Gurkhas Deployed to Reach Remote Villages
Tirtha Bahadur Thapa — a former Gurkha soldier who served with the British army in Hong Kong, the UK and Brunei — leapt out of the window unharmed when his stone-built house started to shake and crack as the deadly magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck central Nepal on Saturday.
Now, as area welfare officer for the Gurkha pensioners who live in these Himalayan foothills near the epicentre of the quake, he is planning to deploy four teams led by retired soldiers to take food, medicines and cash to remote villages that can be reached neither by road nor helicopter, but only on foot.
Gorkha and Gurkha are different ways of spelling the same name, and the British and Indian armies have long recruited fighting men from these steep valleys.
“The Gurkhas are very skilful at running uphill and down,” Mr Thapa says with a smile as he points to the map in his office. “In Barpak, there’s bad damage and epicentre is over there. And Laprak is very, very badly damaged and rescue helicopters are unable to land in that area.”
Although the overall death toll has passed 5,000, with many of the victims in the Kathmandu valley, the relatively thinly populated Gorkha district to the west has so far reported only 256 deaths, despite being nearer the centre of the quake.
Mr Thapa says there are about 500 Gurkha pensioners living in the district, 200 of them in the worst-hit areas.
In Gorkha town itself, the launch pad for the 18th-century unification of the old kingdom of Nepal by Prithvi Narayan Shah, only the royal palace overseeing the town and a few other buildings appear to have been badly damaged.
As in other parts of central Nepal, nervous residents have nevertheless set up makeshift camps in parks and other open ground for fear of further tremors that might bring their homes crashing down on top of them.
Just outside Gorkha, Nepalese troops and aid workers have stacked emergency supplies at a helicopter landing site near the road for flights to some of the most remote and worst affected areas but the Indian Air Force helicopter pilots assigned to the task have been unable to find a landing spot at the destination.
“We have blankets, rice, instant noodles, we have sufficient materials — the problem is the helicopter,” says Colonel SS Thapa of the Nepalese army.
Places such as Barpak, home to about 400 families, can be reached from here by helicopter in just 20 minutes, whereas the roads, which are poor at the best of times, are now blocked by landslides.
Such rural areas are typically populated by women, children and old men, with many of the young men working as migrant labourers in India, the Gulf, Malaysia or Kathmandu. Some Gurkhas from the British army have moved to the UK.
(2015, April 29). Gurkhas deployed to reach remote villages. Financial Times. P.2. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/70c2badc-ed8e-11e4-987e-00144feab7de.html#axzz3lGQOMRsa2015/a0707x20xCQxxxxxx.pdf