The long trek out of Nepal, one Hopite’s journey home

Local resident Shelley Empey, recalls her firsthand account of the tragedy in Nepal that started on April 25th.

A Nepalese woman and child

A twelve day Adventure Trek with Earthbound Expeditions to celebrate her 50th birthday and that of her sister-in-law Deanna Empey, left Hope resident Shelly Empey amidst the survivors and chaos of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25th, which was tragically followed by a second earthquake, rated at 7.3 in magnitude on May 12th.

“We were greeted with a heartfelt namaste from the owner of Earthbound Expeditions, Rajan Simkhada — a former guide himself, who has a passion for his country and the people of Nepal,” said Shelley of her arrival to the ancient country.

Simkhada had done a lot of work with schools and orphanages in Nepal, according to Shelley who recalls him speaking of Nepal as one of the poorest countries in the world, largely in part, due to the lack of stability in government over the last decade.

The former guide was also adamant about the positive aspects of Nepal, which he also described as a developing nation, rich in many natural resources and in spirit.

“He reminded us with a grin, to keep our expectations low and encouraged us to get out there and explore — after all we signed up for an “Adventure Trek.”

The adventure bound Empey sister duo, toured a few UNESCO world heritage sights, including the ancient city of Bahktapur, built in 1200 a 1500 A.D., which had all been destroyed by the ensuing earthquake.

The pair rafted down to Trissuli river and camped over night on the riverbank. The Trissuli is comparative to the Thompson River — it’s a large River with nice floating sections and big holes, and rapids sections.

Upon finishing a five day trek that started just outside the city of Pokhara up to Poon Hill, 3210 metres in elevation, where the Empey’s watched the day break over the majestic Annapurna Range, a couple in their group had decided to get married in Pokhara.

“On the morning of the earthquake, we had just taken the bride to go shopping for a sari. Deanna and I were inside of our hotel room on the third floor getting ready, when we felt the first tremors,” recalls Shelley, as her sister-in-law said “We’re having an earthquake! What do we do?”

The only reply Shelley could think of was to stand in the doorway. After grabbing the bags, which contained their passports, money, and identification the two remained steadfast in their resolve to stay firmly rooted.

“We stood in the doorway to the hallway. The building was shaking so badly — we wanted to make a dash for the stairway but the tremors grew in intensity,” she said. “It was the same feeling I’ve experienced when the airplane shakes so violently, just as it reaches enough ground speed to lift off.”

The squeaking was so loud, it sounded as though the rebar was shaking, Shelley stated of the terrible sound.

“Finally, after what felt like an eternity the tremors quit, and we ran out of the hotel.  Everyone was milling about, excitedly telling their stories. The bride to be was outside clad in a towel.”

Shelley recalls a lady who said she was on a massage table  when the tremors began and the therapist ran out leaving her on the table.

The excited buzz, quickly turned somber, once the guides from the trek learned of the devastation to their home villages.

“They were amazingly strong and stoic.”

A collection of cash was gathered to leave with them, as they headed back to Kathmandu the next morning by bus.

“It was difficult to hold back emotions, but the constant aftershocks kept everyone in a ready state — Deanna and I had all of our gear packed and ready to go at the hotel room door and we slept in our clothes.”

The Canadian sisters carried a small survival pack, which contained passports, money, rain gear, a water filter pump, a cell phone with charger and food bars with them.

They made a pact with their group that if buildings were to collapse in Pokhara, they would all meet at a location called Centre Point, where there was an unmistakeable large tree to pool resources and account for one another.

“Wi Fi was intermittent at the best of times and once the earthquake hit, it was even more intermittent. ATM’s went down and storekeepers were closing down their shops in fear that the biggest tremor was yet to come,” remembers Shelley.

According to the Hopite, Nepalese people were very scared.

“I could see hands folded in prayer formation and lips moving as they prayed silently throughout the strong aftershocks. Some hotel keepers had their guests sleep outside under tarps in the green spaces and many people slept out on the beach,” she said.

There was a miscommunication as to whether a shopkeeper would accept a credit card initially, after Shelley decided to buy a phone — so when it came time to pay, she was informed they didn’t take them.

“I didn’t want to use up my cash, so I tried another ATM, to no avail. The shop keeper was so kind.  He insisted I take the phone anyway and told me that we were foreigners, but he trusted us, and said I could pay him the next day, explaining that in this world one must trust.  I thanked him repeatedly. He was scared but, in true Buddhist fashion, he was was ready to accept fate, whatever it was.”

Shelley and Deanna registered with the Canadian Embassy once the earthquake hit and had sent texts, emails and used Facebook to get word back home that they were okay and were in Pokhara, not Kathmandu.

A return flight was scheduled for May 5th, but in light of the situation, they decided it best to leave as soon as they could get a flight change. The travel agencies were not able to get through to the airlines and initial costs to change flights was estimated to be $2000 per person.

Domestic flights were not leaving Pokhara and the pair had been informed that flights from Kathmandu were also delayed with line ups building and people camping out in tents at the airport.

“So we decided to make the best of our remaining time in Nepal, staying in Pokhara, until we could get our flight changed — we both felt very emotional at times, thinking about the guides and porters, who had become our friends, who had lost everything except the pack on their backs,” she said. “Our guide, 27 year old Pravin Pabi, a bright young man who had his MBA in tourism and marketing, explained that his home was gone. He didn’t know where he was going to sleep when he got back to Kathmandu.”

Pravin, however, was able to contact his family and knew they were okay.  The pair wondered how they could help. Deanna suggested they make their way to a small village to help out.

“The transportation logistics, language barrier and questionable stability of the region played a big role in our decision to stay put.  We happened to come upon a Nepalese community group of guys, whom we realized we’re setting up to ration food for earthquake victims, so we asked if we could help and they welcomed us, putting us to work assembling and loading sacks of rice, lentils, oil, blankets, drink crystals and water for a 100 families onto trucks to be transported to Kathmandu.”

Although it seemed like a small gesture, it was huge, and the recipients were thankful, smiling and snapping photos, according to Shelley. The group then happily announced that in one day, they had collected $4700 in donations.

“That evening, we attended a touching candlelight vigil for Nepal, where donations were also collected,” she said. “When we returned to our hotel for the night, we received correspondence from a travel agent in Canada, who could possibly get us on a flight the next day, from Kathmandu, if we could get there from Pokhara.”

With the 12 hour time difference, the innovative pair had  to set their alarms to wake at 2:30 a.m. to confirm details.

“We took pictures of our passports and emailed them to the travel agent, and by 9 a.m. that same morning, we were in a rented car, well on our way to the airport in Kathmandu to fly out that evening.

Domestic flights from Pokhara were flying, but there was no guarantee they would all go out. Pokhara is 206 km northwest of Kathmandu, but the drive to Kathmandu airport took just over six hours, because there is only the one single lane highway and it is a winding mountain road.

“We saw bus loads of Nepalese people being evacuated from the earthquake zone,” remembered Shelley of the journey out.

The village of Gorkha, the epicentre, was not visible from the highway, according to Shelley, who reported seeing many twisted and crumbled buildings as they entered Kathmandu.

“There were rows of tarps set up over bamboo poles to shelter many people — it was a very heart wrenching sight, especially as strong winds and heavy rains were building.”

Shelley received a message fro their guide, Pravin, via Facebook.

Hi my friends. Me and my family are safe. Sorry, I can’t say goodbye to everyone in Pokhara — now I am in Kathmandu. Now I stay in my friends home. Our friend Ram, Ahkil and Gopal (our porters) are safe.  Thank you so much for praying for me, my family and my country.

A second post from Pravin was as follows:

I just returned from my village. In my village every house is damaged by the earthquake. Now in Kathmandu I stay in my friends home. I lose my everything.  I can’t make like my home for a long time. I feel very sad and I lose my confidence for life, but I am very glad everyone pray for me, my family and my country. Again thank you everyone.”

To a question that was asked of him about rebuilding his home and how to help he responded:

Yah. I want to make small home, but it’s very hard. It’s very expensive. If you want to help me you can. And, also tell your family and friends that’s my humble request.” He said eight families (31 people) are living under one tent.

The Nepalese people are predominantly Indian, following Hinduist beliefs and also Tibetin to the north, but Buddhist beliefs are adopted among all of the people.

Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha. The people are warm, peaceful and happy and they have so little, right down to the flip flops, the porters wear on their feet. For info or to help out our friends in Nepal,  please contact Shelley at 604-869-9869, or donate on line to http://www.gofundme.com/tvdha8

“Nepal is a diverse, beautiful country, with so much to offer and the people are warm and lovely.  Deanna asked me if I would go back and I answered, “in a heartbeat.” I am interested in partaking in a habitat for humanity project, if it ever were to materialize.”

Shelley returned safely to Hope and Deanna to Invermere. She told the Standard that she is happy to be home, but still dreams of Nepal every single night.

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