The May 12th earthquake which measured 7.3 only added insult to injury in Nepal. We had three objectives: a) Deliver tarps to the village of Heywa with donations made to Wide Open Vistas. b) To travel from Heywa west to Jiri and conduct community assessments for the International Organization on Migration -while moving through parts of Solukhumbhu, Ramechhap and Dolakha. c) To deliver additional tarps to Phakding in the Solukhumbu and assess potential of helping to rebuild community school.
Friday May 15th: Sudeep, Dorjee and Seth left Kathmandu with a jeep at 6am hired for $250 – more than your normal price but we needed every inch of space and we were travelling at a days notice. This was $100 over our budget and we thank the Oglethorps for donating specifically to cover this overage and getting on our way. We had 120 large tarps (~375kg) plus our own gear.
After passing through Dhulikhel we started driving on dirt. The road to Phaplu was passable throughout but a 4×4 would be highly recommended. There were a couple small landslides but drivers had worked a path around them. There was significant danger of rock fall from above. Our driver Keshav was great – he had driven for the US forces in Iraq for 8 years. We did not see significant damage like we had the week before in Sindulpulchowk – that is, there were no clearly leveled structures but people were living outside their homes.
We arrived in Phaplu (2469m) after 11 hours and met 6 Sherpas from Hewa Village. Their names were Pasang (2), Dawa, Nima, Sarke, and Ang Kama. We reviewed the map together, talked about their village and damage. Heywa includes Heywa proper with about 56 households and nearby villages of Khundruk, Akang, Yaping and Sitling. We totaled 100 tarps and set another 20 aside for Dorjee pick up when he passed through Paphlu again on his way to Phakding. We ate Dhal Bhat and slept in the lodge which was built out of wood. There were shops open and the air strip had been running in Phaplu but it felt a little deserted.
Sat May 16th. We woke up and had breakfast. The porters left early and we made plans to catch them at a lunch spot. As we left town, we encountered local officials from District Office including Mr. Jhanka Nath Dahal – Chief District Officer, Army and Police. They recorded what we were bringing and where to – so that we could avoid duplication. They thanked us and sent us on their way.
The walk up the valley was beautiful, the first stretch was on jeep track which soon was only passable on foot. We arrived in Ringmu (2720m) at 1:38pm. Ringmu had 36 households but very few liveable. We saw aid tents there, 1 occupied by four families. Above Ringmu we found a community with a few buildings and aid tents that were being used. We reached Taksingdu Monastary at 2:46pm and stopped to visit. Many of the buildings were heavily damaged and the monks were holding a ceremony for two villagers who had died at Everest Base Camp due to first earthquake.
We left the main Jiri-EBC trail from there, and descended to the Deku River. On the way we picked up a yak which helped carry some of the tarp. From the river we climbed up to Heywa which we reached around 5pm. Shortly before coming into the village we experienced an earthquake which was reported later as a 5.3? in Kathmandu. At first glance Heway Village did not look as damaged as we expected and there were some tarps present. The older porter named Pasang had been rebuilding an old house during the April 25th earthquake. He was still doing this and had a large area covered with tarps where boards were being milled. Next to that was a shelter where he and his family were living. We ate dinner and slept on the boards next to all the shavings.
Sunday, May 17th: We woke early. The community meeting was at 8am at the school and we wanted to do a tour of the village first. We found that virtually every structure had been badly damaged in the past three earthquakes; large fracture lines were visible through much of the brickwork, walls leaned in dangerous directions, and bricks had fallen in many areas. Most villagers were living outside in temporary shelters – as tarps were in short supply they were doubling up with other families. Many were sleeping in cow sheds. Food and household items had been ferried out of many homes and sometimes stored in out houses or under the same tarps they were trying to live under. Many were leary of another quake coming and also suspect of government reassurances (they had been told it was safe to move back in after the first quake). Many did not plan on trying to live in their houses again, or attempt serious rebuilding, until after the monsoon. Most expected to be in their shelters for the next year. The community meeting went well. Women came from the surrounding villages and a small council met in the school house with a list of the tarps, sizes, and names of residence. A short while later they came out and called names one at a time. People were appreciative and at the end Dorjee thanked everyone and we took a group picture. The message we received was tarps were needed, not food or water purification systems. Here is the full image gallery for this part of the journey:
At 11am we had a quick lunch prepared by his father who was living in a small shack next to his damaged house. Sudeep and Seth bid farewell and headed back down the trail with the intention of fast packing to Jiri over 2-3 days. Dorjee was planning on walking back to Phaplu and then buying his own plane ticket to Phakding which was further north. The trail there had been reportedly blocked by a large landslide (near Paiya) which had killed one person trying to cross it. (We had reported this landslide to Kathmandu Living Labs when we first heard about it). Dorjee intended to deliver the remaining 20 tarps to people he knew in need, document these deliveries, as well as view the conditions of his lodge, and meet with the local school rebuilding committee.
We were chased by thunderstorms for much of the day as we headed west- We retraced our steps to Ringmu and then crossed to the opposite side of the valley as we worked our way through Salung, Phurteng, and Junebesi (2700m) which we arrived at well after dark, at 8:15pm. We spotted a aid truck parked near the bridge into town and later we camped in the yard of a guest house. A Nepali man there said they had brought supplies in by truck (it was stuck by the bridge) and they were helping Thuptensholing Monastery (houses 500 nuns and monks) up the valley protect various relics. Junebesi with 35 households was heavily damaged with many in tents and cracks in the earth. Not too many completely flattened structures though.
Monday, May 18th: We climbed above Junebesi at 5:47am and spent basically the next two days (after the ‘2 houses waypoint’ at 8:16am) walking through total devastation toward Dolakha District which was heavily damaged. A rough estimate would be 30% of structures reduced completely to rubble. The remaining too unsafe to enter and likely in need of demolition. Notable observations:
Between June Besi and the Lamjura pass there were two or three settlements. Two houses were destroyed in one. We had lunch in Kinja (Ward 9, 2:50pm 1570m). Ramechhap was on the other side of the valley. Kinja had 60 households with 15 partially damaged, 45 completely damaged. There were also landslides, with no road access. Our lunch was in a temporary structure the lodge owner Kadak Bahadur Khadka had made. There were many flattened buildings in the village. There was a checkpoint there staffed by an army officer. A local villager guided us for a couple hours on the south east bank of the Likhu River, saying the rocks were still falling on the main trail. We passed a destroyed school (4:38pm 1512m) We crossed and climbed up to the plateau where we stopped for the night in Duhkharpa(Dhukharpa VDC – 2) with 90 houses all damaged, all residents staying outside. We camped behind a temporary structure there – a lodge owner jokingly referred to it as his ‘new guesthouse’ – we ate Dhal Bhat. There was a group of Chinese Malaysians who said they had brought in rice and other supplies for the area. It wasn’t clear how much though. They were sleeping in tents and said they planned on being there for a couple more weeks.
Tuesday May 19th: We left at 6:30am and crossed Deurali Pass. We passed Duerali village 9:09am and unexpectedly ran into Pasang Sherpa who Seth had worked with on several trips. Pasang was returning to his village. In the mid-afternoon passed through a temporary community called Dhade, Sudeep did a full IOM Site 1 assessment – they said they planned on staying there until after the monsoon.
We had lunch in Shivalaya which was largely destroyed. We arrived in Jiri around 3pm. We stayed on the grounds of a technical college – camping in an open space. We saw a large number of tents further south but did not investigate. We did not see any aid presence on the main street for Jiri. In the morning we took a 7hr bus ride (paid out of personal funds) to Kathmandu and saw similar pictures of collapsed/damaged buildings and outdoor living during the entire ride. Many people were framing temporary structures from trees cut from nearby forests. Here is a full image gallery from the trek from Heywa to Jiri:
GPX files from our trip: Phaplu-Jiri (~1 mb)