We started up the steep steps from our guesthouse in Sermathang, looking down at the terraces once again, and walked past a field of prayer flags. Interspersed with the tranquil countryside were constant reminders of the earthquake in the form of landslides, yawning cracks in the earth, and washed-out trails.
By late afternoon we had reached Ghangyul, which had been nearly flattened. The large temple was no more. Just vertical prayer flags marked where it had been. On the terraces, people had built wooden shacks, their stone homes now gone.
We walked past a destroyed stupa and guesthouse, the Dolmo, whose owner, Kaga Lama, lost his wife, daughter, and eleven-month-old granddaughter as they were trying to escape the falling building. They were the only villagers killed. We stopped to talk with him and his two German guests, Elizabeth and Joachin Labinsky, who were helping their friend and former guide, as he worked on plans to rebuild his home.
I had been fighting a bad head and chest cold, and the day had been long enough, so we decided to stay at Ghangyul for the night. The terraces, once solely used for growing crops, were now where the villagers build their temporary homes and guesthouses from wood, tarps and tin, and where we were able to pitch our sleeping tent, and toilet tent.
Even in the rebuilt guesthouses, the kitchen is elaborate and well-stocked. At dinner we met two energetic Sherpas, guides in the Everest area who needed jobs, since the tourist rate had sunk by 30% as a result of the earthquake. One of them, Lakpa, was 24-years-old and had climbed to the summit of Everest five times. The other, Bardan Rei, was also a guide, but said he wanted to start a mountain biking business. They were now working for the United Nations World Food Program to supervise Nepali workers in repairing the damaged trails. The workers were paid in food, which was coming from member nations. We walked on many of these trails in the next few days and discovered, later, that much of the food owed the workers was being delayed because of the Indian blockade. You really wondered just how much more these people could endure.
The young Sherpas (one of whom was Buddhist and the other Hindu) were very idealistic and felt that Nepal would be stronger as a result of this catastrophe. We covered many subjects, but one parting phrase I will never forget: “Nepalis are true fighters. We fight to the end!”
The next morning we headed for Tarkyegang. All along the way, there were signs of the earthquake, either landslides in the distance, or cracks on the trail. Mani stones were abundant along the trail, with their various mantras. OM MANI PADME HUM being the most common. We passed over a charming bridge, far sturdier than most, enjoyed some lovely forest walks, and even passed by a stupa that was undamaged.
Just before we arrived at our destination we spotted a large white tent with the imprint “Canada” on the top. It turned out to be the temporary school for elementary children, which was going to be rebuilt by the Swiss NGO, Caritas. There were presently only twenty students. The older children had been sent to Kathmandu to continue their studies until the new school was built.
We were invited by the teacher to visit and sit in on some of the lessons and activities. Here was an opportunity to donate some of the supplies generously provided by a good friend and internationally known storyteller, writer, and teacher, Lynn Rubright from St. Louis, MO. The teacher distributed pencils, one of several gifts. The children were overjoyed and thanked us with singing.
We had arrived at the school just in the nick of time. Soon after we had distributed the school supplies, the day was over, and the children scampered up the hillside for the 10 minute walk to Tarkyegang. One of the children carried her small brother up the steep slope.
Following the children, we entered Tarkyegang. We met none other than Dan Maurer and his Nepali companion about whom I wrote in the previous blog post, heading out for Thimpu. They had just climbed Ama Yangri, starting at 7 AM and returning by noon (an amazing feat!) and were standing in front of the ruins of the beautiful guesthouse where we had stayed last year.
That afternoon we met two New Zealanders, Dr. Stanley Mulvaney from Invercargill (originally from Ireland!), and Bryan Scott from Dunellen.
“We are kiwis,” they announced, having just climbed with their guide over the 18,000 ft. ridge from Langtang to Ama Yangri to Tarkyegang. They had run out of both food and water and were melting snow as a last resort. Exhausted would have been an understatement of their condition when we met them.
They bounced back quickly from their grueling hike. Both men were full of ideas and a lot of fun in the bargain.
During the afternoon we wandered around town finding it difficult to cope with the condition of this once-beautiful community.
Tomorrow would be an early day, so we said goodnight to the mountains and collapsed into bed.