Its been already my fifth day in Kathmandu, so after seeing most of the things around, I wanted to spend this day practicing my street photography skills, as I always liked it most. I found a perfect narrow street in Thamel area, I had visited few times in previous days, where I just loved the scenery of petite, long path of an old buildings, growing from the bricks below, with golden and silver pots, dishes and plates all around to purchase. I thought, with nice sunny weather, it will be a perfect day to capture few good photos of a daily life in Nepal. Sun reflection on the golden vases looked picturesque with a background build of all dark, mystery and old houses around. As an early bird, leaving hotel shortly after breakfast, I was ready for my little wander around one of my all time favorite capitals. As of hot weather I packed just my wallet, water and camera in to my bag. It was around 27 degrees during the day time, thought, getting very cold at night, so leaving hotel in just shirt and jeans was expected. However, I wasn’t even expecting that I am going to sleep next nights outside on the ground with nothing.
After wondering for few hours around delightful Thamel area, I reached my destination of a tiny street, I mentioned earlier, where I began taking photos. Five minutes before 12.00 I saw on the sky something, I have never seen before. The whole upper atmosphere was covered with birds of all kinds, almost like a dark cloud, flying in one direction…out of the sudden. It was one of the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. The whole sky was filled with them. Everyone suddenly stopped to look up at this rare happening. Shortly after, few elderly woman started to run around, shouting in Nepalese language sentences I could not understand. I was the only tourist there. I noticed sudden panic around, people trying to hide, shouting for kids around, grabbing their arms. Clearly, they all tried to hide quickly, closing shops, if that was a possible thing to do. It was just 10-20 seconds between noticing flying birds and what happened after, but I remember that loads of things went trough my mind. Basically, those running elderly ladies were pointing the sky, and I saw people running and trying to look for a shelter, so the only explanation, I’ve had created in my head, was that there are some air military force coming. But no, that was not the case.
Seconds after, the earthquake began. The ground started to shake extremely violently. I could only hear the movement of the plates. Even thought buildings were collapsing around me, I could not sound a thing. I am not going to lie, I wasn’t that much scared, as I thought its normal in this part of the world, as of an earth layers that shaped the great Himalayas. I was even just standing, though trying not to fall, thinking whether is safer to stay out or get in!
I was one of the last people standing on that street, but then suddenly I felt a hand grabbing me and taking to stay in one of the entrances of the house. Maybe he saved me, as bricks were falling everywhere. The ground was shaking so destructively in vertical way, It was very difficult to stay up. I don’t know how long it took, but at this point, I realized its a disaster. As soon as earthquake finished, I knew I have to get out of this small-scale street with old building around, as during the aftershock more buildings can collapse, like the one I was in. Also, as soon as the ground stopped shaking, I noticed what is really happening around. Woman were crying, few people were injured, everyone was just in shock. However, there was a strong wave coming to strike again and then more after, so I knew I need to find a big enough square with a proper distance from surrounded buildings. I just managed to run around the corner to the temple area, I got to remember from previous days. The maze was small, around 20-30 square meters, but houses weren’t so close. Loads of people, finding it as a closest safest area, gathered there too for upcoming aftershock. I inspected the damage around and noticed that almost every building had cracks and looked like can not survive next shakes. At this point there was nowhere to go anyway. It was too dangerous to try to go trough streets to reach a bigger gardens to stay away from building at this time. I looked around trough the people faces. Shock, fear and sadness was mixed with helplessness and surprise. There was a mother standing next to me with her three young children. I looked at her and saw her tears coming like a river from her eyes, but she was trying to hide it well from her kids. She really was a breaking point at realization about the situation.
After 30-40 minutes after the main earthquake, few birds, sitting around on roofs, flew suddenly away again in same direction as before. At this point, we all knew what is going to happened after 20 seconds. Few people were screaming, but, luckily, building around managed to stay as they were. After shakes stopped, I knew I have another half an hour or so before another one, to find a properly big space away from any kind of architecture. Luckily, knowing Kathmandu already, I run to the big open space close to the Durban Square. Not surprisingly, I saw a huge group of people, like me, trying to get a safer shelter before upcoming aftershock. I’ve met two English guys. One of them was wounded. I asked what happened, and he explained to me that, with his friend, they were the last people to escape from one of the temples before it collapsed with, still, loads of people trapped in. I’ve had a sealed water, so I opened it, and we cleaned his wound. They wanted to go back to hotel, but I told them not to, and to come with me after the second quake, that was going to happened soon. I knew that we are close to the one, big enough, garden. They joined me, and I bet they were very glad they did so, as the area was safe enough. We all three stayed there until the third and fourth aftershock, but we all felt no real danger. The fourth wave was very mild, so after that (three hours after the first one) we finally heard sirens of ambulances and fire brigade trying to rich people in need. All signals and internet was disconnected, so I couldn’t contact anyone to say that I am ok. I actually wasn’t able to do so for the next 30 hours.
The situation was stable enough to start to think what my next move is going to be. I definitely wasn’t going to hotel, as it was far, and way was trough a small streets. I memorized that I was close to the big stadium, so I made a quick decision of going there. I asked these two guys if they will come with me, they agreed. We arrived at our destination, and we noticed that most people from Kathmandu gather there to be in this safe place. I saw a hospital trolleys, with patients on, set on the grass already, but left on its own for hours. I guess stuff was trying to rich people buried under the rumbles. The situation was just drastic, dramatic and very bad. There were not enough people to help and thousands were in need of a first aid. There was nothing on the ground, just grass. I had just water with me and camera, and that was the time when I decided to actually go to my hotel to get some clothes, for cold coming night, and my passport. I said goodbye to my friends and was on the street again, witnessing a disaster, collapsed buildings, wounded people, completely destroyed roads. I was a bit scared going trough the streets towards my accommodation, but had not other option really. Thought, on my way, after another shake, I decided not to. Actually, I wasn’t even sure if my hotel still stands up.
After changing my mind of getting stuff from hotel, I found on the way the garden, called Garden of Dreams, where I saw few people around. It was big enough, so I decided to enter. I’ve met there other travelers, and we stayed together as a team for the next 2 days. We decided to sleep there too, thought earthquakes were going on trough the whole night, the worst for me was cold, almost icy feels, I was getting the whole time. In only my thin shirt on in temperature of 5 degrees, I was laying in darkness on the grass unable to sleep. In the morning, I knew I have to check my accommodation and get my passport and something warm to wear for another sleep out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend another night in this temperature in just what I was wearing. My friends from the group said they will do the same, and that we will all meet here after, next 2-3 hours.
I reached my hotel at 8.00 in the morning. Building was damaged, but was standing. All areas in were abandoned and completely empty, everyone were gone, and all rooms were open. Mine was closed, but had my key, so was able to get in to take my big back with half of the clothes, I`ve had with me in Nepal. I managed to, at least, wash my hands and face, but was still very hungry. I was wondering what happened with owner and all the guests…I could just hope they were all fine!!
I picked all I needed and came back to the garden. I found my friends after, and they told me that not far is a noodle place open today, so we went there to get some food. Thought, queue was for an hour, we managed at least to have a hot meal. It was a warm day, so I was laying on the grass enjoying the sun after all that cold, I felt the whole night before. Around 18.00 my phone line was back on again, so it was finally the first time I could call relatives to say that I am fine.
The second night
The second night was possibly the worst night I have ever experienced in my whole life. Having clothes this time on me, I was even able to make a pillow from my hoodie to lie my head on. Here, I want to add that no help was visible anywhere so far, no Red Cross, nothing! Dressed as an Eskimos, I was prepared to spend the next night on the grass. Extremely tired, being awake for 36 hours now, I thought I may get a little sleep. No, I could not be more wrong! This time was raining heavily all night! I was only able to hide all my electronics under my belly, and that is how I spent next 8 hours, all wet, cold and awake.
In the morning I changed my shoes, and I put dry blouse. I told my friends that I can’t stay here longer, and I am off…somewhere. I took my backpack, and I left. At this point, I didn’t even know where I was going to go. All hotels were closed, and it wasn’t safe to stay indoor, as still was too dangerous as of damaged buildings. Luckily, I noticed few buses on the street across. I asked the driver where are they going, and found that one of them was heading to Pokhara, a city 8 hours ride away from Kathmandu. I had no better option than just to take that bus.
Most scary moment in that whole situation
Driving trough Kathmandu, I was able to see the real scale of what happened in past two days! Third of the capital got destroyed. Roads were damaged too, but buses were running on them anyway. I was just happy to leave, to seek for a bed to lie down and just sleep. The road trough Pokhara was trough Himalayas, a very tiny one with no rails on the edge. So on one side you had high mountains, and on another, steep rocky block high on 50 meter ended with wild river down below. I read that these roads are the most dangerous in the world, and, I guess, still present aftershocks contributed to higher the danger level too. However, I felt still good to be gone from Kathmandu.To be on the way, moving. Suddenly the bus stopped, and I saw a long line of cars in front of us. I got out of the bus, I could feel earthquake, but this time there was nowhere to hide. I got in to bus again, and I asked one of the Nepalese, sitting next to me, why are we stopping, as I could not understand the bus driver. He told me that we had to as because of the land slide that was happening not far from us. At this point I was really scared, being trapped in tiny Himalayan road. We continue to wait 2 h, and, luckily, the bus went off again.
Arriving to Pokhara
I can’t even describe how relieved I was when I arrived to Pokhara, that got hardy damaged. I checked in to one of the hotels and, happy to have a bad, I slept for twelve hours! There was another mild earthquake at night, but I didn’t even left the bed this time! The next days shower felt like a rear pleasure and close by Italian restaurant like a heaven!
Return to Kathmandu
I returned to Kathmandu after seven days. Situation was even worst. I have been told that the water is contaminated, as of bodies around. Buildings were still as I saw them leaving with bricks all around. I still wasn’t able to see much of international aid, I read about online in Pokhara. Luckily for me, few hotels were open, so I checked in to one. Actually, one of the best, as was reassured it’s a strong construction, and I am safe there. In the morning I was having a breakfast with French fire brigade, that came as an aid. They were eating for 3 hours..not even going to comment on that. I’ve heard also some Polish volunteers, that came to help, but I saw them just taking private photos of collapsed buildings. I did not see any international aid, only Nepalese working very hard, helping each others. I might be wrong, I am sorry, I know many people were in remote villages, helping. But having a breakfast for 3 hours wasn’t so cheering, and changed my view how people act in such a crisis, when it’s not really their backyard.