumaya takes a picture with children in the Ghanian city of Cape Coast.

Gaumaya at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Gaumaya and Deevas at the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia.

While their vlogs so far have seen them meet and recount the unique stories of Nepalis, Gaumaya and Deevas now plan to document their travels across the world.

“Our next vlog will see us travelling from Manila to the Coron, Palawan in the Philippines, where we saw Bentley vehicles once used by the US military now being used to ferry passengers,” says Gaumaya. “They looked a bit like Nepali trucks.” Indeed, it is Gaumaya's habit to search for similarities in the geography, landscape, people and customs of the countries she has visited.

Gaumaya is happy with the progress she has made in reconnecting with her heritage but says she has a long way to go in her search for personal fulfilment.

Says Gaumaya: "Now I invest in experiences. My travels have not only brought me closer to my roots, but also helped me to understand other cultures, languages, and experiences.”

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