A Personal Account from Neding, Yolmo (Helambu): Paul Keller

When the earthquake struck last Saturday, Paul Keller jumped from this window.

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The window Paul jumped out of during the quake

Paul is a friend of the monastery who was residing in a small, wooden retreat cabin at Chatral Rinpoche’s retreat center in Upper Yolmo in Neding, near Tarke Gyang. He was the only retreatant at the center, thus the only one staying inside one of these small wooden cabins when the earthquake began. 22 Sherpa construction workers were also staying at Neding rebuilding the retreat center. However, on the day of the earthquake, all Sherpas were luckily outside and so escaped injury. Paul, the only person inside, had only a few added moments to leap out of his window and save his own life.

During the three days following the quake, Paul and the 22 construction workers all remained at Neding. Every aftershock was accompanied by the booming noise of boulders falling and the mountain side collapsing. While some food was available, the 23 men were isolated and without proper shelter. Paul and several workers decided to risk the journey down the mountain for this reason, which meant risking death by land slides.

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Tarke Gyang

On April 28th, Paul packed a small backpack with only his prayer book and began the twelve-hour descent to reach upper Melamchi, where the team could hire a bus to take them down to Kathmandu. Luckily, they felt not a single aftershock during this period—even the smallest tremor could have sent a shower of stones down upon their heads from above and a landslide that would surely have caused their deaths. Paul reports that all the roads were blocked by huge boulders that would require powerful equipment and several days to clear. Thus, they were forced to attempt the hiking trails. Destroyed by landslides, the route would have been a challenge even for a goat. A porter carrying so much as a single sack of rice couldn’t pass safely. Along the way, the team passed by several villages consisting of only one, two, or three homes, all flattened to the ground. The other side of the valley from Neding, where they were staying, was left an old couple who are completely isolated and have only a limited supply of food.

After a treacherous journey, Paul finally reached Kathmandu, and he is now safe in Pharping. He reported seeing people in small valleys who were beginning to rebuild their homes with stones again, but without the necessary resources their rebuilt homes will be as vulnerable to earthquakes as were the ruined ones. On the brighter side, villagers were slowly heading back to the fields to continue working, providing some hope that they will not experience the same food shortages as other villages. However, with no road access, medical supplies, or shelter, the people are in danger. Many of these villages can only be accessed by helicopter at this point.

Written by CGLF

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