With more than 10,500 Indians having already returned from this route to go over to their homes in different parts of the country, it is now time for foreigners from various corners of the globe to move out of Kathmandu and others parts of Nepal, where the wounds of Saturday’s devastating earthquake continue to scare all and sundry.
The Indian immigration office at Sonauli, the main gateway to India for anyone coming down from Kathmandu to India, recorded the entry of as many as 385 foreign nationals.
These included citizens from the United Kingdom, United States, China, Germany, France, Spain, Russia, Romania, Israel and Korea, who was attracted by the Himalayan kingdom essentially because of the nature’s bounty with it, was endowed.
“I was always fascinated by the natural beauty of Nepal and was keen to spend at least a fortnight there, but the earthquake has compelled us to leave the country,” lamented German national Benjamin Rohde, 25, who, together with his Romanian wife Maria, 23, was on a trip to discover South and Central Asia.
“We had reached Kathmandu on Friday evening and had parked ourselves for the night at someone’s private residence. We were heading on a mini-bus for the city’s main commercial hub Thamel where we had to look for a place to stay. So we could not feel the tremors until the driver pulled the brakes and told us to jump out,” recalled the young teacher-counsellor at a school in Hanover.
“Realisation dawned on us about the extent of the damage, when my eyes fell on a partially collapsed building right before our eyes with cries of shell shocked people from all sides,” he said.
“Minutes later, we found ourselves being huddled into another bus which rushed us to a nearby Nepalese military ground where all passengers were asked to disembark to safety,” he added.
“I knew many would find it strange for one to be playing music at such a time when everyone seemed to be more worried about whether it was life or death that the next minute had in store for them, but soon I discovered that music did have some soothing effect on tense minds,” Maria told this scribe at the Indian Relief camp put up on the ‘No-Man’s Land’ between two sides of the border.
Benjamin recalls how Maria’s violin even brought smiles on many faces, which looked sullen and crestfallen until sometime back.
However, what impressed him most was passion and enthusiasm of local Nepalese who were ready to extend all help. “Right from the time we were asked to board the second bus which brought us to the military ground , where we spent the night together with hundreds of local and foreign residents, we never noticed any panic on the eyes of locals who were guiding and helping people like us in distress”, he said.
“I wonder whether people in vary many countries would keep themselves calm and composed in times of such crises”, he added.
While Benjamin and Maria were taken next morning to a relief camp put up by a German agency undertaking some development projects in Nepal, they chose not to go back home by special aircrafts arranged by the German government.
“We have decided to go back to India, where we had already spent three months; and no sooner than things return to normal in Nepal, we would like to go and explore that land before returning to Europe,” emphasised Maria before boarding a bus carrying earthquake evacuees to Gorakhpur (92 km away) from where she and Benjamin would take a train to New Delhi.
Like them, there was 48-year old David Simpson, a plumber from Sussex and 41-year old Ian Deke a government employee from the same town - on a trekking trip to the base of Annapurna peak.
“We got such a jolt as we were on the first day of the trek that we had to abandon our trip and rush to Pokhra where we spent the next three days before coming to this place and heading for New Delhi to go back home in England,” Simpson said.
Twenty-nine year old Ross Macdonald, a construction worker from Essex, was luckier to have been able to spend 40 days in Nepal before he faced the earthquake.
“I was taking a breath-taking panoramic view of Pokhra from the sixth floor of my hotel when the first tremor sent shivers down my spine and forced me to rush outside the building,” he pointed out.
Even those who had not had a taste of the earthquake were too terrified to stay on in Nepal.
Xu Wen, 47, an entrepreneur from East China was on a pilgrimage to the Buddhist centre at Lumbini, barely 35 km from when the earthquake struck Kathmandu. Along with her husband, son and father, she chose to cut short her stay in Nepal and instead head for Buddhist destinations in India.
Likewise, there was 35-year old Kim Moon Kwan from Korea, who reached this border town on Thursday to head to Varanasi instead of looking for solace at his earlier preferred religious destinations in Nepal.
Meanwhile, Indian officials marinating records of all arrivals from Nepal confirmed having received more than 10,000 people from Kathmandu and other places across Nepal.
“We have sent as many as 10,435 persons until Thursday afternoon through special buses arranged free of cost by the Uttar Pradesh government up to Gorakhpur, from where there is facility for free train travel to any Indian destination desired by any earthquake affected person -- Indian or foreigner,” said additional district magistrate Suresh Tiwari, who heads the Indian coordinating team at the border.
Image: German tourist Benjamin Rohde and his Romanian wife Maria speak of their experiences. Photograph: Sandeep Pal