This is my account of the 8 days I had in Nepal once the earthquake struck. I hope it is honest and gives you a little bit of an insight into what we went through. I have had to read and re-read this a hundred times since I arrived back on Bank Holiday Monday morning. I am still trying to get my head around everything that happened and that I witnessed, I am sure I will one day but….
The news today has hit me hard, at least when I was there I felt like I was able to help in a small way, right now I feel completely helpless. But I have heard from most of my friends, they are safe and it seems the damage is not as bad this time around, probably mainly because the damage has already been done. But they are all scared, the aftershocks were getting less and less, now they are back to having had 12 earthquakes in the last 8 hours.
So – sit down, get a cup of tea/coffee, crack open a beer, pour yourself a glass of wine, grab your loved ones and give them a hug then read my blog……
My last 8 days in Nepal – into the unknown
The title says it all!
At 12.45pm Nepali time on Tuesday 28th April I boarded a bus. Not an unusual occurrence admittedly but….
I arrived back in Pashupatinagar, Ilam 24 hours after the first earthquake hit Nepal. At the time I had no idea of the enormity of it all, and as I am starting this blog (on the bus) I still really don’t….
According to an earthquake tracker I found online, Nepal has had around 50 earthquakes over 4 on the Richter scale since the first one hit on Saturday lunchtime. That is basically one on the hour every hour at a level that will cause damage if there is just one, let alone a sequence!!
Seeing the pictures emerge from Kathmandu on Sunday just broke my heart, places that I knew and loved reduced to rubble with people buried underneath it
I frantically fired off texts to my friends, not even thinking that none of them had electricity, internet, or mobile signal, I just wanted to hear they were safe, I still haven’t heard from a few of them, still not sure if that is because they are unable to charge their phones, don’t have signal, or something worse……
Messages started filtering in from home, that’s when I realised how big this was, its made it onto the BBC news!
Posts on Facebook, emails, texts, some from unexpected sources, all telling me they had heard the news and needed to know I was safe. In a tiny village in the East of Nepal that had been my home for the last 3 weeks, I suddenly felt very English again, and maybe even a little homesick!
I went to bed that night and tossed and turned worrying about all my friends and their families out here, hoping for good news from them all, then a sense of urgency came over me – I had 4 days left here, what could I do!
Turns out Simon had been lying upstairs thinking the same!
Monday morning, 7am we were both sat in the kitchen on our laptops much to the amusement of his mum and auntie who kept us supplied with copious amounts of coffee!
Both our brains were in overdrive! My journey back to KTM was originally planned as just me, suddenly it turned into “we” and then it was, “let’s take a jeep and fill it with supplies”, “let’s take a truck”, “let’s take 2”! Facebook was updated, agencies were contacted, I got marched up to the local government office to watch 4 Nepali guys deciding whether I could make donations…..good job I didn’t understand them, looking at the way they were rubbing their heads, sucking in through their lips and hastily making calculations, I had a feeling they were looking to skim some off the top.
One guy spent some time on his mobile (I will never get used to that in meetings over here) and then handed it to me! I looked at him in horror, “its OK you can speak to him in English” then this beautiful English/Nepali accent came out of the phone, it was Oxfam’s “man in Nepal”. He started to explain what Oxfam was, I stopped him “oh of course you’re British”
He asked me to send him an email and he would reply with what was needed. I haven’t had it yet (remember I am now typing this on the bus!)
I got back and Simon had been formulating more plans, he had heard that Gorkha was in dire need of help, aid was arriving in KTM but not in the remote villages that had been flattened, we could make a detour on our way to KTM
His mum was watching the news on the TV upstairs, sounded like a riot was going on. Simon explained that people were saying they had no water then it clearly cut to somewhere that water was being dished out……it sounded horrendous! We looked at each other and knew we didn’t want to put ourselves in the middle of that, the one thing I had promised my friends back home was that I wouldn’t take unnecessary risks. Suddenly the romantic notion of arriving in a truck with water to help the kids, sounded like a nightmare, there is no way we could take enough for even a small part of KTM…..
We spoke to the Red Cross, they were unfortunately dealing with recovery of bodies, aid was not their priority at the moment
The more we looked into KTM the more we realised we needed to shift our focus. Gorkha came back on the agenda….
Simon gave me an option, head into KTM or go to Gorkha, I was back on the “romantic notion” thing again……people at home would know this name, some agencies we had heard were heading out there. In one village we heard about there were originally 1200 houses, now only 40 remained, there was no choice to make!
It was 5pm, we had briefly stopped for lunch, literally just to have it put in front of us and wolf it down then start again, we were exhausted and had never needed “tongba time” more!
This was to be my last night in Pashupatinagar, so we headed to our favourite home and the tongba and snacks appeared.
I called Carole, my sister, as I had promised the night before, just so she could reassure my family…..I was standing outside laughing on the phone to her when I felt something familiar……”Earthquake”!! I ran up into the street along with the rest of the village, it felt stronger than the one we felt on Saturday and lasted less time.
Turns out the epicentre was in India, which meant it was closer and that was why it felt stronger and didn’t last as long “the ripple effect” as Simon put it
I reassured Carole that all was well and she heard me laughing and joking with locals, I said goodbye and headed back to my tongba (important stuff!)
We got a call from Simons mum, they were too scared to be in the house and were heading up to take shelter at the school, there was no dinner, we ordered noodles and another tongba.
As we walked up to the house, most of the villagers were camping in the streets, there were rumours of another quake, everyone was scared
We plugged in all our electrical goods so we had full batteries for when we left, we had no idea when or if we would see electric again before I left Nepal
At the school, each family had their own classroom, this confused me. Why didn’t we head to the cottages that Simon was building and stay in tents there? We were still sleeping inside….but his mum and auntie felt safe here so we settled down in our allotted sleeping bags that they had bought up for us……
I didn’t think I had slept particularly well, we had snoring going off all around, I remembered Simon being at the door with the flashlight and hearing 2 thunder storms rattling round the hills…….turns out I slept through another earthquake and when Simon was at the door it was 1am and he had decided to give up and went back to the house, spending most of his time on the laptop
6am I was back at my laptop, I needed to move my flight, if we were going to Gorkha we would need more than one day there
But first we had been told some villagers wanted to meet with us, they wanted to have a collection but didn’t know what to do. We got taken 2km down the hill, a table appeared with flowers on, the children lined up to say “Namaste” to me and give me a flower each, not what we expected
The elders then had a conversation with Simon, they wanted to do something but didn’t know what and didn’t want to lose any money to the government, they wanted to help their fellow Nepalis directly. He gave them advice on what they could do. We left with Simon’s words ringing in my ears “you have inspired them to do something to help” not really sure how I did seeing as I didn’t say a word!
But then I got the opportunity to keep my record intact. Ever since I came back here in Spring 2013 I have been on the back of a bike, usually round KTM. 9 weeks I’ve been here in Nepal and now I was finally going to get on a bike for the 5 min ride back up the hill and through the village
More updates, a call to Qatar Airways and £200 later my flight had been moved. In theory it was only an extra 2 days, but as I had changed from an early morning flight to a late evening flight, it was actually 3 days. We knew we could do a lot in those extra days
Simon made the calls, his friend could sort out a pick up and we could load it up and head to the villages, what on earth had we just committed ourselves to?
I went down to my room, packed my bag and put any warm layers I could into my backpack, no room for luxuries, the jeans and tshirt I had on would be permanently attached to me for the next 5 days, and even when I get to KTM there is no guarantee of a shower!
We headed down the village for a dal bhat and our final beer for a few days with 5 of Simons friends who had been on holiday in India and were now heading home to god knows what in KTM. These included a monk, in civvies, but I was only told he was a monk after we had “cheers” with our beer!
Then the call came, the bus was in. We all walked back up the hill in Pashupatinagar just as it started to rain, then the thunder and lightening started and we were in a full on storm by the time we got to the house, not a good sign.
Emotional farewells with Simons mum and auntie, we had formed a close bond over the last few weeks. They both started crying as they handed over prayer scarves and wished me well “Kartikma betaula” I said to them both as Lhakpa our trusted friend and my self appointed Nepali teacher beamed with pride (see you in November!)
A bus ride is pretty much a bus ride! As we headed downhill it got warmer and sunnier. Tea breaks galore, the seats were reclined (and comfy) and we tried to snooze.
Dinner at 10pm, an efficiently served dal bhat – seriously service stations in UK can learn a lot, there were only 2 options, rice or roti! In 15 mins all of the 4 buses that arrived in unison had had their passengers fed and were back on the road.
I settled down again and after what seemed like 5 mins the lights were on and Simon was shaking me “this is us”
We said farewell to the boys, they had agreed to take over our mission in KTM and get a water tanker delivering water to where it was needed, I knew they would be fine!
All our luggage was unloaded and the bus drove off. It was 1am and the buses just kept coming from the other direction, all full as everyone fled KTM
By the time I got back from my life risking trip to the public toilets (there is seriously not enough handgel in the world) Simons friend, Umit was there ready to take us to his home and a lovely big comfy double bed each, we both laughed as we collapsed and enjoyed the luxury and passed out.
We were both awake early the next morning and it was HOT! We had been living at 2000m and here we were down in Chitwan in the heat and sun, my warm layers seemed a mistake.
Umit is clearly the man to know, he rushed us around town to all the wholesalers and soon our pick up was full of food, water and medical supplies. Time for a quick dal bhat with Umit’s family (all impressed that I was eating “Nepali style”), farewells and we were off.
As we headed out of Chitwan, everything still seemed so normal, are we really in a country where there has been such a devastating earthquake? But the emptiness of the road ahead on our side and then the chaos on the other side of the road told a different story. A convoy of buses were heading out of KTM and they were all full. Turns out school buses were being used to ferry people out for free and they were overflowing, people really were sitting on the roof!
We stopped in a town, Simon wanted some personal medical supplies including pain killers, our own water purifying tablets and more importantly….masks! He went off in search of those and left me in charge of food for the next couple of days. Well, its basically snacks, snacks, snacks!! I think the man in the little shop I chose thought all his Christmases had come at once, 4 bags stuffed full of crisps, nuts, noodles, sprite and juice were taken back to our jeep.
Simon re appeared with all his allotted shopping list and asked what I had got as we drove off on the road to Gorkha…….I told him then also added “oh and some whiskey for you and vodka for me” He smiled “Hazel Grace you are a genius”
As we got closer to Gorkha Bazaar we were shocked, not by the destruction, but by the lack of it. We both kept turning and looking at each other, were we really heading towards the epicentre, we could see Gorkha Bazaar perched on the top of the hill and it looked relatively unscathed, even more so as we drove in.
We passed the Gurkha’s base where trucks of aid were being unloaded ready to be co-ordinated and distributed around the villages, but we knew where we were heading. We had been put in contact with a lady called Isabella Messenger who was running an aid centre very close to the epicentre between Simjung and Saurapani, they were in desperate need of supplies and having been put in contact via Facebook, we told her we were on our way.
Driving up the hill into Gorkha Bazaar was strange. There were some damaged buildings, but most of them looked intact and most of the town seemed to be adopting a “business as usual” approach, until we decided to check into a hotel of course. The first two refused our business, they were staying in their homes, but didn’t want the risk of paying customers also being there. We found a lady who was willing to take us in, the driver wasn’t happy to leave his truck on the main street as we had already been attracting attention, so the owner agreed we could unload our “goodies” into her alley way that she would lock immediately.
Sat in Gorkha Bazaar, drinking Gorkha beer – it was all a bit surreal until we went to bed. At 11.06pm I was awoken by the whole room shaking, another quake…….it was gone fairly quickly and I went straight back to sleep.
We had planned to leave around 7am the next day, but were all awake before 6 and as we were packing our bags, another quake hit “lets just get out of here” Simon said.
We then had a 3 hour drive over very dodgy roads, we were extremely grateful to be in a 4WD pick up. I had attracted 2 German journalists when we were sat eating breakfast at the side of the road, they wanted to know where we were going and then asked if they could tag along…..what would be the harm? We needed to get the story out!
We came to a part of the road where our 4wd struggled, but made it through, but the German’s vehicle was not 4wd and their driver refused to go any further, could they hitch a ride with us? Sure, as long as they didn’t mind travelling Nepali style. Now one of these guys was slightly on the larger side. Simon and I squashed in on the one front seat, while we squashed 4 people into the back seat that was a tight squeeze for 3 “are you sure we will fit” said the larger guy, I laughed and said “yes, this is Nepal” and winked at their interpreter who just laughed and shrugged his shoulders…..they managed to fit in!
Soon CNN joined our convoy and we sent a text to Isabella warning her that the press were on their way, she was not happy initially but we reassured her that the Germans, at least, had their own food and water so would not be a burden on her systems.
The villages on our way also seemed remarkably unscathed, how was this possible?
We arrived at a flat plateau where there were lots of tents set up, CNN had beaten us to it. Then a figure appeared out of one of the tents and started waving and shouting “Simon?” we waved back, it was Isabella, we were where we were supposed to be.
After swift hugs and introductions she showed us around the impressive set up of “base camp” there was the section for the tents for the volunteers, all roped off and boundaries set so that the locals wouldn’t breach them, and they didn’t! Amazing what a bit of rope will do.
We saw the medical tent and triage set up, then we were taken to the medical supplies tent, within the volunteers “village” so that it could be kept safe and secure.
The distribution centre for the food and water had been set up 1km down the road, deliberately. This was set up by some buildings that could be kept secure overnight if any aid arrived late, it also ensured that the food and medical aid teams were kept separate so that there wasn’t lots of people around just the one area. They had a good system in place, twice a day they would distribute the supplies, but in order to receive them, the villagers had to say which VDC they were from, then give their name and their picture was taken. This was to ensure that the same people didn’t take aid, then come back 5 minutes later for more meaning the really needy missed out. It was well organised, a lot better than the one we would see later that afternoon “organised” by the UN!
We unloaded the pick up, with a line of Nepali’s going from the pick up to the storage unit, this took less than 5 minutes, Simon throwing to Prem (in charge of the distribution centre and ALWAYS smiling) then thrown down the line and into the lock up.
Then Prem suggested I hand out some water, the villagers had been waiting since the early morning distribution of food had finished and had been stood in the midday sun, “give them some water” Prem said, “if you hand it out they are less likely to fight” so I did – it was only a couple of cases we gave out at that time, but the villagers snatched the bottles out of my hands and immediately started to drink and share the bottles……a little part of our original pledge to our sponsors had happened.
We dropped the pick up back at base camp, Isabella was (as usual) on the phone, organising her troops, fielding calls from concerned friends “I am fine, is there anything you can offer us? No, well I am really sorry but I don’t have time to talk right now” Her phone was literally ringing off the hook, she stood there with her phone plugged directly into the solar charger, pointing it in the optimum direction as she sought to get more power into her phone. The whole team was grateful we had bought a generator with us, even if it was a tad noisy! Oh, and Jamie her husband, was even more grateful that we bought fuel with us, they were using their bikes for reconnaissance and were gradually running out of fuel, the 10 litres of fuel we had bought would ensure this could continue.
We had planned to head up to Saurapani, the village we had heard had been totally destroyed by the quake, but Isabella warned us that there was an increased risk of landslides due to the rain yesterday and dry day today and subsequent aftershocks we were still experiencing “its up to you, but my advice would be to stay low today for your own safety” we took her advice and decided to walk along the riverside up through Baluwa and beyond.
If we thought walking through the devastated villages we found on the way to Baluwa was distressing, there was more to come. We watched the UN convoy of aid arrive – and be randomly distributed amongst the villagers that had arrived. There was no system in place, it was basically strongest and loudest got the aid. Some villagers told Simon they had been waiting days and still received nothing while we saw other villagers stockpiling stuff ready to be taken down valley to their villages in a convoy of porters. We told the ones with nothing about the aid centre just 10 minutes walk back down the valley and how the system worked down there, they were likely to be able to get some food from there.
We both got quite annoyed at the randomness of such a big organisation giving out the aid, watching them interviewing a beautiful child on camera but waving us out of the way so that we wouldn’t “spoil” the background. Meanwhile arguments amongst the villagers continued all around us. How can an agency that supposedly has so much experience just dish out aid like this, when someone like Karmaflights had an organised plan that they had worked out as they went along and worked and had the respect of the villagers….
We continued upwards alongside the river, spotting wrecks of villages high on the hills and knowing it was unlikely anyone had reached them yet, Isabella had warned us this would be the case, but it was still heartbreaking when I zoomed in on my camera and saw these villages literally flattened and without help, not even anyone seeming to be moving around the wreckage.
Then we came across a school. At first from the road it looked like it was still standing, and to be fair, the main metal structure was……but the stone walls weren’t, they were all inside the “classrooms” As we got closer to the school we both got quieter, there was no way that if this had happened any day other than a Saturday (the children’s one day off school in Nepal) that any of the children would have survived, all the walls had collapsed inwards.
I took a poignant picture of the door to one of the classrooms, still standing, still proudly locked up……a sign that there were no children around that day…..
As we continued upwards we found our first totally devastated village, we crossed the river, this was the end of the road, quite literally, the new bridge that was being constructed wasn’t fully finished so vehicles couldn’t cross it. Even if they could the road the other side was completely blocked by a big landslide. We spoke to a couple of members of the local police who told us that at least 3 bodies were still buried underneath this landslide, this was the first time we had been told about buried bodies, it kicked in as we looked at this pile of mud and rocks…….
We picked our way up through the “village” walking over wood and stone that had once been someone’s home……signs of home were all around us and then this cute little boy came running up to us and asked Simon if he had a pen? “What do you want a pen for” Simon asked “I want to show you my a b c” amongst all this devastation, kids still wanted to be kids and he just wanted to show off his knowledge to the “foreigner” that had come to visit his village. Simon then asked him to just say it out loud……and he did! There I was, balancing on wood and stone that once were someone’s house and a cute little kid was beaming up at me reciting his abc perfectly! As a reward, he got the rest of our packet of coconut crunchees and went running down the pile of rubble with his “booty” in hand.
Every house here was just gone, it was a small village, probably no more than about 20/30 houses, it was difficult to tell amongst all the rubble, but it was just that, now a pile of rubble. Women picked through the wreckage trying to salvage some bits of their lives that had just been wiped out….
We picked our way back down through the rubble and out of the village in silence and continued up.
The road here was completely covered with the massive landslide we had seen from the other side of the river. The boulders at the bottom were huge, at least the size of a two storey house, you could see massive cracks in the hill above, this wasn’t the last landslide this road would see, that was bound to come down soon – we picked our way carefully around as quickly as we could.
We followed the road up, large rocks scattered all around, but still amazed by the beauty of the surrounding countryside. Huge green hills all around, a beautiful river running through, then the most amazing sets of waterfalls, for a short time we forgot we were in the epicentre of an earthquake and just remembered the beauty of this country and why I love coming back here time and time again, it was peaceful, it was beautiful, it was intact.
Then the reality hit home again, an upturned vehicle, a completely destroyed JCB, the force of the boulders that had come down completely wrecked these two vehicles, it all seemed deserted so we hoped they had been parked up for the day and no one was injured.
It was getting late and we had been walking for 2-3 hours so we decided to turn round and retrace our steps back to camp. We crossed paths with many villagers heading further up to villages that hadn’t been reached yet, they were carrying food and some had tarps for shelter. Some of them would be walking for 2 more days to reach their villages.
As we got back down to Baluwa Simon suggested we stop at one of the café’s for noodles, then we wouldn’t be taking vital food away from the volunteers at the camp. Three bowls of noodles and two cups of tea and the lovely young girl that served us apologised as she had to put the price up due to the current circumstances…….270 rupees!! That is just less than £2!! And she apologised…..
More aid trucks had arrived, the UN stood around just seemingly standing back and watching things happen, not getting involved, it all seemed so strange. There were various trucks arriving, all with aid from various groups (with big signs all across them advertising where it had come from) one local church group stood there in their white robes whilst holding their big sign as the villagers were handed the bags of rice, it was all a bit surreal.
We got back to camp and started to set up the tents. New volunteers had arrived, everyone was in good spirits, these were the guys that were doing the hard work. The medic team had been really busy that day, lots of casualties coming in and hearing of more up in the villages from the teams that had been heading out trying to assess the needs. We reported back to Isabella what we had found, we also knew that no matter what, tomorrow we would head up the 700m hill to Saurapani. We needed to see what was happening up there.
We sat on the side of the tarp next to our tent and cracked open the whiskey and vodka, never had alcohol been more welcome!
Everyone crashed early – all stumbling into our tents and sleeping bags in the same clothes that had been worn for the last few days, it would be a little while longer before I was able to change out of these clothes, but at least I knew that I would be able to, some of them did not know how long they would stay or be needed. I went to sleep wishing that I could stay, but knowing my time in Nepal was nearly done……for this time at least.
5.30am and we were both wide awake, as was most of the camp – so much to do and so little time, there had been another shock overnight – I had slept through it this time!!!
We loaded our back packs with water, packets of noodles and snacks – it was already hot and the sky was clear, this was going to be a long hard trek uphill. We had been told it would take us anywhere between 2 and 4 hours to get to Saurapani, some of the trail had been wiped out by landslides, so we would be walking over them, this wasn’t a trekking route, this was a locals route, so no nice long zig-zags for the wimpy foreigners!! We got our final instructions from Isabella on what to record and we all knew that as Simon was Nepali, we were likely to glean a lot of information from the villagers as they headed down hill. What were their needs and concerns, if they were leaving the village, were they likely to come back? We were not here for a hike, we had a job to do.
We set off to the first village to cross the bridge. We had been warned that it had been damaged and that a ladder had been set up to get us onto the bridge, we had seen this yesterday so weren’t too concerned and made it safely onto the bridge…..then we got to the last part – they hadn’t told us about this damage!! It was wrecked and just about holding on! There was a rope strung across the part that was hanging down towards the river, the fencing on each side was damaged, the bridge was completely buckled and I had to somehow edge my way across this to get off this bridge……or I could turn back! 3 years ago, I would have turned back, with my fear of these bridges there was no way on earth that I could have even contemplated trying to cross this part, now I had no choice, well I did, but in my head and heart I didn’t… it took me a while and a few swear words, but I did make it. Oh and then there was a distinct lack of path, new “steps” had been formed across a landslide….seriously was my comfort zone going to be tested any more?
We met lots and lots of groups of villagers on their way down, we thought they would be on their way down for food and of course some of them were, but their main concern was for tarps and shelter. Some of them were fed up, they came down on a daily basis yet ended up going back up the hill empty handed. Simon told them to not take the whole family as they were all using up vital energy, but understandably they all wanted to keep together and didn’t want to leave any family member behind. Simon started giving advice as we went up through the devastated villages, some of these homes had tin roofs and the tin looked fairly intact so he was telling the villagers to use that to help build their shelters….
Everywhere around us there were flattened houses, every time we appeared out of the woods we came across more devastation. One house had completely covered the path. We stood there and talked to the owner as her daughter rummaged through the rubble, then I realised what she was searching for….potatoes. They had shelter, but were desperate for food, it seemed to be one or the other from the people we met, but mainly shelter was what was needed. Simon kept repeating the mantra about the tin, and getting them to start collecting firewood before the monsoon started.
We stopped for a water and snack break, a lady walked past us with her basket laden with leaves for her goats, she invited us to her house for tea….
We continued upwards, stopping to talk to each group that was heading down, all with the same story, they needed tarps for shelter, we continued past more flattened homes, and children playing in the rubble….life goes on…
Then we were at the top of the hill and entering Saurapani, three young girls walked past us carrying their big water pots, they told us a helicopter had landed yesterday and dropped off noodles and cookies, some aid was getting through, but that wasn’t enough.
We walked across the volleyball court in the shade of the trees, then up into the sun to the first house, and a family that were in the 7th day of their ritual, mourning their dead. The German journalists were there, taking pictures, I couldn’t…..it seemed so intrusive, we stayed for a few minutes on the sidelines with some of the villagers and then moved up into the village.
As we came up the hill into the sunshine, I realised I wasn’t actually “in” a village, I was “on” a village……
Isabella was right, nothing could have prepared me for this, not the walk yesterday, not the walk up the hill and seeing devastated houses……this was a whole village that had been flattened.
The police were working hard, on creating their own shelter and new police station….
We gingerly picked our way across stone, slate, wood, peoples homes……there were signs all around in the rubble, clothes, flowers, cooking utensils, books, official papers, crumpled chairs, blankets…….but no tin….we then realised why all the villagers had been desperate for tarp, this was a village with very few tin roofs, there was no tin available for them to salvage and build temporary shelter, this village was made of stone, wood and slate…..
The German journalists had told us that 200 tarps had been delivered by helicopter yesterday, but where were they?? We spotted maybe 10 at the most, nowhere near enough for this whole village.
But the people were resilient, they were picking through the remains of their homes, trying to rescue what they could of their lives. Women were at the water tap, washing up, washing clothes, washing themselves…..
Families walked past us, all with the same story, they would find food somehow, but they needed shelter, we wished we had carried tarps up with us, we realised that there weren’t any tarps down at the aid centre that we could have carried up……
As we headed through the village and up to the school, I was greeted by a “hello how are you” in damn near perfect English. I had a polite conversation with this man, it seemed so strange standing there surrounded by broken wooden houses having a conversation in English, but he wanted to show off his skills……I asked him how he was, “surviving” was his response as he gave me a big smile, I didn’t know what to say
We arrived at the school playground, a big open space right at the top of the hill, the buildings were devastated, everything had collapsed. There was one big building that was made of concrete, the walls had bowed, and one wall had collapsed so you could see inside “class eight” was written in chalk across one of the beams, but books and rubble covered the furniture inside. I thought again, thank god it was a Saturday….
We took time to sit and eat a packet of noodles each and just reflect on what we had seen, I could hardly talk but knew that I needed to compose myself and do some filming while I was here. Simon grabbed the camera and I walked around the playground with the ruined school behind me.
As we were sat there we started to attract children, they were still drawn to their school to play, they showed off their English skills, we had pictures taken, they wrote down their names for me then stood up respectfully, their headmaster had just arrived. We spoke to him, the school had 650 children and 17 teachers, the kids ages ranged from 4-17……650 kids……I looked around, thank god it was a Saturday…….
We sat there for a while, lots of villagers stopping and talking to us, all of them positive, but clearly all with the same goal – they wanted shelter and they wanted to get back to normal as quickly as possible.
A beautifully dressed lady walked up to us with her young daughter, they had just been down to the aid centre and she was carrying a 25kg bag of rice for her family. She asked Simon if we had eaten, he told her we had eaten some noodles “that is not enough, you are here to help, come to my home and I will cook you some rice” she had nothing, her home was destroyed, she had a 25kg bag of rice that she had just carried up the 700m hill to feed her family and was offering some of it to two strangers, obviously we declined, she insisted, but Simon politely declined, we knew that later that night we would be in Pokhara…..
We decided to head down, it had taken us over 4 hours to get here as we had stopped and spoken to virtually every group of villagers we had seen on the way up, we knew our driver was waiting patiently down at the camp and that we still had at least a 5 hour drive to get to Pokhara that evening, but we also knew that we would get to Pokhara that evening, we were lucky.
We recognised villagers we had met on the way up who were now heading back up, complete with food and aid, some even had tarps, they all smiled and waved at us, this cheered us just knowing that their journey down the hill hadn’t been without its reward.
It was hot on our journey down, really hot, eventually Simon just said “stop, I need a break” we had literally just kept going down, trying to get back to camp as quickly as possible. 10 mins break in the shade, a quick snack, a lot of water and he was right, we needed that break.
Soon it was time to renegotiate the landslide again, it still freaked me out scrambling over loose mud and being able to see the long drop down, but I did it without acting too much “like a girl”
Then we were back at the bridge, oh god I had forgotten about the bridge……now I had to try and negotiate it from the other side, broken part first, stepping onto the steep slant and trying to trust the rope. Simon went first, and slipped landing with a massive thump on his side but managing to grab on and not slide off the bridge….as you can imagine this panicked me even more. He got back onto the safety of the ground and we watched as the villagers crossed the bridge, in flip flops, with full loads on their heads… two young boys stood half way across the bridge and wanted to watch us try and cross, we eventually just sucked it in and went. Simon safely negotiated it this time, I watched carefully how he had done it and then just went for it, I am pretty sure I didn’t breathe for the whole couple of minutes it took me to negotiate this part of the bridge, but when I got to the safety of the unbroken part of the bridge where the young guys had been watching us, I said “that’s how you do it boys” and they smiled as I carried on past them, oh yeah, the ladder…….
Back at camp we gave Isabella all the information we had gleaned and said our farewells, this was a tough one, we were leaving when there was still so much to be done, but I had already moved my flight once, I really couldn’t afford to move it again.
We jumped into the jeep and set off, 5 minutes later Noru came alongside on his bike “have you got Bella’s number, can you call her, she needs to talk to you” turns out they were expecting a critically ill man in camp who was being brought down from one of the villages. He would need to be transferred to hospital in Pokhara as soon as possible and they didn’t think they could get a helicopter, could we come back and see if we could take him.
We turned around
The critically ill man turned out to be 90 year old Buddha Bahadur, he had a broken hip and pneumonia, he was in a lot of pain. Also with him was his grandson, Raj Kumar. He had a badly infected leg, Anneliese who was one of the amazing volunteer medics at the camp tried to treat his leg, it needed soaking and then scrubbing to get rid of the dead skin. Poor Raj was in tears, his beautiful big eyes just full, he kept looking at me, pleading….but I couldn’t help stop the pain. It was heartbreaking. They gave him painkillers and antibiotics and dressed his leg. Simon acted as interpreter and told him that he needed to clean it daily and take the tablets as prescribed.
Turns out that yes we were then going to act as ambulance for Mr Bahadur. I was worried, we were going to be heading along one of the bumpiest roads I have been on, with a critically ill man on our back seat, who just happened to have a broken hip…..but the medic team were happy, he needed to get to hospital that night and we were his only option.
They gave him ridiculously strong pain killers, his grandson Raj was nominated as the family member to accompany him to hospital, we were glad at least we knew that his leg would get attended to properly while he was with his grandfather.
So off we set, Mr Bahadur laid on the back seat, his grandson sat at his feet, one of the volunteers sat on the floor behind the passenger seat and Simon and I sharing the one passenger seat.
Every bump we hit I turned round, concerned for Mr Bahadur, I turned round a lot. Raj noticed this and on one of the occasions when I gave him a thumbs up to ask if he was OK, I was rewarded with the most beautiful big smile. This nearly made me cry (nearly!) all I had seen from Raj all afternoon was sadness and pain and with that one gesture his whole face lit up and his eyes seemed all the more beautiful, he knew he was in safe hands and that we would make sure both him and his grandfather would be safe that evening.
What we didn’t know was that we were about to drive through a ridiculously big hail and thunder storm. Oh and that our vehicle would break down…….
We made it to a town called Abu Kharini and the driver pulled over, the vehicle had been making strange noises and it had finally given in. Luckily enough for us we were at a junction and the local policeman was interested in why we were stopping there. Simon explained what we had just been through and that we needed to get our patients to Pokhara. Turns out this policeman was from the same village as Mr Bahadur!!!! He got straight on his radio and within 10 minutes an ambulance was there to transport them to hospital. The driver took our number and told us he would phone us when they arrived, then we would need to pay him, no free ambulance rides here!
Simon called his friends in Pokhara, they would send transport for us. We headed to the afé over the road and drank beer and ate snacks with the policeman while we waited.
Our driver arrived and got us back to Pokhara in break neck time – we laughed most of the way there, sometimes hitting 120kph on the empty roads, meanwhile the most spectacular lightning storm was going on around us.
We got the call, the ambulance had arrived – we would be there in 20 minutes.
This was my first visit to a hospital in Nepal, and to be honest I was impressed! Seemed clean and it was BIG! But we quickly found our guys in A&E, and the ambulance driver quickly found us, took his payment and went on his way.
We stayed with them until Mr Bahadur had been for his X-Ray and we made sure they both had some food. Simon then gave Raj Kumar some money so that he had the means to get them home once they were declared fit and discharged. He also gave him his phone number so that if the hospital tried to give them any bills, Simon would sort it. The hospital had agreed to take them in for free, so we wanted to reassure him that he wouldn’t be just left there and alone.
We arrived back at our hotel around 11pm, time for a quick club sandwich and a beer, then collapsed…
The next morning I treated myself to a shower and got a text from Simon, he was at the hotel next door where we would have breakfast before heading back to KTM.
It was strange. Here I was sat at the bar of a 5* spa resort, in the sunshine, families lying round by the pool, kids playing and fresh coffee being brewed for me…..it didn’t feel right – we both agreed. 24 hours earlier we had been climbing up the hill to Saurapani, walking over peoples houses and talking to people that had nothing. Here we now were in luxurious surroundings watching people on holiday, life going on as “normal”. We helped ourselves to the breakfast buffet, but it didn’t taste right, there were people out there that didn’t have this luxury….
We headed back to our hotel and packed our bags, there was another journey to be made, back to KTM. But first we had a few meetings and discussions with Simon’s friends who were trying to organise more aid to get out to the villages. A quick trip to a local restaurant for dal bhat for lunch, then it was time for our goodbyes and we got into the vehicle and headed back to KTM.
We stopped for a drink and my phone started ringing, it was a friend from KTM that I hadn’t heard from yet, he was safe! I called my friend Bhim, he had been injured at Everest Base Camp. It was so good to hear his voice, he was doing fine, back at his room with his family who were all safe and he was due to have an operation on his damaged hand on Monday. I told him I was on my way back to KTM and would try and see him the next day, but was unsure if I would be able to get out.
As we approached KTM valley, the mood in the car changed…..we all fell quiet and looked out across the city as it sprawled in front of us, unaware of what we would find.
We came in through the outskirts, odd buildings had collapsed or tilted, but not much damage, it all seemed so random. There was one part by the ring road that had seemed to be badly hit, but most places seemed fine. A few people were camped out. We headed into Thamel, again most places seemed fine (on the outside of course) but it was quiet, oh so quiet….anyone that has ever been to Thamel knows it is NEVER quiet. About 50% of the shops were open, I was surprised at that.
I checked into my usual hotel and was warmly greeted with hugs from all the staff. There were cracks all around the building, but they had been assured by their engineer that the building was safe. I dumped my bags in my room and we headed out for some food.
Simon stayed for about an hour, but I could tell he was anxious, his 80 year old father had been sleeping outside for a week now, he needed to get back to him. He said hello to our friends in Sams Bar then headed back, I was surprised he lasted that long, I would have gone straight back…..
It was surreal being in Sams and drinking with my friends, we all had our own stories to tell, but it felt good to get great big bear hugs from them all.
The next morning I went in search of somewhere for Simon, me and the guys we had been on the bus with to meet for breakfast, my hotels kitchen wasn’t in operation.
I went to the hotel I had stayed in for my 2 weeks in KTM. The restaurant there was closed, but I was grateful to see Durga behind reception of Yala Peak hotel, then I opened the door and saw his face, this was a different man, a broken man.
He came round from the back of his desk and just bear hugged me, I could see tears in his eyes. His business partner had been on a trek with 6 clients and 2 other members of staff in Langtang when the avalanche/landslide wiped out the whole of the village. 5 of his clients and one of his members of staff were safe, but his business partner, one of the clients and one of his trusted porters were missing, he knew they had been in the village when the landslide struck. He had spent the last week trying desperately to search for them, he had been to Langtang and bought back the survivors….”his girlfriend keeps calling me for news, what words can I give her?” I had no words for him, I could see he was broken, I just stayed with him, listened to his story of his last week and reassured him.
I reluctantly left Durga, Simon was on his way to Thamel with his friends, I told him the café at the bottom of my hotel was open and we could meet there…..I was now even more determined to help these wonderful people….Durga’s story was the first “real” time I had spoken with someone about missing people, yes I had seen collapsed villages and heard about people being buried, but this was the first time I had seen someone, who I was able to communicate with in my language, that had lost someone dear. It hit me harder than I thought it would.
Back with the boys, I watched in amazement as 5 Nepali guys were given a problem and got on their phones and started sorting….within 15 minutes we had data on villages, house numbers, people, etc…we had offers of cement and iron rods….we even had people that wanted to help in the construction – it was amazing seeing these guys work. Simon kept apologising to me as clearly they were all speaking in Nepali to each other. I told him not to worry, I could see work was being done, that needed to be done in Nepali, I was surplus to requirements in this instance!
They disappeared for a lunch meeting, I was invited but I only had a couple more hours, I needed to pack, work out what I was leaving with Hotel Access and also pick up my passport.
The afternoon just seemed to disappear and all too soon Simon was on the phone, “I am on my way back, what time are you leaving?”
We met around 5pm and were sat enjoying a beer and relative peace, I was packed, I had my passport, I was being picked up at 6pm. We were planning when I was coming back, he was telling me what they had sorted that afternoon, then we felt something familiar. Tourists around us started panicking, it was another shock. I looked up at my hotel and saw Subash, the owner, telling people to keep calm. Guys started to run out into the street, we sat where we were, knowing it would go soon….how could something so abnormal, now feel normal? It was gone in about 30 seconds, we smiled and continued our beer.
I got emotional when my friend Asim called me to say goodbye, this really felt like I was abandoning all my friends in their hour of need, escaping back to my country. This place felt like home now, I didn’t want to leave. Simon told me I had to go “you need to keep Nepal in peoples minds, you can best do that back in the UK” he was right of course.
My best shot at doing the right thing for these amazing people would be by being back in the UK, raising awareness and making sure everyone realised just what it was like out here, and that the monsoon was rapidly approaching, and that the shocks were still happening, and that these amazing people were still standing, still fighting, and still searching for food and shelter for their families.
I am therefore not ashamed to ask you all to dig deep. Thank you to those of you that did donate after my last blog – you are amazing!
We will, of course, continue to keep you updated on our work. There have been so many discussions between us over the last week, and these will continue. We are currently working alongside the Nepal Youth Foundation who have been our NGO and our guides whilst sorting out the needs of Pangboche School. They are currently out in the field distributing food, medical supplies and much needed shelter. They have a bigger network than just me, therefore your money has already helped thousands of children, so Dhanyabad (thank you!)
So, here it is – please help us to help these amazingly resilient people via the following link Virgin Money Giving
If you want to see pictures of my two days around the epicentre, here are the links, they are on Facebook, but they are public, so you don’t need to be on Facebook to view them.
And one that you may need the tissues for, a video of me in Saurapani (not the one from the school, I haven’t uploaded that yet)
Lots and lots of love to you all