April 21st 2015 a group of 14 photographers met in Thamel Katmandu, the start of on an arranged five day photo tour of Kathmandu and the surrounding area to capture images of this amazing country. On Saturday April 25th the group found themselves in the centre of an horrific natural disaster, an earthquake of a magnitude that would take lives and make an historic change to the beautiful country of Nepal.
Gulf Photo Plus based in Dubai UAE, planned a trip to Nepal, for keen photographers who would like to spend five days accompanied by a professional photographer and local guides to visit World Heritage sites, scenic views of mountain ranges and vibrant street life. Photographers from various world locations gathered for this amazing opportunity to do what they love in a place of natural beauty with wonderful, charming and caring people. The trip started exactly as planned and all the photographers had great fun.
The last day of the trip, Saturday April 25th, the group had some free time before airport pick ups to relax, gather their things and say good bye to their new found photography friends.
A few minutes before noon a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, the events from that moment are difficult to put into words and many people will have different accounts, I can only confirm my personal experience, but I think it has a common theme.
Sat in the hotel restaurant next to one of my photography colleagues we chatted about how great the trip had been, another three of the group were doing a similar thing. Suddenly there was a slight tremor, we all looked a little confused, but not worried, suddenly the tremor was more violent and one member shouted earthquake, panic and instinct took over and we dived under tables. Small objects started to crash around us, crockery was flung to the floor smashing as it hit. Under the table we could do nothing except watch and listen to the chaos around. The floor started to move side to side violently, adrenalin flowed, it seemed to be slow motion, it continued to move with even more resonance, I could hear crashing vehicles, beeping horns, screams and cries. Through the legs of the table I could see people running in the streets, carrying children in panic, not knowing what lay ahead. As the rocking floor motion started to slow almost to a stop, the restaurant group appeared from the tables, frightened and confused; “run to open land” was shouted and nobody questioned it, quickly we dashed out the restaurant and joined the flow of horrified people heading to an open expanse of land 500m from the hotel.
Stood in the common area it was a feeling of terror, people gathered and looked at each other not knowing what to say, then the aftershock came, people dropped to the ground, the earth moved again, more screams more cries, power lines swayed, buildings shook. The tremors continued, with decreasing magnitude, but with the same terrifying effect. All people tried desperately to contact family and friends to assure their safety.
The next few hours the focus shifted to how we get out of Nepal, where are the passports? How do we get to the airport? Are there any flights? Is the airport operating? Our group were extremely luckily to have the most dedicated two local guides, who at this point had already completed their services and had every good reason to turn their full attention to their families safety, but what they did goes beyond explanation. The two guys appeared from nowhere and found the larger number of our group, then they went off in search of the others, whilst the tremors and uncertainty continued. They managed to locate each member and group us back together, comforting each other was high on the agenda, as emotions flowed.
News came through the airport was not operating, and communication was limited and not consistent. Nobody wanted to remain in Thamel and everyone wanted to stay in open space. A decision was made to try and organise getting the group to the airport. With direction from our group leader the guides arranged transport with unbelievable efficiency in a time of disaster.
We made it to the airport car park, the guides continued to support us with information, food and water, never at any point did they leave us even though they had family issues way beyond any of our needs.
Night was closing in, the weather started to cool and morale was starting to fade. What do we do next? as we prepared to sleep on the car park floor the guides would not accept this, although no complaints from the group, the guides felt a level of responsibility. The country was in a state of shock, nothing was working, confusion continued, but again the guides never left our sides and with astonishing effort arranged a coach to the airport with support from Ethihad airline, to be our home. Water and snacks were plenty and we had extreme comfort on the scale of the situation.
Early Sunday morning we woke on our coach, sleep was intermittent, between additional tremors during the night. Whilst the group freshened up, the guides had already started their day seeking food for breakfast; boiled eggs, bread, cookies and jam was a welcome surprise.
Lots of waiting and information seeking was the order of the days, as things were becoming clear and organised a second earthquake struck at around 1pm, a magnitude 6.7 was strong enough to cause further worry and disruption to the airport.
By late Sunday night the whole group had seats on flights out of Kathmandu, some journeys back home more difficult than others, but the whole group eventually made it home by Monday 27th April.
There is nothing this group could ever do to repay the guides for keeping our group safe and getting us through this situation back to our loved ones. As we hugged and left them, we headed off out of a devastating situation, a fortunate position. The guides would need to stay and try to rebuild their lives.
To try and raise funds for the people of Nepal, the photography group are going to arrange a number of exhibitions and intend to sell prints with all funds heading back to the people of Nepal. Please support this in any way you can. These people are beautiful, kind, dedicated and deserve a helping hand.
Gulf Photo Plus http://www.gulfphotoplus will in time, arrange a link for further information