For a tour operator from Ahmedabad, the sight of a shaking temple in the Himalayan nation where he was about to enter when the quake stuck Nepal, brought back memories of the massive quake in his native place in 2001, which had left a massive trail of destruction.
“It was just like 2001 quake of Gujarat which I experienced in Isanpur, except the duration of the Nepal earthquake felt very long,” says a harried Bhargav Trivedi, a tour manager who returned with his staff of 12 people to Ahmedabad on Monday evening by an IAF jumbo jet, after ensuring that his tour group reached ahead of him in the morning.
Trivedi adds, “We had just purchased tickets for a Manakamana Devi temple in Pokhara valley, atop a hillock, when we felt the tremors. While our group of 82 took shelter in an open garden, we saw people loosing their limbs as the temple fell apart and three dead bodies being brought down. As aftershocks kept coming, our group managed to reach the hotel and spent the night in the bus. But the real ordeal began once we reached the airport, a long queue of 5,000 odd tourists, including many Indians were all waiting to fly back home.”
“Nepalese policemen even kept hitting people to keep crowds away from the airports shouting that no flights have arrived and such. We kept calling the official contacts given by the Indian Embassy, but their phones were switched off. Finally, I reached out to Harin Pathak, former MP, who had a word with officials at the airport and we got a chance to come home. Otherwise we may have been stranded there itself. Even information on whether we will get our flight from the domestic or international terminal was not given to us. We have not eaten proper food or drank water in the last two days. At Kathmandu airport, we had to shell out Rs 320 for water bottles as all stores were closed. Indian Embassy officials kept coming and going from the airport but no information was given to us.”
Arunaben Thakkar (64) from Vadodara, who landed in Ahmedabad airport on Monday, was at the Pashupatinath temple with a group of five, when she felt the tremors.
“Six of us were inside the temple precinct when the whole temple started shaking badly. As we tried to get out, lots of stones and the walls started to crumble and fell around us. For three hours, we sat inside the temple complex even as the walls collapsed before our eyes. We later walked 2 kms to our hotel, as our Nepali driver had left having lost his son in the quake. Finally, at the Kathmandu airport, we had to shell out Rs 450 for biscuit packets and had to make do without proper food, as it began raining there. We have also lost some of our luggage at the hotel as it could not be retrieved.”
As per DN Pandey, Relief Commissioner, around 525 tourists from state are already back, while the status on 200 more is yet to be ascertained.
One such case of an Amdavadi resident, who is stuck in Nepal without any communication is DJ Harsh Patel. “My son was heading to Kathmandu on the 23rd for a music festival and I last spoke with him on 24th night. He told me they are going to some new venue called Hattiban Resort, 20 kms from Kathmandu. Harsh had last sent a WhatsApp chat with my his cousin, saying that he was safe, but the resort where they are putting up had no transportation, communication or electricity. On contacting the resort, people there told us that around 400 people are holed up there and may have to walk all the way to the airport to come back. While we know that he is safe, we have not been able to speak to him yet,” said Neelam Patel, mother of Harsh Patel.
An official manning the state helplines numbers said, “Within 10 minutes of starting the helpline, we received almost 400 calls from relatives of people stranded in Nepal.” Bharat Lal, Resident Commissioner of Gujarat Bhawan in Delhi said, “This office is coordinating with Indian authorities in Kathmandu as well as the MEA to bring them back. Our people receive or meet them at the airport. Most of them want to go directly to Gujarat. While 13 passengers were put up at Gujarat Bhawan, we had about 40-odd of them accommodated at Gujarati Samaj.”