Photo: Kerensa Pickett / Unsplash
Photo: Kerensa Pickett / Unsplash

Charting change

From the Himalaya to Male, there are clear signs that climate change is real.

Namgye Chumbi was weeding his potato garden in the village of Phakding in Nepal's Khumbu region below Mount Everest on the morning of 4 August 1985. Because of the monsoon season, there were not too many trekkers hiking up the trail towards Namche Bazaar. It was a brilliantly clear day, unusual for the monsoon season, and he was working by the banks of the Dudh Kosi River. True to its name, the river was milky white and frothing, as the water tumbled noisily over boulders. Yet around two in the afternoon, the river suddenly became strangely silent. The water level went down, and Namgye sensed danger. Much in the same way as coastal dwellers saw the sea recede before the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Dudh Kosi was about to reveal its terrifying avatar. "I noticed that the white water had turned muddy brown, and in the distance I heard a thundering sound like an approaching helicopter," Namgye recalls. "I looked upstream and saw this huge wall of dark brown water approaching very fast." Namgye indicates the level of the river with his right hand, and raises his left hand high over his head like a cobra to show what he saw.

There was no time to think. Namgye dropped everything and began to run up the mountain. His wife, Sherkima, had more presence of mind, and picked up their two young children, Hira and Tsering, and followed her husband. They reached a ledge as the thunderous flood raced beneath them, lapping at their heels. The ground was shaking like an earthquake, and the sound was deafening. Namgye and Sherkima lost their house and everything in it. If they had been just a few seconds slower, they would have lost their lives as well. Their millet farm upstream was cut in half, as the river changed its course and started flowing through its terraces. Thereafter, the family built a hut, and other families helped them with food. "We only had the clothes we were wearing, but at least we were all alive," he says. Nearly 25 years later, Namgye has built a new house higher up the mountain, where his married children and four grandchildren today live together. The Dudh Kosi, meanwhile, is still frothing white as it flows past the farm. Namgye points out one boulder the size of his house that was brought down by that terrible flash flood.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian