25 April 2015: A memoir of the disaster!

Parashmani Ghimire
Photo by Ashok Silwal

‘Hello, Bijaya how are you man ? I have not seen you for the last 10 days. Where are you, brother? where can I be brother?’

‘I am at Kathmandu now. I had a round trip to Kathmandu-Chitawan-Pokhara of 8 days and after that, for two days I’m going for arrival. I have my same routine. Go to the airport for arrival, wait there being attentive to display board, display board will show, Ai247 canceled, and return to home. So you have not seen me.’,  Bijaya tried to make it clear, ‘And Shiri brother, tell me, how about you?’                                                 

Shreekrishna to whom all his colleagues in the tourism fraternity call by his nickname Shiri, for tourists it was quite difficult to pronounce Shree Krishna, so he had discovered his name as Shiri and among his colleagues, he was very famous by his nickname ‘Shiri.’ He was of merely 5 feet but used to be in attractive attire with black ray ban glass and always used to be in smiley looks with positive vibes!                                               

Shreekrishna came to Kathmandu from Solukhumbu, eastern Nepal, for his higher studies. He had done MSc in chemistry and had worked as a chemistry teacher in different private boarding schools in Kathmandu. He used to get almost 40,000 Rs. per month. It was not a bad amount but he had to work almost 12 hours daily and more time for the preparation of the classes. It was making him very tired, hectic routine! Although he had tried for the T.U service commission a couple of times for the post of permanent lecturer he was not becoming able to find his name among the successful candidates. So for time being he was working as a part-time teacher in different private schools.

As he was from Solukhumbu district, home of Mt. Everest, he had seen many tourism activities there. He had seen the life of his relatives of the tourism fraternity from very near. So after completing his bachelor’s degree, he had got vocational training as a tourist guide and when he was at the hostel after completing his master’s degree, he had done few sightseeing also. When he found it difficult to work as a teacher then he had started to work as a whole-timer in the tourism fraternity 10 years ago! And he was very much satisfied with this profession! 

February, March, and April are considered to pick seasons for tourism in Nepal. Although it is not like in autumn but also high season. Shiri had made good income in Feb and march working with an ideal group (group of 5 to 10 people, but elite tourists). April was not good for him comparatively, and the last group for which he had worked for 5 days was good, all of them were businessmen from Canada so he wanted to share his experience and achievement from that group with his friends and was talking with Bijaya!

Bijaya, the friend of Shiri, had returned  3 consecutive days from the airport without a guest, the reason of that was the flight from which his guest was coming could not land at Kathmandu airport because of bad weather, 25 April 2015 he was again at the airport waiting for the same guest coming from flight no 247! Although he had not met the guest but had seen them in the newspaper headline ‘because of bad weather tourists going for Kathmandu stranded at Kolkata!

Mr Silva and his wife Maria were coming to Kathmandu for 4 days, 3 nights programme but they had already lost their 2 days programme in Kathmandu because of bad weather and on their 3rd attempt, their plane landed at Kathmandu airport! 

Mr. Silva and his wife had bought (tour of10 days in India and 4days in Nepal ) India and Nepal package with Mega tour, a very famous tour operator in Brazil. According to their itinerary, they have completed a tour in India and because of the weather ‘at the eleventh’  hour, they landed at Kathmandu. So they had their tight schedule of the tour in Kathmandu because they had already missed  2 days in Kathmandu, so they wanted to maximum utilization of their remaining time in Kathmandu when Mr. Silva and his wife emerged from the arrival section of the airport raising their hands toward the placard of Biyaja, he felt very much relieved because it was his third consecutive days in arrival for same clients. Bijaya welcomed them by kahda and according to the wish of Silva, they headed toward Nagarkot, in spite of going hotel for check-in.

Generally, March-April sunny and clear day in Kathmandu, not too much warm, pretty much good visibility towards mountains. So tour operators of Kathmandu focus on a program of countryside tours for tourists in this season, ie, Nagarkot, Dhulikhel. So that tourists can be happy getting a glance at the mountains! But 25, April 2015 was comparatively cooled and hazy!

Nagarkot is about 35 km northeast of Kathmandu. It is a hill station, very famous for mountain view and flora and fauna as well. Bijaya started his briefing emerging from the airport. They talked about, culture, history, politics, business, and every topic! Mr. Silva was quite excited and listening with enthusiasm. Although he had already missed 2 days in Kathmandu, was becoming more satisfied than his expectations, more interesting was Mr. Bijaya had very much knowledge of his country Brazil, so he was feeling like he was in any Brazilian suburbs of Copacabana and Ipanema, talking with his Brazilian friends there, Although Nepal doesn’t have sea and beaches. Bijaya’s company was really interesting for them.

After 1 hr and 45 minutes of driving from the airport, they reached Nagarkot. Although it is not more than 35 km, because of traffic in the city and bumpy roads makes trips to Nagarkot quiet longer. Because of bad weather, the view was not good, mountains were not visible. But Bijaya showed the exact location where the mountains used to be seen on a clear day, showed the correct pt of mt Everest, and Silva and his wife took many photos, in different posses!  And then they went for breakfast at Club Himalaya. It was about 11 am, although their breakfast was at the hotel Hyatt, Kathmandu, Mr. Anil from Sita world (local tour operator) had managed their breakfast in Club Himalaya in his personal effort so that the guest could be happier with them.

After breakfast which they ended with sips of herbal tea, they were going for the sightseeing of Bhaktapur, a medieval city, city of devotees.

It was way to Bhaktapur, 2km from  Club Himalaya, on the turning, a passenger bus with people in its roof and totally packed inside was coming from the opposite side with blowing its horn in full capacities so that vehicles from the opposite side could let that pass easily. Our driver tried to give side to that bus, but he was not getting control to his Mitsubishi jeep, it was bumping automatically, and the bus was also swinging left and right, up and down. After few seconds, the driver opened his mouth saying vuinchalo (earthquake).

It was really powerful shock, happened almost 1 minutes.

They got off from the jeep and stayed at the corner of the narrow serpentine road, again they felt aftershock trees were making a noise like big hurd of monkeys were swinging them, down from the village. Dust (must be bricks and rubble) was emerging toward hills, it was really horrific. Silva and Maria had never witnessed an earthquake, in brazil. They have other natural calamities but not earthquakes. So they were also terrified! A very convenient and friendly moment was converting to a sort of anxiety and uncertainty. We saw villagers running with hue and cry. They decided to return to the hotel. On the way, they saw some buildings totally fell down, on some were going to fell down slowly. After half an hour, he got a message from Anil, ‘Bijaya, how and where are you?’ Anil had heard some locals and foreigners died in the monuments zone, so he wanted to know their (Bijaya and Brazilian couple) condition!  Bijaya informed them they were okay!

After many hours with the feared and terrifying face, they could return to the hotel. All the guests of hotels were on the ground outside, drivers and others were listening to news of fatalities and damage. After some time, Anil and their team from Sita World came there. They were visiting different hotels to assess the condition of their guest! Bijaya intorduced Anil to Silva . Silva had just arrived that day. He had not done any programs except Nagarkot and was leaving Kathmandu tomorrow. Anil tried to console him. Silva asked Anil, ‘what will happen that money which I have paid for the Nepal tour?.’

Ask your local operator in Brazil’, Anil replied raising his eyebrows, (‘think you lucky to survive, money is not valuable than life’, his eyes were saying symbolically)! Bijaya waited until 9 pm there with guests. When hotel management assured them to do the check-in, he did bye to Mr. Silva and Maria and returned to his home. On 26 April 2015, Silva had departed, but that day also many aftershocks were happening. Bijaya tried to contact to Anil but no avail, his cellular was switched off. The driver also could not be connected, Bijaya was willing to go for departure but his wife and his relatives did not let him go. He stayed at home with family amid fear of aftershocks!

The next day he had heard the news that those tourists stranded at Kathmandu were rescued by their concerning country in coordination with the Nepal government and Nepal tourism board.

It was a really big natural disaster, had killed almost 10,000 people, many people were injured, many more were homeless, many monuments collapsed, really a big blow to our country.

‘In every 100 years we have a strong earthquake, the smaller seismic movement has been occurring frequently but no one from our generation had witnessed such big earthquake’. After 1 year when tourism returned at its normal pace, Bijaya, Shiri, and their colleagues from the tourism fraternity used to say these lines to their guests.  Although up to 1 year after the earthquake was a very difficult time for them after that it became okay. Shiri had erected  3 stories building in Balaju Bypass. He was living happily with his two kids and wife. Naga in 2020, because the corona tourism industry suffered heavily, they were thinking by march 2021 it will be normal, but to the contrary, uncertainty is looming because of the second wave of the pandemic.

Today 2021 April 22 after dinner, their kids already slept. Shiri was concentrating to write something, his wife, Bonita, after washing her face with aloe vera gel, entered the room with 2 glasses of hot milk, ‘k gardai hunhuhun6 (what are you doing dear)?’ Shiri gave that sheet of paper which he was writing for one hour, A memoir of 25 April 2015.

Bonita red that with the sips of milk, and  said , ‘very good wrtting , hubby. Take it easily, every thing will be okay.’

She switched off the light and hugged him continuously, appealing for love!    

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