Karma Bhotia is safe but is emotionally devastated by the damage he is seeing in his homeland of Nepal, the Durangoan said Tuesday in a cellphone call from Kathmandu.
Bhotia was in India, visiting his mother and siblings, when the earthquake hit around noon Saturday, Nepal Standard Time. Officials on Tuesday said the quake has claimed at least 4,700 lives, but the total is expected to rise.
Despite the obvious danger and difficulty of returning to Kathmandu, Bhotia was determined to get there. “High powers” helped, he said, as he drove from Darjeeling, India, not far from Nepal’s eastern border, to Dharan, in eastern Nepal. No flights were available from Dharan, and most forms of public transportation were “completely blocked,” so he continued by vehicle to Kathmandu, despite damaged roads.
For the last couple of nights, in rainy weather, he’s been sleeping in a tent outside his friend and former business partner’s house in the Kathmandu area. Because of two dozen aftershocks, people still are worried to sleep or even go inside their homes.
Bhotia said that he visited an area where hundreds of homes had been reduced to rubble. He had a camera with him to document the scene, and people mistook him for a journalist and begged him to help.
“I couldn’t help,” Bhotia said. He told them he was just there on his own and had no means to aid them.
“My heart was broken.”
Many people lost everything, and many are wondering where the government is and why it’s not helping them, he said.
“Thank God all our friends and family are safe,” he said in the phone call, at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, Nepal time. (Nepal is 11 hours 45 minutes ahead of Durango.)
Karma and Jyamu Bhotia own the Himalayan Kitchen in downtown Durango, which they opened in 2007. They have established the Karma and Jyamu Bhotia Foundation to help bring better education and living conditions to the region around Chyamtang, their home village.
In October and November 2014, Bhotia led a group of 12 Durangoans on a mission to Chyamtang in northeastern Nepal near the Tibet border. Chyamtang is far from the epicenter of the original quake, and it is believed that no serious damage was done there, his wife, Jyamu Bhotia, said Tuesday. However, she had not heard for certain.
Also, Karma Bhotia said, it is believed that the Nepali guides who worked on the October-November mission all are safe.
Jyamu Bhotia said her cellphone started ringing about 3 a.m. Saturday, Durango time, when she learned of the earthquake. Since then, she’s been worrying about relatives there and the families of Himalayan Kitchen employees who still live in Nepal. She’s barely gotten any sleep and only Tuesday finally stopped shaking from the tension and worry.
Jyamu Bhotia said the needs are many: food, shelter, medicine, people to sift through debris for dead bodies.
“Where do you start?” she said. “I can’t explain. So many things.”
At the epicenter, just northwest of Kathmandu, the quake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. In comparison, the San Francisco Bay Area earthquake of October 1989 measured 6.9. The Haiti earthquake of January 2010, which led to an estimated 220,000 deaths, measured 7.0.