By mid February I traveled from Delhi to Kathmandu to apply for a new Indian visa. Unfortunately that didn't work out so I had to stay in Nepal, but as we all know everything happens for a reason. An earthquake hit Nepal the 25th of April and I was giving a once in a life time opportunity to help and to witness first hand the amazing work that a group of Buddhist monks and foreign Buddhist volunteers are doing to help those affected by the earthquake.
A couple of days after the earthquake I decided to volunteer at the Bir Hospital in Kathmandu, although I have no medical training whatsoever. After two days at the hospital helping lifting seriously injured patients to the X-Ray table I felt I needed to go the affected villages where I could probably be more helpful. During my evening meditation I asked for guidance to be taken to the right place.
The next morning on April 30, when I was leaving my guesthouse in Boudhanath ready to go back to the hospital, I met my neighbor Shane Basi of US, a student of the Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery (also known as the White Gompa). For the past couple of days he had joined a rescue team, including three Buddhist monks, to bring first aid to some of the affected villages in the mountains.
Please read Shane's touching story in Helping a Little Angel Rebuild Her Life After Earthquake in Nepal
I asked him if I could help. He told me that another team was just about to leave from the White Gompa. Without hesitating I went straight to this Buddhist monastery and offered my help. Phakchuk Rimpoche, a Buddhist Master and the person in charge of the "Nepal Earthquake Relief" team, told me "You are going to drive for three hours and then probably walk for five hours. Are you sure you wanna go?" I answered "Yes!" right away. Half an hour later we were on our way.
I was not prepared at all, no special gear, no sleeping bag and no experience whatsoever. I only had my toothbrush and toothpaste with me because I was thinking to stay overnight at the hospital. I did manage to get a raincoat in the only shop that was open just before we left.
I joined a team of six including two students of the monastery, Gilad Yakir from Israel, Gonzalo Perilhou from Argentina and three wonderful Buddhist Monks from Nepal, Yeshe Tharchin Lama, Ratna Mangalam and Tsultrim Namgyal. Gilad was in Shane's team before and this was his third trip to the villages, and Gonzalo was on his second trip so they both had a lot of experience about the situation and what was needed.
The plan was to go to Yangri, Tsultrim's village in the Sindhupalchowk region. No helicopter or any kind of help had reached his village and he had received the news that his father had died during the earthquake. He wanted to visit his family and pay his respect to his father.
We drove a jeep for about three/four hours from Boudhanath to the camp in Melamchi. From there Paul, one of the monastery's teachers, drove us a bit further through a dangerous and partially destroyed road to help us save a couple of hours from the long trek that we had ahead of us.
Once we reached the furthest accessible point by road we took with us all the medicine and the 25 tarps (long plastics that are used to make tents) that we had brought from Boudhanath and continued by foot. We walked for several hours passing by several destroyed villages and about 6pm we decided to find a spot on the way to camp until next morning.
|Ready to continue our trek after a life saving breakfast prepared by Yeshe. He is sitting on the right.|
Early next morning after having a quick breakfast we continued our journey. It was a tough and long journey uphill.
The landscapes were amazing but every village on our way were destroyed. The deeper that we walked into the mountains the bigger the destruction. The image was devastating. Hundreds and hundreds of houses completely destroyed, entire villages gone.
On our way to Yangri we passed many villages like Dhap, Manekharka and Thulo Bhotang. The guys were in touch with the people at the camp in Melamchi so they knew where the helicopters had come to bring food, tents and to take the seriously injured to the hospitals. We continue further to find those villages where nobody had reached yet.
Finally after about ten hours of trekking and stopping by in small villages donating tents and medicine to those who needed it we reached Yangri. We decided to make our next camp in this village to provide them with some basic first aid and to make it as a base to reach the next village.
|Gilad applying acupuncture to one of the villagers to help him relief some physical pain|
But even after all the serious difficulties that these people have been going through they are still very friendly and extremely hospitable. In Yangri, and in every other village that we passed by, we were treated with kindness and respect. People didn't run to us asking for help or money, on the contrary we had to insist and ask what kind of help they needed.
The next day we wanted to reach Bolgang, Tsultrim grandfather's village, but it was a very dangerous walk. Landslides had destroyed several sections of the path that connects Yangri to Bolgang. Thinking of Rinpoche's words "Do not try to be a hero" Gonzalo and I decided to stay with Tsultrim at his village while Gilad continued with Ratna, Yeshe and two other local guides.
|The way to Bolgang. This was probably a 100 meters fall. At the bottom there were huge rocks and 100 meters above there were more rocks ready to fall over our heads at any time, and we had felt two tremors just a few minutes before.|
All 100 houses in Bolgang were destroyed by the earthquake and 34 people had died. The seriously injured had been evacuated by helicopter but, as Gilad said, the not so seriously injured are still quite serious.
While Gonzalo and I waited for Gilad we had the opportunity to talk with Tsultrim and his sister Chandra Maya to learn more about the lifestyle in Yangri and their current situation.
There are about 50 people in Tsultrim's village, all of them relatives. Tsultrim's father died during the earthquake. It took them four days to find him buried under the rubble. A young girl, one of Tsultrim cousins, also died during the earthquake.
Although the village has been destroyed, Yangri is still a little paradise. They are self sustainable, they grow pretty much all the food that they need. Rice, potatoes, onions, garlic, kidney beans, spinach and some type of lentils are some of the vegetables that they cultivate in their land.
They also get mushrooms from trees which they dry under the sun to be used all year round. Just a few items like salt and oil they need to purchase from other distant villages. During the earthquake their food stock was buried under the rubble but fortunately they've been ale to recover it little by little.
|Tsultrim's mother preparing lunch with other family members using their own vegetables.|
|Gonzalo and Tsultrim. This was the best meal that I've ever tasted in Nepal. Completely fresh made from 100% organic and self grown vegetables. We didn't want to eat their food but they insisted assuring us that they had enough.|
Unfortunately their lifestyle might be coming to an end. The earthquake not only destroyed all their houses, leaving them without any shelter but it has also soften their land. There are land cracks that goes through their small village, the trails the leads to their village are almost destroyed and even the bridge that connects them to other villages has been seriously damaged.
The monsoon is coming soon and we all fear that this can cause another catastrophe for their village. We are no experts but it is very evident that there are serious landslides risks. At the moment they don't know what to do. They have been living in this same place for many generations and now they might need to move to other places and rebuild their lives from nothing.
Before leaving Yangri we decided to donate all the remaining tents that we had to this village so we had no choice than to reach Kathmandu in one day as we wouldn't have a place to sleep. We were not sure we would make it but since most of the way was downhill we managed. We left Yangri at 6:30 am and walked for about 7 hours almost non stop until we reached the first bus stop. We waited for an hour for the bus to depart and reached Boudhanath the 3rd of May at 6:30 pm. Surprisingly still with the sunlight.
|Ratna donating some tents to the inhabitants of Yangri. In total we donated about ten tents.|
We also insisted to one of the families that their daughter had to be taken urgently to the doctor in Manekharka, which was on our way. She has a deep big wound on her neck that needs special care. It took a while to convince them but at the end they agreed and we left together. Unfortunately we lost them on the way, they are locals and can walk much faster than us. We all hope that they manage to bring their daughter to the doctor.
Yangri is just an example of the situation that many villages in Nepal are going through. Some of them, like Bolgang, are hardly accessible or completely inaccessible because the landslides have destroyed the path that leads to them.
There are other serious problems that can affect the inhabitants of these regions. They all drink the natural spring water that comes from the mountains, which is normally pure and much better than the water of the city, but with the coming rains their water supply might get contaminated as there are still many dead bodies buried under the rubble. In some places the smell is unbearable.
As you can see there is still a lot of work to do to help those affected by the earthquake. There are still places where no help has reached, places where they need shelters, food and medical care and there is more work to do to help them rebuild their homes and to prepare for the monsoon and for the unpredictable. If you wish to help you can donate now to the Chokgyur Linga Foundation Earthquake Relief, which is part of the Ka-Nying Monastery of Boudhanath. Every cent counts!
This story is just one little example of the many efforts that the foundation's "Nepal Earthquake Relief" under the guidance of Phakchok Rimpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master, have made and continue making to help those affected by the earthquake. You can read about many other of their daily efforts here at earthquakerelief.cglf.org
They are very organized and they know where and what kind of help is needed and how to get there since many of the monks from this monastery come from these villages and know the area well. They have sent rescue teams with medicine, tarps (used for tents) and food to remote areas where not even the military has reached. This morning they sent another team to bring food and tents to the inhabitants of Yangri, not only to Tsultrim's family but to every other family in this and nearby villages.
|Phakchok Rimpoche giving instructions and updating the team about the current situation of their work|
|Monks of the Shedrub Monastery getting ready to leave to different villages to distribute tents and food|
I've been very lucky to be at the right time and at the right place to offer some little help. Now it's your turn. The foundation needs your financial support so please go ahead and donate here, and if that's beyond your means you can still help by sharing this story with as many people as you can. Thanks for your support!