Nicholas Cowie lives with his wife and children in Budhanilkantha, Kathmandu. He was there when the earthquake struck on April 25th, when pictures fell from the walls and the ground snaked and shook beneath his adopted hometown.
He is Intrepid’s General Manager for Nepal, the man who oversees all our treks and itineraries through the Nepalese Himalayas. We sat down and asked him what’s next for Nepal, its people and Intrepid’s adventures on the ground.
1. What were your experiences of the earthquake?
When the initial earthquake hit, my family and I had just returned from the ANZAC commemoration at the Australian Embassy. We could hear the earthquake approaching and felt the initial shakes. Being from Christchurch, New Zealand, we weren’t overly concerned.
However, the quake rapidly became more violent and we – myself, my wife and our two sons – came together to stand under a door frame between the kitchen and lounge. Pictures were falling from the walls, the refrigerator was moving across the floor and items were jumping from the now open cupboards in the kitchen. The noise was incredible.
There was a brief second when the shaking subsided, then began to increase again. We left the apartment and descended three flights of stairs, making it safely outside to open ground.
Each time another quake approached, you could clearly hear the rumbling. All the birds would fly up into the sky away from the trees, giving us just enough time to brace ourselves and ride the bucking ground.
When it was clear that the situation was under control at Park Village, I had to run eight kilometres to Thamel to meet our Operations Manager, Sujan. The phone lines were down. The closer I travelled to Thamel the chaos and damage increased. Telephone and power poles down across the road, cars and motorcycles in every direction, dust, debris and noise. I arrived at the Kathmandu Guesthouse where Sujan had bought all of our guests together. After we made sure everyone was safe and accounted for, we all evacuated to Park Village were tent accommodation had been erected.
2. What’s the situation like on the ground now?
I’m not an engineer, so I can only give an impression of the situation. What I can say is that the post-earthquake clean-up of streets has been rapid and effective. There has been a fast response to providing aid and shelter across the country. There’s a feeling of order and regrouping, and International aid organisations and the Government are actively communicating. Currently, a Post Disaster Needs Assessment is being done so an understanding of the medium to long term requirements of the affected areas can be made.
The focus is now on medium and long-term assistance to rebuild lives and jobs. We’re consulting with representatives from the World Bank/IFC World Bank Group, UN, large and small NGOs, the Tourism Recovery Cell and the Nepali Government to identify were we can be the most effective.
3. What are the big challenges going forward for the Nepalese people?
Establishing a sense of normality in people’s personal lives, looking after their children, families and friends. Rebuilding their lives and businesses. Tourism is a significant GDP earner for Nepal and has an impact on most households. I’m aware of people who currently have no income ability because there is no tourism. This includes trekking leaders, hotel staff, airline ground and air crew, restaurateurs, taxi drivers and shop keepers to name just a few.
We’re heading into what is normally the monsoon low season, when not many tourists visit. But it’s the uncertainty of what the August, post-monsoon season holds that is causing the most concern for people. The possible retrenchment of jobs and closing of businesses.
4. How have our trekking routes and itineraries been affected?
Our first priority was to put all itineraries on hold in Nepal until we could effectively determine each was safe. The engineering assessment process we’re a part of will provide us with an understanding of what needs to be done in Everest and Annapurna to reopen trekking routes. We’re working closely with engineers, authorities, hotels and visitor sites to understand the situation in Kathmandu, Pokhara and other areas.
5. What message would you have for people thinking of travelling to Nepal?
In Nepal, tourism creates jobs, jobs support families, families contribute to societies. Travellers who are willing to come to Nepal will directly and positively affect change for the better.
Please don’t cancel your trips to Nepal at this stage. We’re working very hard to get the engineering assessments and reports completed before the monsoon that will determine what work has to be done to reopen tourism safely for everyone.
Please tell all your family and friends about what Intrepid is striving to achieve for a sustainable tourism future for Nepal. Your collaborative voice will make a difference.
Intrepid Travel will be donating all profits from our 2015/16 Nepal trips to on-the-ground rebuilding projects supported by our not-for-profit organisation, The Intrepid Foundation. To learn more about our trips or this initiative, click here.
Feature image c/o Dhilung Kirat, Flickr