Kathmandu 13th May 2015
Monday 11th May. Its our wedding anniversary, and best of all, Juliet is here with me in Pokhara to share the happy occasion. We, Tessa Walker, Steve Price, Juliet and I have just finished thirteen days trekking in the Annapurna Sanctuary. Surprisingly there is very little damage on our trail, but there are very few other trekkers out and about. Most have canceled. We met two Canadians, the only trekkers out of a booked group of fourteen to not cancel. As a result, ten local porters were not employed for the week of the trek. The Lodge and restaurant owners in the mountains are very worried about how they are going to survive until tourists return to Nepal.
But a wedding anniversary is not, (for us), a day to sit around. Today we are heading back to Kathmandu. We've heard that the Thamel area, the main tourist area in Kathmandu, is not too badly affected by the earthquake on the 25th April, but we're very conscious of aftershocks and how precariously the buildings are sitting on dodgey foundations. Consequently we have booked space on the floor at Nick and Belinda's....the official, Hanmer Springs Embassy in Nepal.
The drive back to Kathmandu takes only five hours, as opposed to the nine hours it took us on Earthquake I day. It was very interesting spotting the damage, although, in reality there was very little to see. We started to see more damage as we got nearer to Kathmandu, as we joined the many trucks loaded with aid from India, struggling up and over the huge hills that surround the Kathmandu valley. We spotted several villages on ridges that looked pretty much crushed, sitting next to other villages, that were seemingly untouched.
It was as we descended into the city that we started to see more damage, but just like in Christchurch, some areas were unaffected. Seeing buildings where the foundations have collapsed on one side, and the upper stories have tilted onto neighbouring buildings, looking very much like collapsed Lego houses. The traffic is intense, and the locals are looking stunned, but most businesses are open.
Park Village is about eight kms north of Kathmandu central, and built on rock, as opposed to the rest of Kathmandu which is built on a swamp, (sound familiar Christchurch?), so Belinda and Nick are sitting comfortably, out of the really damaged areas. We are welcomed with open arms, and pleased of the hospitality. Nick has moved his office out of Thamel, into the Park Village grounds. They have been hosting all of Nick's clients, and many of his staff, while flights out of Nepal were being arranged. 280 people camping on their doorstep. Solid folk, living on solid ground.
Tuesday, and the team all have things they want to do. Pricey, Ju and Belinda head off shopping. The Cowie boys are off to school. Nick is working in his office. Tessa is visiting friends on her new bike. I'm off to the Pakistan Embassy, trying to get more than two weeks in Pakistan. I sit and wait for two hours. It is my turn for an interview .....and the earth starts to shake. And shake. And rock. And roll. And shake some more. Those left in the Embassy beat a very hasty exit, into a small enclosed square. The world continues to shake around us. I'm surrounded by very very frightened locals, looking for a safe exit. I'm the only one looking up ....watching for falling bricks, tiles, iron. The communication mast is swaying at least 90 degrees. The water tanks on the roof are doing the same. I figure, if the topple, I will have time to move out of there way.....I hope.
Eventually, the movement stops. We are told to come back tomorrow, as the Embassy is now closed.....but I want my passport. A Pakistani does a dash up stairs and returns with said document. No visa, but I feel better having the passport.
The streets are chaotic. I'm really pleased I'm on Fiona, my Surly Ogre bicycle, as we are able to weave through panicking pedestrians, buses, taxis and motorbikes. It's 5km back to Park Village, and twice en route there are aftershocks. I can't feel them on the bike, but know they've happened, because everyone on the street runs to the Centre of the road. There is screaming, and tears, but I don't see anything new falling. A few buildings that had cracks in them, now have even bigger cracks. Some young guys push over a high stone wall, rather than allow it to fall on passerbys. I feel reasonably calm and aware, but most of the locals are looking terrified. Christchurch earthquake experience has finally shown a positive side.
Over the next 30 minutes, everyone arrives back at Park Village with stories to tell, of crazy traffic, and pandemonium amongst some of the Nepali. Eventually the boys arrive home on the school bus. It's time to de-stress. A shop just outside the gate is happy to sell us some beer, wine, and for me, some apple juice. Belinda has some fresh bread, homemade relish and humus. It's picnic time. Earthquake, Take 2, done and dusted.