Flying into Kathmandu in the hope of making it to the Mount Everest base camp, the first image of the airport that 13-year-old Sharayu Mirajkar remembers is of panic-stricken people running around.
Sharayu and the other children
A student of Class VIII from the Pune-based Vidya Valley school, Sharayu and six of her friends of around the same age had signed up with local trekking group Giripremi for the expedition, which was slated for April 25-May 13.
The tents that they had pitched in Kathmandu
Their flight landed in Kathmandu around 11 am on April 25, just some time after the country's worst earthquake in at least eight decades had ripped through the Nepalese capital. Sharayu said, "I was very excited about trekking to the Everest base camp as I had completed a trek last year with the same trekking group in India.
On April 24, we reached Mumbai and took a flight to Kathmandu. Around 11 am on April 25, we landed in Kathmandu and saw everyone running. We did not know then that the source of their panic was an earthquake."
"More than five hours after we landed, we collected our luggage, and stood in an open space in a circle at the airport itself. Our team leader counselled us and we could hear loud noises from time to time. I was excited about the trek and I had done a lot of research on Nepal and its capital on the Internet, but when I saw the city, many parts of it were in ruins," she added,
It's very cold in Nepal and many of us had not carried warm clothes with us. So, our team leader gave us the clothes he had brought along, and we are managing with that. This has been an experience for me. There is a huge crowd of citizens at the airport and everyone is asking to be allowed to travel first. Even the local police in Nepal are not being able to control the mob."
House of cards
The group consists of eight children and two team leaders. Umesh Zirpe (50), one of the team leaders said, "This is my sixth visit to Kathmandu and I could not believe that I was looking at the same city that I had known and loved.
I remembered how, in old Kathmandu, there were wadas (traditional houses) like the ones in Mumbai and Pune, but when I saw them this time, many of them had collapsed like houses of cards in the wind. "We landed in Kathmandu on April 25 and some more trekkers were supposed to join us from Delhi, which was cancelled because of the earthquake.
We had planned to stay at a Kathmandu-based hotel for two days before beginning the trek, so that the children could see the beautiful city. But due to the destruction and the blocked roads, we decided to pitch tents in an open area close to the airport itself and stayed there for two days," he added.
"The children who are travelling with us were not scared at all. We have a tie-up with a local trekking group, which usually helps us when our team travels to Nepal for expeditions. They were providing food to us and the kids were sharing their food with local residents who are going hungry. There was a huge rush at the Nepal Airport as many people are waiting for their turn to come to return to their countries," said Zirpe.
"Mild lathicharges were also taking place at the airport, and I was getting worried about the children. So, finally, around 9.30 am on Monday morning, we hired a 17-seater bus from Kathmandu to take us to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, which is supposed to be an eight-hour journey," he added.
Prasad Joshi, a member of the trekking group from Pune, who is coordinating with the team leaders in Nepal, said, "Waiting in Nepal was risky as there is a chance of rain and the weather is already cold. Several bodies, including the UNICEF, have also warned of infectious and waterborne diseases spreading. Hence, the decision of taking the road route was taken.
"The roads are also jammed, however, and when I spoke to the group at 5 pm, they said it will take them at least five to six more hours to reach Gorakhpur. They should, thus, reach the UP town by 11 pm. They will take a bus to Lucknow from there and fly into Pune," he said.
Sharayu’s mother, Vanashree, said, "I was worried sick as soon as I heard about the earthquake. I couldn’t get through to my daughter or any of the others because all the phones were unreachable. My relatives got me even more worried with the endless calls and speculation.
My brave daughter, however, asked me to calm down when I finally managed to speak to her. She said everything was fine and the only problem they were having was that it was cold, but that their team leader had given them warm clothes. She is keeping in touch regularly and even sending photos now."
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