Frightening Moment on Top of a Himalayan Mountain

Dear Friends and Students,

I am still in Nepal. Since I was here when the second earthquake of 7.4 happened, lots of people are worried and I got many emails and text messages. Unfortunately I do not have time to write individual emails to everybody and I am sending this letter to all my friends and students to let you know that I am fine and continuing my work in Nepal. I am very busy everyday with our efforts to relieve the suffering of those who are affected by the earthquake.

Do you have time to read a short version of my earthquake experience? Here it is.

Frightening Moment on Top of a Himalayan Mountain

When the second big earthquake happened, I was on top of a mountain. We had driven 18 km off the main road, two hours from the capital Kathmandu with two truckloads of relief goods, one four wheel drive jeep and two motorbikes. We drove on a small, unpaved road with great difficulty as we were going up the mountain. Eventually we arrived at the village of Vaisheltol just before midday. The truck drivers were not pleased to drive on such challenging roads but did not complain much because we were with an army officer. When we arrived at the village, the valley below and the panoramic view of the mountains were breathtaking.

A small community of 45 families lived on this mountain. Most of the houses were destroyed by the first earthquake and some were damaged and still standing. Some families were living in broken houses. The houses were built with brick and mud and usually had three floors. The first floor is for animals and crops. The first big earthquake killed twenty-seven people and many were injured. Nobody had come to this village to provide any aid.

Captain Pradip Chandra Bartaula was one of the first army officers who reached this village by foot after the earthquake and he said he had tears in his eyes on that day. He had arrived here on the second day after the earthquake, which is how he knew about his village. Capt. Bartaula was introduced to me by our Sri Lankan General Maithree Dias who was the commanding officer of the Sri Lankan army rescue team. I decided to go and help these people because Capt. Bartaula requested that I come here and help the people of this village because after fourteen days nobody had reached this village yet to help them.

We had two pickup trucks. One truck carried iron sheets for roofing and the other truck carried food supplies. Every family got 30kg of rice, oil, salt, lentils, and buckets for carrying water.

All the people had gathered in an open space. Each family received food supplies and was waiting to receive the iron sheets for roofing. That is when the scariest moment for everybody reached us.

The whole mountain was shaking. It felt as though the whole mountain was crumbling underneath my feet. People were screaming and running. Mothers were hugging their children. Clouds of dust from the falling buildings were on every side of us. To my left, to my right, and at my back were clouds of dust from falling walls of the mud houses. At the time I was facing the mountain across the valley. We were so high, the rest of the mountains were below us. We saw a landslide in the distance as the mountain walls were collapsing. The dust clouds looked like the big smoke from a wild fire.

Some people were running towards the falling houses, maybe because they suspected that their children were inside. One of the young monks who is my assistant and who had experienced the first earthquake, Rev. Soma, completely froze. His mind went blank and later he told me that his hands were shaking and heart was beating fast. I had to raise my voice as I called his name. I heard that many people died from heart attacks during the earthquake and now I can understand why.

Capt. Bartaula told me that he believed that we might have saved some lives on that day because everybody had left their broken homes and gathered in an open space to receive food and other aid from us. The way the bricks and walls were falling, most certainly if somebody were to be there inside the homes they might have gotten hurt.

Before we started our journey back, we gathered everybody and did some Buddhist chanting to bless them. That brought smiles to their frightened faces and they were thankful for what we did to help them. As we left the village and started our journey down the mountain, I wished that more people will go the extra mile to help those who are living in such difficult conditions and have lost everything they owned, especially their loved ones and the homes. Yes, I am willing to take up such challenges (without complaining about my back pain) as long as I am here in Nepal.

Thank you very much for all your help.

May you be well and happy.

Bhante Y. Wimala