Rescue

Nepal earthquake: Guerrilla style relief ops keep hope alive by Trivik Verma

A small bed-and-breakfast delivers aid to remote regions, a small non-for-profit uses open source mapping to create precise maps of the rugged terrain, an adventure gear company manufactures tarps and other relief material. Apart from the government and big agencies doing their bit, it is the small enterprising outfits helping Nepal back up on its feet after the earthquake.

Victims of the quake trying to find shelter in Shikharpur village, Sindhupalchowk distric

Victims of the quake trying to find shelter in Shikharpur village, Sindhupalchowk distric

Houses along the Tikucha River in the North-East corner of Kathmandu valley are traditional in construction, where clay mortar is used to bridge the gap between thick inner and outer wall structures made of baked bricks. They are supposed to be earthquake resistant. Now, all that remains along the river is a pile of rubble. Durbar Square is one of the three royal palace squares in the valley and a popular tourist attraction. It is now home to dilapidated temples, all of which are UNESCO world heritage sites.

Recently, a major earthquake (7.8 M) – the first one in a series of two – claimed over 8000 lives and injured more than 19,000 across various districts of Nepal. Tens of thousands of people are still in need of shelter, food and clean water.

Food for Relief team allotting relief materials for people affected at Mulabari, Kalleri VDC, Dhading under the coordination of the Armed Police Force at their camp.

Food for Relief team allotting relief materials for people affected at Mulabari, Kalleri VDC, Dhading under the coordination of the Armed Police Force at their camp.

While the government's rescue missions are focussed on Kathmandu and was earlier directed toward Everest, they are reportedly inactive in many regions. "Mountain villages are cut off from almost everything, landslides block the roads and no significant aid is on the way," CNN reported from the ground. Survivors have no access to potable water and landslides and rock falls have disrupted the chances of any potential aid.

Mountaineering expedition teams from around the world, who contribute to a major part of Nepal’s economy, have returned home. On a normal day, mountaineers would meet at the Rum Doodle café in Thamel district of Kathmandu. That too is partly wrecked in the devastating series of earthquakes. A few groups have stayed back to help aid services on the ground.

Merely fifteen minutes from, an unassuming bed and breakfast called the Yellow House is running a guerrilla style relief and rescue operation, emerging as one of the many ad-hoc relief services. After a day of organically establishing itself under the leadership of Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati, the group sent a truck filled with bread and first-aid kits to six towns in the Lalitpur district of Kathmandu. When one of her volunteers – a British nurse – came across injured people in an inaccessible village close to Sindhupalchowk, Gurung Kakshapati arranged for a private medevac for them. Abe Streep has documented their efforts in a comprehensive article for Wired Magazine, directly from Nepal.

Even May is a cold month here and erratic rains in the pre-monsoon season have hastened the need for tarps throughout the wrecked rural parts of the country. While international aid is sitting at the airport in Kathmandu, Sherpa Adventure Gear, a gear outfit based in Nepal is manufacturing and delivering relevant aid to the rural parts. “The company turned Sherpa's headquarters in Kathmandu into a mini relief centre and they quickly turned to manufacturing and distributing 700 blankets, 300 simple tents, and 500 tarps,” Tsedo Sherpa, vice president of the company, intimated to The Outdoor Journal. “Additionally they sourced another 1000 tarps from India via family connections.”

The middle hills region – as the locals refer to it – is wedged between flatlands in the south and high mountains in the north. Villages in this area are surrounded by steep and inaccessible hills. A local non-profit called 'Kathmandu Living Labs' run by Nama Budhathoki launched the site quakemaps.org for reporting real time earthquake response information. This has helped various relief groups in creation of maps for understanding the rugged terrain of a country where navigation is otherwise an onerous task.

Another, more amateur, organization found itself using the quakemaps site. Food for Relief, started as an effort with a group of friends trying to help the grieving villagers of Nepal. Two days after the first quake, Mridula Saria reached out to the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce (FNCCI). “My immediate instinct was to go to the relief camp and see how I could help. But looking at the politics going on within the organization, I was demotivated,” Mridula told The Outdoor Journal.

Distribution of relief material in a village in Dhading distric.

Distribution of relief material in a village in Dhading distric.

Disappointed with the bureaucracy, a handful of them gathered 100,000 Nepalese Rupees to procure rice, lentils and biscuits and left for villages in the Harisiddhi area of Lalitpur district. Food for Relief has an active Facebook page and was started from a broken house in Kathmandu. They are neither registered under any official name, nor licensed to provide aid in disaster-stricken areas. But Mridula and her friends are getting the job done.

The lack of a common platform led different relief groups to reach Sindhupalchowk (the quake epicentre) separately where many villagers leapt at the volunteers to snatch food and other supplies. “It seemed that a lot of other groups had gotten together the same way, to help the quake victims, but none of us coordinated with each other, because of which all nearby villages were receiving supplies repeatedly by two or more groups, and there were other villages that were receiving no supplies,“ says Mridula. Amid such confusion, quakemaps was rather simple to use; you register your group name and mark the areas you are helping on a map. Their relief efforts have sped up over the past few weeks.

In light of such damage and local heroic uprisings, the broken infrastructure of Nepal has found worldwide attention. Aid through government organizations and established international NGOs hasn’t reached villages. Instead, after every aftershock, these local aid groups are sending out trucks with supplies trying to cover as much ground as possible, even if it means hiking uphill for two hours.

TLC Project Update - Khare Dhunga Ward 6, Dhading on 9th May 2015.

TLC Project Update - Khare Dhunga Ward 6, Dhading on 9th May 2015.

The economic losses post the Nepal earthquake are estimated to be around $10bn by a United States geological survey, which is close to half of their economy. One of the poorest nations in Asia, it is landlocked by two rapidly growing economic superpowers. The villagers near the epicentre of both quakes are unaware of this lapse in infrastructure and are waiting for substantial help to rebuild their lives.

Exports are badly hit too. Nepal’s tea which normally finds itself in high-end cafes of Europe has no means of leaving the country. Tea plantations and other livestock are buried below the cracked earth. The villages that were least affected are also going through a period of turmoil due to lack of basic resources.

Food for Relief is also setting up temporary schools for the children of demolished villages. Mridula describes, “The one thing that most villagers in Dhading district complained about was the schools and houses. They had no roof over their head and had nowhere to leave their children while they went to work. So we got in touch with UNICEF and an architect friend who helped us design a Temporary Learning Center (TLC), with minimalistic materials.”

A completed TLC at Khare Dhunga, Dhading.

A completed TLC at Khare Dhunga, Dhading.

Nepal has a deep rooted connection to westerners. Its rebuilding is not just an effort from within the local community but is also proving to be a worldwide collaboration of sorts. Adventurers of all kinds who are drawn to the mountains of Nepal have volunteered to bring relief to the people. An Indian photographer informed The Outdoor Journal of his efforts to bring extremely effective and simple water filters to the victims of the quake and asked to remain anonymous. The Nepalese government is under scrutiny for its broken aid system. Mridula and her friends do not care about this vilification. They only want to get food and tarps to people, many of whom are still sleeping under the open skies, hungry and cold.

Image courtesy : Food for Relief

Feature Image: Kids collecting relief material from a Food for Relief volunteer at Khare Dhunga, Dhading

(As published @ The Outdoor Journal)

Snowboarding for dummies by Trivik Verma

Forest Reider showing me how it is done before I could even grasp the full depth of what I was getting into. 

Forest Reider showing me how it is done before I could even grasp the full depth of what I was getting into. 

There is nothing like learning a new and dangerous sport, all by yourself.

Couloirs. The word carries a certain element of mystery. The natural feature itself evokes fear, divides beautifully serrated cliffs into powdered columns of gut-wrenching fun and is certainly the backyard of mountain lovers.

I looked down and could only see a winding path coming out of nowhere. There must be a drop of about a hundred meters. I involuntarily started descending forward as if the path was calling out to me. It was no couloir but given my introduction to this sport materialized not more than two months ago, I was way in over my head.

Let us backtrack. Many people advise you to try a sport before you actually go ahead and pursue it. Snowboarding should be one of them. I beg to differ. It began with a movie called The Art of Flight that my friend Amulya introduced me to. It was also the age of maddening YouTube videos. What followed was an online crash course in snowboarding and cogs of dreams were set in motion.

Last winter I moved to Switzerland because flat was not enough. A year has passed and I can call myself an amateur, a snowboarder nonetheless. The first ten months were about waiting for snow and the next two, well, about doing what needed to be done. Before starting out I watched merely two hours of YouTube lessons, which were undeniably a great learning experience. I have always believed that a good theoretical foundation helps. Besides that, Forest advised me to embrace speed.

Jonas getting ready for the plunge. He taught me all day, by doing, and not enforcing any rules on going down the slopes. 

Jonas getting ready for the plunge. He taught me all day, by doing, and not enforcing any rules on going down the slopes. 

Forest has spent a decade growing up in Boulder, CO. The thing about Boulder is, or at least something I believe to be true, that it is home to the happiest population on the planet. These people are the world’s most fearless and best mountain athletes or just remarkable souls calling outdoors their home. I had no choice but to believe him.

Snowboarding has an eerie feeling to it. Not many pursue it and even fewer continue. If I had to guess right, the ratio of skiers to boarders must be about 70/30. The board restricts your freedom on one hand but gives you less to deal to with - if things go wrong - on the other. Figure out if you love such an unconventional sport. If you do, buy yourself everything. Commitment is the only way to ride these mountains. Also, the one thing standing between you and unforeseeable brain damage is a helmet. A black ear-padded helmet. Bicycle helmets are for, well, bicycles.

I have snowboarded through a season full of falls that probably resonated through mountains across the world; at least it felt like that to my numb ears after falling in ways I had never anticipated. The last one piggybacked on a humbling experience. I picked up speed on my toe edge racing towards a sunset with all the exuberance I could muster up. That ended with three side flips, none of which I recollect at this moment. I managed to stand up and mid-way through a proud cheer, dropped down again.

This is snowboarding for dummies, by a dummy. Every time I strapped my legs onto my board, I got better at it. The learning curve is beautiful. You get to a point where you actually believe that with couple of good winters you will be off becoming the next Jeremy Jones – who practically designed all the different paradigms of the sport through his sheer desire for exploring big mountains. Maybe, who knows?

With every unidirectional sport, one needs to know which side is the natural one. After trying out numerous techniques to decide how to proceed (as each one seemed more contrived than the last), I let my body do the math. I am a goofy snowboarder by the book, but a regular one in reality. The worst thing is to let yourself believe that you are a particular type in lieu of going with the natural flair of your body. Since I am not in the minority, I am envious of the goofy kind. That is just how my neurons fire up efficiently.

Snowboarding has its unconventional fun but also caters for odd falls: till you get used to them. There are generally two ways one can easily trip, flip or fly in any of the 244 degrees of freedom human body can long for. I have experienced both and loved the aftermath. The first one was during my initial perfect run down a long and winding blue slope (European norms dictate blue as the easiest slope). The thing about being a beginner is, when you have a good run you start thinking that you should stop because something must go wrong very soon. Conveniently enough, my back leg possessed this syndrome.

As I glided through some unevenly flat terrain and tried going on my toes, my front leg did a great job. My back leg acted stubbornly, perhaps, not believing its luck so far. The board deviated to the front without giving me a heads-up. Imagine, you are running really fast and suddenly trip right before the trail encounters a drop. I did that on the board, at over thirty kilometers per hour without being able to move my legs in any direction. My life did not flash in front of me. It was a horrible fall and I had to count to ten before moving any limb. I secretly patted myself on the back for having all the right insurances. Just then a little British girl glided past me bragging, “Mr. I think you need skiing poles”.

Limbs intact. Get some rest. Try again tomorrow.

At the end of a powder filled fall day. All limbs were intact but hurting.

At the end of a powder filled fall day. All limbs were intact but hurting.

In that moment though I had an honest realization. I came to terms with “shit happens” and figured out a sport all by myself. I did not sign up for lessons and it brought me back to the day I learnt how to drive. It was just by looking at my father drive all those years. That was one complete circle of understanding how I function in life.

The second time I tripped on a black slope (again, European norms mark blackfor experienced riders). You read it right. With Forest, you need to challenge yourself. This run was at the end of the day and I was already hurting from the semi-pro turning and some strange and uncontrolled flying-like powder experience. We reached a flat but winding narrow gully. A girl was being attended by a medic. It seemed serious and I drifted out of my focus on the slope. While cruising at a high speed, I looked back. Mistake number (insert personalized number here). I regained my senses and encountered a drop I was in no way ready for. Falling was the only option in comparison to flying off of a cliff without the right training and gear. So I tripped myself the best way I could. This time on my back. Now imagine running backwards, really fast, and tripping. I got up, moved my limbs to check for any damage and finished the slope down to the last bit. It was scary and I toppled all the way down with moments of anger and pride puppets fighting each other for space in my head.

I believed I was ready to take on new mountains and gave Abhishek a call. We booked tickets and flew out to the most convenient mountain range. Andorra is a great place to be in the mountains. It is cheap, high enough and full of small village resorts interlinked like a water park would be. Seeing him was a great start to the trip. Adventure sports have captivated Abhishek for long and I am glad he took this one up before I did. It was like reinventing our already strong friendship in ways I had never imagined.

Snowboarding for four days in a row, I recognized that turning is not as important as speed is. When we turn too much we destroy the piste for other skiers and boarders. Speed must be feared, but like any other fear it helps us control our emotions and lets us slide into the right frame of mind, most commonly associated with flow. I am sure you do not need me telling you about neurobiology and the sort of thing adventure sports athletes tap into.

First powder runs of the season. Resorts are fully booked with kids learning how to ski and snowboard on slopes and off piste. 

First powder runs of the season. Resorts are fully booked with kids learning how to ski and snowboard on slopes and off piste. 

So we learnt how to carve. Not only were we looking down an awfully long and vertical slope, we were startlingly stoic about the outcome. One. Two. Three. Drop. We literally dropped all the way down like a stone that has no brain of its own. We went up again and repeated our actions, each time getting more stoked about every carving sequence that we managed to muster up from our exhausted bodies and brains.

Carving gives us an infinite realm of possibilities. A fundamental thing about snowboarding, that nobody told me, is consistency. That comes from being able to carve, not turn. Red slopes are meant to test the courage and skill of a snowboarder. If we know how to carve, and have befriended speed, red would be the color of limitless fun, if nothing else. Before you move on to big mountains and white wilderness, at least go find yourself a black board with a golden monastery and a half moon that reflects hope and unimaginable fun.

Tears of Joy is a real thing.

(As published @ The Outdoor Journal)