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Life in the Mountain Villages of Nepal Post-Quake

Life at the top of a mountain may be beautiful, but it certainly isn’t easy. Add an earthquake into the mix and it becomes downright tragic, a daily struggle just to survive that is still ongoing. I’ve been in Nepal now for four months, and this is an inside look at what life is like here post-quake.

Over these last four months I’ve visited dozens of remote villages in districts and wards throughout Nepal, from the ones near the epicenter to those located far east of Kathmandu near the start of the Himalayas. I’ve learned more about the local way of life than I ever imagined when first arriving in the country back in April. Hell, I’ve lived the local life now, trip after trip and village after village.

The mountain villages and communities of Nepal that were affected the worst by this quake are home to both the poorest and the friendliest people in all of Nepal. (Proof that money does not equal happiness.) They had so little to begin with and all of it was taken from them back on the morning of April 25th. Family members. Homes. Livestock. Farmland. Everything. Yet through it all people still have a smile on their face. Their resiliency is the stuff of legends — or at least should be.

An old Nepalese man explains to us how his wife died during the earthquake
As the old man in the center explains, his wife was ill and was resting in bed when the earthquake struck. Too weak to move, she was crushed to death when the roof collapsed. The kid to the right of him in the black shirt was orphaned during the quake. Each in need of family, now this old man looks after the kid.

Person after person has shown me photos of wives and husbands and children they have lost. They’ve walked me over to the rubble that crushed their family members to death and told me about their final minutes. Time after time, village after village, week after week. Their stories would make even the strongest person shed a tear.

Nepal Now: Rubble still lines the mountaintops of Nepal, a grim reminder of the quake's ferocity
Rubble still lines the mountaintops of Nepal, a grim reminder of the quake’s ferocity

Life In The Villages…Before And After

Basic one-room stone homes are built along the sides of the mountains, many with an attached hut or covered area to house livestock; chickens and buffalo primarily, but also the occasional family of goats or an ox. A web of precarious trails — many not even wide enough to place both feet side by side — connect neighboring villages. You are always just one wrong step or slippery rock away from tumbling to your death. But the views are priceless!

Zigzagging up the precarious mountain trails of Nepal
Zigzagging up the precarious mountain trails of Nepal

Each of these villages get their water from fresh water streams — there is no bottled water up here. (For those wondering, I’ve been drinking the local water in Nepal everywhere except Kathmandu this entire time without any issues.) Most of these streams are within a few minutes walk and have small cement reservoir tanks.

Unfortunately, the quake damaged or destroyed a large percentage of these tanks and water systems. Those that have not been fixed already can be repaired/replaced after the monsoon season ends, but the four villages of Ward 7 in Shikharbesi, Nuwakot district, have found themselves in a tricky situation. The earthquake shifted the direction of their only fresh water stream so that it no longer flows down their side of the mountain. The villagers only have water now thanks to the monsoon rains, but within a couple months they will be facing a very serious situation. While the obvious answer may be to hike to the next ward over (one hour each way), this could very quickly become a source of conflict if there is not enough water to go around.

Monsoon streams in the mountains of Nepal now
The monsoon rains have created temporary streams all over the mountains
Trekking Nepal in the monsoon season means lots of paths are really small streams
Many of the mountain paths between villages have turned into small streams as a result of the monsoon season

  In every one of the villages I have visited, destruction of buildings has been 100%. Entire villages have been decimated. Flattened. Anything left standing is unlivable. We’ve had to use sticks and boards to push loose bricks just to get ruins to fully collapse, like some sort of twisted game of reverse-jenga.

Only this isn’t a game. It’s these peoples’ life and livelihood.

Drone footage of the Nepal earthquake in 2015
Anything that was not completely flattened looked like this

It wasn’t just the houses that collapsed. All of these mountain villages are built on a series of progressively smaller terraced rice paddies, or corn terraces as they progress higher up, where there isn’t as much water. Many landslides actually caused huge chunks to just slide off the side of the mountain. If half your rice paddy drops off a cliff, there is no getting that land back.

Landslides throughout the mountains of Nepal as a result of the earthquake
Just one of countless landslides that has taken a chunk out of the mountain

Now The Monsoon Season Is Disrupting Relief Efforts

For those who have never experienced monsoon season, its essentially like getting one year’s worth of rain in two months. Day after day. Sometimes only for an hour or two, other times for damn near the entire day.

This means annual flash floods and landslides, road closures and yes, deaths. It’s a fact of life. But now, with people living in temporary shelters and on unstable grounds, the death toll is much higher than usual. On nearly every relief trip taken we have encountered landslides.

Landslides throughout the mountains of Nepal as a result of the earthquake
Notice the lack of mud? This was an earthquake landslide.

Sometimes it just means we are stuck for a few minutes, while traffic goes single-file across a very sketchy-looking chunk of what little road remains. Other times we join the trucks and buses with people piled on top waiting in the road for it to be cleared, unable to go anywhere or even turn around. If you’re lucky, word of the landslide gets back to local officials, and someone directs traffic another way. Of course that’s usually in the central valley, where there are multiple routes. Up on these mountains there often is only one road — if any.

Waiting for a monsoon-induced landslide to be cleared. Notice all the mud?
And here we are stuck in line, waiting for a monsoon-induced landslide to be cleared. Notice all the mud?

Given all this, it should be no surprise that many NGOs and relief efforts stopped when the rain started, or at the very least paused. Not all, but lots. Many came to help but most have left now that Nepal has faded from the news.

There are still a few groups here doing good work, but there is WAY too much money being wasted. People are using NGO funds to buy power banks, solar chargers, even GoPros and other “necessities” for their volunteer trips to the mountains — then going home two weeks later and taking all that gear with them. Others, according to one lady here who runs her own NGO, are paying “volunteers” up to $200/day compensation because (and I quote) “they have mortgages back home.”

So that’s what relief money goes towards, compensating “volunteers”…?!?

Here I have been spending my own money to help the Nepali people these last four months when I could have been getting paid AND getting free gear. Does ANYONE else see anything wrong with this? Apparently not, because its just business as usual. The amount of people doing it is overwhelming. While all the rest of Nepal is struggling due to lack of money, the electronic shops here are making out like bandits — they can’t even keep their shelves stocked! One friend from the States claimed that after pointing out all this electronic gear could have been purchased much cheaper at home (instead of on the Roof of the World, with its steep import tariffs) he was told that the receipts had to come from Nepal for accounting purposes.

Don’t donate cash. To anyone or any group. It will not get where it needs to go, at least not much of it.

Nepal is far from fixed. Sure, its safe and friendlier than ever….but the country can never fully heal if tourism takes a nosedive as a result of this quake. Rather then let my words deter you from visiting, let them instead inspire you to take a trip to Nepal now and make a difference. Not by volunteering to do relief work or anything like that. Just simply by visiting and doing what you’d normally do. Eat at the local family-owned restaurants instead of the expat-owned ones. Buy a souvenir or two. And of course go trekking or paragliding or rafting or hell, why not all three? Nepal is one of the best countries in the world for adventure travel. And as long as you spend your money in the right places, it will reach where it needs to.

In closing, I leave you with a quick video I slapped together on post-quake Nepal that is guaranteed to make you feel good about the progress happening here  

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

26 thoughts on “Life in the Mountain Villages of Nepal Post-Quake”

    • After Malaysia i traveled through Bali and then back home. I had to finish university. Now I’m working as a sales and marketing trainee back home but next year I’ll be in UK:) going to Sri Lanka in December – thank you for your hints:) missing traveling a lot

      Reply
    • West and south are touristy but easy to get to (which is great if its a short trip) and lots of places to stay, from cheap to pricey. Afraid all of my recommendations would be for luxury places though, not sure that’s what you want. However if I were you, I’d head all the way down to Galle soon as you land (the west isn’t that special) and then from there start heading east along the southern coast. Given its an island, its not like you’ll get too far away from the airport. But if you can make it out to the east coast…..WOW! Highly recommended

      Reply
    • Depends on what you want….tourists and pizza places, or more unique adventures. Jaffna (far north) just opened up to foreigners again, amazing place — and there is a train there from Colombo. From there you can work your way down the east side…Trincomalee, Arugam Bay (chill surfers paradise, highly recommended), on down to Yala, or cut back over to Ella then Galle before wrapping up. Colombo doesn’t need but a day and most those other western cities (Induruwa, etc) can easily be skipped since its a short trip. I found the west to be more boring and all the same than the center, east and north

      Reply
    • Okay Celii sorry for the late reply. As far as I know there isn’t a train between the two. You’ll have to take a bus. I came by private car and it only took a few hours, not bad at all. Your destination will actually be Kirinda, or perhaps Katargama depending upon what you find for lodging. Both cities are located on the southeastern side of Yala, and are where people wanting to visit Yala stay. 2-3 days each for Yala and Ella will be enough, but they can be done faster if necessary. Let me know if any more questions ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
    • Yes, sometimes I confuse “blogger” with “journalist” but in reality, the only difference between the two is nothing is ever off the record with bloggers. Like for example this whole NGO compensation issue. I knew it was bad, but didn’t realize some groups were compensating people in addition to giving them an expense account of sort. Had quite a conversation with this lady, she’s been running her NGO for over a decade, and damn did she have some interesting — and disappointing — things to say. I guess no matter what your industry, career or profession, once you see it from that inside angle, you can never look at it the same again.

      Reply
      • It’s important for bloggers to exploit that distinction with journalists as long as you maintain a commitment to the truth, which I have no doubt you do. Even if you only witnessed that issue once it is right to raise it, you only have to look at the debacle of Haiti post quake to see how the aid industry fails. It’s also worth noting how in bed with govts many of the big NGO’s are and how they are used to further foreign policy objectives without the required independence and scrutiny. Looking fwd to the upcoming posts

        Reply
    • Really glad you enjoyed it, thanks! Now that I’m down from the mountains I’ve got lots of stories to tell, thousands of photos to sort, and who knows how many hours of video to review. Should be an avalanche of new material these next couple months — which will make up for the complete lack of updates the last five months. Considering this blog is my primary source of income, I probably shouldn’t have disappeared for so long. But there was work to be done. And still is….but I need a break first.

      Reply
  1. thanks for sharing Derek. It’s very interesting because we think of the effects of earthquakes as being mostly structural, but actually things like water flow can almost have a bigger impact. Sad to think, although not at all surprising, that money donated doesnt make it directly to where it’s needed. great post, great photos but not sure the hair and beard are working in harmony there! ๐Ÿ˜›

    Reply
    • You’re absolutely correct, sad, but unfortunately not very surprising either. I’m headed back in a few weeks once the rainy season has passed and will see how progress is resuming there post-monsoon. As a side note, both the beard and hair were completely shaved off when I returned to civilization last week ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
  2. Some of the members in the volunteer team wanted to stay longer than the allocated time in the classrooms, which was an inspiration to myself and the other teachers from the village. The two weeks went by quickly and everyone left with tears in their eyes, great feelings and life-long memories and connections with the villagers, school and hostel kids.

    Reply
    • Hey Boyd, yeah, I met a few goodhearted people doing great work and even staying longer than planned. But I also saw too many taking advantage of the situation, both local Nepalese and foreigners, and eventually it all got to me. I just couldn’t stay any longer.

      Reply

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