Days after escaping unscathed from Nepal’s devastating earthquake, Beverly Williams was sharing a meal in Kathmandu with her guide, Harin, when he took her hand.
“You, me, lucky, lucky, lucky,” he said.
It was a moment between two friends she will never forget.
Williams was partway into a seven-day hiking trip in Nepal’s Langtang National Park when she pulled a muscle in her leg and had to turn back with the guide she fondly called “Har.”
He later told her if they had continued as planned they probably would not have survived the journey, which she had tacked on to a purchasing trip to Nepal to buy stock for her business, Woolen Wonders.
Their route would have taken them close to the area hardest hit by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that wiped out whole villages in Nepal’s mountain valleys, leaving more than 7,800 dead and many thousands injured.
“We were both thankful that happened to my leg,” says Williams, who returned home to Red Deer on Thursday.
Williams said the earthquake happened when she and Har were on a bus returning to Kathmandu. Suddenly, the bus started pitching violently from side to side on the narrow mountain road. Passengers, many of them foreigners on hiking tours, scrambled out and were immediately stunned by what they could see — or what they couldn’t.
“It was like a cloud. You could hardly see because there was so much dust.
“Everybody’s scared, and then we were all looking at the landslides. We saw landslides like you wouldn’t believe.”
The passengers decided the only option was to continue the rest of the way on foot. It was a frightening trek. Truck-sized rocks and fallen trees blocked the road everywhere. In the valleys, homes had been levelled or badly damaged, whole walls or roofs missing.
Williams would soon find out that a bus just a few kilometres ahead had been cut in half by a giant falling boulder. Three people died.
The sight of the now-abandoned wreckage filled her with such emotion she turned away.
“I just couldn’t take a photo of that.”
Along the road back there were funeral pyres for many earthquake victims. In keeping with local custom, bodies were burned in special ceremonies.
“Coming back, I saw quite a few ceremonies happening. I saw the bodies burning. That was horrible.”
After many hours of walking, Williams and her guide found a place to sleep at a small cafe owned by a husband and wife with three children. Terrifying aftershocks kept everybody awake and rushing outside for fears of the building collapsing.
Many images and sounds will be forever imprinted on her mind. While at the cafe, she heard a man’s anquished cries.
“I said to the girls, ‘Oh my gosh, what is that?’
“They said, ‘This man had just found his wife.’ That was very sad.”
The woman had died in the ruins of their small home a short distance down the hillside from the cafe.
Elsewhere, she came across an old woman, in her 80s at least, sitting beside the road. Wordlessly, she spread her arms then made a sweeping motion and began to cry.
The message was clear — she had lost everything.
As Williams and Har walked, they listened intently for any sounds of further landslides. They went on until they found a truck taking people into Kathmandu.
The damage there was stunning. A hotel, where she was supposed to have stayed, was reduced to a pile of bricks.
Historic buildings that had stood for centuries were razed. On others, the pagoda-like upper storeys were dislodged and left hanging at crazy angles.
Throughout her hellish journey back to Kathmandu, Har never left her side, even though his own home outside Kathmandu had been destroyed. Fortunately, his family was safe.
In arriving in the capital, Williams was taken in by her tour agent, Saran Adhikiri, and his family.
Before returning home, Williams decided to stop at Chitwan National Park, far from the earthquake-damaged areas.
There she met a 72-year-old man from North Carolina, who had been on Mount Everest when the quake hit and faced the grim job of putting dead climbers into body bags so they could be brought down.
Williams said taking some time to recover from her experiences at the park before making the long journey home had been healing. The locals, whose income was dependent on the tourists who had mostly gone home, were grateful she was there.
On returning to Red Deer, she has pledged to help Har get a new home and to send aid to others in Nepal through the Rotary Club, which is supporting ShelterBox Canada. The charity provides help to those hit by natural disaster and has already sent about $1.7 million to Nepal.
Among ShelterBox’s contributions are tents that can be used to provide temporary housing. Donations can be made through local Rotary Clubs.
Williams is also hoping to raise $10,000 to $15,000 to build an earthquake-proof home for Har and his family. She will be collecting donations at Red Deer Public Market, where her Woolen Wonders stall is set up every Saturday.