25th April 2015. As the earthquake struck in Nepal, we got worried about our friends in Nepal. Every year we are traveling to the high mountain ranges towards north of the country: eight thousander expeditions, one after the other since 2012 and many trekking excursion around the country. In the entire journey we met many people from big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhra to small villages like Lame and Gorakshep: we have friends everywhere in the country. Apart from locals, many Indian friends were in Nepal for different trekking programs when the earthquake struck. The first news came about the Everest base camp and the avalanche from Pumori that followed the earthquake making all of us even more disturbed. Soon we got the information about our trekking group which had just landed in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck and Umesh Zirpe and his family. Everyone was safe.
Suddenly there was a surge of people for getting out of Nepal. Tribhuvan International Airport was flooded with travelers making it impossible to get air ticket back home. Even the roads were blocked by landslides and few kilometers long queue of vehicles was waiting on the Sonauli border highway. Somehow Umeshji managed to bring the entire trekking group to India by road. They reached Pune Airport on 27th April via Lucknow. Although, we were relieved to see our friends back safe, but couldn't stop ourselves thinking about others who were still in Nepal. We made swift plans for rescue and relief of friends in Nepal and before we could realize much the first team consisting of mountaineers, medical practitioner and first aiders landed in Kathmandu. The team consisted of Umesh Zirpe, Bhushan Harshe, Dr. Sumit Mandale, Vishal Kaduskar, Tekraj Adhikari, Atul Murmure and Akshay Patke.
We were confident that we could reach to the remote places in the mountains where disaster could be more severe and it is difficult for other teams to reach there. We started our mission with following objectives in mind:
a) Help to the trekker groups caught high on the mountains to get to the safe places. Locate missing trekkers on the trek routes provide necessary medical help and help them to get out of the country safely. This would relieve the stress on the available resources in the country and allow the government agencies to focus more on relief to local people.
b) Reach to the remote places which are difficult to reach and are most affected. Report back the situation to team in Kathmandu and communicate immediate supplies required.
c) Co-ordinate with team in India to arrange for the required goods and transport them to the required places quickly. Provide food and shelter to the remote areas.
d) Provide medical aid to the people in areas which are difficult to reach by other government agencies and NGOs.
e) Take back information about the long term relief projects which could be executed in coordination with other NGOs. We formed small teams we carried all the food and shelter required for the teams and used motorcycles to commute to reduce the load on the local system and reach to the remote places quickly. We coordinated with local government officials like district Police HOs, district health officials and chief district officials.
Soon after landing, the team rushed towards Balaju, suburb of Kathmandu. Balaju is industrial area near Kathmandu which was badly affected by the earthquake. Many had lost their homes and even the closed ones. Earthquake had thrown them from prosperous life to road. Houses were collapsed and it had started raining: people were in search of shelters. Quickly we arranged some food and shelter material and distributed among the community in Balaju. By the time we realized that we need funds to for arranging the required supplies of food, shelter and medicine. We started making appeal to our friends and relatives in India through social media and personal messages. Thank God! The mobile network was working. We spent remaining day to help friend trekkers who were returning from the mountains to get the required medical help and to get means and ways to be at home safely.
Soon we realized the fact that Kathmandu Sindhupal Chowk, Gorkha and Dhading were the most affected districts. One team rushed towards Sindhupalchowk for search and rescue and relief operation. While other team anchored fund raising efforts by pushing updates back home. While others continued to help to patients in hospitals in Kathmandu.
In the mean while second team started from Pune: Anand Mali, Rupesh Khopade and Dinesh Kotkar were part of the team. Their mission was to bring the Rahat (relief material mainly food and shelter) from India. Dinesh quickly rushed towards Lucknow where we had already arranged for purchase and transportation of the Rahat through our close friend and well wishers Vijay Joshi, Jagdish Tamboli and Nipun Sharma. Dinesh travelled along with the trucks transporting Rahat.
Within couple of hours Anand and Rupesh landed in Kathmandu they started towards Dhadhing Besi along with Akshay. The team’s objective was to dearly identify the areas which are remote where people are still awaiting relief, identify the type of relief operation required and take necessary permissions. The team settled in district police HQ that night. SI Surendra Yadav allowed the team to stay in the premises and assured necessary coordination. They started interacting with different people including government officials, policemen, and locals. Soon they realized that the remote areas towards north of the district which includes Darkha, Reegaon, Salynkot, Tibling and Jharlaung and Gundi were worst affected. Because of landslides and road were closed all these places were disconnected from the rest of the world. It was very difficult to reach those places even for government agencies. There were many causalities and many injured were awaiting medical relief. Villages and schools were completely destroyed.
Next morning we decided to visit these villages. Since roads were closed public transport was out of question. Even it was difficult to arrange a private vehicle. Somehow we convinced a garage owner to lend us a bike. Anand and I decided to go to the village while Akshay volunteered to work in local district hospital and meet other government officials. The road was terrible even for two wheeler. As we reached Tripureshwar village we were struck by the terrible scene. The complete village was collapsed. All houses in the village were destroyed. Even the school building was collapsed. Since it was afternoon of Saturday when the earthquake struck and it was a school holiday the causalities were very few. But people in Reegaon were not that fortunate. Many people were gathered in local missionary church for prayers and got buried under the debris of the church. The first thing that struck about the villagers was their temperament. Although the entire property including valuables, utensils, cattle and even house were lost they were calm and peaceful. We couldn’t see any agitation at all. They were unhappy about no aid or relief had reached them even after a week of disaster. Although the future looked gloomy it was apparent that they have not lost the hopes. Many came forward and narrated their experience shared their difficulties through which they were suffering and requested for immediate help for food and shelter. After spending couple of hours with different people we decided to turn back. Since we had to communicate back the entire situation to the team at Kathmandu. The finalized the plan: all the Rahat will get distributed in two parts. One part will go to Sindhupalchowk with one team. Another portion will go to Tripureshwar village in Dhading district and the third team will go for medical relief to Darkha and surrounding villages.
In the mean while Dinesh had reached to Kathmandu along with all the supplies. Quickly team sorted out and arranged all the supplies overnight. Next day morning the trucks started towards opposite directions from Kathmandu few were going towards Sindhupalchowk while others towards Dhadhing district. When the trucks reached Dhading Besi it was already evening and it was not advisable to travel on the bad roads ahead hence we all camped in Dhading Besi.
In the meanwhile, Akshay did great job by coordinating with Chief District Officer, District Health Officer, Indian paramilitary forces and hospital staff. SI Surendra Yadav informed police at Dharkha about our plans. Paratrooper’s team and doctor’s team from Mangalore who were stationed in civil hospital at Dhading Beri provided us with necessary medical supplies. It was late night till we packed all the medical supplies and prepared list of it. In total it was more than 60 kg. Nursing assistant Tsering volunteered to join our team to Darkha. Two students from Zharlang village near Darkha volunteered to go with the medical team. We though it will help us to carry more loads to Darkha and also help us to communicate with locals since they could speak Tamang language.
Next morning we headed towards Tripureshwar village and the medical relief team started towards Lapang village enroute Darkha. Darkha is six hours walk from Lapang since road ahead of Lapang was closed. It was the afternoon by the time we reached Tripureshwar. We met local committee member in the village and briefed them about the material that we carried for the villagers. Quickly they showed us safe place to keep all the supplies, which they intended to distribute later that day. The team helped the villagers to build temporary shelter out of tarpaulin sheets.
Later the school managing committee members took us to the school premises. They explained that the school is facility for more than 800 students in surrounding villages, from nursery to graduation. And now since the entire building is damaged they were worried about the future of the children in surrounding villages. They urged us to support them to rebuild the school since the fund required is almost more than a crore Nepali Rupees. We assured the best in our capacity. We distributed almost 3.5 tons of Rahat which included, Blankets, Tarpaulin Sheets, food and mats. Compared to the scale of the disaster it was very small but we were happy to contribute our piece. The smile on the faces of villagers inspired us and was acknowledgement of our efforts.
The medical rescue team too put lot of hard work to reach Darkha. On the way they treated many having multiple fractures and deteriorated wounds. It was almost after 10 days after the disaster that they were getting medical help. We got to know that another team of doctors from the US was flying to Zarlang village ahead of Darkha. Hence Anand and Sumit decided to extend their stay at Darkha. After couple of days and treating many causalities they returned to Dhading Besi. By the time we could see government system coping up with situation. Along with Indian Army and other organization from all across the world government of Nepal was slowly reaching the remote areas with required relief for food, shelter and medicine. But with the monsoon season just round the corner lot of work need to be done in disaster affected areas. Giripremi along with all supporting organizations is committed towards further work that needs to be done. The courage and temperaments of Nepali people taught all of us lot and made it a life changing moment for all of us.
All the teams reached Kathmandu by 9th May. Finally on 9th May 2015 we all left Kathmandu with a promise to continue the relief and support operations for our friends in Nepal. We thank all known unknown who contributed towards this rescue and relief operation.
Summary: Participating organization: Giripremi, Pune Guardian Giripremi Institute of Mountaineering, Pune Peak Promotion, Kathmandu Nepal Leader: Mr. Umesh Zirpre Team: Bhushan Harshe, Anand Mali, Rupesh Khopade, Sumit Mandale, Akshay Patke, Dinesh Kotkar, Vishal Kaduskar, Atul Murmure, Tekraj Adhikari, Keshab Paudial and sherpas of peak promotion Team in Pune: Ganesh More, Prasad Joshi, Niranjan Palsule, Chandan Chavan
Mountaineering is an extreme sport. It's play grounds are far from the civilization. It demands high quality equipment for safety and survival. It's probably the sport which has longest time frame. Generally, an expedition continues for several days and sometime months. All these factors impose a burden off high costs on this sport.
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