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Day - 6 Indiana Jones is not a fiction but documentary!


I am sweaty, dusty, hungry and exhausted. My driver and me drove today towards the start of the Mt Everest Circuit Trek as there were numerous landslides reported by various international teams, including a landslide that impacted on a township. The road there was adventurous at good times, scary at bad times. The place is only 50km far away, but it took 4 hours of unsealed roads (donkey tracks really, but couldn’t see donkeys just Himalayan Cows). Singati, a small township, was visited by the Turkish USAR team for a few days with a helicopter to recover several bodies but apart from this there was no relief coming in at all. The Dutch Red Cross only managed to reach this place two days earlier. They are setting up and trying to help. The town itself is at the base of a steep slope, not too dissimilar to Redcliffs or Peacocks Gallop in Sumner. Now these slopes down fare well when vigorously shaken. The large boulders that got shed from the upper slopes buried the main road and impacted several houses. Nepalese houses have similar impact resistance to NZ houses, i.e. none whatsoever. According to our interpreter there were still bodies buried in the debris. The largest plant and excavator they have in town is a JCB, essentially a tractor with a backhoe. I recall it took Sally and me nearly two days of preparation and execution to recover one body in the Port Hills and the debris was much much less than in Singati.

 

The Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance (GEER) team was not able to go much further due to road blockages as late as last week. The mighty Mahindra did manage to cross some recently cleared landslides along the true right of the Tama Koshi River that flows from Chinese Border. We wanted to check on the road conditions as further upriver a town and garrison of the Nepalese Army is stuck due to road blockages and apparently they are trying to reach Singati from top down. We continued across many cliff collapses and landslides. Eventually we couldn’t go any further as the road was simply gone. A lone 25 year JCB tractor was idling in front of a 60,000m3 landslide, but it did an amazing job getting here. On the other river side we managed to go another few kilometres upriver when the track just finished. Power lines were almost all on the ground as the support posts were hit or knocked off and it was disconcerting to step across high power lines, despite well knowing that no power can reach it. Across the river the road was covered over hundreds of metres with landslide debris and rocks kept raining down from the 200 to 400m high near vertical slopes – not a place to be. There was also a hilux type truck partially buried and hit by rockfall, the locals mentioned that three people passed away over there. They also mentioned that there should be more casualties buried as it was a busy road. While we had lunch I ate Lhasa chicken and wasabi corn chips and Jimmy crunches deep fried corn we encountered about two dozen people trekking up the valley across the landslides with much needed supplies before the monsoon season hits.

 

I took my trekking gear and we decided to see if the situation around the next corner improves, knowing well we are going closer to the epicentre of the large aftershock. We came to a cable bridge and two locals just crossed it – safety check done (two locals = my weight). I crossed the 100m long cable bridge while humming the lead tune from Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom. The village on the other side by the confluence of two rivers was abandoned, as were all previously visited villages. We essentially were trekking through ghost towns. Apparently people took their meagre belongings, their animals and trekked out to settle somewhere else. Essentially leaving their ancestral homes for good – a quite sad sight. A some point we decided to turn back for several reasons: a) locals were reporting ongoing landslides and ground moving as they were trekking across it; b) it started to rain and c) I was tired. It would have been great to have a drone

 

On the way to base from Singati I tried to log all areas where rockfall impacted the road and gave up as there were just too many places. I have seen a slender power hit at least twice by rocks, talk about lighting never strikes twice the same spot. I have also seen boulders the size of cars and houses that rolled or slid downhill. One old temple and cremation ground on a ridge line was missed by numerous boulders, guess like real estate location is all!

 

Dinner was Indiana Jones style in a tin shed cooked by a women who was about 300years old. It featured Nepalese ‘chicken’ curry and every time my colleagues tried to find out which part of the chicken he is eating she nearly fell backwards laughing. I tried to tell him that there are things you simply don’t want to know! Irrespectively if it bleated, barked or whistled it did beat Lhasa Chicken. Every dish was presented with style and panache, in a similar style featured in the Indiana Jones movie. There were 20 of us cramped into a 3 by 6m tin shed on poles, plus all the furniture and kitchen the entire family had. Now 24 hours later all stayed down and in – mission successful.

 

Day 7 – the return to Kathmandu


The drawback camping near a military garrison is that they blow the horn at four bloody morning! And not just once, but more or less continuously. Also the chap manning the instrument should have got some lessons – he was terrible at it. The trip home was more or less like all road trips in Nepal, long winded and terrifying at times. Essentially the track or road is just wide enough for one car or truck. Driving here is like an endless game of chicken, played on a 45degree or steep slope, at speeds in excess of 40km/hr, by people who believe in resurrection rather than final death - great. After six hours to cover 150km back to Kathmandu even as a passenger one is exhausted. I also note that I have listened to one CD for five days. The driver humming happily along Celine Dion, Rammstein and Metallica.

 

Driving in Kathmandu is, as mentioned earlier, shear insanity and motorbikes and utes engaged in a game of dare. Traffic lights (those few that exist) are an indication only, centre line or actually any road markings is being completely ignored and just for fun if there is grade separation (concrete lined green bit in the middle of the road for cows to graze on) then everyone ignores it and drives either side of it. Unbelievably pedestrians manage to cross the busy roads without being killed – hence I understand their believe in the divine.

 

Now I am back at the hotel and as a thank you to my driver I donated all chicken to his family. He was really happy about this – not sure if he knows that it is Lhasa chicken. As I write this there is a wedding going on downstairs. Music – cat being beaten to death mixed with techno – lovely. Need to find dinner and meet the team! Let’s see what the wedding dinner might be?!


Comments | Posted By Emma Bedford

 

Day 5 – Snakes and Squatting Toilets


It is something about this subcontinent that goes under your skin. I wandered off to this afternoon to inspect a gabion wall only to discover that essentially every second gabion is a cobra nest (might be another snake, but I have not stopped long enough to check it out). Anyway this one a new one for the Safe Work Method Statement back at work. The local looked at my Cactus pants and was of quite the opinion that cobra would not strike through this – Not to worry mum I am not about to try this myself – I am looking for another fool.

 

The other pain I discovered, is this country’s love affair with squatting toilets. Firstly the lock is only on the outside (yes outside), not sure if there is some form of incarceration technique or punishment to be locked into a foul smelling dark dungeon. Anyway at the end of this ‘holiday’ I will become a certified bomber pilot.

 

This morning started like most in a camp, getting water, doing ablutions (squatting toilet here we come once again), cleaning out tent as it gets dusty and making breakfast. The army is coming round for and distributes cooked rice to children and they asked me if I want some as well? I must have looked starving I guess?! And no I did not take the rice – I was cooking chicken. In hindsight they might have seen the packet and felt sorry?

 

One thing is amazing, I am the third day away from showers and I am grimy, smell bad (not as bad some locals – though) and dust is pretty much in every crevice. There are people next tent over who hiked for three days to reach the camp, two of the group are about to give birth in the Norwegian Red Cross hospital across the camp and they look like they walked off a stage and had their clothes cleaned and their hair professionally done. Definitely starting to look like a bad example of western culture. I like to say that travelling with a butler would have been my choice.

 

Before we broke camp I walked across the camp to a family that walked in for a fair distance to ensure that the baby is born in a safe place. As per Brenden and Jenny’s wish I donated $100 to this family for supplies for the new arrival as mum is now a widow and in this culture it is very difficult to manage a household with a husband. The money will ensure that she can get enough corrugate iron and nails to have a home before the rains arrive next two weeks. She promised to call the baby Jenny or Brenden, but I am not sure she got which one is which gender. There might be a girl called Brenden about the Shindupalchok village.

 

I commandeered a mighty Mahindra, the finest Indian export, to drive to a neighbouring district as there are several villages affected by rockfall, landslide and cliff collapse (where did I see this combination before?). The local magistrate wanted to see if it is in fact as bad as it was portrayed by some US researchers who went through here a few weeks ago. The drive over several passes was not just stunning by scenery but it also became clear that if the place is not near vertical it is used as a paddy.

 

When we went over a high pass there were several very loud pops and it turns out that the entire boot was covered by wasabi crisps as the air pressure was too low that the packets started to pop. Ah, yes I forgot to mention that I bought a few packs of wasabi potato chips to go with Lhasa Chicken. Actually the shop owner couldn’t sell it as it apparently tastes horrible – I agree with this! Most were lost in the pass crossing anyway. More Lhasa chicken –hurray! This morning at the tea house I witnessed a chicken being killed right next to me. But we had to leave before it could be processed into something non Lhasa flavoured.

 

Along the way to meet my other EERI colleagues I noticed partially collapsed to totally collapsed buildings including a very impressive pancake collapse on a steep slope where the debris run out for about 100m. Equally impressive was a building on its side, not just leaning – that is actually quite common.

 

On the last pass the mighty Hamindra Scorpio ( Factory forgot the ‘n’ I presume) make very strange noises and came to a halt. Half an hour later we were back on the road. I never found out what was broken, but cannot for the life of me fathom what a 10mm spanner and large hammer could be made to repair.

 

Tonight we are staying at the Civil Defence HQ in the Dolakat District at about 2,300m elevation. Much to my misery the driver put my tent into the wrong truck and I found myself without one! However, across the road is the Chinese Red Cross and after some confusion, bargaining and waving my finger about, I have now for two nights one of their emergency shelters for testing and evaluation purposes. Poor beggars didn’t speak a word English and my Nepalese translator who is fluent in Chinese was too much amused to help them out. I shall report if the accommodation was adequate.

 

We met the local Magistrate or Governor who was a cartoon character representation. He sat behind a large dark timber desk with marble inlays, had his duties from army, armed police and civil defence  sitting in chairs alongside and receive every 5minutes a call on his mobile phone (a big status symbol here). We sat on the most uncomfortable couch I ever sat on and it was in wrapped in cling film to prevent us savages dirtying it (he had a point here I admit). Anywho we had a good laugh (with him) and offered to help his engineers.

 

Dinner was Nepalese chicken curry (it was NOT chicken and I wasn’t about to ask!) and I hope not see Mr Squatter tonight again. It was a risk based decision, Lhasa Chicken or having dinner in a ‘restaurant’ in a slightly damaged RC frame. Hunger decided that hazard might be worth taking. They had cold beer, screw the damaged RC frame! I even attach a picture of the curry – for evidence gathering purposes if nothing else.

 

Tomorrow we are visiting with the municipal engineers (who have no clue about land stability) an area where 25,000 people are cut off by a landslide since the first EQ. I had various information about this cannot wait to see this.

 

Another funny thing I noticed in Nepal as in other poor parts of the world is to give the population something they never needed in the past, can barely afford and it changes their interaction with each other – the mobile phone. Even in the most remote corner is a mobile cell tower with data connection.

 

Anyway over and out, from the foothills of the Himalayas. As usual some photos and feel free to forward to friends.


Comments | Posted By Cactus Outdoor

HELPING OUT IN NEPAL

3/06/15 10:00 AM

 

A cactus customer and chief engineer for Christchurch Earthquake recovery, Jan, has been asked to help out in Nepal. He's been there only a few days but has sent us through several updates. It's great to hear and see what's going on over there first hand from Jan as we don't seem to hear anything through the media anymore. We've hooked him up with some Cactus gear (as a tiny token of helping out) and we'll be following his progress over the next few weeks. Check back here if keen to track Jan's work. 

Here's the first update from Jan:

 

Kathmandu

 

A walk through town indicates that Kathmandu is a busy town and people are getting on with life. In many places the rubble has been removed and temporary repairs are underway. Walking through the the older districts where older brick houses stand the damage from the earthquake is much more telling. Houses are supported by bamboo sticks and houses are riddled with cracks. Some fully collapsed buildings are still present and the smell of decay is in the air. The alleys are very narrow sometimes only 2m wide. People, motorbikes and incredibly some cars try to negotiate these narrow passages. Houses either side are four to six stories high. Not the ideal place to be in an earthquake. There is the occasional collapsed multi storey house. People of all ages are sorting bricks and stacking those for reuse, and trying to retrieve any undamaged goods, not many remain. I am asking some bystanders what they are looking at a particularly nasty collapsed house that took the neighboring houses down as well. One family is missing and likely to be still buried in the collapsed house, chance of rescue is not there but the wider family is hoping to receive the bodies for a funeral. I bade my farewell and it is returned with a cheerful Namaste. 

 

Tomorrow I will be meeting my ERRI team and my local contact for the Forgotten Sherpas Trust for which I brought some much needed relief goods along from NZ. Thanks to those that have generously donated and helped to organize.


Day 2

 

Curry for breakfast! Actually not too bad, but before praise is being given I shall wait at least 24 hours.

 

After breakfast I met with Dawa a local guide representing the Forgotten Sherpas Trust. We had a cuppa tea and discussed life after the earthquake. He is already in recovery stage by filling in all the cracks in his home and seeing if there are trekking groups for the autumn season as this spring season was cut short by closing most passes. Things did not help with Everest Base Camp being closed after a massive avalanche and many of the guest houses on the popular trekking routes collapsed.

 

After our cuppa I showed him the 50kg of gear I brought along from NZ. I put out a call and many of our friends and business colleagues have answered. I worked with the Warehouse in Northwood and we purchased several hundred dollars of emergency equipment, clothes, crayons and scrapbooks for kids and water purification, etc. The warehouse gave everything away at cost - great. AirNZ chucked everything on the conveyor belt wishing their best and it was delivered to Nepal – great service.

 

Dawa was overwhelmed with gratitude, but he came with a motorbike hoping for only a full shopping bag. But after calling his friend we got all goodies into a very small taxi. They plan to prepare all goods early next week for the long trek to the village. All in all mission complete - thanks to all who donated and helped.

 

The afternoon I visited a refugee camp and took a recon trip across town, caught up with the Canadian Defence Force working from the Hyatt, and generally found my feet in this buzzing town. The Hyatt funnily a 5 star hotel had across the manicured lawns dozens and dozens of tents with refugees and NGOs. A quite bizarre sight. It actually looked like Everest or Annapurna Base Camps and this confirmed to be more or less correct as most trekking outfits donated their tents and equipment to homeless people. Most tourists did either evacuate or did not make it into the country. This will be the second year running with hardly any summits as a number of peaks are closed for the second year running. This does impact on the local economy. Yesterday's shopping trip indicated that a Mountain Hardware backpack is available for as little as $60, fakes go for $20. The shops literally sit on their goods and no one is buying - or is there one?!

 

Later I inspected the a very large temple as it turned out Dawa is a former monk and offered to take me around and offer local insights.  The temple top is very damaged but did not collapse. Guys in high viz jackets balancing on bamboo sticks held together with twine are inspecting the 40m high structure. Could not find a single tag on the 'scaffold' - the view though was amazing! We ate late lunch at at roof top restaurant to typical Nepalese and Indian tunes (think: cat being tortured).

 

This evening the work part starts with meeting the GEER team. The guys from the GEER team arrived this afternoon for the Tibetan border lands inspecting hydro power plants. Incredibly as they piled out of their truck I knew three out of four - bloody small world of disaster tourism!

 

And in the local news:


• The government suspended all new building consent work to enable reevaluation of structural designs


• Geotechnical engineering input will be required for all new multi storey buildings, but the definition is yet to be found what a multi storey building is


• Structural engineers are calling to replace bricks with lightweight alternatives


• The building code (or what passes for it here) is being reviewed and structures are being assessed against it- introducing the concept of NBS


• The local government is calling for more cement in mortar (presumable so the brick walls falls over as a big block the next time round - haven't figured that one out as yet). The wall surrounding the Kings palace failed on two sides and local contractors are rebuilding the wall (yes - using the same bricks)


• Sadly many slopes are expected to fail in the upcoming monsoon season and villages are trying to get much needed supplies through passes and gorges before those are cut off. There are still very many families living in tents and strong winds that come with the monsoon are expected to tran this arrangement.



Comments | Posted By Emma Bedford

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