This article was written by our friend, JY, who travelled to Nepal on Friday, 24 April 2015 for her one-week YOLO trip. Things changed when the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Himalayan nation on Saturday, 25 April 2015, taking away more than 6,000 lives and affected millions of people across Nepal. We are glad that she’s back in Malaysia now, safe and sound. And thanks so much for sharing your stories with us.
First things first, my friends and I are very, very grateful to actually survive such a huge catastrophe that struck Nepal. What intended to be a YOLO trip including rafting, paragliding and trekking ended up being a true You-Only-Live-Once trip. While we are glad to be safe and unharmed, let's not forget to keep our prayers for those who are affected by the quake, and hope everyone affected will stay strong through tough times like this.
Here are the 10 things that we experienced during the most severe earthquake in Nepal for 80 years.
1. Our First Earthquake in Life
25th April 2015. Saturday, few minutes before 12pm, GMT +5:45. We were at this rooftop restaurant on the 4th floor, overseeing Boudha Stupa, when it suddenly started to tremble very strongly. We hid under the table while the ground just kept shaking. When it finally stopped, we were instructed to quickly evacuate the building. Fortunately, the area we were in was relatively undamaged. We managed to take a quick after photo of the Boudha Stupa, only noted some paint patches that fell off that time. All we could say is we were at the right place at the right time, and were really blessed to be unharmed from the quake. Just half an hour ago, we were at Kathmandu Durbar Square, which was very terribly demolished.
2. Endless after shocks
It's self-explanatory. In the first hour it happened almost every 10 mins, then every hour or two, for the next few days. It was insane, the ground will just randomly shake for a few seconds, then stop, every two hours if not more frequent. Up till the second day, you may not be able to differentiate whether it's an earthquake, or it's just you yourself trembling out of fear.
3. Horribly demolished scene
Along the way back to our guesthouse in Thamel, these were what we saw. Houses were demolished, bricks were lying all over the roads, cars were damaged, rubbles everywhere, it was a very shocking and heartbreaking scene to witness with our own eyes. Thamel was badly affected, so instead of heading back there, we started roaming around to find a place to stay for the night.
4. Camping Outdoors in the Night
On Saturday itself, after shocks of the earthquake kept coming almost every hour, nowhere indoors felt safe. After roaming around the city, we passed by Shangri La Hotel and saw their wifi signal, decided that we should stay there to update the world that we survived. Wanted a room there that night, but it was fully booked. Then again it didn't matter, because no one dared to sleep indoors anyway, everyone was just camping next to the garden. Then every two hours, everyone would run to the centre of the garden when the tremor came around. It was 15-16 degrees, a cold cloudy night, but we all had no choice but to stay close to outdoors for our safety's sake.
5. Malaysian Embassy/ Malaysian Authorities - Uncontactable
The next morning, on the Sunday after the cold long night, it was time to decide - whether to head to the Malaysian embassy in Lalitpur, or to head straight to the airport. Since the day before, we had been calling the Malaysian embassy number, the line went through, but no one picked up. We kept trying, just wanted to be sure it's open before we head there, still no one picked up. Since airport was a nearer choice, we finally decided to just head straight there.
Even on Monday, many people texted me from Malaysia, saying that there will be a Royal Army Force coming to save us, but somehow we didn't have any access or updates about it. This aunty gave me a contact that her daughter gave her, from Wisma Putra. I texted 6 Malaysians' details over to that number to make ourselves contactable, yet received no reply. The aunty received a "thanks for your information" reply, and they told her that an officer had arrived at the airport, asking us to go and meet him. When aunty replied that "There are many Malaysians here in the departure gate, can you come in and meet us instead of us going out?" no reply. Perhaps they presumed that we all already had a flight ticket therefore no assistance was required. Nonetheless, the Royal Army Force did a good job by fetching many other Malaysians back, and we are thankful of it on behalf of all other Malaysians.
6. The overcrowded Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu
Imagine an international airport with only five gates, trying to do an international evacuation - it was just beyond chaotic, pretty much like a refugee camp ever since the earthquake. Let the pictures speak themselves. Everyone here relied on dry food like biscuits and chocolate to survive, without any bed and blanket for easily 1 to 3 days. Not to mention the horribly stinky toilets. Anywhere with a floor space was occupied with someone standing, sitting down, or just lying down to sleep. Mind you, even a space to lie down and sleep was a luxury there, not everyone's lucky enough to secure that.
7. The Lifetime Decision - Whether to Take or Ditch Our Luggage
This may be the riskiest thing we did in life. After much contemplation, my friends and I decided to head back to Thamel to get our luggages (recap: we have not returned since the earthquake). We quickly rushed upstairs to our room, grabbed everything and ran down. The poor taxi driver that agreed to wait for us (while risking his life) did not look too happy when we came down. "You all took almost 10 mins!" (I swear it was shorter than that). Thank goodness it all went smoothly. Along the way, he also helped us to get 4 litres of water, which played such a vital role for our upcoming 30-hour camp in the airport (of which, we didn't see it coming at that point of time).
8. Most Airlines, Are Helpful, Yet Not Completely Helpful
Yes I know, the title is self-contradictory. Put it this way, we appreciate the help and sacrifice of the airline staffs, to actually fly in and out of disaster zone just to get us back home safely. However, there are all the usual administrative matters that really get on one's nerves, especially during crisis times like this. For example, AAX was charging their passengers a whopping USD225 to reschedule for an earlier ticket (even if it's just half a day earlier) if your original ticket was in April, and USD250 for those in May, cash payment only. Whether that's the right SOP to follow during such disaster times, I shall leave it for you to decide.
9. Endless Delay of Flights
As mentioned earlier, Tribhuvan airport is an extremely small airport for international standards. Imagine every other country was flying more planes in to get their citizens out, royal army forces were bringing in food, aid and supplies for the victims, but there were only limited spots for flights to taxi, unload and let passengers board. On average, every flight was delayed at least 3-4 hours if not more.
On Sunday night, there were supposed to be three outbound flights to KL - MAS, AAX, Malindo, but none of them managed to fly till the next day. Malindo Air (which I was waiting to board) was delayed from 10pm on Sunday night to Monday evening 6pm because there were no parking space for the plane. They only landed around 12am. We were told that the pilots flew for more than 10 hours, spending so much time circulating the sky instead of the usual 4.5 hours journey for KL to Kathmandu (probably went to India to refuel or so). Based on international regulations, the pilots and crew needed a 1o or 12 hour rest before they can fly again, for everyone's safety.
AAX had been circulating the sky for quite a while, same case there was no space for them to land. They had no choice but to head to Calcutta, therefore the outbound flight was cancelled. The next morning, they only flew to Kathmandu when they were informed that there was a spot to land. To sum up, the endless delays of flights was neither the airlines' nor the airports' fault, it was just a result of severe sky traffic congestion that was beyond control.
10. The Longest Wait Before the Flight Finally Flew Off, and Everyone Cheered
So finally it was Monday 6pm, we all boarded Malindo Air. Obviously the sky traffic was still congested as ever, and our plane queued for 2.5 hours before it finally started to move on the runway, preparing to fly. Hold on a minute, the plane moved through the runway for a distance, but didn't fly, made a turn and continued moving for quite a bit, but still wasn't flying, what's going on? What happened to the usual head to runway, engine on, started moving swiftly then fly process.
After what felt like the third attempt, finally we went up to the sky. The whole plane's passengers clapped and cheered with joy (though I was secretly praying, please don't bang into any planes or helicopters - after all the traffic was too heavy). Finally after 4.5 hours, we all landed safely at KLIA2, though exhausted and worn out after 60 hours without much sleep, less than usual food intake, no shower, but most importantly, we all made through this catastrophe alive and unharmed, and got back to our home sweet home. What more can we ask for?
If you wish to support earthquake relief in Nepal, you can make your donation through paypal-donations.com. Stay strong, Nepal!