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Shaken & Stirred. Earthquake Nepal.

Shaken & Stirred. Earthquake Nepal.
Where to begin? Tough question.
Tough experience.

What remains of the magnificent Dharahara Tower in Kathmandu.

11.56am April 25th 2015

When the recent earthquake shattered the peace of Nepal I was caught right in the middle of it all.
Wilco Voulon, our friend Celine Hullemann, and I, were sat chatting and enjoying coffee on the first floor of Himalayan Java, on Mandala Street, in the heart of Thamel, Kathmandu (Just about the last place in the city that you would want to be under such circumstances, tall buildings, tiny streets, and packed with people and vehicles).
As we sat drinking I thought to myself “What’s that noise?”, a strange low rumbling sound outside; and then all hell broke loose. The building began to shake violently, stuff started falling off the walls. People screaming. Someone shouting “Get out of the building”. We were already on our way.
Luckily we were close to the exit. The floor was moving under our feet, the doorway rocking from side to side, the whole thing was moving in three dimensions, and we were being thrown around. There was a lot of panic around us but I managed to keep my wits about me and remain relatively calm; perhaps it’s a lifetime of solving problems, as an engineer, that gave me the tools to do that, or perhaps a lifetime of adventure that allows me to allows me to assess, and respond to, danger very quickly; who knows? I’m thankful for it now, whatever it is.
I was though still fighting the urge to panic.
We had to cross a small bridge, descend some stairs, and enter the street, before we could even consider anything else, and with debris falling all around us each split-second decision was gut wrenching.
I was shaken, like the buildings around me, to my very foundations.

We had to flee the building on the right by crossing this bridge and descending the stairs in to the street below.
The ground under our feet was also breaking up as we exited the building..

They say that your life flashes before your eyes in such situations. It doesn’t.
Survival, fight-or-flight, and a super-charge of adrenalin course through your every cell, whilst your brain, in overdrive, takes in everything around you. You do not see your life flash before your eyes; you see the spectre of death, and it isn’t nice.
I have been in precarious, life-threatening, situations before; prior to this one, however, I had always had a degree of control, my fate was in my own hands to a certain extent.
This time was different.
It is a very uncomfortable feeling to be at the mercy of Mother Nature and chance. Each simple decision we made could be the difference between life and death and we had no control over the outcome. Not knowing, with every step if we were going to live or die. It is genuinely the most frightened I have ever been.
Amid growing chaos, and fearing for our lives, we got out of central Thamel and away from the tall buildings as quickly as possible, with the ground still shaking below us.
We made our way east down Tridevi Sadak, and eventually, to the big road junction with Kanti Path. All around us were thousands of others; everyone in a state of bewilderment and fear. None of us knowing what to do or how to respond, other than to head for some sort of open space and away from danger. 

In the maelstrom Wilco and I got separated from Celine; we were worried about her. Wilco managed to get her on the phone, after some time, and, thankfully, we were all reunited within a few minutes. Slowly the situation calmed a little, nervous conversations were taking place all around us, people discussing what to do, where to go, or if there would be aftershocks. 
That final question was answered a short while later when once again the ground began to shake beneath our feet. A collective gasp rang through the air, some people were screaming, others crouched to the ground openly weeping in fear. Most clung to each other in terror with the fear of God in their eyes.

It’s difficult to explain the sensation we felt under our feet. The ground moves like liquid. It was like standing on a waterbed or trying to walk along the corridor of a high speed train, but multiplied ten-fold. Images of Hollywood disaster movies flash through your mind, you’re half expecting the ground to open up beneath you, or buildings to come crashing down around you. Fortunately for us that didn’t happen.
Others around the city weren’t so lucky.

The next few hours passed slowly, a strange mix of uncertainty and indecision.  The tremors continued but nothing came as bad as the first two. We wanted to do something but we were rendered paralysed by the whole situation, the whole area was in a weird state of bemused shock. We were as safe as we could be, relatively speaking,  and from our viewpoint there didn’t seem to be much damage.
We had seen a couple of electricity poles down, one of which had fallen on to a passing taxi; remarkably, and mercifully, it hadn’t crushed the roof and the driver must have walked away from it counting his lucky stars.

The first thing we saw as we fled Thamel. The taxi driver who walked away from this will be counting his blessings for a long time to come.

I managed to get a couple of text messages away before the phone network crashed, then we headed out of Thamel to Maharajganj were my friend Jo’s house was. I was due to stay there anyway for the next two nights before flying home. Jo lives in a solid two story building and I figured it would be safer there than the ground floor room we had at the Kathmandu Guesthouse; I had no intention of staying in Thamel for the remainder of my trip.
We checked the house thoroughly before going inside. It was in all good order except for a small boundary wall in the garden that had collapsed. Sadly an old five story property across the road had collapsed completely, apparently with four people inside it at the time. The scene was utter chaos with hoards of people clawing at the debris. A Search & Rescue team, of sorts, turned up eventually, and a crane was drafted in to clear the larger remnants. The search effort went on for well over 24 hours. I still don’t know if anyone was pulled out of the rubble.
Jo had offered the house up to anyone that wanted to stay with us. When we later went back to The KTM Guesthouse, to retrieve some of our stuff, we made the offer to the rest of group we were with. They all declined, electing to sleep in the garden there instead. Strangely the guesthouse still had some sporadic internet connection and I was able to post a simple message on Facebook to let my family know I was OK.

The chaotic scenes around the collapsed house near to Jo’s place.
This was all that remained of the five story house after the rescue operation.

The next two days were  slightly surreal. Kathmandu was in lockdown. The electricity supply and all the phone networks were down, no internet, no news, all of the restaurants and shops were closed. There was virtually no traffic on the roads. 
Aftershocks came on an all too regular basis. 
People were just milling around, too afraid to go inside their houses, most slept in open spaces under makeshift shelters. Even the Royal Palace opened its gates to allow people to sleep on the grass. The fear was tangible everywhere.

People took to makeshift shelters in every available open space.

All we heard were rumours. Apart from a couple of thin newspapers, the day after, we were in a news vacuum. People in every country in the world new more about what had happened than we did. It wasn’t until I arrived home a few days later that I was able to see the full extent of the catastrophe. 
Kathmandu had gotten off lighter than most (relatively speaking). The areas around the epicentre in The Ghorka District were devastated. So was I.

Nepal is one of the great natural wonders of the world. The people, the culture, and the Himalaya, make it somewhere very special to visit.
Hopefully people will continue to go there. Nepal needs tourism more than ever now. Tourist incomes will directly contribute to the rebuilding of lives, homes, and communities. It is still a beautiful place inhabited by beautiful people. Please go there.

The recovery process will take years. Some of the cultural losses may never be restored. This was a beautiful temple in Kathmandu Durbar Square 24 hours previously.

Amid all the chaos something remarkable happened. The beautiful people of Nepal rallied, galvanised, came together as one.
They have shown great resilience and resourcefulness, they have shown tenacity and compassion in their time of loss and mourning, to come together as a greater community to help each other in their hour of need.
The same can be said for the generosity of the wider international community too in providing aid, cash, and resources for the relief effort. 
Humanity at its finest.

There are many ways in which you could help Nepal.
Organising a shipment of tarps, tents, medical supplies, water filters, and clothing, from your own communities would be a lifeline to many.
You can donate cash directly to one of the major organisations currently on the ground. Unicef, Oxfam, Medicines sans frontieres… there are many.
Surprisingly “Airmiles” can be donated through most major airlines. I donated all of mine through Emirates and Etihad.

A group of my friends have made me very proud. They are all mountain bikers in Nepal and they have being organising and transporting emergency supplies to many villages in the affected region. They have, initially from a small HQ –  the Himalayan Single Track bike shop in Thamel – orchestrated a supply chain of relief. Sometimes on their bikes and sometimes on foot. Their efforts are humbling to me. The details for donating are listed below.

They have raised an astonishing amount of money for such a small band of brothers & sisters and currently have enough money to provide short-term relief to outlying villages for the next four months. They have also now released details of a long term plan to assist with the sustainable (and quakeproof) rebuilding of seven schools in their catchment area!
They are going to be working alongside other charitable organisations so that there can be complete clarity in where all donations go and how the money is being spent.
Phil Evans and Kate Hobson, from Yak Attack, have asked me to be involved with a charity that they are setting up here in the UK with the intention of raising funds towards this project. I can’t wait to help in some small way. I am also going to be heading back out to Nepal in the autumn and hopefully while I’m there I will be able to volunteer my labour for a few days.
Please take a look at the links below and see if you can help in any way too!

NCRR – Nepal Cyclists Ride to Rescue:

Donation page!

Facebook page


Himalayan Singletrack Website

My dear friend Wilco Voulon and group of friends in The Netherlands have formed a foundation and are making great efforts on behalf of the people of Nepal. Every penny they collect will go directly to supporting the devastated communities through the NCRR relief objectives.
Please consider donating.

Help Nepal Nu


Thank you for looking.

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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