Bus Ride: Kathmandu to SyabruBesi

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

It was 6:30 am on the morning of April 24, 2015. We had just been dumped out of our taxi at the Kathmandu “bus station” where we would catch our Super Deluxe Bus to Syabrubesi, which was the start of our 8 day trek through the Langtang Valley.

At the time, we were overwhelmed by the cacophony of noises and abundance of smells at the bus station. Finding our bus was a challenge. At the time, the bus ride seemed like a fun, long and uncomfortable adventure. Now we know it was the beginning of a fateful journey that not everyone survived.

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That morning, we had woken before dawn to do our final preparations for our trek. We had to wake the manager of our hotel to check out and leave our bags. We found a taxi which zipped us off to the “bus station” as the sun was rising. We were glad that we had been told to travel there the day before to purchase our tickets as it saved us some time and confusion. Even so, we didn’t know quite where to head.

There were many buses there, though not a lot of identifiable signage. We knew we had purchased the Super bus, which we had been told would be a faster ride. We did see several other tourists in the area and asked most of them where they were heading and which bus they were waiting for. Later, we would come to know most of these tourists extremely well.

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Finally, through some help from local vendors we saw our bus trundle in to the “station.” We were surprised to see that the roof rack was completely full. We jumped onto the bus and took our assigned seats, A1 and A2, right at the front. We were even more grateful that we had purchased the day before as the rest of the passengers started to file onto the bus. Those who joined us were a group of 6 independent trekkers, a group of three Israeli trekkers and their guide, a single Israeli trekker, and two Israeli families (3 young children each!!), their guide and 3 porters. The aisle was full of bags which made it a climb to get to the seats behind. It also meant that all of us had to ride with all of our bags on our lap. Somehow there had been some errors made in the selling of the tickets and there weren’t enough seats. As you can probably imagine, this made for a pretty uncomfortable ride.

Despite it all, we were excited. This was going to be a big adventure and we were anxious to get our first views of the majestic Himalayas that would be our home for the next several days. The driver pumped up the music, and we were off.

The Super Deluxe ticket that we purchased had promised a faster ride than the local bus. So, were a bit annoyed when we had to stop over and over again. First for a bathroom break, then for “lunch” at about 10 am, where we were asked to make photo copies of our TIMS cards. Then 2 more times for checks of our paperwork by the Nepal army and the Armed Police Force- luckily, the photocopies sufficed for these.

We stopped in the town of Dhunche and unloaded the bus. It turned out that the roof and aisle had been full of food and supplies destined for this village.

We stopped again at the entrance of Langtang National Park where our paperwork was checked by the park staff. Only 15 min later, we stopped yet again, for our paperwork to be checked by the police. We wondered how many different forces were in Nepal and how many more times our paperwork could possible be checked. Especially since the bus had been traveling all day on a one lane road on the side of mountains. There didn’t seem to be a lot of changes that could happen between each check.

We arrived in SyabruBesi at around 2:00 pm where we were dropped off at the beginning of town. We expected to be attacked by touts hoping to lead us to hotels… But there was no one. In fact, we entered a hotel and could not find a manager of any sort to check us in, so we left.

We did eventually settle on SuryaPeak Guest House because it had a balcony with a nice view over the town and the beginning of the Langtang Valley. We paid 2 dollars that night for accommodation. We read on the balcony, enjoying the crisp mountain air. We went down for an early dinner and our guesthouse prepared us fresh momos and a large plate of dal baht. We had been concerned that we hadn’t been drinking enough water, so we decided to go for a “medium” pot of tea. We were shocked with the “medium” pot seemed to hold about two liters!

It’s hard to really explain this part of our journey now. So many things that seemed important at the time, like the long and uncomfortable bus ride, the scary views out the windows, and the silly mistake of ordering too much tea seem so inconsequential now.

The bus ride introduced us to some people who would become very important to us over the next few days. It also introduced us to Or Assraf (standing on the far left of our picture below) who would start his trek the same day we would start ours. He would be trekking alone and would experience the earthquake somewhere on the trail. He wouldn’t be as lucky as we were. He would be missing for several days following the quake and later his body would be found at the bottom of a cliff. We did not know him well, probably only said a few words to him on the journey, but we will never forget him. We can’t imagine the fear he must have felt during the earthquake that he must have experienced all alone. Our hearts go out to his friends and family who spent a week in trepidation and had their fears confirmed a few days ago. Or was only one of the more than 7000 people who died during this tragedy, but his memory will always be with us.

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We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

 

Kathmandu: Before the Quake

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

Usually after we visit a city we like to write a nice summary post about where we stayed, what we did and where we ate. We’d still like to discuss some of these things with regards to Kathmandu, but it feels weird to talk about the city without mentioning that just a few days after our visit a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit and did a lot of damage in the city and the country as a whole. So we’ll try to balance our discussion of our time in Kathmandu with what we know of what happened to the sights after the quake.

We arrived in Kathmandu late on the evening of April 20, on a Dragonair flight from Hong Kong. (We really enjoyed using the personal entertainment device on the flight and were able to watch Into the Woods and four episodes of Downton Abbey).

Hotel Bright Star

We didn’t get in until almost midnight, but the owner of our hotel, the Hotel Bright Star, had stayed up to check us in. We had a small room on the top floor – the stairs were a nice preview of what we expected to be a lot of uphill hiking on our trek.

This was only a preview of the generosity that the owner showed us during our three days in Kathmandu. He provided plenty of good advice, and walked us halfway to the tourist office (so we wouldn’t get lost) to pick up our trekking permits.

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

That made it that much harder to see him again after the quake. We had left two bags at the hotel while trekking, and we went back into town on May 1 to pick them up. He said on the phone that he and his family were ok, but when we got there it was clear how close they had come to disaster.

The hotel next door had collapsed during the quake, and all that was left was a pile of bricks and tangled wires. The owner, clearly shaken, told us that 10 people had died inside. We ran inside our hotel to get our bags, and it was clear that it was the first time that he had been back in. He didn’t want to linger, and neither did we; one of the walls of the lobby on the side of the collapsed building was bulging inwards.

The same view after the quake, with the hotel just beyond in rubble

The same view after the quake, with the hotel just beyond in rubble

He said the rest of his family had been safely moved to Pokhara, but he would remain staying in a building down the street until all of the left baggage had been picked up. Hopefully the people who left their bags will return soon…

The Old Quarter

On our first day in Kathmandu we did a self-guided walking tour (led by Lonely Planet) through the old part of Kathmandu. We quickly decided that Nepal was way different from any other country that we had visited on the entire trip! Bright colors all over the place, smells both good and bad in the air, people hawking items, bicycle rickshaws asking for rides, centuries-old temples in every nook and cranny… it was almost overwhelming!

After the quake, we only ventured back to the more touristy part of the Old Quarter, called Thamel. There wasn’t much physical destruction, but the change in the atmosphere of the streets was palpable. Half of the shops were closed up, and the foot and vehicle traffic was maybe half of what it once was. The sense of calm as compared to before was eerie.

Durbar Square

The main historic attraction in Kathmandu is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Square, a collection of temples and palaces that was one the home of the Nepali royalty. We spent a whole afternoon exploring the different sights.

The earthquake did a great amount of damage to Durbar Square. We didn’t make it back to see for ourselves, but the pictures we have found online show the devastation.

Kasthamandap

This temple, built in the 12th century, is what gave Kathmandu its name. To us it felt a little bit more like a pavilion, with a large awning sheltering an open space with a few shrines.

Outside of Kasthamandap

Outside of Kasthamandap

From news reports, it appears that Kasthamandap has been completely destroyed.

Kasthamandap

Not our picture – photo source http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/27/nepal-earthquake-destroys-kathmandu-valleys-architecture-buildings-heritage. Note the same two statues as in our before picture.

 

Maju Deval

This tall Hindu temple dominated the center of Durbar Square. We joined the crowds of locals at the top and used it as a nice platform to rest our legs and watch the buzz of activity in the square.

The Maju Deval was completely destroyed in the earthquake, and only the platform remains.

King Pratap Malla’s Column

Near the entrance to the square’s museum was a small area with more temples and a large column with a statue on the top. The statue is a representation of the famous Nepali king from the 17th century.

The column with the statue of King Pratap Malla on top

The column with the statue of King Pratap Malla on top

During the earthquake, the statue fell off its pedestal, but it appears that the surrounding temples are standing.

Hanuman Dhoka

In the center of the Durbar Square area is the Hanuman Dhoka complex, which contains the buildings that make up the Royal Palace. We visited the museum here, which was a collection of dusty artifacts from the last kings of Nepal (before the monarchy was dissolved). Inside the complex were a few nice courtyards.

It’s a little hard to figure out what happened to this complex during the earthquake. It sounds like there was major damage, but it is still standing. A few of the towers collapsed though. You can see some of the same scenes in this video:

Swayambhunath

We took an afternoon to walk out to this Buddhist temple located on a hill overlooking the city. The final climb up the steps was pretty strenuous, but definitely worth it! The iconic face of Buddha stares down at you from the stupa above. There are many other pieces of sculpture with both Buddhist and Hindu themes. On both the walk up and down we saw a few of the monkeys that give the temple its nickname of the “Monkey Temple.”

Swayambhunath was damaged during the earthquake. The large stupa itself looks ok, but many of the buildings surrounding are in ruins.

 

Where We Ate

As in Myanmar, part of the fun of visiting Nepal was retracing the steps of Della’s parents on their round-the-world trip. Their favorite restaurant in Kathmandu was Utse’s, a Tibetan restaurant. We were happy to see that it was still there and was even in the Lonely Planet. We went there for dinner and enjoyed our Tibetan meal. We went back to check on it after the quake; the building seemed intact but they were not yet open for business.

Enjoying the Tibetan set plate with delicacies such as steamed momos

Enjoying the Tibetan set plate with delicacies such as steamed momos

Another dining highlight was a bit of a splurge for us. We had a nice dinner at the Thamel House, located in a charming old building. What drew us here was the free dance show that went on throughout our meal. This time we got a Newari set meal, and got to sample local specialties such as dal bhat and other curries. When we walked by after the quake, it seemed like the building was in good shape and they were re-opened already.

Final Thoughts

If you had asked us before the earthquake, we probably would have said that we found Kathmandu to be a bit dusty, crowded and chaotic, but at the same time a fascinating place to explore years of history and an intriguing culture. But now with the damage that the quake did to some of the sights we saw, we just hope that this city can recover and rebuild to allow others to see and experience this treasure for themselves.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here

The Nepal Earthquake: How to Help

We haven’t blogged in a while because we were trapped while trekking the Langtang Valley when the large earthquake hit Nepal on April 25. That is many stories for another time though. Right now, we want to use this platform to ask everyone to please consider contributing to the causes that are trying to help the country recover.

We’ll try to collect information on different charities as we learn about them.

Some Recommendations

  • Rasuwa Relief – A group working specifically in the Rasuwa region which includes some of the towns we traveled through. Extensive information about their efforts can be found on their facebook group.
  • Langtang Disaster Relief Fund – A new group started by a survivor from Langtang village. Funds go directly to the Langtang villagers to try to rebuild.
  • Sustainable Steps Nepal – Relief for now and the future of Nepal
  • Langtang Village of Nepal Relief Fund – started by friend of a friend in Denver who has connections to Nepal. Langtang Village was higher on our trek and was completely destroyed by a mud/snow landslide. Please also note that there is an in-person fundraising event planned as well.
  • Colorado Nepal Alliance / Shoes for Sherpas – two projects from our home state that do good work in Nepal. We have a friend on the board as well
  • Mountainchild
  • Gift of the Givers – this is a South African organization that is working in Nepal. They did a lot of work to support the two South Africans who were stuck at Bamboo Village with us. They are continuing their search and rescue and support efforts
  • From a friend: “I heard from a college professor (my major advisor) who has a current Nepali student from Kathmandu, with family there. I believe he knows they are okay, but he and his sister are fundraising for two relief organizations that aren’t on most people’s radar: Women’s Entrepreneur Association of Nepal (WEAN) and Baseri Village Relief Team (Dhading), through an Indiegogo campaign.”
  • Nepal Youth Foundation and iDE – Two charities that were recommended by a Denver-area church

From Our Own

Recommendations from a Friend With Connections in Nepal

  • DIRECT REBUILDING IN ONE REMOTE VILLAGE.  http://www.gofundme.com/t494ck   “Closest to my heart is this tiny campaign.  It was organized by Phurchhoki Sherpa, whose family I lived with both before she was born and after.  She is the first of her village to attend college in the U.S. and is here now, having just graduated.  I could not be prouder. Her American friends wanted to give money to rebuild her house, but she decided instead to ask for help in restoring the village school and Buddhist temple.  The money she receives will go directly to the village where villagers will use it along with the labor of their own hands to rebuild.  Please consider even a small donation as the money will go a long way.”
  • IMMEDIATE RELIEF/HEALTHCARE.  “These recommendations come from a young Nepalese doctor connected to my uncle (also a doctor, and who has worked on relief efforts in Haiti). Health is going to be one of the biggest challenges very quickly, as both in Kathmandu and in rural areas normal means of sanitation are badly compromised. This doctor is recommending two smaller organizations that, in her words, ‘skip both big names and our Nepali government… so that maximum money reaches the needy.’– “The America Nepali Medical Foundation is directly collaborating with major hospital in and around Kathmandu valley and is arranging medical care to reach ground zero.”  http://americanepalmedicalfoundation.com— “NAOO is our Nepalese group here in Cleveland. it will collaborate with local organisation and youth group to provide relief package and basic necessity supplies like tent and drinking water. few of our members have already left for Nepal to map the initial steps.”  http://new.naoo.org/?page_id=161
  •  IMMEDIATE DISASTER RELIEF IN KATHMANDU AND LESS REMOTE AREAS.  “I am recommending Charity: Water.  They have an excellent reputation internationally and have been in Nepal several years working to provide drinking water systems.  They have connections/experience with disaster relief also and are expanding their focus in the wake of the earthquake, but I believe their experience of water issues will be invaluable.  Water is a precondition for food, health, sanitation — everything — and water systems are stressed or broken in many places. “
  • LONG HAUL REBUILDING.  : “dZi Foundation I think I have been hearing more about this organization than any other.  It is relatively small, and it has a stellar reputation for employing Nepalis and for working in areas that have been unreached by conventional development efforts.  More information about their philosophy and present program of action in the wake of the earthquake is here.  I highly recommend them.”

Large Charity Lists

Some organizations have put together lists of reputable charities