A SURVIVOR of the Nepal earthquake has told of how his dream trek to Everest base camp turned into nightmare as he returned to Kathmandu on the day disaster struck.
Keen trekker and climber Mark Grimes had been on a month-long trip of a lifetime to mark his 40th birthday, in January, when he was caught up in the quake last Saturday.
It has left me with such mixed emotions, having seen first-hand the destruction. It was like a war zone.Mark Grimes
Mark, from East Herrington, who is deaf since birth and does not communicate vocally, had also hoped to visit a the country’s only deaf school, run by Cumbrian charity Community Action Nepal (CAN), which organised his trip.
However, those plans were dashed when, on his return to Kathmandu, he found himself at the centre of mayhem and confusion. Historic temples and monuments, he had photographed just three weeks earlier now collapsed around him as he sought shelter with locals and monks.
“I’d decided to do Everest Base Camp to make my 40th, so I wanted something significant and big tick off my bucket list,” the accounts assistant told the Echo.
“I had gone to Everest with a guide and trekked through the Himalayas. It was physically and mentally tough, but very rewarding and spectacular. Peaks, views, different culture, seeing yaks carrying goods – it was a different world.
“The trek took a full two weeks in mountainous areas where there is no road. I never saw a car for the whole time.”
Mark returned to Kathmandu from Lukla on the Saturday morning, narrowly avoiding the deadly avalanche that claimed the lives of so many, and decided to go for a stroll around the Thamel area of the city.
“There were interesting, narrow streets and many shops and bazaars,” he said.
“Then the quake struck. I just could not comprehend what had happened. It felt like a big, heavy freight train was passing by, but it felt strange and it was not until the ground actually moved when I actually realised it was a quake.
“Then paths cracked up and rubble fell down around me, smoke billowing, scooters falling like a pack of cards, people running. And also windchill roaring through the air.”
Despite the terror that unfolded around him, Mark grabbed his camera to document the immediate aftermath.
“I managed to compose myself and took pictures despite the realisation of it and fearing for my safety,” he said. “Part of a building collapsed in front of my eyes. Luckily I was at a fairly safe distance to photograph.
“Panic set among locals and rickshaw drivers. It was such pandemonium.
“I ran to the nearest open space, where monks and locals congregated for safety. I stayed there for a while – some people screamed and fainted.
“It was so surreal seeing events for real. “I was just so scared, I had never been so scared in my life.
“Everyone just nervously looked around and whenever a flock of birds took flight, everyone got even more nervous as during the time of over an hour, several aftershocks took place. We thought a major quake might come again.”
Mark walked to historic Dakhar Square, which he had visited before his two week trek to Everest.
“It was just destruction and the locals were in shock,” he said. “They couldn’t believe what had just happened.
“All manner of people were moving rubble and throwing it aside to find anyone trapped in the wreckage. It was really sad to witness such chaos and mayhem. It was a free-for-all tourists, locals, even children were clambering over rubble.
“Seventeenth century structures were just rubble and it was just dusty and a lot of smoke. I suffered from coughing for the next 24 hours.
“Intricate hand-carved wooden beams and posts that help up towers and square structures were just cast aside and used as prop-ups to shift rubble. It was just unbelievable.
“It was such contrast to when I first arrived before my trek.”
Mark spent four nights in a hotel without power, before he managed to arrange flights home, returning on Thursday afternoon.
“Aside my personal achievement of reaching Everest base camp, it is tempered by the tragedy that took place there just a week later,” he added. “It has left me with such mixed emotions, having seen first-hand the destruction. It was like a war zone.”
But the disaster has not been enough to put Mark off returning to Nepal and he plans to go back as soon as things have settled down.
He is also keen for as many people as possible to donate to www.canepal.org.uk to help the relief effort.