On April 25th 2015, I was with Lakpa, one of the two men who flew off Everest and co-starred in the documentary, “Hanuman Airlines”. We were sitting in the Himalayan Encounters garden in Pokhara talking about the next film we would make about his descent of the Ganges River to the sea by kayak. Within a minute of sitting down the rumbling began, a thunder that seemed to come from the earth and all around, after ten-seconds it didn't stop and I remembered to turn my camera on. A hundred barking dogs and cows moaning, the distant screams of girls carried over the rumbling of the earth added to the cacophony unfolding. My second thought was “its not stopping!”
“This is safe place!” Lakpa declared. A couple of old fat men where drinking under the veranda, they didn't move at all, as if it wasn’t worth getting up. I kept my camera trained on Lakpa as the shaking continued, all of us amazed about how long it was lasting. “this is a big one” Lakpa exclaimed. “first time” he kept repeating, “so long one” he clarified.
After about a minute and a half the shaking slowly resided. The giddy relief chuckling began. I tried to call my wife Devika, I tried again and again. The signal would not connect our phones. The sinking gut feeling overtook me and I had to point my camera at something to distract myself from potential tragedy.
Out on the main road motorcycles dodged the people running from their homes and shops. The police stood in a circle, doing nothing but talking like everyone else, heads bent down over their phones looking for a signal or news. Within a few minutes the pictures started coming in from Kathmandu. At first it was shots of cracked roads and collapsed houses. Then it was the white tower, Darbur Square and piles of dead bodies, some half buried in rubble.
Pokhara saw no damage compared to Kathmandu, and we all breathed sighs and then held our breath as the reality of the devastation began to sink in.
While the body count slowly rose, I continued to try to get through to my wife. I called her brother, Shyam, He told me that he still had not spoken to Devika. It had now been about 30 minutes since the earthquake stopped.
We decided to have some food. A little shaken but giddy we ate Dhal bhat and speculated about the experience. Lakpa jumped up and ran outside. The aftershock hit. The screaming dogs, cows and people rose again over the rumbling. It was over quickly. Everyone was out on the street.
I called Devika again, but still no service, the stone in my guts was getting larger. I watched and filmed as other people started getting through and speaking to their families. The information spread rapidly. Some damage at Lakpa’s house in Lukla, a landslide on his property, a house fell on his Enfield motorcycle, but all his family was OK.
Then the news came from Gorkha, the epicenter, entire villages leveled, roads closed by landslides and many hundreds of people killed and injured. The news was telling everyone to stay outside, to not use your phone unless you have to. There was no emergency service in Pokhara. No announcements and it felt like there was no protocol for earthquakes. For the most part it looked like a regular day not the result of a 7.9 earthquake.
I finally got through to Shyam who had spoken to Devika, and she was alright. Knowing this, I was able to focus again. I thought about going to the areas where the damage was bad and documenting it. As the world turns its attention to the devastation, and the need for information rises, I am in the right place at the right time and I should not ignore this call.
That night we felt a few more shakes and again early in the morning. The high tension of the people was tangible, the excitement and fear was palpable. We were all experiencing a heightened sense of awareness and it was kind of amazing.
Hamilton Pevec is a Subud member from Canada currently residing in Nepal with his Nepalese wife Devika. He is a documentary film maker and his film, Hanuman Airlines toured the world with Banff Mountain Film festival in 2012.