TNF Kashmir quake update: Beyond Western eyes - "an accomplishment that we are here at all"

Posted: Dec 12, 2005 05:15 pm EST

( We are very happy to report that the team has made it to Thangdar near the epicenter of the earthquake where about eighty percent of the houses were damaged, reported The North Face aid team over the weekend. Thangdar and its surrounding hamlets encompass 48,000 inhabitants in its steep valleys which are studded by tall pines and high craggy peaks.

Base Camp in ruins

Our base of operation is a house which was partly destroyed by the quake and is being rebuilt during our stay," reported the team. "All around us the houses have either toppled over completely or have huge holes or cracks in them. It is a testament to the power of nature that all of this damage occurred in about fifty seconds.

Thangdar will be our staging area for missions into the most inaccessible villages, where we will be moving supplies to those most in need, primarily widows and the elderly.

It is truly an accomplishment that we are here at all considering that the last Western civilians to visit this area did so some fifty years ago. Exploring the unique mountain villages, and jeep trails, we truly have the feeling of being trailblazers.

Hair-raising roads

On Saturday, the team traveled from Thangdar to Jibri, which lies on the very edge of the Line of Control (a strip of no man's land which separates Indian from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and scene of constant combat).

The three thousand feet of elevation gained via jeep trail had its hair raising moments, and a few times we all got out and pushed our vehicle up a particularly icy bit. Renan kept one hand on the door handle, ready to leap out, should our somewhat shifty looking driver steer our two-wheel drive, bald-tired rattle traps into the abyss.

Willies adopted pet

As the drivers struggled with a particularly slick section, Renan and I walked ahead and along the way were shocked to find a tiny puppy skittering up an icy road in the middle of nowhere. Willie has adopted the puppy, named it Thangdar Kashmir and hopes to bring her back to the states with him.

Because Jibri will soon be closed off to vehicle traffic we returned on Sunday to hand out building supplies, stoves, and insulation and assess what they will need to comfortably survive the winter.

Welcome to Jibri far beyond Western eyes

On Sunday the team succeeded in delivering a large truckload of giant pink foam padding and woodstoves to the inaccessible village of Jibri. Nestled in a small valley in between two impressive mountain ranges this extremely poor village exists cut off from just about everything. Even the locals from a few hours away who accompanied us had never been to this place.

In order to fairly distribute the foam padding and stoves we first broke into groups of two and traveled from house to house and assessed the true needs of each household. From a distance most of the houses looked to be in decent shape, but once entering each house and seeing the sunlight pour through countless cracks it was obvious that the destruction was complete. Even the smallest aftershock or snow load could crumple every single structure to the ground.

Living with nothing

Compared to high mountain cultures we are accustomed to seeing on expeditions in Himalayan regions these people have absolutely nothing. Walking and scanning each room there were no material belongings. Even if the delivered goods were few, I believe we truly made an impact on this village. It meant something to them that we showed up from a far off place to connect with them. When Muzamil interviewed an 85 year old man he said he had never in his life seen a foreigner before and could only offer us prayer as thanks.

At the end of the day all of our material was distributed in a just fashion and everyone managed the long huff out shaking hands all along the way. At the moment we are all physically and emotionally tired from our most demanding day yet.

The North Face collected about 5 tons of gear while GlobalGiving connected the team to credible organizations on the ground in Kashmir who will help distribute the goods. Monetary donations are still much needed - and they will be matched 100%!

"Thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations to Kashmir relief and rebuilding projects will be matched 100% until January 6, 2005 or until the $10,000 fund runs out," reported TNF. "To encourage many people to give, we are capping the match amount to $500."

TNF has also set up a four member team of sponsored athletes led by Willie Benegas, that includes Renan Ozturk, Cedar Wright and Patrick Kenny, to travel to the Kashmir region in order to survey damage, assess avalanche danger to relief camps, and deliver gear to the hardest hit villages. Benegas, a member of The North Face athlete team for 7 years, has frequented this region since 1993.

Contact Global Giving at:

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"Descending two thousand feet of steep icy trail with 15 ft long pink foam insulation rolls we simply could not avoid taking some black slapping falls," reported Renan. In the image, Cedar carring a sheet of foam. All live images sent over Contact 3.0 courtesy of The North Face (click to enlarge).
"Dr. Zameer (in the image) has been invaluable in familiarizing us with the complex maze of villages, local dynamics, and giving us good leads on which surrounding villages have received the least attention from NGOs and the Military," reported the team (click to enlarge).
"Compared to high mountain cultures we are accustomed to seeing on expeditions in Himalayan regions these people have absolutely nothing," reported the team. "Walking and scanning each room there were no material belongings." (Click to enlarge).

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