Two weeks ago today, I was sitting in a cafe in Kathmandu, sipping my americano and checking weather reports for our trekking groups in the mountains. When I felt the earth begin to move, I had absolutely no idea just how significant this earthquake was going to be. I slapped the lid down on my laptop and crawled under the table, holding on to the metal cross bars, praying. It went on for a long time, the shaking and tilting of the concrete below me, my knees bruising from the impact of the ground. I could hear people screaming and running; bricks falling.
So much has happened in the past two weeks. I could tell you my story, but that is not important now. Perhaps there will be time for that later; maybe next year. For now, there are more important messages to be shared. People are suffering and there is much to be done.
Just a few weeks ago, Roland and I did a trek through the beautiful Ganesh Himal Ruby Valley. We camped a few times, but mostly slept at home-stays along the way. We were shown incredible hospitality. Villagers were friendly and had easy smiles. We were given locally made buffalo curd, gifts of boiled eggs and garlands of rhododendron flowers. The whole village of Neber, man, women and child, spontaneously got together to dance for us. Their village is so remote that they seldom see trekkers, let alone have visitors over to stay. We were welcomed warmly and left with promises to return.
After the earthquake, we searched for information from the villages where we had trekked: Khading, Lapchet, Dunchet, Rachyet, Timladauda, Tirigaon, Neber and Chalice. We had taken photo’s across the valleys of the distant villages of Hindung and Lapagaon. No news was to be found. These villages are so remote, that they are not even mentioned on Google maps. Due to the far distance from the nearest road-head and the fact that the sky-phone system was damaged, it took time for information to filter through. We knew things were bad in this northern area of Dhading District. But what to do? Ke garne?
A few days ago, by serendipity perhaps, we came across a local newsprint (The Daily Namaste!) lying around in our guesthouse, its front page declaring “Ruby Valley Homeless”. As I read the article, I cried: “The scenery is still there, but the wonderful little villages that dotted the mountainsides now lie in ruins”. As I read on, a spark of hope filtered through. There was a phone number for Kul Bahadur Gurung, president of the Ganesh Himal Tourism Development Committee (GHTDC). Needless to say, we called him.
One of the most encouraging things about this earthquake, is to see how the local Nepali community has pulled together to do everything they can to help places far and wide. Kul Gurung is among them. We discovered that we had actually slept in his home-stay in his home village of Chalice a few weeks ago. Seeing photo’s of it now leaves me cold. Had the earthquake hit during the night we were there, I might not be here to tell this story today. But Kul is not only trying to help his own village. He is concerned about the whole Ruby Valley, the 5 VDC’s of Shertung, Lapa, Tipling, Ri and Jharlang. Kul has been intimately involved in the development of the whole region through his position as Chairperson of GHTDC. We were impressed to learn too, that the new bridge that we had crossed on our way into the northern Dhading district, was Kul’s initiative through TAAN (Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal).
Today, Kul is out in the field, taking rice, salt, oil, some lentils and tarps out to villages near Nuwakot. He is keen to get help to Ruby Valley as soon as possible too, but this is a monumentally difficult task in the current circumstances, considering that there are no roads leading to the villages and the nearest jeep track is also badly damaged. Supplies are usually carried in by mule and by porter. But now the nearest road head is even further away. He is already making plans though, but needs financial support.
Since meeting with Kul in Kathmandu over the past couple of days, Roland and I have decided to support the GHTDC as much as we can as they strive to bring immediate relief to the villages of the Ruby Valley in the form of food and shelter, and in the longer term dedicate themselves to the redevelopment of the whole community. Already, methods of rebuilding village homes is being discussed. Right now, they need monetary support. Not tomorrow, but today. As monsoon looms, homeless villagers are yet to receive shelter. Food is scarce and hopes are low.
To donate to GHTDC’s earthquake relief initiative, please contact Kul Gurung here: http://www.rubyvalleytreks.org/contact-us.html#&panel1-9
Roland and I also hope to run a camping trek in the Ganesh Himal in Spring next year, in order to bring much needed revenue into this area. We will stay in close contact with the GHTDC team through the coming months and hope to assist where possible with rebuilding the Ruby Valley.