They walked, pedaled and hitchhiked across treacherous terrain made slippery by incessant rains and roads ripped up by the killer earthquake. For Indians fleeing the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, it was virtually a journey out of hell.
Indians from Bihar started arriving at this border township in ones and twos, each with harrowing tales of surviving an arduous journey of more than 250 km from Kathmandu, devastated by Saturday’s 7.9-magitude quake.
Most of these people did not wait to be evacuated or seek public transport, which had virtually gone off the roads. The drivers of the few vehicles available demanded the moon for fares — as high as Rs 90,000 for a Tata Sumo, which could at best ferry 10 to 12 people.
Samsad Miyan, a 21-year-old carpenter, trekked the distance.
A resident of Basavariya village of West Champaran district, he had lived in Kathmandu for the past two years.
His bruised arm and torn shirt bore testimony to the hardship he endured to reach the relief camp.
"While trekking through the wet terrain, as it was raining continuously on Sunday, I slipped and almost fell to my death in a deep valley. Somehow I managed to cling to a shrub and rescued myself, escaping with injuries to my arms and legs. It has taken me a day-and-a-half to reach here," he told Hindustan Times.
Pappu Kumar, 22, who worked at a grocery store in Kathmandu and hails from West Champaran district, cycled his way to a relief camp set up by the Sashastra Seema Bal in the Indian border town of Raxaul.
"I had gone to work when the tremor came. I took my bicycle and fled for life. It has taken me 24 hours to reach the relief camp this morning," he said.
The fear for their lives is what egged them to walk and pedal the distance, with not a morsel to eat since Saturday’s breakfast.
"Bread cost Rs 300 NC (Nepalese currency; one Indian rupee is equivalent to Rs 1.60 Nepalese currency). I didn’t have money. Moreover, with the spectre of death looming large, the hunger pangs vanished. We had tea and biscuits at the relief camp after two days," said Kumar.
People search amidst the rubble of collapsed houses in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal. (AFP Photo)
Sheikh Ataur, a mason from Midnapore in West Bengal, had made Kathmandu his second home till the earthquake struck.
"Nine of my family members had migrated from Bengal to Kathmandu in search of work. A truck we hopped into to reach here, charged us Rs 800 per head, against a normal fare of Rs 500," he said.
Mere Lal Thakur, 30, and Baiju Lal Prasad, 28, both daily wage workers, were critical of the relief arrangements.
"The first responders were slow to react in Kathmandu. We were told that we would be flown back to India. At least 25,000 Indians had queued up outside the Tribhuvan airport. We waited there from 7am to 11pm on Sunday, completely drenched in the downpour that followed the aftershocks, but our turn never came," said Thakur.
"We were told that only the injured, the old and the infirm were to be flown. If this message was communicated to us, we would not have stood there braving the rains the whole day."
Criticising the relief and rescue operations, Prasad said: "It’s too little and too late. Most stranded Indians in Kathmandu left on their own."
The Bihar government had on Monday dispatched some 20 buses to Kathmandu and Pokhara to bring back stranded Indians.