Day - 6 Indiana Jones is not a fiction but documentary!
I am sweaty, dusty, hungry and exhausted. My driver and I 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 riverside, 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 is 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. At 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 ridgeline was missed by numerous boulders, guess like real estate location is all!
Dinner was Indiana Jones style in a tin shed cooked by a woman 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 crammed into a 3 by 6-metre 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 in the 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, sheer 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 are 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 belief 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?!