A destroyed hotel. Photo by Yihaur Chew.
A destroyed tea house in Langtang Valley. Photo by Yihaur Chew.

My name is Yihaur, I’m 28 years old and from KL. I left for Nepal on the 16th of April with my dad and a group of 10 other Malaysians, intending to visit a popular trekking area called the Langtang Valley that features breath-taking snow capped Himalayan mountains.

Langtang Valley is situated about 60km north of Kathmandu and is a 8 hour bus ride over the steep mountainous ranges of Nepal. The trek spanned seven days: a five day journey up to the peak at Kyanji Ri, and a two day journey down the trek back to the nearby town of Syabru Besi.

We were accompanied by Shyam, our head guide and 11 others that consist of his extended family, including his son on his maiden trek in Langtang. I remember vividly asking Shyam on the first day if this area was an earthquake prone area, having noticed house sized boulders in the river below, to which he replied – “No sir, don’t worry, earthquake will not happen”. Famous last words that I will never forget.

The climb up to the peak was beautiful and euphoric, but to come down was hard and dangerous, as we would find out on our seventh day. We were having an enjoyable lunch by a cliffside tea-house aptly named “Landslide Hotel”, when the earthquake struck at about 12pm in the afternoon. The quake started off as small vibrations that we could feel and see, but quickly ascended into a thunderous roar, shaking the two mountains that were surrounding the valley.

 

The quake started off as small vibrations that we could feel and see, but quickly ascended into a thunderous roar.

 

The ground shook with tremendous vigour, kicking everyone off balance. Panic ensued, and with the sounds of the first falling boulders crashing into the river below, many sought cover under the flimsy tin roof of the tea house we were in.

We quickly realised that it wasn’t safe there, watching pieces of rock and mountain come crashing closer and closer to us. We quickly ran out and evacuated the area. I remember my guide Shyam, together with his uncle bravely pulling people up (myself included) from a cliff-side ledge moments before being it was swept by a torrent of rocks. Everyone was scattered in the process. While I was running, a piece of rock managed to clip my left leg, which led me to fall.

I immediately got up and started running again. In my peripheral vision, I could see a wave of rocks pummelling the ground behind me. Many of us sought shelter behind massive boulders that were lodged into the mountain, in hope that these would shield us from the falling rock that was coming from the mountain above us.

An example of the falling boulders.

The air was thick with dust, kicked up by the quake and it was difficult to see or breathe. After the initial quake, the aftershocks happened frequently, many of which triggered more landslides and falling rock. It was a frightening experience as I began to realise that I might not make it out alive.

 

I began to realise that I might not make it out alive.

 

After about two hours, the aftershocks were decreasing in magnitude and we decided to regroup and find the rest and decide what to do next. The objective quickly became getting out of the valley, and we decided to make a dash for the nearest town Syabru Besi, which we figured to be about 3 hours away.

We passed by the tea house we were in, which was reduced to rubble and looked beyond to see landslides covering the trek we were on. Adrenaline had kicked in and the pain in my leg was overshadowed by the desire to evacuate the valley as quickly as I could.

A deserted village.
A deserted village.

After about an hour of navigating difficult terrain, we stumbled along other survivors at a villagers’ house, many of whom decided not to continue further with the trek as it was too dangerous given the chances of aftershocks. A decision was made to stay the night and let the aftershocks settle, and make a dash for town the next morning.

The villagers’ house gave us a sense of safety as it was in a relatively wider valley, although that sense of safety quickly vanished after we saw another large landslide occur just about 50m from us. Before sundown, the locals quickly set up shelter from a large tarpaulin sheet and we all worked together to get a fire going (the nights were cold) and gathered some food and water from the house. It became dark at 7pm, and the most terrifying night of my life began.

Darkness

Aftershocks were occurring every 30-60 minutes, and unlike the daytime, we were unable to see falling rock coming down. Each time an aftershock happened, our group (about 30 or so) would get up and start running away from the sound of crashing rocks. Fortunately nothing came close enough to injure us, and sunrise finally came about 6am.

It was physically and mentally exhausting, as we could barely sleep at all. I recall Josephine Lee, a member of our group giving us encouragement that night by saying “Don’t worry, we will get out of here alive”.

Come morning, aftershocks were happening about every hour. We left camp and made haste for Syabru Besi. It was no easy task for me as my injury rendered me less mobile and the terrain was extremely difficult to navigate, given the landslides reducing parts of the trek to rubble. Small aftershocks happened during the trek, but fortunately didn’t trigger more falling rocks near me.

 

Each time an aftershock happened, our group (about 30 or so) would get up and start running away from the sound of crashing rocks.

 

After almost two hours, my dad and I finally made it out and we rejoiced seeing many other survivors gathered at the Syabru Besi. As if we hadn’t learnt our lesson, the joy was short lived as a large aftershock struck again which sent massive boulders come crashing down onto a road where we were just walking through moments ago.

There were about a few hundred people at Syabru Besi, consisting mostly of locals who reside in the region. All shops, guest houses and homes were evacuated at the time and everyone was gathered on a side of the mountain where we felt it would be safest. The conditions of the camp were deplorable, and at this stage there was no noticeable sign of military or relief efforts at the town.

Camp conditions

We finally got to make our first call out at the town, notifying our loved ones that we were safe, which was a huge relief for us (and them). Jess Chen, a member of our group, called her son. She told us, “My son felt something was wrong and told me not to go for this trip three times! I’m so happy we made it out of the valley alive.” However, mobile networks were unreliable and scarce so it was extremely difficult to make calls.

Rescue helicopters were also a rare sight during Day 2. The roads from Syabru Besi to Kathmandu were damaged by the quake, and the only way down to the city was by foot, a journey that my injury made very unrealistic.

There was still plenty of water and food in the area due to its many guest houses. Nobody dared to stay indoors at this point, and rightly so. Our group knew we were going to spend the night here and the groups of guides and porters set up a cosy shelter from a tarpaulin sheet to shield us from the rain. Aftershocks were decreasing in frequency and magnitude, but on occasion there would be a big one that silenced the entire camp and made everyone peer out for a falling rock.

 

More and more rescue helicopters were flying out the critically injured, but it seemed that there was no system in place or queue.

 

Day 3 came, and with it, signs of progress. More and more rescue helicopters were flying out the critically injured, but it seemed that there was no system in place or queue. All the foreigners at the track were frantically trying to arrange for helicopters, including ours. But it was extremely difficult given the availability of helicopters in Nepal and also the network conditions. Another night passed, relatively comfortably, and now after the 72 hour mark we could see the camp feeling more at ease.

Our group finally managed to get on a helicopter, which we thought was going to Kathmandu, but stopped short at another village because of really bad weather. Luck was on our side though, as the roads from that village to Kathmandu were alright, and we were told we could take an hour long bus ride to the city.

After about 45 minutes on a bus, our eyes laid upon the relative flatness of the Kathmandu valley, which was such a wonderful sight. As we progressed out of the rural villages and into the city, we could finally really see the devastation the quake had brought onto this country.

 

As we progressed out of the rural villages and into the city, we could finally really see the devastation the quake had brought onto this country.

 

Many brick buildings were severely damaged, many reduced to rubble. Locals were concentrated under make-shift tents, full of rubbish and mud. The most heart wrenching thought was that these people were going through all of this with the loss of loved ones too.

We made it back to one of our guide’s office and made arrangements to get back home, which thankfully was less eventful. Our MAS flight was scheduled to depart around midnight, but we were delayed at the airport for several hours.

The Malaysian Embassy operating out of a car at the airport.
The Malaysian Embassy operating out of a car at the airport.

The scene at the airport and finally reading the news help shed light on the relief efforts that are ongoing in Nepal. There were many large military aircraft at the airport, noticeably from China and India (which led to the delays), with plenty of military men around. We had been hearing plenty of complaints and discouraging statements from locals, saying that relief efforts were poor and they are not effectively reaching badly hit villages.

Pandap Gurung, our guide and business partner, while happy to be back in Kathmandu is devastated about the state of the country. “This is a terrible situation for Nepal, it will take a long time for us to recover from this,” he said.

From what I’ve gathered, plenty of foreign aid has been pouring into the country, but it appears that the country has not effectively managed this. In addition, many people had something to say about the government and their politicians’ mandate in handling relief funds. Having seen the devastation, I can say that while this may be somewhat true. But I would also like to note that Nepal is a country that has its population widespread over vast mountainous regions, which are not easily accessible even in good conditions.

Nepal’s infrastructure and roads currently are just not up to a stage where help can reach them fast enough. While the country may not have been prepared for an incident this large, I believe this will improve as crisis experts from experienced countries are coming in to help.

In short, I will say this much – Nepal is a resilient country, and I believe relief efforts will provide the necessary helping hand they need to grab and get back on their two feet. We are also extremely thankful for the locals and guides that helped us on our journey back home, knowing that without them we may not have been able to make it back to Kathmandu. I make a notable mention to my guide Shyam and his family who exhibited extraordinary bravery in the face of present danger. I and many others owe our lives to them.

In light of the new earthquake that just happened, I have contacted my guides and porters and they are all OK. However, Shyam has recently told me of several deaths in his village from the recent quake that just hit. This includes a school that was hit, which claimed the lives of several students. Unfortunately, the ordeal is not over for Nepal.

See more of Yihaur’s photos here.

HOW TO HELP

There are many avenues of helping, I am using Gofundme.com, there are over 800 campaigns to help the Nepalese there. This is a campaign for my guide, if anyone would like to help directly, I would greatly appreciate it. My dad and the group of trekkers that were with me are also raising money through friends and family. We have raised close to RM100,000. All this money will be proportioned to help our guides and porters (12 of them) and also the villages that they reside in.

Other channels for donation include:

International Red Cross

Mercy Malaysia

Care.org