Surviving on meagre rations and aftershocks jolting them with fear, the six UAE trekkers appeared tired but determined in their collective goal to send aid to Nepal following the devastating earthquake that has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people.
The trekkers, who united a legion of supporters rooting for their safe return home, recounted the horror of the four days in the aftermath of the deadly 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck the Asian nation on Saturday.
“We saw death from up close,” stated a sombre Mazhar Mohideen, speaking to Emirates 24|7 less than 24 hours after he and his five friends touched down in Dubai after being stranded for days in the province of Sindhupalchok, with over 100 other guests from The Last Resort, a hotel nestled between rugged mountains where aftershocks would send boulders “the size of a house” cascading down in minutes.
Recounting the moment the earth shook for that very first time, 25-year-old Nihad Khan said: “We were returning from the bungee jump session we had booked. The lot of us had trekked back to the resort, some of us were in the building, couple of us at the gate, when the ground around us started to shake.”
The boys stated it took them a few seconds to realise what they were experiencing was an earthquake.
“People were screaming, terrified, as they ran out of the building,” recalled Hadil Haneef, 25. “It was only later that it hit us, had we been delayed in our trek, even by a few minutes, we would have been crushed to death in the landslides that followed.”
Galvanised into desperation, the six of them, along with 120-odd guest, staff members and locals, decided to take shelter in an open field across the cliff face where a small village lay nestled.
Khan continued: “We divided everyone into groups of five, because we weren’t sure if the wooden bridge that connected the two cliff faces across a river could hold more weight; whether the structure had been compromised in the earthquake.
“Women and children were sent across first, with one male member accompanying them across the divide for their safety.”
“Aftershocks had us terrorised”
Makeshift tents were erected to provide some shelter against the onslaught of falling debris, which would further be fuelled with the 50-plus aftershocks that have followed since.
As the hum of the air conditioning paused for a shudder, a visibly tensed Rawther jumped in his seat.
“That’s the sound we heard, a thump, before the earth would start shaking,” he revealed.
Sunil Gandhi, 26, recalled: “We would take turns to sleep, so terrified we were that we would be buried under the rubble. While some would rest, others would sit around the bonfire, huddled until dawn would break.”
While the extent of Nepal’s devastation had yet to be revealed to the stranded travellers, cut off from civilization sans all forms of communication but a small transistor airing Nepal state radio, the boys saw death around them.
Thanwi Ibn Kassim (Thanweer Rawther) said: “It was on the second day on that field when we saw a hand underneath the rubble of a dwelling there. All of us desperately dug our way through the collapsed home to find a woman still clutching her aged mother on her back.
“They had probably attempted to escape their home through the back door when the earthquake struck. They never made it out alive.”
The youngest, 23-year-old Mohammed Azhar Ali stated by day three they knew that help was not coming.
“We would see travellers passing through from Tibet to Kathmandu and vice versa over the days, but none that could help us,” he revealed.
During their refuge, a private helicopter had also landed nearby to assist someone, but Khan admitted that even they weren’t able to provide them with much information or any form of communication to the outside world.
With food rations dwindling and the group surviving on biscuits and snacks that had been ferried during their escape, around 30 of them decided to trek down 18km, through mountain passes, to a neighbouring village that may provide them with access to the outside world.
Haneef recalled: “It was no easy feat, trekking through those mountain passes. In some places we pause, look up to check if there was no falling debris, and jump.”
As the trek brought them to a village, communication to the outside world and a bus transport heading into Kathmandu, the boys admitted it was at the moment the devastation of Nepal really hit home.
“Villages were flattened, people were out on the street, with no food, no shelter,” said Khan. “How could we even think of celebrating when all around us, death loomed high?”
A day since they touched in Dubai to an emotional homecoming with family and friends, all six of the UAE residents are determined in doing their bit to help those they left behind.
Azhar said: “They need help. That country, it’s people need help. If there’s any message we would like to give out to our well-wishers, all those who prayed for our safe return, then it’s one to step up and do your bit.”
Haneef urged people to send in financial aid or emergency supplies to the Emirates Red Crescent in UAE, which is spearheading relief supplies into Nepal.
“We were lucky to walk away from this ordeal, alive and safe,” reiterated Mohideen. “Others are not so lucky.”