Nepal is an adventure travel destination not to be missed. Trekking the Himalaya features at the top of the bucket lists of people from all over the world. Sadly, a little over a year ago, Nepal suffered one of the most devastating earthquakes in its history. The earthquake, which measured 7.8 in moment magnitude (Mw), killed more than 8,000 people and injured a further 21,000. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal in close to a century. In addition to the human cost, the earthquake caused $10 billion of damage to the country’s infrastructure, which equates to about half of its nominal GDP. This was followed a month later by a second earthquake registering 7.3 Mw. The second quake, officially recorded as an aftershock, occurred along the same fault lines as the first, and took more than 200 lives. Hundreds of thousands of people were rendered homeless, precipitating a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Reports coming out of the stricken country told of criminal networks targeting young women for human trafficking. Both local and international relief efforts were placed under immense pressure. The world needed to act.
Making a difference
Lindsay Tallott, Kathmandu’s intrepid Community Coordinator, was moved to do something. Kathmandu has a long-established partnership with the Australian Himalayan Foundation (AHF), which invests in teacher training and quality education in the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal. The partnership made responding to the disaster straightforward and effective. The AHF worked with its NGO partners on the ground to identify areas of greatest need and to distribute Kathmandu clothing and camping equipment to support the relief effort.
On the anniversary of the disaster, Lindsay joined Kathmandu’s inaugural Summit Club ‘Nepal Rebuild’ Trek, the fifth Summit Club trek in Nepal. The group consisted of 12 trekkers, which included nine Summit Club members, National Geographic Traveller Australia editor Geordie Torr and “On assignment” competition winner Laura Waters. Here, Lindsay tells us about her experience in Nepal, one year on from the earthquake.
A city of bricks
I’m happy to report that our first ever Summit Club ‘Nepal Rebuild’ Trek was a great success. A year ago, our customers contributed more than $150,000 towards the Red Cross Nepal Earthquake Appeal via in-store donations alone. We knew our Summit Club was keen to contribute to Nepal’s recovery, so we incorporated a volunteer component into our classic Nepal itinerary. I was thrilled to embark on a journey with a group of our most adventurous Summit Club members, to trek the Himalaya and see first-hand how those contributions were being put to use. After landing in Kathmandu, a city synonymous with the world’s most intrepid adventure-travel exploits, we encountered a peculiar city of bricks. As we headed out of the city in a convoy of 4WDs, we noticed myriad collections of them: neat stacks of bright-orange ‘just-baked’ bricks and haphazard piles of dusty old bricks, reclaimed from buildings that hadn’t survived the quakes.
The trek begins
After the long drive out to Solu Khumbu, we were rewarded with a beautiful camp site just below the village of Garma, where we rested our road-weary heads. At 7am, after a quick washy washy (in local parlance) and a carb heavy breakfast of porridge, cereal, toast and a boiled egg, we were ready to begin our trek in the shadows of the imposing 6,958-metre Numbur Chuli Mountain. The village of Garma was badly hit by last year’s second earthquake. Once the site of more than 350 houses, only 50 houses remained after the second earthquake in 2015, the epicentre of which was only 80km away from the village. We visited Garma School, where we were greeted like foreign dignitaries and presented with floral gifts and Khata scarves. The school had been badly affected by the earthquakes, with eight of its nine classrooms almost completely destroyed. The Nepalese government provided $2,800 to rebuild the school, but a number of NGOs, including the AHF, chipped in to fund the rebuild. Once the festivities were dispensed with, we were furnished with paint, brushes and mugs of sweet tea, and duly put to work painting the newly reinstated school buildings.
We were a few days into our trek, and we had already visited a number of villages in a part of Nepal that doesn’t typically feature on the usual tourist itinerary. It was clear to us that the funds raised through our trek had gone a very long way. In each village, we were greeted with generous smiles and a heartfelt Namaste, sometimes from people who were literally rebuilding their homes with their bare hands. Namaste, a traditional Hindu greeting, literally translates to ‘bowing to the god in you’. The Nepalese say it with their palms pressed together and their fingers pointing upwards, as if in prayer. Their inspirational grace and resilience in the face of such adversity seemed miraculous to us.
After a solid seven-hour hike, mostly uphill, we visited Tamakhani, a village inhabited by people colloquially referred to as Dalits, the de facto ‘untouchables’ of modern-day Nepal. Many Dalits had previously worked in the local copper mine, but since that closed, they have struggled to find sources of income amid cultural stigma and a lack of viable employment opportunities. Consequently, most live below the poverty line. We visited the school at Tamakhani, where we were greeted warmly with friendly smiles and gifts of Khata scarves, despite the absolute poverty of the villagers. Once inside the two-room bamboo structure (which is the only school for the village), we handed out 40 LuminAIDs: small, inflatable, solar-powered lanterns. Part of Kathmandu’s ‘Give Light Get Light’ programme, LuminAIDs provide a reliable and clean light source for households without access to electricity, making it possible for children to read and study after dark. I was once again impressed by the resilience of the locals in the face of all their difficulties. Unbeknownst to the group, our guide, KK, had brought his own contribution to the village: a bag full of knitted woollen hats and some school supplies. The hats were handmade by women in KK’s home town, where people are not wealthy by any means, but still feel the need to support their neighbours in Tamakhani. We were warmly farewelled by the villagers and continued on our way towards the next stop in Jallesoy.
The year 2073
The 10th day of our trek saw us march into Sagarmatha National Park. The day marked New Year’s Day in Nepal, the first day of the year 2073. Nepal uses the Bikram Samvat calendar, a Hindu solar calendar that’s 56.7 years ahead of our traditional Gregorian calendar. To mark the occasion, our talented camp cook prepared a chocolate cake, which was artfully decorated and tasted amazing! It was no small feat coming from a remote cook-tent, far from a conventional oven! We then found ourselves trekking through the foothills of Mount Everest and the other Himalayan peaks, and at almost 3,500 metres above sea level, we were all starting to feel the altitude. The air had become noticeably thinner, the temperature crisper and the going became a whole lot tougher.
We started Day 12 of our trek super early, buoyed by the chance to see the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, cloud-free. And it didn’t disappoint. For a few moments, I imagined what Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary might have felt at this point of their epic mission, from a vantage point above Namche Bazaar where Hillary had established a vital supply camp back in 1952. We gazed up at the mountain being gently caressed by the crisp, blue Nepalese sky and wondered in awe at the courage of the climbers and Sherpas who venture to the top of the world.
Shortly afterward, we began our descent back toward Lukla airport, in preparation for the flight back to Kathmandu. I was in awe of the country and its people, from the seemingly tireless porters, guides and staff who cooked for us, transported our gear, assembled and disassembled our tents, and entertained us all as we made our way around this magnificent country to the incredibly openhearted, resourceful and cheerful locals; the generosity of the people was inspiring.
Although there’s so much more work required to rebuild Nepal, I was impressed by the work already underway. It was clear to see that even a small financial contribution can make a huge impact for the resourceful people of Nepal.
Together with the AHF, Kathmandu invites Summit Club members on unforgettable treks through the Himalaya each year. Each trek participant is encouraged to raise a donation of at least $1000 for the AHF. Summit Club members visit AHF-funded schools along the trekking route. Trekking the Himalaya is a life-changing experience for many and this unforgettable experience is further enhanced by the opportunity for our trekkers to change the lives of people in rural Nepal through funding quality education programmes. Following the devastating earthquakes, Kathmandu and the AHF identified schools in the Solu Khumbu that needed to be rebuilt. A volunteer component was added to the trekking itinerary, allowing trekkers to get ‘hands on’ with the rebuilding. The next step after disaster response is to help the economy return to normal. International travellers provide a vital source of income to people in Nepal, so if you’d like to be part of Nepal’s recovery, join us on a trek!