Members of a Nepalese dance troupe still hope to be at this summer’s Llangollen Musical Eisteddfod – despite the devastation caused by two earthquakes.
More than 30 dancers from the Rising Culture Group from the World Heritage site of Bhaktapur, about 10 miles from the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu and around 100 miles from Mount Everest, had hoped to attend this year’s festival.
A major fund-raising campaign had been launched to enable them to travel 5,000 miles from their country on the roof of the world to compete at Llangollen 2015 in July.
But their dream of coming to Llangollen suffered a huge setback when the first 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck on April 25, damaging large areas of the country and claiming over 8,000 lives.
Then, just as its people were trying to recover, Nepal was hit by a second large quake of 7.3 magnitude on May 12 which killed hundreds more and caused even further destruction.
In the wake of the second disaster, Todd Lochhead, the Bristol man leading the effort to bring the dancers to the Eisteddfod, decided to fly over to Nepal to visit Bhaktapur.
He wanted to offer what support he could to members of the group which is based at the Rising English School in the town run by his friend Kapil Banebepali and his wife Chandika who he first met when he was teaching English there 20 years ago.
One of the people 45-year-old Todd, a New Zealander who works as a financial consultant, greeted at the school on his arrival from the UK was the young drum-master of the troupe, Manish Shilpakar.
Speaking from the school, where he is now living after his home was badly damaged by the first earthquake, 24-year-old Manish said: “A lot of my family members and friends have also lost their homes.
“Conditions are pretty bad over here but we are coping by joining together as a community.
“Before the earthquakes we were all looking forward to coming to Llangollen and I am still hopeful we will be able to get there.”
Todd said he had been shocked to see the destruction on the ground when he arrived.
And while he stressed that day to day living was still the first priority for people associated with the dance group, he revealed he was due to discuss the possibility of at least a small number of them making a token visit to the Eisteddfod if at all possible.
Describing what he had found when he arrived in Bhaktapur at the weekend, Todd said: “When I see the result of the two earthquakes all around me the word devastation takes on a whole new meaning.
“I believe about 600 people in the town were killed in the first earthquake and I’ve heard that one or two died in the second one.
“I’d say 80 to 90 per cent of the houses in the town have either been completely demolished or are in an unstable condition.
“The great fear for many people is actually going outside into the street in case buildings fall on top of them.
“Although the front of the school collapsed in the first quake it was still semi structurally safe because it’s built of concrete.
“This means people from the area have been using it as a refuge. There were initially about 150 people sleeping outside in the school grounds.
“As I speak there are still about 100 people sleeping there – including myself – and they are on very simple matting.
“They are cooking and sharing what food they have. The shops are open, which is amazing when you see what destruction there has been.
“There are relief teams in the area, including the Chinese and Turkish Red Cross and Indian troops are helping with the clear-up operation.”
Todd, who is due back in the UK later this week, added: “Thankfully, no-one from the dance troupe has been injured or killed but some have lost relatives.
“The dance teacher, Mukti, has had his house completely destroyed which means he and his two children, son Roshik and daughter Rhosika, who are both around 10 or 11 years old, have been left homeless.
“Another family who are part of the group, Lashmi, and her three daughters, Manisha, Unisha and Ubisha, also lost their home. Nobody knew where they were for 10 days after the first quake but then they were found and I have now visited them in a Red Cross refugee camp.
“In the second earthquake earlier this month the two grandparents of one of the children at the school were both killed.
“In the April quake one of the adjacent buildings fell on to the school toilet. Ten people were killed but three children were rescued.”
Todd said that while daily survival was the main priority, before leaving Nepal he was due to speak to his friend Kapil about the possibility of a small number of the troupe trying to get over to visit the Eisteddfod.
“I will discuss whether one or two people might yet come over. I very much hope this could be done but it is still early days.
“After the two earthquakes I’d have said it was definitely not going to happen but every day there’s a bit more hope. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
“The number one priority for everyone sheltering at the school at the moment is shelter.
“I’m looking for a large tent along the lines of a marquee for them. They’re certainly going to need it if there’s another earthquake and, also, the monsoons are coming.
“If someone back in the UK could supply one of these it would be a godsend.
“As soon as I come home I’ll be trying to raise some money for the people in Bhaktapur.
“They need targeted aid for things like altering the school building to make it better able to withstand further earthquakes.
“These people are very resilient but these two disasters have had a huge impact on them.”
Rising English School founder Kapil Banebepali said: “We are very much focusing on ensuring everyone is safe and it is difficult to think about anything else but that at the moment.”
Todd first came across the dancers when he journeyed to Nepal in 1995 to work as a teacher at the Rising English School.
Founded by Kapil and Chandika, who is now the principal, it offers lessons to children aged three to 13, many of whom would otherwise have ended up having to go out to work.
Kapil also started the dance troupe which performs traditional and highly colourful routines, one of the most striking of which is the stunning masked dance that has its roots deep in Hindu culture.
Todd saw them perform and was so impressed that it became his dream to see them compete at Llangollen.
He visited the Eisteddfod office in Llangollen Pavilion a few days before the 2014 festival and arranged for them to register for the Children’s Folk Dance, Traditional Dance and Cultural Showcase competition categories.
Todd then set about the mammoth task of asking business contacts and friends to help him raise the estimated £40,000 to bring 34 people, including 20 dancers aged eight to 16, and musicians over to Llangollen.
Fundraising was going well until the earthquakes hit Nepal with such catastrophic effects.