I was so happy to be back in Nepal that I forgot all about the earthquake. But, truth be told, there were no immediate reminders, no toppled buildings or piles of rubble, there was just Kathmandu. We exited the airport to the ever present hordes of taxi drivers and staring eyes, and there amongst it all, our friend Harka waiting with a huge smile on his face. It felt great to be back to this place we have fallen so in love with.
It wasn’t until later that a stroll through Thamel served as reminder that there had been an earthquake. It wasn’t in the form of destruction, it was emptiness. In the quake’s aftermath lay relatively quiet streets, empty guesthouses, and trekking shops without customers.
Janine and I are here with Ueli Steck and Colin Haley. While their objective is Nuptse, ours is a combination of hiking in to basecamp, then continuing on our own trek. Over dinner on our first night we spoke at length about how the media may have scared everyone away from this first post earthquake trekking season. Certainly there was a massive catastrophe and tragic loss of life. But is the threat of another quake any higher now than it was before? And for all the many people around the world wanting to help, might not the best form of help be to simply come and directly support the locals by paying for their services?
We fully understand that the tragedy in Nepal is not about the loss of trekking, it was the horrific loss of life. We know this, but we are here to tell the story of what is happening for trekkers and climbers. There is no doubt that tourism, and specifically trekking, is what feeds many Nepalese people. They need tourists for their livelihoods, and they need tourism to recover. The money we bring goes directly to the local people.
We looked around online for information about what to expect for a return to Nepal. What we found was news of total destruction, Kathmandu in rubble, and much of the Khumbu Valley completely destroyed. We read about Namche Bazaar being nearly wiped out, and the trek in from Lukla being difficult due to no guesthouses and landslides. We realized a trip might be difficult, but that we had to see for ourselves. We would go.
Our first morning had us all sitting in the Kathmandu airport, on hold, as all flights to Lukla were cancelled due to thick clouds and heavy rain. It was day two of no flights and the following day was expected to be the same. After some debate, we all agreed to get on a helicopter. Our one hour flight ended not in Lukla, but a tiny village below, Lukla was still in the clouds. We started our march to Namche.
Within one hour, we saw the first signs of destruction, toppled stone houses and lives altered.
But, what we mostly saw, and this is our third time up the Khumbu, was what we have always seen. Porters carrying their loads, children walking to and from school, and all the many guesthouses offering food and drinks. Amongst all this were the building, and re-building, projects including the ubiquitous sound of hammers striking stone, or as one local put it, “The local Nepalese music”. What we didn’t see were many trekkers.
Part of what we are doing here in the Khumbu is a project for America’s outdoor retailer REI. They have asked us to honestly, and fairly, present what we see and feel so trekkers interested in a visit have the most accurate information to understand the situation. While writing this from Namche Bazaar, we can say Nepal is what Nepal has always been, a tremendous experience thanks to the people and environment. Now may well be the best time to visit, both for one’s own experience, and for the support you can provide the Nepalese people.
Top photo : Inside the Namche Gomba, artist Nyima Phuntsok Amdo paints the new walls. Phuntsok Amdo is a Tibetan refugee who’s family fled Tibet in 1959, the year he was born. He has never been to his home country.