Bigu is at 8400 feet, north east of Kathmandu, near the tibetan border. In Dolakha district, it’s close to Sindhulpalchok. Both districts are one of the most striked by the earthquake and all the aftershocks. 90% of the buildings are destroyed in this area.
Bigu is difficult to reach. From Barhabise, on the Katmandou-Lhassa road, it’s 3 days walking. Before the earthquake, a bad track only for 4 wheels vehicles was reaching Bigu through Tinsang La at 10900 feet. It’s now impassable. Landslides destroyed also the track going to Singati at the east.
It’s also far from the popular treks of Langtang at the west and Everest and Rolwaling at the east.
The monastery was founded in 1934, just after the earthquake that striked Nepal this year. It’s a buddhist monastery. 80 nuns live there and among them twenty or so childrens and young nuns. They were studying in new classrooms that we’re just achieved 6 months before the earthquake.
April 25th 2015
This morning, leaving Bulung, the weather is gloomy. Bad weather in the morning is never auspicious in Nepal. Walking in the mountains with rain, without seeing the landscape loses much of its interest. Nevertheless, the mountains where we are now, still are attractive. The slopes are covered with terraced fields. The yellow of the almost ripe wheat skirt deep greens of other plants. Houses with their roofs of stone, blue or red iron complete the landscape.
The counterpart is that it is more difficult to find his direction in the middle of all the paths that crisscross the countryside. We miss our way several times, turn back before finally arriving at Chullanka for lunch.
After Chullanka, new hesitation : taking the suspension bridge and a path at the foot of steep slopes or continuing on the jeep track.
I sit on a stone, waiting Nepalese coming the other way. I suddenly feel that the stone mooves. I think first that this feeling comes from the jeep stopped below that restarts.
But the vibration gives way to a huge roar. The mountain moves. I shout “Earthquake” to Chris. Huge rocks tumble down the mountain with a thud.
Within seconds, the quiet nepalese countryside turns in hell.
Fortunately, in the place we stay, we aren’t in danger but the rest of the route passes precisely under the slopes where the rocks rolled down.
We wait for a moment. The mountain still moves, each time with further collapse. Then it gradually seems to calm down. We decide to cross the exposed area.
The first houses encountered seem still standing. Then, we begin to find some collapsed.
In Loting, the lodge doesn’t seem to be opened. It’s still early in the afternoon and we follow on. Rocks on the jeep track, landslides demonstrate the strength of the earthquake.
In the ascent to Bigu Gompa, the situation worsen. Chortens are destroyed and many more houses have collapsed. Already, Nepalese are working to build shelters for the night. No screaming, no crying, just fate and survival instinct.
We finally arrive to Bigu Gompa. That’s our goal. We think it is better to be in a monastery than at the expense of a Nepalese family.
The monastery is cracked but still standing. The nuns rooms collapsed. Kitchens are still intact and fortunately, there are no casualties.
We are well received. Two more people to feed, it should be manageable.
The earth continues to move, rushing us every time outdoors; but ultimately, that night, the meal is prepared in the kitchen. We eat rice with vegetables and then, with all the nuns, we sleep under the porch roof of the school that still stands up.
The 4 days spent in Bigu Gompa
First day in Bigu Gompa
Life goes on. The morning puja (prayer ceremony) takes place in front of the kitchens. The nuns sing, barely disturbed by some slight shaking.
We help the nuns to dig their cells to recover their belongings.
After lunch, we resume our work. And suddenly we hear a huge noise. The earth shakes so much that we are projected to the ground. From the top of the mountain, the rocks tumble. The monastery, already cracked, collapsed in a cloud of dust. The last buildings still standing are cracking.
In this hell, we retreat to the terraces below the gompa. The nuns chant prayers. The mountain continues to dump rocks.
This violent aftershock virtually destroyed the monastery. We must settle down. Makeshift shelters are hastily constructed on the terraces field. We sleep in tents with Chris.
Second day in Bigu Gompa
We are like on a remote island. Fortunately, I could called miraculously France before the aftershock and Chris satellite device allows a tenuous link with the outside world. Bigu Gompa is at more than 8000 feet, near the Chinese border. It takes 2 days of walking to reach the road in Barhabise.
Without outside help, we must settle down. Any building is safe enough to withstand a second aftershock. We help to move food to a safe place. The kitchen is installed in a iron sheet shelter quickly built.
The nuns will sleep in a long camp covered with plastic sheeting.
We install a water point near the kitchens. At the end of the second day, the kitchen, the nuns camp are settled.
Third day in Bigu Gompa
Still almost no information from the rest of Nepal; there is no network, no radio. Still any rescue, any help. And the earth continues to quake. These are only small afteshocks or as tonight, a strong one. In the night, landslides continue to occur with dull rumble.
Now that the urgent is in place, we have to wait. We are tinkering, improving the existing. But there is not so much to do.
The day is going on in a slow pace : breakfast, tea at 10:00, lunch a little after 11:00. Today, Chris celebrates its 29 years birthday. Mini Snicker improves his meal.
To make matters worse, the weather is gray for the fourth consecutive day.
This afternoon, it’s raining cats and dogs in Bigu Gompa. The poor living conditions of the nuns are even harder and this will not improve the condition of tracks and paths in the mountains. The slopes are already very unstable.
We are still definitely better here than in a small town partially destroyed. The nuns are very nice with us. We are served generously and they are trying to prepare ourselves less spicy dishes.
Fourth day in Bigu Gompa
It rained much of the night. Rather than being wet in Chris small tent, we prefer to sleep under the porch roof of the school. As a precaution, I settle in part under a table. A few more aftershocks occur at night but nothing really bad, not even enough to rush us out. As every nights, landslides awaken us.
It’s decided, tomorrow I will try to leave to Kathmandu. I buy snacks, not knowing how I will find the villages that I will cross. Informations regarding Barhabise are not optimistic: bridge destroyed, landslides …
We are trying to recover with Chris solar panels through the rubble to restore electricity. Once again, cloudburst make us stop our work. It only remains to wait for the rest of the day.
It’s time to say goodbye. We spent four days in Bigu Gompa. This creates links. The nuns offer us biscuits, tea. In fact, they spend more time eating than praying and we do also the same.
I promise to try to help them contacting associations to help Bigu Gompa and the 80 nuns lost at more than 8000 feet in the Nepalese mountains.
Here we go again. The night was quieter than previous ones although still few shakes and some landslides.
It’s a strange feeling to walk again. In addition, this side of Tinsang La pass is sparsely populated. So, there are few collapsed houses. We find back the blooming rhododendrons, the terrace fields, as if nothing had changed. But landslides, rocks on the road take us back to the sad reality. Some parts are a bit dangerous but we can go through.
Barhabise, Singati: we have long hesitated between the two options. Barhabise, west of Bigu Gompa is the most direct on the way to Kathmandu. It’s on the road between Nepal and Tibet, and then, there are, normally 3 hours of bus. But the information we have on Barhabise, close to the epicenter of the earthquake, are bad. The city would be destroyed, there would be no bridge to cross the river …
Singati is a closer walk but then it’s a long detour to reach Kathmandu.
Finally, we choose the most direct option. We are not the only ones to hesitate. A little before beginning the climb to the Tinsang La pass, we encounter Nepalese who are also going to Kathmandu but prefer to go towards Singati. Wisely, we turn back and we join them.
On the way down, we find other Nepalese who are going toward Barhabise. Confabulations and finally the whole group take the way to Singati.
This is the day for departures to Kathmandu since we meet another group that goes towards …Tinsang La. The majority changed sides. We set off again in the opposite direction towards Barhabise.
On the other side of the pass, the area is inhabited and the situation is distressing. Almost all houses are either collapsed or damaged. Next to each, Nepalese are camping under shelters of plastic sheeting.
Three hours walking from Barhabise, we get to a recent and not damaged lodge. Not knowing the situation in Barhabise, we prefer to play here. We will have food and shelter and we will see tomorrow.
The night was disturbed by three aftershocks. For the first time since the earthquake, we slept inside a building. So, the anxiety was greater.
We continue our descent to Barhabise. The smiles of the children who greet us joining hands with the traditional greeting “Namaste” contrast with the ravaged landscape we are going through.
By mid-morning, we reach Barhabise. The bridge is still standing, buses run to Kathmandu.
Barhabise was the end of a beautiful trek plan, a loop of from Khumbu to Rolwaling. Barhabise became our exit point, our door to exit these ravaged mountains and reach Kathmandu.
I did not expect to be happy to find back the Nepalese capital, its pollution, its dust, its traffic, its noise. Finally, the city has not changed so much. The destruction is more diffuse. I am in Kathmandu, I will leave Nepal within 3 days. Meanwhile, near the Tibetan border, at 8000 feet, 80 nuns await a hypothetical rescue.
The emergency aid
Since we’ve left Bigu Gompa, first rescue arrived. We’ve left april 29th in the morning.
May 1st, an helicopter with a team of 10 voluntary firemen from a french NGO FAUSI (France Aide Urgence Secours Intenationale) arrived. Images are on Facebook page of FAUSI NGO and informations on FAUSI internet website. They stayed 4 days in Bigu. They attended villagers and help searching personal belongings.
May 8th, an american helicopter delivered help from USAID : USAID intervention in Bigu.
May 14th, help arrive in Bigu : Grassroot Movement in Nepal (GMIN) intervention in Bigu
May 19th, again help (tents, food) arrives and two old nuns are brought back in Kathmandu : Tashi Phuntsok intervention and withdrawal of two old nuns from Bigu.
Mai 21th, the german NGO Himalaya Projekt in Bigu
Mai 23th, Himalaya Projekt second intervention in Bigu
May 29th, evacuation of an ill women and delivery of rice and blankets in Bigu village
We are glad that we were able to do another helicopter relief and rescue mission to Bigu Village upon the request of our good friend Acharya Karma Sangbo Sherpa for his village. Most of the houses in the Bigu village (across the river from Bigu Nunnery in the same valley) have been flattened in the earthquake and the villagers are cut off from road access due to massive landslides in the region. They have managed to secure tarps for shelter but critically needed food as they couldn’t save much from their houses and the new crops are yet to ripen. We were able to take 350 kg rice and blankets for the village and were able to med-evac a sick lady who needed immediate attention.
June 2nd, CWIN intervention in Bigu and delivery to each of the 729 households of 25 kg of rice, 5kg of lentils and 1 liter of oil and tarpaulins.
A part of the younger and older nuns from Bigu are now in Kathmandu waiting for the monsoon. Link to Tashi Phuntsok Facebook
Mid june, all the nuns are in Kathmandu. They plan to stay there during the monsoon. 7 nuns are staying in Bigu Gompa.Venerable Metteya Sakyaputta Facebook page about this evacuation.
The situation between mid-june and mid-july :
Back to summary
We had contacts with the french association Humanlaya for the supply of solar panels. These panels could be supplied and installed by Electriciens sans Frontières.
For reconstruction, a study was launched to see the feasibility of “recovering” the structure and roof of the school building. It was built less than one year ago. It’s not collapsed and might be reused.
Possibilities for reconstruction can be studied for example with Architectes de l’Urgence but can go on seriously only after the monsoon.
The monastery, the rooms, the classrooms, in fact all, have to be rebuild. The first evaluation is around 850.000€. Among this amount, 40.000€ are needed for classrooms and library.
The fund raising through the NGO EPICEA collected 3155€ from 26 generous donors. This sum has been fully sended to Bigu Gompa early september 2015.
The Bigu Gompa reconstruction is on the way. There after a Facebook post of Himalayan Guge Organization.